An Indispensable Confederate
AN INDISPENSABLE CONFEDERATE.
Miss Martha Coles came through the passage from the pit of the theatre into the frantic, lighted, excited, street, and stood for a moment to let the crowd pass whilst she patted her eyes with her handkerchief and sniffed. It had been a most affecting play. The misfortunes of the heroine, halting only ten minutes before the finish, had caused Miss Coles to weep unrestrainedly. She pulled her veil down over her face—it was not what fair-minded critics would call a pretty face—and hailed a 'bus.
"Right for Knightsbridge, I s'pose?" she remarked, as the 'bus stopped.
"Knightsbridge!" said the conductor, ringing the bell with much annoyance. "What's the idea of stopping a Shadwell 'bus when you want Knightsbridge? Cawn't you read what's on the side, or won't you? Where d'you reely want to go to?"
"Why," replied Miss Coles, shrilly, "a 'undred-and-thirty-two, Lowndes Square, of course!"
"Very well, then," shouted the conductor; "go!"
Miss Martha Coles, shivering with indignation, turned away. As she did so a short youth, in a very shiny silk hat, left the man to whom he was talking and stepped forward.
"Pardon me, miss," he said politely, "but did I understand you to say a hundred and thirty-two, Lowndes Square—Hon. Mrs. Linton's house?"
"I might 'ave done," said Miss Coles, guardedly.
"Then allow me to direct you. My friend and myself—here, captain!—are walking that way. Permit me to introduce my friend, Captain Mayhew. My name, is Bunn."
"I'm sure you're very kind!" began Miss Coles; "but——"
"My dear madam," said Captain Mayhew, fencing at a lamp-post with his malacca cane, "beauty in distress never appeals to an army man in vain."
"I 'ave a friend in the army," said Miss Coles, with less reserve; "name of Brown Colour-Sergeant Brown. I don't know whether you may have heard the name before?"
"Brown," said Captain Mayhew, with enthusiasm. "is one of the best fellows that ever wore Her Majesty's uniform! You've heard me speak of him, Bunn?"
"Over and over again!" said Mr. Bunn.
"Fancy that, now!" said Miss. Coles delightedly. "It just shows how small the world is, don't it? He's stationed at Aldershot just now, and, if all goes well——"
"The 'buses seem uncommonly full, captain!" said Mr. Bunn. "I wonder whether this young lady would mind if we walked on with her? It isn't quite the thing for a young girl with an attractive style to be seen alone."
Miss Martha Coles was no longer a young girl, and she had never been told that she possessed an attractive style. Even Corporal Brown, in his most complimentary moments, had never disguised from her his opinion that she lacked all the essentials of beauty, and that he admired her solely for her cautious and saving habits. The present testimonial was all the more welcome.
"I suppose," said Miss Coles, giggling, "that there is something in that, although for some reason I've never been pestered like some girls. But I don't want to take you out of your road."
Captain Mayhew said with much emphasis that it was all on his way home. Mr. Bunn said that where his friend Mayhew went, he went. They had been close pals, said Mr. Bunn, off and on for a good many weeks, and a better and a more straightforward man than the captain never breathed on this earth, so far as he knew. To which Captain Mayhew replied, guiding Miss Coles across the road, and swearing at a hansom cabman for splashing her dress—that his dear old chum was distinctly one of the best, and that he did not believe another man like him existed in the whole wide world.
"It's very nice," said Miss Coles. "to hear gentlemen talk like that to one another. What I mean to say is, it's so much nicer than quarrelling or calling each other names."
They crossed the Circus and walked along Piccadilly. A closed brougham emerged from the block of traffic and drove swiftly Green Park way. The light from the gas-lamp made the diamonds on the stout, red-necked lady within flash brilliantly. The mouths of the two men seemed to water.
"My word!" said Mr. Bunn; "they're good ones! Why, I don't suppose, Captain, that the Hon'ble Mrs. Linton's diamonds that they talk so much about are one-half as good as that lot. Not more than——"
"I beg your pardon, sir!" interrupted Miss Coles, with hauteur. "I 'appen to be 'ousemaid in the family, and I know all about my lady's diamonds, and where they're kept, and everything. So perhaps I may be allowed to say one word on the subject."
"It serves you right, Bunn!" said the captain, with simulation of much annoyance. "You talk, and talk, and talk, concerning things that you know nothing whatever about, in the presence of a charming and delicately-nurtured young lady, who knows the subject. Why can't you hold your row, and not let your tongue run on so? It isn't the first time I've had to complain about you. Don't let it happen again, mind, or else you and me will have a row!"
Miss Martha Coles, disturbed at the acerbity of the military gentleman's manner, acted as peacemaker, and Captain Mayhew, with some reluctance, shook hands with little Mr. Bunn. Any hope, however, that Miss Coles would impart valuable information was disappointed. That plain but estimable lady chattered on, but it was chatter of the kind usual with domestic servants, and referred mainly to the deceit and cunning of one Esther, a lady's maid, who in years gone by had intercepted a second-hand yellow silk dress destined for Miss Coles, but, by the wiles of the said Esther, diverted to a shop for cast-off clothing of all descriptions in Brompton Road.
"Well, I s'pose I must be saying good-night," said Miss Coles, arresting her conversation as they reached Hyde Park Corner. "I'm not so very far from 'ome now."
Captain Mayhew coughed, and said he would pet a cigar from the nearest shop, and leave his friend Bunn to say good-night. Mr. Bunn, standing on the refuge in the centre of the road and holding her cotton-gloved hand, said hurriedly, as his friend went off, that he hoped he would have the pleasure of seeing Miss Coles again. In a general way, one girl was to Mr. Bunn (he said) very much like another; but, somehow or other, Miss Coles's manner had attracted him. Might he see her to-morrow evening?
"Well, I scarcely know what to say!" answered Miss Coles modestly. "You see, the fact of the matter is——"
"What, no bracelet?" interrupted Mr. Bunn, looking at the space of red wrist above the one-buttoned glove. "I must bring you a nice bracelet to-morrow night. I've got a bit of money, and I'd rather spend it on a few nice presents for you than for anybody else."
"I'm sure you're awfully good!" said Miss Coles feelingly. "I will come out to-morrow evening, just for a few minutes. I sha'n't be able to stay long, mind!"
"May I have the honour of offering you a kiss?" said Mr. Bunn, respectfully.
"No, thank you!" said Miss Coles hastily. "I never care to allow that sort of thing."
"No offence meant, miss," said Mr. Bunn. "Tastes differ."
"I made up my mind long ago," said Miss Coles firmly, "that I never would allow myself to be kissed all over the shop like some girls, and I've always set my face against it as far as I could."
"Then till to-morrow evening," said Mr. Bunn genially, "good-bye."
And went off to meet his friend, Captain Mayhew.
Mr. Bunn did what promising lovers occasionally forget to do. He met Miss Coles as appointed, and, what was more, he brought the gold bracelet with him. Indeed, his demeanour as an admirer could scarcely he excelled. He took care to lift his hat repeatedly (as is notoriously done in the very highest circles), and he referred to his balance at the bank frequently, but always with a reluctant humility. The bracelet was followed by other presents, all calculated to make the feminine heart heat pleasantly. Miss Martha Coles accepted them, mentioning that she was not worthy of them, to which Mr. Bunn responded with much gallantry, "Nonsense!"
"I tell you what I should like, Martha, dear," said Mr. Bunn, when his acquaintance had lasted a week. They were walking in Kensington Gardens. "I should like above all things——"
"You mustn't call me dear," said Miss Coles, "and it's no use your asking again to let you kiss me. Girls can't be too particular."
"I'm not going to ask you to let me kiss you," said Mr. Bunn. "Nothing was further from my mind. What I was going to say was that I should like, above all things, to come into your place at Lowndes Square one evening, and just have what you may call a look round, and see the pictures and what not."
"I don't know that that could be managed."
"Oh, yes, it can. It's the easiest thing in the world. Choose a night when she's at the theatre, and not taken her diamonds, and when there are not too many people about, and I'll bring you that little gold watch I spoke about——"
"I've never had reely a gold watch."
"Well," said Mr. Bunn encouragingly, "now's your time, then. I shan't want to stay long in the place. I only just want to roam about a bit, and see how a really good-class house is furnished, and where things are kept. It's a hobby of mine."
"There are 'obbies and 'obbies," said Miss Coles.
"You don't mean to say," demanded Mr. Bunn indignantly, "that after all this time you can't trust me."
"Oh! no. I should be very sorry to say that. Only I couldn't manage it to-morrow evening, because I—well, I shall be rather busy to-morrow. But I tell you what I will do. I'll meet you at Hyde Park Corner, near the gates, at eleven to-morrow morning, and let you know definitely, and in the meantime I'll think it over."
"Fix it for an evening as early as you can," urged Mr. Bunn. "I'm a bit pressed for time, and I may have to leave London soon. I've got my living to make, and it don't do nowadays to let the grass grow under your feet to any great extent. Eleven o'clock to-morrow morning, mind."
"I shall be there," said Miss Coles.
And she was. A four-wheeled cab, with a driver who wore a large white dahlia in his coat, drew up at that hour at Hyde Park Corner, and when Miss Coles looked out, Mr. Bunn, with an expectant look, stepped briskly up to the door. He lifted his hat, and said it was a fine, bright day.
"I'm sorry that can't be arranged to-night as you wish it," said Miss Coles, looking out.
There was somebody else in the cab.
"That's a devil of a nuisance," said Mr. Bunn aggrievedly. "I particularly wanted to have a look in this evening. How is it I can't call?"
"Well, you see, it's like this. I'm leaving Lowndes Square to-day for good——"
"You're leaving?" shouted Mr. Bunn.
"And so," went on Miss Coles sweetly, "I can't very well ask you to call if I'm not going to be there to receive you. What say?"
The words that the disappointed Mr. Bunn was saying were so strong that the other occupant of the four-wheeler stepped out on the off-side and came round.
"Look here!" said ex-Colour-Sergeant Brown definitely, "softer language there, if you please. I don't want any unpleasantness on what I may call this my wedding morn, but if you don't stop I shall make you. And if you don't want a dressing down here, why, come up at any time after this week at our little gymnasium that Martha's money has helped me to open in Osnaburgh Street, and," ex-Colour-Sergeant Brown stepped back into the four-wheeler, "and instead of punching the ball I'll have a go at you. See?"
Mr. Bunn looked at the fist of ex-Colour Sergeant Brown, encased in an eight and three-quarter white kid glove.
"Yes," said Mr. Bunn, meekly, "I see."