The Good Comrade
UNA L. SILBERRAD
Illustrated by Anna Whelan Betts
New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1907
COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY DOUBLEDAY PAGE & COMPANY PUBLISHED, SEPTEMBER, 1907
I. THE POLKINGTONS
II. THE DEBT
III. NARCISSUS TRIANDRUS AZUREUM
IV. THE OWNER OF THE BLUE DAFFODIL
V. THE EXCURSION
VI. DEBTOR AND CREDITOR
VII. HOW JULIA DID NOT GET THE BLUE DAFFODIL
VIII. POOFERCHJES AND JEALOUSY
IX. THE HOLIDAY
XI. A REPRIEVE
XII. THE YOUNG COOK
XIII. THE HEIRESS
XIV. THE END OF THE CAMPAIGN
XV. THE GOOD COMRADE
XVI. THE SIMPLE LIFE
XVII. NARCISSUS TRIANDRUS STRIATUM, THE GOOD COMRADE
XVIII. BEHIND THE CHOPPING-BLOCK
XIX. CAPTAIN POLKINGTON
XX. THE BENEFACTOR
XXI. THE GOING OF THE GOOD COMRADE
XXII. THE LINE OF LEAST RESISTANCE
XXIII. PAYMENT AND RECEIPT
"'Tell me,' she said, 'did you ever really do anything foolish in your life?'" Frontispiece
"A wonderful woman"
"'Now you must call your flower a name,' he said"
THE GOOD COMRADE
The Polkingtons were of those people who do not dine. They lunched, though few besides Johnny Gillat, who did not count, had been invited to share that meal with them. They took tea, the daintiest, pleasantest, most charming of teas, as the elite of Marbridge knew; everybody—or, rather, a selection of everybody, had had tea with them one time or another. After that there was no record; the elite, who would as soon have thought of going without their heads as without their dinner, concluded they dined, because they were "one of us." But some humbler folk were of opinion that they only dined once a week, and that after morning service on Sundays; but even this idea was dispelled when the eldest Miss Polkington was heard to excuse her non-appearance at an organ recital because "lunch was always so late on Sunday."
Let it not be imagined from this that the Polkingtons were common people—they were not; they were extremely well connected; indeed, their connections were one of the two striking features about them, the other was their handicap, Captain Polkington, late of the ——th Bengal Lancers. He was well connected, though not quite so much so as his wife; still—well, but he was not very presentable. If only he had been dead he would have been a valuable asset, but living, he was decidedly rather a drawback; there are some relatives like this. Mrs. Polkington bore up under it valiantly; in fact, they all did so well that in time they, or at least she and two of her three daughters, came almost to believe some of the legends they told of the Captain.
The Polkingtons lived at No. 27 East Street, which, as all who know Marbridge are aware, is a very good street in which to live. The house was rather small, but the drawing-room was good, with two beautiful Queen Anne windows, and a white door with six panels. The rest of the house did not matter. On the whole the drawing-room did not so very much matter, because visitors seldom went into it when the Miss Polkingtons were not there; and when they were, no one but a jealous woman would have noticed that the furniture was rather slight, and there were no flowers except those in obvious places.
There was only one Miss Polkington in the drawing-room that wintry afternoon—Julia, the middle one of the three, the only one who could not fill even a larger room to the complete obliteration of furniture and fitments. Julia was not pretty, therefore she was seldom to be found in the drawing-room alone; she knew better than to attempt to occupy that stage by herself. But it was now almost seven o'clock, too late for any one to come; also, since there was no light but the fire, deficiencies were not noticeable. She felt secure of interruption, and stood with one foot on the fender, looking earnestly into the fire.
That day had been an important one to the Polkingtons; Violet, the eldest of the sisters, had that afternoon accepted an offer of marriage from the Reverend Richard Frazer. The young man had not left the house an hour, and Mrs. Polkington was not yet returned from some afternoon engagement more than half, but already the matter had been in part discussed by the family. Julia, standing by the drawing-room fire, was in a position to review at least some points of the case dispassionately. Violet was two and twenty, tall, and of a fine presence, like her mother, but handsomer than the elder woman could ever have been. She had undoubted abilities, principally of a social order, but not a penny apiece to her dower. She had this afternoon accepted Richard Frazer, though he was only a curate—an aristocratic one certainly, with a small private income, and an uncle lately made bishop of one of the minor sees. Violet was fond of him; she was too nice a girl to accept a man she was not fond of, though too well brought up to become fond of one who was impossible. The engagement, though it probably did not fulfil all Mrs. Polkington's ambitions, was in Julia's opinion a good thing for several reasons.
There was a swish and rustle of silk by the door—Mrs. Polkington did not wear silk skirts, only a silk flounce somewhere, but she got more creak and rustle out of it than the average woman does out of two skirts. An imposing woman she was, with an eye that had once been described as "eagle," though, for that, it was a little inquiring and eager now, by reason of the look-out she had been obliged to keep for a good part of her life. She entered the room now, followed by her eldest and youngest daughters, Violet and Cherie.
"At twelve to-morrow?" she was saying as she came in. "Is that when he is coming to see your father?"
Violet said it was; then added, in a tone of some dissatisfaction, "I suppose he must see father about it? We couldn't arrange something?"
"Certainly not," Mrs. Polkington replied with decision; "it is not for me to give or refuse consent to your marriage. Of course, Mr. Frazer knows your father does not have good health, or trouble himself to mix much in society here—it is not likely that an old military man should, but in a case like this he would expect to be called upon; it would have shown a great lack of breeding on Mr. Frazer's part had he suggested anything different."
Violet agreed, though she did not seem exactly convinced, and Julia created a diversion by saying—
"Twelve is rather an awkward time. A quarter of an hour with father, five minutes—no, ten—with you, half an hour with Violet, altogether brings it very near lunch time."
"Mr. Frazer will, of course, lunch with us to-morrow," Mrs. Polkington said, as if stray guests to lunch were the most usual and convenient thing in the world. The Polkingtons kept up a good many of their farces in private life; most of them found it easier, as well as pleasanter, to do so. "The cold beef," Mrs. Polkington said, mentally reviewing her larder, "can be hashed; that and a small boned loin of mutton will do, he would naturally expect to be treated as one of the family; fortunately the apple tart has not been cut—with a little cream—"
"I thought we were to have the tart to-night," Julia interrupted, thinking of Johnny Gillat, who was coming to spend the evening with her father.
Mrs. Polkington thought of him too, but she did not change her mind on this account. "We can't, then," she said, and turned to the discussion of other matters. She had carried these as far as the probable date of marriage, and the preferment the young man might easily expect, when the little servant came up to announce Mr. Gillat.
Mrs. Polkington did not express impatience. "Is he in the dining-room?" she said. "I hope you lighted the heater, Mary."
Mary said she had, and Mrs. Polkington returned to her interesting subject, only pausing to remark, "How tiresome that your father is not back yet!"
For a little none of the three girls moved, then Julia rose.
"Are you going down to Mr. Gillat?" her mother asked. "There really is no necessity; he is perfectly happy with the paper."
Perhaps he was, though the paper was a half-penny morning one; he did not make extravagant demands on fate, or anything else; nevertheless, Julia went down.
The Polkingtons' house was furnished on an ascending scale, which found its zenith in the drawing-room, but deteriorated again very rapidly afterwards. The dining-room, being midway between the kitchen and the drawing-room, was only a middling-looking apartment. They did not often have a fire there; a paraffin lamp stove stood in the fire-place, leering with its red eye as if it took a wicked satisfaction in its own smell. Before the fire-place, re-reading the already-known newspaper by the light of one gas jet, sat Johnny Gillat. Poor old Johnny, with his round, pink face, whereon a grizzled little moustache looked as much out of place as on a twelve-year-old school-boy. There was something of the school-boy in his look and in his deprecating manner, especially to Mrs. Polkington; he had always been a little deprecating to her even when he had first known her, a bride, while he himself was the wealthy bachelor friend of her husband. He was still a bachelor, and still her husband's friend, but the wealth had gone long ago. He had now only just enough to keep him, fortunately so secured that he could not touch the principal. It was a mercy he had it, for there was no known work at which he could have earned sixpence, unless perhaps it was road scraping under a not too exacting District Council. He was a harmless enough person, but when he took it into his head to leave his lodgings in town for others, equally cheap and nasty, at Marbridge, Mrs. Polkington felt fate was hard upon her. It was like having two Captain Polkingtons, of a different sort, but equally unsuitable for public use, in the place. In self defence she had been obliged to make definite rules for Mr. Gillat's coming and going about the house, and still more definite rules as to the rooms in which he might be found. The dining-room was allowed him, and there he was when Julia came.
He looked up as she entered, and smiled; he regarded her as almost as much his friend as her father; a composite creature, and a necessary connection between the superior and inferior halves of the household.
"Father not in, I hear," he said.
"No," Julia answered. "What a smell there is!"
Mr. Gillat allowed it. "There's something gone wrong with Bouquet," he said, thoughtfully regarding the stove.
The "Bouquet Heater" was the name under which it was patented; it did not seem quite honest to speak of it as a heater, so perhaps "Bouquet" was the better name.
Julia went to it. "I should think there is," she said, and turned it up, and turn it down, and altered the wicks, until she had improved matters a little.
"I'm afraid your father's having larks," Johnny said, watching her.
"It's rather a pity if he is," Julia answered; "he has got to see some one on business to-morrow."
"Mr. Frazer, a clergyman who wants to marry Violet."
Mr. Gillat sat upright. "Dear, dear!" he exclaimed. "No? Really?" and when Julia had given him an outline of the circumstances, he added softly, "A wonderful woman! I always had a great respect for your mother." From which it is clear he thought Mrs. Polkington was to be congratulated. "And when is it to be?" he asked.
"Violet says a year's time; they could not afford to marry sooner and do it properly, but it will have to be sooner all the same."
"A year is not a very long time," Mr. Gillat observed; "they go fast, years; one almost loses count of them, they go so fast."
"I dare say," Julia answered, "but Violet will have to get married without waiting for the year to pass. We can't afford a long engagement."
Mr. Gillat looked mildly surprised and troubled; he always did when scarcity of money was brought home to him, but Julia regarded it quite calmly.
"The sooner Violet is married," she said, "the sooner we can reduce some of the expenses; we are living beyond our income now—not a great deal, perhaps, still a bit; Violet's going would save enough, I believe; we could catch up then. That is one reason, but the chief is that a long engagement is expensive; you see, we should have to have meals different, and fires different, and all manner of extras if Mr. Frazer came in and out constantly. We should have to live altogether in a more expensive style; we might manage it for three months, or six if we were driven to it, but for a year—it is out of the question."
"But," Mr. Gillat protested, "if they can't afford it? You said he could not; he is a curate."
"He must get a living, or a chaplaincy, or something; or rather, I expect we must get it for him. Oh, no, we have no Church influence, and we don't know any bishops; but one can always rake up influence, and get to know people, if one is not too particular how."
Mr. Gillat looked at her uneasily; every now and then there flitted through his mind a suspicion that Julia was clever too, as clever perhaps as her mother, and though not, like her, a moral and social pillar standing in the high first estate from which he and the Captain had fallen. Julia had never been that, never aspired to it; she was no success at all; content to come and sit in the dining-room with him and Bouquet; she could not really be clever, or else she would have achieved something for herself, and scorned to consort with failures. He smiled benignly as he remembered this, observing, "I dare say something will be done—I hope it may; your mother's a wonderful woman, a wonderful—"
He broke off to listen; Julia listened too, then she rose to her feet. "That's father," she said, and went to let him in.
Mr. Gillat followed her to the door. "Ah—h'm," he said, as he saw the Captain coming in slowly, with a face of despairing melancholy and a drooping step.
"Come down-stairs, father," Julia said. "Come along, Johnny."
They followed her meekly to the basement, where there was a gloomy little room behind the kitchen reserved for the Captain's special use. A paraffin stove stood in the fire-place also, own brother to the one in the dining-room; Julia stooped to light it, while her father sank into a chair.
"Gillat," he said in a voice of hopelessness, "I am a ruined man."
"No?" Mr. Gillat answered sympathetically, but without surprise. "Dear me!" He carefully put down the hat and stick he had brought with him, the one on the edge of the table, the other against it, both so badly balanced that they fell to the ground.
"You shouldn't do it, you know," he said, with mild reproof; "you really shouldn't."
"Do it!" the Captain cried. "Do what?"
Julia looked up from the floor where she knelt trimming the stove-lamp. "Have five whiskeys and sodas," she said, examining her father judicially.
He did not deny the charge; Julia's observation was not to be avoided.
"And what is five?" he demanded with dignity.
"Three too many for you," she answered.
"Do you mean to insinuate that I am intoxicated?" he asked. "Johnny," he turned pathetically to his friend, "my own daughter insinuates that I am intoxicated."
"No," Julia said, "I don't; I say it does not agree with you, and it doesn't—you know you ought not to take more than two glasses."
"Is that your opinion, Gillat?" Captain Polkington asked. "Is that what you meant? That I—I should confine myself to two glasses of whiskey and water?"
"I wasn't thinking of the whiskey," Johnny said apologetically; "it was the gees."
The Captain groaned, but what he said more Julia did not hear; she went out into the kitchen to get paraffin. But she had no doubt that he defended the attacked point to his own satisfaction, as he always had done—cards, races, and kindred pleasant, if expensive, things, ever since the days long ago before he sent in his papers.
These same pleasant things had had a good deal to do with the sending in of the papers; not that they had led the Captain into anything disgraceful, the compulsion to resign his commission came solely from relatives, principally those of his wife. It was their opinion that he worked too little and played too much, and an expensive kind of play. That he drank too much was not said; of course, the Indian climate and life tempted to whiskey pegs, and nature had not fitted him for them in large quantities; still that was never cast up against him. Enough was, however, to bring things to an end; he resigned, relations helped to pay his debts, and he came home with the avowed intention of getting some gentlemanly employment. Of course he never got any, it wasn't likely, hardly possible; but he had something left to live upon—a very small private income, a clever wife, and some useful and conscientious relations.
Somehow the family lived, quite how in the early days no one knew; Mrs. Polkington never spoke of it at the time, and now, mercifully, she had forgotten part, but the struggle must have been bitter. Herself disillusioned, her daughters mere children, her position insecure, and her husband not yet reduced to submission, and always prone to slip back into his old ways. But she had won through somehow, and time had given her the compensations possible to her nature. She was, by her own untiring efforts, a social factor now, even a social success; her eldest daughter was engaged to a clergyman of sufficient, if small, means, and her youngest was almost a beauty. As to the Captain, he was still there; time had not taken him away, but it had reduced him; he gave little trouble now even when Johnny Gillat came; he kept so out of the way that she had almost come to regard him as a negligible factor—which was a mistake.
Both the Captain and his friend had a great respect for Mrs. Polkington, though both felt at times that she treated them a little hardly. The Captain especially felt this, but he put up with it; after all it is easier to acquiesce than to assert one's rights, and, as Johnny pointed out, it was on the whole more comfortable, in spite of horse-hair chairs, down in the basement than up in the drawing-room. There was no need to make polite conversation down here, and one might smoke, no matter how cheap the tobacco, and put one's feet up, and really Bouquet was almost as good as a fire when you once get used to it.
Johnny was of a contented mind, he even looked contented sitting by the empty stove when Julia came back with the paraffin; the Captain, on the other hand, appeared to be very gloomy and unhappy; he sat silent all the time his daughter was present. As she was leaving the room Johnny tried to rouse him. "We might have a game," he suggested, looking towards a pack of cards that stuck out of a half-opened drawer.
"I have nothing in the world that I can call my own," Captain Polkington answered, without moving.
Mr. Gillat felt in his own lean pockets surreptitiously. "We might play for paper," he said.
And as she went up-stairs Julia listened to hear their chairs scroop on the kamptulikon floor as they drew them to the table; she was surprised not to hear the sound, but she imagined the game must have been put off a little so that her father could talk over his troubles. Which, indeed, was the case, though the magnitude of those troubles she did not guess.
Violet's engagement was an accepted fact. Mr. Frazer came to see the Captain, who received him in the dining-room—the combined ingenuity of the family could not make the down-stairs room presentable. The interview was short, but satisfactory; so also was the one with Mrs. Polkington which followed; with Violet it was longer, but, no doubt, equally satisfactory. Lunch, too, was all that could be desired. Mrs. Polkington's manners were always gracious, and to-day she had a charming air of taking Richard into the family—after having shut all the doors, actual and metaphorical, which led to anything real and personal. The Captain was rather twittery at lunch, at times inclined to talk too much, at times heavily silent and always obviously submissive to his wife. Yesterday's excitement was not enough to account for this in Julia's opinion. "He has been doing something," she decided, and wondered what.
Mrs. Polkington and her daughters all went out that afternoon; Julia, however, returned at about dusk. As the others had no intention of coming back so soon, there was no drawing-room tea; a much simpler meal was spread in the dining-room. Julia and her father had only just sat down to it when they heard Johnny Gillat's knock at the front door, followed a minute afterwards by Mr. Gillat himself; but when he saw that the Captain was not alone, he stopped on the threshold; Julia's presence, contrary to custom, seemed to discompose him. He, then, was in her father's secret, whatever it might be; she guessed as much when she saw his perturbed pink face. However, she did not say anything, only invited Mr. Gillat to have some tea.
Johnny sat down, and put a small and rather badly tied parcel beside him; next minute he picked it up again, and began surreptitiously to put it into first one pocket and then another. It was rather a tight fit, and in his efforts to do it unobtrusively, he made some disturbance, but no one remarked on it; Captain Polkington because he was too despondent, Julia because it did not seem worth while. Conversation languished; Julia did what she could, but her father answered in monosyllables, and Mr. Gillat said, "Very true," or "Ah, yes, yes," eating slice after slice of thick bread and butter, and filling his mouth very full as if to cork it up and so prevent his having to answer awkward questions.
At last Captain Polkington rose; "Gillat," he said, "if you have finished, we may as well go down-stairs."
Johnny set down his half-finished cup of tea with alacrity, and with alacrity followed the Captain. But Julia followed too; Johnny turned uneasily as he heard her step behind him on the dark stairs; doubtless, so he told himself, she was going to the kitchen. She was not, however; on the contrary, she showed every sign of accompanying them to the little room behind.
"Do you want anything, Julia?" her father asked, turning about in the doorway; "I'm busy to-night—I wish you would go away."
The sentence began with dignity, but ended with querulousness. But Julia was not affected; she came into the room. "I want to talk to you," she said, closing the door. "You had much better tell me about it, you will be found out, you know; mother would have guessed there was something wrong to-day if she had not been so busy with Mr. Frazer."
"Found out in what?" the Captain demanded; "I should like to know of what you accuse me—you, my own daughter—this is much, indeed."
He paced the hearthrug with outraged dignity, but Julia only drew one of the horse-hair chairs to the table. "You would do better to tell me," she said; "I might be able to help you—Johnny, won't you sit down?"
Johnny took the cane deck-chair, sitting down nervously and so near the edge that the old chair creaked ominously. Captain Polkington paced the rug once or twice more, then he sat down opposite, giving up all pretence of dignity.
"It is money, of course," Julia went on; "I suppose you lost at the races yesterday—how much?"
The Captain did not answer, he seemed overwhelmed by his troubles. "How much?" Julia repeated, turning to Mr. Gillat.
"It was rather much," that gentleman answered apologetically.
Julia looked puzzled. "How could he have much to lose?" she asked. "You couldn't, you know," bending her brows as she looked at her father—"unless you borrowed—did you borrow?"
"Yes, yes," he said, rather eagerly; "I borrowed—that was it; of course I was going to pay back—I am going to pay back."
"From whom did you borrow?" Another pause, and the question again, then the Captain explained confusedly: "The cheque—it came a day early—I merely meant to make use of it for the day—"
"The cheque!" Julia repeated, with dawning comprehension. "The cheque from Slade & Slade that mother was speaking of this morning. Our cheque, the money we have to live on for the next three months?"
"My cheque," her father said, with one last effort at dignity; "made out to me—my income that I have a perfect right to spend as I like; I used my own money for my own purposes."
He forgot that a moment back he had excused the act as a borrowing; Julia did not remind him, she was too much concerned with the facts to trouble about mere turns of speech. They, like words and motives, had not heretofore entered much into her considerations; consequences were what was really important to her—how the bad might be averted, how the good drawn that way, and all used to the best advantage. This point of view, though it leaves a great deal to be desired, has one advantage—those who take it waste no time in lamentation or reproof. For that reason they are perhaps some of the least unpleasant people to confess to.
Julia wasted no words now; she sat for a brief minute, stunned by the magnitude of the calamity which had deprived them of the largest part of their income for the next three months; then she began to look round in her mind to see what might be done. Captain Polkington offered a few not very coherent explanations and excuses, to which she did not listen, and then relapsed into silence. Johnny sat opposite, rubbing his hands in nervous sympathy, and looking from father to daughter; he took the silence of the one to be as hopeless as that of the other.
"We thought," he ventured at last, tugging at the parcel now firmly wedged in his pocket. "We hoped, that is, we thought perhaps we might raise a trifle, it wouldn't be much help—"
But neither of the others were listening to him, and Captain Polkington interrupted with his own remedy, "We shall have to manage on credit," he said; "we can get credit for this three months."
"We can't," Julia assured him; "the greater part of that money was to have paid outstanding bills; we can't live on credit, because we haven't got any to live on."
"That's nonsense," her father said; "it can be done with care and economy, and retrenchments."
Julia did not answer, so Johnny took up the words. "Yes, yes," he said, "one can always retrench; it is really marvellous how little one can do with, in fact one is better for it; I feel a different man for having to retrench. Your mother's a wonderful woman"—he stopped, then added doubtfully as he thought of the lost apple tart—"I suppose, though, she would want to make a good appearance just now, with the engagement, Mr. Frazer in and out. It is very unfortunate, very."
By this time he had untied his parcel, and flattening the paper on his knees began to put the contents on the table. There were some field-glasses, a breast pin, and a few other such things; when he had put them all out he felt in his waistcoat-pocket for his watch.
"They would fetch a trifle," he said, regarding the row a little proudly.
"Those?" Julia asked, puzzled.
"Yes," Mr. Gillat said; "not a great deal, of course, but it would be a help—it might pay the butcher's bill. It's a great thing to have the butcher's bill paid; I've heard my landlady say so; it gives a standing with the other tradespeople, and that's what you want—she often says so."
"You mean you think of selling them for us?" Julia asked, fixing her keen eyes on Johnny, so that he felt very guilty, and as if he ought to excuse himself. But before he could do it she had swept his belongings together. "You won't do anything of the kind," she said.
"Because we won't have it. Pack them up."
"Oh, but," Johnny protested, "it would be a little help, it would indeed; they would fetch something, the glasses are good ones, though a bit old-fashioned, and the watch—"
"I don't care, I won't have it," and Julia took the matter into her own hands, and began with a flushed face to re-pack the things herself.
"Is it that you think I can't spare them?" Gillat asked, still bewildered. "I can—what an idea," he laughed. "What do I want with field-glasses, now? And as to a watch, my time's nothing to me!"
"No, I dare say not," Julia said, but she tied the parcel firmly, then she gave it to him. "Take it away," she said, "and don't try to sell a thing."
She opened the door as she spoke, and he, accepting it as a hint of dismissal, meekly followed her from the room. When they had reached the hall above he ventured on a last protest. "Why may I not sell anything?" he asked.
"Because we have not quite come to that," she said, with a ring of bitterness in her voice: "We have come pretty low, I know, with our dodges and our shifts, but we haven't quite come to depriving you. Johnny"—and she stretched out a hand to him, a thing which was rare, for no one thought it necessary to shake hands with Mr. Gillat—"it's very good of you to offer; I'm grateful to you; I'm awfully glad you did it; you made me ashamed."
Johnny looked at her perplexed; the note of bitterness in her voice had deepened to something more he was altogether at a loss to understand. But she gave him no opportunity for inquiry, for she opened the street door.
"Good-bye," she said, her usual self again, "and don't you let me catch you selling those things."
"Oh, I say! But how will you manage?" he protested.
"Somehow; I have got several ideas already; I'm better at this sort of game than you are, you know."
And she shut the door upon him; then she went back to Captain Polkington.
"Father," he said, "would you mind telling me if you have borrowed any other money? It would be much simpler if we knew just how we stood."
The Captain seemed to have a painfully clear idea of how he stood. "Your mother," he remarked, with apparent irrelevance, "is such an unreasonable woman; if she were like you—if she saw things sensibly. But she won't, she'll make a fuss; she will entirely overlook the fact that it is my own money that I have lost."
"I am afraid she will," Julia agreed. "Will you tell me if you lost any one else's money as well?"
"Oh, a trifle," the Captain said; "nothing to speak of yesterday; I have borrowed a little now and again, at cards and so on; a trifling accommodation."
Julia nodded; this was bad, but it might have been worse. Mr. Rawson-Clew was not a personal friend of the Polkingtons, and he was not a man in an inferior position who might presume upon his loan to the Captain to establish a friendly footing. On the contrary, he was in a superior position, so much so that for a moment Julia was at a loss to understand how he came to accommodate her father. Then she recalled his face—he had been pointed out to her—he looked a good-natured fool; probably he had met the Captain somewhere and been sorry for him, or perhaps he did not like to say "no." In any case he had lent the money and, so Julia fancied, would have to wait a very long time before he saw it again. She dismissed the young man from her mind and fell to working out plans to meet the more pressing difficulties.
The relations would have to help; not with money; they would not do that to a useful extent, but with invitations. Cherie was easily provided for; Aunt Louise had before offered to take her abroad for the winter; Cherie did not in the least want to go; it was likely to be nothing nicer than acting as unpaid companion to a fidgety old lady; but under the present circumstances she would have to go. For Violet it was not quite so easy; it would look rather odd for her to go visiting among obliging relatives, seeing that she was only just engaged—how things looked was a point the Polkingtons always considered. But it would have to be managed; Julia fancied something might be arranged at Bath, a place which was a cheap fare from Marbridge. Mrs. Polkington would probably go somewhere for part of the time, then there could be some real retrenchments not otherwise possible. Mary might be dismissed; Mr. Gillat even might come to board with them for a little; the outside world need not know he was a guest that paid.
Julia was not satisfied with these plans; they would barely meet the difficulty she knew, even with credit stretched to the uttermost and the household crippled for some time; but she could think of nothing better, and determined to suggest them to Mrs. Polkington. With these thoughts in her mind, she went up-stairs; as she passed the drawing-room, she noticed that the blinds had not been pulled down; she went to the window to remedy the omission, and so saw in the street below the young man who, with the debt owing to him, she had lately dismissed from her mind. There was a street lamp directly below the window, and she stood a moment by the curtain looking down. Mr. Rawson-Clew was riding past, but slowly; it was quite possible to see his face, which did not contradict her former opinion—good-natured but foolish, and possibly weak. He turned in his saddle just below the window to speak to his companion, and she noticed that it was a stranger with him, a man wearing a single eyeglass, ten years older than the other, and of a totally different stamp. Indeed, of a stamp differing from any she had seen at Marbridge, so much so that she wondered how he came to be here, and what he was doing. But this was rather a waste of time, for the next day she knew.
The next day he came down the street again, but this time alone and on foot. He stopped at No. 27, and there asked for Captain Polkington. Julia, hearing the knock, and the visitor subsequently being ushered into the dining-room, guessed it must be Mr. Gillat, perhaps come with his parcel again; when she saw Mary she asked her.
"No, miss," was the answer; "it's another gentleman to see the master."
"Who?" Julia's mind was alert for fresh difficulties.
"I don't know who he is," Mary went on; "I've never set eyes on him before, but he's a grand sort of gentleman; I hardly liked to put him in the dining-room, only missis's orders was 'Mr. Gillat or any gentleman to see the master there.'"
Which was true enough, and might reasonably have been reckoned a safe order, for no one but Mr. Gillat ever did come to see the Captain.
"I hope I've done right," Mary said.
"Quite right," Julia answered, though she did not feel so sure of it. The name and the vague description of the visitor somehow suggested to her mind the stranger who had ridden past with young Mr. Rawson-Clew. She went up-stairs, uneasy as much from intuition as from experience. In the hall she stood a minute. The dining-room door did not shut too well, the lock was old and worn, and unless it was fastened carefully, it came open; the Captain never managed to fasten it, and now it stood ajar; Julia could hear something of what was said within almost as soon as she reached the top of the kitchen stairs. The visitor spoke quietly, his words were not audible, but the Captain's voice was raised with excitement.
"The money, sir, the money that your cousin lent—accommodation between gentlemen—"
So Julia heard incompletely, and then another disjointed sentence.
"Do you take me for an adventurer, a sharper? I am a soldier, sir, a soldier and a gentleman—at least, I was—I mean I was a soldier, I am a gentleman—"
Julia came swiftly up the hall, the instinct of the female to spread frail wings and protect her helpless belongings (old equally as much as young) was strong upon her. The pushed open the dining-room door and walked in.
"Father," she said, "is anything the matter?"
Both men turned, the stranger clearly surprised and annoyed by the interruption, the Captain for a moment thinking of pulling himself together and dismissing his daughter with a lie. But he did not do it; he was too shaken to think quickly, also there was a sense of reinforcement in her presence; this he did not realise; indeed, he realised nothing except that she spoke again before he had collected himself.
"Is it about the money Mr. Rawson-Clew lent you?" she asked.
He nodded, and she turned to the other man, who had risen on her entrance, and now stood with his back to the evil-smelling stove which Mary had lighted as usual in honour of Captain Polkington's visitors. She measured him swiftly, and no detail escaped her; the well-bred impassive face, where the annoyance caused by her entrance showed only in the rather hard eyes; the straight figure, even the perfection of his tailoring and the style of his boots—she summed it all up with the rapidity of one who has had to depend on her wits before. And her wits were to be depended on, for, in spite of the warmth of her protective anger, she felt his superiority of person, position and ability, and, only too probably, of cause also. She could have laughed at the contrast he presented to her father and herself and the surroundings. It was perhaps for this reason that she asked him maliciously, "Have you come to collect the debt?"
The question went home. "Certainly not," he answered haughtily; "the money—"
But the Captain prevented whatever he was going to say. "He thinks I am an adventurer, a sharper," he bleated, now thoroughly throwing himself on his daughter's protection; "his intention seems to be a warning not to try to get anything more out of his cousin—something of that sort."
Julia paid little attention to her father. "You were going to say," she inquired serenely of Rawson-Clew, "something about the money, I think?"
"No," he answered, with cold politeness. "I only meant to suggest that this is perhaps rather an unpleasant subject for a lady."
He moved as if he would open the door for her, but she stood her ground. "It is unpleasant," she said; "for that reason had we not better get it over quickly? You have not come to collect the debt, you have come, then, for what?"
"To make one or two things plain to Captain Polkington. I believe I have succeeded; if so, he will no doubt tell you anything you wish to know. Good afternoon," and he moved to the door on his own account, whereupon Julia's calmness gave way.
"You do think my father an adventurer, then?" she said. "You think him a sharper and your cousin a gull, and you came to warn him that if he tried to get anything more in future it was you with whom he would have to deal. And the money—you were going to say the money was not what you came for because you never expected to see it again? But you are wrong there; you shall see it; it will be repaid, every penny of it."
Rawson-Clew paused till she had finished; then, "I am sorry for any misunderstanding there may have been," he said. "I trust you will trouble yourself no farther in the matter," and he opened the door.
It was not a denial; it was not, so Julia considered, even an apology; to her it seemed more like a polite request to mind her own business, and she went up to her room after he had gone almost unjustly angry, too angry for the time being to think about the rashness of her promise that the debt should be paid.
"He thought us dirt," she said, sitting on the end of her narrow iron bed. Then she smiled rather grimly. "And we are pretty much what he thought us! Father sponged the money, and I decided to myself that the repaying did not much matter. We are, as we looked to him, two grubby little people of doubtful honesty, in a grubby room with Bouquet," and she laughed outright, although she was alone, and the faculty for seeing and deriding herself as others might, had a somewhat bitter flavour. Nevertheless, she was very angry and quite determined to pay the money somehow, so that at least it should appear to this man that he was mistaken.
An hour later she carried Captain Polkington's tea down to him; when tea was in the drawing-room his was always sent to him thus. She found him not depressed at all, on the contrary quite cheerful, and even dignified. He was reading something when she came in, and seeing that she was alone, he handed it to her. It was from Mr. Rawson-Clew she found, a sort of recognition of the discharge of the debt, or at least a formal cancelling of it. It was carefully and conclusively worded, certainly not the unaided work of the young man who had ridden past last night. It was dictated by the other, she was sure of it; possibly even he had himself discharged the debt so as to end the matter. Her eyes blazed as she read; he would not even allow her the satisfaction of giving him the lie—and the misery of straining and pinching to do the impossible. From pride, or from pity, or from both, he had finished the thing there and then, or he thought he had. She tore the paper across and then across again.
"What are you doing?" Captain Polkington cried, seizing her hands as she would have torn it again. "Don't you know it is valuable? I must keep it; he can't go back on it if he wants to." He took it from her, and began to piece it together. "I can look the world in the face again," he said, admiring the fragments. "I am free, free and cleared; that debt would have hung like a millstone around my neck, but I am free of it; it is cancelled."
"Free!" Julia said with scorn. There are disadvantages in reducing a man to a subordinate position and allowing him no use for his self-respect; it is a virtue that has a tendency to atrophy. Julia recognised this with something like personal shame. "Your debt is discharged," she said gently, "but mine is not; it has been shifted, not cancelled; it lies with me and Mr. Rawson-Clew now, and it shall be paid somehow."
Captain Polkington hardly heeded what she said; he was still smoothing the pieces of paper. "What?" he asked, as he put them away in an envelope, but he did not wait for her answer. "It was very heedless of you to tear it," he said; "but fortunately there is no damage done; it is perfectly valid, all that can be required."
NARCISSUS TRIANDRUS AZUREUM
The elite called to congratulate Mrs. Polkington on her daughter's engagement. All manner of pleasant things were said by them and by Mrs. Polkington in an atmosphere of social sunshine. She thought it so nice of them to come so soon, she told them so severally; she knew that they—"you all," "you, at least," "you, my oldest friend," according to circumstances—would be pleased to hear about it. She gave sundry little hints of future plans and hopes, among other things mentioned that it really was hard for poor Violet to have to go and cheer an invalid cousin just now.
"And the worst of it is," so Mrs. Polkington said, "she may have to be away some time. There really seems no one else to go, and one could not leave the poor dear alone at this dull time of the year; and, after all, Bath is not very far off; some of Richard's people live there, too. I should not be surprised if the young people contrive to see a good deal of each other in spite of everything. Indeed, had I not thought so, I think I should have insisted on Cherie's going instead of Violet, although she would have had to give up her winter abroad."
Here the visitor usually made polite inquiries about this same winter abroad, and heard of a delightful prospect of several months to be spent in the south of France, unnecessary and unpleasant details all omitted.
"You do agree with me?" Mrs. Polkington would then ask rather anxiously, as if her hearer's opinion was the one that really mattered to her. "You do think it wrong to allow Cherie to refuse this invitation for Violet's sake? I am very glad you think so. I had quite a difficulty in persuading her; but, as I told her, it was not a chance she was likely to have again. So she is going, and Violet will have to spend her winter in Bath. Julia? Oh, Julia was not asked in either case; she will be staying at home with me."
From all of which it is clear that part of Julia's plan was to be adopted. The other part must have found favour, too, for soon it became known that the Polkingtons were without a servant. Mrs. Polkington made inquiries among her friends, but could not hear of any one suitable; she said it was very tiresome, especially as they had taken advantage of the girl's empty room to invite an old Anglo-Indian friend of her husband's to stay.
Thus was the difficulty tided over, and with so good a face that few in Marbridge had any idea that it existed. Certainly none knew of the pinching and screwing and retrenching which went on indoors at No. 27. One or two tradesmen could have told of long accounts unpaid, and some relations living at a distance were troubled by appeals for help, a form of begging which, at this date of their history did not hurt the Polkingtons' sensibility much.
Mrs. Polkington suffered in body, if not in mind, during this hard time, though fortunately she was able to be away a month. The Captain suffered a good deal more, which was perhaps only just; and Johnny Gillat suffered with him, which was not just, though that did not seem to occur to him. As for Julia, she minded least of any one, though in some ways she had the most to put up with; but the plan was hers, and consequently she was too interested in its success to trouble about the inevitable discomforts of the working out.
There was one matter which did trouble her, however—the debt to Rawson-Clew. She had no money, and no possibility of raising any; yet it must and should be paid, for her father's name could not otherwise be cleared. She turned over in her own mind how she could earn enough, but there was little hope of that; it seemed rather a large sum for a girl to earn, and any sum was impossible to her; she had no gifts to take to market, no ability for any of the arts, not enough education for teaching, no training for commerce. The only field open to her was that of a nursery-governess or companion; neither was likely to enable her to pay this debt of honour quickly. Once, nearly a year ago, she had had a sort of half-offer of the post of companion. It was while she was staying with a friend; during the visit there had come to the house an old Dutchman of the name of Van Heigen, a business acquaintance of her host. He had stayed nearly a week, and in that time taken a great fancy to her.
In those first bad days after the Captain's leaving the army, the Polkingtons had lived, or perhaps more accurately, drifted about, a good deal abroad. It was then that Julia picked up her only accomplishment, a working knowledge of several languages. She had also acquired one other thing, perhaps not an accomplishment, a rather unusual knowledge of divers men and divers ways. It may have been that these qualities made her more attractive to the old Dutchman than the purely English game-expert daughters of the house. Or it may have been her admirable cooking; the cook was ill during the greater part of her visit, and her offer to help was gladly accepted and duly appreciated. Something, at all events, pleased the old man, so that before he left he asked her, half in fun, if she would come and live with his wife. This lady, it seemed, had bad health, and no daughters; she always had a companion of some sort, and was never satisfied with the one she had. In Holland, as in England, it seemed posts were not easy to fill satisfactorily, for those often in want of employment were also constitutionally inefficient.
At the time Julia had laughingly refused the offer, now she recalled it, and thought seriously about it. It would not be very nice, a mixture of upper servant and lady help; the Van Heigens were bulb growers, old-fashioned people, the lady a thorough huisvrouw, nothing more probably. Still that did not matter; such things need not be considered if the end could be attained that way. But unfortunately it did not look very likely; the Van Heigens would pay less to a companion than English people would, not enough to buy clothes; there was practically nothing to be made out of it. Julia was obliged to admit the fact to herself, and reluctantly to dismiss the Dutchman and his offer from her thoughts.
But curiously enough, they were brought to her mind again before long; not later, indeed, than that evening, when she went to a dance at a neighbour's house. At this dance she met a Mr. Alexander Cross. He was not a native of Marbridge, not at all like any of them; it is quite possible that they would have rather looked down upon him; Julia recognised that he barely came up to her mother's standard of a gentleman. He seemed to be a keen business man of the energetic new sort; he also seemed to deal in most things, flowers among them. He told Julia something about that part of his business, for he and it interested her so much that she asked him leading questions. He explained how the beautiful orchid he wore in his coat had decreased in value lately. A few years ago, when there had been but one specimen with just that marking in all the world, the plant had sold for L900; now that it had been multiplied it was worth only L25, nothing practically.
"It was a novelty then," he explained; "some novelties are worth a great deal. There's one I know of now I could do some good business with if I could get hold of it. But I can't; the old fool that's got it won't sell it for any price, and he can't half work it himself. It's a blue daffodil—Narcissus Triandrus Azureum he calls it; or rather, to give it its full title, Narcissus Triandrus Azureum Vrouw Van Heigen; so called, I believe, in honour of his wife, or his mother."
Julia wondered if the Van Heigen who owned the precious flower was the old Dutchman of her acquaintance. "Is he a bulb grower?" she asked, though without giving any reason for her question.
"Yes," Cross answered, "a Dutch bulb grower; that's why he won't make the profit he might; he comes of generations of growers, and they venerate their bulbs. He has cranky notions of how things ought to be done, and no other way will do for him."
"How did he get a blue daffodil? Do you think it is real? It seems very unusual."
"It is unusual; that's where the value comes in; but it's real fast enough, though I don't believe he grew the first, as he says, in his own garden. It's my opinion that one of his collectors sent him the first bulb; he has collectors all over the world, you know, looking for new things."
"What is he going to do with it?" Julia asked.
"He is multiplying it at present; at first he had only one, now, of course, he has a few more; when he has got enough he will hybridise. You don't know what that is. Cross-breed with it; use the blue with the old yellow daffodil as parents to new varieties. That's ticklish work; growers can't afford to do it till they have a fair number of the new sort; but, of course, they occasionally get something good that way."
Julia listened, much interested, though, to tell the truth, the money value of the thing fascinated her more than anything else.
"Will he never sell any of his blue bulbs?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, in time," Cross answered; "but not while they are worth anything much to the growers."
"What are they worth? I mean, what would it be worth if there was only one?"
"I don't know; I dare say I could get L400 for the single bulb."
"But if there were more they would not be worth so much? If there were five, what would they be worth?"
"Pretty well as much, very likely L300 for one bulb. Van Heigen would give a written guarantee with it not to sell another bulb to another grower."
"But he could keep the others himself?" Julia asked. "That would be eating his cake and having it too. Tell me," she said, feeling she was imitating the Patriarch when he was pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah, "if there were ten bulbs, what could you get for one."
Cross was amused by her interest. "A hundred pounds, I dare say," he said; "but I shall never have the chance. The trade will never touch those blue daffodils while they are worth having. When the old man does begin to sell them—when they are worth very little to the growers—he will sell to collectors, cranky old connoisseurs, from choice. That's what I mean when I say he doesn't understand business as business; he would rather sell his precious blue daffodils where they were what he calls 'appreciated.' He would sooner they went for a moderate price to people who would worship them, than make an enormous profit out of them."
"But the connoisseurs could sell them," Julia objected. "If I were a connoisseur and bought one when they were for sale, I could sell it to you if I liked."
"Yes, but you wouldn't," Cross said; "if you were a connoisseur you would not dream of parting with your bulb. You wouldn't have the slightest wish to make a hundred per cent. on your purchase, or two or three hundred either. Also I shouldn't buy."
"I couldn't afford to have my name mixed up with the business."
Julia looked at him critically. "You could afford that the business should be done without your name?" she suggested.
He laughed. "I could introduce the seller, did such an impossible person exist, to some one who could buy."
It was Julia's turn to laugh, that soundless laugh of hers which gave the feeling of a joke only half shared. "For a consideration, of course," she said.
"Something would naturally stick to my fingers," Cross answered, amused rather than offended.
He was a good deal amused by his partner, finding her more interesting than most of the girls he met that evening; afterwards he forgot her, for two days later he left the place, and thought no more either about Miss Polkington or the talk he had had with her.
As for her, it was not clear what she thought, but the next day she wrote to London for a second-hand Dutch dictionary, and then went to call at the house with the largest library that she knew. When she came away from there she carried with her a book she had borrowed, a Dutch version of Gil Blas, which she remembered to have once seen tucked away in a corner. Shortly afterwards, as soon as the dictionary came, she set to reading the edifying work, and found it easier than she expected. What one learns from necessity in childhood stays in the memory, and a good knowledge of German and a smallish one of Dutch will carry one through greater difficulties than Gil Blas.
Before her mother and sisters came back to Marbridge, Julia had written to the old Dutchman.
When Mrs. Polkington heard Julia wanted to go to Holland and live in a Dutch family she was surprised. This news was not given to her till the spring had fairly set in, for it was not till then that Julia had been able to get everything arranged. It is no use telling people your plans unless you are quite sure of carrying them out, and you are never sure of that long before starting; at least, that was Julia's opinion. It was also her opinion that it was quite unnecessary to tell all details. She said she was tired of being at Marbridge, and wanted a complete change; also that when there were three grown-up sisters at home it seemed rather desirable that one should go away, for a time at least. When Violet suggested that it was odd to have chosen Holland in preference to France or Germany, she replied truthfully that the one was possible to her, the others were not.
Mrs. Polkington, who quite approved of the plan, saw no objection to Holland, adding as a recommendation, "It is so much more original to go there." She did not fail to remark on the originality when she embroidered Julia's going to her friends and acquaintances.
Captain Polkington was the only member of the family who regretted this going. He had always regarded Julia as something between an ally and a tolerant go-between; and since she had wrung from him the confession of his difficulties, and helped in the arrangement of them, his feeling for her had leaned more and more towards the former. He had even come to feel a certain protectiveness in her presence, which made him really sorry she was going. Johnny Gillat was sorrier still.
Johnny had gone back to dismal lodgings in town now; he only heard of the plan by letter, and the Captain's letters were very prolix, and not informing. Mr. Gillat's own letters were even worse, for if they lacked the prolixity, they lacked the little information also. On receipt of the Captain's information he merely wrote to ask when Julia was going, and what time she would be in London, as he would like to give himself the pleasure of meeting her train.
He did give himself that pleasure; he was at the station half an hour and ten minutes before the train, so as to be sure of being in time. He was on the platform when the train came in; Julia saw him, a rather ridiculous figure, his shabby coat tremendously brushed and tightly buttoned, a gay tie displayed to the uttermost to hide a ragged shirt front, his round, pink face, with its little grizzled moustache, wearing a look of melancholy which made it appear more than ordinarily foolish. He was standing where the part of the train which came from Marbridge could not possibly stop, much in the way of porters and trucks; Julia had to find him and find her luggage too, but he seemed to think he was of much service. Julia's hard young heart smote her when he gave twopence to her porter.
"Johnny," she said, as he took her ticket on the District Railway, "I am going to pay for my ticket."
It was only threepence, but there are people who have to consider the threepences; if Julia was one, she knew that Mr. Gillat was another, and she had allowed for this threepence, and he probably had not. He demurred, but she insisted. "Then I won't let you come with me;" and he gave way.
They were alone in a compartment, and he shouted above the rattle of the train something about her being missed at Marbridge.
"Oh, no," she said, "mother and the girls think it is a good thing I am going."
"Your father and I will miss you," Johnny told her.
"Yes; I'll miss you very much—we both shall; we shall sit down-stairs, each side of the fire-place, and think how you used to come there sometimes. And when I wait in the dining-room when your father's not at home, I'll remember how you used to come down there and chat. We had many a chat, didn't we?—you and me, and Bouquet burning between us—there was nobody could trim Bouquet like you. But perhaps you'll be back before winter comes round again?"
"I don't know when I shall be back," was all Julia could find to say. The idea of being missed like this was new and strange to her; the Polkingtons' feelings were so much guided by what was advisable, or expedient, that there was not usually much room for simple emotions. She felt somehow grateful to Johnny for caring a little that she was going, though at the same time she was unpleasantly convinced that she did not deserve it.
"It won't be at all the same at No. 27," Mr. Gillat was saying. "Your mother—she's a wonderful woman, a wonderful woman, and Miss Violet's a fine girl, so's the other, handsome both of them; but they're in the drawing-room, you know, and you—you used to come down-stairs."
It did not sound very explicit, but Julia understood what he meant. Just then the train stopped at a station, and other passengers got in, so they had little more talk.
In time they reached Mark Lane, from whence it is no great walk to the Tower Stairs. There is a cheap way of going to Holland from there for those who do not mind spending twenty-four hours on the journey; Julia did not mind. When she and Johnny Gillat arrived at the Tower Stairs they saw the steamer lying in the river, a small Dutch boat, still taking in cargo from loaded lighters alongside. A waterman put them on board, or, rather, took them to the nearest waiting lighter, from whence they scrambled on board, Mr. Gillat very unhandily. A Dutch steward received them, and taking Johnny for a father come to see his daughter off, assured them in bad English that she would be quite safe, and well taken care of.
"She shall haf one cabin to herself, a bed clean. Yes, yes; there is no passenger but one, a Holland gentleman; he will not speak with the miss, he is friend of captain."
Johnny nodded a great many times, though he did not quite follow what was said. Then Julia told him he had better go, and not keep the waterman any longer.
He agreed, and began fumbling in his pocket, from whence he pulled out one of his badly-tied parcels.
"A keepsake," he said, putting it into her hand; then, without waiting to say good-bye, he scrambled over the side in such a hurry that he as nearly as possible fell into the river.
Julia ran to the side in some anxiety; some one shouted, "Look out," and some one else, "Hold up," and a third something less complimentary. Then a man laid hold of Mr. Gillat's legs and guided him safely on to the bobbing lighter. There he turned and waved his hat to Julia before he got into the waiting boat.
"Good-bye," he called.
"Good-bye," she answered. "Oh, do be careful!"
He was not careful, but the waterman had him now, and took him ashore. She watched him, his round face was suffused with smiles; he waved his hat once more just as he reached the stairs. He slipped once getting up them, but he was up now, and turned to wave once before he started down the street.
It was not till then that Julia became aware of a small sound close at hand; there was a good deal of noise going on, shouting, the rattling of cranes, and the thud of shifting bales, with now and then the hoot of a steamer and the escape of steam, and under all, the restless lapping of the water. But through it all she now heard a much smaller sound quite close, a regular tick, tick. She glanced at the parcel she had forgotten, then in an instant, as a sudden idea occurred to her, she had the paper off. Yes, it was. It was Johnny's great old-fashioned gold watch, with the fetter chain dangling at the end.
She stood quite still with the thing in her hand, her mouth set straight, and her eyes growing glitteringly bright. The round gilded face stared up at her, reminding her in some grotesque way of Johnny; poor, generous, honest, foolish old Johnny! She looked away quickly, a sudden desire not to go with this moon-faced companion took possession of her—a desire not to go at all, a horrible new-born doubt about it.
But feelings for abstract right and wrong, like personal likes and dislikes, do not grow strongly where expediency and advisability and advantage have to rule; she was only going to do what she must in Holland; the debt must be paid, honour demanded no less; the blue daffodil was the only hope of paying it. She was not going to steal a bulb exactly; she was going to get it somehow, as a gift, perhaps, opportunity must show how; and when it was hers, she could do with it as she pleased, there was no wrong in that. She must go; she must do it; the thing was so necessary as to be unavoidable, and not open to question. She looked down, and her eye fell on the watch again; it stared up at her in the same vacant way as Johnny had done that day when he wanted to sell it and his other things to help them out of their justly earned, sordid difficulties. With shame she had prevented that, feeling the cause unworthy of the sacrifice. But this sacrifice, for a still more unworthy cause, she was too late to prevent. Johnny had gone. She looked earnestly to see if he was among those who loitered about the stairs, or those in the more distant street. But she could not see him, he was gone clean from sight; there was only the busy, unfamiliar life of the river around; yellow, sunlit water; the crowded craft, and the great stately wonder of the Tower Bridge silently raising and parting its solid roadway to let some boat go, as she would soon go down to the sea.
THE OWNER OF THE BLUE DAFFODIL
Vrouw Snieder, the notary's wife, sat by her window at work on a long strip of red crochet lace. From her place she could see all who came up the street, and, there being a piece of looking-glass set outside, at right angles to the pane, also most who came down it. This, though doubtless very informing, did not help the progress of the lace; but that was of no consequence, Mevrouw always had some red lace in making, and it might as well be one piece as another. With her, were her two daughters, Denah and Anna, though Anna had no business there, being supposed just then to be preparing vegetables for dinner. She had only come into the room to fetch keys, but a remark from her mother brought her to the window.
"There goes Vrouw Van Heigen's English miss," the old lady said, and both her daughters looked at once.
"She has been marketing, I see; she seems a good housewife."
"She walks in the road," Denah observed critically; "It is so conspicuous, I could not do it; besides, one might be run over."
"The English always walk in the road," her sister answered; "they think everything will get out of their way, and they do not at all mind being conspicuous."
"The English miss should mind," Denah said, "for she is not pretty; no one looks at her to admire; besides she is poor and has to work hard."
"Yes, yes," her mother agreed placidly; "she is a fine worker. Vrouw Van Heigen is full of her praises; such a cook—she has twenty new dishes, and everything is done quickly, one cannot tell how; it is like having a magician in the house, so she says. Ah, there is Herr Van de Greutz's Marthe going into the apothecary's. I wonder now—"
But her daughters were not interested in Marthe; the English girl at the Van Heigens' interested them a great deal more. They continued to talk about her a great deal afterwards, Denah going back with her sister to the kitchen and the vegetables, so as to be able to do so undisturbed.
"I will help you with these," she said; "then we can go out."
She sat down and took up a knife. "It is strange how much Vrouw Van Heigen thinks of that girl," she said. "She has been there but one month and already there is no one like her. She does not keep her in her place very well; were she a daughter more could not be said. I wonder how Mijnheer likes it."
"It was Mijnheer who engaged her," Anna said. "It is not likely that he regrets. I hear that she has written some English letters for him since one of the clerks has been ill. My father says she can cook like a Frenchwoman, and that is something. As for Joost, it is surely of little importance to him, he is too quiet to say anything to her; she talks little; she must be shy."
Denah had nothing to say to this, although, seeing in which person her own interest in the Van Heigens lay, she possibly found some comfort in the assurance. After a little she remarked, "That girl has no accomplishments; she is as old-fashioned as our Aunt Barje, a huisvrouw, no more. It is strange, for the English women make fun of us for this, and pretend that they are educated and advanced above us; she is not, she can do nothing but speak a few languages; she cannot sing nor play, she has read no science, she cannot draw, nor model in wax, nor make paper flowers, nor do bead work; she could not even crochet till I showed her how. I wonder if she has made any progress with the pattern I gave her. Shall we go and see by and by? I might set her right if she is in a difficulty, and we could at the same time inquire after Mevrouw's throat; she had a weakness, I noticed, on Tuesday."
Anna agreed; she was a most obliging sister, and a while later they set out together for the Van Heigens' house. They did not walk in the wide, clean road, but were careful to keep to the path, pausing a moment to consult before starting for the other side when it was necessary to cross over.
The Van Heigens' house stood on the outskirts of the town, a long way back from the road. The bulb garden lay all round it, though immediately in front was a lawn so soft and green that no one ever walked on it. The house was of wood, painted white, and had a high-pitched roof of strange, dark-coloured tiles; a canal lay on two sides, which ought to have made it damp, but did not.
Vrouw Van Heigen was pleased to see the girls, and received them with an effusiveness which might have suggested that a longer time than four days had elapsed since they last met. She kissed them on both cheeks, and led them in by the hand; she asked particularly how they were, and how their mother was, and how their father was, and if they were not very tired with their walk, and would they not have lemonade—yes, they must have lemonade. "Julia, Julia," she called, "bring lemonade, bring glasses and the lemonade."
Julia came from a little room which led off the sitting-room, carrying the things required on a papier-mache tray. She wore a large, blue-print apron, for she had been shelling shrimps when she was called, and though she stayed to wash her hands, she did not think it necessary to remove her apron. She had observed it to be the custom hereabouts to wear an apron of some sort all day long, and she did not differentiate between the grades of aprons as Denah and Anna did. She set down the tray and shook hands ceremoniously with the sisters and made all the proper inquiries in the properest way; she had also observed that to be the custom of the place. Then she poured out the lemonade and handed it round, and was afterwards sent to fetch a glass for herself and a little round tray to set it on—every one had a little tray for fear of spoiling the crimson plush table-cover. Julia cannot be said to have been anxious for lemonade; Vrouw Van Heigen's growing affection for her often found expression in drinks at odd times, a good deal more often than she appreciated. On this occasion, since she was doing the pouring out herself, she was able to get off with half a glass.
They all sat round the table and talked; Julia talked a great deal the least, but that did not matter, the others had so much to say. She listened, admiring the way in which one little incident—a dog running on the tram line and being called off just in time by its owner—served them for a quarter of an hour. What economy of ideas it was, and how little strain to make conversation! Then came Mevrouw's throat, the little hoarseness Denah had noticed on Tuesday. It was nothing, the good lady declared, she had not felt it. Oh, if they insisted on noticing it, she would own to a weakness but no more than was usual to her when the dust was about, and truly the dust was terrible now, she could not remember when it had been so bad so early in June. And so on, and so on, until they somehow came round to crochet lace, when Julia was obliged to confess that she had not made much progress with the pattern. She exhibited a very small piece with several mistakes in it.
"Why," cried Denah, "I have done already almost half a metre of the piece I began at the same time. Is it difficult for you?"
Julia said it was, and Vrouw Van Heigen added by way of apology for her, that she had been busy making a cool morning dress.
"For yourself?" Anna asked. "Do you make your dresses?"
"This is for Mevrouw," Julia answered; "but I can make my own."
The Polkingtons had had to, and also to put an immense amount of thought and work into it, because they were bound to get a fine effect for a small expense, and that is not possible without a large outlay of time and consideration. Julia did not explain this to the present company, it would have been rather incomprehensible to them.
Anna was at once fired with a desire to make herself a cool morning dress, and asked a dozen questions as to how, while Denah's busy fingers undid the faulty crochet work, and her tongue explained the mistakes. Mevrouw did not listen much to either, but noticing the glasses were empty, pressed the visitors in vain to have more lemonade. They refused, and finding them quite obdurate she toddled into the little room where Julia had been doing the shrimps, to come back again, bearing a large bladder-covered bottle of peach-brandy. The girls declined this very firmly, but Julia was sent for more glasses, and soon they were all sipping the rich flavoured liqueur without protestation.
It was over this that they planned an expedition to the wood. No one knew quite who suggested it; when people all talk at once it is not easy to say who originates an idea; anyhow, it was agreed that the weather was so dry and the trees so lovely and Mevrouw so seldom went out. She really felt—did she not?—that she would enjoy making a small excursion, she was so wonderfully well—for her. What did Anna think her mother would say? Perhaps they might join together for a drive?
Anna thought her mother would be delighted; indeed, she often spoke of the charms of a country excursion; Denah was called upon to corroborate, and did so volubly. Where should they go? Half-a-dozen different places were suggested; why not go here, or there, or to the wood? Yes, the wood, that would be lovely. They could take their tea out; if they were well wrapped up, of course, protected from the damp and the wind, might it not be possible?
So by degrees the plan was brought to the first stage. Denah and Anna were to talk it over with their mother, and if she thought favourably of it, then "we must see." By that time Denah had set the crochet work quite straight, and with kisses and hand-shakings the visitors departed. Julia went back to the little room where first she washed the glasses that had been used, afterwards she finished the shrimps and washed them and put them ready for supper in a china dish like a large soap dish on three feet. When that was done, it was necessary to lay the table for dinner and superintend the getting of that meal.
The Van Heigens dined at four. It had taken Julia all the month she had been with them to in any way get used to that time. Mijnheer and the only son, Joost, came in from the office for two hours then. The office joined the house and the great dim orderly bulb barns joined the office, so the father and son had not far to come in whichever place they might be. Julia and Mevrouw fetched the food from the kitchen and cleared the table, as well as getting their own meal; but that was nothing when you were used to it, any more than was the curious butter and nutmeg sauce that always seemed to play a part at dinner.
Mijnheer had a good deal to say to Julia, principally about his business. The letters she had written for him during the illness of the clerk who usually did his English correspondence, had given her some little insight into it. This she had profited by, being in the first instance really interested, and, in the second, not slow to see that the old man, far from resenting it, had been pleased. He talked a good deal about his affairs now, giving her little bits of information and explaining rather proudly his method of doing business, and his father's and his grandfather's before him. Joost, as usual, said little or nothing; he must have been five or six and twenty, but he had hardly ever left the parental roof, and was usually so hard at work that he had little time or inclination for frivolity. He had earnest child-like blue eyes that Julia did not care to look at, any more than she did the round yellow face of Mr. Gillat's watch. This was rather a pity as she could not always avoid it, and certainly he looked at her a good deal, in fact whenever he thought he was not observed. Of course he always was observed, by her at least; that was a foregone conclusion; the observation gave her some uneasiness.
After dinner the father and son went to sit on the veranda, and Mevrouw helped Julia take the dishes into the white marble kitchen and the glasses into the little off-room. Later, Julia came to sit on the veranda, too—it was somewhat stuffy being all closed in with glass windows. There they drank pale tea, the pot kept simmering on a spirit-stove, and read the foreign papers which had just come. Mevrouw did not read, she made tea and did crochet work, a strip like Vrouw Snieder's, only yellow instead of red. Julia, it is to be feared, did not try to master the pattern so kindly set right by Denah; she could not resist the breath from the outside world which the papers brought.
At six o'clock Mijnheer and his son went back to the office, and Julia, having washed the tea-cups, joined Mevrouw in the sitting-room. It was never very light in that room, for the walls were covered with a crimson flock paper and the woodwork was black; while the windows, which looked on the canal, were always shaded till dark. They sat here at work on the morning gown, till supper time. Mijnheer sometimes came in an hour before supper, as early as half-past eight; Joost had usually too much to do to come in before half-past nine. After supper, when the things were cleared away, they had prayers; Mijnheer read a chapter from the Bible, and they sat round the table and listened, and afterwards he said, "Now we will pray," and they sat a while in silence. Julia sat, too, her keen, observing eyes cast down and a curious stillness about her. After that every one went to bed; Julia and the maidservant had two little rooms right up in the eaves of the house; the family slept on the floor below. Julia was glad of this, though it was possible to imagine her room would be very hot in summer and very cold in winter. But she was glad to be well above the sleeping house, and to be able to look from her window across the wide country, over the dark bulb gardens—laid out like a Chinese puzzle with their eight-foot hedges—to the lights of the town on the one hand, and, better still, to the dim curve of the Dunes on the other. It is to be feared she sometimes spent a longer time at her window than was wise, seeing the early hour at which she had to rise; but no one was troubled by it, for she was careful to take off her shoes first thing; the rooms were unceiled, and it was necessary to tread lightly if one would not disturb people below.
On the day after that of Anna and Denah's visit, Herr Van Heigen offered to show Julia the bulb barns. It was a Saturday, and so after dinner, the workmen having all gone home, there was no one about and she could ascend the steep barn ladders without any suffering in her modesty. At least that was what Mijnheer thought; Julia, her modesty being of a very serviceable order, may have given the matter less consideration, but she accepted the offer.
The barns were very large and high, many of them three storeys and each storey lofty. The light inside was dim, a sort of dun colour, and the air very dry and full of a strange, not unpleasant smell. Everything was as clean as clean could be; no litter, no dirt, the floor nicely swept, the shelves that ran all round and rose, tier upon tier, in an enormous stand that occupied the whole centre of the place, all perfectly orderly. On the shelves the bulbs lay, every one smooth and clean and dry, sorted according to kind and quality; Mijnheer knew them all; he could, like a book-lover with his books, put his hand upon any that he wished in the dark. It seemed to Julia that there were hundreds upon hundreds of different sorts. Not only hyacinths and tulips and such well-known ones in endless sizes and varieties, but little roots with six and seven syllable names she had never heard before, and big roots, too, and strange cornery roots, a never-ending quantity.
Mijnheer told her they were not yet all in; many were in the ground and had still to be lifted. This she knew, for she had seen the dead tops of some in the little enclosed squares where they grew; from her bedroom window, too, she saw others still in bloom—a patch, the size of a tennis-lawn squared, of scarlet ranunculous, little blood-red rosettes, sheltered by a high close-clipped hedge. And another patch of iris hispanica, fairy flowers of palest gold and lavender, quivering at the top of their grey-green stalks like tropical dragon-flies hovering over a field of growing oats. These it seemed, and many others, would be brought in by and by, then the great barns would be really full. Mijnheer took up a root here and there, telling her something of the history of each; explaining how the narcissus increased and the tulips grew; showing her hyacinth bulbs cut in half-breadthways with all the separate severed layers distended by reason of the growing and swelling of the seeds between.
"Each little seed will be a bulb by and by," he said, "but not yet. When we cut the root first, we set it in the ground and these begin to grow and become in time as you see them now. Afterwards they grow bigger and bigger till their parent can no longer contain them."
"Does it take long for them to grow full size?" Julia asked.
"It takes five years to grow the finest hyacinth bulbs," Mijnheer answered, "but inferior ones are more quick. And when the bulb is grown, there is one bloom—fine, magnificent, a truss of flowers—after that it deteriorates, it is, one may say, over. Ah, but it is magnificent while it is there! There is no flower like the hyacinth; had I my way, I would grow nothing else, but people will not have them now. They must have novelties. 'Give us narcissus,' they say; 'they are so graceful'—I do not see the grace—'Or iris'—well, some are fine, I allow, but they do not last in bloom as do hyacinths. The mourn iris of Persia is very beautiful; we have not one flowering yet, but we shall have by and by. I will show you then; you will think it very handsome. When it blooms I go to it in the morning and dust the sand from the petals. I feel that I can reverence that flower; it is most beautiful."
"Is it very scarce?" Julia asked.
"Somewhat," Mijnheer answered; "but we have things that are more so, we have many novelties so called. Ah, but we have one novelty that is a true one, it is a wonder, it has no price, it is priceless!" He drew a deep breath of almost awed pride. "It is the greatest rarity that has ever been reared in Holland, a miracle, in fact—a blue daffodil!"
Julia refrained from mentioning that she had heard of the rarity before; she leaned against the centre stand and listened while the old man grew eloquent, with the eloquence of the connoisseur, not the tradesman, over his treasure. There was no need for her to say much, only to put a question here and there, or make a sympathetic comment; with little or no effort she learned a good deal about the wonderful bulb. It seemed that it really had been grown in the Van Heigens' gardens, and not imported from Asia, as Mr. Cross thought. There were six roots by this time; not so many as had been hoped and expected, it did not increase well, and was evidently going to be difficult to grow.
"Would you like to know the name which it will immortalise?" the old man asked at last. "It is called Narcissus Triandrus Azurem Vrouw Van Heigen."
"You named it in honour of Mevrouw, I suppose?" Julia said.
"I did not; Joost did."
"Mijnheer Joost?" she repeated.
"Yes," the father answered. "It is his, not mine; to him belongs the honour. It is he who has produced this marvel. How? That is a secret; perhaps even I could not tell you if I would; Nature is wonderful in her ways; we can only help her, we cannot create. Yes, yes, it is Joost who has done this. He seemed to you a retiring youth? Yet he is the most envied and most honoured man of our profession. I would sooner—there are many men in Holland who would sooner—have produced this flower than have a thousand pounds. And he is my son—you may well believe that I am proud."
And Mijnheer beamed with satisfaction in his son and his blue daffodil. But Julia leaned against the stand in the dry twilight, saying nothing. Money, it appeared, was not then the measure of all things; neither intrinsically, as with Mr. Alexander Cross, nor for what it represented in comfort and position, as with her own family, did it rank with these bulb growers. They, these people whom her mother would have called market gardeners, tradespeople, it seemed, loved and reverenced their work; they thought about it and for it, were proud of it and valued distinction in it, and nothing else. The blue daffodil was no valuable commercial asset, it was an honour and glory, an unparalleled floral distinction—no wonder Cross could not buy or exploit it. In a jump Julia comprehended the situation more fully than that astute business man ever could; but at the same time she felt a little bitter amusement—it was this, this treasured wonder, that she thought to obtain.
The next day, Sunday, Julia went to church with Mijnheer and Joost; Mevrouw did not find herself well enough for church, but she insisted that Julia should not stay at home on her account. Accordingly the girl accompanied father and son to the Groote Kerk and listened to the rather dull service there. For the most part she sat with her eyes demurely cast down, though once or twice she looked round the old barn-like place, and wondered if there were any frescoes under the whitewash of the walls and whence came the faint, all pervading smell, like a phantom of incense long forgotten. When service was over and they came out into the sunny street, Mijnheer announced that he was going to see a friend. Julia, of course, must hurry home to set the table for the mid-day coffee drinking, and afterwards prepare for dinner. Joost was going back, likewise, and to her it was so natural a thing they should go together that she never thought about it. It did not, however, seem so to him, and after walking a few paces in embarrassment, he said—
"You would perhaps prefer I did not walk with you?"
"Oh, no," she answered, in some surprise; "I shall be pleased, if you are going the same way, that is."
He fidgeted, becoming more embarrassed. "You are sure you do not mind?" he said. "It is a little conspicuous for you."
Then she understood, and looked up with twinkling eyes. "I am afraid I am conspicuous, anyhow," she said.
This was true enough, for her clothes, fitting like an Englishwoman's, and put on like a Frenchwoman's (the Polkingtons all knew how to dress), were unlike any others in sight. Her face, too, dark and thin and keenly alert, was unlike, and her light, easy walk; and if this was not enough it must be added that she was now walking in the road because the pavement was so crowded.
Joost stepped off the path to make room for her and she saw by his face that his mind was not at ease.
"Pray, Mijnheer," she said, in her softest tones, and her voice had many tones as her companion had not failed to notice, though he was not aware that the softest was also usually the most mischievous, "will you not walk the other side of the way? Then you will not be conspicuous at all."
"I do not mind it," he said, blushing, and Julia decided that his father's description of him as a retiring youth was really short of the mark. They walked along together down the quiet, bright streets; there were many people about, but nobody in a hurry, and all in Sunday clothes, bent on visiting or decorous pleasure-making. Everywhere was sunny and everything looked as if it had had its face washed; week days in the town always looked to Julia like Sundays, and Sundays, this Sunday in particular, looked like Easter.
In time they came to the trees that bordered the canal; there were old Spanish houses here, a beautiful purplish red in colour, and with carving above the doors. Julia looked up at her favourite doorpiece—a galleon in full sail, a veritable picture in relief, unspoiled by three hundred years of wind and weather.
"I think this is the most beautiful town I was ever in," she said. Her companion looked surprised.
"Do you like it?" he asked. "It must be quite unlike what you are used to, all of it must be."
"It is," she answered, "all of it, as you say—the place, the ways, the people."
"And you like it? You do not think it—you do not think us what you call slow, stupid?"
She was a little surprised, it had never occurred to her that he, any more than the others, would think about her point of view. "No," she answered, "I admire it all very much, it is sincere, no one appears other than he is, or aims at being or seeming more. Your house is the same back and front, and you, none of you have a wrong side, the whole life is solid right through."
Joost did not quite understand; had she not guessed that to be likely she would hardly have spoken so frankly. "I fear I do not understand you," he said; "it is difficult when we do not know each other's language perfectly."
"We know it very well," Julia answered; "as well as possible. If we were born in the same place, in the same house, we should not understand it better."
He still looked puzzled; he was half afraid she was laughing at him. "You think I am stupid?" he said, gravely.
She denied it, and they walked on a little in silence. They were in the quieter part of the town now and could talk undisturbed; after a little he spoke again, musingly.
"Often I wonder what you think of, you have such great, shining eyes, they eat up everything; they see everything and through everything, I think. They sweep round the room, or the persons or the place, and gather all—may I say it?—like some fine net—to me it seems they draw all things into your brain, and there you weave them and weave them into thoughts."
Julia swallowed a little exclamation, and by an effort contrived not to appear as surprised as she was by this too discerning remark. She was so young that she did not before know that children and child-like folk sometimes divine by instinct the same conclusions that very clever people arrive at by much reasoning and observation. She felt decidedly uncomfortable at this explanation of Joost's frequent contemplations of herself.
"You seem to think me very clever," she said.
"Of course," he answered simply, "you are clever."
"No, I am not," she returned; "ask your mother; ask Denah Snieder; they do not think me clever. What can I do, except cook? Oh, yes, and speak a few foreign language as you can yourself? I cannot paint, or draw, or sing; I do not understand music; why, when you play Bach, I wish to go out of the room."
"That is true," he admitted; "I have felt it."
Julia bit her lip; she had never before expressed her opinion of Bach, and she did not feel in the least gratified that he had found it out for himself.
"It is absurd to call me clever," she said. "I have little learning and no accomplishments. I cannot even get on with the crochet work Denah showed me, and I do not know how to make flowers of paper."
"But why should one make flowers of paper?" he asked, in his serious way. "They are not at all beautiful."
"Denah makes them beautifully," she answered.
The argument did not seem to carry weight, but Julia advanced no other; she thought silence the wisest course. They had almost reached home now; a little before they came to the gate, Joost opened the subject of herself again. "I think sometimes you must make fun of us; do you not sometimes in your heart laugh just a little bit?"
"I laugh at everything sometimes," she said; "myself most of all. Do you never laugh at yourself? I expect not; you are very serious. I will tell you what it is like: a little goblin comes out of your head and stands in front of you; the goblin is you, a sort of you; the other part, the part people know, sits opposite, and the goblin laughs at it because it sees how ridiculous the other is, how grotesque and how futile. My goblin came out into my room last night and laughed and laughed; you would almost have heard him if you had been there."