The Intrusion of Jimmy/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI


A MARRIAGE ARRANGED


NEITHER Molly nor her father had moved or spoken while Jimmy was covering the short strip of turf that ended at the stone steps of the house. McEachern stood looking down at her in grim silence. His great body against the dark mass of the castle wall seemed larger than ever in the uncertain light. To Molly, there was something sinister and menacing in his attitude. She found herself longing that Jimmy would come back. She was frightened. Why, she could not have said. It was as if some instinct told her that a crisis in her affairs had been reached, and that she needed him. For the first time in her life, she felt nervous in her father's company. Ever since she was a child, she had been accustomed to look upon him as her protector; but, now, she was afraid.

"Father!" she cried.

"What are you doing out here?"

His voice was tense and strained.

"I came out because I wanted to think, father, dear."

She thought she knew his moods, but this was one that she had never seen. It frightened her.

"Why did he come out here?"

"Mr. Pitt? He brought me a wrap."

"What was he saying to you?"

The rain of questions gave Molly a sensation of being battered. She felt dazed, and a little mutinous. What had she done that she should be assailed like this?

"He was saying nothing," she said, rather shortly.

"Nothing? What do you mean? What was he saying? Tell me!"

Molly's voice shook as she replied.

"He was saying nothing," she repeated. "Do you think I'm not telling the truth, father? He had not spoken a word for ever so long. We just walked up and down. I was thinking, and I suppose he was, too. At any rate, he said nothing. I—I think you might believe me."

She began to cry quietly. Her father had never been like this before. It hurt her.

McEachern's manner changed in a flash. In the shock of finding Jimmy and Molly together on the terrace, he had forgotten himself. He had had reason to be suspicious. Sir Thomas Blunt, from whom he had just parted, had told him a certain piece of news which had disturbed him. The discovery of Jimmy with Molly had lent an added significance to that piece of news. He saw that he had been rough. In a moment, he was by her side, his great arm round her shoulder, petting and comforting her as he had done when she was a child. He believed her word without question; and his relief made him very tender. Gradually, the sobs ceased. She leaned against his arm.

"I'm tired, father," she whispered.

"Poor little girl. We'll sit down."

There was a seat at the end of the terrace. McEachern picked Molly up as if she had been a baby, and carried her to it. She gave a little cry.

"I didn't mean I was too tired to walk," she said, laughing tremulously. "How strong you are, father! If I was naughty, you could take me up and shake me till I was good, couldn't you?"

"Of course. And send you to bed, too. So, you be careful, young woman."

He lowered her to the seat. Molly drew the cloak closer round her, and shivered.

"Cold, dear?"

"No."

"You shivered."

"It was nothing. Yes, it was," she went on quickly; "it was. Father, will you promise me something?"

"Of course. What?"

"Don't ever be angry with me like that again, will you? I couldn't bear it. Really, I couldn't. I know it's stupid of me, but it hurt. You don't know how it hurt."

"But, my dear—"

"Oh, I know it's stupid. But—"

"But, my darling, it wasn't so. I was angry, but it wasn't with you."

"With—? Were you angry with Mr. Pitt?"

McEachern saw that he had traveled too far. He had intended that Jimmy's existence should be forgotten for the time being. He had other things to discuss. But it was too late now. He must go forward.

"I didn't like to see you out here alone with Mr. Pitt, dear," he said. "I was afraid—"

He saw that he must go still further forward. It was more than awkward. He wished to hint at the undesirability of an entanglement with Jimmy without admitting the possibility of it. Not being a man of nimble brain, he found this somewhat beyond his powers.

"I don't like him," he said, briefly. "He's crooked."

Molly's eyes opened wide. The color had gone from her face.

"Crooked, father?"

McEachern perceived that he had traveled very much too far, almost to disaster. He longed to denounce Jimmy, but he was gagged. If Molly were to ask the question that Jimmy had asked in the bedroom—that fatal, unanswerable question! The price was too great to pay.

He spoke cautiously, vaguely, feeling his way.

"I couldn't explain to you, my dear. You wouldn't understand. You must remember, my dear, that out in New York I was in a position to know a great many queer characters—crooks, Molly. I was working among them."

"But, father, that night at our house you didn't know Mr. Pitt. He had to tell you his name."

"I didn't know him—then," said her father slowly, "but—but—" he paused—"but I made inquiries," he concluded with a rush, "and found out things."

He permitted himself a long, silent breath of relief. He saw his way now.

"Inquiries?" said Molly. "Why?"

"Why?"

"Why did you suspect him?"

A moment earlier, the question might have confused McEachern, but not now. He was equal to it. He took it in his stride.

"It's hard to say, my dear. A man who has had as much to do with crooks as I have recognizes them when he sees them."

"Did you think Mr. Pitt looked—looked like that?" Her voice was very small. There was a drawn, pinched expression on her face. She was paler than ever.

He could not divine her thoughts. He could not know what his words had done; how they had shown her in a flash what Jimmy was to her, and lighted her mind like a flame, revealing the secret hidden there. She knew now. The feeling of comradeship, the instinctive trust, the sense of dependence—they no longer perplexed her; they were signs which she could read.

And he was crooked!

McEachern proceeded. Relief made him buoyant.

"I did, my dear. I can read them like a book. I've met scores of his sort. Broadway is full of them. Good clothes and a pleasant manner don't make a man honest. I've run up against a mighty high-toned bunch of crooks in my day. It's a long time since I gave up thinking that it was only the ones with the low foreheads and the thick ears that needed watching. It's the innocent Willies who look as if all they could do was to lead the cotillon. This man Pitt's one of them. I'm not guessing, mind you. I know. I know his line, and all about him. I'm watching him. He's here on some game. How did he get here? Why, he scraped acquaintance with Lord Dreever in a London restaurant. It's the commonest trick on the list. If I hadn't happened to be here when he came, I suppose he'd have made his haul by now. Why, he came all prepared for it! Have you seen an ugly, grinning, red-headed scoundrel hanging about the place? His valet. So he says. Valet! Do you know who that is? That's one of the most notorious yegg-men on the other side. There isn't a policeman in New York who doesn't know Spike Mullins. Even if I knew nothing of this Pitt, that would be enough. What's an innocent man going round the country with Spike Mullins for, unless they are standing in together at some game? That's who Mr. Pitt is, my dear, and that's why maybe I seemed a little put out when I came upon you and him out here alone together. See as little of him as you can. In a large party like this, it won't be difficult to avoid him."

Molly sat staring out across the garden. At first, every word had been a stab. Several times, she had been on the point of crying out that she could bear it no longer. But, gradually, a numbness succeeded the pain. She found herself listening apathetically.

McEachern talked on. He left the subject of Jimmy, comfortably conscious that, even if there had ever existed in Molly's heart any budding feeling of the kind he had suspected, it must now be dead. He steered the conversation away until it ran easily among commonplaces. He talked of New York, of the preparations for the theatricals. Molly answered composedly. She was still pale, and a certain listlessness in her manner might have been noticed by a more observant man than Mr. McEachern. Beyond this, there was nothing to show that her heart had been born and killed but a few minutes before. Women have the Red Indian instinct; and Molly had grown to womanhood in those few minutes.

Presently, Lord Dreever's name came up. It caused a momentary pause, and McEachern took advantage of it. It was the cue for which he had been waiting. He hesitated for a moment, for the conversation was about to enter upon a difficult phase, and he was not quite sure of himself. Then, he took the plunge.

"I have just been talking to Sir Thomas, my dear," he said. He tried to speak casually, and, as a natural result, infused so much meaning into his voice that Molly looked at him in surprise. McEachern coughed confusedly. Diplomacy, he concluded, was not his forte. He abandoned it in favor of directness. "He was telling me that you had refused Lord Dreever this evening."

"Yes. I did," said Molly. "How did Sir Thomas know?"

"Lord Dreever told him."

Molly raised her eyebrows.

"I shouldn't have thought it was the sort of thing he would talk about," she said.

"Sir Thomas is his uncle."

"Of course, so he is," said Molly, dryly. "I forgot. That would account for it, wouldn't it?"

Mr. McEachern looked at her with some concern. There was a hard ring in her voice which he did not altogether like. His greatest admirer had never called him an intuitive man, and he was quite at a loss to see what was wrong. As a schemer, he was perhaps a little naïve. He had taken it for granted that Molly was ignorant of the maneuvers which had been going on, and which had culminated that afternoon in a stammering proposal of marriage from Lord Dreever in the rose-garden. This, however, was not the case. The woman incapable of seeing through the machinations of two men of the mental caliber of Sir Thomas Blunt and Mr. McEachern has jet to be born. For some considerable time, Molly had been alive to the well-meant plottings of that worthy pair, and had derived little pleasure from the fact. It may be that woman loves to be pursued; but she does not love to be pursued by a crowd.

Mr. McEachern cleared his throat, and began again.

"You shouldn't decide a question like that too hastily, my dear."

"I didn't—not too hastily for Lord Dreever, at any rate, poor dear."

"It was in your power," said Mr. McEachern portentously, "to make a man happy—"

"I did," said Molly, bitterly. "You should have seen his face light up. He could hardly believe it was true for a moment, and then it came home to him, and I thought he would have fallen on my neck. He did his very best to look heart-broken—out of politeness—but it was no good. He whistled most of the way back to the house—all flat, but very cheerfully."

"My dear! What do you mean?"

Molly had made the discovery earlier in their conversation that her father had moods whose existence she had not expected. It was his turn now to make a similar discovery regarding herself.

"I mean nothing, father," she said. "I'm just telling you what happened. He came to me looking like a dog that's going to be washed—"

"Why, of course, he was nervous, my dear."

"Of course. He couldn't know that I was going to refuse him."

She was breathing quickly. He started to speak, but she went on, looking straight before her. Her face was very white in the moon-light.

"He took me into the rose-garden. Was that Sir Thomas's idea There couldn't have been a better setting, I'm sure. The roses looked lovely. Presently, I heard him gulp, and I was so sorry for him! I would have refused him then, and put him out of his misery, only I couldn't very well till he had proposed, could I? So, I turned my back, and sniffed at a rose. And, then, he shut his eyes—I couldn't see him, but I know he shut his eyes—and began to say his lesson."

"Molly!"

She laughed, hysterically.

"He did. He said his lesson. He gabbled it. When he had got as far as, 'Well, don't you know, what I mean is, that's what I wanted to say, you know,' I turned round and soothed him. I said I didn't love him. He said, 'No, no, of course not.' I said he had paid me a great compliment. He said, 'Not at all,' looking very anxious, poor darling, as if even then he was afraid of what might come next. But I reassured him, and he cheered up, and we walked back to the house together, as happy as could be."

McEachern put his hand round her shoulders. She winced, but let it stay. He attempted gruff conciliation.

"My dear, you've been imagining things. Of course, he isn't happy. Why, I saw the young fellow—"

Recollecting that the last time he had seen the young fellow—shortly after dinner—the young fellow had been occupied in juggling, with every appearance of mental peace, two billiard-balls and a box of matches, he broke off abruptly.

Molly looked at him.

"Father."

"My dear?"

"Why do you want me to marry Lord Dreever?"

He met the attack stoutly.

"I think he's a fine young fellow," he said, avoiding her eyes.

"He's quite nice," said Molly, quietly.

McEachern had been trying not to say it. He did not wish to say it. If it could have been hinted at, he would have done it. But he was not good at hinting. A lifetime passed in surroundings where the subtlest hint is a drive in the ribs with a truncheon does not leave a man an adept at the art. He had to be blunt or silent.

"He's the Earl of Dreever, my dear."

He rushed on, desperately anxious to cover the nakedness of the statement in a comfortable garment of words.

"Why, you see, you're young, Molly. It's only natural you shouldn't look on these things sensibly. You expect too much of a man. You expect this young fellow to be like the heroes of the novels you read. When you've lived a little longer, my dear, you'll see that there's nothing in it. It isn't the hero of the novel you want to marry. It's the man who'll make you a good husband."

This remark struck Mr. McEachern as so pithy and profound that he repeated it.

He went on. Molly was sitting quite still, looking into the shrubbery. He assumed she was listening; but whether she was or not, he must go on talking. The situation was difficult. Silence would make it more difficult.

"Now, look at Lord Dreever," he said. "There's a young man with one of the oldest titles in England. He could go anywhere and do what he liked, and be excused for whatever he did because of his name. But he doesn't. He's got the right stuff in him. He doesn't go racketing around—"

"His uncle doesn't allow him enough pocket-money," said Molly, with a jarring little laugh. "Perhaps, that's why."

There was a pause. McEachern required a few moments in which to marshal his arguments once more. He had been thrown out of his stride.

Molly turned to him. The hardness had gone from her face. She looked up at him wistfully.

"Father, dear, listen," she said. "We always used to understand each other so well!" He patted her shoulder affectionately. "You can't mean what you say? You know I don't love Lord Dreever. You know he's only a boy. Don't you want me to marry a man? I love this old place, but surely you can't think that it can really matter in a thing like this? You don't really mean that about the hero of the novel? I'm not stupid, like that. I only want—oh, I can't put it into words, but don't you see?"

Her eyes were fixed appealingly on him. It only needed a word from him—perhaps not even a word—to close the gulf that had opened between them.

He missed the chance. He had had time to think, and his arguments were ready again. With stolid good-humor, he marched along the line he had mapped out. He was kindly and shrewd and practical; and the gulf gaped wider with every word.

"You mustn't be rash, my dear. You mustn't act without thinking in these things. Lord Dreever is only a boy, as you say, but he will grow. You say you don't love him. Nonsense! You like him. You would go on liking him more and more. And why? Because you could make what you pleased of him. You've got character, my dear. With a girl like you to look after him, he would go a long way, a very long way. It's all there. It only wants bringing out. And think of it, Molly! Countess of Dreever! There's hardly a better title in England. It would make me very happy, my dear. It's been my one hope all these years to see you in the place where you ought to be. And, now, the chance has come. Molly, dear, don't throw it away."

She had leaned back with closed eyes. A wave of exhaustion had swept over her. She listened in a dull dream. She felt beaten. They were too strong for her. There were too many of them. What did it matter? Why not give in, and end it all and win peace? That was all she wanted—peace now. What did it all matter?

"Very well, father," she said, listlessly.

McEachern stopped short.

"You'll do it, dear?" he cried. "You will?"

"Very well, father."

He stooped and kissed her.

"My own dear little girl," he said.

She got up.

"I'm rather tired, father," she said. "I think I'll go in."


Two minutes later, Mr. McEachern was in Sir Thomas Blunt's study. Five minutes later, Sir Thomas pressed the bell.

Saunders appeared.

"Tell his lordship," said Sir Thomas, "that I wish to see him a moment. He is in the billiard-room, I think."