"I want to see Mr. Andrew," said he, as soon as he was seated in his private room.
The junior partner entered with a melancholy visage and a reproachful eye.
"Oh, you've come at last," he remarked, too quietly to be rude, too pointedly to be pleasant.
But his father seemed not to have heard.
"Sit down, sit down," he said; and then in an earnest manner and with the gravest face began, "I've something to tell you, Andrew, that I think you ought to know."
Andrew's visage relaxed. This gravity promised better than anything his father's behavior had led him to expect of late.
"Something most extraordinary has happened. You've noticed a little kind of difference in me of late, possibly?"
"I have," said Andrew, with an intonation that made his acquiescence particularly thorough.
"A sort of cheerfulness and healthiness, and so on?"
"And so on," assented Andrew.
"Well, I've accounted for it at last!"
"Oh?" said Andrew.
This did not strike him as quite so interesting. He thought of the papers he had left, and glanced at his watch.
"You mind my telling you about Cyrus's theory of the cells of the body—that all they needed was the proper kind of stimulation, and they'd be as good as new? Well, he went one better than that sometimes. I never told you what his idea was—it sounded kind of daft-like when you didn't hear him laying it down himself—but I'll tell you now."
His voice sank impressively, and his junior partner grew vaguely uneasy. This was a most unsuitable place and hour to be discussing quack medical theories. He didn't approve of it at all.
"His idea was that every cell of the body—mine and yours, Andrew,"—(Andrew grew exceedingly uncomfortable: this verged on the indecent),—"every single cell of them is just a kind of wee vessel in which chemical and electrical changes are going on. While they keep brisk we keep young, and when they get off the boil, so to speak, we grow old. Well now, what's to hinder one stirring them up to boil faster and faster, instead of slower and slower? And if they once did that, of course you'd begin to grow young instead of going on getting old. Andrew, it's happened to me."
"I'm growing young again!"
His junior partner looked at him for half a minute in dead silence. Then he decided that this statement had better be answered humorously.
"Is this story a sample?" he inquired.
"You don't believe me?"
Andrew's cheeks bulged in a faint smile.
"Am I expected to?"
"Look at my waistcoat—when did you ever see it as loose as that, and me healthier than I've been for years, and eating more? Look at my face—where are the wrinkles gone? Look at my head—how long is it since you've seen a patch of brown hair there?"
To complete this overwhelming series of proofs, he leapt up, and with an agile jump on one foot whirled the other leg clean over the back of his chair.
"It's twenty years and more since I last did that!"
Andrew was fairly startled out of his skepticism now. He had the eyes of a goldfish, and his upper lip and swelling cheeks twitched nervously.
"What an awful thing to happen!" he murmured.
"It has happened, though," said his father.
"But surely—oh, it must just be temporary. You don't think it will last, do you?"
"I think nothing," replied Mr. Walkingshaw, with conviction. "I have no settled opinions left. I am a mass of cells in active eruption."
He began to chuckle.
"I'm like a dashed volcano, Andrew!"
His son looked at him piteously. To suffer this sea change was bad enough, but to laugh about it was diabolical. Mr. Walkingshaw could not but sober down under such an eye. He gathered his countenance into an aspect as portentously solemn as his dwindled wrinkles could achieve. His son grieved afresh to see how their passing diminished the once overpowering respectability of his parent.
"It's an awful predicament," said Mr. Walkingshaw, shaking his bronzing head.
"Awful—just awful! What will people say?"
"That's just what I've been wondering. How am I going to break it to them?"
"You're not going to tell people!"
"But they'll notice for themselves."
Andrew gazed at him gloomily.
"It may pass off,"—his face cleared a little,—"in fact, it's certain to."
"It doesn't feel much like it at present: I'm fairly bursting with spirits," smiled Mr. Walkingshaw, and then recollected himself and grew grave again. "What's to be done supposing people do notice?" he asked.
"We'll just have to stretch a point," said Andrew somberly, "and give some other explanation."
"We might give some decent, respectable doctor the credit for it," his father suggested.
"They'd all be afraid to take it, if it went on any further. Imagine a respectable doctor admitting he'd made a man grow younger! I dare say they might be proud of such a performance in London, but they've more decency here!"
It seemed characteristic of Mr. Walkingshaw's calamity that he should bounce up like a tennis ball after each well-meant effort to depress him.
"In that case," said he cheerfully, "we'll just have to say I am trying to make myself more of a companion for you."
Andrew started violently.
"We'll say no such thing! Do you suppose I'm going to have my name mixed up with it?"
His father remained serene.
"Well then, what do you suggest?"
Andrew's cheeks drooped, carrying the corners of his mouth down with them.
"There's no good in suggesting. You can trust your friends to do that for you. Pretty stories they'll be circulating!"
Mr. Walkingshaw regarded him with dignity, mingled with a trace of good-natured contempt for such a lack of spirit.
"My dear Andrew," said he, "you need not be under the slightest apprehension. Whatever my external appearance may become—and I trust it will remain not altogether unpleasing—I shall see to it that my conduct rebuts any breath of scandal. I shall be, if possible, more circumspect, more scrupulously observant of the rules which should regulate the behavior of a man in my position, more discreet both in speech and conduct. The tongues of the libelous will be effectually silenced then."
Mr. Walkingshaw accompanied these excellent sentiments by gently swinging himself to and fro in his revolving chair and rolling a scrap of blotting-paper into a pellet, which, at the conclusion of his speech, he absent-mindedly discharged at the office clock. His son seemed as impressed by these movements as by his words.
"You'll find it easier," he began bitterly, "to set people talking than to—"
"When you come to think of it, the situation is not without decided advantages," his father interrupted, springing up and pacing the room with an animated air. "Just think of the renewed opportunities for doing all kinds of useful and beneficial things! I might take a more prominent part in public life: I might even go in for politics. I certainly shall take a bit of salmon-fishing. The study of some of our classical authors suggests itself as a relaxation for my leisure moments. The subjects of aeroplanes and national defense are worthy of consideration, too. I should like to visit several of the continental countries—our own colonies are even more attractive; there wouldn't be the same difficulties about the language. Or, by Jingo, Andrew, I might learn French and Italian! Yes, the position is not without its compensations."
He stopped beside his son and laid his hand upon his shoulder.
"I propose to widen greatly the scope of my energies, without in the least forfeiting the respect of my fellow-citizens. That is my ideal, Andrew. Ah, my boy, you and I will have some great times together! By that I mean, of course, some beneficial and profitable times."
He took a sudden step forward and kicked the wastepaper-basket into the fireplace.
"I might even take up football some day, if this goes on," he smiled, and then abruptly recovered his solemnity.
"Beneficial and profitable," he repeated gravely. "Those are to be our watchwords. Will you have a weed?"
The junior partner started out of the reverie into which he had fallen.
"Are you going to start smoking here?" he cried.
"Why the deuce shouldn't I? It's my own office. These old-fashioned ideas of yours about not smoking on business premises are getting out of date. Besides, it keeps the flies away. And now I must get on to my correspondence."
With a cigar in the corner of his mouth and humming something resembling an air, the senior partner dashed into his day's work with the ardor of an egg-collector.
In the meantime, the two least satisfactory members of the family were sadly enduring the consequences of their foolishness. To Frank and Jean the world seemed a very gray place at present; and even the daily increasing juvenility of their parent failed to enliven them. They were too engrossed in their own unhappiness to take much notice of it; and what they saw merely distressed them, for so far his beneficent projects had not included them. Frank moped about the house, consorted occasionally with an acquaintance, now and then went away for a day's golf, and at frequent intervals confided to Jean his disgust with the arrangements of the universe. Ellen Berstoun was to have paid them another visit, but for some reason she put it off; and at this decision he was plunged for forty-eight consecutive hours into a frenzy, alternately of relief and despair, which left him at last more lackadaisical than ever. A few days after his father's momentous interview with Andrew, he was roused to fresh anguish by the junior partner's departure to spend a week-end at Berstoun Castle, and his state of mind now became so unbearable that he abruptly announced to his sister—
"I can't stick this any longer! I'm going up to town."
"What for?" she asked.
"For a bust," he answered desperately. "I'm going to try to—to—to forget."
And the poor youth strode hurriedly out of the room to examine the state of his silk hat and his finances.
Jean devoutly wished she too could fly to London! Like a dutiful girl, she had returned, at her father's peremptory bidding, two unopened letters received from that city. Frank knew his address and forwarded them for her. Once or twice after that he himself received a letter in a hand suspiciously resembling the writing on the unbroken envelopes, and it certainly was a fact that on each of these occasions the erring pair were closeted for long together, and that Jean's spirits rose a little for a few hours afterwards. But they soon sank again.
After Frank had announced his desperate resolution she sat alone for some time in the drawing-room. Everybody else was out, and the house seemed prodigiously silent and vast. At last she heard a little noise, which presently took the form of footsteps bounding upstairs, accompanied by a cheerful tuneless whistling. The door was flung open, and her father entered.
It was only at that moment that Jean realized he was a curiously altered man. He was dressed in brown tweeds and a light waistcoat; his face was flushed, and a smile danced in his eyes.
"I've been for a bicycle ride," he announced.
She could hardly believe her ears.
"You—on a bicycle?" she gasped; for Mr. Walkingshaw had been born long before bicycles.
"Yes; I've had a couple of lessons—only two, and I went for a six-mile ride all alone to-day!"
"Then weren't you at the office?"
"In the morning; but one gets no exercise in that beastly office. I need a lot nowadays."
He threw himself into a chair and a smile broke over his face, in which, to her further bewilderment, she recognized an unmistakable flavor of roguishness.
"Thinking of him?" he inquired.
Poor Jean nearly jumped out of her chair.
"Of—of whom?" she gasped.
"The artist fellow, what's his name—Vernon."
"Father!" she said in a low, pained voice.
"Eh? What's the matter?"
She looked at him between grief and amazement.
"You said that his name was never to be mentioned. Do you mean to—why do you—what do you mean, father?"
Mr. Walkingshaw was finding it harder every day to retain his old attitudes in all their dignity. He was altering at an astonishing pace. How many years younger he had become already he could not compute. He had tried once or twice to calculate about where he stood but the surprising thing was that he found he cared less and less what was happening, and how fast it happened. He enjoyed himself amazingly so long as he did not worry; and the obvious moral was—don't worry. At the same time, he had no intention whatsoever of forfeiting the respect of his fellow-citizens, still less of his family. It was true this proviso occurred to him more often after than before he had surprised them by some trifling deviation; still, when it did occur, it occurred forcibly. On this present occasion he suddenly became preternaturally solemn, coughed with a little dry, respectable sound, and replied severely—
"I meant that it must never be mentioned by you, but—ahem—it is—ah—different with your father. I still leave myself at liberty to mention him with reprobation."
Jean jumped up with a sparkling eye.
"In that case I'll leave you. I've obeyed you so far, but I certainly shan't obey you if you tell me to sit and listen to anything against him!"
And she started for the door.
"My dear girl!" cried Mr. Walkingshaw.
He jumped up too, caught her by the hand, and led her to the sofa.
"Now, now," he said kindly; "sit down and tell me all about it."
She looked at him in fresh amazement.
"All about what?"
He found it a little difficult to explain precisely what he meant. He only knew that he felt an unwonted expansion of his heart towards this really charming little daughter.
"All about the weather and crops," he suggested playfully.
Jean began to tremble a little.
"I—I don't understand you at all," said she.
He smiled pleasantly.
"Am I such a very mysterious old fellow?"
At this odd and novel mixture of kindness and queerness she felt her words choking her, as much with fear as anything.
"We—we never have understood each other," she found herself saying.
He looked startled.
"What? You don't mean to say you—But I'm your father."
"I suppose that's the reason."
"I have always tried to do my duty."
"The trouble is, you succeeded."
"What!" he exclaimed. "Do you actually mean to say you—ah—didn't appreciate my duty?"
She was sitting by his side on the sofa, her eyes downcast and her lips obstinately set. Never before in her life had she stood up to him like this, but now that she had begun she was discovering to her surprise that she had more of her father's temper than she had dreamt of.
"No," she said. "I didn't sometimes."
Instead of getting angry, Mr. Walkingshaw seemed merely astonished and interested.
"Perhaps it was the way I did it," he suggested.
She looked up quickly.
"Yes," she answered.
"Well, my dear, I have lately discovered that I shall never be too old to learn. Just tell me how you'd like to be treated, and I'll try to manage it. I am very fond of you, Jean."
Her mouth lost its obstinacy; her eyes and voice grew kind.
"Father dear, if only you'd show it! If only—"
He interrupted her by a resounding kiss.
"More that kind of way?" he smiled.
For answer she threw her arms round him and gave him what he immediately decided to be the pleasantest hugging he had ever enjoyed. This was a method of doing his duty that must certainly be repeated; he had no doubts about that. It led to such surprising results, too. In a few minutes he found himself embarked upon the most charmingly confidential conversation.
"It was a little rough on you," he confessed.
"You mean—?" she hesitated.
"Well, well, perhaps we'd better not allude to it again," he answered kindly.
But apparently she had no intention at all of avoiding the subject.
"Oh, yes," she said eagerly. "I'd like to talk about it with you now."
It did not seem to occur to the W.S. that he might end by committing himself to some expression of sympathy he would repent of later.
"Capital," he answered genially. "You still like the fellow, then?"
"Like him!" she exclaimed. "Oh, father, I—I still love him."
"I wish he'd brush his hair a little better and wear a respectable tie; still, he undoubtedly has some original ideas."
Mr. Walkingshaw found himself musing on the artist's outrageous opinions with a new catholicity. They had staggered him at the moment: they began to interest him now.
"It's a pity he can't make a little more money," he added.
"But I don't need a large income to be happy, father."
"Eh?" said Mr. Walkingshaw.
This was going rather too fast; yet when he looked into her shining eyes, he found it really very difficult to keep severe.
"Money is a very important thing, my dear," he replied.
"It's not nearly so important as love! Surely, father, it's far, far better that two people should be very, very fond of each other than have plenty of money! You do agree with that, don't you?"
It was at this moment that there came to the little advocate-for-love's assistance a recollection of the sympathetic widow. In his mind's eye Mr. Walkingshaw suddenly saw a vision of her black eyes vivaciously beaming, and for some reason this enabled him to regard Jean's point of view in a wholly new and original light.
"Well," said he, "I'm not sure that there isn't something in what you say. I do believe you're right, my dear—in fact, I'm positive you're right. The love for a fine woman—well, it's a first-rate sensation—most refreshing."
"For a woman?" asked Jean, a little surprised. "But we were talking about a man."
There was no mirror available, but Mr. Walkingshaw had a strong suspicion that he must be blushing.
"For a man—of course," he said hastily. "I meant for a man. But in a general way I think I may say that love's the thing for everybody! It's the thing for you and me anyhow, eh, Jean?"
Jean felt as though she had scrubbed a lump of crystal and found it to be a diamond. How was it she had never before discovered these depths of affection and geniality below his awe-inspiring exterior? She had not scrubbed hard enough!
"Yes, indeed!" said she. "Oh, I do understand you now. Father, I'm so happy! And you won't think too hardly of Mr. Vernon, will you?"
"H'm," smiled her father. "That's a matter we might well take to avizandum, I think."
For a daughter of a Writer to the Signet, Jean was woefully ignorant. She did not know what avizandum meant in the least. But she felt sure it was the name of one of the roads to happiness; and she hugged him again.
It was in the midst of this embrace that Mrs. Donaldson entered. She had always esteemed the author of her own existence and her family's prosperity, but she had never hugged him; nor had he shown any evidence of desiring such an operation.
"Good gracious, Jean!" she exclaimed.
"We are arranging a bike ride," beamed her father.
To complete the confusion of his more creditable daughter, this improbable announcement was accompanied by an unabashed wink, directed at his less creditable child apparently for the superfluous purpose of assuring her he jested.
That evening Mr. Walkingshaw began to be discussed by his fellow-citizens in earnest.
"You're not drinking, Andrew," said Mr. Walkingshaw. "Go on, fill up your glass. Man, do you call that filling a glass? Here's the way."
Leaning across the table, he poured in the port till it stood above the rim, with the steady hand of a man of forty. He was hardly as young as that yet, but he was amazingly rejuvenated. It could not possibly last, Andrew said to himself; still, he felt dreadfully uncomfortable.
"You seem very anxious I should drink," he said gloomily, looking askance at his brimming glass.
"You're so dull, my boy," his father answered genially. "There's no life in you at all. You for a lover! You ought to have come back looking happy. One would think she'd broken it off."
It was the evening of the same day. Andrew had returned from his visit to the Berstouns shortly after Mrs. Donaldson departed, and as Frank was dining out, he and his father sat alone together over their wine.
"I've no reason to feel particularly happy," he said.
"Eh?" cried his father. "Nothing gone wrong, is there?"
"I don't understand these women."
"No," said Mr. Walkingshaw, with jovial candor, "you'd be a bit of a stick with the sex, I can well imagine. You haven't the cut of a ladies' man: but it's all a matter of practice, my boy; just a matter of learning experience as you go along. What did she say to you?"
Andrew was divided in mind. This tone exasperated him beyond measure. He felt inclined to leave the room. Yet, on the other hand, he judged himself ill-used by his betrothed, and when he had any ground of grievance, he had the pleasant habit of venting his complaints as long as his audience would listen to him. To-night the habit proved even stronger than his distaste for his high-spirited parent.
"She was queer," said he.
"They're all that," replied Mr. Walkingshaw knowingly. "The great thing is not to mind what they say. It's what they do that counts: and she'd be affectionate, I suppose, eh?"
"I've never gone in for much of your spooning and kissing and that sort of thing," began Andrew.
"The more fool you!" interrupted his parent. "What do you think a girl gets engaged for if it isn't to be cuddled?"
He surprised himself by his own acumen. The late Mrs. W. had not been in the least that sort of lady, and he had never been engaged to anybody else; yet here he was laying down the law with the serenest confidence. Some divine instinct must be inspiring him. His son seemed less favorably impressed with his sagacity.
"Ellen's not that sort of girl," said he.
"My dear fellow, they're all that sort. At least, that's my view of the matter. Well, what's gone wrong?"
"I don't know," said Andrew sourly. "I can't make her out. She's different somehow. It was almost as though she wasn't so fond of me."
"Are you sure you've done nothing to annoy her? They're very touchy, you know."
"I haven't done a thing to annoy her. I can swear to that."
"Then," said Mr. Walkingshaw, with inspired conviction, "there's some other fellow cutting you out."
"Oh, I don't know all her neighbors. It's nobody she's met here, I suppose."
"She never saw a man when she was here but Frank and me."
"Then it's some one in Perthshire," pronounced Mr. Walkingshaw, emphatically but cheerfully.
Andrew frowned at his still brimming glass. He trusted that he did not overvalue himself; at the same time, the idea of another being preferred by a girl who had once enjoyed the privilege of being engaged to Andrew Walkingshaw struck him as far-fetched.
"I don't think it's another man," he said.
"It's my opinion it is, Andrew; and I'm not wanting to lose so nice a daughter-in-law, so you've got to see that she doesn't turn round altogether. You've got to go in and win; make sure of her, my boy!"
Mr. Walkingshaw grew more and more animated and his son more and more distressed. He was behaving so unlike the senior partner in Walkingshaw & Gilliflower.
"What are you wanting me to do?"
"Behave less like a damned umbrella," pronounced Mr. Walkingshaw, with a startling lapse into epigram.
"Oh?" said he.
"Be lively, and—er—amorous, and—ah—sparkling; that's the sort of thing. Go in for a few new ties and waistcoats. Socks, too, are things that the young men display considerable enterprise in. I was tempted myself this afternoon by a shop window full of really remarkably chaste hosiery—pale green with stripes! you'd look first class in them. I came to the conclusion at last that perhaps I was hardly young enough for them yet; but I invested in half a dozen ties of quite a tasty design."
"You bought half a dozen ties!" exclaimed Andrew.
"I did; and you're welcome to any of them you like. Or will you come with me and we'll choose something?"
"Thank you," replied his son sardonically; "but on the whole I'd sooner trust to nature."
"In that case, Heaven help you, my poor boy! You have your good points, but beauty's not among them. Imagine you as a statue, Andrew! Eh?"
The worthy gentleman laughed genially, but the unhappy lover did not join in his mirth.
"I am glad I amuse you," he said, and rose to leave the table.
"Sit down, sit down, man," his father commanded; "I haven't half finished with you yet. Have you read any poetry to her?"
"I have not."
"Well, read some; try a bit of—er—I'm not so well up in the poets as I hope to be soon, but I fancy Byron has written some very stimulating verses; or why go over the border for them—why not try her with Burns? What's finer than—
"'Had we never loved sae kindly, Had we—um—um—sae blindly, Never—something—um—um—parted, We should—something about being broken-hearted?'"
"It's very sentimental, I've no doubt," answered the junior partner, in a tone which implied that he was uttering the last word in caustic criticism.
But his father merely grew the more enthusiastic.
"And what else have you got to be but sentimental? My dear boy, my eyes have been opened this very afternoon. I've never been sentimental enough with my children; and what's the consequence? Here's you letting a pretty girl slip through your fingers because you don't let yourself loose on her! Now what you ought to say to her is something like this: 'My own darling—or sweetheart—or even duckie,'—use some popular symbol, as it were, of affection,—'I am so passionately'—or fervently, if you like—let us say, 'so fervently in love with you that I can't hold out'—or perhaps you might find a better word than that; you want to inflame the lassie without startling her. 'I can't endure'—that's a better word—'I can't endure for another month. Marry me four weeks from to-day!' And there you have the whole thing done."
Andrew had remained standing beside the table.
"Is that all now?" he inquired.
His father regarded him with a fine jovial scorn, much as Sir John Falstaff might have regarded the inventor of lemonade.
"I doubt you're a hopeless case," said he. "There's ginger enough in an ordinary policeman to make three of you. But I'm not going to let you lose Ellen Berstoun if I can help it. Run away now and complain to your auntie."
In pointed silence Andrew availed himself of this permission, while his father remained to light a cigar and meditate upon the disadvantages of unalloyed respectability. A fine example in many ways Andrew undoubtedly was, just as he trusted he had been himself; but he showed up poorly when it came to love-making. He was too old for his age; that was the trouble with Andrew. Now that he came to think of it, there was something uncompanionable in elderly people. It was surprising he had not noticed it before, but lately it had occurred to him forcibly. A brisk young fellow like Frank, a pretty girl like Jean—one felt more in touch with them. Perhaps they were a trifle on the juvenile side: the choicest, the most sympathetic period of life was undoubtedly that attained by—Mr. Walkingshaw jumped up, laid down his cigar, and started for the drawing-room. What a fine woman Madge was!
He spent a delightful hour in the ladies' society. The obliging widow was easily prevailed upon to gratify a passion he had lately developed for tuneful and romantic melody, and she thrummed through five waltzes and the whole of two comic operas, while he sat on the sofa holding Jean's hand and exchanging confidential smiles. Jean was in the seventh heaven of happiness; the widow enthusiastically approved of the symptoms; and the only critic present appeared to be his exemplary sister. She listened to the concert with a bleak face, and regarded the dalliance on the sofa out of a troubled and uncomprehending eye.
Aglow with sentiments, which from being mere amorphous ecstasies were rapidly developing into shapely visions of black eyes and well-nourished contours, Mr. Walkingshaw bade good-night to the ladies and settled himself comfortably in his easy-chair before a friendly fire and in company with a fragrant pipe. How delicious his tobacco tasted! Evidently this last tin must be of a superior quality. He resolved that he should insist on being supplied with the same high-class variety in future.
At this point his pleasant reverie was interrupted by the entrance of Frank, just returned from dining with a friend. His father greeted him genially.
"Well, my boy, help yourself to a drink and light your pipe."
Frank glanced at him suspiciously. He had never before been encouraged either to drink or to smoke; indeed, he had more than once complained that his father seemed to forget he was now a grown-up man. What his sudden cordiality meant he could not divine; but on general principles he feared it. This did not prevent him from accepting both overtures and sitting down on the other side of the fire. Mr. Walkingshaw asked him a few questions about how he had spent the evening, always with the same friendly air, till the young soldier began to suspect he had negotiated some peculiarly fortunate business transaction. He became emboldened to approach what he feared might prove a delicate subject.
"I'm thinking of running up to London for a week or two," he began.
"An excellent idea," said his parent. "It must be rather slow for you here."
Frank got more and more encouraged.
"The only trouble is, I find myself rather short of funds."
"How much do you want?"
The going was too smooth to last, thought Frank. He became cautious.
"Oh, a tenner or so, I suppose," he suggested.
"A tenner!" exclaimed his father.
"Say a fiver, then," said Frank hurriedly.
"A fiver for a week or two in London? My dear boy, you don't know how to do the thing at all. Your return ticket will cost you over three pounds; supposing one averages your dinners at ten shillings a night for a fortnight—that's seven pounds more; suppers, even if you supped alone" (here he winked upon his startled offspring), "will run you at least as much. Put railway and grub at thirty pounds—just to be safe. Then you'll be going to theaters and music-halls, and taking cabs, and having a week-end at Brighton—and the Lord knows what else. My hat, it will be a spree!"
With sparkling eyes and a beaming smile he leant forward in his chair and tapped his son upon the knee.
"I'll come with you, Frank."
"You!" gasped the poor youth.
"Yes," said Mr. Walkingshaw, apparently more to himself than to Frank, "that's the way to set about it!"
He beamed upon his son confidentially.
"I've got a splendid idea, and you're just the very chap to help me. I won't spoil sport, my boy, but I'll travel up with you—and, by Jove, we might stop at the same hotel, if that wouldn't embarrass you. Would it?"
"N—no," said Frank, "n—not at all."
"Just what we were needing—a little blow-out in London, eh?"
Frank gave a little nervous laugh.
"Do you really mean it?"
Mr. Walkingshaw was now standing in front of the fire, alternately rising on tiptoe and thumping down on his heels.
"Don't I just! When shall we start—to-morrow morning?"
"To-morrow! But I haven't done any packing."
"Well, no more have I. We'll just chuck in a few things and buy anything else we want in London. I need practically a new outfit myself. Can you introduce me to a good tailor?"
"Ye—es," stammered Frank.
"That's all settled, then."
Mr. Walkingshaw began to laugh mysteriously.
"I'd like to see Andrew's face when he learns I've gone!"
"But aren't you going to tell him?"
Mr. Walkingshaw's voice sank.
"Not a word to any of them, Frank! You put my things into your cab without any one noticing; I'll say I'm going to the office; and we'll meet at the station. I don't want to get talked about, you see."
It was reassuring to find that Mr. Walkingshaw still valued his reputation, even though the measures he took to preserve it were not excessively convincing.
"All right, then," said Frank; "I'd better go and pack now. Good-night."
"Good-night, my boy," his father answered fervently. "God bless you!"
The Cromarty Highlander had been through some nerve-testing experiences, but, as he went to his room, he realized that the severest ordeals often occur in civil life.
Meanwhile, his parent at a leisurely pace was following him upstairs when he perceived a light still burning in the drawing-room. He gently pushed the door open, and a smile of peculiar pleasure irradiated his rosy face. There, busy at the writing-table and quite alone, sat the sympathetic widow. He remembered how prettily she had answered a simple interjection once before.
"Hullo!" he warbled.
The widow started and turned in her chair. This time she did not archly cap his greeting. Instead, her exclamation had a tincture of alarm. He was so very unlike his usual self.
"Writing a billet-doux?" he inquired, still smiling.
He softly closed the door behind him, and approached her with a kind of jaunty, springy gait that increased her perplexity. She loved to see him lively, but this smirking manner was really almost peculiar.
"May I sit at your feet, Madge?" he asked, and without waiting for an answer, drew up a footstool and planted himself so close to her knees that the sense of propriety felt by all fine women with any experience of life impelled her to withdraw them some three inches farther from his shoulder. At the same time she bent her head a very little forward and gently drew in her breath. The late Captain Dunbar had possessed in addition to the virtues of a dashing temperament, certain of its failings, and her cousin's demeanor decidedly reminded her of his conduct after particularly convivial evenings at the mess. But the test was reassuring. Her nose was keen, and she noticed nothing—absolutely nothing.
"What a beastly big barn of a room this is," he began.
She was at a loss quite what to answer. Could he mean this: he who prided himself on the becoming stateliness of his house?
"Oh, I think it is a very fine and—and—impressive room, Heriot," she answered guardedly.
"It's too big and gloomy for a widower. It makes one feel kind of lonely."
The widow smiled sweetly. She quite understood what he meant now. The reminiscence of the late Captain Dunbar faded away, and once more she was sympathy itself.
"Are you often lonely?" she inquired softly.
He looked up into her face with a curious hint of boyishness in his face.
"Not while you are here, Madge."
Again a species of divine instinct possessed Mr. Walkingshaw. Without permission asked or given, he took his fair cousin's hand and gently held it. At the same time a longing to be confidential invaded him. He had a really prime secret to share with her.
"I am going up to London to-morrow morning!" he announced.
It did not surprise her that business should take him up to town; it did that his eyes should twinkle at the prospect. She began to feel a trifle less sympathetic.
"Oh," she said, "why are you going?"
For a moment he hesitated. Could he venture to confide in her? The young and amorous Heriot said, "Of course! Such a divinity will be all sympathy." But the senior partner in Walkingshaw & Gilliflower emphatically retorted. "Never tell a woman what you don't want the whole town to know!" He was still old enough to obey the more prudent counselor.
"I'm going to see my old friend Colonel Munro."
Decidedly Mr. Walkingshaw was fast acquiring that quick adaptation to circumstances which is the hall-mark of youth. He had not thought of his old friend Charlie Munro for the last year or more, and here he was coming in most usefully just when he was wanted. Heriot recognized with a touch of awe his own unwonted fertility.
"Don't tell any one!" he added, and then immediately realized that at the same time he must be losing a little of that valuable discretion which had characterized the head of Walkingshaw & Gilliflower.
"My dear Heriot, this sounds suspicious."
He realized now the penalties for indiscretion.
"I am going to see him on particularly private business. We do not wish it to get talked about."
He thought he had recovered his old manner to a nicety, but what was his surprise when his cousin shook a well-manicured finger in his face, and cried—
"What a naughty boy you are getting! I wonder whether I ought to tell on you or not?"
This time he tried another of his ingenuous smiles.
"You wouldn't tell on me, Madge!"
"Oh, indeed! Why should I care about your reputation?"
Mr. Walkingshaw deliberately faced the situation. He had not meant to commit himself that evening—not, in fact, till he had enjoyed an untrammeled week in town; but he had placed his reputation in this charming lady's hands, and he realized he must obtain a receipt for it.
"Don't you care about me?" he inquired tenderly.
"What—what do you mean, Heriot?" she faltered.
"You are everything to me," he answered, and looking into her black eyes, inwardly decided that this expressed very little more than the precise truth.
* * * * *
It was a very few minutes after this that he found himself seated very close to the sympathetic widow's side, with one arm encircling a considerable segment of what had been a remarkably trim waist, and the other hand toying with a collection of ruby and amethyst rings.
"I do hope I shan't disappoint you, Heriot," she murmured.
"No fear of that, my dear," said he, pinching one of her plump fingers.
"It will be rather a Darby and Joan marriage, of course," she smiled.
"Will it?" replied Heriot, with a glint out of the corner of his eye that reminded her forcibly of the late Captain Dunbar.
"Oh, Heriot!" she expostulated. "Remember you're the father of a grown-up family."
"Well," he replied, with amorous facetiousness, "what man has done, man can do."
The lady endeavored gently to withdraw her hand, but he held it firmly.
"Will it be a long engagement?" she asked, with a colder smile.
"By Jove, not very!" he whispered riotously.
She felt like one of those intelligent persons who pull the triggers of supposititiously unloaded guns. By a supreme effort she mastered her emotion and remarked—
"I wonder what your family will say."
He kissed her demonstratively and cried—
"My family be hanged! I'm not going to tell them yet."
"When will you?" she asked, disengaging herself with a difficulty that impressed her still further.
"Time enough when I get back from London."
The widow was not altogether unsophisticated. This blend of abandonment and secrecy impressed her unfavorably. She had known of more than one ballroom proposal where the gentleman was just sufficiently master of his emotions to stipulate for silence till he had departed on a twelvemonth's furlough.
"How soon are you coming back?" she inquired.
"Week or two," he answered airily.
"A week or two to see Colonel Munro!"
"Intricate business," he answered her, with a fresh salute.
"Poor old Charles Munro is a kind of relation of mine," she observed.
He eyed her with more surprise than passion.
"Oh! I didn't know that."
"I haven't written to him for years. I think I must send him a letter this week."
Mr. Walkingshaw realized that he was marrying brains as well as beauty. He also realized that Colonel Munro was now part of his London programme. However, on second thoughts, Charlie Munro was a dear old fellow, and very likely he'd have been looking him up in any case. His spirits bounded up again. In fact, why should they ever sink with such a fair creature by his side?
"Do, darling," he whispered.
She surrendered herself to his affection and sighed happily. Why should she feel disturbed with one of the most respectable of Writers to the Signet pledged to devote his declining years to her consolation?
"I trust you, Heriot," she murmured.
"My little duck!" he answered tenderly.
* * * * *
At twelve o'clock next morning the London express thundered on to the bridge across the Solway. Mr. Walkingshaw looked up at his son.
"We're out of Scotland now," he said, with a sigh of reminiscent ardor. "Home and beauty are far behind us, Frank."
Then in a different key he added—
"It is curious that my spirits should keep rising."
From which it appeared that he had grown young enough to realize that though lunch may be over, there is always dinner to look forward to.
Colonel Munro drew the ends of his white tie through the loop in the middle with infinite care. In a very wide circle of acquaintances he was universally known as "Charlie" Munro; and you had only to look at him to see how appropriate was this gallant diminutive. His head was bald at the top, but cleanly and beautifully bald, like a head of the finest marble; on either side and behind, his hair was both white and curly; his eye was bright, his features remarkably handsome, his mustache a slender ornament of silver, and his figure tall and slender. At sixty-three he was probably handsomer than he had ever been before in his life; and that was saying a great deal. He lived in very pleasant bachelor chambers in St. James' under the charge of a competent valet.
"Let me see that card again," he said, as he gave his tie those little finishing touches that converted it from an elegant accessory into a work of art.
The valet went to his sitting-room and returned with a calling card on a tray. Colonel Munro studied it a trifle lugubriously.
"James Heriot Walkingshaw," he read, with this addendum in pencil, "Shall call for you 7:30. Count on your company at dinner."
The Colonel buttoned his white waistcoat.
"Didn't you tell Mr. Walkingshaw that I would probably be engaged?" he asked.
"Well, sir," said the valet smoothly, "the gentleman seemed such an old friend of yours, I thought perhaps you wouldn't like to miss him."
"One's oldest friends are sometimes d——d nuisances, Forman."
The Colonel saw the pleasant evening he had contemplated spending in the society of two or three of the gayest old bloods in London darkening into a tete-a-tete with Mr. Walkingshaw at his portentously respectable club, and regretted he had allowed Forman to lay out a clean white waistcoat; for he was, by force of circumstances, economical as well as gallant.
"I tell you what," said he, "I don't mean to wait a minute after 7:30. If he turns up late, you can make my apologies, and say I'll be happy to lunch with him to-morrow."
He put on his coat, added an overcoat and white scarf, cocked his opera hat on his shapely old head, and sat confronting his sitting-room clock. At 7:29 he rose briskly, and then with a sigh sank back into his chair. He heard a footstep on the stair.
"Mr. Walkingshaw," announced the valet.
The Colonel advanced with that courteous smile for which he was renowned.
"My dear Charlie!" cried his visitor.
"Well, Heriot," smiled the Colonel, looking a little surprised at the remarkable joviality of this greeting.
He surveyed his old friend up and down, and seemed still more surprised.
"What a buck you are!" he exclaimed.
In truth, Mr. Walkingshaw, arrayed in a new opera hat, a new and shining pair of dress boots, and a fashionable new overcoat, cut a very different figure from the sedate W.S. of the Colonel's previous acquaintance.
Heriot looked a trifle self-conscious.
"I hope I haven't overdone the thing," said he.
"Not a bit," smiled the Colonel, as a bright inspiration struck him. "The only criticism I'd make is that you are really thrown away on the members of your very sedate club, Heriot."
"Oh, but I didn't mean to dine you at my club."
Colonel Munro opened his eyes and smiled again.
"Where do you propose?"
"Well, I thought perhaps you might advise me."
"Let me see," mused Charlie, with a pleasant air.
"What about the Carlton?"
"First-rate, if you care to run to that."
"I've booked a table there on spec," said Heriot.
The Colonel beamed.
"I say, you're coming out, Heriot. Blowing the expense this time, what?"
"I don't care what I spend!" replied his old friend, in a burst of confidence.
"Then let's start," said the Colonel. "Like to take a cab?"
"I've got one waiting."
"After you," said Charlie, holding the door open.
He was struck by the agility with which his old friend descended the stairs, and smiled afresh at the increasing possibilities of the situation.
"I say, this is very pleasant," beamed Mr. Walkingshaw as they jingled off in a hansom.
Rather bashfully he took from his overcoat pocket a pair of dazzling white kid gloves.
"These are the proper things in the evening, aren't they?" he inquired. "I notice you've got on a pair."
His guest chuckled.
"They'll do to dance in afterwards if we go on to Covent Garden," he laughed, and then added waggishly, "How would you like to go to a fancy dress ball, Heriot?"
"Is there one on to-night?" asked Heriot.
"Are you going?"
"Oh, I've given up that sort of thing years ago; but of course, if you're keen to go, I might stretch a point."
Mr. Walkingshaw looked at him doubtfully out of the corner of his eye and answered nothing.
A little later the two old friends had grown more merrily confidential than they had been since the days of their youth. Charlie Munro was a little puzzled by the subtle alteration in his host, but he was not in the least disposed to criticize it. He felt more and more inclined to tempt him into a further display of frivolity.
"Well, now, what about the Covent Garden ball?" he suggested.
Heriot's eyes grew bright, but his mouth pursed cautiously.
"Aren't they rather—er—fast?" he inquired.
"As fast as you choose to make 'em."
"But aren't the ladies rather—er—rather—well—"
"Not a bit," said the Colonel. "There's a mixture, that's all."
"But I say, Charlie, what about being seen by any one we know?"
"We'll get a disguise for you," smiled Charlie.
"Really, can you?"
"Oh, I'll see to that."
He began to picture a very amusing evening with his old friend Heriot.
Mr. Walkingshaw drank off his glass of champagne.
"Well, if you're game—" said he.
"I'm game for anything, my dear fellow, so long as I've you by my side," laughed Charlie. "When you're tired, I'll promise to take you away. Shall we call it arranged?"
"I'll risk it," said Heriot stoutly.
Round came the big man in the purple domino and the long false nose, hopping blithely to the crashing waltz, his arm encircling the waist of a little lady attired to represent a hot cross-bun. Then he was lost in the crowd, and the Colonel's eyes, in which for a moment a spark of wonder had burned, grew old and tired again. As he stood there alone, with youth and recklessness gamboling before him, he realized somberly that for him this revel was ended. How he would have enjoyed it once! But never, never again. His straight, soldierly back bent with weariness; he jerked back his shoulders, but they slipped forward, forward, and he let them stay. How little the fair faces interested him; how stupidly riotous these young fellows were!
Round came the false nose again, and this time the empurpled figure unclasped one hand of the hot cross-bun and waved a genial greeting as they stampeded by. And again a gleam, almost of fear, lit the Colonel's weary eyes. It was horrible, grotesque, inhuman, to see the friend of his youth, a man older than himself, the honored head of a respectable firm, the father of five grown-up children, going on like this. The Colonel had thought it would be funny, but as hour succeeded hour, and the ringleader of the frolic gradually became a wearied spectator, this superhuman display of high-spirited energy grew long past a joke. Charlie had never been austere, but there were limits to all things. Good Gad, there were limits! If the man had got drunk or grown vicious, he might have excused him. But to see him interminably bounding round that floor behind six inches of pasteboard nose! He began to move away. He could stand the spectacle no longer.
Again the false nose hopped by, and this time disengaged himself hurriedly from his partner and hastened after the retiring Colonel.
"You're not going, Charlie?" he cried.
His friend turned and stared at him piteously.
"For Heaven's sake, take off that nose, Heriot!"
The W.S. removed it with a laugh.
"Put it on yourself, Charlie, and have a turn with my partner," he urged. "She dances really magnificently, you know."
Colonel Munro laid his hand beseechingly upon his arm.
"Come home, Heriot! You'll be devilish sorry for this to-morrow, as it is; and if you dance any more, by Gad, you may kill yourself! My dear fellow, think of your age."
Heriot received this objection with a cheerful laugh.
"You're not going yourself, surely?" he inquired.
Mr. Walkingshaw looked at him anxiously.
"I say, you do look tired, Charlie. How's that?"
"I am sixty-three," replied the Colonel, with an instinctive lowering of his voice. He never stated his age if he could help it.
Mr. Walkingshaw continued to gaze at him oddly.
"I had forgotten how one feels at that time of life," he said musingly, "quite forgotten. Poor old Charlie; I oughtn't to have kept you up so late. I'd have felt like that at sixty-three myself. Well, my dear fellow, I'm glad we were able to have this night together before it became too late. It has made me feel quite old again to see you."
Colonel Munro seized his arm and drew him towards the door, with all the vehemence of which he was capable.
"Come along—come along, Heriot!" he implored him; "you have had a little more to drink than you quite realize!"
Heriot disengaged himself very easily from his trembling grip.
"My poor old boy," he smiled, "I'm as sober as you were when you started! I positively require the exercise. Besides, you must remember that this sort of thing is only just beginning for me; don't grudge me my fling. Get you to bed as quick as you can, Charlie. Sleep is what you're needing."
"And do you know what you need?" exclaimed the Colonel, with another grab at his sleeve.
"A taste of life!" cried Heriot, evading his old fingers with wonderful agility, and slipping on his pasteboard nose.
He waved a gay farewell, threw his arm round the waist of the hot cross-bun, and waltzed out of the Colonel's vision.
It was not till two hours later that Heriot Walkingshaw, smiling with reminiscent pleasure and perspiring freely, set out on foot for his hotel. A brisk walk in the early morning air was the only pick-me-up he needed.
During their descent upon the Metropolis of England, Mr. Walkingshaw and his son were residing at the Hotel Gigantique, that stately new pile in Piccadilly, so styled, it is understood, from the bills presented when you leave. On the morning after his evening spent with Charlie Munro, they met as usual at breakfast. Fortunately, the state of Mr. Walkingshaw's health did not in the least seem to justify the forebodings of his friend. On the contrary, he tackled a fried sole with confidence, even with ardor, and put a great deal of cream into his coffee.
"What were you about last night?" he inquired genially.
"I dined with one or two fellows at the Rag," said Frank.
"Doesn't sound very lively," observed his father, "that's to say, at your age," he hastened to add; for he still believed in retaining the confidence of his children.
Frank smiled dreamily. This "bust" in town was proving less solacing than he had hoped. Now that he had got here, he found himself too lovelorn to bust with any relish. At the same time, it was pleasant and soothing to enjoy each day the society of so charming a parent. Any disquietude he felt at the singular nature of the change had been allayed by one of his friends, an R.A.M.C. man, who assured him that a serious illness at his father's time of life was not infrequently followed by a marked rejuvenation of the patient; so that he was able to regard with unqualified gratitude the generosity and kindness of the truant Writer to the Signet.
"What were you doing yourself?" he inquired presently.
"Dining with Colonel Munro," replied his father, truthfully if a trifle meagerly.
He sipped his coffee, and then remarked—
"Poor Charlie Munro is growing old, I'm afraid. He knocks up very easily."
He sighed and added, "It's a melancholy thing, Frank, my boy, to see one's old friends slipping away from one."
"What! Is he seriously ill?" asked Frank.
"Oh, I don't mean that. I mean—well, everything has its compensating disadvantages. Mine is that my contemporaries are outgrowing me. Charlie and I started the evening in capital style; he was up to anything, and I was on for anything. But by the end of the night we were quite out of sympathy. The fact is, he is still in the sixties. However, my duty has been done; I've seen him, and that's over."
He helped himself to some more fish, and continued with animation—
"Now I can carry out my idea! I may or may not set about it the right way, but I do want to make you all happy Frank."
It was perhaps well for his continued equanimity that during the first part of this speech Frank was lost in contemplation of a singularly vivid image of Ellen Berstoun. She had a distracting habit of appearing like that to the young soldier, of which he was unable to cure her. He started out of his reverie with the last words.
"My dear father, you're the best sportsman I know," he replied warmly.
Mr. Walkingshaw looked highly gratified at this compliment.
"That's what I'm aiming at," he answered.
He leaned over the table and continued confidentially—
"Of course you are happy, Frank. There's really nothing Providence could do for you except put a little money in your pocket, and give you a good time—eh?"
"What's the matter? That doesn't sound very cheerful."
"I assure you I'm as cheerful as—er—er—anything," said Frank heroically.
"I was sure of it. But poor Jean—she's got her troubles, eh, Frank?"
Frank warmed up at his sister's name.
"She has," he admitted.
Mr. Walkingshaw thoughtfully piled several slices of bacon on his plate. It would have reassured Colonel Munro greatly to have seen him.
"I wish I was sure that Vernon was good enough for her."
Frank looked up quickly.
"I don't think anybody is quite good enough for Jean; but Lucas Vernon is really a deuced fine fellow."
Mr. Walkingshaw still seemed doubtful.
"A bit lazy, I'm afraid."
"I assure you he's not," said Frank. "He works, sir, like the very dickens."
"He can't sell his pictures," replied his father. "I'll never believe in an artist till he can sell what he paints."
"The difficulty for a painter is to get hold of the right man—the fellow with the money," urged Frank.
"That's a mere matter of time," said his father; "they are sure to meet sooner or later, and then the point is, has he painted anything worth selling? If Vernon can manage to prove that, I may begin to believe in him. If he's a fraud it is time the thing was stopped for Jean's sake."
He looked much more like the old Heriot Walkingshaw than he had for some weeks. Then he smiled, though still with an exceedingly shrewd air.
"Well," he concluded, "we'll see."
There is a by-street which opens out of the King's Road, Chelsea, and for a short distance pursues a course as respectable as the early career of Mr. Walkingshaw. Then, not unlike that gentleman, it diverges at right angles; and having once begun, goes on doubling for the remainder of its existence, shedding, as it gets round each corner, the more orthodox houses that once bore it company, till at last it becomes a mere devious lane, the haunt of low eccentric buildings; in places, owing to a casual tree or two, positively shady. The eccentric buildings, one is not greatly surprised to hear, are nothing more decorous than the studios of Bohemian painters. Such are the dangers of deviating from a straight and adequately lamp-lit route.
In one of these studios a young man fiercely painted. His powerful, loosely clad figure stepped nervously back and forward, his brush now poised trembling in the air, now dabbing and swishing on the long-suffering canvas. His mop of brown hair had started the day brushed back and comparatively sleek; it was now a mere tousel. His butterfly tie had been a thing of some esthetic pretensions; it was become a tangle of silk. His smile had been bland and his manner courteous; he now resembled a buffalo with a bullet in it.
"The beastly thing won't come right!" he roared.
Another young man reclined upon a deck-chair in company with three cushions. His appearance was equally artistic, but he seemed less strenuous. He was pale, slim, rather pretty than handsome, and engagingly polite.
"Cheer up, dear old fellow," he suggested.
"Damn!" muttered Lucas.
He toiled in agitated silence for some minutes, and then burst out again.
"No one will ever exhibit the thing; no one will ever look twice at it; there's not a fool big enough in England to buy it! And it's all but the best bit of work I've ever done."
"That 'all but' lets you down, I suppose," observed the other gently.
"One could fill a lunatic asylum with you alone," replied the painter. "Why don't you go off and do some work instead of exhibiting your incompetence here?"
"I told you I'd a headache," said the young man in the chair languidly.
"What the devil's in your head to ache beats me," declared Lucas, accompanying this unkind speech by a brutal onslaught on the canvas.
"Dear Lucas!" smiled his friend. "You seem to have come under some softening influence lately. Can you be in love?"
The painter turned and confronted him with a less furious air.
"You know I am," he replied, and strode to the end of the studio and back, while the other contemplated him in pitying silence.
"I feel a fraud, Hillary," he resumed.
"So long as you aren't found out—" began Hillary.
"I have found myself out," retorted Lucas. "I boasted I could make an income for her—and look at this daub!"
"The public likes daubs."
"If they know the signature; yes, by all means. But who knows mine?"
"Some Jews are great picture-buyers," suggested Hillary.
An answering gleam lit Lucas's eye for an instant, and then burned out.
"For the artist there are three ways of making a living," he pronounced. "One is painting for the million—children with rosy cheeks and large wheelbarrows; beds with angels hovering over them and kind doctors with stethoscopes sitting beside them—that sort of thing—the obvious road to the heart. The second is hitting the superior kind of idiot in the eye—inventing a cheap new formula—putting a goblin upside down in one corner, an immoral-looking woman in another, and passing the arrangement off as an allegory. Then up jumps an interpreter and booms you. The third is slowly making your name by the sweat of your brow, and selling your pictures when you are fifty-five to people who never recognized their merit till they had been told you were famous."
"Well," said Hillary, "that gives you a biggish target."
"Does it? I have no popular knack; I lack the conjurer's instincts; and I don't mean to wait for Jean Walkingshaw till I am fifty-five."
"Must it be she?" asked Hillary.
"Her father won't help?"
"If he wasn't so infernally respectable he'd shoot me at sight."
"Run away with her. Once you've got her, he won't be heathen enough to let her starve."
"In the first place," replied Lucas, "she wouldn't run away with me. That's the infernal, charming, irritating, splendid thing about her—she is true to us both."
"Won't chuck you and won't chuck the old boy either?"
"The thing can be done," said Hillary languidly; "it only wants a little energy and enterprise. Great achievements are never accomplished by slackness. Woman was created to yield to the energetic advances of man. Remember that, Luc—"
"Besides," interrupted the painter, who had paid singularly little attention to this stirring speech, "I happen to be handicapped by a little pride. Can you imagine me helping her to compose begging letters to her father? 'We are in great distress this winter, and a check for twenty pounds will be gratefully, etc. etc. etc.!' Can you see me stooping to that sort of thing? What?"
"I merely threw out the idea as it were tentatively," said Hillary mildly.
Lucas gave his mustaches a fierce twist and planted himself firmly with his back to the despised picture.
"It must have been a practical joke of the Devil's that gave Jean that father and then threw me in her way. Old Heriot Walkingshaw is one of those men who were created as an antidote to human affection. He stands between his children's hearts and the sunshine outside like the brick wall of a prison. His virtues are those of a paperweight. Neither his daughter nor his fortune are likely to blow away while he is planted on them; and there his merits end."
"What a dreadful fellow," murmured Hillary.
"And the worst of such fellows is that they are infectious. One can catch grimness and hardness of soul just as one can catch high spirits and courage. Bah! I won't think of him any more. I'll have another shot at this thing."
He took his brush again and faced the canvas. For a few minutes he labored painfully, and then turned with an exclamation.
"The memory of the old devil has got into my brush—" he began, and then stopped.
There was a knock upon the studio door.
"Hullo! A patron?" said Hillary.
"A dun more probably," muttered Lucas.
He opened the door and found himself confronting the rubicund countenance and imposing form of Heriot Walkingshaw. Over the shoulder of this apparition he looked into the clear eyes of Frank. They were trying to convey a caution to use whatever tact he possessed; but the artist was too dumbfounded to heed them.
"Well?" he demanded.
"Good-day, Mr. Vernon," said his guest.
He held out his hand, and Lucas mechanically shook it.
"May we come in?" he asked.
"If you want to—certainly," said Lucas; and they entered.
"A fellow-artist, I presume?" inquired Mr. Walkingshaw, glancing at the pale and pretty youth.
Lucas automatically introduced them.
"Very happy to meet you, Mr. Hillary," said the W.S. genially. "Let me introduce my son."
Leaving the two young men to entertain each other, he walked aside for a few paces with his host. His countenance was composed and his air dignified; though, as he thoughtlessly took Vernon's arm to direct his partially paralyzed movements, the artist began dimly to apprehend that no overt outrage was premeditated.
"I say," he began in that pleasantly unconventional vein which appeared to afford his vigorous reflections the readiest outlet, "this must seem a bit odd and so on, but why the deuce should we go on quarreling just because we've once begun? We're above that, eh?"
"I have no wish—" began the artist.
"Exactly, exactly," interrupted his visitor breezily; "we both mean the same thing, so that's all right. Perhaps we misunderstood each other on a previous occasion. Of course perhaps we didn't—we may be a couple of scoundrels just as we imagined, eh? Ha, ha! Still, let's assume there was a little misunderstanding. Now what have you been painting?"
The artist's blue eyes looked at him fixedly.
"I am addressing the same Mr. Heriot Walkingshaw?" he inquired in a voice compounded of several emotions.
"The same, my dear fellow—essentially the same. I look better—younger—fitter, I dare say, eh?"
"Yes," said Lucas, still eyeing him curiously, "you do."
"But you see I am still Frank's father."
He laughed genially, and this argument at last seemed to convince the young man that he was not the victim of a strange delusion.
"I am sorry for being a little hasty—" he began, with a candid smile.
"Not at all," interrupted Mr. Walkingshaw good-humoredly. "Don't mention it. There was a lady in the case; that's excuse enough for any two men quarreling. By the way, my daughter is not with me, but she would no doubt wish to have her kind regards—that is to say—well, well, let me see the pictures."
In the course of this speech the affable gentleman had been reminded by the senior partner that one must be careful not to commit oneself rashly. It was odd how often he required these warnings nowadays—and how frequently they came just half a sentence too late.
"Brush been busy?" he added hastily.
Lucas pointed to a dozen or more canvases stacked against the wall.
"Fairly," he said.
"May I look at them? Oh, don't trouble to take them off the floor. I'll just turn them over for myself, if I may."
He stooped over the stack and moved each canvas in turn till he could catch a glimpse of its face. With this ocular demonstration that there actually were pictures upon all of them he seemed content, for he turned to his host with an approving smile.
"You have not been altogether idle, then?"
Hillary turned at the exclamation.
"Poor old Lucas is working himself to death," he said, with his gentle and insinuating air.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Mr. Walkingshaw, and surveyed the artist with increased respect.
"Hillary is inclined to talk—" began Lucas, but was silenced by a ferocious stamp of Frank's boot.
"Hush, you idiot!" he murmured.
"No, Lucas," said his friend readily, "I am not inclined to talk as a rule, but I cannot bear to hear you maligned. I never saw a man work as you do."
"Is that your candid opinion of our friend?" smiled Mr. Walkingshaw with a pleasant air.
"It feebly endeavors to express my opinion," replied the engaging young man. "He paints on an average one picture per six hours of daylight; and the most astounding thing sir, is their consistently high merit."
Lucas looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"I don't sell them, unfortunately," he blurted out.
The W.S. turned grave.
"None of them?" he inquired.
"I haven't sold much lately."
"The public is not yet educated up to him," said Hillary. "But between ourselves, Mr. Walkingshaw, if I had a thousand pounds at this moment, I should put it all in Vernons; they'll be worth five thousand in ten years' time at a modest estimate—a very modest estimate."
"You are a critic?" inquired the W.S.
"I am considered so," answered the youth modestly.
Mr. Walkingshaw turned to the embarrassed artist.
"At the same time, I gather that whatever your merits, this is one of your lean years, eh?"
"Devilish," said Lucas.
"That must be discouraging?"
"It might be if I let it."
"That is a damned good answer, Vernon," said Mr. Walkingshaw emphatically.
Before the three young men had recovered from the sympathetic surprise which this reply occasioned, he had planted himself in front of the unfinished picture on the easel.
"What's this you're doing? A wood? Ah, yes, I recognize the trees. Very lifelike indeed—most creditable. What's the price of it, if I may ask?"
"What I can get," replied Lucas, with a reminiscence of his afternoon's despair.
"Still the same unpractical fellow!" smiled Mr. Walkingshaw. "You're not very strong on figures, eh?"
"I don't meet many," said the artist candidly.
"Well," suggested his visitor kindly, "what about fifty pounds?"
"I'd think myself devilish lucky."
"May I have it at that?"
"It isn't booked already, I trust?"
"That's a bargain, then?"
Lucas's eyes were again fixed in a strange stare. Then a quick change of expression broke over his face.
"You're very kind, Mr. Walkingshaw!" he said warmly.
"Tuts, tuts, not a bit. I want to warm up my study with a splash of color. That's the way you artists would put it. Eh?"
"A splash of color—yes."
"You see, I'm getting the hang of your lingo already, Vernon. And now, what else have you got for sale? What do you recommend, Hillary, eh?"
That young man displayed a sudden aptitude for business which had never characterized his own efforts to make a livelihood.
"As a work of art likely to rise enormously in value, I conscientiously recommend that," he said, pointing to another canvas.
"A nice head," commented Mr. Walkingshaw. "High-toned yet spiritual, one might term it. I like the way the eyes seem to look out of the paper—or is it canvas it's done on?"
"Oh—er—I beg your pardon," said Lucas, waking suddenly from his reverie; "I—I'll let you have that thrown in."
"Wits a wool-gathering, Vernon?" smiled his patron indulgently. "But I dare say you've some excuse. I'll take the picture with pleasure, but I insist on paying for it. Let us put this at twenty-five pounds."
"I won't let you!" cried Lucas. "I give it you—I make you a present of it. You've been so kind already—"
"Pooh! Come, come," interrupted Mr. Walkingshaw kindly, yet firmly. "You've got to make your way, and how will you do that if you give away your—fruits of the brush you'd call them, I suppose, eh?"
The artist could not but admit the force of this argument, and in the course of an hour had the satisfaction of selling, at considerably above his usual market price, no fewer than four of his masterpieces; while Mr. Walkingshaw, on his part, became the fortunate possessor of a promising but unfinished sylvan scene, the portrait of an unknown lady, a rainy day upon the Norfolk coast, and (what he considered the gem of the collection) a recognizable panorama of Edinburgh from the north, including among its minor details a splash of red ocher which he felt certain was the grand stand at the Scottish Union's football field. This recalled the sympathetic widow, and gave the picture a sentimental as well as an artistic value. He could have wished that on this, as indeed on most other occasions, the artist had paid more attention to verisimilitude and less to mere vague harmonies and so forth, but as he was assured by that intelligent young Hillary that this method was all the Go at present, and that his friend Lucas was recognized as a rising Dab at it. That at least is how he retailed the argument afterwards.
At the conclusion of these arrangements he again drew the artist aside.
"Would you like a check immediately," he inquired, "or upon delivery of the pictures?"
With considerable animation Lucas assured him there was no hurry at all.
"There is a distinction between punctuality and hurry," replied Mr. Walkingshaw. "I recommend it to your notice, Vernon. As to the date of payment, I suggest by the first post after the delivery of the pictures. Does that satisfy you?"
"Quite," said the painter, with a subdued air.
"Strenuous work, patience, and the cultivation of business habits are the recommendations I make to you, my dear fellow—as I would to any other young man. They have been, if I may say so, the secret of any little success I may have achieved myself. Good-by, Vernon, good-by!"
He departed thus upon a note of austere benevolence, leaving behind him a grateful yet chastened artist.
"Well, Frank," said he, as they drove back together, "that young fellow has managed to sell one or two pictures, I'm glad to find."
His eyes twinkled merrily as he spoke, but before his son had time to reply the senior partner spoke again.
"I only hope he keeps it up," was his addendum.
For a young man, Frank had remarkable discretion (apart from his one lamentable lapse). He dutifully agreed with this sentiment, and then proceeded to congratulate his parent on the taste with which he had selected his pictures and the excellence of the investment he had made. Mr. Walkingshaw appeared gratified by his approval.
"I don't throw my money away, Frank," he said complacently. "By the way, what's the cab fare?"
"One and six," said Frank.
In the temporary absence of the senior partner, Mr. Walkingshaw handed the man half a crown, and entered the hotel humming a romantic melody.
As he crossed the hall a deferential attendant approached with a telegram.
"Hullo!" said he, "a wire. I wonder who the deuce this is from."
It is a lamentable fact, remarked upon even by popular politicians, that the very measures which give the highest satisfaction to some people produce the profoundest depression in others. And it is worth adding that it is not always the most original reflections which have procured for their authors the widest reputation (though, if one wanted to quote an authority for this last axiom, one would perhaps turn rather to the popular theologians).
Of the truth of the first proposition, that worthy young man, Andrew Walkingshaw, was an unhappy example. It is the case that his parent's disappearance was not without compensating advantages. He was spared a number of minor annoyances, which of late had been the undeserved accompaniment of his blameless life; but then, the mystery of that disappearance, its unorthodoxy, its appalling suggestions of scandal! He knew now what it must feel like to have a relative engaged upon fashionable divorce proceedings or conspicuously notorious on the music-hall stage. For, despite his industry in circulating a circumstantial account of the business that had called the head of the firm so suddenly away, he thought he observed in the face of every acquaintance a kind of sly and knowing expression. "Aha!" every one of them seemed to say, "I've got my knife into you, Andrew!"
Beneath the roof of the respectable mansion in which he had hitherto spent a life unsullied by mystery or romance he found, to his horror, that these sinister manifestations were even more marked than in his club. The restored happiness of Jean was a bad sign, very ominous under the circumstances. It is true that she professed complete ignorance of their father's movements, but Andrew was too astute a lawyer to pay much attention to what people said; it was how they behaved that he went by; and Jean's conduct was suspicious. Why should she be smiling while this dark cloud hung over their reputations? The like of that looked very bad. He resolved to probe the matter a bit further.
"There's some one wanting to know where Frank has got to," he began, with an ingenuous air, when he met her next.
"What does he want to see him about?" inquired Jean.
"He didn't say, but I thought perhaps you had heard Frank mention where he was going. Did you by any chance?"
His air remained as ingenuous as ever, but Jean looked at him doubtfully. For a moment she hesitated.
"Yes," she said.
"Oh, where was it?"
"Of course I don't know whether he has gone there."
"The chances are he has," said Andrew. "What was his intention?"
"Who was the man that wanted to know?"
Andrew was particularly scrupulous never to deviate far from the high road of truth. Of course there were footpaths alongside that led to the same place, and gave one a certain amount of latitude; but beyond these no moral or respectable man should venture. Supposing one were caught in an adjoining field cutting a corner!
"That's neither here nor there," he said evasively.
"Was there really anybody at all asking for him, or is the 'some one' yourself?"
Her brother looked severe.
"Look here, Jean," said he, "you know where he has gone—I've got that much out of you; and it's your duty to tell me."
Her eyes were fixed on him steadily.
"You think Frank and father have gone off together?"
"I know nothing about that."
"And that's why you are suddenly so curious about Frank?"
He regarded her in injured silence; but instead of appearing affected by his unspoken reproach, she continued with an air of knowing both his intentions and her own.
"If father wanted you to know he would have told you himself."
"It is for his own sake I want to find out."
"Then you admit you were trying to find out about father! What benefit would it be to him if you knew?"
"It is most inconvenient at the office not knowing his address."
"If it really were very inconvenient, father would be certain to think of that and send you his address himself."
"He has not thought of it."
"Well then, there can't be any great inconvenience."
Not for the first time in his life Andrew wished that all humanity belonged to his own sensible, candid, trustworthy sex.
"I tell you there is," he insisted.
"I trust father implicitly," she replied.
"Oh, you think his recent behavior has been the kind of thing to inspire confidence?"
"It has in me!" she answered enthusiastically.
"You have a high opinion of his sense," he sneered.
"A great deal higher than I have of anybody else's in the world—in Edinburgh, anyhow!" she retorted, and with her chin held high broke off the conference.
This was sufficiently exasperating, but it was not the worst that treacherous sex could do. The widow's demeanor was a hundred times more menacing. She was so motherly towards Jean, so sisterly towards his unfortunate aunt, so skittishly condescending towards himself, that his previous suspicions of her were sunshiny compared with the dark convictions that lay heavier upon him each day. Her black eyes danced mockingly whenever he looked into them; she seemed always to be hugging the most delicious secret. Andrew doubted she had hugged more than a secret in this house.
It was a further confirmation of her perfidy that ever since his father's flight she had made a point of being down to breakfast before him, so that he could never see what letters she received. That was damning evidence against her—damnable evidence, in fact, for it argued a degree both of intelligence and energy for which he had not given her credit. Like his father before him, he was discovering that there was more up this sparkling lady's sleeve than met the eye.
A few mornings after the disappearance he thought he had caught her. When he entered the room she was reading a letter. He snapped up the chance instantly.
"Is that my father's writing?" he inquired, dissimulating his acuteness under an easy conversational air.
"It's a little like it," she replied, with an amiable smile, slipping the letter into its envelop and turning that face downwards on the table.
The W.S. began to respect as much as he detested her. All through breakfast she rippled with the happiest smiles and the gayest conversation. At the end, his detestation had again got its head in front of his respect.
But the following morning he himself received a letter which threw the widow and her smiles so completely into the background that for the next forty-eight hours he was scarcely aware of her existence. It ran thus:
250 BURY STREET, ST. JAMES', S.W.
"MY DEAR ANDREW,—It is with the greatest concern and regret that I feel myself compelled to write to you on the subject of my old friend, your poor father. No doubt you will be able to judge better than myself how far he is responsible for his conduct, and whether or not there is any serious need for anxiety; but I consider I should be doing less than my duty if I failed to inform you of the risks to his health and his reputation which he is running at present. I spent last night with him; in fact, it was only in the small hours of this morning that I left him still dancing at the Covent Garden Fancy Ball. I assure you I am at a loss how to express my consternation and alarm at his peculiar behavior. Are you aware that he has taken to dyeing his hair and doctoring his face, so that at first sight one might almost mistake him for a much younger man than we know him to be? The extravagance of his language and restlessness of his movements lends color to the suspicion that he is a little wrong in his head. I do not wish to alarm you unnecessarily, but if you had seen him galloping about in a domino and a false nose at two o'clock in the morning I cannot help thinking you would share my concern. He seems also to have lost all his old caution about money matters. Are you aware that he is stopping at the Hotel Gigantique, of all places, and doing himself and your brother Frank like a couple of millionaires? I cannot help considering this a very remarkable symptom.
"I myself am in bed to-day, so pray forgive the handwriting.—With kind regards to you all, believe me, yours sincerely,
The firmament seemed to darken as though a thunderstorm brooded over the devoted house. Already in fancy Andrew could hear the first crashings and flashes of the coming scandal. His appetite vanished, his coffee grew cold, and presently he rose and silently left the room. Yet the man of superior mental equipment rarely fails to extract some crumbs of consolation out of the direst disaster. Andrew extracted his by summoning Jean before he started for the office and handing her the terrible letter. As he watched her read it, the phrase shaped by his countenance might be read without the aid of any signal-book—
"What did I tell you?"
Certainly there was a well-earned morsel of satisfaction to be derived from her startled eyes and the little catches in her breath. She could believe him now! When she spoke at last her first words were exceedingly gratifying.
"What a horrid old man he must be!"
He looked suitably reproachful.
"That is strong language to use of your father."
Her eyes blazed.
"I am talking of Colonel Munro! The idea of giving father away like that. It's one of the very meanest things I ever heard of! I sincerely hope he may be in bed for a month."
She swept away, and her brother was left to brood gloomily upon the selfish perversity that thus actually defrauded him of his legitimate triumph.
"Well," said Andrew, "what is to be done?"
The problem was undoubtedly delicate. He had paid it the compliment of summoning his two sensible married sisters to aid him with their counsel; and even they, though not lacking in decision as a rule, regarded first the Colonel's letter and then their brother with disturbed and doubtful eyes. He gave them no hint of the dreadful and disreputable change in their father's very being; that was positively too shocking to confide even to a sister (besides, they wouldn't have believed him), but he considered that the essentials of the problem were now fairly grasped by them both, and he was pleased to find a sympathetic unanimity of horror.
"He can't be allowed to go on disgracing himself in London; that much is perfectly clear," said Mrs. Ramornie.
"Not to speak of ruining us all," added Andrew.
"Can you not go and fetch him home?" asked Mrs. Donaldson.
Andrew pursed his lips.
"In the first place, would he come? You know how infernally obstinate he can be. In the second place, do we want him making an exhibition of himself here?"
"He would not have quite the opportunities here."
"Not for spending money, I admit; but we don't want him taking the chair and making speeches at the W.S. dinner to-morrow night in his present condition."
"Will he not remember and come back for it, anyhow?" suggested Mrs. Ramornie.
He shook his head.
"He has never spoken about it for a long while. I'm practically positive he has forgotten."
"But do you not need him at the office?" asked Mrs. Donaldson.
"I can only tell you," she replied, "that Hector says he gets through business in a most surprising way, for all his eccentricity."
"Very surprising," he retorted sarcastically.
"Oh," she said airily, "I know you fancy yourself, but Hector declares father is the man for his money nowadays."
Andrew's cheeks drooped gloomily. He had heard hints of this preposterous opinion once or twice lately, and they disgusted his sense of fitness. How could a man possibly be good at business if he rushed through it like a steam-engine? Supposing one of the telegraph posts at the side wanted a touch of tar, how could you notice it going at that pace! But what was the use in arguing with a woman?
"Well, I can only tell you this," he snapped: "there's Madge Dunbar waiting for him here with her mouth open."
The two sisters immediately relinquished all idea of bringing him home.
"But if we let him stay in London, he'll be bankrupt in a month!" cried Andrew desperately.
"What the deuce is to be done?"
They pondered for a few minutes in silence, and then Mrs. Ramornie exclaimed, with an inspired air—
"He must go abroad!"
"And how are you going to manage that?" inquired Andrew.
"You've got to go and take him."
"Me!" he cried. "But—but, dash it, Maggie, he'll never go with me."
"You will have to dissemble a little, of course; pretend you want a holiday too, and take him to—to, well, we must look up some inexpensive French watering-place."
Gertrude smiled her approval.
"That's the idea, Andrew! Go up in a white felt hat, and tell him you know of a naughty little place in France where you can get dancing. He'll jump at it!"
Their brother regarded them with ever-increasing gloom.
"That kind of thing is not in my line—" he began; but once more he was impressed with the disadvantages of a bi-sexual world. The two ladies seemed positively incapable of grasping his objections, either to wearing a Homburg hat or recommending a naughty French watering-place.
"I don't insist on its being white; grey will do," said Mrs. Donaldson.
"Of course, I should never dream of taking him to a really disreputable place," said Mrs. Ramornie; "you only want a Casino and a little promenading, and so on."
"It will be great fun, Andrew!"
"It is your duty, Andrew."
"Yes, yes; of course we know you are an Elder of the Kirk and all the rest of it; but on an occasion, don't you know, Andrew!"
"What alternative do you suggest, Andrew?"
Yet he was still hanging fire when Jean entered. It had been tacitly understood that her presence was not required at the council of war, and the marked silence which followed her entry might reasonably have warned her that matters were being discussed too complicated for young unmarried girls. Yet she closed the door behind her and came forward with a quietly resolute air.
"I've only just heard you were here," she said. "You are talking about father, I suppose."
"We are," replied Mrs. Ramornie briefly.
Jean sat down.
"What have you decided?" she asked.
"We have decided he should go abroad with Andrew for a little change."
"Do you need to ask why, Jean? Surely you don't want him to go on making a fool of himself in London?"
"I don't see why he shouldn't go to a dance occasionally if he wants to."
"Go to a dance!" exclaimed Mrs. Donaldson.
"My dear Jean! do you suppose this was an ordinary—"
"Hush, Gertrude," said their brother austerely.
"Anyhow," said Mrs. Ramornie, "it is quite settled that he must leave London at all costs, and that it is inadvisable he should return to Edinburgh at present."
"But Aunt Mary was only saying to-day that he has to preside at a dinner to-morrow night."
"Oh, he'll forget all about that," said Gertrude, "and, of course, we don't mean to remind him."
"Because he is not to be trusted at present," said Andrew.
A quick flush irradiated Jean's clear face.
"He is to be trusted. He is to be trusted far more than ever before in his life!"
The three counselors exchanged glances.
"We know better than you do," said Mrs. Ramornie severely.
But Jean was not easily to be quelled.
"I think it will be a perfect shame if you allow father to forget his engagement," she protested.
Her eldest sister's face grew more like Andrew's than ever.
"He must not come home at present, and we trust that Andrew will do his duty and not permit him to stay in London."
"Andrew!" exclaimed Jean. "How can he prevent him?"
Their brother hung back no longer.
"I shall go up to London to-morrow morning," he announced.
"Splendid!" cried Gertrude.
He looked at her coldly.
"I do not propose to do anything ridiculous. If I can get him to go to some place in the south of England and stop for a month or two, that will be quite sufficient; and I do not propose, either, to wear any other clothes than what I've got at present."
Having thus asserted his independence of conduct and apparel, he turned again to Jean.
"That is what we have decided," he said.
She jumped up, her lip quivering a little. Then she controlled herself, and as she left the room only said quietly—
"Thank you for telling me."
The council was then able to conclude its deliberations without further interruption.
After dinner that night, Andrew found Mrs. Dunbar alone in the drawing-room, and immediately turned to withdraw.
"Are you not going to have coffee, Andrew?" she asked.
There was something different in her manner; something almost nervous; something apparently less hostile. Andrew glanced at her suspiciously. What new move in her diabolical game did this signify?
"I've got letters to write," he answered coldly, and shut the door decisively behind him.
The fair widow sighed, and again picked up a letter lying in her lap and looked at it unhappily. She had kept her word and written to Charlie Munro, and unfortunately Heriot had forgotten to warn him that his answer to any such communication must be exceedingly discreet. No wonder she seemed distressed.
Naturally, the junior partner gave his fair enemy no information regarding his movements. She saw him leave in the morning as usual, apparently to go to the office, and it was not till some time later that she learned from his aunt of his departure for London. Curiously enough, she seemed rather pleased than otherwise by this move. Her correspondence with Colonel Munro had left the most unsettling effects.
Meanwhile, Andrew was nearing London. He was pleased to find his train arrive upon the stroke of 6:15, for he valued punctuality above everything except his reputation. From the station he drove to the large political club where he always put up, ate a dinner that exactly accorded with his station in life, and took a horse bus to the Hotel Gigantique. (Motor buses were only just beginning to be seen upon the streets at that time, and he was always suspicious of noisy innovations.)
By the merest chance, the first person he saw in the hall of the hotel was Frank, attired in overcoat and opera hat, and evidently bound for some extravagant expedition, the cost of which would no doubt be defrayed by his parent to the detriment of his brother's and sisters' patrimony.
"Well, Frank," said the elder brother, "where's your father?"
The "your" was a subtle indication of the depth to which Mr. Walkingshaw had fallen in the estimation of the right-minded.
"Out of town," said Frank briefly.
"Where's he gone?"
Frank shook his head.
"You can ask at the office," he suggested.