"Daisy!" Archie said, reproachfully, for he did not like her speaking thus freely to a stranger, "Let's get out of this;" and he made his way to the open air, followed by the young man who still kept apologizing for his awkwardness, until Archie lost all patience, and said a little hotly, "I tell you, it is of no consequence. My wife can afford another."
"Your wife!" the young Irishman repented with a gasp. "Is it possible? I thought she was your sister. She looks so young. Your wife?"
"Yes, my wife! and I am Archibald McPherson, of Stoneleigh, Bangor, in Wales," Archie answered, fiercely, and with a look which he meant should annihilate the enemy, who, not in the least abashed, because he really meant no harm, lifted his soft hat very respectfully, as he replied:
"Mr. McPherson, I am glad to make your acquaintance. I was in Bangor last year, at the George Hotel, and heard your name mentioned. I am Lord Frederic Hardy, of Dublin, better known there as Ted Hardy, of Hardy Manor, and I am out on a spree, running myself, independent of tutors and guardians, and all that sort of thing; bores I consider the whole lot of them, though my guardian, fortunately, is the best-natured and most liberal old cove in the world, and gives me mostly all I want. I think it a streak of luck to have met you here, where I know nobody and nobody knows me, I hope we may be friends."
His manner, so friendly and so familiar, mollified Archie, who had heard of the young Irish lord, whose income was L10,000 a year, and who spent his money lavishly during the few days he was at the George, while Daisy, who held a title in great veneration, was enraptured with this young peer who treated her I like an equal. And so it came that in half an hour's time the three were the best of friends, and had made several plans with regard to what they would do during their stay at Monte Carlo.
The next day Daisy did not see her new acquaintance, but as she was dressing for the table d'hote dinner, which she could afford with her twelve pounds gain, a box was brought to her room, with a note addressed to her by Lord Hardy, who wrote as follows:
"DEAR MRS. McPHERSON: I send you a new dress in place of the one I had the misfortune to spoil yesterday Please accept it without a protest, just as if I were your brother, or your husband's best friend, as I hope to be. Yours sincerely,
"Oh, Archie!" Daisy exclaimed, as she opened the box and held to view a soft, rich, lustrous silk of dark navy-blue, which Lord Hardy had found in Nice, whither he had been that day, and which, in quality and style, did justice to his taste and generosity. "Oh, Archie, isn't it a beauty, and it almost stands alone?"
"Ye-es," Archie answered, meditatively, for he rather doubted the propriety of receiving so costly a present for his wife from a stranger, and he said so to Daisy, adding that it was of course very kind in Lord Hardy, but wholly uncalled for, and she'd better return it at once, as he would not quite like to see her wear it.
But Daisy began to cry, and said she had never had a silk dress in her life, and this was just what she wanted, and she could make it herself, and she presumed the amount Lord Hardy paid for it was no more to him than a few pence were to them. And so she kept it and thanked Lord Hardy very sweetly for it with tears swimming in her great blue eyes, when she met him in the evening at dinner, for he had given up his luxurious quarters at the more fashionable hotel, and had come to the same house with the McPhersons, whose shadow he became. The navy-blue silk was quickly made in the privacy of Daisy's apartment, and she was very charming in it, and attracted a great deal of attention, and drove the young Irishman nearly crazy with her smiles and coquetries. Lord Hardy took her and her husband to drive, every day, in the most stylish turn-out the place afforded, and took them to Nice and Mentone, and introduced them to some friends of his who were staying at the latter place, and of whose acquaintance, slight as it was, Daisy made capital ever after. The adventuress was developing fast in her, and Lord Hardy was her willing tool, always at her beck and nod, and going everywhere with her except into the play-room itself. From that place he was debarred, for at Monte Carlo they have decreed that no male under age shall enter the charmed spot, and Teddy was not twenty-one, and had said so to the man in the office, and after that neither persuasions nor bribes were of any avail.
"Better have lied straight out," more than one hard old man said to him, but Ted Hardy could not lie straight out, and so he staid out and waited around disconsolately for Daisy, whom fortune sometimes favored and sometimes deserted.
One day she lost everything, and came out greatly perturbed, to report her ill-luck to "Teddy," as she called him now.
"It's a shame that I can't go in. I could loan you some, you know," Lord Hardy said; and Daisy replied:
"Yes; 'tis an awful shame!" Then after a moment she added; "Teddy, I've been thinking. I expect my Cousin Sue from Bangor every day."
"Ye-es," Teddy replied, slowly, and thinking at once that a cousin Sue might be de trop. "Is she nice? How does she look?—any like you?"
"No; more like you, Ted. She is about your height—you are not tall, you know; her hair is just the color of yours, and curls just like it, while her eyes are the same. Dress you in her clothes, and you might pass for her."
"By Jove! I see. When will she be here?" Teddy asked, and Daisy replied:
"Just as soon as you can buy me some soft woollen goods to make her a suit, and a pair of woman's gloves and boots which will fit you, and a switch of hair to match yours. Comprenez vous?"
"You bet I do!" was the delighted answer; and within twenty-four hours the soft woolen goods, and the boots, and gloves, and switch of hair, and sundry other articles pertaining to a woman's toilet, were in Daisy's room, from which, during the next day, issued shrieks of laughter, almost too loud to be strictly lady-like, as Daisy fitted the active little Irishman, and instructed him how to demean himself as cousin Sue from Bangor.
Two days later, and there sat, side by side, at the roulette table, two fair-haired English girls, as they seemed to be, and nobody suspected the truth, or dreamed of the ruse which had succeeded admirably and admitted to forbidden ground young Lord Hardy, who, in the new dress which fitted him perfectly, and with Daisy's linen collar, and cuffs, and neck-tie, and one of Daisy's hats perched on his head and drawn over the forehead, where his own curly hair was kept in its place as a bang by numerous hair-pins, would have passed for a girl anywhere. Nobody had challenged him or his age as he passed in with Daisy, who was well known by this time, and around whom and her companion, a crowd of curious ones gathered and watched them as they played, cautiously at first, for that was Daisy's style; then as Ted's Irish blood began to tingle with excitement, more recklessly, until he whispered to her:
"Play high. There's no such thing as second hand low here. Double your stakes and I'll be your backer."
And Daisy played high and won nearly every time, while the lookers-on marveled at her luck and wondered by what strange intuition she knew just where to place her gold. For days the pair known to the crowd as "Les cousines Anglaises," played side by side, while Lord Hardy maintained his incognito perfectly, though some of the spectators commented on the size of his hands and wondered why he always kept them gloved. And Ted enjoyed it immensely, and thought it the jolliest lark he ever had, and did not care a sous how much he lost if Daisy only won. But at last her star began to wane, and her gold-pieces were swept off rapidly by the remorseless croupier, until fifty pounds went at one stroke, and then Daisy turned pale, and said to her companion:
"Don't you think we'd better stop? I believe Satan himself is standing behind me with his evil eye! Do look and see who is there!"
"Nobody but your husband, upon my soul," Ted whispered, after glancing back at Archie, who, with folded arms and a cloud on his brow, stood watching the game and longing to take his wife away. "Nobody but your husband, who looks black as his Satanic majesty. But never you mind, my darlint," he continued, adopting the dialect of his country. "Play high, and it's meself'll make good all you lose. Faith and be jabers they can't break Ted Hardy."
Thus reassured, Daisy played high, and her luck returned, and when she left the hall that night she was richer by a thousand pounds than when she entered it.
The next day the McPhersons left Monte Carlo, accompanied by Lord Hardy, who went with them to Genoa, and Turin, and Milan, and the Italian lakes, and Venice, where he said good-by, for he was going to Rome, while they were to turn their faces homeward, stopping for a few weeks at Paris, which Daisy said she must see before shutting herself up at stupid old Stoneleigh, which looked very uninviting to her since she had seen the world and found how much there was to enjoy and how much influence she could exert in it. Others than Ted Hardy had been attracted by the airy little beauty, who always managed to make them serviceable in some way, notwithstanding Archie's oft-repeated protest that she made too free with strangers, and accepted civilities where she ought to have given rebukes. Archie had not been altogether pleased with the campaign, and was glad when at last he drove into the old park at Stoneleigh and was warmly welcomed by Dorothy and Anthony, who had made the place as comfortable as possible with the small means at their command.
"Oh, Archie, isn't it a poky old place, and doesn't it smell of rats and must?" Daisy said, as with her husband she went through the great rooms, whose only ornament consisted in the warm fires on the hearth and the pots of chrysanthemums and late roses which Dorothy had put here and there by way of brightening the house up a bit and making the home-coming more cheerful for the young people.
But it needed more than roses, and chrysanthemums, and fires to satisfy Daisy, who, forgetting the little back room in the dressmaker's shop whence she came, and remembering only the delights of the Continent and the excitement of Monte Carlo, and the honor, as she thought it, of having a real live earl in her party, tossed her head a little and said she wished she was back in Paris.
But Archie did not share her feelings. It had not been pleasant for him to see Daisy ogled and admired by men he wanted to knock down, nor had he quite liked the escapade at Monte Carlo, for, aside from the fear lest the fraud should be discovered, there was always before him a dread of what his Uncle John and the Lady Jane would say, should the affair ever reach their ears, as it might, for Lord Hardy was not very discreet, and was sure to tell of it sometime.
As to the playing, could he have had his choice he would far rather have played himself than to stand by and see Daisy do it. But his vow to his father could not be broken, and so he was tolerably content, especially as the result was so far beyond his expectations. Fifteen hundred pounds was the sum total of the gains, and Daisy, who held the purse and managed everything, played the lady of Stoneleigh to perfection, and made enemies of all her former friends, her mother included, and was only stopped in her career of folly by the birth of her baby, who was not at all welcome to the childish mother.
It was the latter part of March, and the crocuses and hyacinths were just beginning to blossom in the garden at Stoneleigh, when the baby Bessie first lay in the cradle which had rocked Archie in his infancy. They did not call her Bessie at first; for there were many discussions with regard to the name, Archie wishing her called Dora for his mother, and Daisy inclining to Blanche, or Beatrice.
"I'll tell you what, Archie," she said one day. "There's that old maid aunt of yours in America, with piles of money, they say. Let's name the baby for her, and so get some of her filthy lucre."
"Call our baby Betsey? Are you crazy?" Archie asked. But Daisy was in earnest, and carried her point, as she always did; and when at Easter Lord Hardy stopped at Stoneleigh, on his way to his home in Ireland, he was one of the sponsors for the child, who was christened Betsey.
"If I dared, I would add Jane to it, for her Ladyship, which would make her Betsey Jane; but that would be too much," Daisy said to Lord Hardy, adding: "We shall call her Bessie, of course, and never Betsey. We only give her that abominable cognomen for the sake of wheedling something out of that old woman in America. Archie is to write and tell her."
So Archie wrote the best letter he could concoct, and said he had named his little daughter Betsey, which he hoped would please his aunt. This he took for approval to Daisy, who said it was very well, but insisted that he should add a P.S. that if his aunt had fifty pounds or so of ready money, he would like to borrow it for a time, as his expenses were heavy, and Stoneleigh needed so much repairing. At first Archie refused utterly; it looked so much like begging, he said, but he was overruled and added the P.S., which made Miss McPherson furious and steeled her heart against the innocent baby who bore her name.
The request for money overmastered every gentler feeling, and the letter was consigned to the flames and never answered.
"Never mind, Archie," Daisy said, as weeks went by and there came no message from America. "The old miser means to cut us off. Well, let her, I can manage without her, and our fifteen hundred pounds will last awhile. After that is gone, trust me for more."
And Archie, who was too indolent to exert himself, did trust her, and, parting with every vestige of manhood and manliness, did what she bade him do and went where she bade him go; sometimes to the most expensive hotels, where, while the money lasted they lived like princes, and when it was gone, like rats in a hole; sometimes to Monte Carlo, where Daisy was generally successful; sometimes to Hamburg and Baden Baden, sometimes to Epsom, where she bet with Lord Hardy on the races, and got her money, whether she lost or won, for the kind-hearted Ted could never withstand her tears; and sometimes into the houses to which she managed to get invited, and where she staid as long as possible, or until some other house was open to her.
Meanwhile little Bessie grew into a child of wonderful loveliness. Possessing her mother's beauty of feature and complexion and her father's refinement of feeling, she added to them a truthful simplicity and frank ingenuousness of manner which won all hearts to her. Much as they might despise her mother, everybody loved and pitied Bessie, whose life was a kind of scramble, and who early learned to think and act for herself, and to know there was a difference between her father and her mother. She learned, too, that large hotels, where prices were high, meant two rolls and a cup of milk for breakfast, a biscuit or apple for lunch, and nothing for dinner except what her mother could surreptitiously convey into her pocket at table d'hote. And still, there was no merrier, happier child playing upon the sands at Aberystwyth than Bessie McPherson on the summer morning when Miss Betsey McPherson first saw her and called out:
"Betsey McPherson, is that you?"
Leaving her companions she went to the tall, peculiar looking woman sitting so straight and stiff upon the bench, and laying her soft white hands on her knee, looked curiously and fearlessly into her face, with the remark:
"I am Bessie, not Betsey. I think that is a horrid name."
And so the conversation commenced between the strange pair, and Bessie told of the stingy aunt in America for whom she was named, and who had never sent her a thing, and whom her mamma called "Old Sauerkraut." Bessie was very communicative, and Miss McPherson learned in a few minutes more of the Bohemian life and habits of her nephew and his wife than she had learned at her brother's house in London, where she had been staying for a few weeks, and where Mistress Daisy was not held in very high esteem. And all the time she talked, Bessie's little hands were busy with the folds of the black dress on the woman's knee, rubbing and smoothing it with the restlessness of an active, nervous child. But Miss McPherson would hardly have minded if the hands had worn holes in her dress, so interested was she in the little creature talking to her so freely.
"Would you like to go and live with me?" she asked at last. "You shall go to school with children of your own age, and have all you want to eat, good bread and milk, and muffins and sirup, and—"
"Cheux fleur au gratin? Can I have that? I liked that best of all the day I went to table d'hote in Paris with mamma," Bessie interrupted, and Miss McPherson replied:
"No, but you can have huckleberry pie in summer, and a sled in winter, to ride down hill."
At the mention of the sled Bessie opened her eyes wide, and after a moment's reflection, asked:
"Can papa go, too?"
"Yes, if he will," came hesitatingly from Miss McPherson, and the child continued:
"No, Heaven forbid!" was the response, spoken so decidedly that the restless hands were motionless, and into the blue eyes and about the sweet mouth there stole the troubled, half-grieved expression, which in after years became habitual to them.
"Don't you like my mamma?" the child said. "She is very nice and pretty, and Lord Hardy likes her, and so does papa, for he kisses her sometimes. Papa would not go without mamma, and I must not leave papa, so you see I cannot go, though I'd awfully like the sled and the pie. Where do you live?"
Miss McPherson did not reply directly to this, but said instead:
"I am going to America in a few days and shall see your Aunt Betsey. What shall I tell her for you?"
"Tell her to send me something," was the prompt reply, which made Miss Betsey's shoulders jerk a little.
"Send you what?" she asked, rather sharply, and Bessie, who had commenced the rubbing process again and was looking at her hands, replied:
"I want a turquois ring—five stones, with a pearl in the center; real, too. I don't like shams, neither does papa; but mamma don't care, if she gets the effect. If you'll never tell as long as you live and breathe, those solitaires in mamma's ears are nothing but paste, and were bought in the Palais Royal," and Bessie pursed up her lips so disdainfully that Miss McPherson burst into a laugh, and stooping down, kissed the little face as she said:
"That's right, child; never tolerate a sham; better the naked truth always."
In the distance Daisy, who had passed them ten minutes or so ago, was seen returning with young Hardy and rising to her feet, Miss Betsey said:
"I must go now, child; good-by. Try and be good and truthful and real, and stick to your father, and sometime, maybe, you'll see me again."
Then she walked swiftly away, and Bessie saw her no more, but for days she talked of the queer old woman on the terrace, who had called her Betsey and who had bade her be good and truthful and real and stick to her father.
Numerous were the questions put to her by her father and mother, relative to the stranger whose identity with the American aunt they scarcely doubted; and Archie was conscious of a bitter pang as he reflected that she had been so near to him and yet had not tried to find him. He had heard that she was expected in London, and he knew now how strong had been the hope that he should meet her, and that she would do something for him. He was so tired and so ashamed of the life he led—now here, now there, now on the first floor, now on the fifth floor back, now plenty now penury and absolute want, according to Daisy's luck. For Daisy managed everything and bade him take things easy and trust to her; but he would so much rather have staid quietly at Stoneleigh with but one meal a day and know how that meal was paid for, than to live what to his sense of propriety seemed a not very respectable life. But he had lost his chance. The one who might have made living at Stoneleigh possible had ignored him. She had been where he was, and had not sought him, and his face was very gloomy that evening as he sat in front of the hotel with Bessie in his lap, while Daisy walked on the terrace with Lord Hardy and told him of the old woman on the sands who must have been the American aunt.
One week later, there came a letter from old Anthony, saying he had received a small package by express from London, directed to Miss Betsey McPherson, care of Archibald McPherson. Should he keep it till his master returned, or should he forward it to Aberystwyth? Archie replied that he was to forward it, and two days after there came to him a small box, containing a lovely turquois ring, of five stones, unmistakably real, with a good sized pearl in the center, and on the gold band was inscribed, "Little Betsey, 18—"
That settled the question, of the donor, and Daisy laughed till she cried over what she called the old woman's spite.
"Nasty old cat," she said, "why didn't she send some money instead of this bauble, which is a deal too large for the child? She can't wear it in years. I must say, though, that it is very beautiful, and the old thing did herself justice when she bought it. Look, Archie, it fits me perfectly!" and she slipped it onto her finger, where it remained; for, as she said, Bessie could not wear it then, and it might as well do somebody some good.
Archie wrote at once to his aunt, inclosing a card on which Bessie had printed with infinite pains, "I got the ring; thank you ever so much."
By some fatality this letter, which was directed to Allington, Mass., U.S.A., went astray, and was never received by Miss McPherson, who half expected it, and who, with the memory of the blue-eyed child upon the sands fresh in her mind, was prepared to answer it. But no letter came to her, or went to Archie either, and so two people were disappointed, and the chasm widened between them, Archie imputing it to his aunt's peculiar nature, and she charging it all to that Jezebel, as she stigmatized Daisy, of whom she had heard most exaggerated accounts from her brother's wife, the Lady Jane.
AT PENRHYN PARK.
When, three years after that summer, Mrs. Captain Smithers, of Penrhyn Park, Middlesex, invited Mr. and Mrs. Archibald McPherson to spend a few weeks at her handsome country house, and meet the Hon. John McPherson and his wife, the lady Jane, she did it in perfect faith and with entire confidence in Daisy as a matron of immaculate principles and spotless reputation. She had met her the previous winter at a pension in Florence, where Daisy, who was suffering from a severe cold on her lungs, played the role of the interesting invalid, and seldom went out except for a short walk in the warmest part of the day, and only appeared in the parlor in the evening, where she made a lovely picture, seated in a large easy-chair, with her pretty blue wrapper and her shawl of soft white wool wrapped around her.
The guests of the house were mostly Americans, who had never heard of Daisy, and knew nothing of Monte Carlo, or Lord Hardy, and only saw her a devoted wife and mother, and wondered vaguely how she could ever have married that long, lank, lazy Englishman, who had neither life nor spirit in him, and whom they thought a monster, because he never seemed the least concerned when his lovely little wife coughed the hardest, and could scarcely speak aloud. That was the English of him, they said, and they set upon poor Archie behind his back, and tore his reputation as a husband into shreds, and said be neglected his sick wife shamefully, and in consequence, they were kinder and more attentive to her, and her room was full of flowers, and fruit and bottle of port wine and sherry; and Mrs. Captain Smithers, who fully shared the opinions of her American cousins, took the beautiful invalid to drive with her, and made much of her, and thought her the most charming person she had ever met, and ended, as Daisy meant she should, by inviting her to spend the month of August at Penrhyn Park.
"You will meet some very pleasant people," she said, "and I shall be glad to introduce you to them. I shall ask Lady Jane McPherson and her husband. It is a shame you have never met them. Lady Jane is rather peculiar, but a very good woman, and you ought to know her."
This the kind-hearted and not very far-seeing Mrs. Smithers said, because she had received the impression that the McPhersons of London slighted the McPhersons of Stoneleigh, not so much for their poverty, as for the fact that Daisy's family was not equal to their own.
"And this I think very absurd," she said to Daisy. "I belong to the mercantile world, for my father is a Liverpool merchant, and at first Smithers' mother and sisters were inclined to treat me coolly, though they are very friendly now; so, you see, my dear, I know how it feels not to be in perfect accord with one's family, and I mean to do my best for you. I shall bring you and Lady Jane together. She is sure to like you."
"Thank you." Daisy said. "I hope she may, for Bessie's sake. She could be of use to her in the future; but, if you please, do not tell her she is to meet me, or she may decline your invitation."
"Very well," was Mrs. Smithers' reply. "I will say nothing about you."
And so, without mentioning all her expected guests, Mrs. Smithers asked Lady Jane to visit her in August, and that lady, who had twice before enjoyed the hospitalities of Penrhyn Park, accepted readily, with no suspicion that the woman whom she detested more than any creature in the world was to be there also.
The house at Penrhyn Park was very large and commodious, with a wing on either side of the main building, and in these wings were situated the sleeping rooms for guests. A wide hall divided the main part, and on the second floor were two large, airy chambers, opposite each other, with dressing-room, and bath-room, and alcove for bed attached, and the whole fitted up elegantly. These rooms were usually given to the most honored guests, those who rejoiced in titles, and on the occasions of her former visits at Penrhyn, Lady Jane had occupied one, and her bosom friend, old Lady Oakley, the other. But this time there was a change, and when Lady Oakley arrived with her maid, and her poodle dog, and her ear trumpet, for she was very deaf, she was assigned a room in one of the wings, her hostess telling her apologetically that she had thought it well to put the McPhersons together as they would thus get on better, and she was so anxious for Lady Jane to like Mrs. Archie, the sweetest, most amiable of women. Lady Oakley, who knew that every apartment at Penrhyn was like a palace, cared little where she was put, and settled herself in her quarters the evening before the London McPhersons were expected, Daisy had been there a week or more, for she was prompt to the day. Their funds were very low; they were owing seven pounds for lodgings in London, besides various bills to the green-grocer, the dry-grocer, the milkman, and the baker, and had barely enough to pay for their second-class tickets from London..
"I don't know what we are going to do," Archie said, when alone with his wife in the beautiful room over which Daisy had gone into ecstasies, exclaiming, as she seated herself in a luxurious easy-chair:
"Why, Archie, we are housed like princes! We have never been in a place like this. I wish we were to stay longer than a month. I mean to manage somehow for an extension."
A low growl was the only sound from Archie, who was busy brushing off the dust gathered on the journey.
"Say, isn't it nice?" she continued, and then coming into the room and wiping his face with the towel as he came, Archie replied:
"Nice enough, yes; but I don't know what we are going to do when we have to leave here, I tell you, it makes a chap feel mighty mean not to have a shilling in his pocket, and that's just my case. How much have you?"
"Twenty shillings," was Daisy's reply. "But never mind; trust me to fill the purse somehow. I have an idea; so, don't look so glum, and let us enjoy the present."
"But I can't," Archie replied; "I cannot enjoy myself, feeling all the time that we are living upon other people, and accepting invitations we never can return. In short, we are nothing but impostors, both of us."
He spoke savagely, and turned to re-enter his dressing-room, in the door of which Bessie stood, with her great blue eyes fixed wonderingly and sadly upon him. She had heard all the conversation, and there was a troubled look on her face, as she said:
"What is an impostor, papa? What does it mean?"
"It means," he answered, "that we impose upon people every hour of our lives, passing ourselves off for what we are not. People suppose we have money, when we haven't a shilling to spare, and owe everybody besides."
"I see; it means we are shams, and not real," Bessie said, and her bright face was overclouded with an expression pitiful to see in one so young.
This was the McPhersons' first day at Penrhyn Park, but the little passage at arms did not at all dim Daisy's sky. Something would turn up, she knew; and at dinner something did turn up, for Mrs. Smithers mentioned to Archie that her husband had fallen in with the young Irish lord who had been for a day or two at the pension in Florence, and, remembering how intimate he was with Mr. McPherson he had invited him to spend a week at Penrhyn Park, and the young man had accepted, and would arrive the 10th. There was a gleam of triumph in Daisy's eyes as they met her husband's. The presence of Lord Hardy meant money, for she had only to lament her poverty and talk of burying herself at Stoneleigh, and instantly the generous Irishman would insist upon relieving her present needs.
"It is only a loan. You can pay me some time when your ship comes in, and really I have more than I know what to do with."
This was always Lord Hardy's argument, to which Daisy yielded, and went on piling up the debt which she insisted would be paid in some way, and her thoughts always turned to the old aunt in America, through whom relief must some day come. But Archie knew better, and their indebtedness to Lord Hardy filled him with shame, just as Daisy's intimacy with the young man filled him with disgust, though he had perfect faith in the Irishman, whose worst fault was an open and hearty admiration for a married woman; and, to a certain extent, he had faith in Daisy, who, much as she might compromise her good name by flirtation, would never break her marriage vow in the letter, even if she did in spirit. In a way she would be true to him always, but the world did not know her as he did, and he knew perfectly well how she was talked about and her frivolous conduct commented upon by such people as Lady Jane and her set. But he could not help himself. Daisy was master, and he submitted, with a feeling of humiliation which showed itself upon his face and made him very quiet and ill at ease, except when Bessie was with him. There was something about Bessie which restored his self-respect and made a man of him, Bessie was his all, and to himself he had made a vow that she should not follow in the footsteps of her mother.
"I will kill her first," he said, with clenched fists and flashing eyes, and Daisy would never have known him could she have seen him when, as was often the case, he went over by himself what he would say to her if he ever got his courage up.
Taking a chair for his auditor, he would gesticulate fiercely, and declare that he would not stand it any longer. "Daisy McPherson," he would say, addressing himself to the chair, "I tell you what it is. I am ashamed of myself, and of you, too, and I am going to stop it, and take you home, and be master of my own house, and if we cannot live on our small income, you can take up your dead mother's trade and make dresses, and, by Jove, I'll help you, too! I'll keep the books, and—and—"
Here he would stop, not knowing exactly what else he would do, for work was something to which he did not take kindly.
As the chair never offered any remonstrance, no matter how savage he was, he usually felt better, and respected himself more after an attack upon it, and there the battle ended, for he had not the courage to deal thus with his wife, who had ruled him too long to yield her scepter now.
Such was the condition of things between this ill-assorted pair when we find them at Penrhyn Park, which so fully accorded with Daisy's tastes that she at once determined to stay longer than a month, even if she were not invited to extend her visit. She had been at the park a week or more, enjoying all the eclat of the favored guest, for Mrs. Smithers' infatuation was complete, when it was announced at the breakfast table that the Hon. John McPherson, with Lady Jane and Neil, would arrive that evening in time for dinner.
Instantly Archie's face flushed crimson, for he had not seen his uncle since his marriage, which had called forth a letter so angry in its tone that he had never answered it, or sought for any further intercourse with his indignant relative.
Daisy, on the contrary, was wholly unmoved.
"Veni, vidi, vici," was her motto, which had proved true in so many instances that she fancied she had only to meet the haughty Lady Jane face to face and conquer her also. And yet she did feel a little nervous when, as the hour for the train drew near, she went to her room and commenced her toilet for dinner.
"Let me see," she murmured: "they have undoubtedly heard that I am a brazen face and a minx, and awfully extravagant and flashy in style; so simplicity in dress and modesty of demeanor will best suit me now. I must not wear my paste diamonds, for though I've no idea Lady Jane can tell them from the real, she would think them far too expensive for people in our circumstances, and wonder how I got them."
So the false diamonds were put aside, as was everything else which could awaken an inquiry as to its cost, and a simple blue muslin was chosen, with ruching at the neck and nothing on the sleeves, which were rather wide and showed to good advantage the beautifully rounded arms and hands, of which Daisy was so proud. Her golden curls were gathered in a shining mass at the back of her head and fastened with a comb of pink coral, Lord Hardy's gift, when he was in Naples with her. At her throat she wore a blush rose and another in her belt, with no jewelry of any kind, except her wedding ring, and Bessie's turquois, which she still appropriated. Nothing could be simpler than her whole dress, and nothing more becoming, for it gave her a sweet girlish look, which she knew always produced an effect.
Meanwhile the expected guests had arrived, and Daisy heard them in the hall as they took possession of the room opposite hers. Lady Jane was very tired, and hot, and dusty, for she had come from Edinburgh that day, and she glanced around her luxurious apartment with a feeling of comfort and relief, as she issued her orders to her maid, Lydia, and talked to her husband.
"Open the little trunk, Lydia, and take out my pearl-colored grenadine; I cannot wear a heavy silk to-night; and find my Valenciennes fichu and my small diamonds, I don't suppose there is any one in particular here, unless it is Lady Oakley, and she, I presume has the room opposite this. She did, the last time we were here. John, we are really very comfortable. Mrs. Smithers knows how to keep up an attractive house, and is a charming woman, though, of course, not quite to the manner born. Was her father an iron monger, or what?"
"He was a wholesale merchant, and worth a mint of money. Why, he could buy out every McPherson and Trevellian in the United Kingdom," was John's reply; and then, with a little toss of her head, Lady Jane began her toilet, for it wanted but an hour of dinner.
"There, that will do for me; I can finish the rest myself. And now go to Blanche's room and see to her and send Neil to me," she said to Lydia, when she was nearly dressed.
Lydia obeyed, and after she had gone, Lady Jane said to her husband:
"I hope Mrs. Smithers will not object to Blanche, even if she was not invited. I really could not leave her behind."
There was no reply from John, who was busy in the dressing-room, but a fresh young voice from the doorway answered her:
"I think it was downright cheeky to bring her without an invitation. With her giggling, and her reelys, and her yis-es—all she can say—and her white eyebrows and tow hair, she is not very ornamental, even if she has ten thousand a year."
The speaker was Neil McPherson, the boy who on the Fourth of July had been thrashed by Grey Jerrold for his sneer at the American flag, find his comments on American ladies. He was a year older than Grey, with a dark, handsome face, a pleasant smile, and winsome ways when he chose to be agreeable. As a rule, he was very good-natured, and his manners were perfect for a boy of fifteen; but there was in all he did or said an air of superiority, as if he felt himself quite above the majority of his companions, which, indeed, was the fact. Trained by his mother from infancy to consider the Trevellian blood the best in England outside the pale of royalty, and the McPherson blood the best outside the peerage, it was not strange that his good qualities—and he had many—should be warped, and dwarfed, and overshadowed by an indomitable pride and supreme selfishness, which would prompt him at any time to sacrifice his best friend in behalf of his own interest. And yet Neil was generally a favorite, for he was frank, and obliging, and good-humored, and very gentlemanly in his manner, and quick to render the little attentions so gratifying to the ladies, by whom he was held in high esteem as a pattern boy. He was the idol of his mother, who saw no fault in him whatever, and who had commenced already to plan for him a brilliant marriage, or at least a marriage of money, for her own income was not large, and that of her husband smaller still.
Blanche Trevellian, whom Neil had designated as tow-haired, and white-browed, was her grand-niece, and Neil's second cousin, and as heiress to ten thousand a year, she might develop into a desirable parti, notwithstanding her ordinary appearance now. And so, when the girl became an orphan, Lady Jane offered to take charge of her, and took her into the family as the daughter of the house, though she never encouraged Neil to think of her as a sister. She was his cousin Blanche, and entitled to a great deal of forbearance and respect, because of her money, and because her mother had been the granddaughter of a duke. Neil called her cousin Blanche, and quarreled with and teased her, and made fun of her white eyebrows, and said her feet were too big, and her ankles too small, and that on standing she always bent her knees to make herself look short; for she was very tall and angular, and awkward every way.
"Wait till my cousin Bessie grows up; there's a beauty for you," he had said to his mother on his return from Stoneleigh, where he had spent a few days the winter previous, and greatly to the annoyance of his mother, he talked constantly of the lovely child who had made so strong an impression upon him.
Lady Jane had heard much of Daisy's exploits, and as the stories concerning her were greatly exaggerated, she looked upon her, if not actually an abandoned woman, as one whose good name was hopelessly tarnished, and she never wished to see either her face or that of her child. Nor did she dream how near the enemy was to her; only just across the hall, in the room which she fully believed to be occupied by her friend, old Lady Oakley, from Grosvenor Square. When her husband and Neil went out, as they did soon after the latter had expressed himself with regard to Blanche and been sharply reproved, they left the door ajar, and she could hear the sound of footsteps in the room opposite, where Lady Oakley was supposed to be making her toilet, just as Lady Jane was making hers.
"I believe I will go and see her," she said to herself, when her dressing was completed and she found she had a good fifteen minutes before the dinner hour, and stepping across the hall she knocked at Daisy's door.
Daisy's first impulse was to call out, "Entrez!" as she did on the Continent; her second, to open the door herself, which she did, disclosing to the view of her astonished visitor, not a fat, red-faced dowager of seventy, but a wonderful vision of girlish loveliness, clad in simple muslin, with a mischievous twinkle in the blue eyes which met hers so fearlessly.
"I beg your pardon, miss," Lady Jane began, stammeringly: "I thought this was Lady Oakley's room. She is my friend. I hope you will excuse me," she continued, as she detected the smothered mirth in Daisy's eyes.
"There is nothing to excuse," Daisy began, in perfectly well-bred tones, "the mistake was natural. Lady Oakley did occupy this room, I believe, but she is now in the north wing, as Mrs. Smithers kindly gave this room to me so that I might be near you; that is, if, as I suppose, you are Lady Jane McPherson?" and she looked steadily at her visitor, who with a slight bridling of her long neck, bowed in the affirmative, never doubting that the young person before her was fully her equal, notwithstanding the plainness of her dress, every detail of which she took in at a glance and mentally pronounced perfect.
"Some poor earl's daughter whom Mrs. Smithers has found. She has a peculiar talent for making good acquaintances," she thought, just as Daisy offered her hand, which she involuntarily took, but dropped as if it had been a viper when the latter said:
"Then you are my aunt, or rather my husband's aunt, for I am Mrs. Archibald McPherson, and I am so glad to meet you."
Had a bomb-shell exploded at Lady Jane's feet and struck her in the face she could not have been more astonished. Stepping quickly back from this claimant to her notice, her face grew pale for an instant, and then flushed with anger, as she gasped:
"You, Mrs. Archibald McPherson! that—that—" she did not say what, but added, "What are you doing here?"
"Visiting Mrs. Smithers like yourself," Daisy replied, with imperturbable gravity. "We were together in Florence, where I was sick, and she was kind enough to like me, and she invited me to spend this month with her, so that I might meet Archie's relatives, whom she thought I ought to know, and Lady Oakley thinks so too. She came yesterday."
"Yes," Lady Jane kept repeating, as she retreated step by step till she stood in her own door, with her eyes still fixed upon Daisy, who fascinated her in spite of her deeply rooted prejudice, amounting almost to hatred.
The creature, as she designated her, was far prettier than she had supposed, and might pass for a lady with those who knew nothing of her antecedents—but then her reputation as a bold, fast woman! Would it be safe or right to allow Blanche, whom she designed for Neil, to remain under the same roof with such a person? was her first query. Still, if Mrs. Smithers, who was a power in the social world, notwithstanding her connection with trade, had taken her up, and Lady Oakley, too, perhaps it would be better not to make a scene and show her animosity too much. She could be barely civil to the woman and cut her visit short on one pretext or another. Thus deciding, she said:
"Meeting you so suddenly has surprised me very much, Mrs. McPherson. I hope your husband is well. I knew him when a boy. Perhaps he is in the drawing-room. I think I will go down, as it is nearly dinnertime," and bowing stiffly, she went down the stairs, every nerve quivering with insulted dignity, and not quite certain whether she heard a smothered laugh or not from the room, where Daisy was shaking with laughter at what she termed the old cat's discomfiture.
"Nasty thing!" she said "how she hates me, and how little I care! I hope I sha'n't let her spoil my fun. I have the inside track, and I mean to keep it!"
Thus deciding, she, too, started for the drawing-room, where the guests were assembling for dinner, and where Mrs. Smithers, who was by nature rather officious and anxious to right everything, was explaining to Lady Jane that she had invited Mr. and Mrs. Archibald McPherson to meet her, and was descanting upon the beauty and amiability of the latter, whom her ladyship was sure to like.
"A little too much of a coquette, perhaps," she said, "but so very pretty and piquant that she cannot help attracting admiration."
"Yes, I know—I have seen her. I made her acquaintance in the upper hall," Lady Jane answered, coldly, and this saved the embarrassment of an introduction when Daisy at last appeared, perfectly self-possessed and graceful, and looking, as Lady Jane unwillingly confessed to herself, as innocent as a Madonna.
Meanwhile Archie had sought his uncle, resolved to have the awkwardness of their first meeting over before any prying eyes were upon them. He found him alone, and, mustering all his courage, went up to him and offered his hand, as if nothing had ever occured to separate them.
John McPherson had heard from his host that his nephew was there, and was in a most perturbed state of mind, on his wife's account, rather than on his own. She would be very indignant, and perhaps do something rash, he feared, while, for himself he wanted to see the boy, whom he had always liked. It was while he was thinking thus that Archie came suddenly upon him. In his surprise, Mr. McPherson forgot everything except the young man standing so humbly before him, with a look on his face, and in his eyes, like the brother dead years ago, and who, when dying, had said, "Be kind to Archie."
Extending both hands to his nephew, he said:
"Archie, by Jove, I am glad to see you. I hope you are well, though upon my word, you don't look so," and he glanced curiously, and with a sensation of pity, at the young man, who, though scarcely thirty-one, might have passed for forty, he was so pale and care worn, while his clothes were threadbare and shining in places, and hung upon him loosely. But at this cordial greeting, there was a wonderful transformation, and Archie's face grew almost boyish in its expression, and there was a moisture in his eyes as he took his uncle's hands and held them, while he answered the questions put to him so rapidly. Remembering at last that it was his duty to reprove his nephew a little, the Hon. John said to him:
"I have been very angry with you, for your hasty marriage was not what I could have wished. It has severed you from—us—from Lady Jane completely."
"Yes, I know," Archie replied. "I supposed you would not like it; but my marriage was for myself, and not for any one else."
"And it has proved all you could wish?" his uncle asked, regarding him steadily.
Archie's face was very red, and his lips were white, as he replied:
"Daisy was very young. We ought to have waited; but she is beautiful, and greatly admired."
"Umph! More's the pity!" John said. Then, after a moment's silence, he continued: "I say, Archie, how have you managed to live all these years? I hear of you everywhere I hope you have not resorted to the gaming-table?"
"Never!" came decidedly from Archie, "Do you think I would break my promise to my father? I have never touched a card, even for amusement, though I have wanted to so much, when I needed money sadly and saw how easily it was won at Monte Carlo."
"Your wife plays, though!" John said sharply; and Archie replied:
"I have nothing to say on that score, except that Daisy takes care of me. I should starve without her; for you know I was not brought up to work, and it is too late now to begin, though I believe I'd be willing to break stone on the highway, if I had the strength."
"Yes, yes, I see," the uncle interposed, a horrible dread seizing him lest his nephew might do something beneath a McPherson unless he was prevented.
"How much have you now?—how much money, I mean?"
"Just one shilling; and Daisy has, ten. If Mrs. Smithers had not invited us here, Heaven only knows what we should have done, for Daisy will not stay at Stoneleigh; so we travel from place to place, and she manages somehow," Archie said: and his uncle rejoined:
"And makes her name a by-word and a reproach, as I suppose you know."
"Daisy is my wife!" Archie replied, with a dignity for which his uncle menially respected him.
Just then the last dinner-bell rang, and rising from his seat, John put his hand first in his vest pocket and then into Archie's hand, where he left a twenty-pound note, saying rapidly:
"You needn't tell her—your wife I mean, or mine, either. A man may do as he likes occasionally."
They were walking toward the house, arm-in-arm, and Archie's step was lighter, and his face brighter and handsomer than it had been in many a day. Indeed, he was quite his old self as he entered the drawing room and greeted his august aunt, who received him more graciously than, she had his wife.
Just then Neil came in with Bessie, whom he took to his mother, saying:
"Look, mother, here is Bessie. Didn't I tell you she was a beauty?"
Then, as his mother merely inclined her head, he lifted the child in his arms and held her close to the proud lips which touched the white forehead coldly, while a frown darkened the lady's face, for notwithstanding that Bessie was so young and Neil a mere boy, she disapproved of the liking between them lest it should interfere with Blanche. But Neil did not fancy Blanche, and he did like Bessie, and took her in to dinner, holding her little hand while she skipped and jumped at his side and looked up in his face with those great blue eyes which moved him strangely now, and which in the after time were to bewilder and intoxicate and awaken in him all the better impulses of his nature and then become the sweetest and the saddest memory of his life.
"It is so nice to go to dinner with big people and have all you want to eat, isn't it?" she said to him, as she settled herself in her chair and adjusted her napkin with all the precision of a grown person.
"Of course it's nice," Neil replied, never dreaming what a real dinner was to this child who had so often dined on a bit of bread, a few shriveled grapes, a fig or two and some raisins, trying hard to keep her tears back when the bread was dry and scanty and she was very hungry.
She was very happy with Neil at her side, and she laughed and chatted with him and told him of Stoneleigh and the white rabbit old Anthony was rearing for him when he came at Christmas as he had promised to do.
Dinner being over, Archie, who did not smoke, excused himself from the gentlemen who did, and taking Bessie with him, sauntered off into the grounds till he reached the seat where he had found his uncle. Sitting down upon it and taking Bessie in his lap he told her of his good fortune and showed her the bank-note.
"Oh, I am so glad!" the child exclaimed; "for now we are real, and not impostors, are we?"
"Not in the sense of not having any money," he replied, but there was a sad, anxious expression on his face, as he looked down upon the little girl beside him, and thought of the future and what it might bring to her.
"Bessie," he said, at last, "how would you like to live at Stoneleigh altogether, and not be traveling about?"
"Oh, I'd like it so much," Bessie said, "but I am afraid mamma would not. She hates Stoneleigh, it's so dull."
"But you and I might live there. You would be my little housekeeper and I could teach you your lessons," Archie said, conjuring up in his mind a vision of a quiet home with Bessie as his companion.
If Daisy did not choose to stay with him she could go and come as she liked, he thought, and then and there he decided that his wandering life was at an end.
The next day the party at Penrhyn Park was increased by Mr. and Mrs. Burton Jerrold from Boston: "very nice Americans, especially the lady, who might pass for an Englishwoman," Mrs. Smithers informed her guests.
"Yes, I know them, or rather I know their son Grey, the young cub who thrashed me so last Fourth of July when we were at Melrose," Neil exclaimed; "but he's not a bad fellow after all, and we grew to be good friends, I hope he is coming, too."
But Grey did not come, as the reader will remember, for his mother made it a kind of punishment for his quarrel with Neil, that he should remain in London while she visited at Penrhyn Park, where she met with Lady Jane McPherson, whom she admired greatly, and with Daisy, whom she detested for the bold coquetry, which manifested itself so plainly after the arrival of Lord Hardy, that even Mrs. Smithers' sense of propriety was shocked, and she began to look forward with pleasure to the day when her house would be freed from the presence of this lady.
The month of August was the limit of the visit, and Daisy would have gone then had there been any place to go to except Stoneleigh. But there was not; no friendly door was open to her. She could not return to London, and she would not go to Stoneleigh: so, she resolved to remain where she was until Lord Hardy returned to his country seat in Ireland, and then she would go there and take Archie and Bessie with her.
To carry out this purpose she began suddenly to droop and affect a languor and weakness she was far from feeling, for she had really never been better in her life, and Archie knew it, and watched her with dismay as she enacted the role of the interesting invalid to perfection. A little hacking cough came on, with a pain in her side, and finally, to Mrs. Smithers' horror, she took to her bed the last week in August, unable to sit up, but overwhelmed with grief at her inability to travel, and fear lest she should be a burden upon her hostess, and outstay her welcome.
Never dreaming that it was a farce to gain time, Mrs. Smithers made the best of it, and saw guest after guest depart, until only the Welsh McPhersons remained, and she was longing to get away herself to the north of Scotland, where she was due the middle of September. Fortunately Lord Hardy went home sooner than he had intended, and wrote to Daisy and her husband that his house was ready for them, and then the invalid recovered her strength rapidly, and was able in three days to leave Penrhyn Park, and travel to Ireland with Archie, who had fought hard to return to Stoneleigh and begin the new life he had resolved upon. But Daisy knew better than to go to Hardy Manor without him, and she persuaded him to go with her and then to Paris, from which place she made a flying visit to Monte Carlo, where she met with such success that she did not greatly object to spending the holidays at Stoneleigh, whither they went just before Christmas.
It was at this time that Archie received his aunt's letter offering to take little Bessie and bring her up as a sensible, useful woman. For a moment Archie's heart leaped into his throat as he thought of emancipating his child from the baneful influence around her, but when he remembered how desolate he should be without her, he said:
"I cannot let her go."
Upon one point, however, he was still resolved; he would remain at Stoneleigh and keep Bessie with him. Nothing could change that decision. Daisy would of course go where she pleased. He could not restrain her, and as many Englishwomen did travel alone on the Continent, she might escape remark in that respect, and be no more talked about than if he were with her. At first Daisy objected to this plan. It was necessary for her to earn their living, she said, and the least Archie could do was to give the support of his presence. But Archie was firm, and when in February Daisy started again on her trip, which had for its destination Monte Carlo and Genoa, Archie was left behind with his twenty-pound note, which he had not yet touched, and with Bessie as his only companion.
SEVEN YEARS LATER.
Seven years, and from a lovely child of eight years old Bessie McPherson had grown to a wonderfully beautiful girl of fifteen, whose face once seen could never be forgotten, it was so sweet, and pure, and refined, and yet so sad in its expression at times, as if she carried some burden heavier than the care of her father, who was fast sinking into a state of confirmed invalidism, and to whom she devoted all the freshness of her young life, with no thought for herself or her own comfort. And there was a shadow on the girl's life; a burden of shame and regret for the silly, frivolous mother, who spent so little time at home, but who flitted from place to place on the Continent, not always in the best of company but managing generally to hang on to some old dowager either English, French, or German, and so cover herself with an appearance of respectability. Sometimes Lord Hardy was with her, and sometimes he was not, for as he grew older and knew her better, he began to weary of her a very little. Just now he was in Egypt, and before he started he sent her a receipt in full for all her indebtedness to him for borrowed money which he knew she could never pay. And Daisy had written to her husband that the debt was paid, and had given him to understand that a stroke of unparalleled success had enabled her to do it. When her mother died two years before, and left a few hundreds to her daughter, Archie had urged the necessity of sending the whole to young Hardy, but Daisy had refused and spent it for herself. Now, however, it was paid, and he was glad, and quite content with his uneventful life, even though, it was a life of the closest economy and self-denial for himself and Bessie.
When Daisy had plenty she divided with the household at Stoneleigh, and when she had little she kept it for herself, and Archie and Bessie shifted for themselves—or rather the latter did, and was sometimes almost as hungry as she had been when she ate the dry bread and shriveled grapes on the fifth floor back of some large hotel.
Bessie understood perfectly her mother's mode of life, and knew that though she was not degraded in the worst sense of the word, she was an adventuress and a gambler, whom good, pure women shunned, and over whom she mourned as a mother mourns for the child which has gone astray. And yet Bessie's life was a comparatively happy one, for she had her father, and she had Neil, her cousin, the handsome and spirited boy from Eton, and later the dashing student from Oxford, who came sometimes to Stoneleigh and made the place like heaven to the young girl blooming there unseen and unknown to the great world outside, and Bessie hoped to see him soon, for she was going with her father to London, where she had never been since she was a child, and of which she did not remember much. This journey had cost Bessie a great deal of anxiety and planning as to how they could afford it; but by saving a little here and there, and by extra self-denials on her part, sufficient money for the journey, and for a week in town, was raised at last, and the trip decided upon. Bessie would have liked a new dress and hat for herself, and a new coat for her father, but these were out of the question, so she brushed and cleaned her father's three-year-old coat, and washed and ironed her two-year-old Holland linen, freshened up a blue ribbon for her last year's hat, mended her gloves, put plenty of clean collars, and cuffs, and handkerchiefs, in her bag, borrowed Dorothy's umbrella, and was ready to start on her journey without a thought that she might look a little old-fashioned and countrified in the gay city. They found some cheap lodgings in the vicinity of High street, Kensington, and then she sent her card to Neil, who came at once, and tried to be gay, and appear as usual, but she felt that he was ill at ease, and the old hair cloth sofa and chairs looked shabbier than ever to her, when she saw his critical eyes upon them, and felt how out of place he was in that humble room, with his fashionable dress and town-bred air of elegance and luxury.
"I say, Dot, why in the name of wonder did you stumble into such a hole as this? Could you find no better lodgings than these in all London?" he said to her at last.
"Yes, Neil," she replied, "we could find lodgings fit for the queen, but then we have not the queen's income, and these rooms are so cheap—only a pound a week, and the kitchen fire included, I know they are not pretty, but they are very clean and quiet, and Mrs. Buncher is so kind."
Bessie tried to speak naturally, but there was a tremor in her voice, and the tears came to her great blue eyes as she looked up at her cousin. Neil saw the tears, and stooping over her he kissed the quivering lips, and stroking the glossy hair, said to her:
"Never mind, Bess, your face makes everything lovely, and this dingy parlor with you in it is pleasanter to me than the finest drawing-room in Grosvenor Square. But you ought not to be here, you and your father. You should be at Trevellian House, as our guests, and if I owned it you should; but there's a lot of old pokes staying there now, friends of Blanche—Lord and Lady Somebody, Mother is great on the titles, you know."
"Yes, I know," Bessie said, slowly; then, after a moment, she added: "I should like to see your mother and Miss Trevellian. I was too young at Penrhyn Park to remember much about them. Do you think they will call?"
Neil knew they would not, and he could scarcely repress a smile as he fancied the McPherson carriage, with his mother and Blanche, driving up before that shabby house, but he said:
"Perhaps so, though they are always so busy during the season; but I'll tell you how you can see them. Go to the park to-morrow afternoon about five o'clock. They are sure to be there in their gorgeous attire, and Blanche will have her poodle-dog."
"Shall you be there?" Bessie asked, and Neil replied:
"Yes, possibly," while to himself he thought that he should not, for how could he ride by with the gay throng and know that Bessie was sitting in a hired chair watching for him, and most likely making some demonstration which would draw attention to her?
"I may, and I may not," he continued: "but it will make no difference; you will see Blanche with her poodle and her red parasol, and you will see the princess, if you are there about half past five or six, but for Heaven's sake don't rush forward like an idiot, as so many do, especially Americans and people from the country: it stamps you at once as a greenhorn."
"No, I won't," Bessie said, humbly, for something in Neil's tone hurt her; then, as she saw him consulting his watch, she said: "Oh, Neil, can't I walk with you just a little way? Father never goes out after tea, and I do so long for some fresh air."
Neil looked at his watch again. It was almost six, and at seven there was a grand dinner at Trevellian house, at which he was expected to be present. But Bessie's blue eyes and eager face drove everything else from his mind, and he was soon walking with her in the lovely Kensington gardens, and her hand was on his arm, and his hand was on hers, and in watching her bright face and listening to her quaint remarks, he forgot how fast the minutes were going by, and the grand dinner at home waited for him a quarter of an hour, and then the guests sat down without him and Lady Jane's face wore a dark, stormy look, when the son of the house appeared smiling, handsome, and gracious, and apologizing for his tardiness by saying frankly that he was in the garden, and forgot the lapse of time.
"You must have been greatly interested. You could not have been alone," Blanche said to him in an undertone.
"No, I was not alone," he replied, with great frankness. "I was with the prettiest girl in London, or out of it, either."
"And pray who may she be?" Blanche asked.
"My cousin Bessie. She arrived yesterday," was Neil's reply.
"Oh!" and Blanche's face flushed with annoyance.
She remembered the beautiful child at Penrhyn Park, and had heard her name so often since, that the mere mention of it was obnoxious to her, and she was silent and sulky all through the long dinner, which lasted until nine o'clock. When it was over, and the guests were gone. Lady Jane turned fiercely upon her son and asked what had kept him so late.
"Cousin Bessie," he answered, "She is in the city with her father, at No. —— Abingdon road, and I wish you would call upon them. They really ought to be staying here, our own blood relations as they are."
"Staying here? Not if I know myself. Is that detestable gambling woman with them?" Lady Jane replied, with ineffable scorn.
"No," Neil answered her. "She is never with them, and Bessie is no more like her than you are. She is the purest, and sweetest and best girl I ever knew, and I do not think it would hurt you or Blanche either to pay her some attention;" and having said so much, the young man left the room in time to escape Blanche's tears and his mother's anger and reproaches.
The next day Neil was in a penitent frame of mind, for, however much he might laugh at Blanche and her light eyebrows, and ridicule his mother's plans for him in that quarter, he was not at all indifferent to the ten thousand a year, and might perhaps wish to have it. Consequently he must not drive Blanche too far, for she had a temper and a will, and there was another cousin one degree further removed than himself, a good-natured, good-looking and highly-aristocratic Jack Trevellian, who was thirty years old, and a great favorite in the best society which London afforded, and who, if a great-uncle and two cousins were to die without heirs, would become Sir Jack, and who, it was thought, had an eye on the ten thousand a year. So Neil was very gracious, and sugared Blanche's strawberries for her at breakfast, and read to her after breakfast, and staid at home to lunch, and never mentioned Bessie, or hinted that he would much rather be sitting with her on the old hair-cloth sofa in Mrs. Buncher's parlor than in that elegantly furnished boudoir, and when the hour for driving came, and his mother complained of a headache, and asked him to go with Blanche, he consented readily, but suggested that she leave her poodle at home, as one puppy was enough for her, he said.
And so about five o'clock the McPherson carriage drove into the park near Apsley House, and in it sat Miss Blanche, gorgeous in light-blue silk and white lace hat, with large solitaires in her ears, her red parasol held airily over her head and her insipid face wreathed in smiles, as she talked to her companion, the handsome Neil, whose dark face was such a contrast to her own, and who reclined indolently at her side, answering her questions mechanically, but thinking always of Bessie, and wondering if she were there in the hired chair, and if she would see him, or, what was more to the purpose, if he should see her among the multitude which thronged the park that afternoon.
Bessie was there, and had been for more than an hour, sitting with her father near one of the entrances from Piccadilly, and wholly unconscious of the attention she was attracting with her beautiful, fresh young face, her animated gestures and eager remarks to her father as she watched the passers-by, and wondered who was who, and wished Neil was there to tell her.
"I'd like to see a real duchess, and not mistake a barmaid for one," she said; and then a pleasant-looking man, who was standing near, and had heard her remarks, came up to her, and lifting his hat politely said to Archie;
"If you will permit me, sir, I will tell the young lady who the people are. I know most of them."
"Oh, thank you; I shall be so glad if you will," Bessie replied. "You see, father and I are right from Wales, and it is all quite new to us."
"Then you were never here before?" the stranger asked, looking down upon her with an undisguised admiration, which yet had nothing impertinent in it.
"Yes, years ago, when I was a mere child, and did not care for things. Now I want to see everybody—lords, and earls, and dukes, and deans, and prime ministers, and everybody. Do you know them?"
"Yes, most of them, by sight," the stranger said slowly, and taking his stand where he could see her as well as the passers-by, he told her this was a lord, and this was Disraeli, and this a grand lady of fashion, and this a famous beauty, and this a duchess, and that Prince Leopold.
It was a fortunate afternoon Bessie had chosen, for everybody was one in the early June sunshine, and she enjoyed it immensely, and said out what she thought; that titled ladies and grand dames were very ordinary looking people after all, and that the fat old dowager who rode in a coach and four, with powdered footman behind, and a face as red as a beet, was coarse as any fish-woman and that old Dorothy would have looked better on the satin cushions than this representative of English aristocracy.
"I wonder what you would think of the queen," the stranger said; but before Bessie could reply, there was a sudden murmur among the crowd, and a buzz of expectancy, and then the princess appeared in view, riding slowly, and bowing graciously to the right and to the left.
Instantly there was a rush to the front, and Bessie half rose to go, too; but remembering what Neil had said about not making herself an idiot, as the Americans and country people did, she resumed her seat, and the country people and the Americans stood in her way and all she saw of the princess was her sloping shoulders and long, slender neck, with the lace scarf tied high about it. It was too bad, and Bessie could scarcely keep back her tears of disappointment, and was wishing she had disregarded Neil's orders and been an idiot, when a handsome open carriage came in sight, drawn by two splendid bays, and in it sat Blanche Trevellian, with her red parasol over her head, and beside her Neil McPherson, eagerly scanning the crowd in quest of the little girl, the very thought of whom made his heart beat as Blanche had never made it beat in all her life.
"There they come! That's he! that's Neil, my cousin," Bessie exclaimed, and forgetting all the proprieties in her excitement, she rose so quickly that her hat fell from her head and hung down her back, as she went forward three or four steps and waved her handkerchief.
Neil saw her, as did Blanche and many others, and a frown darkened his face at this unlooked-for demonstration. Still he was struck with the wonderful picture she made, with her strikingly beautiful face lit up with excitement, and her bright, wavy hair gleaming in the sunlight, us she stood with uncovered head waving to him, the fashionable Neil McPherson, whom so many knew. His first impulse, naturally, was to lift his hat in token of recognition, but something in his meaner nature prompted him to take no notice, until Blanche said, in her most supercilious tone:
"Who was that brazen-faced girl? Your cousin Bessie?"
"Yes, my cousin Bessie," Neil replied, and turned to make the bow he should have made before.
But Bessie had disappeared, and was sitting again by her father, adjusting her hat and hating herself for having been so foolish.
"Neil was angry, I know. I saw it in his face, and I was an idiot," she thought, just as the stranger, who had watched the proceeding with a highly amused expression around the corners of his mouth, said to her:
"You know Neil McPherson, then? You called him your cousin."
"Yes," Bessie answered, a little proud of the relationship, "Neil is my cousin, or rather the cousin of my father, who is Mr. Archibald McPherson, from Bangor, Wales."
She meant to show her companion how respectable she was, even if her dress, which she was sure he had inspected critically, was poor and out of date, and she was not prepared for his sudden start, as he repeated:
"Mr. Archibald McPherson, of Bangor! Then you are the daughter of that—" he checked himself, and added, "I have met your mother at Monte Carlo," and he drew back a step or two, as if he feared that something of the mother's character might have communicated itself to the daughter. And Bessie saw the movement, and the change of expression on his face, and her cheeks were scarlet with shame, but she lifted her clear blue eyes fearlessly to his, and said:
"Yes, mother is a monomaniac on the subject of play. It is a species of insanity, I think."
Her voice shook a little, and about her mouth there settled the grieved, sorry look which touched the stranger at once, and coming close to her again, he said:
"Your mother is a very beautiful woman. I think she has the loveliest face I ever saw, with one exception," and he looked straight at the young girl whom he had wounded, hoping this implied compliment might atone.
But if Bessie heard or understood him she made no sign, and sat with her hands locked tightly together and her eyes looking far away across the sea of heads and the rapidly moving line of carriages.
This man knew her mother at her worst—not sweet, loving and kind as she was sometimes at Stoneleigh, but as a gambler, an adventuress, a woman of whom men jested and made sport—a woman who had probably ensured and fleeced him, as Neil would have expressed it. Bessie knew all the miserable catalogue of expedients resorted to by her mother to extort money from her victims; cards, chess, bets, philopenas, loans she never intended to pay, and which she accepted as gifts the instant the offer was made, and when these failed, pitiful tales of scanty means and pressing needs, an invalid husband at home, and a daughter who must be supported.
She knew the whole, for she had seen a letter to her father written by Lady Jane, who stated the case in plain language, and, denouncing Daisy as a disgrace to the McPherson family, asked that Archie should exercise his marital authority and keep his wife at home.
This letter had hurt Bessie cruelly, and when next her mother came to Stoneleigh she had begged of her to give up the life she was leading, and stay in her own home.
"And so all starve together," Daisy had answered her. "Do you know, child, that you would not have enough to eat or wear, if it were not for me? Your father has never earned a shilling in his life, and never will. It is not in him. We are owing everybody, and somebody must work. If I am that somebody, I choose to do it in my own way, and I am not the highly demoralized female Lady Jane thinks me to be. Her bosom friend, old Lady Oakley, plays at Monte Carlo, and so do many high-bred English dames, and Americans, too, for that matter. I am no worse than scores of women, except that I am poor and play from necessity, while they do it for pastime. I have never been false to your father; no man has ever insulted me that way, or ever will. If he did, I would shoot him as I would a dog. I cannot help being pretty any more than you; I cannot sew myself up in a bag, and shall not try to catch the small-pox, so do not worry me again with this sickly sentiment about respectability, and the duties of a wife. I know my own business, and can protect my own reputation."
After this there was nothing more to be said. Daisy went back to her profession, and Bessie took up the old life again with an added burden of care and anxiety, and with a resolve that she would use for herself personally just as little as possible of the money her mother sent them. Often and often had she speculated upon and tried to fancy the class of men her mother associated with, and whom Lady Jane called her victims, and now here was one beside her, speaking and acting like a gentleman, and she felt her blood tingle with bitter shame and humiliation. Had her mother fleeced him, she wondered, and at last, lifting her sad eyes to his face, she said:
"Do you know my mother well? Did you ever—play with her?"
"Yes, often," he replied; "side by side at rouge et noir, and at cards and chess where she is sure to beat. She bears a charmed hand, I think, or she would not be so successful."
He had lost money by her then, and Bessie at once found herself thinking that if she only knew how much, and who he was, she would pay it back pound for pound when she made a fortune.
In a vague kind of way she entertained a belief that somewhere in the world there was a fortune awaiting her; that little girl of fifteen summers, who sat there in Hyde Park, in her old washed linen dress and faded ribbons, with such a keen sense of pain in her heart for the mother who bore her, and pity for herself and her father. The latter had paid but little intention to what she was saying to her companion, for when he was not engrossed in the passers-by he had been half asleep, but when he caught the names rouge et noir and cards, he roused up and said:
"Sir, my daughter has never played for money in her life, and never will."
"I am sure she will not," the stranger rejoined, "though many highly respectable ladies do;" then, as if he wished to chance the subject, he turned to Bessie and said: "If Neil McPherson is your cousin there ought to be some relationship between you and me, for he is my cousin, too."
"Yours?" Bessie asked, in some surprise, and he replied:
"Yes, my father and his mother were cousins. I am Jack Trevellian. You have probably heard him speak of me."
"No," Bessie replied, with a decided shake of her head, which told plainly that neither from Neil nor any one else had she ever heard of Jack Trevellian, who felt a little chagrined that he, the man of fashion, whose name was so familiar in all the higher circles of London, should be wholly unknown to this girl from Wales.
Truly, she had much to learn. But she did not seem at all impressed now, or embarrassed either, though she looked at him more closely and decided that he resembled Neil, but was not nearly so good-looking, and that he was awfully old.
"You know my cousin Blanche, of course," he said to her next. "You must have seen her when you visited at Neil's father's."
"I saw her at Penrhyn Park when I was a child, but not since then until this afternoon. I was never at Trevellian House," Bessie said, and with the mental decision: "Poor relations who are outside the ring," Jack Trevellian continued:
"She is not a beauty, though a great heiress. Rumor says Neil is engaged to her."
"Neil engaged! No, he isn't. He would have told me; he tells me everything; he is not engaged," Bessie said, quickly, while a keen sense of pain thrilled every nerve as she thought what it would be to lose Neil as he would be lost if he married the proud Blanche.
He was so much to her; something more than a brother, something less than a lover, for she was too young to think of such an ending to her friendship for him, and her heart beat rapidly and her lips quivered as she arose on the instant to go.
"Come, father, I think we have staid long enough. You must be tired," she said to her father; then turning to Jack, who was thinking: "Is the child in love with Neil? What a pity!" she said to him: "Thank you, Mr. Trevellian, for telling me who the people were. It was very kind in you. I will tell Neil I met you. Good-by," and she gave him her ungloved hand, which, though small and plump and well formed, showed that it was not a stranger to work.
Dishwashing, sweeping, dusting, bed making, and many other more menial things it had done at intervals to save old Dorothy, the only female domestic at Stoneleigh. But it was a very pretty hand for all that, and Jack Trevellian felt a great desire to squeeze it as it lay in his broad palm. But he did not, for something in Bessie's eyes forbade anything like liberty with her, and he merely said:
"I was very glad to tell you. I wish I could do something more for you while you stay in London. Perhaps you will let me call upon you—with Neil," he added, as he saw a flush in Bessie's face.
She was thinking of the old hair cloth furniture, and the room which Neil designated a hole, and which Jack Trevellian might wonder at and despise. Such men as he had nothing in common with Mrs. Buncher's lodgings, and she said to him, as she withdrew her hand and put on her mended gloves:
"You had better not; father and I are out so much that we might not be home, and you would have your trouble for nothing. Good-by again."
She took her father's arm and walked away, while Jack Trevellian stood looking after her and thinking to himself:
"That girl has the loveliest face I ever saw. It is so full of sweetness, and patience, and pathos, that you want to take her in your arms and pity her, and make much of her, as a child who has been hurt and wants soothing. She is even prettier than Flossie. By Jove, if the coronet were mine, and the money, I'd make that girl my lady as sure as my name is Jack. Lady Bessie Trevellian! It sounds well, and what a sensation she would make in society. But what a mother-in-law for a man to be saddled with. Welsh Daisy! Bah!" and with thoughts not very complimentary to Daisy, he left the park and walked rapidly along Piccadilly toward Grosvenor Square and Trevellian House.
Meanwhile Neil was driving on in no very enviable frame of mind. Bessie's startling demonstration had annoyed him more than he liked to confess. Why had she made such a spectacle of herself? and how oddly she had looked standing there in that old linen gown with her hat hanging down her back—and such a hat! He had noticed it in the gardens and thought it quite out of style, and had even detected that the ribbons had been ironed! But he did not think as much about it, or her gown either, when he was alone with her, as he did now when there was all his world to see and Blanche to criticise, as she did unsparingly.
"I thought you once told me she was very pretty," she said: "but I think her a fright in that dowdy dress, and bare-headed, too! Did it to show her hair, no doubt! There is probably some of her mother's nature in her."
Neil could have sworn, he was so angry with Blanche and with all the world, especially Bessie, who had got him into this mess. He tried to make himself believe that he had intended to take Bessie and her father for a drive in the park, but he should not do it now. Probably the linen gown was the only one Bessie had brought with her, and the elegant Neil McPherson, who thought so much of one's personal appearance and what Mrs. Grundy would say, could not face the crowd with that gown at his side, even if Bessie were in it. She would never know it, perhaps, but she had lost her chances with Neil, who nevertheless, hated himself for his foolish pride, and when the drive, which he shortened as much as possible, was over, he left Blanche to go home alone, and taking a cab drove straight to Oxford street and bought a lovely navy-blue silk and a pretty chip hat, with a wreath of eglantines around it. These he ordered sent to Bessie, at No. —— Abingdon road, and then, feeling that he was a pretty good fellow after all, he started for home, where to his surprise, he found his cousin Jack.
"Why, Jack!" he exclaimed; "I thought you were in Ireland! When did you return?"
"This morning; and, as you see, have lost no time in paying my respects to you all," Jack answered, as he rose from his seat by Blanche and went forward, with his easy, patronizing manner, which always exasperated Neil; it had in it such an air of superiority over him, as if he were a mere boy, to be noticed and made much of.