A Millionaire's Romance
PARKER MAYNE was going to Europe again on the morrow, and Europe always attracted him until he got there; but to-night he was bored. As he walked toward his mansion in Fifth Avenue he reflected, with a yawn, that he had been bored more or less ever since he remembered—ever since he realized that he could wish for nothing that was unobtainable. He had been bored, as a child, in his great, play-rooms, with their ranges of mimic mountains and their mechanical bears; he had been bored at Harvard, bored in society. If he had kept a diary, how seldom the words, "I enjoyed myself to-day," would have figured in the chronicle of his life! The pleasures procurable by a multimillionaire were painfully few, thought Parker Mayne.
"Mr. Mayne, I want to speak to you!"
A young man had sprung in his way excitedly, a shabby young man with haggard eyes.
"I'm not taking any," said Mayne.
"You're going to hear me out," exclaimed the young man—"by heaven, you are! I'm not accustomed to stop strangers in the street, but I've done it now, and I'm going through with it, and you're going to listen!"
"There's a policeman spoiling for something to do at the corner of the block," remarked Mayne; "if you don't make yourself scarce, I shall beckon to him."
"What can you charge me with?"
"I shall charge you with annoying me."
"I have no wish to annoy you; I'm trying to speak civilly."
"What do you want?"
"I think I shall have to give it to the policeman," said Mayne; "it's the only work that I'm able to offer." He hesitated, and then loosened his overcoat and proffered a dollar bill. "Here, you can take this instead," he added, more suavely.
"Go to the devil," returned the young man.
Mayne replaced the bill, buttoned the coat, and regarded him with a shade of interest.
"As a matter of curiosity, how much did you expect me to give you?"
"Do you think I'm a beggar? I told you I wanted work."
"My good fellow, I don't carry work in my waistcoat pocket. Nor do people look for work in Fifth Avenue at twelve o'clock at night."
"I wasn't looking for it; I recognized you as you came along, and I spoke on impulse."
"You're an Englishman?"
"Yes, I'm an Englishman, a journalist. I've been in your heaven-forsaken city for eight months, and I can't earn salt here. I'm starving— desperate! You have millions; you own a newspaper—among other things that you've done nothing to deserve; give me a job on it!"
"I speak without experience," replied Mayne, "for I am not a business man; but if your applications for employment are usually made in this original fashion, I am not amazed that they fail."
"What a rotter you are!" cried the young man passionately. "What a worthless, heartless, selfish rotter! You flung away a fortune on a freak dinner last night, they say?"
"One must eat."
"You squander thousands on a dinner; you are fantastically and iniquitously rich; and I haven't a quarter in the world. Will you give me a berth?"
"Upon my word," exclaimed Mayne, smiling, "if I didn't understand that you were hysterical, I should think that you were mad. Come, I don't want the trouble of undoing my coat again for nothing—will you accept five dollars if you get the chance?"
"No, I won't! I won't accept a cent; I ask you for a billet, not for charity."
"Good night to you," said Mayne, passing on.
He walked for a few yards briskly, and then looked round. After an instant's vacillation he returned. The young man still stood where he had left him; the millionaire saw that he was crying.
"You'd better come in with me and have a drink," said Mayne; "I'm going home."
The young man stared at him dumbly.
"Come in with me," repeated Mayne; "and pray try to be rational!"
Together they went up the steps of the great brownstone house, and Mayne opened the door and led the way across the hall.
"Sit down," he said. "Drink this. And don't make any more indictments. Between ourselves, indictments aren't your strong point; you're too much of an egotist. If you had told me that the money I waste would relieve the wants of deserving and dirty multitudes, you'd have been ethically correct, though you would still have been damnably tedious. But your only complaint is that I haven't done anything for you. You're every bit as selfish as I am, you know. What's your name?"
"Why did you come to New York, Mr. Sinclair?"
"I wanted to get on, to make an income, a position; I thought it might be done quicker here, and——"
Parker Mayne's eyebrows rose high; he did not speak.
"What do you say to that?" asked Sinclair, a shade defiantly. The whisky he had gulped was beginning to tell on him.
"I have said nothing."
"Which means that you think me a fool?"
"All of us are fools," said Parker Mayne genially; "but the boy in your position—you must be four or five years my junior, and will allow me to refer to you as a 'boy'—the boy in your position who complicates his predicament by proposing marriage certainly seems to me to deserve the gold medal for imbecility."
For answer, the other pulled a photograph from his pocket, and held it out with, an air of triumph. "I've a pretty fair excuse, though! What?" he said.
It was the photograph of a girl of three or four and twenty. The features were not classical,—the mouth was too wide, the nose was a shade tip-tilted,—but it appeared to Parker Mayne to be the most captivating face that he had seen in his life. He looked at it for a long time.
"Yes, she's lovely," he said, returning it. "I congratulate you."
"And she's as charming as she's lovely," declared the young man. "Do you wonder at me now?"
"No," said Mayne; "no, I don't wonder at you if she's like that photograph." He wondered at the girl, wondered at himself—that he was capable of being so stirred. "How long have you been engaged?"
"Five years—and there didn't seem any prospect of things righting themselves at home, so I thought I'd try my luck in the States. Every mail I've hoped for good news to send her. If I could get a decent berth here, she'd come over to me."
"What's your idea of a decent berth?"
"Oh, well, we could live cheaply enough. Five hundred a year—pounds, I mean—would sound affluence to her."
"Really?" exclaimed Mayne. "That girl? She must be very fond of you?"
"Of course she's fond of me. Besides, everything is relative—she hasn't got much at home; her people aren't well off any more, and it's pretty dull for her since they left London."
"Oh, she's not in London?"
"No; they had to give their house up. They're living in the country, near Tunbridge Wells—a village called Rusthall. Life in New York, on two or three thousand dollars a year, would be gaiety compared with what she's got."
"Extraordinary!" murmured Mayne. "Well, Mr. Sinclair, I've brought you in here, and I suppose I've raised some expectations. I don't know what sort of journalist you are, but I'll give you a letter to the editor, and you had better go and talk to him to-morrow. He will offer you a position to relieve your immediate anxieties, and, if you're in earnest, I guarantee that you shall be earning more than two or three thousand dollars a year in six months' time. Is it good enough?"
"I don't know how to thank you!" faltered the young man, jumping up flushed and trembling. "I don't know how to apologize for some of the things I've said. You've heaped coals of fire on my head. It sounds like a fairy tale."
"It's all right," said Mayne, smiling. "You needn't be too grateful—I'm doing it as much for Miss—er——?"
"As much for Miss Weston as for you. If you'll excuse me, I'll write the note at once, for I want to turn in early to-night."
When the young man left the house, he bore a letter for which any member of the staff would have exchanged his position; and the millionaire, whose fancy had been captured by a photograph, sat thinking of the young man's fiancée.
As Parker Mayne had humored his whims all his life, it was the most natural thing in the world that, instead of crossing to Calais when he reached England, he traveled to Tunbridge Wells. He was eager to know the girl, and he salved his conscience by reminding himself that he had the right to know her—wasn't he playing the part of a philanthropist and putting her lover in a position to marry her? What could be more natural, in the circumstances, than that he should, desire her acquaintance?
However, he was a little doubtful how to make it, because he was aware that his interest in her was not in the least philanthropic. If he told her who he was, and how he had heard of her, she would, of course, announce his arrival to Sinclair in her next letter, and Sinclair might be suspicious. On the other hand, it would probably be a tiresome business to obtain an introduction unless he mentioned Sinclair's name.
At a hotel in Tunbridge Wells he inscribed himself simply, "P. Mayne, from London"; and, after luncheon, he took a fly to Rusthall, wondering what he was going to do when he got there. But for the consciousness that his true motives were highly discreditable, he would have enjoyed the drive; the day was fair, the country was delightful, and to seek a woman, instead of being sought by her, was a piquant change. He had ascertained the address from a local directory, and on the outskirts of the village he dismissed the cab and decided to continue the adventure on foot. He had no clearly defined reason for the course, but, as luck would have it, he hadn't wandered for more than five minutes when he saw her.
She was coming out of the post-office in the High Street, and he thought she looked "like a girl in a picture," with her white frock and shade hat. What a carriage; what a complexion; what a neck!
"Great Scott!" mused Parker Mayne. "How I'd like to take her to Paris for a month, and buy frocks and jewelry for her!"
She passed him with no more than the glance that every one accords a stranger in a village, and Mayne followed her, resolving to cut the preliminaries short, and present himself in propria persona—he would talk of "being in the neighborhood," and of his "interest in our young friend." Now she struck across the common; the bushes were highly inconvenient to him,—for, keeping at some little distance from her, he was always missing the track,—but she drew him like a lodestone, and, blundering on, he presently saw her make an unexpected swerve and disappear through a garden gate. His first glance showed him that the gate bore the name he had discovered in the directory; his second revealed the surprising inscription, "Furnished Apartments," on a card in a window.
"My! it's a lodging-house," said Parker Mayne to himself. "Just think of it, they let apartments! I can go and stay there, and talk to her all day long. Oh, this is luck, luck priceless and purple!
She was a village maiden,
And a wicked dude was he.
I'll call myself 'Brown'—nice, unaffected name, 'Brown.' I'll call myself 'Brown,' and board with them, blessed if I don't—even if I have to go to Tunbridge Wells and dine on the sly!" And, pushing back the gate, he made blithely for the front door.
But he saw the girl again before he reached it; she was sitting in a chair on the lawn; so he stopped before her.
"Can you tell me," he asked, "if this is Mrs. Weston's?"
"Yes," she said. "My mother is out."
Her eyes were gray, heavily fringed, and her instep was superlative. Mayne noted the point as he took his hat off. He reflected again how amusing it would be to provide her with the kind of clothes that she deserved.
"I understood that furnished apartments were to be had here," he said; "I don't know if I have made any mistake?"
No," she said, rising; "we have rooms to let. What do you want?"
"I—I want a parlor and, a bedroom," he answered.
"Are they for yourself?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I say, are they for yourself? I mean, are they for anybody else as well?"
"Oh, I beg your pardon again," he murmured. "I am, as you may notice, an American—the technicalities of taking furnished apartments in England are unknown to me. No, they are not for anybody else as well; I am alone."
"If you will come inside," said the girl, "I'll call the servant to show them to you."
Mayne did not waste much time with the servant. He returned, professing his contentment.
"And the terms?" he questioned.
The girl looked confused. "I'm afraid I don't know," she said. "My mother will be back directly, if you don't mind waiting. We haven't let rooms before, and——"
"I understand," said Mayne. "I hope I sha'n't prove a trouble to you."
"It's for us," she said, "to hope we shall be able to make you comfortable. I must warn you that our servant is not a chef."
"It is quite astonishing, the difference between the two countries!" remarked Mayne meditatively. "Now, in America, it is not the custom for the proprietress to advise an intending boarder to go somewhere else."
Miss Weston smiled. Then she was again perplexed.
"What is wrong now?" inquired Mayne.
"You said 'boarder'—this isn't a boarding-house."
"But—but sha'n't I be able to get anything to eat here?"
"Oh!" she laughed. And, by the time the conversation was interrupted, Mayne had established quite charming relations with her.
He moved in on the morrow, and was gratified to discover that she spent a good many of her leisure hours in the garden. The garden was his natural lounging-place, and, as the mother busied herself in the house and the younger girls were at school, "Mr. Brown" and Helen—he had learned that her name was Helen—were together a great deal.
But he did not perceive any coquetry in her; he could not flatter himself that her manner was promising. It was informal, friendly, but not promising. She was rather too earnest for his taste, as a matter of fact; if she had not been so beautiful, she would have bored him at the beginning. At the beginning!
By degrees he began to feel as warm an admiration for her character as he felt for her face. She was not only like a girl in a picture, she was like a girl in a book. She spoke of her responsibilities, her duties. Responsibilities and duties were things that Parker Mayne was unaccustomed to hear mentioned. And, besides speaking of them, she appeared to fulfil them, for there were long mornings and wearisome afternoons when he yawned on the lawn alone; and, when he reproached her afterward, she explained that she had been making the beds, or the pudding, or a frock for one of her sisters. To please him, she brought some of her work outside occasionally; and Mayne helped her shell peas, wondering what the Johnnies in New York would say if they could see him, and especially if they could know how he was feeling.
"You're a downright astonishment to me," he said to her once. "Do you know. Miss Weston, I didn't dream that women were made so good as you."
"You're not to chaff me," she said, with a plaintive smile. "I'm afraid I'm rather wicked."
"How?" he asked. Somehow, he didn't want to hear now that she was wicked; he liked her to be good, and grave, and different from everybody else, and from all that he had wanted her to be at the outset.
She sighed. "I'm not always as contented as I ought to be."
"It amazes me that you can be as contented as you are."
"Why? Does my life seem such a miserable one to you?"
"It seems very peaceful and very sweet; but when I think of women who have their motors and diamonds, and all that, and compare them with you—well, it's considerably rough that you aren't making a splash with the best of them, and cutting them all out."
She let her needlework fall to her lap for a moment, and looked dreamily across the apple trees. "I don't think that is my idea of happiness, Mr. Brown," she said. "Are you so anxious to be rich?"
"I? Oh,no; I'm satisfied enough. But I'm a man; women were meant to have their share of candy in the world."
"The sweetest candy to a woman is—love," she answered. "A woman would rather marry the man she loved, even if he were poor, than sell herself for all the motors and diamonds in London."
"I have heard women say so—in novels," said Parker Mayne; "but in real life——"
"In real life you've heard at least one woman say so!"
"Don't you think a rich man can love as well as a poor one?" exclaimed Mayne jealously. "Why must the hero always be a beggar?"
"I would not have my hero a beggar," she replied. "He should work and succeed and make a name that I was proud to share. Besides——"
"Besides, I am human enough to wish for pretty things; I'm not fond of poverty at all; I should like to be rich. Only I put love first. I say that I would rather marry a poor man whom I loved than a millionaire whom I didn't care for."
"And assuming you loved a millionaire?" persisted Mayne.
"Assuming I loved a millionaire,—it's a fantastic supposition, for millionaires don't grow in Rusthall,—but if I did I should be very unhappy. For one thing, the millionaire would find nothing to attract him in a girl like me; and, for another, I'm engaged."
"I beg your pardon. I——" His surprise was very well done. "It was awfully stupid of me, but I never noticed your ring before!"
"So, you see, it's to be hoped that I don't fall in love with the millionaire!"
"Even if he did find something in you to attract him?"
"Even then," she said—"since I'm not free."
"But—of course, it's fanciful ground—but an engagement may be broken. You don't mean to say that, if you cared for somebody else who wanted you, you'd marry your fiancé still?"
"If the somebody else were a millionaire," she said, "he would never hear that I cared for him. Yes, for love it is just possible that I might break off my engagement; but I should want my love to be understood. A millionaire would always doubt it in his heart of hearts—he would always think I had been disloyal for the sake of his wealth."
"If I were a millionaire," said Mayne, "I should be only too ready to believe anything of the kind you told me!"
"Suppose we talk sensibly for a change?" she suggested; and there was a shade of reproof in her manner toward him for the rest of the afternoon that made her perfectly irresistible.
Before he had been in the place a fortnight, he was, for once in his career, wholesomely in love. The worldling who had mocked the matrimonial snares of society had succumbed to the charm of a country girl; the libertine who had desired to take her to Paris for a month now asked nothing better than to make her his wife. More extraordinary than all, the multimillionaire had lost faith in the efficacy of his millions.
And honestly and humbly he wooed her as "Mr. Brown."
He had no compunction in trying to cut Sinclair out, especially as, for all he had hinted to the contrary, he might have been no better off than Sinclair himself, and the element of romance was both novel and pleasant to him. His only regret was that he "hadn't played straight" in coming there—he wished that he had met her by accident. He would have liked to be able to look her in the eyes unburdened by any self-reproach, wanted to feel worthier of her—in fine, he experienced a great number of emotions natural to a man when he yields to an ennobling influence.
One evening he told her something of the kind. They had been loitering on the garden path, scenting the stocks and verbenas, and then she said that she must go in, as she had a letter to write.
"Won't it keep? Is it so important?"
"I have to write to New York," she murmured; "I ought to have written this afternoon—it's mail day."
"Ah," said Mayne. And they took a turn on the path in silence.
"How long have I been here, Miss Weston?"
"It must be nearly a month, isn't it? Why? Are you beginning to find it dull?"
"I was thinking how much may happen in a little while. I wonder if you know what a lot of good the month has done me?"
"It's considered a very healthy place."
"The place? Oh, yes; but I wasn't speaking of the place. I meant you—our talks together. They have given me different ideas, different aims. Until I knew you I never wanted any more of life than a 'good time.’"
"I don't understand," she said; "I didn't know that I had ever said anything particularly high-minded. Besides, if you were such a worldly sort of man as you pretend, I should simply have bored you; you wouldn't have found anything to talk to me about, and I don't think that I should have cared to talk to you."
"Do you care to talk to me? Will you miss me when I have gone?"
She did not speak for an instant. Then she said gravely: "Yes, I shall miss you."
"We've become very good friends, haven't we?"
"No," exclaimed Mayne. "I'm not your friend at all—I adore you, I want you for my wife!"
"Ah, don't!" she faltered. The note of pain in her voice made him wince. Momentarily, he almost felt that it would be brutal to say any more.
"Didn't you know?" he stammered.
"I—I was afraid," she owned. "Oh, why has it happened! I'm so sorry—I hate to give you pain!"
"Am I nothing to you, then?" he said blankly.
She was silent again. They had paused at the gate; he could see that she was trembling as they leaned there.
"Am I nothing to you?" he repeated. And then suddenly she covered her face with her hands and sobbed.
"Helen," he cried, "I love you, I worship you, I can't live without you. Won't you tell me that you like me a little bit?"
"I haven't the right to tell you," she said brokenly. "You know I'm not free."
"Right?" he echoed indignantly. "You haven't the right to marry a man you aren't fond of—you haven't the right-to spoil your own life and mine for the sake of a promise that means nothing any more! Helen?"
"I must do my duty," she whispered.
"Your duty is to be honest, to do the straight thing. Can't you see that?"
"To break my word to him?"
"To tell him the truth. Do you think it would be fair to marry him, when you care for me?"
"I hadn't thought of it like that," she said irresolutely.
"But it's the only way to think of it! Isn't it? Isn't it?"
"I don't know—I have always felt a promise to be so sacred; and I want to be brave."
"You are a saint," said Parker Mayne. "You are the noblest and sweetest woman ever made; but in this you must let me guide you! You belong to me—and the conscientious course is to write him the truth in your letter to-night. You're not afraid of trusting yourself to me, are you? I can promise that your mother shall be satisfied, when I talk to her."
"I'm not afraid of anything but doing wrong," said the girl, looking up at him—and then all resistance left her, and he took her in his arms.
She wrote to Sinclair, while Mayne waited for her on the lawn. The blind was up, and he watched her as she wrote. This is what she was writing:
My dear old Harry:
I fancy that you and I have both outlived the spoony stage, though we shall always understand each other, so I don't kid myself that you'll take to drink hearing that I am engaged to somebody else. It's Parker Mayne, if you please! (What price your prospects now—pretty healthy, eh?) He turned up here, "guessing" he wanted apartments, and calling himself "Brown." If you hadn't told me that it was my photograph that did the trick that night, I shouldn't have tumbled; but that gave me the tip, and when he never sent any washing, I cast an orb over his chest of drawers and found that all his linen was marked "P. M." Inquiries at the Wells hotels made it a dead cert. He's smashed on my nobility of character—and, between ourselves, I've been pretty noble, too—needleworked and housekept over him all day! It wouldn't have fetched you, but every man to his taste. I'll make you editor-in-chief if you're good, and, when I'm scattering the oof in New York, you shall take me out sometimes. I can't stop to write any more—he's going to tell me who he is in a minute; and I've got to get my amazement ready.
Your sincere pal, Helen.
"Nearly done, my sweet?" asked Mayne, lounging to the window.
"Nearly," said Miss Weston, raising her earnest eyes.