The Four Philanthropists/Chapter 15
Mr. Brodrick left us early in the afternoon. Before he went he assured Marmaduke that he would make all haste to get on with the business of putting him in control of his father's property. Last thing of all, as he was in the hall pulling on his gloves, he said in a half-hearted way that perhaps we might as well look through Mrs. Jubb's papers, and make sure that she had no relation who had a better right to manage her affairs than her stepson. Here was a responsibility which suited me; and I insisted on relieving Marmaduke of the task. It was very much to my interest that justice should be done; I was by no means assured that some absurd scruple might not prevent Marmaduke from doing justice to himself, and it was likely that if he crushed such a scruple as it deserved, he would yet be uncomfortable. Whereas I was quite resolved that no relation of the abominable lady of the Manor should oust him from the rightful control of his father's money, and bring him back into the painful straits from which he had lately emerged, if I could help it.
I was not however called upon to give play to my sense of justice; there were no letters from an uncalled-for relation to be destroyed. The good lady's papers were for the most part bills, and receipted; her only interesting papers were five acknowledgments from the secretary of the Dog's home of five several subscriptions of a hundred guineas.
These I took to Marmaduke, and he was deeply moved by this unexpected evidence of his stepmother's kindly heart; the tears stood in his eyes as he cried,
"Hang her! Hang the old beast! While the boy was starving, she was chucking my father's money to the dogs!"
I soon restored him to cheerfulness by telling him of the fruitlessness of my search for a relation.
The next day his wife and the boy joined him, and leaving them the undisputed masters of Hardstone Manor, I came back to town in time for dinner. Angel was the more pleased to see me that she did not look for so early a return. When I suggested to her that we should gather up Chelubai and Bottiger and all dine together at the Savoy in celebration of my success, her face fell, and she said, "It would be very nice—but—but I think I should like a quiet evening with you better. We haven't been together for so long."
I was willing enough to let her have her way; we dined at the Savoy, lingered over our dinner, and came home. The evening passed quickly enough, for we had the lost talks of a dozen evenings to make up for. Mrs. Jubb alone afforded food for hours of talk. Angel was of the opinion that that good lady would have been luckier if Chelubai and Bottiger had kept her head in the noose-bag for another three minutes; but I could truly assure her that she would soon be happy enough, happier by far than she deserved, in a comfortable lunatic asylum; and she agreed with me that she was unlikely to be saner than the rest of the world. It was nearly one o'clock when we said good-night and went to bed.
It was indeed delightful to come to breakfast next morning and find Angel making the tea.
After breakfast I went to Chelubai's rooms, and found Bottiger breakfasting with him, both of them very gloomy.
They brightened a little at the sight of me; and Chelubai said reproachfully, "We've been wondering if we were ever going to see you again."
"I've been busy," I said.
"It seems as if we'd somehow or other shut ourselves off from the human race by that confounded job," said Bottiger sulkily.
"Oh, I'm not the human race," I protested modestly. "There's some in the streets: I've just seen them."
Bottiger frowned, and Chelubai said, "We're grown so used to going about together and seeing you nearly every day that we miss you somehow or other; and it has disarranged things."
"I am stimulating, I know. But you needn't make me out such a very exacting kind of alcohol," I said. But I was pretty sure that their exclusion from the society of Angel had disarranged things, to use Chelubai's phrase, far more than the loss of mine.
"Hang Mrs. Jubb!" said Bottiger.
"That's hardly the way to talk of a lady who might have hanged you," I said coldly. "But I must admit that she is not an attractive sight."
"What? Have you seen her?" said Chelubai.
"My dear chap, I didn't want to see her: I had heard too much of her appearance. But it's hard to remove a person of her size without seeing something of her."
Chelubai rose, set both hands on the table, and stood staring at me. "You've removed Mrs. Jubb?" he said.
"I have, indeed," I said. "I have removed her to the lunatic asylum of a Dr. Glazebrook, at Barkley, where I trust that she will spend many peaceful years removed from all possibility of those alcoholic excesses which I understand were undermining her constitution. I left Marmaduke Jubb in his rightful place, and prepared to make the best of it."
"And—and—is he going to pay his subscription to your Hospital?" said Bottiger.
Cbelubai advanced oft me with outstretched hand and cried "Put it there! What resourcefulness! What splendid resourcefulness!"
"Resourcefulness be damned!" I said with, I think, pardonable irritation. "You didn't think I was going to have the trouble of composing that admirable suicide's letter wasted by any reluctance on the part of a middle-aged and almost illiterate woman to succumb to an anæsthetic!"
"I had not reflected how it must rankle," said Chelubai in a contrite voice. "But I see how it must have weighed upon a fine literary spirit like yours."
I had brought it on myself.
"You have wiped our eyes," said Bottiger softly.
I told them the story of my visit to Hardstone, and when I had done they congratulated me. Then Bottiger said with a sigh, "Well, I shall go about feeling more comfortable. I shan't shy at every policeman I see any longer."
"We can resume our old life," said Chelubai.
We did resume it. Christmas was upon us; and that joyous season is not suited to advanced Philanthropy; it seemed no time for sounding heirs in whom it would naturally excite a violent access of their usual false sentimentality. We spent it merrily, as do the wise who allow no chance for mirth to be thrown away. Chelubai did not follow his usual custom of retiring to a Folkestone hotel and sulking it out in a passion of superiority; Bottiger did not go off as usual to a country house. I fancied that Angel caused this change in their habits, and I wondered at them. We took advantage of the dulness of business at this time of the year to buy two thousand Quorley Granite Company shares, and it forced up the price. Mrs. Marmaduke Jubb sent Angel a beautiful set of furs; Marmaduke sent me what I can only call a palatial dressing-bag; Honest John Driver sent Chelubai a case of champagne by way of a Christmas remembrance, and the gift assured us that he must be intending to make a call upon our philanthropic services before long.
At the beginning of the New Year I had a letter enclosing a check for £5,000 from Marmaduke Jubb, his subscription to the Children's Hospital. He said that Mr. Brodrick had managed the business of putting him in control of his father's property without a hitch. He had found £11,000 lying idle at the Bank, and he proposed to spend the bulk of the income on increasing and improving the estate so that, should his stepmother recover, be would yet in the end be many thousand pounds the richer for her lapse from sanity. Also, against that emergency, he had settled the £6,000 left in the bank after he had paid the Company, on his wife, and was going to settle another £4,000 on her, so that whatever happened, it would never be in his stepmother's power to reduce them again to such painful straits. In returning his note of hand I praised his forethought, and expressed my pleasure at having been of service to a man of his sound sense.
About this time Morton contrived to make the acquaintance of the secretary of the Quorley Granite Company, a young man of the name of Pleever, one of the clerks of Albert Amsted Pudleigh. He found that he was the secretary of five other of the companies of that financier, and that for the discharge of these many duties he received the trivial pay of £150 a year. Morton condoled with him on the smallness of his pay, and was very soon in a position to sap his half-hearted allegiance to his employer when the time came for us to jump the company.
Our home life was running as pleasantly as life can, when about the end of January a vexatious mishap befell. One afternoon Angel and I were having our tea when we heard a knock at the outer door. Since Mrs. Plimsoll had instructions never to admit anyone but Chelubai and Bottiger without asking them to wait while she inquired whether I was too busy to see them, so that Angel could escape to her room, if need be, Angel sat still. Of a sudden we heard a voice outside the sitting-room door saying, "Oh, it's all right. However busy Mr. Brand was, he would see me;" the door opened, and in came Miss Dorothy Delamere, late of the Pyramid Theatre, whom I believed to be at the moment touring in America, and whom I certainly wished no nearer.
"Hullo, Roger, old boy! Aren't you surprised—" she cried, and stopped short at the sight of Angel.
I was indeed surprised, and even more vexed. We had been on the friendliest terms, Dolly and I, for she was the prettiest creature; but her eight months absence in America had abated my once impassioned interest in her; and, to be sadly frank, now that I had Angel's interests to consider, it was very much a matter of,
"O, we that were dear, we are all too near
With the thick of the world between us!"
And it was indeed distressing that the thick of the world was in no such handy position.
But I trust that nothing of this feeling showed in the warmth with which I cried, "What, you, Miss Delamere! This is a surprise! Let me introduce you to my sister. Angel, this is Miss Delamere, an old friend of mine."
The two girls bowed to one another with as little effusion as can be got into a polite greeting. I drew forward a chair for Dolly, called to Mrs. Plimsoll to bring another cup and saucer, and set strenuously about my favorite disquisition on the continuity of the English Climate.
It soon became clear enough that there was something of a strain upon the social relations, though far be it from me to suggest that there was anything of the household cat to whom the new cat is presented in the attitude of both girls. But I would not see the strain; I was firmly blind to the fact that their contributions to the conversation were monosyllables of the warmth of ice. Heartiness is as a rule foreign to my manner; but for once I was hearty to the very verge of bluffness. It was no use; either was glum, and stayed glum. Presently my vein of light and cheerful talk was, as the miners say, petering out, and I was coming to my wits' end. Just before I reached it, I had a happy thought; I knew that Dolly had one subject, herself, and that she was above all things fond of discussing that self in relation to what she called her art, and I said, "How did you get on in America? That's what I'm longing to hear."
"Very well, thank you," said Dolly coldly.
"Which town did you like best? Where did you find the most sympathetic audience? New York, now?"
"Oh, at New York I had a great success, both at the beginning and end of the tour," said Dolly, and in a breath all her natural vivacity returned, and she plunged into the tale of her triumphs. I had but to sit back in my chair, enjoy my cigarette, burnish up my American geography, and at intervals fling to her the name of a city. She had played but a small part in the adaptation of that popular romance "The Temporal City," yet as her brisk narration took its course, as we journeyed with her from New York to Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Buffalo, Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans and other great cities of America, as the tale of Press notices, admirers, bouquets and suppers grew, the impression was slowly but deeply stamped on our minds that she, and she alone, had borne the whole burden of that weighty entertainment, to her alone was due its enormous, vulgar success.
I could see that Angel was bored; and I, too, was bored, but reconciled to my boredom by the knowledge that the time was passing without an outburst of open hostility which would have endangered our secret. But at last, for all that she had taken many lessons in voice production, I saw with no little disquiet that Dolly's breath was running out, and I was casting about for some device to give fresh power to her tongue wagging, when the clock in the library tower struck six.
"Good gracious! Is that the time?" cried Dolly, springing up. "I've got to get home and dress and dine at the Criterion at seven. I'm going to the St. James's."
"Saved! Saved!" I murmured under my breath, and cried anxiously, "You'll never do it!"
"I shall! I must!" she cried, and shook hands hastily with Angel.
"I'll put you in a cab," I said, and went with her.
She began the attack before we were down the first flight of stairs.
"So this is how you keep your fine promises!" she said. "This is how you never look at another woman, is it? And live on the memory of me."
Plainly she remembered, with that painful accuracy in matters of sentiment which is the womanly gift, my many impassioned protestations at our parting, when I had been truly sorry to lose her, and I could have wished that they had been fewer and less impassioned, for I foresaw that after the lapse of eight months I should have great difficulty in reconstructing my tender mood.
However, I said gently, "Well, I didn't mean you to understand that I was going to play the hermit and deny myself all intercourse with my own family. My words didn't apply to relations."
"A pretty relation!" said Dolly.
"Well, you can't expect a brother to find his sister particularly pretty when such a dazzling creature as you is before his eyes. But people do say that Angel is pretty," said I.
"Brother!" cried Dolly. "You don't expect me to believe that that little chit is your sister."
"What do you mean?" said I with a fine sternness.
"Well, you told me once that you hadn't got a sister, and that your mother had died when you were a baby, and that it was a pity you had never known a woman's refining influence, for you would have had a nicer disposition."
Oh, the folly of confidence? I certainly had wailed that wail in an expansive moment, and now my expansiveness had found me out.
"Oh, then," I said carelessly. "Then Angel was in the hands of her guardian and hadn't come to live with me."
Dolly went down six steps in silence considering that information, then she said with some distrust: "That sounds all right—but—but you're so clever—one never knows. Yet, after all, you're hardly the man to carry on with a little chit like that."
"Thank you," I said. "But when all is said and done, if Angel weren't my sister, you're hardly the person to talk about carrying on. What about Springer-Sykes?"
Springer-Sykes was a safe card to play; he was manager of "The Temporal City," and it was to him that Dolly owed her part in that solid production.
"That's too bad!" cried Dolly hotly. "I never carried on with Bill! Besides, Bill's business! You know a girl can't get on in the Profession nowadays without being civil to people like Bill. It's the only way of getting your chance!"
"And a very nice way, too," I said in my nastiest voice.
"Oh, you are hateful!" said Dolly, and she stamped her foot. "You know as well as I do that I hate the great vulgar brute!"
I did not know it: indeed I believed that between Dolly and Mr. Springer-Sykes there was much in common. But I had got her on her defence and I proposed to keep her on it.
"And you wrote me two letters from the States, and then not a single word," I said bitterly.
"And how could I? Rushing about from place to place like that!"
"Easily, if you'd wanted to. The fact is," I said still more bitterly, "you forgot all about me. What with your Bill and your Americans you never gave me a single thought."
"I did! I thought about you often. But, look here, you agreed to take me as I was. I told you my artistic temperament would not let me do the conventional things. I have to consider my Art."
"That's all very well; but I don't see why you should attack me the moment you come back."
"Who wouldn't?" said Dolly. "I come back believing all you said about never forgetting me, and I find you having tea with another girl."
"You should have given me notice, and I would have broken it to you gently that I had my sister staying with me."
"If you're going to be sarcastic!" said Dolly angrily. "But, there, I didn't come to quarrel with you."
"I should hope not," I said; and a glance round the King's Walk Bench assuring me that few people were about, I caught hold of her and kissed her.
I heard a soft little sigh breathe out of her; but for my part I was discomfited by the discovery that I did not draw from the kiss the pleasure I deserved.
"I must hurry up," she said in a far more gracious tone. "When will you come and see me? For it's no good my coming to see you with—your sister making a third. I'm living in a flat, 79 Northampton Mansions, with another girl."
"I'll come and fetch you out to dinner on Thursday, about seven, if you'll come."
"I should like to, awfully," she said.
We came out into Fleet Street; I put her in a cab and went back to Angel.