A Determined Young Person
A DETERMINED YOUNG PERSON.
BY W. PETT RIDGE.
JUPITER took out one or two stars that required repairing, and placed them on a thick, grey cloud to be attended to in the morning. Juno, looking casually through the book of engagements—it was a large book—wrinkled her brow, and hummed softly and thoughtfully to herself.
"That's enough of it," said Jupiter, crossly; "I know that tune."
"What were you thinking of?" asked Mercury, respectfully. Mercury had just seen that the mail trains were safely dispatched, and was keeping one eye on the railway system generally.
"I was thinking that it wouldn't be a bad plan," said Juno, "if it could be arranged, for no girl to be married more than once. Then we should get these figures something like right."
Jupiter snorted, and moved his lips silently as one who does not care to trust himself to speech. Mercury coughed, and remarked, diplomatically, that, of course, there was something in the idea, but——
"Well," said Juno. "But what?"
"I should like to tell a tale," said Mercury.
And he did.
Mr. Frank Northfleet was brushing his silk hat in his office in a state of great good spirits. He had changed into evening dress at the office of the Rorty Well Mining Company, and was going by Underground, Sloane Square way, to dinner.
"After dinner," said Mr. Frank Northfleet, "I shall go upstairs and I shall get her aunt to play, and, whilst the aunt is playing, I shall say, 'Kate, dear, I want to ask you to be my wife. I am earning——'"
There was a knock at the door—the clerks had gone—and Mr. Northfleet went to open it.
"Nime of Northfleet," said the telegraph boy.
"Thank you, my boy." Mr. Northfleet took the telegram. He was slightly anxious at the prospect of to-night's essay, and he thought it would be wise to propitiate the gods by being generous. "Just off home?"
"Rather," said the boy. "I shall be late, too. Going to the theatre."
"Good," said Mr. Northfleet. "Here's half-a-crown to pay for your seat."
"This," said the telegraph boy, as he took the coin and placed it with much good humour in his eye, "is a bit of all right."
Mr. Frank Northfleet opened the envelope.
"Mine partly flooded. Grierson gone. Come out.—Blenkinsop."
The young Secretary sat down in the chair and gasped. Half unconsciously he pulled off his dress tie. Then he rose and hurried to the telephone. The Chairman of the Company was abroad, and the Directors were quite useless. He felt that the responsibility for action rested with him alone.
"Is that Mr. Winstanley?"
"Can you go out by to-morrow morning's ship to our mines? There's trouble there. The Scot goes to-morrow."
A sound of whistling at the other end.
"I thought the water was going into the Rocky Gorge Mines. It's gone your way instead, then?"
"That's about it, Winstanley. Can you go?"
"Only too pleased. Two thousand pounds."
"Two thousand what?"
"That's my fee."
Argument had no effect in reducing this unprepossessing figure. Northfleet knew that he had no authority to expend this sum.
"Then I suppose I must go myself," said Northfleet with a sigh.
"Right you are. Good-night. You know where to find me if you change your mind. Russell Square."
Mr. Northfleet was shown into the drawing-room in Cheyne Gardens, and was welcomed by Mrs. Locke Hardinge and by Mrs. Locke Hardinge's mother. She was a very charming young person, Mrs. Hardinge; none the less charming for being just now very much in love. Mr. Frank Northfleet stated the case as briefly as possible.
"Mamma dear," said young Mrs. Hardinge, with some hurry. "Will you just see if everything is ready in the dining-room? You know what servants are."
She turned to Northfleet as soon as the obedient parent had disappeared.
"You are not really going, Mr. Northfleet?"
"Unfortunately I am. If I go from Waterloo to-night, I shall be able to buy a few things at Southampton to-morrow morning before I get on board to-morrow. I'm not like this expensive man, Winstanley; I want a few moments' notice."
"I'm—I'm very sorry you are going."
"So am I. As a fact"—he took her hand—"I was going to ask you to-night to be my wife."
She caught her breath for a moment, and did not answer.
"And if you care for me," went on Northfleet, "I shan't so much mind going. Absence will only make my heart grow fonder."
"Yes," she said, thoughtfully, "fonder of somebody in South Africa. Look here, Mr. Northfleet, I had money in the Rocky Gorge Mines, and that's all right now. I'll let you have the two thousand."
He did not hesitate for a moment.
"I couldn't take it, dear. It's very good of you, but——"
"I think you are very silly," she said, decidedly.
"Silly, perhaps," he said, "but not mean. I could not possibly be under so great an obligation to you, dear girl."
"Am I your dear girl?"
"Why, I hope so."
"But I may not be when you return. Do you happen to know, sir, how old I am now?"
"You are old enough to make me a dear, delightful——"
"Question, question. Do you know how old I am? I am twenty-four." Mr. Northfleet affected extreme surprise at the magnitude of the figure. "And when you return I shall be twenty-seven, and twenty-seven is getting on for thirty, and you will find some—some diamond merchant's daughter, or whatever the product of the country is, and—Don't go, I can so easily spare the money."
"I should feel, dearest love," said Frank Northfleet, "that I was doing a dishonourable thing, and you must please let me have my own way. My mind is quite made up. But I confess I wish I hadn't to go."
Mr. Frank Northfleet was at Waterloo Station at half-past nine that evening. It had been hard work to say good-bye to her, but they had managed to have a good long talk, and although he might be away for a couple of years, they were going to correspond very frequently. He took his ticket, and put his portmanteau in a first smoking.
"It wants ten minutes," said the guard. "What might be your name, sir, may I ask?"
"It might be, and indeed is, Northfleet."
"Would you mind stepping this way, please? Someone wants to see you."
A veiled Sister of Mercy! She was standing in the shadow of the bridge on the opposite side of the platform. She took Frank Northfleet by the hand.
"Zere is no time to loose," she said, in queer broken English. "Do not, if you please, say a single word."
"Listen to me, if you please." She led him a little aside.
"It is all goontrived ver' well, and the stolen bonds haf been sold."
"Oh," said Frank Northfleet, with a puzzled air. "That's a very good thing."
"We all leaf England at once, but you, of course, remain here; is it not so?"
"Naturally," he said.
It occurred to Mr. Northfleet that this would be a diverting incident for him to relate (with a little exaggeration) on the Scot to his fellow-voyagers. It also occurred to him that he would make the Sister of Mercy extremely young and handsome (which she was not, for there were lines of age on her face).
"Zey all send their best regards," continued the Sister of Mercy, "and zey hope you will be quite happy."
"Oh, I shall he all right," said Mr. Northfleot, laughingly. "Tell them not to worry about me."
"And you vill never forget me?"
"Never; I give you my word of that. But do you know somehow I almost forget the circumstances. It was rather—rather a startling affair, wasn't it?"
"It was gapitally managed," said the mysterious Sister of Mercy. "For my part I haf heen engaged in so excellent an affair never in all my life. I hope you von't spoil it."
"And the detectives?" Mr. Northfleet felt that it would make the incident more interesting if he could only get at the details, "Is there no fear from New Scotland Yard?"
"Police know nozzing," she said, with much exultation. "It has all been managed so admirable. Yoseph—you remember Yoseph?"
"I am not likely to forget Joseph," said Mr. Northfleet, acutely.
"He is abroad to America gone."
"That's a good thing. But I have a fearful memory, as you know——"
"You vas allevays forgetting somethings."
"Well," asked Northfleet, ingeniously, "where did the robbery take place?"
"Oh, you foony fellow," said the Sister of Mercy. "As if you didn't know quite well. You had no hand in it; but, of course, there is your share to gonsider."
"If you never see me again you will not forget me, eh?"
The question was put with some anxiety.
"It is not likely."
There was no harm in being polite to so old a woman.
"And now zere is but one zing to be done."
She felt in the bosom of her dress and looked anxiously at the clock.
"Oh," said Northfleet. "It's not really finished yet, then."
"Ah," said the Sister of Mercy, "allevays the merry one of the party. You like my disguise, eh?"
She had a small canvas bag in her hands.
"Oh, I think it capital," said Frank Northfleet, with an amused air. "You look exceedingly well in it; but I must take my seat in the train."
"First," she handed him the bag, "here is your share. Two thousand fife hundred pounds in notes. Goo'-bye."
She shook hands, turned hastily, and hurried away.
"Two thousand five hundred pounds," repeated Northfield, mechanically.
"You've dropped something, sir," said the guard. He held it up to the light. "As nice a 'undred-pound note as anyone might wish to see. You'd better take your seat, sir."
"Well, but—but there's some extraordinary blunder. This money is not mine!"
"I shall be 'appy," said the guard, politely, "to blew as much of it, sir, as you like to leave me in your will. There's nothing like possession in these matters."
"Can you stop that woman?"
"There's no stopping a woman, sir," said the guard, with the manner of one who knows the sex. "She's 'ooked it. Jump in, sir."
It was so obviously an act of Providence that it really seemed impious to hesitate further.
"I think I'd better not," cried Frank Northfleet. "Take my portmanteau out; I'm not going. Russell Square, cabman."
It was rather late that evening when Mrs. Locke Hardinge looked into the glass in her bedroom. The washing of her pretty face and the hard rubbing had not only removed the make-up, but had given to her cheeks—she had an excellent cheek—a glow which rouge, however well intentioned, never really attains. Her cheque-book was open on the dressing-table. On the bed lay the demure cap and white bands and gown of a Sister of Mercy.
"The trouble," said Mrs. Locke Hardinge, as she looked at the counterfoil of the cheque that she had that evening written, "the trouble that there is in this world to get married a second time and to find someone to cash a cheque for you after banking hours is—well, something tremendous."
Mercury, as he finished his story, moistened his lips with a passing shower.
"Now," he said, "what are you to do when there are such determined young women as that to deal with?"
Juno thought. She looked at Jupiter (who was asleep), and she remembered her Lemprière, and the anecdotes of her own early days contained therein.
"Ah, well," she said, tolerantly; "I suppose girls will be girls all the world over, especially young widows."