Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.
Dialect spellings, contractions and discrepancies have been retained.
LADY BETTY ACROSS THE WATER
LADY BETTY ACROSS THE WATER
C. N. & A. M. WILLIAMSON
Authors of My Friend the Chauffeur
Illustrations by Orson Lowell
New York McClure, Phillips & Co. MCMVI
Copyright, 1906, by McClure, Phillips & Co.
Published, May, 1906 Second Impression
Copyright, 1905, 1906, by The Curtis Publishing Company
To the people of that great, delightful, and hospitable land which gave Lady Betty the time of her life and inspiration, this story of her visit is admiringly Dedicated by Betty Bulkeley and C. N. and A. M. Williamson
I. ABOUT BEING BANISHED 3
II. ABOUT CROSSING THE WATER 20
III. ABOUT NEW YORK 50
IV. ABOUT SHOPPING AND MEN 83
V. ABOUT WEST POINT AND PROPOSALS 101
VI. ABOUT THE PARK AND LOVE STORIES 118
VII. ABOUT SKY-SCRAPERS AND BEAUTIFUL LADIES 133
VIII. ABOUT NEWPORT AND GORGEOUSNESS 141
IX. ABOUT BATHING, A DRESS, AND AN EARL 156
X. ABOUT A VIOLET TEA AND A MILLIONAIRE 170
XI. ABOUT A GREAT AFFAIR 180
XII. ABOUT A WEDDING AND A DISASTER 200
XIII. ABOUT RUNNING AWAY 211
XIV. ABOUT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY LIMITED AND CHICAGO 223
XV. ABOUT SEEING CHICAGO 227
XVI. ABOUT THE VALLEY FARM 238
XVII. ABOUT COWS AND NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS 253
XVIII. ABOUT SOME COUNTRY FOLK, AND WALKER'S EMPORIUM 272
XIX. ABOUT GETTING ENGAGED 289
XX. ABOUT JIM AND THE DUKE 297
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"I found myself chatting away with those cadets as if I had grown up with them" Frontispiece
"He turned around quickly, glanced up and caught my eyes, as I was looking down, quite distressed" 34
"When I turned to speak to him he was gone ... and I was immediately surrounded by other men asking me for dances" 196
"I swept past him with my nose in the air, trying to look like mother" 206
"Mr. Trowbridge took me to the beehives to get some honey and show me what a queen bee is like" 258
"Jim smiled and kept his seat without the least apparent effort" 302
LADY BETTY ACROSS THE WATER
ABOUT BEING BANISHED
I don't know yet whether I'm pleased or not, but I do know that I'm excited—more excited than I've ever been in my life, except perhaps when Miss Mackinstry, my last governess, had hysterics in the schoolroom and fainted among the tea things.
I suppose I shan't be able to decide about the state of my feelings until I've had more of them on the same subject, or until I've written down in this book of mine everything exactly as it's happened. I like doing that; it makes things seem so clear when you try to review them afterwards.
The excitement began at breakfast by Mother having a letter that she liked. I knew she liked it by the way her eyes lighted up, as if they had been lamps and the letter a match. All the other letters, mostly with horrid, tradesmanny-looking envelopes, which had been making her quite glowery, she pushed aside.
Mother won't have a crown on her envelopes; she thinks it's vulgar; besides, putting it only on the paper saves expense. This envelope had a great sprawly gold crest, but she didn't seem to disapprove of it. She read on and on, then suddenly glanced up as if she would have said something quickly, to Victoria; she didn't say it, though, for she remembered me. I am never taken into family conclaves, because I'm not out yet. I don't see what difference that makes, especially as I'm not to be allowed to come out till after Vic's married, because she was presented four years ago, and isn't even engaged yet; so for all I can tell I may have to stay in till I'm a hundred, or leak out slowly when nobody is noticing, as Vic says girls do in the middle classes. This time I didn't mind, however, for I couldn't see how the letter concerned me; and as I was dying for a sight of Berengaria's puppies, which were born last night, I was glad when Mother told me not to fidget after I'd finished breakfast, but to run down to the kennels if I liked.
Soon I forgot all about the letter, for the puppies were the dearest ducks on earth (can puppies be ducks, I wonder?), and besides, it was such a delicious June morning that I could have danced with joy because I was alive.
I often feel like that; but there's nobody to tell, except the trees and the dogs, and my poor pony, who is almost too old and second-childish now to understand. She was my brother Stanforth's pony first of all, and Stanforth is twenty-eight; then she was Vic's, and Vic is—but Mother doesn't like Vic's age to be mentioned any more, though she is years younger than Stan.
I took a walk in the park and afterwards went through the rose-garden, to see how the roses were getting on. There were a lot of petals for my pot-pourri, and gathering them up kept me for some time. Then, as the jar stands in Vic's and my den (she calls it her den, but it has to be part mine, as I have no other), I was going in by one of the long windows, when I heard Mother's voice. "The question is," she was saying, "what's to be done with Betty?"
I turned round and ran away on my tiptoes across the lawn, for I didn't want to be an eavesdropper, and it would be nearly as bad to have Mother know I had heard even those few words; she would be so annoyed, and Mother chills me all the way through to my bones when she's annoyed. It is wonderful how she does it, for she never scolds; but the thermometer simply drops to freezing-point, and you feel like a poor little shivering crocus that has come up too soon, by mistake, to find the world covered with snow, and no hope of squeezing back into its own cosy warm bulb again.
I stopped out of doors till luncheon, and played croquet against myself, wishing that Stan would run down; for although Stan rather fancies himself as a Gorgeous Person since poor father's death gave him the title, he is quite nice to me, when it occurs to him. I'm always glad when he comes to the Towers, but he hardly ever does in the Season; and then in August and September he's always in Scotland. So is Vic, for the matter of that, and she hates being in the country in May and June, though Surrey is so close to town that luckily she doesn't miss much; but this year we seem to have been horribly poor, for some reason. Vic says it's Stan's fault. He is extravagant, I suppose. However, as everything is really his, I don't see that we ought to complain; only, it can't be pleasant for him to feel that Mother is worrying lest he should marry and make her a frumpy dowager, before we two girls are off her hands.
At luncheon, Mother mentioned to me that she had wired to ask Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox and her cousin, Miss Sally Woodburn, down for dinner and to stay the night. "You will be pleased, Betty, as you like Miss Woodburn so much," she said.
"I like her, but I don't like Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox and I don't know how to pronounce her," said I.
"For goodness sake, don't call her Mrs. Ess Kay to her face again," cut in Vic.
"I didn't mean to; it slipped out," I defended myself. "Besides, it was you who nicknamed her that."
"Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox is a very charming person, and a thorough woman of the world," Mother asserted, in that way she has of saying the word which you had better leave for the last if you know what is good for you.
I did leave it for the last so far as answering was concerned, but inside, where, thank goodness, even her eyes can't see, I was wondering hard when Mother had formed that flattering opinion. A fortnight ago I heard her announce that Americans "got upon her nerves," and she hoped she would not soon be called upon to meet any more. As she had made this remark directly after bidding Mrs. Ess Kay good-bye, I naturally supposed that lady to be the immediate cause for it. But now, it seemed, this was not the case.
"You would be very ungrateful if you disliked her," Mother went on, "as she took such a tremendous fancy to you."
"Dear me, I didn't know that!" I exclaimed, opening my eyes wide. "I thought it was Vic she——"
"You are her favourite, as you are with Miss Woodburn, also," said Mother, who gets the effect of being so tremendously dignified partly, I believe, from never clipping her words as the rest of us do. "I am asking them down again especially on your account, and I want you to be particularly nice to them."
"It's easy enough to be nice to Sally Woodburn, but——"
I caught a look from Vic and broke off my sentence, hurrying to change it into another. "As they're sailing for the States so soon, I shan't have time to spread myself much."
"Don't be slangy, Betty; it doesn't suit you," said Mother. "You pick up too many things from Stanforth."
"Trust him not to drop anything worth having," interpolated Vic, which was pert; but Mother never reproves her.
"Perhaps Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox and Miss Woodburn won't come," I said, for the sake of getting on safer ground.
"Not come? Of course they will come. It is short notice, but if they have other engagements they will break them," returned Mother; and though it would be as impossible for her to be vulgar or snobbish, as it would for a tall white arum lily to be either of those things, still I couldn't help feeling that her unconscious thought was: "The invitation to a couple of unknown, touring Americans, from the Duchess of Stanforth, is equivalent to my receiving a Royal Command."
She was probably right,—anyhow, so far as Mrs. Ess Kay is concerned: as for Sally Woodburn, I don't think she has a drop of snobbish blood in her veins. She's Southern—not South American, as I was stupid enough to think at first; but from some Southern State or other; Kentucky, I believe it is. She's short and plump, and olive and smooth as ivory satin, with soft, lazy brown eyes, a voice like rich cream, a smile which says: "Please like me"; and pretty, crinkly dark hair that is beginning to glitter with silver network here and there, though she isn't exactly old, even for a woman—perhaps about thirty.
I knew that Miss Woodburn rather fancied me, and I was quite pleased to take her up to her room, when she and her elder cousin arrived, about an hour before dinner. I stopped for a few minutes, and then left her with her maid, while I went to help Vic, and get myself ready. We've only one maid between the three of us, nowadays; which means (unless there's some reason why Vic should be made particularly smart), that Mother gets more than a third of Thompson's services. That's as it should be, of course, and we don't grudge it; but Vic's rather helpless, and I always have to hurry, to see her through.
This evening, though, I found Thompson in Vic's room, next to mine; and just as I scientifically dislocated my arms to unhook my frock, which does up behind, Mother came in. "Betty," she said, quite playfully for her, "I have a very pleasant surprise for you. You would never be able to guess, so I will tell you. I have consented to let you go and visit Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox and Miss Woodburn in America. Aren't you delighted?"
I felt as if the wall of the house were tumbling down, and I would presently be crumpled up underneath.
"My goodness gracious, Mother!" I managed to stammer, forgetting how I've always stood in awe of her, since I could toddle. "How—how perfectly extraordinary! Why am I going? And is it all decided, whether I like or not?"
"Of course you will like. To travel with pleasant companions and see a great, new country under such charming auspices, is an immense privilege, a very unusual privilege for a young girl," Mother replied promptly. "As for the 'why,' you are going because you have been cordially invited; because I think the experience will be for your advantage, present and future; because also it will be good for a growing girl like you to have the bracing effect of a sea voyage."
"Mother, I haven't a thing the matter with me, and I haven't grown the eighth of an inch this whole last year; you can see by my frocks," I protested, more on principle than because it would be any use to protest, or because I was sure that I wanted Mother to change her mind. Naturally the protest had no effect, but Mother's mood mercifully remained placid, and she didn't give me a single freezing look.
"Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox is a woman of good family and position in her own country," she went calmly on. "I have satisfied myself on those points beyond doubt, or I should not dream of allowing you to be her guest. She has a cottage at Newport, and will take you there, as summer, it seems, is not the Season in New York. You may stay with her through July and August,—even for September, if you are amusing yourself. Later, Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox will send you home with friends of hers, who can be trusted to take good care of you. She knows several people, she tells me, who are crossing in the autumn, to winter abroad; and they would bring you to me. Of course, I should have to be nice to them, by way of showing my appreciation of any trouble you had given; but a dinner, and a Saturday to Monday at most, would be quite enough."
So it was all arranged, even to the details of my home-coming, and the price to be paid for returning me, like a parcel, to my owner! Suddenly I remembered the words I had overheard at the window of the den. "The question is, what is to be done with Betty?"
Mother had evidently been so anxious to have the question answered, that she had at once taken measures to settle it. But why should anything be done with me? Nothing ever had been, so far, except when I was sent last autumn to stop with my aunt; and she was so much annoyed because my cousin Loveland came home unexpectedly, that after that I could do nothing to please her, and was packed back to Battlemead Towers in disgrace, I never could understand for what crime.
"How did Mrs. Ess—I mean, Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox happen to ask for a visit from me?" I ventured to wriggle out, like a worm who isn't sure whether it had better turn or not. I was certain that for some reason of her own, Mother had suggested the idea, if only hypnotically; but she seemed almost too frank as she answered, and it was frightening not even to be snubbed.
"I told you to-day that she had taken a fancy to you, my dear. Of course, she could not hope to secure Victoria, even if she preferred her, for Victoria has important engagements which will carry her through the season, and afterwards to Cowes and up to Scotland for the shooting at Dorloch Castle. But you are still almost a child; and children do not have engagements. Nevertheless, you are Lady Betty Bulkeley, the Duke of Stanforth's sister, and as such, though in yourself you are an unimportant little person, it's not impossible that as a member of your family, these Americans may think you worth cultivating. One hears that they worship titles."
"I'm sure they can't worship them as much as some people in our own country, who haven't got them, do," I cried, defending Americans for Miss Woodburn's sake. "Vic says——"
"Never mind what Victoria says," returned Mother. "The less you think on these subjects, the better, my dear Betty. I merely hinted at a possible and partial incentive to these people's friendship for you, so that you need not feel it incumbent to be oppressively grateful, you know. I should wish you to keep your dignity among foreigners, even though you would, of course, look upon Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox as, in a way, your guardian. Now I must call Thompson, and have her put me into my dinner dress, as there is no more time to waste. When Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox speaks of your visit, you will know what to say."
I mumbled something vaguely dutiful, and began to dress as quickly as I could; but the more I thought of it, the more I felt that I hadn't been fairly treated, to be disposed of in such an offhand way. After all, I am eighteen; and a person of eighteen isn't a child.
I'm not sure I wasn't pouting when Vic came in, ready for dinner, asking if she should fasten up my frock. I had nearly finished it, for practice has made me almost as clever as a conjurer about manipulating my hands behind my back, but when Vic flew at me and began giving useless little touches, I guessed that she wanted to whisper something in my ear without Mother seeing, if she should happen to prance in at the wrong moment—as she often does.
"Look here, Betty, are you going to be a good little girl, and do what you're bid, without making a fuss?" she asked, in a quick, low voice.
"I'm not certain yet," said I. "I'm thinking it over. I don't see why I should be sent off across the water with strangers, at a moment's notice, and I——"
"'Tisn't a moment's notice. It's five days. They're not sailing till Wednesday, and as they've a suite engaged,—the best on the ship, Mrs. Ess Kay says,—your going won't put them out a bit, and they'll love having you. As for the whys and wherefores, Mother's been telling you, hasn't she?"
"She talked about my health and valuable experiences, and a lot of things in the air, but I feel there's something behind it, and I hate mysteries——"
"If I can convince you it's for the good of the family in general, if not yours in particular, will you be a nice, white, woolly lamb, and go with your kind little American friends?" Vic broke in, with her head on my shoulder and an arm slipped round my waist.
"Mrs. Ess Kay's neither little nor kind," said I, "but, of course, I'll do anything to help, if only I'm treated like a rational, grown-up human being."
"And so you shall be. I told Mother it would be much better to be frank with you, if you are a Baby. It's too late to explain things now, but if you'll be sweet to Mrs. Ess Kay, and agree with everything everybody says about your trip, when we come up to bed and Mother's door's shut, I'll make a clean breast and show you exactly how matters stand."
With this, we separated, for we could hear Mrs. Ess Kay's voice in the corridor, talking to Sally Woodburn on the way downstairs. Her voice is never difficult to hear; rather the other way; and Miss Woodburn's soft little drawl following it, reminded me of a spoonful of Devonshire cream after a bunch of currants.
Mother was with them both in the oak drawing-room when Vic and I got down, and I found myself staring at Mrs. Ess Kay with a new kind of criticism in my mind; indeed, it hadn't occurred to me before to criticise at all. I'd only felt that I didn't want to come any closer to her. Now I was to come much closer, it seemed, and I looked at the glittering lady, wondering how it would feel to be so close—wondering what she herself was.
Outside, she's more like the biggest and most splendid dressmaker's model ever made for a Paris show-window than anything else I can think of; at least, she is like that from under her chin down to the tips of her toes. I say under her chin, for that feature, as well as all the others above it, are miles removed from a pretty, wax lady in a show-window.
I never supposed till I met Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox, that a live woman could have a figure exactly like the fashion-plates, swelling like a tidal wave above an hourglass of a waist, and retreating far, far into the dim perspective below it, then suddenly bulging out behind like a round, magnificent knoll, after a deep curve inward under the shoulders. But Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox's figure does all these things even when she stands still, and a great many more when she walks, which act she accomplishes in a grand, sweepy kind of a way, with her head a little thrown back, as if she wants everybody to know that she is tremendously important in the scheme, not only of the world, but of the universe.
Yet in spite of all, in the end it's her face which impresses you even more than her figure—which is a real triumph, as the figure is so elaborate and successful. On top of her head is a quite little coil of hair that lifts itself, and spirals up, like a giant snail-shell. A dagger keeps it in place, and looks as if the point plunged into Mrs. Ess Kay's brain, though I suppose it doesn't. Over the forehead is a noble roll which has the effect of a breaker just about to fall into surf, but never falling. It's a black breaker, and the straight, thick eyebrows an inch below it are black too; so are the short eyelashes, also thick and straight, like a stiff fringe, but the eyes are grey—grey as glass, though not transparent. Sometimes they seem almost white, with just a tiny bead of black for the pupil. I never saw anything so hard (except the glass marbles I used to play with): and they look at most people as if something behind them were doing a mental sum in arithmetic, for the Something's own advantage. They don't look at Mother in that way; no eyes in the world would dare; but I'm talking about ordinary people, who are not tall white arum lilies, with the air of having grown in kings' gardens.
Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox's nose is well-shaped and rather large; so is her mouth, with a "thin red line" of lips; but somehow it's the chin—the feature you simply take for granted and hardly remember on most faces—which dominates the rest. It comes rounding out under her lips, making them seem to recede, though they don't really; and it's square, with an effect of the skin being laid on over some perfectly hard material, like marble, or the same ivory her teeth are made of. Besides all this,—as if it weren't enough—she's a widow; one of those women who look as if they had been born widows; anyway, I'm certain that Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox can never have been a child.
Sally Woodburn's chin is rather full, too. I wonder if, in spite of her lazy ways, and slow, soft speech, she is very decided, like her cousin, who is so much older and bigger, and apparently able to make the gentle little Southern relative do as she wills?
Mrs. Ess Kay, terribly glittering this evening in a gown contrasting strongly with our simple things, was almost too nice to me, saying several times over how glad she was that I was going to visit her. At dinner, she painted word-pictures of the "good times" she would give me, and though I've never been able to care for her, and don't a bit more now, I began to be rather excited by her talk, for she made things seem so interesting and new. Besides, it appears that Sally Woodburn will be at Newport most of the summer, so I shall have her to fall back upon.
As for me, I was good as gold, and Vic threw me approving glances, for which I was grateful, for I like being in Vic's good graces. She doesn't often bother with me much, but when she does, she is so sweet it makes up for everything—and she knows that well.
I could hardly wait to hear her "explanations," and so I was glad Mrs. Ess Kay and Miss Woodburn were hypnotised by Mother into thinking they wanted to go early to bed. Mother is very clever about such things.
She didn't come again to talk to me in my room; I suppose she thought it best to let the new ideas simmer. Anyhow, she sent Thompson away, and shut the door between Vic's room and hers sooner than usual. Presently Vic slipped quietly in to me, in the new blue dressing-gown which was to have been mine, only when she saw it finished, she wanted it, and had four inches taken up above the hem.
"Well, how are you feeling about things now?" she asked, sitting down in front of the mirror, with her hairbrush in her hand.
"I'll tell you after you've told me why I ought to feel one way more than another," I said with prudent reserve.
"Then, like a good child, brush my hair. I wouldn't let Thompson do anything, because I knew you'd be dying to have me, and I can talk so beautifully while my hair is being done. It makes me wish I were a pussy cat, so that I could purr."
"I hate having mine touched by anyone," said I.
"Well, perhaps I should hate it too, if mine were curly and about six inches thick, and came down to my knees; I should be afraid of being pulled to pieces. There! That's heavenly. Well, now I can begin. You know, Baby, this isn't a quite new idea about your going to America. Mrs. Ess Kay did say something on the subject when she was staying here before."
"Oh, yes, when she was going away she said how much she would like to have either of us visit her. Is that all?"
"It's something, isn't it? Enough to make a handle of, when a handle's needed."
"But why is a handle needed?"
"I'm going to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Mother had a letter from Sir Gilbert Mantell this morning."
"Oh, that big, splashy crest was his, then. It looked like him, now I come to think of it. Nobody but a brand-new knight, with piles and piles of money, would need one more than half the size."
"Don't sneer at his money, my good child. We want it badly enough in this family."
"Yes, we do. And I see a reasonable prospect of our getting it, if you'll go to the States with Mrs. Ess Kay."
"What can that have to do with it? I don't know one bit what you mean."
"That's because you're such a great baby. If you must have every t crossed and every i dotted, Sir Gilbert has apparently conceived a patronising toleration for your Victoria, which is likely, if properly fostered and encouraged, to develop into something more satisfactory."
"Patronising, indeed! That dull elephant!"
"Elephants are not, as a rule, dull. And forty thousand a year in any form can afford to patronise a daughter of a hundred dukes without a penny, whereas I'm merely the granddaughter of three. In fact, my dear, I'm humbly anxious that Sir Gilbert should propose; and as he's been rather nice, and as he's written almost asking for an invitation to come down with Stan, from next Saturday to Monday, although he carefully states he's been invited for the same time, by Princess Paul of Plon, things look hopeful. The only trouble is—you."
"Yes, you. The one time he ever saw you, was when you had that frightful cold, and looked hideous, with your poor dear nose twice its size, and your eyes half theirs. But—well, Betty, you're a beauty, and I'm not, though I do flatter myself I'm not bad looking. I'm 'penny plain,' and you're 'tuppence coloured'; and the Mantell man can afford tuppence for a wife. You are so frightfully, luridly pretty that it's almost improper, and if he comes down and sees you, he'll probably think you better worth his money than I am."
"What nonsense! And if he were such an idiot, of course I should refuse him."
"You would. That's one of mother's difficulties. Even you must see that would do no good from the family point of view."
"I could keep out of the creature's way."
"You couldn't, without Stan making some blundering remark, or some contretemps happening; it would be sure to. It's much safer to have you absolutely out of the way; and it was when we were talking it over this morning, that Mother hit upon the plan of sending you to the States. You know how prompt she is, once she's made up her mind? Mother is really a wonderful woman. Twenty minutes later she sent a telegram to Mrs. Ess Kay, asking her to come down, and certain, under Providence, that she would; for an intimate sort of invitation like this, when we're alone (especially after the Great Disappointment), would be too flattering to a woman of that type not to be snapped at, no matter if a dozen engagements had to be trampled in the dust."
"What Great Disappointment are you talking about?"
"Infant in Arms! Why, Stan and Miss Woodburn."
"I—didn't know—nobody told me——"
"Fancy needing to be told! As if that weren't the only reason why Mother smiled on Mrs. Ess Kay in the beginning. It was because she thought Miss Woodburn might do for Stanforth, who must marry money, and is too poor, horribly poor, to be much of a catch with most English heiresses, who aren't as keen on titles as they used to be, unless there's some solid foundation for them to stand on, and not wobble. Everyone says Miss Woodburn's a great heiress, and though she's a few years older than Stan, she's a lady, a charming creature, and not bad looking. Mother thought all that out, the day they were introduced to her at the Northminster's concert, so she invited them here. But Stan and the Woodburn wouldn't look at each other. It was useless even for Mother's genius to attempt the impossible, so she resigned herself to the inevitable, and gave the thing up. She meant to drop the Americans gently—which she could easily do as they were going home soon—when this new idea popped up. It's really important for me, dear. I do want you to see that. It will be so much better all around if you are out of the way, anyhow until I'm safely engaged, and the wedding-day fixed. Then, you know, if you haven't meanwhile picked up an American millionaire on the other side—don't look so horrified!—Mother will be able to devote herself to you, heart and soul, as she has to me. Next spring you can be presented——"
"Don't bribe," I said, feeling as if I wanted to cry. "If you want to get rid of me, I'll go without that. But I should have thought I might be sent again to Aunt Sophy's."
"Not again till our magnificent cousin's safely married. She wouldn't have you there. Remember how she sent you home, last time. Poor Loveland! He too, must think about collecting honest gold (somebody else's), to brighten up his coronet. We're a poverty-stricken lot, my child, and it's for me, with your help, to retrieve the fallen fortunes of this branch of the family."
"That's settled then," said I, as drily as I could with wet tears in the background. "And now, let's go to bed, please. I'm sleepy."
I wasn't; but my eyes were hot, and there was a lump in my throat. I was homesick—dreadfully homesick, for something—I don't know what, but it seemed to be something I've never had yet and probably never can have. That is why I wanted to be alone, and write everything down exactly as it has happened.
ABOUT CROSSING THE WATER
Only ten days have passed, but I feel as if they were a hundred, I have lived so much. I've heard people near me in deck-chairs saying that it's been a "dull voyage," but whatever else it has been for me, it hasn't been dull.
In the first place, I've never been on the sea before, except crossing the Channel, which doesn't count, of course. And now that I've been thrown with so many people—all sorts of people—I realise how few I have known in my life, so far. If I had about twice as many fingers and toes as I have, I believe I might tick off every human being I've ever met as actual acquaintances, outside my own relations.
I've lived always at dear, beautiful old Battlemead (it seems doubly beautiful as I think of it now, from far away); and till last year most of my time was spent in the schoolroom, or walking, or pottering about in a pony carriage with one of the governesses I used to drive to distraction. When we had house parties I was kept out of the way, as Mother said it spoiled young girls to be taken notice of, and I should have my fun later. When the others went up to town for the Season, as they often did, I was left behind, and though Battlemead is within five-and-twenty miles of London, I suppose I haven't been there more than two dozen times in my life. When I did go, it was generally for a concert, or a matinee, and, of course, I enjoyed it immensely; but I don't know that it taught me much about life. And the one time I was taken abroad we had nothing to do with anyone we met at hotels. Being on this big ship seemed at first exactly like being at a play when I had been brought in late, and found it difficult to know which were the leading actors, which the villains and villainesses, and what the plot was about.
Now, though, I've been through so many experiences, I feel as if I were in the play myself, not watching it from outside.
Everything was very nice, though very strange, to begin with.
Dear old Stan came out of his shell and actually travelled all the way to Southampton to see me off, which was good of him, especially as Vic explained that he and Sally Woodburn had been thrown at each other's heads, in vain.
He'd brought me a great box of sweets, a bunch of roses, and several magazines; and just as we were starting he slipped something small but fat into my hand.
"That's to help you keep your end up, Kid, in case you're imposed on," said he. "You are only a kid, you know; but all the same, don't let them treat you like one, and if you get the hump over there, just you cable me. I'll see you through, and have you back again with your own sort, Mater or no Mater, hanged if I don't."
Stan never made me such a long speech before, and after we sailed and I got time to look at the fat thing he'd put in my hand, I found it was a lot of goldpieces bundled up in two ten-pound notes. The gold made twelve sovereigns more, so Stan had given me altogether more than thirty pounds. All that money, with the twenty pounds Mother had told me to use only "when strictly necessary," made me feel a regular millionaire. I've never had a sixth part as much before, in my life.
Stan's kindness was just like a cup of something warm and comforting when you're tired and cold, so that I began to brighten up and feel happy.
I liked our suite, with two staterooms, a bath, and a dear little white-and-blue drawing-room, about as big as the old dolls' house I inherited from Vic. I was thankful to find I was to chum with Miss Woodburn, not Mrs. Ess Kay, for I never could have stood that. It was fun finding places to hang up our things when they were unpacked, and Mrs. Ess Kay's French maid, Louise, helped me get settled, paying me so many compliments on my hair, and my eyes and my complexion, that I grew quite confused; but perhaps that's a habit in which American ladies encourage their maids.
"But the marvel that is Miladi's hair! It is of the colour of gold, and with a natural curl. It will be so great a joy if I may dress it. And her complexion! It is beyond that of any English demoiselle I have seen, yet all the world knows they are the best on earth. With such eyes, no doubt Miladi can wear any colour; and she has the figure for which the make of corsets is of no import."
If it had been in English, I should have wanted to order her out of the room; but things like that don't sound so objectionable in French.
Miss Woodburn's, and especially Mrs. Ess Kay's clothes looked so exquisite that I was mortified to have Louise unpack mine, though I have brought my smartest things, and Vic had two or three pretty blouses of hers altered in a great hurry, for me. Besides, Mother said my outfit was quite good enough for a young girl in England, and that I was not to let myself feel dissatisfied if in another country they chose to overdress.
Anyhow, I will say for Mrs. Ess Kay that she didn't appear to be ashamed of me at first. On the contrary, she had a way of seeming to show me off, almost as if she thought I did her credit.
When we had unpacked, we three went to luncheon, and took the first seats which were vacant. But presently Mrs. Ess Kay sent for the chief steward or someone important. "I am Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox," said she, in a haughty voice, "and I have as my guest Lady Betty Bulkeley, daughter of the Duchess of Stanforth. You must give me three of the best seats at the Captain's table."
I couldn't help hearing, and my ears did tingle, but Miss Woodburn only smiled and looked down, with a funny twinkle under her eyelashes, which curl up so much that it always seems as if she were just going to laugh.
I thought, if I were the steward, I would give us the worst seats on the ship, to teach us not to be proud; but he didn't do anything of the sort; he was as meek as a lamb, so I'm sure he can't have any sense of humour. He said Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox might count on him, and she and her party should have places on the Captain's right hand.
Mrs. Ess Kay was as bad with the deck steward. She found that he hadn't put our chairs (which she had brought on board herself) in the right place, and she had him called up and made a great fuss. The cards of a Reverend Somebody, his wife and daughters, were on chairs in the position which she had made up her mind to have, exactly amidship and on the shady side.
"I must have my chairs changed and put here," she said. And then—oh, horror!—I'm certain I caught her repeating the formula she'd used at luncheon. "I am Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox, and I have as my guest, etc, etc." To be sure, she had walked off to a little distance with the deck-steward, where our chairs were, and I might have been mistaken; but two or three people who were standing near looked suddenly very hard at me, and I know I turned scarlet with annoyance, to be labelled in that way, as if I were a parcel marked "glass" and to be handled with care.
Afterwards, when I came to read the passenger-list, I found that there was nobody else on board with any sort of title, not even an Honourable Anybody; otherwise, of course, Mrs. Ess Kay's little manoeuvre (which I'm afraid must have been meant for snobbishness) wouldn't have excited the slightest notice.
"Now," said Mrs. Ess Kay, when we were settled in our places, "I know a good many people on the ship, but most of them are Nobodies, and I do not intend to be troubled with them, nor do I think that the Duchess would care to have me let Betty mix herself up with anybody and everybody. I shall do a great deal of weeding and select her acquaintances carefully."
"Betty," indeed! I'd never told her that she might call me Betty; and I hate having persons I don't care for take hold of my name, without using a handle to touch it. It makes me feel as I did when I was a child, and Mother commanded me to let myself be kissed by unkissable and extraneous grown-ups.
Thank goodness, Vic and I have come into the world with something of poor Father's sense of humour. My share often serves me as well as balm on a wound, or as a nice, dry, crackly little biscuit which you're enchanted to find when you're hungry, and thought you had nothing to eat; and I got a good deal of quiet comfort out of it during Mrs. Ess Kay's "weeding" process, which otherwise would have done nothing but make me squirm.
When we had been on deck for a short time, a number of people came up to speak to Mrs. Ess Kay, and some to Miss Woodburn. The water was as smooth as the floor of a ballroom when it's been well waxed for a dance, and there was no excuse for the most sensitive person to be ill; consequently the deck was something like a kaleidoscope, with all its moving groups of men and women, girls and children. Most of the best-looking and best-dressed ones were Americans, and a great many seemed to know each other. Some of them laughed a good deal, and talked in high voices, putting emphasis on prepositions, which Miss Mackinstry and the others would never let me do in writing compositions. Somehow, though, when these people spoke it sounded very nice and cordial, more so than it does when English people greet each other, though the voices weren't so sweet—except a few that drawled in a pretty, Southern way, like Sally Woodburn's.
I could tell which were the poor things that Mrs. Ess Kay wanted to weed out of her acquaintance-garden for next season, by the way she acted when they came to say "How do you do?" to her. She screwed up her eyes till they looked hard and sharp enough to go through you like a thin knife—(or more like a long, slender hatpin jabbing your head), and having waited an instant before returning their greeting, slowly answered; "Very well, thank you. Yes, I am going home rather early. I'm due at Newport as soon as possible"; then fingered her open book (which she hadn't peeped into before) and made a little, just noticeable gesture with her lorgnette.
Then the poor people were too much crushed to stop and try to talk to Miss Woodburn, though she always looked at them sweetly, as if she would make up for her cousin being a dragon if she could.
By and by, somebody else would sail up, perhaps not half as nice to look at as the one who had gone. But lo, Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox would be suddenly transformed. She would smile, and hold out her hand. To their "How do you do?" she would respond "How do you do?" and though I don't think she's really much interested in anyone but herself, she would ask where they had been, what they had been doing, and how it happened they were going back so soon. The next thing, she would say to me: "Betty, dear, I should like you and Mrs. or Mr. So-and-So to know each other, as I hope you'll meet again, while you're staying with me. Lady Betty Bulkeley, etc., etc. I wonder if you have ever met her brother, the Duke of Stanforth, and her cousin, the Marquis of Loveland, over in London?"
Loveland would have had a fit if he could have heard her, for, of course, at home only the lower middle classes and such people hurl a Marquis's title at his head in that fashion; but I suppose foreigners, unless they've been in England a long time, don't know the difference.
When I got a chance, I asked Sally Woodburn how Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox made her distinctions in snubbing some people and preening herself to others.
"My deah," said Sally (I'm to call her "Sally" now; it's been understood between us for some time), "my deah, you're a poor, innocent child, and I reckon you've been brought up in darkness, without even so much as hearing of the Four Hundred."
"What are the Four Hundred? Are they a kind of Light Brigade, like the Six Hundred?" I asked. "Or is it a sort of governing body like—like the Council of Three?"
She laughed so much at this, with her charming, velvety laugh, that I grew quite nervous, for it's embarrassing to have said something funny when you've meant to be rather intelligent. But soon she took pity on me. "You perfect love," she said; "that's really too sweet. It deserves to be put into Life, or something. And yet you're not so far wrong, when one comes to think of it. The Four Hundred is a kind of governing body; only I believe it's really reduced to Two Hundred now. They govern New York; and Newport; and Lennox; and Bar Harbour; and several other places which are considered very nice and important."
"Oh! Are they Republicans or Democrats?" I enquired, sure that I really was being intelligent at last, for I'd heard Stan say that, in America, the Republican party was rather like our Conservatives, and the Democrats like the Liberals; and I'd remembered because I believe I should be very much interested in politics if only I understood more about them. But Sally seemed to think that question funny, too.
"They can be either, my poor lamb," she exclaimed; "and they can be almost anything else they like, if only they're just awfully, dreadfully rich, and can manage to scrape up a family crest. It used to be the crest that counted, with the man who invented the Four Hundred; but since his day, that idea has got buried under heaps and heaps of gold, and pearls and diamonds; especially pearls. In those places I was telling you about, you don't exist unless you're in the Four Hundred, which is now being sifted down to Two Hundred, and will probably be Seventy-five in a year or two. You may have the bluest blood in America in your veins; you may be simply smeared with ancestors, but if you haven't managed to push forward in a clever, indescribable way, neither they nor you will ever be noticed, and your grey hairs will go down to the grave in the Wrong Set. Now do you understand why my cousin Katherine makes narrow eyes for some people, and broad smiles for others?"
"Ye-es, I suppose I do," I answered. "Only—we are quite different at home. I haven't been about at all yet, but I know; because some things are in the air. How did Mrs. Stuyvesant-Knox ever have the poor Wrong Setters for acquaintances, though?"
"Because (she'd kill me if she heard this) she has only lately got into the Right Set herself, and after trouble enough to give an ordinary woman nervous prostration. That kind of thing does give it to a lot of women—especially if they fail. But Cousin Katherine very seldom fails. She almost always carries things through. If you knew anything about America in general, and New York in particular, you'd be able to realise what a hard time she's had, when I tell you that till her husband died she lived west of Chicago. To get into the Four Hundred if you've lived west of Chicago, (unless you're Californian, which is getting to be fashionable), is just like having to climb over one of those great, high walls of yours in England, bristling with nails or broken glass."
"My goodness!" I exclaimed. "How funny! Fancy if people who live in Surrey should glare at people who live in Devonshire."
"That's different. You see, Chicago is new."
"But so is all America, isn't it?" I asked, stupidly. "What difference can a hundred or so years make?"
"We haven't begun to think in centuries yet, on our side of the water, my deah." (She has the most delicious way of saying "my deah," and all her "r's" are soft like that; only it's too much trouble to write them for nobody but myself to see.) "Anyhow, it is so, between New York and Chicago people—that is, the people who count in Society with a big S: and it was a great triumph for my cousin to become the Three-Hundred-and-Ninety-Ninth in the Four Hundred. She did it by buying a Russian Prince."
"Yes, love, he was going to the highest bidder, and she bought him. That is, she entertained him so gorgeously and did so many nice things for him, that he posed as her property; and as everyone was dying to meet him, it made her. She'd been working killingly hard before that, for a whole year after taking her house on Fifth Avenue and building her cottage at Newport, but it was buying the Prince which did the trick. On the strength of that episode and its consequences, she went to Europe with very nice introductions, and as you know, deah, she has made some valuable as well as pleasant friends. To live up to them and her reputation, she will have to be busy for a while dropping a lot of old acquaintances."
"How horrid!" I couldn't help exclaiming, though Mrs. Ess Kay was going to be my hostess.
"Yes, it seems rather miserable to me, because I'm a weak, lazy, Southern thing, who would be right down sick, if I had to hurt any human being's feelings. Yet perhaps it looks fair to her. She's so ambitious, and she's worked so hard, she has deserved to succeed. As for poor me, she just regularly mesmerises me all through. She mesmerised me into coming up from Kentucky and visiting her this spring; then she mesmerised me into going with her to Europe. But I'm not sorry I went, for I've had a right good time."
"I'm so glad you went," said I, "because if you hadn't I shouldn't have met you. I'm sure I should love Kentucky if all the people there are like you. But these things you've been saying seem so odd. Do you mean to tell me that the people who lead Society in New York want to keep their set limited to a certain number, and refuse to know others, even if they're extraordinarily clever and interesting?
"They don't like them to be too clever, because they call such people 'queer'—that is, unless they happen to be 'lions' of some sort from England or other places abroad. Then, so long as they're not American, they welcome them with open arms."
"I'm glad Society isn't like that in England," I said. "There the real people—the people who have the right to make social laws, you know—are delighted with anyone who can amuse them. Of course, deep down in our hearts, we may be proud if we have old names, which have been famous for hundreds of years in one way or another; but we are so used, after all those centuries, to being sure of ourselves, that we just take our position for granted, and don't think much more about it. If people who haven't got quite the same position are gentlefolk, and amusing, or clever, or beautiful, or anything like that which really matters, why, we're only too pleased with them."
"That's all the difference in the world! You've been 'sure of yourselves for centuries.' You've said the last word, my deah. 'Out of the mouths of babes'—but Cousin Katherine's finished gushing to that silly old Mrs. Van der Windt. We mustn't dare discuss these things from our point of view any more. I reckon she would faint."
There are a good many young men on board, and some of them seemed to be quite devoted to Mrs. Ess Kay the first day out; but she was cold to them all, I couldn't think why, as some of them seemed very nice, and she had always appeared rather to like being with men. I asked Sally about it, but she laughed, and said I might perhaps solve the mystery for myself when we were at Newport, if I remembered it then.
I never heard of such breakfasts and luncheons as they have on this ship, and the first menu I saw surprised me so much, that I couldn't believe they really had and could produce all those things if anybody was inconsiderate enough to ask for them. I hardly supposed there were so many things to eat in the world. But the captain heard me exclaiming to Sally, so he smiled, and told me to test the menu by ordering a bit of everything on it; he'd guarantee that nothing would be missed out. This was at breakfast the second day; and when he saw that I ate several dear little round things, shaped like cream-coloured doyleys, which are called pancakes (though they aren't a bit like ours) with some perfectly divine stuff named maple syrup, he said my taking such a fancy to American products was a sign that I should marry an American. What nonsense! As if I would dream of marrying, especially a foreigner. But for all that, pancakes and maple syrup are delicious. I've had them every day since for breakfast, after finishing a great orange four times the natural size, which isn't really an orange, because it's a grape fruit. You have it on your plate cut in two halves, with ice in each, and you scoop the inside out of a lot of tiny pockets, with a teaspoon. You think when you first see it, that you can't eat more than half; but instead, you eat every bit, and sometimes if the morning is hot, you even wish you could have more; though of course you wouldn't be so greedy as to ask.
It was on the second day out, too, that all my troubles began—and in a queer way which nobody could have guessed would lead to anything disagreeable.
In the afternoon I was reading in my deck-chair, drawn close to Mrs. Ess Kay's side, when that Mrs. Van der Windt whom Sally called a silly old thing, toddled up and spoke to us. "Do come and watch them dancing in the steerage," she said. "It's such fun."
Mrs. Ess Kay likes sitting still on shipboard better than anything else, but it seems that Mrs. Van der Windt is so important that if all the Four Hundred Sally told me about were pruned away, except about twenty-five, she would be among the number left; so probably that is the reason why Mrs. Ess Kay takes long walks up and down the deck with her, though it makes her giddy to walk, and Mrs. Van der Windt is not in the least entertaining.
She got up now, like a lamb about to be led to the slaughter, except that she smiled bravely, which the lamb would not be able to bring itself to do. "Come, Betty," she said to me, "it will amuse you."
"Yes, do come, Lady Betty," repeated Mrs. Van der Windt; whereupon I obeyed, little knowing what I was laying up for myself.
Our deck is amidships. Aft, on a level with ours, is the second-class deck; and for'rard, down below, like looking into a pit, is the steerage. We walked to the rail, over which quite a number of men were leaning, to see what was going on, and several moved aside to give us room. I didn't like to take their places away, especially as they were laughing and enjoying themselves, and I could hear the sound of dance music coming up from below (such odd-sounding music!), but Mrs. Ess Kay murmured to me that I mustn't refuse. "American men are never so happy," she said, "as when they're giving up something for a woman. They're used to it."
And evidently she, as an American woman, was used to taking it. She and Mrs. Van der Windt slipped into the vacant spaces with a bare "thank you," and I had to follow their example. We peered down over the rail; and there was a sight which would have been comical, if it hadn't been pathetic.
On rather a rough-looking deck, about twelve feet or more below us, a dense crowd was collected round two small squares, which they purposely left open. Besides those little squares, every inch was occupied. There wouldn't have been any more room for even a baby to sit down than there was in the Black Hole of Calcutta. In the crowd were old men, young men and boys, all poorly dressed; and old women, young women and girls, big and little. They wore crude, vivid colours, and more than half of them had bright handkerchiefs tied over their heads. They scarcely took any notice of the first-class passengers staring down superciliously or pityingly at their poor amusements; they were far too much absorbed in the dancing which was going on busily—I can't say gaily—in the two hollow squares. In one of these an elderly, pinched little man who looked almost half-witted, was monotonously scraping a battered fiddle, for two solemn couples to dance round and round, always on the same axis. But the other "dancing salon" was more lively. There a man dressed like a buffoon, with a tall hat, a lobster claw for a nose, a uniform with big red flannel epaulettes and pasteboard buttons covered with gold paper, was pretending to conduct the band. And what a band it was!
It consisted of four sailors, rather sheep-faced and self-conscious. One musical instrument was a wooden box rigged up with strings and a long handle; another was formed from a couple of huge soup-spoons tied together, on which the player beat rhythmically with a smaller spoon; the third was a poker, dangling from a string, banged heartily with an enormous nail as it swung to and fro; the fourth was a queer, home-made drum, which looked as if it had been made out of a wooden bandbox.
Somehow they contrived to coax out music of a sort, and a few young men and girls were solemnly gyrating to it in a way to make you giddy even to watch. When a man thought he had had enough, or wanted to dance with another girl, he dropped his partner with alarming suddenness, bowed stiffly without smile or word, and left her plante la. It was evidently etiquette not to speak to your partner. At the end of a dance, the conductor with the lobster-claw nose looked up to our deck, bowing low with his hand on his heart, and then all the audience leaning over the rail began fumbling in their pockets if they were men, or opening their purses or gold bags if they were women. Down poured a shower of small silver and copper, little boys scrambling to pick it up, and hand it to the conductor, who would, Mrs. Van der Windt said, divide the money among the members of his quaint band.
I had a few shillings with me, and I'd been so much amused that I felt like being generous. Luckily, Mother couldn't see me, and scold! I took half a dozen coins—shillings and sixpences—and wrapping them hurriedly up in half the cover torn off a magazine I was reading, I aimed the little parcel to fall at the comic conductor's feet.
Generally I can throw fairly straight, for Stan took some pains with that part of my education when I was a small girl; but just at that instant someone standing next me moved, knocked me on the elbow, and spoilt my aim.
Instead of falling in front of Mr. Lobster-Claw, the parcel hit the ear of a very tall young man among the crowd below, who had been standing with his back to me. He turned quickly, not knowing what had happened, glanced up and caught my eyes, as I was looking down quite distressed.
I had noticed his figure in the crush, because he towered nearly a head over everyone else, and I had a dim impression that he had good shoulders; but seeing his face gave me a great surprise.
It was as different from all the rest of the steerage faces as day is from night, and somehow it gave me quite a shock that such a man should be among those others, as if something must be wrong with the world, or it could not happen. I had even a guilty sort of thrill, as if I had no right to be well-dressed and prosperous, staring at him and his companions as though they were a show which we others paid to see—daring to amuse ourselves with the hard, strange conditions of their lives.
I've heard Mother say that good blood is sure to prove itself; that a gentleman can't look like a common man, even in rags. Stan disputes that theory with her, when he isn't too lazy, and wants to bet he could so disguise himself that she would take him for a green grocer or a fishmonger, who have the air of being commoner than other men, I think—at least in our village at Battlemead—because they wear fat tufts of curls frothing out over their foreheads from under their caps, which are always plaid and made of cloth.
Anyway, if Mother is right, this man in the steerage must have the bluest of blood in his veins, for I never saw one with clearer, nobler features. And yet, he doesn't give the impression of a broken-down gentleman who has gone the pace and paid for it by stumbling into the depths. I thought, as he looked up straight into my face that first time, (and I think still) that no face could be finer or more manly than his. Brown—deep brown it is, like bronze, and clean-shaved (not rough and scrubby), with dark grey eyes (I knew at once they were grey because the light struck into them) rimmed with black lashes, so long you couldn't help noticing them; black eyebrows and hair short and sleek like Stan's, or any other well-groomed man one knows. Besides, commonness shows in people's mouths more than anywhere else; it's hard to define, but it's there; and this man's mouth is the best part of his face—unless it's the chin; or perhaps the nose, I'm not quite sure which, though I've thought a good deal about them all, because of the mystery of finding such a man in such an unsuitable place. It would be just the same if you saw a tall palm suddenly shooting up in the kitchen-garden, and couldn't find out how it had been planted there.
I'm afraid I must have shown how surprised I was, and admiring, too, maybe (how can one keep from admiring what is fine and noble, whether it's a strange person's face, or the profile of a mountain against a sky at sunset?) for the handsome steerage passenger looked at me a long, long instant as if he were as much astonished as I was; and yet with such a nice look, that instead of being annoyed, I couldn't help being pleased.
In the meantime the little packet of money had fallen on the deck; but though it had struck him from behind, he seemed to realise exactly what had happened, and stooping down, he picked it up. Then he raised his hand high, so that I could see he had the crumpled ball of paper in it; and edging his way determinedly but not at all roughly, through the crowd, he opened the parcel and gave the money to the conductor.
"What a splendid-looking man!" I said in a low voice to Mrs. Ess Kay. "Isn't it extraordinary that he should be in the steerage?"
"Come away, my dear child," she answered. "I can't have you standing here to be stared at by low creatures like that. The fellow's not in the least splendid-looking. He's only a big, hulking animal. Don't take to making up romances about the steerage passengers, my love. They're not worth bothering your little head about, because if they weren't born for that sort of thing, they wouldn't be there, I assure you."
I didn't say anything more, though I was vexed with her, both for being so stupidly conventional, and for speaking to me in such a loud tone that she attracted people's attention.
We went back to our deck-chairs, and there was nothing to remind me of the little episode except the torn cover of my magazine, on which, I now remembered, Sally Woodburn had scrawled my name over and over again in pencil, just in idleness, while she and I had been talking that morning. If Mrs. Ess Kay had known, no doubt she would have been furious that a piece of paper with my name on it should have gone down into the steerage. But I didn't mind, for I remembered that the young man had opened the parcel, given the money to the conductor, and kept the cover, which probably he had soon after thrown overboard, or twisted up to light a pipe.
Nothing more happened that day; but there are two nice American girls on board, about my own age or a little older (they seem years older, for they are so charming and self-possessed) and Mrs. Ess Kay encourages me to like them, as they are in Mrs. Van der Windt's party. I grew quite well acquainted with them the third day out, and they asked me to go and watch the people in the steerage, who had a little trick dog which was lots of fun. I went, and saw the bronze young man again. He was standing with his arms folded across his blue-flannel-shirted chest, leaning against one of the supports of a kind of bridge, looking up towards the first-class deck. Our eyes met as they had before, and I was so absurd that I felt myself blushing. I could have boxed my own ears; and though the trained dog really was a pet, I didn't stay long.
It is strange how certain kinds of eyes haunt one. You, see them in the air, as if they were really looking at you—especially when you are just dropping off to sleep. I think grey ones do this more than others. Perhaps it is because they are more piercing.
But it was on the fourth day that the climax came,—the climax which has ended by upsetting me so much, and has made everything so uncomfortable.
The weather was glorious—all blue and gold after a sulky, leaden day—and there was dancing down on the steerage deck again. Though it was so fine, the water was not smooth like a floor as it had been at first, but broken into indigo waves ruffled irregularly with silver lace and edged with shimmering pearl fringe.
The same performance was going on, down there on the crowded deck, that I'd seen the first day, and Sally Woodburn and I, who had been walking—counting the times we went round, to make two miles—stopped to glance at the show.
"There's that good-looking man Cousin Katherine classifies as a hulking animal," said Sally. "I must really consult the dictionary for a definition of the word 'hulking.' I don't know whether it's a verb or adjective, do you?"
"No, I don't," said I. "But whichever it is, I'm sure he doesn't or isn't. He's a gentleman, and something strange has happened or he wouldn't be there. I do think it's a shame. It must be horrible."
"Don't you think Cousin Katherine knows more about such persons than you?" asked Sally, and there was such a funny quaver in her voice that I turned to see what it meant. She was laughing, but whether at me or at Mrs. Ess Kay, or at the man with the Lobster-Claw nose, I couldn't tell; and before I could answer her question by asking another, something happened which put the whole conversation out of my mind.
The ship curtseyed to a wave of more importance than any that had gone before, then righted herself quickly. We slid a little, everybody who could catching hold of the rail or of some friend's arm, laughing; but down on the steerage deck there rose a cry which wasn't laughter.
"Child overboard!" someone screamed. And I realised with a horrid feeling like suffocation, that a tiny boy down below, who had climbed up on the rail to watch the dancing, was missing.
It was a woman who had screamed, and everything followed so quickly that my mind was confused, as if a whirlwind had rushed through it and blown all the impressions on top of one another, in a heap. There was a babel of voices on the steerage deck, more cries, and shouts, and screams, and people surged in a solid wave toward the rail to look over. But out of that wave sprang one figure separating itself from the other atoms; and then I heard myself give a cry, too, for the man who had been in my thoughts had thrown off his coat and vaulted over the rail into the sea.
"Jove! he'll be caught by the propeller!" I heard somebody near me say.
I turned sick. The thought of his life being crushed out while we all looked on, helpless, was awful. The sea was terrible enough in itself—the great, wide, merciless, blue water, which sparkled so coldly, and laughed in its power—but to be crunched up by the jaws of a monster—I shut my eyes, and couldn't open them until I heard men saying the strong wind to starboard might save him. I believe I must have been unconsciously praying, and my hands were clasped so tightly together that afterwards my fingers ached.
People on our deck made a rush towards the stern, on the port side, for the ship had been steaming so fast that already we were forging away from the child who had fallen and the man who had jumped after him. Sally and I were carried along with the rush. She seized me by the hand, but we didn't speak a word. If dear friends, instead of two strangers in a far remote sphere of life, had been in deadly danger, I don't think the sickness at my heart could have been worse. I would have given years if at that moment I could have had the magical power to stop the ship instantly, with one wave of my hand.
But it was being stopped, by another power than mine. I felt the deck shiver under my feet, like a thoroughbred horse, pulled on to his haunches. The accident had been seen from the bridge; an order to stop the ship had been telegraphed down to the engine-room, and obeyed. Still, when Sally Woodburn and I had been carried by the crowd far enough towards the stern to look out over the blue wilderness of water we were leaving behind, the ship's heart hadn't ceased its throb, throb, to which we had all grown so accustomed in the last few days.
"He's got the child!" exclaimed Sally. "See, he's hauling the little creature on to his back with one hand, and swimming with the other. Glorious fellow!"
Yes, there were the two heads bobbing like black corks in the tossing waves, close together. I pictured so vividly what my sensations would be, if I were down there, a mere speck in that vast expanse of blue, that I almost tasted salt water in my mouth, and felt the choking tingle of it in my lungs.
Then, suddenly the ship's heart ceased to beat; and the unaccustomed stillness was as startling as an unexpected noise. A boat shot down from the davits, with several sailors on board; a few seconds later they were rowing away towards those two bobbing black corks, and I loved them as they bent to their oars.
I can't remember breathing once, or even winking, until I saw the child being lifted into the boat, and the man climbing in after. What a shout went up from the ship! Sally clapped her pretty, dimpled hands, but I only let my breath go at last, in a great sigh.
There was such a crush that I couldn't see them when they came on board, but there was more shouting and hurrahing, and men slapped each other on the shoulder and laughed.
Throb, throb went the machinery again, and there was no sign that anything out of the monotonous round had happened, except in the excited way that people talked. Several men we knew paid a visit to the steerage, and came back with stories which flew about from group to group in the first-class cabin, and no doubt the second too.
It seemed that the little boy who had fallen into the sea was the only son of his mother, a widow. They were Swedes, and the woman, who is on her way to the States to try and find a place as a servant, was quite prostrated with the agonising suspense she had suffered. As for the little boy himself, he was not seriously the worse for his experience. The doctor was with him, and said that he would be as well as ever in a few hours. A subscription for the mother and child had already been started among the first-class passengers, and would probably be made up to quite a good sum.
"But what is going to be done for the one who saved the little boy's life?" I asked the man who was telling me the news, a Mr. Doremus, who is a cousin of Mrs. Van der Windt's, very full of fun, and good natured.
"A nice little pedestal, labelled 'Our Hero,' will be built out of the ladies' admiration, and given to him to pose on," said Mr. Doremus. "However, I must say for the gentleman,—though I've only seen him dripping wet, and shaking himself like a big dog,—he didn't give me the impression of being the sort of chap to say 'thank you' for the perch."
"Of course he isn't!" said I. "But I do think it's a shame if he's left out when subscriptions are going round. Of course he must be poor, or he wouldn't be travelling in the steerage. Something ought to be done to show him that the passengers admire his bravery—not anything fulsome, but something nice."
"I guess you don't know the American disposition yet, as well as you will after you've wrestled with it on its native heath for a few months," remarked Mr. Doremus in his quaint way. "That chap down in the steerage is an American, whatever else he may be, or I'll eat my best hat; and I wouldn't for five cents be in the deputation to present him with the something 'not fulsome but nice' on a little silver salver. I should expect him to give me the frosty mitt."
This expression struck me as being so funny that I burst out laughing, though I had to stop and think for a second before I could quite see what Mr. Doremus really meant; but I wouldn't forget my point in a laugh.
"Perhaps it wouldn't do to offer money," I went on. "Suppose we got up a subscription to buy him a second-class passage for the rest of the way. That would show appreciation, wouldn't it?"
"It would," replied Mr. Doremus, gravely, "and if you'll start the subscription, Lady Betty, it'll go like wildfire."
"Very well, then, I will," said I. "Though I'd rather someone else did it."
"It wouldn't be so popular from any other quarter. I'll help you. We'll go floating around together and pass the plate; and if you like, I'll do the talking."
I agreed to this, and if I'd thought about it at all, I should have supposed that Mrs. Ess Kay would be as pleased as Punch with such an arrangement, because Mr. Doremus, as a relative of Mrs. Van der Windt's, is the only man on board to whom she makes herself agreeable. It appears that he has started several fashions in New York, the most important being to drive in some park they have there, without a hat. But probably if the truth were known, he lost it, like the fox that tried to make his friends chop off their tails.
Mrs. Ess Kay had gone to her stateroom soon after lunch, as the motion of the ship had given her a headache, and I didn't happen to be near Sally Woodburn; so I said "yes" to Mr. Doremus on the impulse of the moment, without stopping to think whether I ought to ask permission first.
We had great fun going about, for Mr. Doremus was so witty and said such amusing things to the people he begged of, that I could hardly speak for laughing, and everyone else laughed too. I wished that he wouldn't put me forward always, and say it was my idea, and I had started the subscription; but he argued that I must sacrifice myself for the success of the Charity, just as I would at home, if I had to work off damaged pincushions or day before yesterday's violets at a bazaar. Of course, not being out, I've never sold anything at bazaars, but Victoria is continually doing it in the Season, and she makes quite a virtue of forcing perfect strangers to "stand and deliver," as she calls it. This seemed much the same sort of thing to me, and so I felt nice and virtuous, too, as Vic does when she comes home with a new frock torn and stepped on, and lies in bed late next day, with Thompson to brush her hair, and me to read to her.
People were very kind, and though they laughed a great deal, they gave so much that before we'd been half the rounds, Mr. Doremus said we had more than enough for our friend. He wanted to know if I would like to "hit the nail on the head" and settle matters at once, by arranging with the purser for a second-class cabin to be put at the hero's disposal. I wanted him to do that part alone, but he pretended to be shy, and said he had grown to depend so entirely on my co-operation, that he felt unequal to undertaking any responsibility without it. He told the same story to the purser that he had told others, about my being the one to start the subscription, and he wanted me to sign a kind of letter which he wrote, to the effect that the passengers had chosen this way of testifying their appreciation of a gallant deed, and so on; but I wouldn't, and he stopped teasing at last, when he saw that I was going to be vexed.
After the business was what Mr. Doremus called "fixed up," he took me back to my chair on deck. Sally wasn't in her place, and as I was wondering what had become of her, the dressing-for-dinner bugle went wailing over the ship like a hungry Banshee. I said to myself that Sally must have gone early because her frock was to be particularly elaborate. I felt conscious of having heaps of interesting things to tell, and I understood exactly what Victoria means when she says she's in one of her "pretty and popular moods."
I danced into our stateroom, where only a drawn curtain covers the open doorway. No one was there, and the cabin was so quiet that it seemed to greet me with a warning "S-sh!"
Down fell my spirits with a dull thud, though I didn't know why. My joyousness changed to what storybook writers describe as a "foreboding of disaster"; but when I have it, it's generally connected with a lecture from Mother, so I know it only as a sneaky, "I haven't eaten the cream" sort of feeling.
Just as I had begun to take off my frock, Louise appeared at the door which leads into the little drawing-room. She said that if I pleased, Madame would be glad to see me in her cabin. I hurried across to the other state-room opposite ours, and there found Mrs. Ess Kay, in a gorgeously embroidered pink satin Japanese thing, which she calls a kimona. She was sitting in a chair in front of the makeshift dressing-table, putting on her rings, and clasping bracelets on her wrists with vicious snaps. Sally, who hadn't begun to dress, was standing up, looking almost cross; that is, with different features from hers, she might have succeeded in looking cross.
"Sit down, Betty, please; I want to talk to you," said Mrs. Ess Kay.
Somehow, it always makes me feel stiff when she "Betty's" me, as my old nurse says it does with your ears if you eat broad beans.
"If I do, I shall be late for dinner," said I, just as if a minute ago I hadn't been dying to pour out my news.
"Never mind dinner, my dear girl," replied Mrs. Ess Kay, with an air which I do believe she tried to copy from Mother. "What I have to say is more important than dinner. I hope what I have been hearing isn't true."
"That depends upon what it was," I retorted, disguising my pertness with a smile.
"Don't think I've been tattling," said Sally. "Whatever my faults may be, I haven't a Rubber Neck."
I didn't know in the least what she meant; but afterwards she explained that if your neck is always pivoting round, to pry into other people's affairs, it is a Rubber Neck, and I shall remember the expression to tell Stan when I go home. He will like to add it to his collection of strange beasts.
Mrs. Ess Kay partly turned her back upon Sally. "The dear Duchess" (she always speaks of Mother in that way,) "the dear Duchess has entrusted you to my charge, Betty, and I don't know what I shall do if you take advantage of me by playing naughty tricks whenever I am incapacitated from chaperoning you for half an hour."
One would have thought I was a trained dog! I simply stared with saucer eyes, and she went on. "Mrs. Collingwood came in to enquire for my headache, and she told me that you have been running about begging for money to give to a common man in the steerage. I sent instantly for Sally, but she either knows, or pretends to know nothing."
I rushed into explanations, sure that when Mrs. Ess Kay understood, I should be pronounced "not guilty." But to my surprise, her chin grew squarer and squarer, and her eyes harder and lighter, till they looked almost white.
"I don't want to be harsh," she said at last, in the tone people use when they're walking on the ragged edge of their patience, "but for the Duchess's sake, I must be firm. It was very wrong of Tommy Doremus to let you make yourself so conspicuous. This may lead to your being dreadfully misunderstood and putting yourself and all of us in a false position. The man may be a butcher for all you know."
"His complexion isn't pink and white enough for a butcher's," said I. "Besides, I thought that in America one man was as good as another."
"You were never more mistaken in your life, my dear girl; and the sooner you correct such an impression the better, or you may get into serious trouble from which I can't save you. If the steerage man isn't a butcher, he's probably a professional swimmer, and the whole thing was a scheme, to advertise himself. In fact, I am pretty certain from what Mrs. Collingwood said, it was that. And I want you to promise me solemnly that you will not go around helping to advertise the creature any more. If you say you admire such a person, people will think you're like the Matinee Girls, who wait at stage doors and run after actors."
I was so angry, that I "talked back"; and it finally ended in our relations being somewhat strained at dinner, which ruined my appetite, until a peculiarly soothing iced pudding came on.
Afterwards, Mrs. Ess Kay was cool to Mr. Doremus, and would have been cold, I think, if he weren't Mrs. Van der Windt's cousin. He lounged up to our place on deck to give me the news that the Third Class Hero (as he calls the bronze young man) refused to be Second Class. He had asked permission to give the cabin offered him to the child whose life he had saved, and the mother.
"It's for you to say yes or no, Lady Betty," announced Mr. Doremus, "because it's your show; you set the top spinning."
"She is to have nothing more to do with the affair," Mrs. Ess Kay answered for me quickly. "She is very sorry she commenced it, and has lost the small interest she felt in the beginning. I do hope that tramp, or beggar, or whatever he is, hasn't gotten it in his conceited head that Lady Betty Bulkeley has bothered herself about his insignificant affairs, or he'll be thrusting himself upon her notice in some way which will be very disagreeable for Me, as her guardian."
"Well, he has sent a message of thanks to everyone concerned," said Mr. Tommy Doremus. "I don't know whether he put Lady Betty at the top of the list or not, and if that's the way you feel about our nice little stunt, I expect it's just as well not to enquire further."
All the rest of the trip has been spoiled for me, by the hateful way in which the excitement of that day ended, and it does seem too bad, for everything might have been so nice.
Whether people really do make ill-natured jokes or not, I don't know; but anyhow, Mrs. Ess Kay keeps hinting that they do, which is almost as disagreeable for me. She says that they have nicknamed the bronze man "Lady Betty's Hero"; and this has made me so self-conscious that I can't bear to go near the part of the deck where you look over into the steerage, for fear some silly creatures may think I'm trying to see him. I feel as if I had been a conspicuous idiot, and I'm so uncomfortable with Mrs. Ess Kay now, that I expect to be wretched in her house. I can't talk it over even with Sally, because, after all, she's Mrs. Ess Kay's cousin. I wish I had a nose two inches long, and green hair, and then perhaps Mother and Vic would have let me stop at home.
Still, I can't help taking an interest in ship life, and now that it's the morning of the last day on board, I look back on it all as if it ought to have been even more fun than it was.
I enjoyed hearing about the Marconigrams when they came; it seemed like living in a tale by Stan's favourite, Jules Verne, to have messages come flying to us in mid-ocean, like invisible carrier pigeons. I enjoyed having Mr. Doremus tell me about his luck in the big pools, when the men bet on the day's run; and I'm afraid I rather revelled in seeing a row on deck one evening, when one man accused another of being a cheat and a professional gambler, and almost cried about some money he'd lost. If I had been the first man, I wouldn't have trusted the other in the beginning, because he had fat lips, greasy black curls, and wicked eyes so close together you felt they might run into one, if he winked too hard on a hot day. But if I had been so stupid as to trust him, I would have been ashamed to make a fuss afterwards. I think people ought to be sporting.
I liked the "Captain's dinner," too, in honour of the last night on board, with the flags and paper-flower decorations, the band playing military music, the dishes on the menu named after famous generals, and the stewards filing in, in a long procession, when the salon had been darkened, each carrying a bright-coloured, illuminated ice, and cake with tiny English, and American, and German flags stuck into the top.
Yes, I liked everything, except—but now it is nearly over. America is just round the corner of the world.
ABOUT NEW YORK
After you have seen nothing but water for days, it's odd how excited you are on seeing a little land. Just a little, little land, and not at all interesting to look at; a strip of grey sand, or a patch of green grass; and you have been only a few days away from such things, yet somehow you want to jump up and down and shout for joy.
More than half the first-class passengers on our ship were Americans, coming home, and I suppose they had gone away because they wanted to go. If they had liked, they could have stopped in their own country as well as not; and I heard some of them saying during the voyage that if they could, they would spend nine months out of the year in Paris; but they made as much fuss over the first lump of sand we saw as if we were discovering the North Pole. Some of them had taken this trip a dozen times or maybe more, but anyone would have thought it was as new to them as to me.
It seemed as if I were sailing, in a dream, to a dream land, and everything would be a dream, till I found myself waking up at home. If anyone had pinched me, I hardly believe I should have felt it, as I stood by the rail, while we steamed towards New York. We passed a big fort, and some neat little houses, which looked like officers' quarters. There were Long Island and Coney Island, which Mr. Doremus said I must be "personally conducted" to see, some day when I felt young and frivolous; and by and by I heard people exclaiming "There's Liberty—there she is! Bless the dear old girl!"
While I was wondering whether they were talking of a lady, or a ship, I caught sight of a majestic giantess, obligingly holding a torch up to light the world. Then I knew it was the Statue which I had read about.
"What do you think of her?" asked Mr. Doremus.
"She's a grande dame," I said. "Now I know why your girls hold themselves so well. They're trying to live up to the Ideal American Woman. But she isn't as big as I thought she would be. Nothing ever is as big as you think it's going to be, especially when Americans have told you about it; for one has been brought up to believe that their big things are bigger than anybody else's in the whole world."
"So they are," said Mr. Doremus, "only where all the things are big, you don't notice them, for the high grass. And over there's some of the grass."
He pointed, and I saw a great number of enormous objects, shaped like chimneys, and apparently about a mile high, scattered aimlessly along the horizon, which was a brilliant, limpid blue.
"What are they?" I asked. "Great, strange, factories of some sort?"
"No. Houses where pretty women live, and offices where men make the money for them to live on."
"You must be joking. Women would be afraid to perch up there in the sky. Besides, it would take too long to go up and down."
"Nothing takes long in America. And it comes natural to our women to perch up high. Statues aren't the only things we buy pedestals for, this side of the porpoise-tank. You just wait and see."
"I don't need to wait to see that American men are nice to women," said I; "perhaps no nicer than Englishmen, really, only you seem to take a great deal more trouble. Fancy all the men at Mrs. Van der Windt's table drawing lots every night for the right to sit by her and the two Miss Eastmans; I don't believe it would have occurred to Englishmen. The ones who really wanted to sit there, would have tried to get to their places first, that's all. I do think it was pretty of you."
"Wasn't it? especially supposing none of us particularly wanted—but never mind. Talking of pretty things, here are the docks."
They were big enough to satisfy even my expectations, and I wished that I'd insisted on being taken by someone long ago, to visit the London docks, so that I might know whether ours were better or worse. One never thinks of going to see things at home; but I began to suspect that I might some day be stabbed with jealous pangs and need to be stuffed with a lot of facts about England—though until I knew Americans I've been in the habit of thinking facts the least interesting things in the world. They seemed like chairs to sit on or floors to walk on without noticing what you were doing; but I suppose it might be awkward without chairs and floors.
Soon we were near enough to New York to see the tremendous chimney things clearly, and they sharpened the impression that I was sailing straight into a dream. There could be no such things in the real world; they wouldn't be possible. But the dream felt very interesting and intense all of a sudden, and I didn't want to wake up from it just then, in spite of Mrs. Ess Kay.
The tall shapes were bright and vivid now, as giant hollyhocks growing in irregular rows. Still, they did not look one bit like houses, or offices where people could work without going stark, staring mad. I got a queer idea in my head that the houses themselves must be buried deep underground, like bulbs, with only their towers sticking up.
The next thing that happened in the dream, was slowing majestically into our own dock, and that was wonderful. The whole place was alive with faces, mostly pretty girls' faces, under fascinating hats, gay as flowers in a flower-show; parterre above parterre of brilliant blossoms; and they had all been grown in honour of us.
There was a wild waving of handkerchiefs on the ship, and a frantic fluttering of white among the flowers, as if a flock of butterflies had been frightened up into the air. Still we were a long time getting in, and I grew quite impatient; but finally Louise, who had attended to my packing, took charge of my handbag, my sunshade and coat, with her mistress's and Miss Woodburn's things. The moment had come to bid the ship good-bye.
"Now," said Mrs. Ess Kay, slipping her arm into mine, "I wonder, dear child, if you would mind being left alone to deal with the custom-house people? You'd stand under your own letter 'B,' of course."
"Oh, Katherine, do you think even Letter B, which sounds so like a warning to young men, a proper chaperon for a Duchess's daughter?" exclaimed Sally Woodburn.
I laughed, but Mrs. Ess Kay didn't. She evidently considers things connected with the American Custom House no fit subject for frivolity. She went on, without answering; "I'm under 'K,' and Sally 'W.' We'll both have all we can attend to wrestling with our own Fiends, and Louise will be just as busy. But you're a British subject, on a short visit to this country, and they won't be as diabolical to you, dear. I did all the swearing necessary for you in the saloon, with my own, when the tiresome man came on board, and there's really nothing left for you to bother with on the dock, except to open your boxes and say you have nothing to declare."
I was glad that since profanity had been called for in the saloon, owing to the tiresomeness of a man, it had been Mrs. Ess Kay who was obliged to give vent to it, not I; but I felt rather defrauded that I couldn't have heard, and I wondered if she had gone so far as to mention "damn." All I said out loud, however, was that I was sure I could manage very well in the docks, and Mrs. Ess Kay appeared much relieved. "That's perfectly sweet of you, Betty," she said, launching a daggery glance at poor, inoffensive Sally, for some reason which I couldn't understand. "I hope you won't think I'm horrid not to have asked you to label your baggage 'K,' so it could go with mine. It's better not, for everyone concerned; I'll explain afterwards why; and Louise shall take you to 'B.'"
Louise did take me to "B," which they had thoughtfully printed very large and black on a wooden wall of the dock, in a row with all the other letters of the alphabet. A good many people from the ship were collecting beneath theirs, as if they were animals getting ready to join the procession for the ark, under the heading of Cat or Elephant, as the case might be; and they all seemed worried and apprehensive, as you do at the dentist's, even when you try to distract your mind by looking at the pictures in Punch.
Louise put my bag on the wooden floor, and folded my coat on it. "Miladi will do well to sit down," said she. "It may be that the baggage do not come immediatement." With this she bustled away to the Louise rabbit warren, wherever it was, leaving me to the tender mercies of fellow "B's," who began to swarm round me and buzz distractedly.
I subsided on the bag, which was very like sitting on the floor; but it was stifling down there among people's feet; besides, mine soon got "pins and needles"; so presently I popped up like a Jack out of his Box, and almost knocked off a man's nose with the crown of my hat.
I said "I beg your pardon!" though what the nose was doing so near the top of my head I couldn't conceive, until its owner (fumbling with one hand for his handkerchief to staunch a drop of blood, and snatching off his straw hat with the other, already full of notebooks and things) blurted out abruptly: "Are you Lady Bulkeley?"
I was surprised!
"No," said I. "I'm Lady Betty Bulkeley."
"That's all right," said the nose man, as if he forgave me for being myself. "I didn't know but you'd want to be called Lady Bulkeley by strangers."
"It isn't my name," I said, more puzzled than ever. I would have tried to be dignified, as he was a perky-looking young man in an alpaca coat; but when you have just made a person's nose bleed with your hat, it would seem unfeeling to be too frigid,—though I believe an application of ice is supposed to be beneficial.