A Newport Aquarelle/Chapter 11
"Hallo, Farwell! When did you get back, and how did you like Colorado?" The speaker was Mr. Gray Grosvenor; the place, the piazza of the Redwood Reading Room at Newport; the time, just half-past nine o'clock on a September evening. A cab had driven up to the door of this paradise of fashionable loafers, and Charles Farwell was paying the driver, when addressed by Mr. Gray Grosvenor.
"I am just from the boat," he answered, and joined his interlocutor on the piazza. "I liked Colorado immensely. What's going on in Newport? I have not heard a word from the place since I left it, nor seen a newspaper."
"You hurried back for the ball, I suppose?"
"Whose ball? I tell you, man, I'm just from the backwoods. I have not heard or thought of a ball for many a day."
"Oh," said Gray Grosvenor, and was silent. Strange chance that he, who was simply a club acquaintance, should be the first person to tell Charles Farwell of the ball given that evening by Mrs. Fallow-Deer on the announcement of the engagement of Miss Gladys Carleton to Mr. Cuthbert Larkington.
"Where did you say the ball was?" said Farwell, lighting a cigarette as he spoke.
Gray Grosvenor hesitated for an instant. Should he tell Farwell, who everybody knew had always been in love with his cousin, the news which he had evidently not heard? He had, somewhere about his stout person, the vestige of an organ which in his youth he had called a heart, and for an instant the promptings of that organ hindered him from speaking; but the thought of being able to tell people that he was the first one to break the news to Farwell came to him, and, as gossip was his profession, the chance of adding so choice a morsel to his store was too tempting to be lost, so he said slowly, his eyes fixed on Farwell's face,—
"Why, of course you have heard of the new engagement,—your cousin, Miss Carleton, to Larkington, that English fellow? Well, everybody knew it a week ago, on the day of the picnic,—ah, what a pity you missed the picnic!—but to-day it was officially announced."
He paused and looked at Farwell as if expecting a remark, and Farwell, having nothing else to say, only answered, "Oh, indeed!"
Gray Grosvenor was disappointed; he had a right to expect something more than the ejaculation of "Oh, indeed!" It would not sound very thrilling in the telling. But then Farwell's face was a thing to describe; it had grown quite white and set. "And so," he continued, "Mrs. Fallow-Deer is giving a ball to celebrate the joyful occasion. You 'll go, of course? Everybody will be there,—quite the biggest affair of the season."
"No. I'm not invited, I fancy. I came back quite unexpectedly."
"But of course such an intime at the house as you are would not hesitate to go for the want of a card. Come along!"
"Thank you, Grosvenor, I have some letters to write." And, throwing away his unsmoked cigarette, Farwell walked into the quiet library at the back of the Club. It was empty, and, turning the gas low, Farwell threw himself into a chair, his back toward the door, and sat quite still for a space. His face was deadly white, under all the bronze he had acquired on the journey, and his forehead was lined with three deep furrows as he sat, his head leaning on his hand, deep in thought. When he moved at last, after a space of a quarter of an hour, his first action was a very strange one, and would have been considered by any of the men of the Club as extremely reprehensible, had it been seen. Fortunately it was not observed, for the room into which he walked was quite empty, save for a pair of sleeping figures in the two most comfortable armchairs.
It was the Reading Room, and on the tables lay piles of periodicals; among others, the New York afternoon papers, which had not yet been unfolded, and which a servant had that moment laid on the table. These papers Farwell quietly took, and, folding them into the smallest possible packet, put them in the pocket of his light overcoat, where was already a copy of the "Evening Telegram," which he had bought on the train, and read on board the Eolus, while crossing from Wickford, the terminus of the railroad, to Newport.
Leaving the Club, Farwell walked quickly along the avenue, and turned down the street which led to Mrs. Fallow-Deer's house on the cliffs. He entered the grounds, with which he was familiar, and walked to the back of the house, where he stood looking through an open casement at the brilliant interior.
The house was an excellent one for entertaining, though a trifle large and formal to be quite comfortable for every-day use. The spacious ballroom into which Farwell looked was oblong in shape, the walls were panelled in ebony half-way to the ceiling, and the furniture was of massive carved wood. "Veritable Antique" the old cabinet and prie-dieu were, but sadly out of place in this modern ballroom. The high throne-like chairs had in their day been used by cardinals and bishops, for they were from an old Episcopal Palace at Avignon, and the great clock had ticked away hours devoted to prayer in an Italian monastery. The sombreness of the dark wood was redeemed by the deep red color of the walls and the dull gold ceiling, the crystal chandeliers from Venice, the garlands of splendid roses, and the living flowers, tricked out in all that was most becoming and brilliant in toilettes and jewels.
At one end of the room stood Mrs. Fallow-Deer, resplendent in red satin and diamonds, her sturdy arms almost bowed down by the weight of the flowers with which she was burdened; at her side stood Gladys Carleton, dressed quite simply in a gown which Mrs. Craig rather spitefully characterized as "a white satin riding-habit."
It suited Gladys, who followed a fashion of her own in dress, and paid little attention to the "prevailing mode." She was as white as her dress, that night, and her eyes and hair seemed darker than ever, by the contrast of her pallor. On a stand at her side were heaped her bouquets, which, had she as many arms as the Hindoo idol, she could nothave carried.
She was receiving with Mrs. Fallow-Deer, and many were the good wishes and gallant speeches made to her by the men and women of the world, who were on the whole very glad of the piece of good luck which had fallen to the beautiful Miss Carleton.
Gladys had all her life been petted and spoiled by her rich friends, and had never wanted for a good time, a fresh ball-dress, a seat at the opera, or a saddle-horse. She belonged to that class of young girls whose position in society is much better than their financial resources, and who for ther beauty or their charm are the enfants gâtées of New York society. Instead of the spoiling which a rich father and mother can give, they enjoy the indulgence of a dozen foster mothers and fathers, who from the kindness of their hearts, or because they have no daughters of their own and know the attraction of a handsome girl in the drawing-room, socially adopt them, and stand sponsor to them from their first "season." For a very young girl it is a charming thing, but for a woman of Gladys Carleton's age and character it was a position not without its drawbacks, and her friends were all sincerely glad that she was about to be established in life so successfully.
Larkington, looking as flushed and radiantly happy as Gladys should have looked, stood near her, his eyes fixed intently on her face, his whole expression rapt and exalted. No one could doubt, in looking at the man, that he was deeply in love. The face, which had before lacked animation, and had been characterized by Mrs. Craig as "stolid," was now full of life and expression. All this was marked by Charles Farwell as he stood out side, his back turned to the slow-heaving ocean, and his feet crushing the roses of the garden that Gladys loved. He saw, too, the entrance of Gray Grosvenor, and the bow he made to Mrs. Fallow-Deer, watched him approach Gladys, and fancied he could almost hear him speak to her. He would tell her, of course—she started just then, and a flood of color crept up her white throat and spread over her cheeks and brow; yes, Gray Grosvenor had told her of his return. It was the first unconscious movement she had made since he had been watching her,—that little start, and quick turn of the head. She seemed to have grown restless, for in a moment she laid her hand on Gray Grosvenor's arm, and disappeared with him out into the square hall, where the crowd of butterflies was thickest, and there he lost sight of her.
It was a brilliant spectacle at which Charles Farwell stood looking, with the copy of the "Evening Telegram" in his pocket, but when Gladys left the room, its chief attraction had departed. It was rather chilly in the night air, and, drawing a cigar from his pocket, he was about to strike a match, when he perceived that he was not the only outside spectator of the scene; a man of low stature approached him and stood looking in at the window next the one where he had taken his stand. Farwell did not care to be seen, so he quietly put back his cigar in the case, and the match in his pocket, and drew back into the shadow cast by the angle of the bay window.
He could still see the interior of the ball-room, and, as he looked, he saw a servant approach Larkington and whisper something to him. The Englishman looked a little puzzled, bowed an assent, and after a moment or two, excused himself to the lady he was talking with, and left the room. The man at the window seemed interested in the movements of Larkington, and, as he left the ballroom, slipped quietly out of sight, disappearing around the corner.
A moment after he returned, and this time he was not alone. The tall figure of Larkington made that of his companion appear even smaller and more puny than before. They approached the spot where Farwell was standing, hidden by the dark shadow.
"Here," said the small man who, Farwell now saw, wore the livery of a groom, "stand here; on the other side of the house there's a crowd of people looking in at the doors and windows."
"Well, Stirrups," answered his companion, sharply, "why did you send for me in this way? Could n't you wait till after the ball?"
"No. I'm just back. Jacob would n't let me have the money."
"D—— Jew! Why not?"
"Because, Cuthbert, you've made a mistake somehow or other. It's the wrong girl; this one," nodding toward the ballroom, "is the cousin of the heiress, and has n't a penny to bless herself with."
"It's a —— lie," cried Larkington, catching at the arm of his servant for support. "The Jew deceived you."
"It's certain truth, Cuthbert, as I took pains to find out. It's her cousin, an old maid, wot's got the money, and no mistake about it. I made dead sure."
Larkington's only answer was a groan, and Stirrups continued,—
"We must be off on the early boat for Fall River; it passes at two o'clock. I have packed the traps at the hotel, and will get the portmanteau down somehow by myself after the house is quiet. You must not return there, but must go straight to the wharf."
"Stirrups, I can't give her up," groaned Larkington. "Money or no money, I am crazy about her, and I will have her, if we go to the poorhouse afterwards."
"There will be another place than the poorhouse waiting you, Cuthbert, when those bills come in. Brace up, old man, the game is up. We have been in worse places and pulled through afore, only we have no time to lose."
"Stirrups, look here, I have made up my mind. I will marry Gladys, take her home to the old man, and confess the whole thing. When he sees her, he 'll forgive me, and make it all right again."
"And who 'll pay the parson and the travelling expenses? You're crazy, as you say. There's nigh a thousand dollars owing to these sharks of Newport tradespeople. And there's only ten dollars left, that I saved; just enough to take us out of this place to New York. Once there, I'll get a situation easy enough, and float us both till something turns up."
"I will borrow something from one of these fine friends of Miss Carleton. I have not borrowed a penny since I have been here. I won't run, Stirrups; that I swear. I'll marry Gladys Carleton if I blow my brains out the week after."
The two men had spoken in undertones, standing close together in the moonlight, but their voices had reached the ears of Charles Farwell, who disliked the rôle of eavesdropper and now stepped forward and joined the pair.
"If the excellent advice of your friend does not decide you to leave Newport, Mr.——, I really am at loss for your name,—I think I have an argument which will prove more persuasive to you than any he has brought forward. Have the goodness to look over the telegrams from Egypt." And, drawing forth the copy of the New York evening paper, he put it into Larkington's hand.
At the sight of Farwell, at his first word, all Larkington's blague and assurance returned. "I do not understand you, sir," he answered coolly, and, stepping nearer the window so that the light from the ballroom might fall upon the paper, he read the paragraph to which Farwell pointed. It ran as follows:
"Alexandria, Sept. —, 1882. In the engagement at Tel-El-Kebir to-day, there were twenty men killed, and an officer in the 60th Rifles wounded.—Later. The officer who was seriously wounded to-day is Captain Cuthbert Larkington, son of Lord Lucre, of Oxfordshire, of the 60th Rifles. His recovery is doubtful."