An Ingenious Pair
AN INGENIOUS PAIR.
The Lucania was within a few hours of bumping against the tender at Liverpool. Folk were on deck who had not been on deck since the start, and were guessing the time still to be occupied with some want of luck. Certain people are altogether at sea when they are on board ship.
"I must finish packing up," said Miss Carr.
"There is no hurry," urged Mr. Moorgate.
"There will be if I don't begin at once. Madame Welby—she's the contralto, you know, in our concert party—she began to pack up soon after we left New York. I thought that was a little too previous."
"I want to say something to you before we say good-bye at Liverpool."
"You Members of Parliament are always anxious to deliver addresses," said Miss Carr sedately.
"I haven't much to say. I only want——"
Two ladies were coming near. Miss Carr sprang up from her deck chair with the quickness that youth—and alas! only youth—enjoys.
"Write," she said in a half whisper. The two American ladies were very near.
"Perhaps I shall do it better that way," confessed young Mr. Moorgate, M.P. "It's a subject which I have not hitherto treated."
"Be sure to be very careful then," she said brightly.
Miss Carr went quickly down the gangway, and Moorgate walked away to smoke, and to think out the wording of his letter. He was—so the newspapers said—a Member of much ability, but this task was one that tested his capabilities. He selected from his case the pleasantest-looking cigar that it contained.
"She don't seem to give him too much encouragement, Trixy," said Mrs. Penbether to her daughter.
Miss Trixy Penbether was a flat young lady with pince-nez that gripped her nose in a way that made everybody else's eyes water.
"I don't know that that ain't the best plan," said Miss Penbether thoughtfully. "I'm a bit afraid I've overdone the encouragement racket. Seems to me it ain't a bad idea to play a little 'stand your distance' sort of tune."
"All depends on the man, Trixy."
"That's true." Miss Penbether sighed, and took a piece of gum from her pocket. "Pity so much should depend on the man, but it is so, and it's no use dodgin' the fact. Where did you say his country place was, ma?"
Ma repeated the information.
"If there was anything else now that we could think of," went on Miss Penbether, "any way of crabbin' the deal of this Carr girl, I'd like to give it a chance. Can you think of anything, ma?"
"Not jest for the moment, my girl."
"I wonder now——"
"You've done your best, Trixy," said her mother soothingly, "you can't do more'n your best."
"Some other girl can, p'raps. She'll go right away to her mother, I reckon, won't she? Mr. Moorgate's going to London, because he's due at the House."
"That's how it's going to pan out, my girl. If we can only keep 'em apart till we get on the cars so much the better for our little game."
Mr. Moorgate strolled back, and sat down in his deck chair. He had hummed thoughtfully a line or two of a gavotte before he noticed his American friends.
"Glad to be at your journey's end, Mrs. Penbether?"
"We're sorry to say good-bye to our friends," answered Miss Penbether for her mother. "It's been a great time this last six days," she sighed. "I don't seem like the same girl."
"I can assure you that you are," said Mr. Moorgate reassuringly. "I have watched you carefully, and I should have been the first to notice any change."
"Should have thought you'd been too much engaged with that girl in the concert company. What's her name, ma? Carr, ain't it?"
"I like Miss Carr very much," said Moorgate.
"So do a lot of people I reckon. I s'pose these girls lost count of their sweethearts. There's so many of 'em. Which way do you go from Liverpool, Mr. Moorgate?"
"I go on to London, after I——" He stopped. "I'm not quite sure whether I shall go by the special or not."
"We'll come and hear one of your debates at the House of Repre——mean to say the House of Commons."
"I thought you were over for pleasure?"
"And business combined," interposed Mrs. Penbether.
"I suppose this Carr girl goes home to her mother from Liverpool, Mr. Moorgate?"
"I am sorry to say that I know nothing definite of Miss Carr's future action. She is an independent young person, and she generally performs just as she likes."
Miss Trixy Penbether looked at her mother, and her left eyelid moved.
"Only met her on this voyage, have you, Mr. Moorgate?"
"Only on this voyage."
"What do you mean by 'ah'?" demanded Moorgate, M.P., hotly. The ejaculations of ladies are sometimes marvellously effective.
"Nothin' much, Mr. Moorgate. By-the-bye, I want you to write your name in this book you gave me coming across on the—— Got a pencil?"
Moorgate almost snatched the book from Miss Penbether. He also took the proffered pencil.
"Write 'sincerely yours' or 'affectionately yours,' Mr. Moorgate. You're the first English senator we've ever struck, you know."
He wrote his name without any endearing preface, and walked away.
"Reckon he's mad about somethin'," said Trixy Penbether.
"There's no counting for these high-bred men," explained her mother.
"If I don't have him," said Miss Penbether, "I'll bet my last nickel that she shan't."
"’Taint likely," said her mother, "we’ll see to that."
The concert party was so busily engaged in packing up that Moorgate was unable to get within speaking distance of Miss Carr. Words of admiration cannot with convenience be shouted into a cabin occupied by (in addition to one's heart's desire) a matronly contralto and a number of bags and things. All that young Mr. Moorgate could do was to give the deck steward a letter.
Which he did.
"I'll call for the answer in ten minutes' time, miss," said the deck steward.
"Make it twenty minutes," said Miss Carr.
Her hand trembled as she opened the envelope. She opened it very carefully, as folks do who are dealing with a communication which they desire to preserve all their life.
"With great pleasure, miss."
The civility of deck stewards is always great when the ship is within a few hours of Liverpool—it absolutely knows no bounds.
"Who is your letter from, dear?" asked Miss Welby. Miss Welby, not to be denied the pleasure of packing up, was unpacking a trunk, "What do you think of this lace trimming? Looks neat and rather smart, don't you think?"
"You didn't say who your letter was from, dear?"
"Didn't I, Miss Welby? It's about an engagement."
"What shall you sing?"
"I think I shall wait and see."
"Have you got an accompanist?"
"Yes. I think the accompanist is pretty safe. What did you wear when you were married, Welby?"
"Haven't I ever told you?" asked the delighted contralto.
"I daresay. But I've forgotten. Tell me all over again."
"Well, dear" (with infinite relish), "I'll tell you all about it from beginning to end. I met Mr. Welby at a dance given at——"
"I know that part. Tell me what you wore."
"Why, you know, that rather delicate shade of grey, don't you, that was so fashionable a few——"
Mrs. Penbether and her daughter having seen the letter delivered, and having interrogated the steward, hurriedly completed the details of their scheme. Miss Penbether went to her cabin and wrote this note:—
"My dear Mr. Moorgate,—I am in receipt of your note. I feel deeply flattered by your kind offer, but it is quite impossible for me to accept it. I am pledged to someone else.
"Please do not refer to the subject again. Leave the tender at Liverpool, and do not speak to me.—Yours faithfully, "Alice Carr."
There was some writing of Miss Carr's on a portrait which had been sold on the night a concert was given on deck in aid of the Sailors' Home. Miss Penbether contrived to get a very fair imitation of the style.
"Now I'll address it," she said.
She did so.
"And now to catch that man," said Miss Penbether, "and then to watch the fun."
"That's the ticket," said her mother agreeably. "We'd better not keep together, though. It'll want smart handling, this job. Your pa'll laugh like anything when we tell him about it."
"This is jest about pa's size," agreed Miss Penbether. She licked the envelope carefully and stuck it down and gave it a decisive dab. "It's a bit rough on the singing girl, but bless my stars, if we was to consider everybody's feelings in this world where should we be?"
"That's what your pa often says, Trixy."
There was the usual bustle at Liverpool. Nearly everybody very much hurried, and hot and confused, nearly everybody complaining of nearly everybody else for getting so persistently in their way. The train left Lime Street at six for Euston, and Mrs. and Miss Penbether settled down in the saloon with an air of satisfaction.
"That's all right, Trixy, my girl."
"Yes, ma. Dried pretty straight, didn't it?"
"I asked him to call on us at the First Avenue Hotel, and he said he would."
"Bully," said Miss Penbether. "Didn't come by this train, did he?"
"No. Said he had something to see to at Liverpool."
"If he don't call soon, we'll ring him up on the tel'phone from the hotel. It don't do to lose time in matters of this kind."
"The whole business looks pretty prosperous, I fancy. Looks like a successful deal. Course, it's one thing to have shunted her and another thing to get myself on the track. But if it all pans out well it'll be jest lovely to be Mrs. Moorgate, M.P."
"It'd make one or two of the back number girls at home sit up."
"I'm thinking specially about Abby Furnleaf."
They both laughed with great good humour. Mrs. Penbether, when she had wiped her eyes, turned to her daughter with an air of seriousness.
"You'll never forget, I hope, Trixy, that you owe a great deal to your parents."
"Can't do without parents," acknowledged Miss Penbether.
It's a real satisfaction to me," said Miss Penbether's ma, "and it will be to your pa when I'm able to send him a cable that I've never stopped at doing anything that'd get you on in the world. Some parents are different."
"Oh, I ain't complained about you," said the daughter tolerantly.
"And if I hadn't managed to catch the steward at the last moment, just as he was about to go up to Mr. Moorgate—seeing you hadn't had a chance of changing it—and if I hadn't destroyed it for you, why——"
"Moses and Aaron!" cried Miss Trixy Penbether, starting up excitedly. "What do you mean about destroying the letter? I changed the letter, and—— Surely you didn't destroy it? 'Cause, if you did——"
Mrs. Penbether took from her small bag with a trembling hand several fragments of note-paper. She placed them together, and Miss Penbether read aloud in her nasal tones—
"My dear Mr. Moorgate,—I am in receipt of your note. I feel deeply flattered by your kind offer, but——"
"Trixy, my girl," said her mother solemnly, "we've run too fast. We must try again somewhere else, and next time we must go slow."