Mummers in Mufti/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV

ON Monday the siege was lifted by a note from Dr. MacVickar. The doctor wrote, as he usually did, on a sheet torn from his prescription-pad and began without introduction:

 

Look here, young man, I thought that you promised to come to my office every day. I am saving 4:30 for you this afternoon and if you don't appear I will summon you for contempt or send the police ambulance to get you.

 

"He carn't do it," commented William who, in due course of time, gathered in the discarded note and read it to the cook. "Naobody can order out the hambulance except the leftenant in charge of the station. For contagious cases they have a special one drawn by 'orses."

In one of those innocent postscripts artfully added so as to appear casual but really to contain the kernel of the letter, the doctor added:

 

P.S. Last Tuesday seems to have shown a heavy casualty list among my patients. Your friend Miss Marshall has been laid up all the week and unable to appear but she at least had the decency to let me know.

 

Bellsmith laid down the note at the spot from which it was later retrieved by William, who already had his eye on it.

"By the way, William," he said, "has Keefe connected that telephone yet?"

"Yes, sir," said William. "A man from the company came around Saturday night and said how about it?"

Bellsmith knew this as well as William, but on occasions of this kind it is just as well to appear brisk and officious. As if a bothersome and vexatious business matter had just arisen, he sauntered up to the telephone in the governess-room and took up the telephone-book.

"Center eleven hundred, please. … Hello. May I speak to Miss Tilly Marshall?"

A moment later Miss Marshall's voice came to him over the wire, startlingly familiar, and not at all, moreover, the wan voice of an invalid.

"Miss Marshall? This is Arnold Bellsmith."

"Who?"

"Arnold Bellsmith."

At that Miss Marshall's voice did freeze a little. "Oh."

Bellsmith hurried on. "I have just heard that you have been laid up all the week."

"Yes," answered Miss Marshall, dryly.

Bellsmith hemmed around vaguely for something to say. "Well, are you—are you able to get out now?"

The voice laughed. "Oh, goodness, yes!"

"Well, then—I wonder—could I come to see you?"

"I don't see why not. People have."

Bellsmith hesitated again. "But—you see—I thought that you might be a little angry at me. I was rather afraid to face you."

"But, my dear man, even so, what could I possibly do to you?"

With a laugh Bellsmith cautiously went a little further. "I wonder—I mean, is n't there somewhere else that we can go besides the Massapauk?"

Miss Marshall laughed again, a little less coldly. "The tainted spot?" she suggested, and Bellsmith had to laugh with her.

The laugh did them both good, and both voices went on more naturally.

"Well, how would you like to go motoring for a while?"

"I should like it very much."

"In about an hour, then? About half-past two?"

"Half-past two. Very good, my lord."

As Bellsmith's car drove up to the Massapauk, Miss Marshall was waiting on the old-fashioned sandstone steps.

"By rights," she exclaimed, as she clambered into the car, "I should have kept you waiting for a long time inside, but you see I had pity on you. I knew you did n't want to face the bell-boys."

"And I thank you for that," said Bellsmith, his hand still on the door. "Where do you want to go?"

"My dear Mr. Bellsmith," replied Miss Marshall, "it's your city, not mine."

Bellsmith leaned forward to Keefe, who cocked an attentive ear. "You might drive up through the parks, Keefe. It is n't too muddy, is it?"

"No, sir, I think not."

As they started off, Miss Marshall looked around the soft interior of the gray limousine with a piquant admiration. "You do do things with a certain chaste elegance, don't you? As you came up you looked quite like an advertisement in 'Vogue.'"

Suddenly she dropped her bantering tone and turned to him quickly. "Why have n't you come to see me all the week?"

Bellsmith looked uncomfortably at the robe-rail in front of him.

"I felt," he said, blushing hotly, and not with any too great conviction, "that you would never want to see me again, that I had dragged you into a horrible mess."

"Nonsense!" said the girl. "Pete Surdam told me all about it the next morning. He and Tommy Knight felt very badly about it. Really they did. Did n't one of them call you up? They said they were going to."

Bellsmith shook his head. "No, I have seen no one for a week. I even had the telephone wires and the door-bell disconnected."

Miss Marshall looked at him. "Not really! Smelling-salts too? And straw on the pavement?"

Bellsmith laughed painfully. "I suppose that I am the biggest fool that ever lived."

Miss Marshall broke in abruptly. "Look here. Who started that idea, you or the doctor?"

Bellsmith looked at her in surprise. "What idea?"

Miss Marshall found it rather harder to explain than she had expected.

"Some one," she began, "seems to have launched a campaign to make you out an imbecile. You even seem to be convinced of it yourself. So few men are. And you really are n't an imbecile, you know."

A horrifying idea had been implanted in Bellsmith's mind.

"Did the doctor say that?" he demanded.

Miss Marshall laughed evasively, but Bellsmith insisted.

"Well," she admitted at last, "before you came 'behind' that first night the doctor did write me a note in which he said that you might appear to me as 'the biggest fool that was ever born.'"

"Well, I have," concluded Bellsmith.

Miss Marshall tapped her fingers to her lips in a little mock yawn. "If you really must say things like that," she begged, "please save them and say them to some one else. There are so many people who like to talk that way."

Bellsmith, however, was sitting moodily. The words did not seem a laughing matter to him, and Miss Marshall wished that she had never repeated them.

"What are you going to do to the doctor," she demanded, "for saying that?"

"Nothing. It's true."

Miss Marshall waited a minute until she saw that he actually felt that it was; then she tapped his sleeve with her fingers.

"Now, come," she insisted. A moment later she added. "Here. Please hold my hand. I think it will do you good. And heaven knows it will me."

Awkwardly Bellsmith put his hand over her fingers. They were well-gloved little fingers—stitched English with heavy outside seams—and he did have to admit that a thrill ran up and down his arm. As they sat in silence, the girl added thoughtfully:

"Now that I know, by the papers, what a young, er, Lycurgus you are—Lycurgus is n't the word I mean. What is it? I mean oodles."

"Mæcenas?" suggested Bellsmith, absently.

"Mæcenas is right," said the girl. "Now that I know what a young Mæcenas you are, I suppose you will think that I am setting my cap at you.

"And," she added, musingly, "I suppose that I am." She paused again. "However, you need n't worry. It will never be."

"Why not?" asked Bellsmith.

Miss Marshall laughed. "'Why not?' is correct, but please don't say it in that tone of relief. Why not? Because it is written in the annals of fate that no member of the Marshall family shall ever be remotely associated with any one who has one nickel to clank against another. Time and again I have sat in my little window and seen a dollar apparently coming right at me, head on, and I have said to myself, 'Hello! Hello! can this really be for little me?' But when the dollar gets near me it simply says, 'No, no, old dear, you were right the first time. I merely wanted to ask you where John D. Rockefeller lives.' No, my lord, there is a special fate sitting over my head keeping tabs, and it gives the order, 'No Marshall has ever known what it is to be out of debt, and by George, if I have anything to say about it, no Marshall ever shall!'"

Bellsmith smiled, but not because it was funny.

"You speak of the Marshalls," he began. "And may I ask—?"

"Ah!" said the girl, "I was wondering when that was coming, and I have my answer all ready. In other words, how does it come that I, apparently a poor working-girl in such humble surroundings, am able to sparkle with such brilliancy and give all the talk of the town and the musical glasses? Well, I will tell you. The first Marshall was knighted by Henry VIII—'Henry was a good king and ruled the people wisely.' This Marshall was known as the 'Scourge of Northumberland'—'Scourge the First.'"

But, as she was accustomed to do, the girl broke off abruptly and her tone became wholly natural. "No, my father was a man named Tom Marshall. I assume that you have never heard of him."

"Yes, I have," replied Bellsmith. "He was a basso singer. Somewhere in the house I have got a signed picture of him."

"Not really?"

"I think so. Possibly it was only a reproduction. My father was a great admirer of his."

He did not add that his father's collection included photographs of virtually every musician between the years 1861 and 1897, and when he came to look it up, sure enough, it was only a photograph in a book that he had remembered.

"If I am not mistaken," he added, "it was in costume of—you know—The Daughter of the Regiment.'"

"It may have been," said the girl. "Friar Tuck was what he did best."

"Was n't he also in grand opera?"

"Yes, for a while," said the girl, guardedly. "I might as well tell you," she added, "that my father was n't a very nice person. He politely abandoned my mother and me in England when I was three years old."

"Rather rough," commented Bellsmith.

"Quite rough," assented the girl.

"What happened?"

"The usual. My mother had been on the stage, and she had to go back again. She was a friend of Celestine Trip, and that is how I happened to enter this charmed circle. But, at that time, I was just a baby, so I was parked in a boarding-school in Belgium for years and years and years."

"Hence the sparkle?" suggested Bellsmith. "Hence Lycurgus?"

"Hence Lycurgus," agreed the girl, "and all the other names of which I have n't really the slightest knowledge but which I throw out gaily when bent on making an impression."

"Would—would you care to tell me any more?" asked Bellsmith.

"How nicely you said that," said the girl, and her air was genuine.

"But after Belgium?" suggested Bellsmith.

"'After Belgium, what?'" echoed the girl. "That sounds like a lecture or something, does n't it? Well, then my mother was private secretary to one of the Grauschs—the light opera people.

Bellsmith nodded.

"And that brought us back to America where we had started from in the first place. And then my mother gave music lessons to children and coached bad actors in how to walk across a drawing-room. Then Little Rose-blossom went on the stage to earn her daily bread, which brings us down to the opening of our story."

"How long ago was that?"

"Five years."

"Is your mother—?"

"No, she's not," said the girl abruptly. "Mother was a dear."

With a grinding of tires on gravel, the car came to a sudden stop. Keefe looked around inquiringly and, through the heavy glass in the windows ahead of them, they saw the gates of the park with a chain drawn across them.

"I guess the park is closed, after all," remarked Bellsmith. "Where would you care to go now?"

The girl shrugged.

"I only wish," said Bellsmith, "that there was some peaceful place where we could go and sit—inside. I don't feel at all like tea at a hotel, do you?"

The girl smiled. "How could I, after that?" She had a sudden inspiration. "How would you like to watch a rehearsal of the show?"

"I'd like it very much," said Bellsmith. "Is there one?"

"Yes, of bits and pieces. They've got a man up from New York to arrange some dances. We can go there and sit if you feel like it."

Bellsmith gave directions, and the car turned slowly around.

"Do you have to rehearse?" he asked.

The girl shook her head. "They let me off. I 've got to go on to-night, though. Poppy Vaughn has been playing my part."

"I can't imagine it," said Bellsmith.

"She's not bad at all."

They rode back toward the city for a time in silence. Bellsmith again took the girl's hand. It had been jerked away automatically when Keefe had turned around.

"Then you have been laid up?" began Bellsmith again.

"Oh, yes," said the girl. "I suppose that I could have gone on, but I was rather a mess on Wednesday morning. Dr. MacVickar came over to the hotel, like an angel, and really convinced the manager that they'd have a dead soubrette on their hands if I did n't lay off for a few days."

"But what is it?"

"Just nerves."

"Dr. MacVickar is quite a wonder at that. What does he say is the cause?"

"He does n't have to say. You yourself always know really what is the matter with nerves."

"Worry!" suggested Bellsmith. "Troubles!"

"Of course," said the girl.

"But what kind of troubles?"

"I 've told you," said the girl. "There is only one kind of trouble in the world."

"Money?" asked Bellsmith.

The girl nodded. "Is n't it true?"

Bellsmith did not reply for a moment. Then he said slowly, "Yes, I suppose that it is."

He added later, "But you don't mean—?"

"Oh, heavens, no!" broke in the girl. "I'm not starving or anything of that kind. You don't suppose I'd tell you if I were? In fact, I 've got a very good job, as long as it lasts. But then, when that ends, it begins all over again." She shivered impatiently, and it needed no Dr. MacVickar to see that the poor child really was in very bad shape. "It's so damned endless!" she exclaimed, bitterly.

"But what happens," asked Bellsmith, "when you are not—not playing? In the summer, for instance."

"In the summer it's stock, if I can get it," said the girl. "Oh, don't get the wrong idea. There are always three or four old musical people, or actors, that I call 'aunt' or 'uncle' and where I can always go. But, just the same, that leaves me a lot of latitude for pitying myself, does n't it?"

She was silent for a moment and then squeezed his hand. "You were a big help the other night."

"I don't know why," said Bellsmith.

"No more do I," said the girl, "for heaven knows you 're not handsome. But you were,"

But Bellsmith's face had set in a curious rigidity. Once or twice he wet his lips and tried to speak. The girl had been looking moodily out of the window at the rows of shingled, two-family houses, all alike, which made up that end of town, but suddenly she turned and saw him. Quietly she withdrew her hand from his and placed it on his arm. Suddenly she became entirely another person, one he had never seen. Her voice was gentle and composed.

"Now look here," she said firmly. "I know perfectly well what is going on in your mind. And you 're a dear and I love you for it. But don't! Please don't. I mean that. I can joke about—about what you are thinking. But you must n't say it. I like you very much—to have you around to weep on your shoulder, but—"

"Don't you like me any other way?" asked Bellsmith.

"I'd be an utter liar if I said that I did n't," answered the girl.

"Then why—?" began Bellsmith.

"I don't know why," insisted the girl, "but when I see you getting like that, something within me just steels me right up. I suppose that it must be some innate sense of decency."

Bellsmith was silent, and the girl must have been right; for he did feel a curious half relief. They rode on in silence until the car stopped in front of the theater.

"But anyway," said Bellsmith, "we have all the rest of the week."

"Why, so we have!" said the girl. "That's something. Then George to his muttons. That really does n't mean anything, but it sounds as if it might."