THE SQUARING OF ERMYNTRUDE
THE next afternoon the mind of Hilary Vance was full of another matter; and he did not remember the personal human dignity of Pollyooly till he had been working for nearly an hour.
Then he said abruptly "Ha! What about Henry Wiggins?"
"It's all right, sir. He won't bother me any more—at least not for a long time," said Pollyooly cheerfully.
"Did you compromise?" said Hilary Vance eagerly.
"I pretended; and I smacked him," said Pollyooly in a tone of quiet joy.
Hilary Vance groaned heavily and went on with his work.
At a quarter past four he stopped working, and Pollyooly rose from her chair, stretched herself, and took the stiffness out of her legs with three or four little kicks. She was just stepping off the dais when Mr. James entered.
"Ah, you're the very man I wanted to see," said Hilary Vance joyfully. "I've got a magnificent idea."
"Then Heaven help you!" said Mr. James with a touch of dismay in his tone.
"I'm going to try the anesthetic revelation," said Hilary Vance, unperturbed. There was even a note of pride in his tone.
"And what may that be?" said Mr. James.
"You take gas—ordinary dentist's gas—mixed with a large proportion of air; and without your losing consciousness, the walls of the flesh vanish, you sally forth into the Empyrean, and see visions. I shall see colors undreamed of by the artist, and wonderful beings, the amazing denizens of the sky," said Hilary Vance, warming to enthusiasm.
"You will. You will see scarlet snakes and purple opossums," said Mr. James.
"Purple opossums—glorious!" said Hilary Vance joyfully. "You will come with me?"
"I don't think gas is exactly what you want, Hilary," said Mr. James thoughtfully.
"My mind is made up. It's no use your trying to stop me. Will you come?" said Hilary Vance firmly.
"I suppose I must," said Mr. James gloomily. "Somebody must try to help you to make as little of a fool of yourself as possible. All my leisure seems to be spent in saving you from the consequences of your follies."
"You are so unsympathetic," said Hilary Vance somewhat bitterly.
"I'm Art's martyr; you can't expect me to like it," said Mr. James. "Let's have tea."
Pollyooly made the tea and laid the table. She and the Lump sat down to it, as did Mr. James. Hilary Vance took his walking up and down the studio. He was too full of nervous energy to sit down save when he was working.
"Well, let's hear about this new idiocy," said Mr. James with the gloomy frankness of a friend. "I'll have three lumps in my tea to-day, Pollyooly, please. My bitter lot needs sweetening."
"Idiocy! It's no idiocy!" cried Hilary Vance indignantly. "I read about it in William James' Varieties of Religious Experience; and then I went to my dentist yesterday and talked to him about it. I got him interested in it—
"He's stopped three of your teeth; he ought to know you better," Mr. James complained.
"He agreed that if I'd take the gas, he'd give it to me."
"He ought to be ashamed of himself," said Mr. James with conviction.
"Not a bit of it!" cried Hilary Vance. "If an ordinary man under its influence sees visions, think of what I shall see!"
"I've told you what you'll see," said Mr. James coldly. "At what time do you commit this folly?"
"In the evening. I have to take the gas fasting, of course; so I shan't have any dinner. You'd better meet me at the Gabrinus at a quarter to nine," said Hilary Vance.
Mr. James agreed; and for the rest of tea Hilary Vance talked with eloquent enthusiasm of the visions he was going to see. When they had finished, Pollyooly cleared the table and went back to her seat on the dais. Mr. James rose and bade them good-by.
At the door he paused and said in a very bitter tone, "I do assure you, Hilary—on my word of honor—that gas is the very last thing you need."
"Oh, get out! Get out!" said Hilary Vance.
Mr. James got out.
The next afternoon Polly ooly observed that Mr. Hilary Vance was enjoying an uncommon lightness of spirit. He sang, or to be exact he bellowed heartily, though with little regard to time or tune, over his work. He bubbled over with laughter. Then there came a gentle knock at the front door; he went to it, and ushered Ermyntrude into the studio.
She came in bridling, glanced with contemptuous indifference at Pollyooly and the Lump, and said in a mincing, languishing voice: "O 'Ilary, why ever didn't you come this mornin' to tyke me to choose my engygement ring as you said you would. I didn't expeck you to behyve like this, when it was only last night you harsked me to be yours."
Mr. Hilary Vance looked at her blankly, opened his mouth, and gasped as only a big man can gasp: "Last night? Asked you to be mine?" he said in blank consternation.
"Last night as ever was," simpered Ermyntrude, with a fond smile which brought out the cold perspiration in beads on the artist's forehead.
"I—I wasn't myself last night," he stammered.
"Now don't sye as you'd bin drinkin', 'Ilary—"
"Of course I hadn't been drinking! I never drink!" cried Hilary Vance indignantly. "At least I never drink too much," he added in a gentler voice.
"No: you was as sober as a judge. I never seed you so serious. An' when you harsked me to be yours, I was that tyken aback you could 'ave knocked me down with a feather," said Ermyntrude; and she bridled again in a way to make the blood run cold.
Hilary Vance grasped his abundant, but crinkly, curls with both hands, and cried in a tone of horror, "I really asked you to be mine?"
"Before witnesses, 'Ilary. Not but what I'd bin expectin' it—for months—ever since I sat to you for them first East-end pictchoors, and you paid me all them attentions. They was most marked."
"You're mistaken, Ermyntrude—quite mistaken. I never paid you any attentions!" cried Hilary Vance in a tone of anguished protest.
"Ho, yus; you did," said Ermyntrude very firmly. "They began with haffability; an' then you giv' me flowers an' took me to music 'alls. Why, you give me this 'at."
"No! I never gave you that hat!" cried Hilary Vance in a sudden bellow of protest.
"Well, you giv' me the money for it. It's the syme thing," said Ermyntrude with unabated firmness.
"Yes; I told you to buy a hat—the hat of your choice. I wanted to draw you in it. But I never bought that hat—never! I will not endure the aspersion!" bellowed Hilary Vance.
"Well, I've bin expectin' you to propose ever since; an' las' night you proposed proper—before witnesses," said Ermyntrude, returning to her main position.
"I couldn't have done it—I couldn't," muttered Hilary Vance in the voice of a broken man; and on his face rested a vast dismay.
"You're never goin' to be dishonorable as to go an' deny it!" cried Ermyntrude shrilly.
"I wasn't myself," groaned Hilary Vance.
"Oh, 'Ilary, 'ow can you sye it, when I ses to Gwendolen Briggs as I'd never seen you so serious?" cried Ermyntrtide yet more shrilly. "An' you was talkin' somethin' wunnerful all the time, callin' me your slum princess—not but what I'd 'ave yer ter know I live in the Wandsworth Road, a most respecterble nyeghber'ood. . . . An' when we came back 'ere you harsked me to nyme the dye."
"Came back here? Asked you to name the day?" wailed Hilary Vance.
"You're never goin' to deny it, when Gwendolen Briggs and a friend of 'ers, nymed George Walker, 'eard you sye it—to sye nothink of Mr. Jymes."
"If half London heard me say it, what's the good of my denying it?" cried Hilary Vance in a tone of utter despair.
"I knew you wouldn't. You ain't one of them as 'ud plye fast an' loose with a young lydy. But I did expeck you to receive me different from this—warmer like," said Ermyntrude in a softer, more alluring voice; and she sidled toward him, with appealing eyes, appealing to opposite corners of the room.
Hilary Vance backed hastily away from her, and said faintly, "The matter has come as a surprise to me. My memories of last night are so badly confused."
"Well, you'd better get them clear, 'Ilary. My lawyer says as 'ow a promise of marriage given before witnesses is binding," said Ermyntrude.
"Your lawyer?" cried Hilary Vance.
"Well, you promised to tyke me out ter buy the engygement ring; an' when you didn't come, I went to see my lawyer; an' 'e tells me that it's harl ryght," said Ermyntrude, in a tone of cold menace.
"All right? Oh, heavens!" cried Hilary Vance; and he plunged his hands into his pockets, and walked heavily up and down the room with a supernal gloom on his face. Now and again he groaned.
Ermyntrude sat down in a chair and watched him with the cold eye of a proprietor. At the end of three minutes she said in a yet more threatening tone: "What are you goin' on like this for, 'Ilary? I 'ope as 'ow you're goin' to behyve like a man of Honor." She laid uncommon stress on the "h" in honor.
"I must think it over . . . I must think it over . . . Go now . . . There's a good girl . . .. go," said Hilary Vance in a shaky voice.
Ermyntrude rose with an air of great dignity: "I don't unnerstand your manner, 'Ilary," she said with stern coldness. "But since you harske me, I'll leave you to think it hover. But you think it hover right. Don't you go tryin' to plye no tricks on me, 'Ilary, for the lor is the lor. Good hafternoon."
She left the room with extraordinary dignity, but rather spoiled a fine exit by banging the door after her. Hilary Vance sank into a creaking chair, buried his face in his hands, and groaned, "Good heavens, Pollyooly, what have I done?"
"I don't know, sir," said Pollyooly politely. "Don't you want to marry her?"
"Marry that little cat? No!" bellowed Hilary Vance, spurred by the suggestion to his pristine vigor.
Pollyooly reflected carefully for a minute or two; then she said with the air of a sage: "Then I don't think you'd better, sir. I don't think she'd make a comfortable wife."
"Comfortable wife! She'd blight me! She'd blast every inspiration! That girl has the nature of a hyena! I know it—I'm sure of it!" bellowed Hilary Vance with immense conviction.
"Then you mustn't marry her, sir," said Pollyooly.
"But what am I to do?" cried Hilary Vance.
Pollyooly thought again; then she said, "I should go on with my work, sir. Then you won't think about it."
Hilary Vance raved that he would think about it, that he would always think of it—till his dying day, that his artistic powers were for ever destroyed, that the spring of imagination was dried up in him, that he would never be able to work again.
Undoubtedly he could not work at the moment. He tried to carry out Pollyooly's suggestion in the hope that work might make him feel better; but he flung down his pencil and again betook himself to his raving. Pollyooly listened to him and watched him with respectful but somewhat uncomprehending sympathy. His emotion to her childish mind seemed extravagant: marriage with Ermyntrude could not matter as much as all that to any one. Also his face interested her very much: thanks to its size, it expressed such a large quantity of any emotion he chanced to be feeling.
At tea, with the Lump on his knee, he was calmer but inconceivably bitter on the subject of the pitfalls which lie in the path of the artist. Under the stress of emotion he ate enormously.
Then came Mr. James.
At the sight of him Hilary Vance sprang to his feet and bellowed with a vast reproachfulness, "How could you let me? You call yourself my friend: how could you let me?"
"Have you repented already?" said Mr. James coolly, to all seeming unmoved by his friend's heart- and ear-rending tone.
"Repented? I knew nothing about it. Last night was a blank to me, save for some glorious visions. Then that girl—my model—Ermyntrude came and told me that I had proposed marriage to her."
Mr. James laughed a hearty, but unsympathetic, laugh, and said: "You were extraordinarily funny last night. I've never known you more romantic. And all the while you were making an egregious fool of yourself, you were more ineffably solemn than Solomon in all his glory. Ermyntrude's friends will be able to swear conscientiously to the entire seriousness of your proposal of marriage."
"Why didn't you stop me? You call yourself my friend," bellowed Hilary Vance.
"Stop you ? Why, you were superb! I wouldn't have stopped you for the world. From the endearments you lavished on the young lady I gathered that your vocabulary is the largest an impassioned lover ever possessed. Stop you? Check the idealist in his flights? Never! Besides, you would fill yourself up with that gas. By jove, it did stimulate your imagination. There was no doubt about that!"
"Oh, what a fool I must have been!" groaned Hilary Vance with immense conviction. "If I marry this girl my life is blighted."
"It certainly is. But you're not going to be such a fool as to marry her," said Mr. James.
"Her lawyer says I am," said Hilary Vance in a tone of despair.
"Her lawyer?" said Mr. James in some surprise.
"Yes; she's been to her lawyer, and he says she has a tremendous case against me—overwhelming. It's not only last night, but I have given her flowers, and I took her to music-halls," moaned Hilary Vance.
Mr. James whistled softly; then he said, "What on earth did you do that for?"
"She's a type—wonderful type—the soul of the slums," said Hilary Vance, suddenly awaking to his natural enthusiasm.
"But it must have bored you to extinction," said Mr. James with conviction.
"Oh, it did. But how could I draw the people of the slums without knowing their soul. I'm an artist, James—a conscientious artist," said Hilary Vance warmly.
"And now you'll he a conscientious defendant in a breach of promise case," said Mr. James.
"Horrible! Horrible! Thank Heaven the river is at hand!" cried Hilary Vance.
"If you go on talking about suicide whenever you're in one of your messes, one of these days you'll forget yourself and go and commit it," said Mr. James coldly.
"Well, what am I to do? What else is there but the river?" cried Hilary Vance, getting a firm grip on his abundant hair.
"Well, either you must marry Ermyntrude, or square her. That's as plain as a pikestaff," said Mr. James.
"She shall be squared!" cried Hilary Vance with an heroic air. Then his face fell, and he added, "Am I justified? Suppose the poor girl really loves. You say I was impassioned; and when I am impassioned—"
"Oh, get out!" said Mr. James in a tone of some exasperation.
"No, no! It's no good saying 'Get out!' I know what I am when I'm impassioned—I know the effect—the female heart—"
"Oh, drop the female heart!" said Mr. James. "Let's keep to the question of squaring. I expect it's going to cost you fifty pounds at least."
Hilary Vance's face fell. "Fifty pounds?" he said in a tone of humiliation. "Do you really think that fifty pounds—a paltry fifty pounds—would really compensate her for the loss of me?"
"Knowing you as I do, and speaking from my heart, I can honestly say that a paltry fifty shillings would amply compensate any woman for the loss of you," said Mr. James with intense but unkind conviction. "What I'm wondering is how the dickens you'll raise fifty pounds."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I have an uncle—a rich uncle," said Hilary Vance in a tone of hesitation. "And he has said to me two or three times, 'When you get into an infernal mess with a woman, Hilary, you come straight to me. I'd rather pay than acquire the niece by marriage you're likely to provide.' He has no manners; and his soul is cramped."
"That's more than his brain seems to be," said Mr. James in a tone of relief. "I think I should like your uncle."
"I should think it very likely. He has the same small head and small features that you have," said Hilary Vance.
"My features are large enough for all practical purposes," said Mr. James tartly. "Well, Ermyntrude has got to be squared; and your uncle is the man to provide the means of squaring her."
They discussed the necessity of an early visit to Hilary Vance's uncle; and Mr. James insisted on accompanying the artist, since he would have to do the actual squaring. It is not unlikely that he looked to derive instruction and entertainment from the interview between uncle and nephew.
Pollyooly had listened to their talk with the iveliest interest; and she had been deeply impressed by that part of it which dealt with the squaring of Ermyntrude. To her child's mind it conveyed very clearly the idea that in the process Ermyntrude would lose her somewhat distressing angularity and assume the simpler contours of a gate-post.
For the next few days Hilary Vance remained deeply depressed by the plight into which his indulgence in the anesthetic revelation had brought him. He sighed and groaned heavily for at least ten minutes every afternoon before he became absorbed in his work. Pollyooly pitied him, and all the while she wondered what Ermyntrude would look like when she had been smoothed and compressed. She wondered, too, whether the process would be very painful. She was too well-mannered to ask, for the preconnubial difficulties of Mr. Hilary Vance were no business of hers.
She was so much distressed by the artist's suffering, however, that after some thought she resolved to consult the Honorable John Ruffin in the matter, for she had the highest opinion of his wisdom. As he ate his breakfast one morning, she told him the story of Ermyntrude and the artist.
Seeing her gravity, he heard her gravely, and questioned her gravely; then he said: "A very sad case, and one not unparalleled in my own personal experience. Only the lady in my case adorned the second row of the Gaiety chorus, claimed to be the daughter of a post-captain on active service, and, I assure you, never missed an aitch. Moreover, she did not squint. In fact she would have made a wife any one might have been proud of; and I'm exceedingly thankful that I am not being proud of her now. But this Ermyntrude is quite another matter. James, his friend, is right: Ermyntrude must be squared."
"Yes, sir," said Pollyooly. She hesitated, and added, "Will they squeeze her square, sir?"
The Honorable John Ruffin gasped faintly and gazed at her earnestly. Then he said with infinite seriousness, "The process of squaring a young lady is a moral one, not a physical one. The idea is that Mr. Vance has hurt the feelings of Ermyntrude, and they can only be soothed by the payment of money. When they have been soothed, he and she will be square—that is, quits."
"Oh, I see, sir," said Pollyooly, flushing faintly to have made so foolish a mistake. Then she added firmly, "But it would be a pity to pay money to a girl like that."
"It would," said the Honorable John Ruffin sadly. "But it will have to be."
On the Sunday the sun was shining very brightly and the longing for open green spaces came on the country soul of Pollyooly. In Hilary Vance's studio she had heard talk of Battersea Park, and reckless of extravagant tram-fares she resolved to take the Lump to it. As soon therefore as she had finished her work, she packed up some bread and butter, filled a bottle with milk, and set out.
They reached the park in less than an hour and at once ate their dinner on the turf of the first lawn they came to. Then they wandered about, resting when the need took them, enjoying the fresh air, the sunshine, the flowers, and the glimpses of the shining river.
Then, as they came out of a side-path on to a shady lawn, the Lump extended a short and very round arm and said in a tone of deep, æsthetic satisfaction, "Pretty!"
To Pollyooly's surprise he was pointing at the execrable feathered hat of Ermyntrude.
But whether or no that forlorn one had sought this approximately sylvan retreat with the intention of soothing her lacerated heart by communion with nature, it was very plain that she was not alone with her sorrow. On the bench, by her side, sat a loose-lipped, pasty-faced youth in a bowler hat; and his arm was round her slender waist.
Pollyooly drew back, unseen. She did not like the airs of Ermyntrude, and she had no desire to come under her greenish eye. She was not well enough versed in the laws which regulate in England the preconnubial period, to be aware that Ermyntrude was not behaving in a fashion appropriate to an aspirant to the large hand of Hilary Vance; but she was curious to see a little more of the lady and her comforter. Therefore she only withdrew the Lump to the covert of the bushes, sat down, and took him on to her lap. The Lump promptly went to sleep.
In the disquisitions on morality by which Hannah Bride had been training her grand-niece, she had never chanced to touch on the wrongfulness of eavesdropping, so that Pollyooly was able to gratify her simple curiosity with an easy mind.
She was not only conveniently placed for seeing Ermyntrude but also for hearing her. The subject of Hilary Vance seemed, very naturally, to fill that young lady's mind; and all her talk ran on the sum she was going to extract from him. Both she and the young man spoke of that distinguished artist as "a fair ole juggins."
It seemed that Ermyntrude had been holding out for a hundred pounds; but Mr. James, the plenipotentiary, had firmly refused to rise above fifty. Most of her talk was a recapitulation of the chief points in her conversations with Hilary Vance's unwavering friend. At intervals the young man whose name, Pollyooly gathered, was Alf, or Half, Brown, punctuated her talk with a smacking kiss; and Ermyntrude returned his kisses with an answering warmth.
Ignorant of the law on the matter as she was, Pollyooly felt that it was not right for an aspirant to the hand of Hilary Vance to kiss an Alf Brown; and she was somewhat shocked.
The enamored pair talked and kissed for half an hour; then they rose to return to Wandsworth.
As they left the lawn Alf Brown said with enthusiasm, "You touch the ole juggins for fifty quid, Hermy; an' I'll marry yew on Wen'sdye fortnyte as hever is!"
"Ryght O! O Alf, won't it be a little bit of horl ryght to git married with fifty quid to blew!" said the fond but deceitful Ennyntrude.
"I'd do it on a fiver, I'm that fond of yer!" said the impassioned Alf Brown.
They departed to Wandsworth, leaving Pollyooly food for thought indeed; and all the afternoon she pondered the question whether she ought to tell Mr. Hilary Vance what she had seen. She felt that those kisses were wrong. But she had been taught, very strictly, that tale-bearing was also wrong. She could not therefore see her duty plain; and in the end she resolved to leave the matter open and act as circumstances bade her.
The next afternoon Hilary Vance seemed to have recovered his old, overflowing cheerfulness; and she said nothing.
At four o'clock Mr. James came; and at once he said briskly, "Well, have you got the squaring money?"
"Yes," said Hilary Vance; and he went to the rickety bureau against the left wall of the studio and took from an inner drawer some bank-notes.
Mr. James took them, counted them, and said cheerfully, "Ten fivers—that's right—it looks so much more than five tenners."
Hilary Vance gazed at him thoughtfully; and a vast gloom slowly overspread his large, round face.
"It's all very well," he said heavily. "But I keep asking myself am I justified, James? I have raised hopes—high hopes—in a young girl's heart; and I am forcing her—yes, forcing her—to barter them for ten paltry five-pound notes. I can not rid myself of the thought that I have made her love me; and now I am behaving like a damned scoundrel."
He spoke in a tone of such deep and sorrowful self-reproach that Pollyooly could no longer keep silence.
"Oh, no, sir," she said quickly. "She doesn't love you; she loves Alf."
"Alf? Who is Alf?" cried Hilary Vance with a sudden fierceness.
"His other name's 'Brown'. He's her young man," said Pollyooly.
"Her young man? What does this mean? Has she been playing with me false?" cried Hilary Vance in a rising tone of terrible wrath.
"This is news. Tell us all about it, Pollyooly," said Mr. James quietly.
"I can't. I mustn't tell tales," said Pollyooly in some distress.
"You may really tell us. It isn't really telling tales. It's—it's exposing a fraud—a very different matter," said Mr. James earnestly. "Tell us about Ermyntrude's young man—he really is her young man?"
"Oh, yes; he's going to marry her on Wednesday fortnight," said Pollyooly firmly.
"This is truly interesting," said Mr. James with a joyful smile.
"What? Have I been distressing myself with the most honorable scruples for nothing at all? Has this creature been playing me false?" bellowed Hilary Vance in his most terrible voice.
"It does look as if there had been a misapprehension somewhere," said Mr. James with a touch of mockery in his tone. "Of course it can not possibly be that your impassioned wooing failed to stir the depths of Ermyntrude's being."
"It—is—the—natural—perfidy—of—women—perfidy—for—perfidy's—sake!" bellowed Hilary Vance emphasizing each word by slapping his right hand down on his left.
"I see. Ermyntrude has flown in the face of her adoration?" said Mr. James in dispassionate inquiry.
"Perfidy—for—perfidy's—sake!" repeated Hilary Vance with the same convincing smacks and in the same convincing bellow.
"Well, well, you ought to know," said Mr. James, placably dismissing the psychological issue. "But let us delve more deeply into this mine of information we have discovered just in the nick of time. Tell us all you know about the fair Ermyntrude and her Alf, Pollyooly."
Pollyooly told them at length of the interview between the lovers.
Hilary Vance bellowed, "Monstrous treachery! Monstrous!"
Mr. James said, "Now, I'm in charge of this affair; and I'm going to run it in my own way. If you interfere by as much as a word, Hilary, I clear straight out of this studio. If I do, Alf or no Alf, you'll be married to Ermyntrude on Wednesday fortnight."
He spoke in a tone of dreadful, impressive certainty.
Hilary Vance shivered and said in a milder voice, "All right, James, all right. You do just as you like; you're the diplomatist."
Mr. James asked Pollyooly several questions about the conversation between the lovers. Then there came a knocking at the front door; and he sent her to admit Ermyntrude.
The deceitful fair one entered with her best forlorn air, her handkerchief in her hand, ready for instant use.
"Well, Ermyntrude?" said Mr. James in a tone of polite inquiry.
"I've come for 'is answer—'is definite answer," said Ermyntrude in a very somber tone, nodding toward Hilary Vance.
"Oh, we thought you might have made other arrangements," said Mr. James.
"Wot other arryngements? I ain't made no other arryngements," said Ermyntrude sharply. "Is 'e goin' ter marry me, or isn't he? That's wot I've come to 'ear."
Hilary Vance gasped enormously and began, "I wouldn't—"
"You shut up!" snapped Mr. James, cutting him short; and he turned to Ermyntrude and added suavely, "Mr. Vance is not going to marry you."
"Wot about my 'eart?" said Ermyntrude in a moaning voice; and she pressed her handkerchief to her quite dry eyes.
"It's his art that has to be considered," said Mr. James. "He has decided that marriage would not foster it. It is a celibate art. Therefore he can not marry you."
"But 'e's got to marry me! 'E promised to; an' 'e shall! 'E's not goin' to plye fast an' loose wiv me! The lor is the lor!" cried Ermyntrude fiercely, abandoning utterly the suppliant pose.
"That's where you're wrong, I fear. The law is whatever we choose to pay for it. But anyhow the law doesn't allow you to commit bigamy," said Mr. James.
"Bigamy! 'Oo are you gittin' at?" cried Ermyntrude with a sudden note of panic in her voice.
"You have arranged to marry Alfred Brown on Wednesday fortnight; and now you come asking Mr. Vance to marry you. It can't be done," said Mr. James.
With paling face, Ermyntrude burst into a storm of violent but untruthful denial.
Mr. James let it pass; then he said, "The game's up, Ermyntrude. The law doesn't allow you to kiss one gentleman in Battersea Park and pester another to marry you."
Ermyntrude protested with even greater violence that she had never considered Hilary Vance a gentleman.
"That is purely a matter of opinion," said Mr. James in a dispassionate tone.
Ermyntrude denied this; then she suddenly assumed an air of steely dignity and said, "Give me my compensytion. Give me that fifty pounds you hoffered."
"No, Ermyntrude. You have lost all claim upon Mr. Vance by your attempt to commit bigamy. Your lawyer will tell you so," said Mr. James.
Ermyntrtide burst into a storm of threats; but they rang but half-hearted. The note of panic in her tone was deeper. She declared again and again that she would have the lor on Hilary Vance; then she burst into tears, genuine tears, at the vanishing of her glorious dream.
"I oughter 'ave compensytion, I ought. Look 'ow I've bin treated—myde a fool of by—the likes of 'im," she wailed.
"That's another matter," said Mr. James in a judicial tone. "You have forfeited any right to any compensation at all by the double-faced game you've been playing. But Mr. Vance did play the fool and he ought to pay for it. Therefore he will give you ten pounds toward your trousseau."
The words seemed words of solace, for the violence of Ermyntrude's grief began to abate, the color to flow back into her cheeks.
"It's not what I oughter have, but it's better than nothink," she said in a much less mournful voice.
Mr. James handed her two five-pound notes.
Ermyntrude took them with a haste that was very near a snatch, and moved with some speed toward the door. She turned the handle quickly, sniffed, said "Thenks" in a somewhat humble tone, and vanished.
Hilary Vance raised his large right hand toward the ceiling, and began in a solemn tone, "To think that such a creature—so unscrupulous—so lost to all sense—"
"So unappreciative of manly charm," interrupted Mr. James. "Don't talk rot, Hilary. If you'd seen as little money in your life as Ermyntrude has in hers, you wouldn't stick at a little game like that to make fifty pounds."
Hilary Vance lowered his hand: "Perhaps you're right, James," he said.
"Of course I'm right," said Mr. James. "But there's one good thing, and that is that Ermyntrude and her Alf are beginning their married life on ten pounds and not fifty—fifty would have been ruination."
A sudden air of ample beatitude spread over Hilary Vance's large face, and he bellowed "The cloud is lifted! I'm free! I'm free!"
Then with a terrific whoop he sprang into the air. Then he danced. It was not light; it was not graceful; it was not elegant. It was elephantine and tremendous; and he accomplished it with a succession of ear-splitting yells which would have done credit to a locomotive.
When at last exhaustion suddenly fell on him, he stopped, and said in a breathless voice, "I must give Pollyooly ten pounds, too."
"Certainly not," said Mr. James. "The possession of so much red gold would inevitably drive a child of her tender years to a course of luxurious chocolate dissipation, and for ever destroy her digestion."
"But she has saved me!" cried Mr. Hilary Vance.
"Well, buy her ten pounds' worth of clothes—her and that extraordinarily clean little brother of hers. How would you like that, Pollyooly?" said Mr. James.
"Oh, sir, it would be splendid!" said Pollyooly; and her eyes shone like stars in the tropics.
"Right! I will choose them for her myself! She shall be dressed like a dream!" cried Mr. Hilary Vance.
"A ten-pound dream," said Mr. James. "Let's have tea."