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- Hilda Wade - 10/52 -
beastly old bore C. were at Halifax--which is where he comes from and then I would fly at once to my own dear Reggie! But, hang it all, Reggie boy, what's the good of true love if you haven't got the dibs? I MUST have my comforts. Love in a cottage is all very well in its way; but who's to pay for the fizz, Reggie?' That's her refinement, don't you see? Sissie's awfully refined. She was brought up with the tastes and habits of a lady."
"Clearly so," I answered. "Both her literary style and her liking for champagne abundantly demonstrate it!" His acute sense of humour did not enable him to detect the irony of my observation. I doubt if it extended much beyond oyster shells. He handed me the letter. I read it through with equal amusement and gratification. If Miss Sissie had written it on purpose in order to open Cecil Holsworthy's eyes, she couldn't have managed the matter better or more effectually. It breathed ardent love, tempered by a determination to sell her charms in the best and highest matrimonial market.
"Now, I know this man, C.," I said when I had finished. And I want to ask whether you will let me show him Miss Montague's letter. It would set him against the girl, who, as a matter of fact, is wholly unwor--I mean totally unfitted for him."
"Let you show it to him? Like a bird! Why, Sissie promised me herself that if she couldn't bring 'that solemn ass, C.,' up to the scratch by Christmas, she'd chuck him and marry me. It's here, in writing." And he handed me another gem of epistolary literature.
"You have no compunctions?" I asked again, after reading it.
Not a blessed compunction to my name."
"Then neither have I," I answered.
I felt they both deserved it. Sissie was a minx, as Hilda rightly judged; while as for Nettlecraft--well, if a public school and an English university leave a man a cad, a cad he will be, and there is nothing more to be said about it.
I went straight off with the letters to Cecil Holsworthy. He read them through, half incredulously at first; he was too honest- natured himself to believe in the possibility of such double- dealing--that one could have innocent eyes and golden hair and yet be a trickster. He read them twice; then he compared them word for word with the simple affection and childlike tone of his own last letter received from the same lady. Her versatility of style would have done honour to a practised literary craftsman. At last he handed them back to me. "Do you think," he said, "on the evidence of these, I should be doing wrong in breaking with her?"
"Wrong in breaking with her!" I exclaimed. "You would be doing wrong if you didn't,--wrong to yourself; wrong to your family; wrong, if I may venture to say so, to Daphne; wrong even in the long run to the girl herself; for she is not fitted for you, and she IS fitted for Reggie Nettlecraft. Now, do as I bid you. Sit down at once and write her a letter from my dictation."
He sat down and wrote, much relieved that I took the responsibility off his shoulders.
"DEAR MISS MONTAGUE," I began, "the inclosed letters have come into my hands without my seeking it. After reading them, I feel that I have absolutely no right to stand between you and the man of your real choice. It would not be kind or wise of me to do so. I release you at once, and consider myself released. You may therefore regard our engagement as irrevocably cancelled.
"Nothing more than that?" he asked, looking up and biting his pen. "Not a word of regret or apology?"
"Not a word," I answered. "You are really too lenient."
I made him take it out and post it before he could invent conscientious scruples. Then he turned to me irresolutely. "What shall I do next?" he asked, with a comical air of doubt.
I smiled. "My dear fellow, that is a matter for your own consideration."
"But--do you think she will laugh at me?"
"I am not in not in Daphne's confidence," I answered. "I don't know how she feels. But, on the face of it, I think I can venture to assure you that at least she won't laugh at you."
He grasped my hand hard. "You don't mean to say so!" he cried. "Well, that's really very, kind of her! A girl of Daphne's high type! And I, who feel myself so utterly unworthy of her!"
"We are all unworthy of a good woman's love," I answered. "But, thank Heaven, the good women don't seem to realise it."
That evening, about ten, my new friend came back in a hurry to my rooms at St. Nathaniel's. Nurse Wade was standing there, giving her report for the night when he entered. His face looked some inches shorter and broader than usual. His eyes beamed. His mouth was radiant.
"Well, you won't believe it, Dr. Cumberledge," he began; "but--"
"Yes, I DO believe it," I answered. "I know it. I have read it already."
"Read it!" he cried. "Where?"
I waved my hand towards his face. "In a special edition of the evening papers," I answered, smiling. "Daphne has accepted you!"
He sank into an easy chair, beside himself with rapture. "Yes, yes; that angel! Thanks to YOU, she has accepted me!"
"Thanks to Miss Wade," I said, correcting him. "It is really all HER doing. If SHE had not seen through the photograph to the face, and through the face to the woman and the base little heart of her, we might never have found her out."
He turned to Hilda with eyes all gratitude. "You have given me the dearest and best girl on earth," he cried, seizing both her hands.
"And I have given Daphne a husband who will love and appreciate her," Hilda answered, flushing.
"You see," I said, maliciously; "I told you they never find us out, Holsworthy!"
As for Reggie Nettlecraft and his wife, I should like to add that they are getting on quite as well as could be expected. Reggie has joined his Sissie on the music-hall stage; and all those who have witnessed his immensely popular performance of the Drunken Gentleman before the Bow Street Police Court acknowledge without reserve that, after "failing for everything," he has dropped at last into his true vocation. His impersonation of the part is said to be "nature itself." I see no reason to doubt it.
THE EPISODE OF THE WIFE WHO DID HER DUTY
To make you understand my next yarn, I must go back to the date of my introduction to Hilda.
"It is witchcraft!" I said the first time I saw her, at Le Geyt's luncheon-party.
She smiled a smile which was bewitching, indeed, but by no means witch-like,--a frank, open smile with just a touch of natural feminine triumph in it. "No, not witchcraft," she answered, helping herself with her dainty fingers to a burnt almond from the Venetian glass dish,--"not witchcraft,--memory; aided, perhaps, by some native quickness of perception. Though I say it myself, I never met anyone, I think, whose memory goes quite as far as mine does."
"You don't mean quite as far BACK," I cried, jesting; for she looked about twenty-four, and had cheeks like a ripe nectarine, just as pink and just as softly downy.
She smiled again, showing a row of semi-transparent teeth, with a gleam in the depths of them. She was certainly most attractive. She had that indefinable, incommunicable, unanalysable personal quality which we know as CHARM. "No, not as far BACK," she repeated. "Though, indeed, I often seem to remember things that happened before I was born (like Queen Elizabeth's visit to Kenilworth): I recollect so vividly all that I have heard or read about them. But as far IN EXTENT, I mean. I never let anything drop out of my memory. As this case shows you, I can recall even quite unimportant and casual bits of knowledge when any chance clue happens to bring them back to me."
She had certainly astonished me. The occasion for my astonishment was the fact that when I handed her my card, "Dr. Hubert Ford Cumberledge, St. Nathaniel's Hospital," she had glanced at it for a second and exclaimed, without sensible pause or break, "Oh, then, of course, you're half Welsh, as I am."
The instantaneous and apparent inconsecutiveness of her inference took me aback. "Well, m'yes: I AM half Welsh," I replied. "My mother came from Carnarvonshire. But, why THEN, and OF COURSE? I fail to perceive your train of reasoning."
She laughed a sunny little laugh, like one well accustomed to receive such inquiries. "Fancy asking A WOMAN to give you 'the train of reasoning' for her intuitions!" she cried, merrily. "That shows, Dr. Cumberledge, that you are a mere man--a man of science, perhaps, but NOT a psychologist. It also suggests that you are a confirmed bachelor. A married man accepts intuitions, without
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