Stan Goodman, Beth Trapaga, Tonya Allen, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
MRS. DAY’S DAUGHTERS
MARY E. MANN
“The common growth of Mother Earth
Suffices me–her tears, her mirth, Her humblest mirth and tears.”
I Their Large Hours
II Something Wrong At The Office
III Forcus’s Family Ale
V Deleah’s Errand
VI Sour Misfortune
VII Husband And Father
VIII The Way Out
IX For The Widow And The Fatherless X Exiles From Life’s Revels
XI The Attractive Bessie
XII The Attractive Deleah
XIII The Gay, Gilded Scene
XIV A Tea-Party In Bridge Street
XV The Manchester Man
XVI For Bernard
XVII What Is It Now?
XVIII The Dangerous Scrooge
XIX When Beauty Calls
XX Sir Francis Makes A Call
XXI In For It!
XXII The Importunate Mr. Gibbon
XXIII Deleah Has No Dignity
XXIV The Cold-Hearted Fates
XXV To Make Reparation
XXVI A Householder
XXVII Promotion For Mrs. Day
XXVIII At Laburnum Villa
XXIX A Prohibition Cancelled
XXX Deleah Grows Up
XXXI Bessie’s Hour
XXXII The Man With The Mad Eyes
XXXIII The Moment Of Triumph
Their Large Hours
It was three o’clock in the morning when the guests danced Sir Roger de Coverley at Mrs. William Day’s New Year’s party. They would as soon have thought of having supper without trifle, tipsy-cake, and syllabub, in those days, as of finishing the evening without Sir Roger. Dancing had begun at seven-thirty. The lady at the piano was drooping with weariness. Violin and ‘cello yawned over their bows; only spasmodically and half-heartedly the thrum and jingle of the tambourine fell on the ear.
The last was an instrument not included in the small band of the professional musicians, but was twisted and shaken and thumped on hand and knee and toe by no less an amateur than Mr. William Day himself.
The master of the house was too stout for dancing, of too restless and irritable a temperament for the role of looker-on. He loved noise, always; above all, noise made by himself. He thought no entertainment really successful at which you could hear yourself speak. He would have preferred a big drum whereby to inspirit the dancers, but failing that, clashed the bells of the tambourine in their ears.
“The tambourine is such fun!” the dancers always said, who, out of breath from polka, or schottische, or galop, paused at his side. “A dance at your house would not be the same thing at all without your tambourine, Mr. Day.”
He banged it the louder for such compliments, turned it on his broad thumb, shook it over his great head with its shock of sand-coloured and grey hair; making, as the more saturnine of his guests confided in each other, “a most infernal row.”
But an exercise of eight hours is long enough for even the most agreeable performance, and by the time Sir Roger de Coverley had brought the programme to an end the clash and rattle of the tambourine was only fitfully heard. Perceiving which, Deleah Day, younger daughter of the house, a slight, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl of sixteen, left her place in one of the two sides of the figure, extending nearly the length of the room, ran to her father, and taking the tambourine from him pulled upon his hands.
“Yes, papa! Yes!” she urged him. “Every year since I was able to toddle you have danced Sir Roger with me–and you shall!”
He shouted his protest, laughed uproariously when he yielded, and all in the noisy way, which to his thinking contributed to enjoyment. Presently, standing opposite the upright, pretty figure of his daughter, he was brawling to her what a naughty rogue she was, and calling on all to witness that he was about to make an exhibition of himself for the pleasure of his tyrant–his little Deleah. Then, turning, with his hands on the shoulders of the young man before him, he was racing down the room to join hands with the laughing Deleah at the end of the procession, ducking his heavy, short-necked head, to squeeze his broad figure with her slight one under the archway of raised arms, dashing to his place opposite his daughter at the top of the room again. Breathless, laughing, spluttering, stamping, he went through it all.
And now he and his little partner are themselves top-couple, and must dance the half length of the room to be swung round by the pair dancing to meet them; must be swung by right hand, by left, by both hands; must dance to bow, dance to caper with the opposite couple, back to back. And William Day, who had loved dancing till he grew too fat to dance, and was extraordinarily light on his feet for such a big, heavily-made man, never cried for mercy, but cheered on his companions, and footed it to the end.
“Never again!” he declared when the dance was over, and he stood smacking his chest, panting, struggling for breath with which to bid his guests good-night, “You’ll never any of you catch me making such a fool of myself again.”
“Why, papa, you danced it beautifully! Every single year you shall dance Sir Roger de Coverley, and you shall always dance it with me.”
He shouted that he would not. He always shouted. He would have felt himself falling behind himself on this festive occasion if he had been less boisterous to the end.
“I think it has been the nicest of all our parties,” Deleah declared to her sister, as the girls went to their room.
“I’ve certainly enjoyed it the most,” said Bessie. “And Reggie said so had he.”
“You danced six times with Reggie, Bess. I counted.”
“It is a pity you were not better employed. You wanted to dance with him yourself, I suppose?”
“Why, I did!” Deleah cried, and laughed “I danced the Lancers with him–_twice_. And in the grand chain he lifted me off my feet. He’s most beautifully strong, Reggie is! Did he lift you off your feet, Bess?”
“Reggie would know better than to take such a liberty,” Bess said, who was not dark and _petite_ like her sister, but plump and fair and somewhat heavily built. “And you’re too old for such romping, yourself, Deleah; and you’ve nicely spoilt your frock with it!”
“Yards of frilling gone,” Deleah said happily, as if the loss of so much material was a merit. “Just a teeny bit came off to start with; Tom Marston caught his toe in it, and went, galloping the whole length of the room carrying it with him and his partner before I could stop him. Oh, _how_ I laughed!”
“Mama won’t laugh! She said you must wear the same frock at the Arkwrights’ dance next week.”
“The white silk, underneath, is all right–look! Only a new net skirt over it. Mama won’t mind it in the least.”
“If you have a new net over-skirt I shall have one too. You’re not to have an evening frock more than me. So come! I shall have blue again. Blue tarlatan with white frillings on the flounces. Blue is my colour. Reggie said so to-night.”
“I suppose he admired you in that wreath of forget-me-nots?”
“He didn’t say I was to tell you, if he did! You go to bed, and to sleep, Deleah; and don’t interfere.”
“I’m getting out of my clothes as fast as I can. Why aren’t you getting out of yours, Bess?”
“I’m not going to bed yet. I’m waiting for mama. I’ve something to say to her.”
“What about? Oh, Bess, do tell! I always tell you everything.”
She paused, stepped out of her dress which lay a heap of shining silk and billowy net upon the floor, looked at her sister. “It’s something about Reggie,” she declared with eager interest. “Yes, it is! Oh, Bessie, tell me first. Your face is as red as red! Tell me first!”
You mind your own business, Deda; and brush your hair.”
“I’m not going to brush it, to-night: I can’t. It’s so tangly. I’m just going to say my prayers, and hop into bed.”
“Mama won’t like it if you don’t brush your hair. I shall tell her if you don’t, Deda.”
“Tell her, then!” Deda challenged, and hurried into her nightgown, and flung herself on her knees by the side of her bed, and hid her face in her hands, preparatory to making her devotions.
A soft tapping on the door before it opened, and Mrs. Day, candlestick in hand, appeared. A pretty woman of medium height, middle-aged, as women allowed themselves to be frankly, fifty years ago. She wore a handsome dress of green satin, a head-dress of white lace, green velvet and pink roses almost covering her plentiful dark hair.
“Not in bed yet?” she whispered, and looked at the small white kneeling figure of the younger girl, her hair hanging in a dusky mass of waves and curls and tangles upon her back. Deleah was hurrying conscientiously through the established form of her orisons, trying to achieve the prescribed sum of her supplications before her mother left.
“Can I speak to you for a minute, mama?” Bess demanded, with an air of importance. “Not here,” glancing at Deleah; “outside; just a minute.”
“Pray God bless dear papa and mama, sister and brothers, and friends. Make us all good and bring us safe to heaven at last. Amen,” Deleah gabbled, her face upon the white quilt, her ears open.
“Certainly, dear.” Mrs. Day stepped back, closing the door behind her daughter and herself.
“I don’t want Deda to know. She’s such a blab, mama.”
“Oh, my dear, I don’t like to hear you say that!”
“But she is. And she listens to things.” Here Bessie pushed the door behind her open, to reveal the culprit in her white nightgown on the other side of it. “I should be ashamed to be a Paul Pry!” Bessie said with indignation and scorn.
Deleah was not at all abashed. “Mama, I don’t see why, when nice, interesting things happen, I should not know them as well as Bessie!” she complained.
She was sent to bed, however, and tucked up there, and kissed, and enjoined by an indulgent, reproving mother to be a good girl, and to go quietly to sleep. What mother could be angry with Deleah, looking at her rose and white face amid the tumult of tossed dark curls upon her pillow!
Then Bessie led her mother into an unoccupied room, hard by, upon the landing, and began to unfold her tale.
“Mama, it is about Reggie.” The room was only lit by the flame of the candle Mrs. Day held, but there was light enough to show the blushes on Bessie’s young plump cheeks. “Mama, he has said something about _that_ again. _You_ know.”
“About his being engaged to you?”
Bessie, cheeks and eyes aglow and alight, ecstatically nodded; her fair bosom in its garniture of white tulle and forget-me-nots, rose and fell. “What two pretty daughters I have!” Mrs. Day said to herself, and, being a devout woman, gave thanks accordingly.
“Well, dear, and what did you say?”
“I said–I don’t know what I said, mama. We were dancing that last galop–the Orlando Furioso one, you know–and the room was so full, and other couples were rushing down upon us–people are so horribly selfish when they dance, and some of them dance so boisterously.”
“It would be a very nice engagement for you, Bessie. I suppose there was not a girl here to-night who would not gladly take him.”
“I know that. I know that, mama. So does he–Reggie.”
“He did not say so, I hope?”
“No. Reggie does not always want exactly to _say_ things.”
“But what did he say to you, dear? Is the matter any forwarder than it was the last time you spoke of it to me?”
“Well, I suppose so, mama.”
“You mean you and Reggie Forcus consider yourselves engaged?”
“I think so. But it was so difficult to catch every word in that galop. If he did not say the _exact words_ he said as much.”
“Did he say anything about speaking to papa?”
“No. But I said it.”
“_You_ said it, Bessie?”‘
“Well, mama! Reggie did not seem to wish to be bothered.”
“Not quite yet, you understand.”
In the pause that followed the mother’s large eyes, surrounded by dark rings, and set rather deeply in the dusky paleness of her well-featured face, dwelt consideringly upon her daughter’s round cheeks with their fair smooth skin, upon her grey-green eyes, and smooth fair hair.
“It is not very satisfactory, I’m afraid, Bessie,” she said reluctantly at length.
Bessie’s face fell. “I thought I’d better tell you.”
“Certainly, my dear.”
“I wonder what we ought to do, mama?”
“To do, Bessie?”
“I thought, perhaps, if Reggie does not speak to papa, that papa might speak to Reggie?”
Mrs. Day shook a sharply dissenting head. “That would not be the same thing at all, my dear child.”
“What ought we to do, then? I thought you would know. Mothers have to arrange these things, haven’t they?”
“Well, you see, Bessie, usually the young man–“
“I know. But Reggie does not wish to. If you must know, mama, he said so, in so many words.”
“But I think that something ought to be done. You ought to do something–or papa. _Everything_ can’t be left to me!”
The tip of Bessie’s nose grew pink, her lip quivered, tears showed in her pale blue eyes. Mrs. Day laid a soothing hand upon her arm.
“We won’t talk of it any more now,” she said. “We are both tired. We will sleep on it, Bessie. Go to bed, dear, and leave everything till the morning.”
Her silver candlestick in her hand, Mrs. Day trailed her rich green satin across the landing, pausing at the door of Bernard, her second-born, coming between Bessie and Deleah. She listened a moment, then rapped upon the door. “In bed, dear?”
“A half hour ago.”
“Not smoking, Bernard?”
“Of course not. Go away.”
To the bedside of the youngest child she betook herself next. Franky, who had been sent to bed several hours before the rest, was sound asleep. There were nine years between this child and Deleah; Franky was the baby, the darling of them all. The mother, tired as she was with the duties and responsibilities of the evening, stood long to look upon the sleeping face of the boy. His dark hair, allowed, through mother’s pride in its beauty, to grow longer than was fitting for a boy, curled damply about his brow, his small, dark, delicately aquiline features were like the pretty Deleah’s. The elder boy and girl, fair of skin, with straight hair of a pale, lustreless gold, resembled their father; Mrs. William Day was not so far blinded by love of her husband as not to rejoice in secret that at least two of her children “favoured” herself.
The mother sat for a few minutes on the bed, her candle shaded by her hand, to watch the child’s regular breathing. “My darling Franky!” she whispered aloud; and to herself she said, “If only they could all always keep Franky’s age!” She smiled as she sighed, thinking of Bessie and her love affair, about which she had many doubts; of Bernard, who, in spite of prayers and chidings, would smoke in bed, and had once set fire to his bedclothes; of Deleah, even, who, schoolgirl as she was, had, and held to, her own ideas, and was not so easy to manage as she had been. If a mother could always keep her children about her, to be no older, no more difficult to make happy than Franky!
She sighed, kissed the child, pushed from his face the admired curls, then dragged her rich, voluminous draperies to her own room, where her husband was already, by his silence she judged, asleep.
There was a pier-glass in the large, handsomely furnished bedroom. Mrs. Day caught her reflection in it as she approached, and paused before it. Bessie had thought her new green satin might have been made a yard or so fuller in the skirt. Did it really need that alteration, she wondered? She lit the candles branching from the long glass and standing before it seriously debated the point with herself. Walking away from the glass, her head turned over her shoulder, she examined the back effect; walked to meet herself, gravely doubtful still; gathered the fullness of the skirt in her hand, released it, spreading out the rich folds. Then, something making her turn her head sharply to the big bed with its red moreen curtains hanging straightly down beside its four carved posts, her eyes met the wide open eyes of the man lying there.
“Oh!” she cried. “How you startled me, William! I thought you were asleep. How silly you must have thought me!”
“Not more than usual,” William growled. He held the idea–it was more prevalent perhaps at that period than this–that wives were the better for being snubbed and insulted.
“I was deciding if to have my evening dress altered or not.”
“You are never in want of an excuse for posturing before the glass. What does it matter at your time of life how your dress looks? Come to bed, and give me a chance to get to sleep.”
Mrs. Day extinguished again the candles she had lit, and began docilely to unrobe herself. As she did so she talked.
“It all went off very well to-night, I think, William?”
“First-rate. Champagne-cup ran short.”
“There should have been enough. The Barkers at their party never have champagne at all.”
“When you’re about it, do the thing well. What’s a few pounds more here and there, when the end comes!”
“The end, William?”
“The end of the year. When the bills come in.”
“How did you think Bessie looked to-night?”
“I thought my little Deleah was the belle of the ball.”
“Deleah is a child only. You never have eyes but for Deleah.”
“Bess was all right.”
“I thought she looked so fair and sweet. Her neck and arms are like milk, William. I wonder if Reggie Forcus–means anything?”
“Ba-a! Not he! No such luck.”
“I really don’t see why. I don’t see why our girls should not have as good luck as other people’s. Reggie will marry some one, I suppose.”
“Now, don’t be a silly fool if you can help it; and don’t encourage the girl to run her head at any such nonsense. Francis Forcus will no more allow his brother to marry your daughter than the queen will allow him to marry one of hers. I told you that before.”
“But Bessie–poor child–thinks differently.”
“Tell Bessie not to be an ass then; and come to bed.”
She went to bed; and, spite of her disturbing thoughts of Bessie and her love affair, went to sleep.
“Oh, dear!” she said as she lay down. “What a lot of bother there’ll be for the servants, getting the house straight, tomorrow; and they so late to bed! The drawing-room carpet to put down again, and all the furniture to move into place. And it only seems the other day since we went through the same thing on last New Year’s Eve.”
“Turning the house upside down is what women like. It’s what they’re made for.”
“I wonder how many more dances we shall have to give before both the girls are married, and off our hands! I’m sure I shall never take the trouble to give one for the boys.”
“Shan’t you, indeed!”
“Why do you speak like that, William? I don’t know that I have said anything for you to jeer at.”
“Oh, go to sleep! And let’s hope you won’t have any worse troubles than the laying down or taking up of a carpet.”
The old servant Emily, who had lived with the Days since their marriage, and was as much friend as servant to her mistress and the young people, had once, in speaking of her master, made the memorable pronouncement that he was “Apples abroad and crabs at home.” This speech, being interpreted, meant that the noisy, boisterous good temper and high spirit which his acquaintances witnessed in him did not always characterise the deportment of the head of the house in the bosom of his family.
He lay for a time, staring at the dying fire which was on his side of the room. He lay still, to let his wife believe he was asleep, but was too irritable and restless to lie so for long. He turned about on his pillow, cautiously at first, so as not to wake her; yet when she did not awake was aggrieved, and sharply called her name.
“You sleep like a pig,” he said. “I have not closed my eyes since I came to bed.”
The fact that she could sleep and he could not was to him a grievance which dated from their marriage, twenty years ago. Poor Mrs. Day had grown to think her predilection to indulge in slumber when she went to bed was a failing to be apologised for and hidden, if possible. She was often driven fictitiously to protest that she also had lain wakeful. He received a like statement when she made it now in contemptuous silence.
“I have been thinking about what you tell me of Bess and young Forcus,” the father said. “Of course, if there were, by chance, anything in it it would be a very good thing for the girl.”
“I am glad you see it in that light at last, William. I have always, of course, known that it would be a good thing.”
“What I have been thinking is, perhaps I had better go and see Francis Forcus about it.”
“Reggie’s brother? Oh, no, William! I would not do that.”
“And why not, pray? You and I can never look at a thing in the same light for two minutes at a time. If I want to rest on my oars you’re badgering me to be up and doing. If I begin to see it’s time for me to interfere, it’s ‘Oh, no, William!’ There never was your equal for contradiction.”
“All the same I should not go to Sir Francis.”
“And why not? What’s your reason? What is there against it? If his brother, who is dependent on him for the present as if he were his son, is going to marry my daughter, he and I will have to talk it over, I suppose?”
“Yes. But not until Reggie has spoken to you. At present he has not said a word, except to Bessie. I think Reggie should. I think–“
“Never mind what you think. Let’s come to facts. Is there or is there not anything serious in this affair?”
“Bessie says there is.”
“Can’t you give a plain answer to a plain question? Is young Forcus, who is always hanging about the place, making love to my girl or is he not?”
“He has certainly paid her attention.”
“Is he engaged to her?”
“Bessie considers herself engaged. But as I tell Bessie–“
“I don’t want that. What you think, or what you tell Bessie. I want facts to go upon. Without facts you can’t expect me to act.”
“I really do not wish you to act, William.”
“Leave that to me. I am not asking what you wish,” William snapped at her; and then turning on his side he seemed to go to sleep.
Something Wrong At The Office
Mrs. Day had decided to spend the first morning of the New Year in superintending the relaying of the drawing-room carpet and the reducing her house to its habitual order after the dance. Bessie had decided otherwise. She had decided that she should be driven in the carriage, her mother beside her, to some flooded and frozen meadows, three miles out of the town, where many of the young people who had danced last night had arranged to go to skate. Deleah and the boys had started to walk there immediately after breakfast. Bessie, who could not skate, wished to be there also, but did not choose to walk, and could not be allowed to be in the carriage alone.
The girl, very fair and pretty in her velvet jacket with the ermine collar and cuffs, seated in the victoria by her mother’s side, eagerly scanned the broad expanse of ice for the familiar figure of the young man who had paid her such particular attention during the memorable galop. She looked in vain. There were several of last night’s partners who came to the side of the carriage and asked for the ladies’ health after the fatigue of the dance, and descanted on their own freedom, or otherwise, from weariness. Deleah, her face the colour of a wild rose, her loose dark hair curling crisply in the frosty air, shouted greetings to her mother as she flew past, a little erect, graceful figure keeping her elegant poise with the ease of the young and fearless. Now and again she was seen to be fleeing, laughing as she went, from the pursuit of a skater who wished to make a circuit of the flooded meadow holding Deleah’s hand. The girl was at once a romp and shy. She laughed with dancing eyes as she flew ahead; but captured, had a frightened, anxious look, her eyes appealing to her mother as she passed in protest and for protection.
“Deleah will be a flirt when she grows up,” Bessie said, who knew that her mother was regarding the pretty child with admiration.
“Do you think so, my dear? I hope not, Bessie.”
“She will! And she wants looking after. I thought, for a girl not yet ‘out,’ she was very forward last night. Reggie thought so too.”
“I’m afraid you put it into his head, Bessie.”
“As if Reggie had not got ideas of his own! Without my even so much as _hinting_ he said he supposed she knew she was pretty.”
“Reggie isn’t here to-day, Bessie.”
“I think he will come. He said he would come, and as I could not skate he promised to push me in a chair on the ice. We need not go home yet, mama. I like watching the skating.”
But she only watched the arrivals; and Reggie Forcus was never among them.
“Perhaps he’s gone to speak to papa,” she said brightly after a silence.” No doubt he thought, after all, it would be better to get things settled. I expect that is what Reggie has done, mama.”
“I would not think so much about it, if I were you, my dear. Wait until matters have arranged themselves.”
“Yes, but ought not we to do something to arrange them?” Bessie persisted.
“It is not usual, Bessie.”
“But, mama, am I to lose Reggie for any nonsense of that sort? Usual or not usual I think you or papa should speak to him.”
To pacify her the mother admitted that her father had even thought of doing so.
“Then I hope papa will have the sense to do it; and to get the whole thing settled,” Bessie said.
She awaited in feverish expectancy the return of her father from his office, that evening, welcoming him with bright eyes and eager looks, trying to read in his face that which she longed to hear from his lips. But Mr. Day had arrived home in a temper of mind the reverse of encouraging. In gloomy silence he sat through the meal which families of the upper middle classes then took instead of dinner at the dinner hour. A comfortable, informal meal at which a big silver tea-tray and great silver tea-urn and heavily embossed tea-services, took a prominent part; where rolls and patties and huge hams and much-decorated tongues were present; and hot toast and muffins and many cakes. No servants waited; there was no centre-piece of flowers; but the gas from the many branches of the great chandelier of scintillating cut glass overhead shone on the silver and china and the appetising viands to which the Days always did such ample justice in a very agreeable way.
But to-night the master of the house, seated opposite his wife at her tea-tray, ate nothing of the generous fare. He had a black look on his heavy face, and short snarling replies for those who ventured to address him. Such a mood was not altogether unusual with him; when it was understood among them that something had gone wrong at the office and that it was safest to leave him alone. But Bessie, whose characteristic it was never, for a moment, under whatever stress of circumstances, to forget her own individual interests, kept whispering to her mother, by whose side she sat, urging her to ask of her father that which she desired to know.
“Ask him, mama. Do ask him!”
“H’sh, my dear!” a frown and a cautioning glance in the direction of the scowling face.
Bessie’s foot upon her mother’s beneath the table. “Mama, why are you so silly? Ask him! Ask him!”
The mother was never for long proof against the entreaties or commands of her offspring. “Have you seen anything of Reggie Forcus to-day, William?” presently she asked.
The man at the other end of the table glared upon her for a moment with angry eyes. “No!” he thundered. “But I have seen Francis Forcus, which was quite enough for me.”
A silence fell. Bessie’s heart beat loudly, the colour left her face. Her father turned to her as he said the last words. “Yes, papa?” she faltered.
“Your mother sent me to him on a fool’s errand,” he said. Then, scowling upon daughter and wife, he gulped down a cup of tea, pushed his chair noisily back and went from the room.
As the door closed behind him, Bessie burst into tears.
The boys and Deleah looked at her in consternation. “What’s up now?” they asked of each other with lifted eyebrows.
“Bessie, my dear child! You must not give way so. You really must summon up a little pride,” the mother chided.
“It’s all very well for you!” Bessie retorted chokingly, and sobbed on. She felt for her handkerchief, and having none of her own grabbed without any thanks that which Deleah threw across the table. Deleah, shocked at the spectacle, watched her sister. “Whatever happened I would not cry before every one like that,” she said to herself. Bernard, the elder boy, who lived in a chronic state of quarrelling with Bessie, openly giggled. Franky, having pulled his mother’s face down to his own, was whispering, “What is it, mama? What is the matter with Bessie, now? Does she feel sick?” To feel sick was Franky’s idea of the greatest earthly misery.
Having wiped her eyes on Deleah’s handkerchief Bessie rolled it into a ball and flung it across the table, with greater force of will than directness of aim, at Bernard’s face. “You beast!” she choked. “Mama, Bernard’s laughing at me. Oughtn’t Bernard to know how to behave better? Because I’m so unhappy isn’t a reason I should be laughed at.”
Whereat they all laughed–Bessie was so ridiculous, they thought; and Mrs. Day, putting out a kind hand to the angrily sobbing girl, led her from the room. “You’re all too bad,” she said, looking back at the sniggering group. “Bernard, you should know better.”
“Bessie’s such an old ass!” the boy excused himself. “I want some more tea, mother. I won’t have this her sopping handkerchief fell in. All her beastly tears in my cup!”
“Deleah must pour it out for you,” the mother said, and closed the door behind herself and her daughter.
“I won’t be called an ass by Bernard! I won’t be made fun of by them all!” Bessie cried. “You should go back, and punish them, mama.”
Mrs. Day, murmuring words of soothing, led her to the foot of the stairs, and watched the girl mounting slowly to her room, crying audibly, childish fashion, as she went. “You must try to have more self-control,” she said.
“But why did papa look at me in such a horrible manner?”
“You know what your father is, Bessie. So often irritable at home when things have gone wrong at the office. Go to your room till your tears are dry; I will see your father and find out if there is anything to tell you.”
Mr. Day was in the room they called the breakfast-room. Looking upon it with the housewife’s desire for neatness Mrs. Day often spoke of it as the Pig-sty, but it was the room they all of them loved best in the house. It was here the children learned their lessons for school, the ladies worked, Franky played. It was spacious and cheerful, and held nothing that rough usage would spoil. All the most comfortable chairs in the house were pulled up to the hearth, upon which Franky’s cats were allowed to lie, and Bernard’s dog. A canary, Deleah’s especial protegee, hung in the window.
Mr. Day had pulled a chair too small for his huge bulk in front of the fire, and sat, looking huddled and uncomfortable, his feet drawn up beneath his chair, his knees dropped, staring at the bars.
“Is anything the matter, William?” his wife asked. “Aren’t you going out again, this evening?”
Every night of his life, except the Sunday night, when on no account would he have missed going to church with his family, he went to a club in the town where whist and three-card loo were played–for higher stakes, it was whispered, than most of its members could spare.
“You have taken off your boots, William: aren’t you going to your club?”
“No; I’m not going to my club.”
“In heaven’s name why?”
“Because my club’s seen the last of me.”
She looked at him aghast, hearing the news with real dismay. She never would have admitted, even to herself, being a kind woman and a dutiful wife, that she preferred her husband out of her presence rather than in it–her children would not have whispered such a disloyalty; yet if he was going to pass his evenings in the bosom of his family, for the future, each of them would know in his or her heart that the peacefullest and most enjoyable hours of the day would be spoilt.
“Have you had any unpleasantness over cards, William?”
He turned savagely upon her where she stood by the corner of the mantelpiece. “What the devil did you send me on that fool’s errand to Francis Forcus for?” he asked.
“_I_ send you, William?”
“I went because of the lying report you brought me.”
“You led me to believe Bessie and young Forcus were engaged. Now did you or did you not lead me to believe it? Speak the truth if you can. Did you or did you not?”
“Did you lead me to believe it?”
“Yes, then; if you will have it so.”
“And made me look a fool! I thought it was too good to be true–only you stuck to it. You were so d–d sure. You would have it so. Nothing would turn you.”
“William, you must remember I advised you not to go.”
“Did I ask your advice? Did I ever stoop to ask for it? I acted on information which you gave me. Went–and got kicked out.”
“Kicked out? William!”
“Practically. I don’t mean to say the man actually used his boot. If he had he couldn’t have expressed plainer what he meant. Francis Forcus never had a civil word to fling at me in all his life. But for your infernal, silly cackle I’d as soon have gone to the devil as to him. If I’d only had myself and my own feeling to think about–Bessie or no Bessie–I’d have hanged myself sooner than have gone to him. But I’d got more than that.”
His voice had fallen from its bullying key to a toneless melancholy. Mrs. Day, who had been standing hitherto, seated herself in the chair by the chimney corner, and looked at her husband’s blunt profile as he sat before the fire with a sick feeling of impending disaster, and a dismayed inquiry in her dark eyes.
“I’d got you and the children to think about,” the man added.
“What could Sir Francis have said to you, William?”
Her husband turned savagely upon her. “Say? He said there was no engagement between his brother–his ‘_young_ brother’–and my daughter. That such an engagement would never receive his sanction. That he was not aware his ‘_young_ brother’–he’s always sticking the word down your throat; the sanctimonious prig–I longed to kick him!–was on terms of intimacy with any one in my family.”
“William!” Mrs. Day, cut to the quick, called protestingly upon her husband’s name. “I hope you answered him there. I hope you did!”
“I said the young beggar was always hanging about my house. That he had danced half the night with my daughter–and–and made love to her.”
“And then? And then, William?”
“He said, ‘I wish all acquaintanceship to cease. I beg you not to invite my young brother to your house again.'”
“He said that?”
“Damn him! Yes.”
“But that was an insult!” The poor woman was pale with surprise and dismay. She stared breathlessly upon her husband. “Didn’t you show him you felt it was an insult, William?”
William moved his huge shoulders. “What do you think?”
“Tell me what you said to him.”
“I swore at him for ten minutes. He didn’t know if he stood on his head or his heels when I’d done with him. Then I came away.”
“I don’t think that _swearing_ would improve matters.”
“Perhaps you’ll tell me what would improve them? It’s what I want to hear, and more than I know.”
“Poor Bessie! Oh, poor, poor Bessie!”
“Ah!” poor Bessie’s father said, and his short-necked head fell upon his breast, and he gazed drearily at the fire again.
Mrs. Day got up and stood, her white hand glittering with its rings laid upon the black marble of the mantelpiece, thinking of Bessie.
“I would go to the club, William,” presently she advised. “It can’t make matters any better to sit at home and mope over them.”
“Didn’t I tell you I wasn’t going to the club? D’you think I’m like a woman, and don’t know my own mind?”
“I thought it would be pleasanter for you,” she said; and then she left him. Her mind was full of Bessie, and the blow which must be given to Bessie’s hopes.
“I don’t know how I shall ever find the heart to tell her,” she said to herself as she went from the room.
Forcus’s Family Ale
It was the period when to rob a poor man–or a rich one, for that matter–of his beer would have been a crime to arouse to furious expression the popular sense of justice; when beer was on the master’s table as well as in the servants’ hall; when every cellar of the well-to-do held its great cask for family consumption, and no one had thought of attempting to convert the poor man from indulgence in his national beverage. It was the period when brewers made huge fortunes–and that in spite of the fact that they used good malt and hops in their brewings–nor dreamed, save, perhaps, in their worst nightmare, of the interference of Government in their monopoly. In Brockenham and its county the liquor brewed at the Hope Brewery was considered the best tipple procurable. Nothing slipped down the local throat so satisfactorily as Forcus and Son’s Family Ale; and the present representatives of the firm were easily the wealthiest people in the town.
There were but two of them at the time: Francis Forcus–Sir Francis, for the last twelve months, he having been knighted in the second year of his mayoralty on the visit of a Royal Personage to his native town–and Reginald, his brother, born twenty years after himself of his father’s second marriage, and now in his twenty-fourth year. Very good-looking, very good-natured, very gay and friendly and accessible the younger brother was. Perhaps the most admired and popular young man in the town. His simple-minded pursuit of pleasure occupied a great deal of his time, and prevented his spending much of it at the Brewery where his brother made it a point of honour to pass three or four hours every day. But now and again Mr. Reginald appeared at the enormous pile of buildings, rising out of the slow-flowing river on which Brockenham stands, and where the famous Family Ale was composed. Now and then he would amuse himself for an hour, sauntering in the sunshine about the wide, brightly gravelled yards, inspecting the huge dray-horses in their stables, exchanging “the top of the morning,” as he facetiously called it to them, with the draymen. He was seldom tempted to appear where the brewing operations were actually in process, but he never took his departure without looking in upon his brother in the spacious and comfortable room overlooking the river in which that gentleman sat conscientiously for three or four hours a day to read the _Times_ and the local newspaper.
He paid his call upon the senior partner earlier than usual on the morning after Mrs. Day’s New Year’s Dance, but not so early that Sir Francis Forcus had not received a visitor before him. A visitor who had upset the equanimity of that always outwardly unruffled, and carefully self-contained person.
“You are up with the worm, this morning, Reggie,” he said.
He was not at all a typical brewer in appearance, his tall, imposing figure being clothed in no superfluous flesh, his face, with its peculiarly set expression, being pale and handsome. His black hair, worn rather long, after the fashion of the day, was brushed smoothly from his temples; he was shaved but for the close-growing whiskers, which reached half-way down his cheeks.
“To what are we indebted for the honour of so early a call?” he inquired with a twist of his in-drawn lips.
“You were off before I was down this morning,” the young man said. “I just looked in to tell you I was going out. That’s all.”
“You look in rather frequently on the same errand, I believe. Would it be indiscreet on my part to ask where you are going?”
“Not in the least,” Reggie declared easily. He lifted for his brother’s inspection a pair of skates which he had held dangling at his side. “They’ve flooded the meadows at Tooley. The ice ought to be in first-rate order, this morning.”
“So it is in the moat at home. Half a score people were skating there already as I drove away this morning. Tooley is five miles off. Why need you take the trouble to go to Tooley?”
“Several people, last night, said they were going. I thought I might as well go too.”
“Where were you last night, Reggie? I don’t want to tie you at home, by any means, but sometimes I like to know where you have been.”
“All right, Francis. Of course. There was a dance at the Days’ in Queen Anne Street. I’ve gone to it every New Year’s Night, for years. I went there.”
“I see.” The light hazel eyes of Sir Francis, according strangely with his black hair and palely dusky complexion, considered his brother’s cheerful countenance.
“I’m going to ask you not to go to the Days’ in Queen Anne Street any more, Reggie,” he said.
Reggie widely stared. “I don’t think my going there, when I wish, and they ask me, can do any harm to any one,” he protested.
“Sit down, will you?” his brother said, and pointed to the chair on the other side of the table by which he sat.
“I think not, now. I think I’ll be off. The ice mayn’t keep–“
The other still pointed to the chair. “What I want to say to you won’t keep–emphatically. Sit down,” he said, and down Reggie sat.
He was by no means embarrassed, or afraid. His brother had stood to him in place of a father since his own father had died when he was a boy at school, but he lectured him as little as possible, and very rarely thwarted him. “Get over it as quick as you can, Francis,” was all he said.
“Did you meet Mr. Day going away as you came in?”
“Mr. Day? No.”
“He has just left me. He came to tell me that you,” he looked during a moment’s pause in Reggie’s wide eyes, “were engaged to be married to his daughter.”
“Well! Come! That’s a good ‘un!” Reggie was surprised, his brother saw, but not so satisfactorily taken aback as he had hoped.
“Is it so?”
“Then, what did the man mean by daring to say it to me?”
Reggie maintained an instant’s quite undisconcerted silence; then, “You see, she says it too,” he said.
“Day’s daughter? She must be stopped saying it.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Girls do say that sort of thing.”
“I think not. Unless they are privileged to say it. Miss Day, you say, has nothing to go upon?”
“Oh, well, you know!” Reggie sat back from the table, putting his hands in his pockets, leaning in his chair at his ease, with the air of talking as one man of the world to another.
“But I do not know. I am waiting for you to tell me.”
“You don’t want me to go into detail, I suppose?”
“You mean you have indulged in a flirtation with this girl, and she has tried to grab you?”
Reggie gave the subject a moment’s thought. “I won’t quite admit that,” he said conscientiously. “She, somehow, seems to think I’ve gone further than I have gone. She said something to me last night about my speaking to her father.”
“Instead of which her father is sent to speak to me. Now, look here, Reggie, you and I have never, so far, had any unpleasantness–have we? Do not let us have it over this. A daughter of William Day’s is about the last person on earth it would be desirable for you to marry.”
“I’m not thinking of marrying any one yet, Francis.”
“I should hope not! Were you going to meet Miss Day on the ice?”
“Well, she said she’d be there. A whole lot of them were going.”
“Stay away, will you? To oblige me?”
“If you put it that way–“
“Thank you. I don’t want our name”–he was as proud of the brewery as if it had been a dukedom; he said “our name” as though he spoke of a sacred thing–“mixed up with the name of Mr. William Day.”
“He’s a nice, good-natured old fellow. You should have heard him banging away with his tambourine, last night.”
“I’m going to tell you something in confidence. On the strength of your engagement to his daughter–wait! I know you are not engaged to her–Mr. William Day came here to borrow five hundred pounds of me.”
“I refused him the loan, of course. Wait a minute! What I was going to say is this: I happen to know why he wanted that money. Why it was important for him to get it at once. It was to pacify a certain client of his who is pressing him. She authorised him to sell some shares, which he did; but she can’t get a settlement.”
“I say! That’s pretty bad, isn’t it?”
“And it’s the one case of which I happen to know the history. There are others, I am told, and more flagrant than this.”
“Will he have to smash up?”
“I hope it will be no worse. I hope–well, we shall see. I have told you this to show you how specially distasteful to me was what the man said to me to-day. You understand, don’t you?”
Reggie said he understood. “It was quite premature,” he declared. “Quite!” But he looked very thoughtful.
“You will keep clear of them, remember.”
“I think I’m best out of their way for the present.”
“Instead of skating this morning I wish you’d go over to Runnydale and have a look at that thorough-bred Candy is breaking for me.”
Sir Francis knew his man. If Bessie Day had held for him ten times her attraction an errand which had a horse for its objective would have proved more attractive still to Reginald Forcus. With hardly a pang he assented.
The young man spent a happy and profitable day at Runnydale with old Candy, a horse-dealer, much affected by the well-to-do youth of the neighbourhood, he having a racy tongue, and a fund of anecdote, and a pleasant, joking, familiar way of transferring money from their pockets to his own. He returned in time for dinner at Cashelthorpe, his brother’s country-house a few miles out of Brockenham, which the younger man also made his home. The two dined alone, as was usual of late, the delicate health of Lady Forcus compelling her often to keep her room.
“You remember what I told you about Day’s affairs this morning?” Sir Francis asked, looking across the table at his brother as they sat down to their soup.
Of course Reggie remembered.
“Where do you suppose Mr. William Day is spending his evening?”
Reggie paused with his spoon on its way to his mouth to say he hoped in the bosom of Mr. William Day’s family.
“He is spending it in prison.”
The spoon fell back into its plate, and Reggie’s face grew white. “It can’t be true! I’ll never believe it!”
“What did you expect, after what I told you? Unless he had made a bolt of it.”
“Oh, poor old fellow! But what’s the poor old fellow done, then?”
“Done? Fraudulently appropriated his clients’ money and adapted it to his own uses.”
“Poor old Day! Oh, poor old devil!”
“Well, get your dinner, my dear boy.”
“He was slapping me on the shoulder, and I was drinking his champagne, last night!”
The younger Forcus recovered sufficiently to eat the fish, but his soup had to be removed untasted. He sat, with both hands gripping his table-napkin as it lay across his knees, his eyes on the table-cloth, seeing the pretty Deleah and her fat but agile father dancing down the gay ball-room. In prison! Some one he had known, and touched hands with! Prison!
“I wonder of what the poor old fellow was thinking as he banged away at his tambourine last night!” Reggie said.
Shortly after Mrs. Day had left her husband sitting in his stocking-feet over the breakfast-room fire, she, in the midst of her children at their several occupations but attentive to what went on beyond, heard his heavy step in the hall, heard the front door open and close.
“Your father has gone to the club, after all,” she said, and gave a sigh of relief as she worked away at her embroidery, making holes in a strip of muslin and stitching round them, for the adornment of the elder daughter’s petticoat. She was a timid woman, in spite of her fine and handsome appearance, with a great fear of the unusual. It was her husband’s habit to go out. The thought of him sitting alone and idle in the other room had been weighing on her mind.
The children paid no attention; they were all a little tired and languid and disinclined for their usual amusements after the excitement of last night’s dance and the exertion of their morning on the ice. Even Deleah, the reader of the family, neglected her book to lie back in her chair and gaze into the fire, the music of galop, and rattle of her father’s tambourine humming in her ears; before her eyes figures chasing each other over the blue sheet of ice or flying rhythmically over polished boards.
Franky having temporarily deserted his paint-box and the _Illustrated News_ he had designed to colour for many tinted sheets of gelatine, saved from the crackers on last night’s supper table, now held them in turn before his eyes. “Mama, you’re all red–all lovely red, like roses,” or “Bessie, you’re frightful–you’re white as if you felt sick,” he cried, accordingly as a red or a green transparency was before his eyes.
The game called “Tactics,” over which Bessie and Bernard nightly quarrelled, had been so far neglected; a circumstance not to be regretted, since Bessie generally played a losing game in tears, and signalised Bernard’s victory by upsetting the board and flinging the red and white ivory pegs in his face.
For, the last night’s dance, which had been an engrossing topic for several weeks before it had come off, now that it was over must still be talked about.
How silly Deleah had looked when her white satin shoe had come off and shot across the slippery floor in the last waltz; and she would not stop, for all that, but finished the dance without it.
“Were your shoes too big, Deleah?”
“A little, mama. They were a pair of Bessie’s last year’s ones, that were too small for her.”
“There you go! At me again!” Bessie cried. “Deda is proud because her foot is smaller than mine, mama. If you’re a little weed of a thing like Deda, of course your feet are narrow and small. They have to be. There’s no merit in it.”
“And I suppose Deleah danced her silk stockings into holes?”
“No, mama! Mr. Frost, I was waltzing with, held me up most beautifully; so that after the shoe came off my feet never once touched the floor.”
“Lucky it wasn’t you, Bessie! It would have been the finish of poor Frost to have tried to carry such a lump as you.”
“Mama, will you speak to Bernard, and ask him not to be always saying rude things about me.”
“Hush, Bessie! Nonsense! Bernard, my dear, do try to be more polite to your sister.”
“Mama, here’s a motter I rather like in this green cracker.
“‘What I most admire in you
Are your eyes of lovely blue.’
“What would you have done, Deleah, if a gentleman had pulled the cracker with you? Because your eyes aren’t blue; they’re yellow-brown.”
“I should have passed it on to Bernard.”
“And why wouldn’t you have passed it on to me, pray, miss. My eyes are as blue as Bernard’s, I suppose?”
“Your eyes are green,” from a Bernard ever ready for the fray.
“Mama! Mama! He’s at me again! Bernard is at me again! He says my eyes are green!”
“Come, come, children! Hush, Bessie! You are too bad, Bernard. Now then, we have not yet decided who was the belle of the ball, last night.”
It was while they gave their opinion on this momentous subject that Franky fell asleep over his cracker papers and was sent to bed, an hour before his time, his mother going up to hear him say his prayers, as was her nightly custom. She was crossing the hall on her return when the front door opened and the master of the house, to his wife’s astonishment, reappearing, stepped in again.
“Lydia!” he whispered, and with an odd shrinking from him, she noticed that there was something furtive in his manner, and that his voice, wont to sound alarmingly through the house on his return to it, was husky and hushed. “Lydia, how much money have you in the house?”
“Money!” his wife repeated, and gazed upon him with alarm in her eyes.
“Money–I gave you a cheque for ten pounds on Monday. How much of it is left?”
Most of it had gone in expenses for the dance. “I have only about thirty shillings left, William.” Without knowing why, her voice, like his, had sunk to the tone of mystery.
“Give it me, then. Quick!”
She hesitated, fearfully questioning: “Has anything–?”
“Never mind now. Get it. Get all you can lay your hands on. Quick!”
Her purse was in the pocket hidden in the many folds of her silk dress. There was not quite so much in it as she had reckoned; she slipped the sovereign and few shillings with trembling fingers into his hand.
“I could ask Bernard, and Bessie, William.”
“No! I won’t take their money,” he said. “This will get me to London.”
“I am going up by the mail.”
“But why in this hurry?”
Not the prospect of the sudden journey, but the something secret and horribly unfamiliar in his manner frightened her. He came a step further into the hall and picking up a dark muffler from a chair, wound it round his neck. She saw that his face was livid, and looked suddenly flabby, and that his hands were shaking.
“Business,” he whispered. “Don’t worry.”
As he turned to the door, she laid a hand on his arm. “Something is wrong. I have felt it all the evening. Tell me, have you had losses, William?”
He nodded, without looking at her. “That’s about the tune of it.”
“You should have told me.”
“I’ve told you now. You’ll hear about it soon enough.”
She gripped his arm. “Don’t go like this! Whatever it is, don’t run away. Is it very bad? Is it–” the word that stood for the worst business misfortune she could imagine, trembled and died on her lips–“is it _Failure_?”
He pulled his muffler about his face, his hat lower upon his brow: “You’ve hit it,” he said. “It’s that.”
Her hand slid from his coat-sleeve, he slipped through the half-open door, and shuffled down the three white steps which led to the silent street. Then, as white, half-stupefied, she watched him, he turned and climbed the steps again and stood beside her.
“You had better go to George Boult,” he said. “Boult will tell you what to do. Are you listening? Go to Boult.”
“But aren’t you coming back to-morrow, William? You can’t leave us like this! You must come back!”
He was going down the steps again. There was a moon clear in a frosty sky. How white the steps shone! For all her life she remembered the big, unwieldy figure of her husband shuffling down them.
“I don’t know what my movements may be. Just at present they are uncertain.” Arrived on the pavement he turned his miserable, furtive eyes on her as she stood in the open door, the brightly-lit hall of home behind her. “Shut the door,” he said with something of his old passionate irritability of manner. “I don’t want all the world to know I’m going away to-night. Shut the door!”
She obeyed him, as ever when he used that tone to her, with nervous haste. William Day waited a moment to hear the bolts slipping into place. It was a duty he performed himself every night of his life as he went up to bed. The door was bolted with him on the wrong side of it, now. Never, he knew, in all the years to come would he turn the lock of security on the sleeping house and shuffle upstairs, bed-candle in hand, to warmth and comfort and peaceful sleep again.
Mrs. Day, going back into the hall, came to a standstill beneath the hanging lamp, trying to collect her thoughts, trying to realise, but totally unable to do so, that ruin had come upon her home, her children, herself. Ruin which she had seen visit the homes of other people, devastate them; but whose shadow she had never imagined falling on the fortunes of her own.
On the William Days; so well-to-do; so respected in the place; who had their annual dance last night, all the nicest, most desirable people of the town present. No one’s dance was so nicely managed, so spirited, so successful as theirs.
She was actually thinking of the dance as she stood there, dazed, in the gas-lit hall. They would never give another New Year’s dance.
William, with all his faults, was never mean. “Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’po’rth of tar,” was a favourite motto of his. She had ever thought it a proverb both pleasant and wise. She was not an extravagant woman, but she also liked to have things well done, and had no sympathy with cheese-paring ways. The house was well and handsomely furnished, she and the children had plenty of dress, their table was an excellent one, all of them indulging in an amused contempt of the domestic economies of their friends. Servants stayed with them for years, and it was easy to fill their places when they left. They kept one more of them than was needed, for comfort’s sake. She was a good mistress; he, for all his passionate rating of his dependents at times, was a good master.
Was all this finished now? Was it possible? The old pleasant, natural order of things–the only order to which she had ever been accustomed. Finished now?
And if so what would follow?
Furniture sale. Dust of strange feet in the familiar rooms. People she would never have dreamed of admitting there pulling about her carpets, poking her feather-beds, turning up their noses at the breakfast-room chair-covers which were shabby, there was no good in denying it; and with her not by to explain they preferred them so. No more expensive paint-boxes and toys for Franky; Bessie and darling Deleah in shabby hats; Bernard without pocket-money, made a banker’s clerk, perhaps–she had heard her husband say bank-clerks had no prospects, poor beggars! Bernard–her handsome Bernard to be a “poor beggar”–!
A sudden vertigo seized her: the hall was whirling round; she stretched a hand blindly for support, and pulled over an umbrella-stand which fell with a crash and clatter.
The girls and Bernard came running out. “What on earth are you doing, mama? Have you hurt yourself? What is it?”
She had subsided upon a hall-chair, her face was ghastly, all her strength seemed gone. “I felt faint. I am better,” she got out, and looked strangely round upon them all. Her gaze wandered lingeringly from object to object in the hall as if she had never seen it before. She shivered violently with deadly cold. “I will go to bed,” she said.
The children helped her upstairs. She leant on Bessie’s arm, the arm of Deleah was round her waist. The stairway was broad, there was room for all three. Bernard stood on the mat below and watched with an anxious face.
“Sure I can’t do anything, mother?” he kept saying.
They were all so fond of her, so frightened if for a moment she seemed to fail them. She could not get rid of them till they had undressed her and put her to bed. Until they themselves went to bed they kept coming back and peeping in at her. “Papa will be back soon; mind you send him for us if you feel at all ill,” they adjured her.
“Mama, you are sure it is not because I worried you about Reggie Forcus?” a contrite Bessie asked. “Because he is sure to come to-morrow–you think so, don’t you?–and we shall make it all right, in spite of Sir Francis. Promise not to worry, mama.”
Twice in the night Deleah slipped from her own warm bed to stand, an anxious little figure, shivering in her nightgown, her dark curls streaming down her back, a suspensive ear to the keyhole of her mother’s door. People fainted because they had heart disease. Of heart disease they also died. She dared not go in, because papa was there, but waited, trembling with cold and fear, until her mother’s sigh reassured her.
In the morning the mistress of the house came down with a pale face and dark rings about her deeply-set large eyes. She could not smile, she could not eat, she hardly spoke, but she was better, she said.
The children would have to know; but she could not bring herself to tell them. That their father was not in the house they did not perceive, but put down his absence from the breakfast-table to the fact that he had over-slept himself.
A great fire blazed on the hearth. A stack of muffins was being kept warm in a silver dish on a brass stand before it. Fish, and broiled kidneys were on the table; a ham, and a brawn, and a glazed tongue on the sideboard. Mrs. Day always drank coffee at her breakfast, Deleah liked cocoa, the rest took tea; all three were served.
Mrs. Day surveyed these signs of comfort and luxury with a numb feeling at her heart. All this, and such as this, would have to go. How would the children endure life without it. Was this lavish amount of food “extravagance”? she asked herself, for the first time. Was it possible she, with her well-filled table on which she had prided herself, had conduced to the misfortune? She was a woman whose conscience was very easily touched, and she began to blame herself. “But I never dreamed!” she said, “I never dreamed!”
Bessie could eat neither fish nor kidneys, that morning. “Mama, there was some game-pie left, last night. Mayn’t I have some of it?”
The servant was rung for to bring the game-pie. “If there are any oyster patties we might have them in, mother,” Bernard suggested.
The mother, sadly gazing, assented. Nothing would she have denied them, that morning–her poor children who were so soon to be deprived of game-pies and oysters for ever!
They were in the midst of breakfast, their voices a little subdued because mama was not well, yet with an enjoyable sense of freedom because papa, who was so often irritable at that meal, had not yet come down, when suddenly the door opened and without any announcement Mr. George Boult walked in.
He was a man they all knew as a friend and associate of the master of the house, but he had never been held in favour by its mistress nor her children, who indeed had but the slightest acquaintance with him. He had been a school-fellow of William Day’s at the Brockenham Grammar School; a kind of comradeship had existed between the two from that time till now. George Boult had assumed for years the habit of dropping in at Queen Anne Street on Sunday afternoons to smoke a cigar and drink a glass of wine with the lawyer, but it was a function the men had enjoyed _tete-a-tete_: as an intimate in the family circle he had not been admitted.
Boult could have bought up all the superior people who turned up their noses at him, his friend frequently declared; it had been a standing grievance of his against his wife that she declined to put Mr. Boult’s name on the list of people invited to her parties.
George Boult was a self-made man; the process of manufacture recent, and unfortunately fresh in people’s minds. “If I invite the man who keeps the draper’s shop the professional people won’t come to meet him,” Mrs. Day pointed out, and remained obdurate on the point. But because he, who did not in the least wish to go to her parties, could not be invited to them, a little awkwardness in the relations of her husband’s Sunday afternoon visitor and Mrs. Day had arisen.
His appearance thus early in the morning, and in the midst of their meal was a matter more than a little surprising to them all. He was a short, rather podgy man, with fair whiskers curled upon red cheeks, a common, up-turned, broad-nostrilled nose, a wide, thick-lipped mouth; quick, observant, but by no means beautiful eyes, a protruding chin, and a roll of flesh which showed above his collar at the back of his neck. Well and carefully he was dressed, however, and wore that air of conscious prosperity to be observed in the man who has carved his own fortunes and is proud of the fact.
He grasped, in his broad, short-fingered, red one, the white hand of Mrs. Day, who went forward to meet him. “I got a verbal message from your husband last night, asking me to look you up the first thing this morning,” he said. “This is a sad business for you all; I am sorry–very sorry.”
Mrs. Day took her place behind her tea-cups again, lacking the strength to stand.
“Do the children know?” he asked, in a tone, muffled indeed, but quite audible in the children’s ears.
Mrs. Day shook her head. “But they must know,” she said.
“Know what?” they all asked, alert for news, but suspecting no evil. Even Franky looked up from his toast and marmalade with an inquiring glance. Perhaps the circus was coming, and there would be another procession, with elephants and camels walking through the streets, and unseen but loudly roaring lions dragged in their cages.
“There is bad news, my dears,” Mrs. Day began, but very faintly; she clasped her hands upon the edge of the tea-tray, the cups and saucers jingled with their shaking. “Poor papa is in trouble. Tell them,” she whispered to the man who stood beside her. “I can’t tell them.”
Mr. Boult fixed Bessie with the gaze of his slightly protruding eyes of stone-coloured blue. She was the eldest, the only one who could really be said to be grown up. For all his tail coat and smart neckties, Bernard at seventeen was only a boy still.
“What is the matter with papa? Where is papa?” Bessie asked him.
“Just at present–we hope only for a short time until we can bail him out–your papa is in prison,” George Boult said.
He had known it would be a blow to them, but he was a man entirely without imagination, and therefore quite incapable of putting himself in another person’s place. Rumours had been afloat in the business world. Money, which the jog-trot profession of law alone could never have brought him in, had been spent: more than once the suspicion of what would be the end of his old school-friend had crossed his mind. But that the possibility of such a, to them, hideous calamity, had never presented itself to the man’s wife and children he had not considered, nor was he capable of appreciating the sorrow and shame they would suffer by such a disgrace.
He had not a high opinion of William Day’s wife and family; they were people who thought the world a place for play rather than hard work, who frequented theatres and concert-rooms, and dances. It was not likely they could feel anything very much. He was unprepared for the effect of his words.
They were young, they were undisciplined, they were quite unused to misfortune. The children met the news of its appearance among them by a loud yell of terrified protest. Mrs. Day had flung herself upon him, grasped him, clung to him.
“Not William! Not my husband! No! No! No!” she shrieked.
“I thought you knew! I thought you knew!” George Boult said. The woman hurt him by her grip upon his arms; what a din was in his ears!
“Papa! Oh, papa! Papa!” Bessie screamed.
Franky was screaming too. He had got down from the table and rushed round to his younger sister, who, white, and shaking like a leaf, took the child in her arms. Bernard had risen, ashen-faced, staring. “It isn’t true!” he shouted savagely at his father’s traducer. “It’s a lie!”
“Didn’t you know?” George Boult kept saying to the poor woman who was shaking him by the force of her trembling as she clung to him. “I would have prepared you–I thought you knew.”
“I thought it was bankruptcy,” she got out between her chattering teeth. “I didn’t know it was–disgrace. Are you sure? Quite sure?”
“Quite. There is not the shadow of a chance it is not true. A police officer brought me a message from him from the station-house last night.”
She let go his arms, and sank into her chair again; and Franky, who could find no comfort in Deleah’s embrace, left her, and still screaming his terrified “Papa! papa! papa!” flew to hang upon his mother’s neck.
Deleah crept round to Bernard. “Oh, Bernard, what can we do?” she said. “What ought we to do?”
Bernard, who had sunk into his chair, only laid his arms upon the table, his head upon his arms, and sobbed.
George Boult thought they were taking it very badly. “This comes of too much pleasuring,” he told himself. He looked round upon the miserable group, feeling shocked and helpless. He had gone there to see if he could be of use. How was it possible to help people who behaved like this! He was a widower, but had no children of his own. If he had been more fortunate in that respect what serious-minded, well-conducted boys and girls they would have been: not squeaking over misfortune, but standing up to it when it came; looking about them, open-eyed, for ways of making money, marrying money, and getting on. The children of William Day and their mother were acting like a set of lunatics only fit for Bedlam.
“I’m sorry to have to spring it upon you suddenly. I thought your mama knew,” he said again. “But it’s a thing that had to be known–and perhaps as well one time as another. It’s a thing that has got to be borne, too, and made the best of.”
It was quite easy to play the philosopher if only they would have listened, but they would not. Mrs. Day was rocking herself backwards and forwards in her chair, the screaming Franky in her arms; Bessie had flung herself upon the floor and was beating it with her palms and calling upon the name of papa. George Boult was sorry for their misfortune, but he looked on and listened with distaste. To have no more spunk than that!
“Which of you can I speak to?” he asked sharply at last. He crossed the room and touched Bernard’s heaving shoulders. “Come out,” he said; and Bernard, openly blubbering, got up, and followed his father’s friend from the room. In the hall George Boult laid a steadying hand upon the poor boy’s arm. “You must bear this like a man, Bernard,” he said. “You’re not a child, nor a woman; try to be a man.”
“What’s he done? What’s my father done?” the boy asked. He blew his nose and wiped his eyes, and made an effort to hold himself upright.
“It’s a question of some money belonging to a client.”
“To a client, sir?”
“Your father invested a large sum of money for her, then sold the shares, and did not buy others or give her the money.”
“But–he would have done–in time. He–meant to do it.”
“Your father has got to prove that.”
“My father will do it,” with a sob.
“I hope so. There’s another matter we need not go into now. Her signature authorising the sale she disputes.”
“My father–will explain.”
“Perhaps. He’ll be up before the magistrates to-day. I shall attend, and shall offer myself to go bail for him. They’ll probably want two. Who is there you can ask?”
Bernard did not know. He had not his wits sufficiently about him even to think. “I can ask my mother,” he said. He was sobbing again, fallen limply against the wall, his face hidden.
“Do remember you’ve got to play the man,” George Boult said. He felt helpless in the presence of such surprising helplessness. He looked at the heaving shoulders of the youth with an astonished distaste. What was to be done with material so soft as this! “I am sorry I have been the bearer of such ill news, but there is no good in my stopping now. I’ll drop in, tell your mother, when you’re all more used to it. Wonderful how quickly people do get used to things! Meantime, remember, I’ll stand bail for your father if you can find another. And there’s no time to lose. You must shake yourself together and set about it at once.”
“Helpless set!” he said to himself as he let himself out and passed down the three glistening white steps into the quiet street. “Hysterical, useless, helpless set! Fit only for pleasure-seeking and money-spending. What is to become of them now?”
They were certainly helpless. When Bernard went back to the room where breakfast–the meal to be for ever unfinished–stood about, and told them they had, there and then, to find some one willing to bail out his father, none of them understood, or knew what to do.
“Do you know of any one we could ask, mother?” Mrs. Day sat, her brow clasped tightly in her two hands as if she really feared her head would split. “Let me think! Let me think!” she said piteously, but was incapable of thinking.
“Would any of the people who were here at the dance–the Challises, the Hollingsbys, the Buttifers, the Frosts, do it? Which of them shall we ask?”
“I don’t think one of them would do it. They would not care.”
“But they’re often here–to dinner, and so on.”
“Don’t ask them.”
“Who then, mama?” Deleah questioned. She had made less noise than the others, and there was about her an air of purpose, lacking in the rest, although her childish face looked stricken.
“There is no one I should like you to ask a favour of.”
“But we must ask some one.”
“Let it be some one we do not know, then.”
“Could we ask Sir Francis Forcus? He is very rich.”
“I will go somewhere–I will ask–some one,” Mrs. Day said; but, trying to stand, she fell back in her chair, and her frightened children saw that she had fainted.
They laid her on the sofa, and over her prostrate body renewed the subject of the bail.
“Bessie must go,” Deleah said.
“Then, I won’t, miss!” said Bessie, and sobbed and choked and screamed at her sister: “I won’t! I won’t!”
“Bernard must go.”
“It would come better from a woman,” Bernard said.
In the end it was Deleah who went–the little petted, sheltered Deleah, who had never gone before on any errand of more moment than for the matching of Berlin wools, or for the changing of the three-volume novel at the Public Library.
“Deleah can’t go–Deleah mustn’t!” the prostrate mother on the sofa gasped. She looked like a corpse beneath the cloths soaked in eau-de-cologne-and-water which Bessie had arranged over her brow. “We can’t ask Sir Francis. Call Deleah back. Stop her.”
But Deleah would not be stopped. It was a question of getting her father out of prison, and they had been told to lose no time. While Bessie and her mother and Bernard were still declaring she must not go she had run up to her room for her hat and jacket; and lest they should catch and stop her, she would not stay in the house to put them on, but flung them anyhow upon her when once outside the door. Then, with her little wild white face almost lost in the masses of loose dark hair escaped from the net she wore in the morning, and falling anyhow beneath her hat, and her small bare hands grasping the jacket she would not stop to button at her throat, she ran through the streets.
Was that really Deleah running there, and on that errand? Deleah, who at that hour was usually walking sedately to school; saying over to herself her French poetry, perhaps, as she went, or taking a last peep in her geography book, to make sure once again of the latitude and longitude of Montreal, or to impress more firmly on her mind the imports and exports of Prussia.
To get to her school she had to pass her father’s office; and sometimes, if it pleased him to start early enough, he would walk there with his little daughter, her hand tucked within his arm. With her he was never savage, and rarely irritable; on these walks his mood would be playful and jocose, and they would incite each other to play the truant from office and school, and pretend they were off on a holiday jaunt together.
And now her laughing, noisy, loving, boisterous father was in prison–in prison!–and she was running to beg the help of a stranger to take him out.
She gave no thought to the man to whom she was going, nor to the words she would say to him. The difficulty of asking such a favour of such a stranger did not distress her. Her father–her father–her father! was her only thought.
It chanced that Sir Francis Forcus drove to the Brewery an hour earlier than usual that morning, and–a circumstance of rare occurrence–that Reginald was pleased to drive with him. Both men came together into the private room of the elder, where Deleah, for an hour which had seemed a lifetime, awaited them.
If Sir Francis had ever seen William Day’s little daughter, he had forgotten her. It was Reggie, at whom Deleah never looked, who called her name in his pleasant, good-natured tone of welcome.
“Why, it is Deleah!” he cried out, as if Deleah, of all the people in the world, was the person he most wanted to see. “This is Deleah Day, Francis.”
He liked little Deleah–what young man with eyes in his head did not like her!–she was so pretty; far and away prettier than Bessie, who had in Francis’s word tried to grab him. She was the jolliest little thing to laugh with and to dance with; light as a feather–you could sweep her off her feet and dance on with her, never feeling her weight upon your arm.
He held out his hand to her now, but she did not see it. Her own hands were clasped. Without clasping them she would not have knelt to ask anything of God. She went across the room and lifted her little white stricken face to Sir Francis above the clasped hands, and gazed at him with an agony of prayer in her eyes.
“My papa is in prison,” she said. “I have come to ask you to take him out.”
Sir Francis looked at her in astonishment, not unmoved; at the back of his mind the thought that this was one of a family who had impertinently intruded on him, with whom, emphatically, he wished to have nothing to do. Because this girl was so young and pretty they had sent her!
“Will you take my papa out of prison?”
“My poor child, I fear that is beyond me. Beyond any one now.”
She squeezed the clasped hands painfully together, her eyes clung to his face: “No: you can! You can! I heard them say so,” she said. “Mr. George Boult and you can take him out if you will. You can do it with money. He said so. You can do it to-day.”
“She means go bail for him,” Reginald explained under his breath.
“But why should I do that?” Sir Francis asked, turning upon his brother. “Her father was no friend–not even an acquaintance–of mine.” He was most anxious that point should be established. “People in–in Mr. Day’s position get their friends to bail them,” he said to the girl. “And I shall not be present; I am going out of town to-day.”
“No! you must not go!” Deleah sobbed. “You must do it. There is no one else. I don’t know where to go–I don’t know what to do. We none of us know. You must! You must!”
Half because her strength was failing her, and half because it was the attitude of prayer, she went to her knees, her head thrown back, looking up at him, her clasped hands beneath her upturned chin.
How could any man, however cold, reserved, remote, inimical to her cause, even, turn a deaf ear to such an appeal, remain adamant before her helplessness, her trustfulness, her childish beauty and self-abandonment!
“Who sent you to me?” he asked.
“No one. I came,” she whispered. The change in his tone had weakened her, she began to shake from head to foot.
“They should have picked on a fitter person for such an errand. It is a cruelty to have sent such a child as you,” he said.
He held out his hand to raise her; but Reggie went to her and lifted her and placed her in a comfortable chair. “It’ll be all right. He’ll do it. Don’t you fret,” he whispered, soothing her.
She did not heed him, her eyes were on the elder man, who had gone to a cupboard in the room from whence he produced a decanter of sherry. It was in that primitive time when in trouble of mind or body, to “take a glass of wine” was the customary thing. He was always stiff and distant in bearing, and just now he was annoyed and aggrieved to feel that he was being “had,” as the word of a later age puts it. But his heart was sound. To look on that trembling, frightened child, and to remember the errand on which she had been sent he found to be an upsetting thing.
“Sip a little sherry,” he said, and passed the glass to his brother to hold to her lips.
But Deleah took no notice of the glass, she seemed unaware of the presence of Reggie, her eyes clinging to the face of Reggie’s brother: “Will you do it? Will you save him? Will you?” she implored.
Then, with a gloomy brow, Sir Francis consented. “Very well. I will be in the way, this afternoon. You say Mr. Boult also will be in the way? If we can do anything we will.”
“It’s all right, Deleah,” Reggie said. “I told you it would be all right.”
“And, remember,” Sir Francis adjured her, “that what I do, I do for you–and for you alone.”
Her petition, she understood, was granted; her clasped hands fell from their attitude of prayer, but her strained eyes still clung to Sir Francis’s face. She did not attempt to thank him; words were inadequate to express what she felt–she did not think of using them; but there was adoration of him in her eyes.
With his promise to help, resentment had died out of the man. He took the glass which Reggie had put down, and himself held it to her lips. “Sip a little; it will give you strength,” he said in the voice of authority; and she obediently sipped.
“I’ll go,” she said, but held him with her adoring child’s eyes for a minute still, then slipped from the chair and went to the door. But there she turned, and with her head pitifully lifted faced the two men. “My papa has done nothing wrong,” she said. “They have put him in prison, but it is a mistake. Papa has done nothing wrong.”
“Poor child!” Sir Francis said, and turned away. The scene had been painful. He was anxious that it should be over.
Reginald had gone to the door and opened it for her. “You keep your spirits up,” he said coaxingly. “Don’t you go and be unhappy, Deleah.” He was passing through the door with her, whispering cheery words, but his brother called him sharply back.
“Reggie, come here!”
“In a minute.”
“No, now. I want you.”
There were certain tones of his brother’s voice which the younger man had, so far, never dreamed of disregarding. He reappeared in the room and closed the door on Deleah’s retreating figure.
“Where were you going?”
“Nowhere, in particular. To walk part of the way home with that poor little girl.”
“Stop here, will you? I want you.”
Sir Francis Forcus was not going to allow his brother to be seen in the streets of Brockenham with any member of Mr. William Day’s family, that morning.
Mrs. Day, in looking back over the miserable weeks and months and years that succeeded her last New Year’s party, was inclined to award the palm for wretchedness to the weeks which intervened between her husband’s appearance before the magistrates and the Spring Assizes at which his trial came on. It is more than possible that if George Boult and Sir Francis Forcus had refused to stand bail for him, and he had remained for those ten weeks in prison, he would have been less unhappy there than was possible to him, a consciously guilty man, in the changed atmosphere of his home.
What had happened had changed for him for ever his relations with wife and children. Among the latter he sat as one beaten, cowed, estranged. With Franky, alone, for ever again, did he approach to any intimacy. Franky, who, now that that strange talk of his father being in prison was over, and his father here at home once more, holding no apprehension of the future, troubled his head no further about the matter. Him he sometimes took upon his knee, as of old. To Franky he would give languid advice about the pictures he was colouring, about the amount of cobbler’s wax to affix to the skipjack he was making, about the rigging of his walnut ships.
Of Deleah–Deleah, who had been his pet, whom he had acknowledged openly to be his favourite child–he was shy. He had been told how it had been she who had arranged the matter of his bail. His little Deleah, to have gone on such an errand for him! He would have liked never to meet again those pretty trusting eyes of hers that had been full of pride in and love for him.
When he had first come home she had cried heart-brokenly against him, had hung with her arms about his neck, sobbing out that she knew–she knew–she knew he had done nothing wrong. He had had to push her roughly from him. He did not wish to go through a scene like that again!
To Bessie and his son, who maintained a sullen condemnatory attitude towards him, he never spoke if he could avoid doing so.
Towards his wife he held an altogether different demeanour.
The troubles which had come upon him had been induced by his good-natured desire to meet the heavy expenses of an extravagant household. Money which he could not earn in the legitimate exercise of his profession, nor come by honestly, had been spent. Who had had the spending of it but she–his wife? Of his grievous undoing, then, it was she who was the sole cause.
Of this explanation he delivered himself to her in the first hour of his return to his home.
She was too stricken, too dumbfounded, too much overwhelmed with shame and sorrow for him to resent the attack upon herself, or to attempt reprisals. Of her defenceless submission he took advantage, and presently had brought himself honestly to believe that on his wife’s shoulders lay the responsibility of his downfall.
His counsel advised him to plead guilty. There was not in any one’s mind a doubt of what the verdict must be. The few who cared for him could only hope for a light sentence.
When Deleah heard he was not even to deny his guilt she hid herself in her bedroom, and lay there for hours, face downwards upon the floor. The carpet was wet with her tears, its scent in her nostrils. For all her life that snuffy, stuffy smell brought back to her the time of her uncontrolled, rebellious anguish and her cruel shame.
Was it true? Was it possible? Could this horrible thing have happened in her home? Deleah’s, who had known there only careless, happy days? Was this man who was to plead guilty to forgery, who had robbed a poor woman of every farthing she possessed, who was to pass years, perhaps, in prison, really her father? Who had been sometimes so affectionate to them all, always so loving and indulgent to her; who had sat in the square family pew with them all on the Sunday morning, and said grace every day at meals; who had often told them funny tales, shouting with laughter over his own jokes; who had banged the tambourine and joined in Sir Roger de Coverley only a few nights ago?
Bessie and Bernard, drawn together by their misfortune, and forgetting to torment one another, talked, their heads close together, over the tragedy which had befallen. They were angry, outraged, seeing what their father had done as it affected themselves, and they did not spare him. Sometimes to them–the elder boy and girl–Mrs. Day felt constrained to talk. It was a relief to pent-up feelings to talk, if only to say, “What will become of us? How are we to live? What, in the name of God, are we to do?” To these three, from companionship in misfortune, some consolation was afforded.
But Deleah spoke no word–except to the carpet.
All of them had much leisure. Mrs. Day and Bessie would not show their faces out of doors. Bernard, who was spending a last quarter at school in order to pass the Senior Cambridge Exam. before going into his father’s office, decided to work for it at home, rather than at school, where all the other fellows _knew_. A letter was received from the head-mistress of the Establishment, “all of whose pupils were the daughters of professional men,” and where Deleah was receiving her education, saying that, until the dark cloud was lifted which at present overshadowed her family, it would be better for Deleah Day to take a holiday.