Fate and the Pocketbook
FATE AND THE POCKETBOOK
BY ANNE O'HAGAN
ILLUSTRATED BY SYDNEY ADAMSON
MRS. LEVERING had never outgrown the habits of her poverty. Consequently, although it was but half-past six when Hilda Wortley appeared upon the terrace, her hostess was already down-stairs, spying about her for evidences of wastefulness or idleness on the part of her retinue of servants. The girl gave a little exclamation of surprised dismay; she was not herself so early a riser as to know Mrs. Levering's ways.
"Oh," she said awkwardly. "I have just been leaving a message for you with Jenkins, Mrs. Levering. I had no notion you were ever down so early. I'm going over to Long Beach to spend the day with a friend of mine, Laura Bright, who is at the hotel there. I forgot to tell you about it last night."
Hilda crimsoned beneath her lackluster glance of question.
"Yes," she said. "I've left a note for Walter. Don't bother to send for me."
"Of course I shall send. I should send now if there were time to order a trap before the train. What time will you come home?"
"Hardly before the last train, I'm afraid." The girl's dark eyes dropped and her voice was low. "There are only two, I think, in the afternoon, and the first one is so early."
Her manner almost justified Mrs. Levering's comment, delivered later to her son over the breakfast table.
"She'll bear watching, Walter. Most people will—especially where a rich man is concerned."
Walter, pompous, sensitive, dull, a triumph—thanks to heritage and training—of suspicious egotism, flushed and turned angrily upon his mother.
"You always talk as if we had nothing to recommend us but that miserable money," he said. "I choose to think that Hilda is going to marry me out of l—liking."
"Maybe," said his mother skeptically. "If I don't think so, it isn't because I don't think you a man to be—cared for"—she balked as he did at the word "love," but her voice softened toward him—"but because I doubt if she is a woman who has it in her to care."
"Leave that to us, can't you?" answered Walter peevishly.
Meantime Hilda stood upon the pier at Fairport, three stations beyond Long Beach and Laura Bright. Dawson, from the deck of the night steamer from Portland, saw her as the boat slid into the slip. In spite of its heavy weight of resentment and jealousy, his heart gave the old leap of gladness at the sight of her. The morning blue of sky and sea, the brightness of the August sun, the darning of the island-dimpled waves, the dark bloom of the inland hills back of the little port, all united to make a picture of delight. And for Dawson, as always, she was the luminous center of the joy in the world.
After her first moment's flush of friendly pleasure, however, he observed a change in her. Her dark eyes, for all that they dwelt on him with the familiar, comradely look, held weariness and harassment in their depths. Her cheek's delicate oval was pallid. Again his heart leaped with the cruel gladness of jealous love. Her engagement was not making her happy, then!
"Tom," she said, when they had left the water front and were threading their way along the uneven, narrow streets up from the wharves—"Tom, I'm a miserable sinner——"
"On a week-day?"
"Yes; this is the truth, not merely the ritual. I'm a sneak and—and a liar, Tom! No one knows that I've come to Fairport. No one knows that I'm going to see you to-day. I—I lied."
"Why?" demanded Dawson, though he knew well enough. He wanted to hear her say that she dared not risk her fiancé's jealousy.
"Because——" she hesitated a second—"because it seemed easier than to explain. He—I doubt if Walter would have understood. It is a little unconventional, you'll admit. And his mother—Tom, never, never visit in the family of your about-to-be-in-laws. His mother sits up grim and eagle-eyed waiting to see me fail in my—my duty—to Walter. So that altogether it seemed easier to pretend that I was going over to Long Beach to spend the day with Laura Bright. It saved explanation, which is endless where Mrs. Levering is concerned."
Tom, with his knowledge of the Leverings, could picture the situation easily enough. He could imagine the attitude of the mother—that illogical compound of adoration for her son and of distrust of the motives of all others who claimed an affection for him. He could see the young man himself, vain, sensitive, suspicious, the profundity of his own conceit never saving him the expectation of indignity. That Hilda should have cast her lot in such a family!
"I can imagine lying was easier," he said. "But it was not like you to lie in the old days, Hilda."
"No." The girl checked a sigh for the vanished glory of fearlessness. "No. And it isn't going to be like me in the new days, Tom. This is the first time and the last. For it's our last party together, yours and mine."
So she, too, knew that this must be the end of their familiar intercourse. His eyes glowed with painful joy in the avowal he read into her words. She, too, had learned, since entering upon that eminently prudent engagement with Levering, what the old companionship with him, Tom Dawson, poor, spendthrift, had meant. To her also had been revealed the source of its delight. His gladness and his misery thickened his voice as he answered.
"Never mind about the lies, past or future," he said. "Tell me about your engagement. It was a—surprise to me. And you've written very sketchily about it."
She looked straight ahead up the little street's incline and recited her lesson monotonously.
"I didn't get the contract for furnishing the Woman's Athletic Club, after all. And the Lawtons lost some money, and—the redecorating of their house fell through. And Alberta grew worse. And after you had gone to Cincinnati—Tom, tell me about those suburban villas. Did they insist upon the cupolas and——"
"Go on about your engagement," he commanded roughly.
"Well"—she fell docilely back into her narrative—"when you went away—that was in April, wasn't it? Do you remember our last little dinner over at Giuseppe's on the Palisades, with the violets in the grass, and the city misty and sparkling across the river?"
"Please go on."
"I will. But somehow—I hate to." She lifted her eyes rather pathetically to his. "I don't know why. You and I are such good friends that it ought to be easy. But—oh, well, when you were gone Walter kept coming more and more. And the warm weather did not help Alberta as the doctor had hoped. By and by she grew a good deal worse, and he began to hint at Davos or Arizona—any impossibility. So I took what there was in the bank—this sounds like one of the old-fashioned novels, doesn't it? I didn't mean to make it sound like that. I only wanted you to see how—how, in my anxiety, Walter was so good and so kind that I came—to care. You know, of course, that I am very fond of Walter."
"Of course," said Tom perfunctorily.
"So mother and Alberta went to Phœnix. Two years, they say, will cure her. And—that was June. We're to be married in the middle of October—it's about six weeks now. I suppose we'll go out to Phœnix. Bertie would die if I were married without her to see. It's amusing, isn't it, to contemplate private cars and things, when one wasn't always sure of a trolley-fare? "
Tom snapped his jaws together over the thought of private cars.
"Just now," she finished, "as you know, I'm down at their place—the Leverings'—at Agonquitt. And I've sneaked off to Fairport for a day with you, to tell you all about the approaching transformation of Miss Hilda Grub into Mrs. Walter Butterfly. Now tell me all about yourself. I can see you're as extravagant as ever, Tom. The idea of coming clear down here from Newburyport for just a day!"
All that he might have said and she might have heard unrebuked during the long period of their intimate comradeship came crowding to his lips now. It was as if the shock of her engagement had been the jar needed to crystallize his fluid, undefined emotion, and to show it forth as love. He knew—he had known ever since her letter came—that he loved her, wanted her jealously, with a lonely, hungry tenderness. He began now to tell her so.
She interrupted him after a broken sentence. "Tom, don't talk like this. It isn't square. I will not listen. I don't believe you. I don't admit a thing you imply. But I do know that there isn't room in one small life for our—our friendship—and the—the devotion—I mean to give Walter. So it's our last day together in the old sense, and don't spoil it. Remember, I've imperiled my soul for the sake of it, and I've jeopardized my standing with Walter's mama——"
"Old cat!" growled Tom.
"So don't let us ruin it. Oh, Tom, nobody ever had such good times together as we—let us make this the best!"
By some magic that she had, she forced a success out of the elements of failure. They denied the thought of what might have been and gave themselves up to what was. They sailed in the little steamer that plied among the islands of the bay. They wooed briny tales from old skippers and fishermen. They prowled along the wharves and sniffed the tarry odors of the shipping. They invented romances for all the people they met; they wove histories for the peaceful old houses on the main street, keeping down, with resolute wills, the whisper that begged for utterance—"if only you and I might go into one, and close the door upon the world and grow old—old together, like those people in the garden there!"
Then they prowled in the little shops, and they bought bits of foolish pottery smuggled in across the bay from the British side. She pressed her purchases upon him.
"Put them in your pockets, please, you lucky thing with pockets! And carry my purse, too, and my gloves. I think I'll take them off. Isn't it fun to be in a place where you don't know a soul to be shocked at you? And keep the little trinkets as souvenirs of our day here together. But don't forget to give me back my pocketbook."
He glanced at the purse and then looked smilingly at her. It was a shabby thing, its leather darkened from much handling, its gold corners wearing loose.
"You still carry this?"
She nodded with an assumption of indifference.
"I'm so—so used to it," she said.
"Let's see. It was four years ago last Christmas I gave it to you, wasn't it?"
She nodded again.
"I put a lucky penny in it."
"It's still there."
"Ah, and it has brought you luck!" His tone was a little bitter, but his hand caressed the shabby thing as he slid it into his pocket.
They lunched at a waterside restaurant. They tea'd on a cape beyond the town at a tiny resort provincially emulous of the gaieties of Coney Island. Then the day was over for them. They made their way back, with dwindling laughter and talk, toward the railroad station. He was to take a six o'clock train for Boston; twenty minutes later she was to take the local train that skirted the beach and went slowly up along the river.
The northern air was sharp and tingling as the day died in a sweep and swirl of color. The splendor of sunset, the chill of the air, the mystery of descending night, seemed to pass from the world about them and to be part of something that beat in their hearts, pulsed in their veins. At that lonely little station, set between the long, desolate sweep of the sea and the dark, lonely stretches of fir, they were alone—two poor human things in the vastness of the world, their hearts aching with one grief, thrilling with one impulse. Night was coming, autumn was coming, separation was upon them. Their looks sought each other's, piteous, fascinated. They forgot the waiting train, the possible spectators. All the day and all the days that had gone before were expressed in one cry of pain and triumph.
"You love me, you love me!" he cried, and kissed her.
The whistles sounded, the last "All aboard!" was shouted. He leaped to the step of the last car, and left her standing there, her hand against her side, bewilderment and joy and protest in her face.
The train disappeared. The twilight deepened. She sat, still rapt in the whirl of mighty sensation. So this was love, this was love, this was love! For a long time her mind held no other thought. Then suddenly she shuddered with repulsion. Even before Tom's kiss had opened the gates to let in the great flood which was sweeping over her, she had learned to go laggingly toward her affianced husband. Now—how could she bear it? Then she saw the eager, wistful eyes of her young sister, she heard the command of something she called duty, honor, and the call, invincibly dear to women, of self-sacrifice, of martyrdom. She fought against the memory of Tom's kiss. Memory? It was a reality upon her lips that second——
Around a curve the local puffed rheumatically. She watched it stupidly for a second. Then, recalling her destination, she arose and half groped her way to the ticket office.
"A ticket to Agonquitt," she said.
"Forty-seven cents," said the clerk, pushing the pasteboard slip toward her. Then she looked down at her empty hands. For an instant she wondered at their emptiness. Then she remembered her purse speeding westward in the pocket of its donor.
"Oh!" she gasped. "Oh!" Then, vaguely, "I—I have lost my purse."
The slip of pasteboard was dexterously withdrawn.
"Stand aside, please," said the clerk, "There's people behind you want this train."
She stood aside and considered, still dazed and uncertain. A minute later the train wheezed out again. By that time she had recovered something of her wandering mind; she knew enough of her present state to be suddenly alarmed.
"What time is the next train to Agonquitt?" she asked a little breathlessly as she reapproached the window.
The clerk stayed his hand upon the wooden slide behind the wicket.
"Seven thirteen to-morrow morning," he said, and the fall of the slide was the period to his sentence.
Mr. Bryan, the Fairport druggist, thought that he had never seen a paler young lady than she when, a little later, she offered him a ring or a jeweled hat-pin as security for the price of a telephone connection with Mrs. Levering's house at Agonquitt. He politely disclaimed any desire for a security, and placed the telephone at her disposal. His good breeding did not, however, extend to the point of withdrawal from the neighborhood of the desk upon which the instrument stood. In fact, he was evidently listening. After her connection with the house had been established he heard:
"Oh, Jenkins, is that you? This is Miss Wortley. Is Mr. Levering at home? I should like to speak to him." A pause. The druggist thought her pallor increasing. "Hello, Walter! This is Hilda, Walter. I'm in Fairport—Fairport. Yes, I know, but I'll explain that later. I've lost my purse. The last train has gone down. You don't understand? I—have—lost—my—purse. Oh, that's what you don't understand? Well, I'll explain that later. Could I—can you send the motor-car for me? That's very good of you. Between an hour and an hour and a half? That's splendid. I'll wait here at the drug-store two blocks from the B. & M. station—Bryan's pharmacy. Yes, I'll explain all that when you come. Good-by!"
Mr. Bryan, impressed partly by her luminous pallor and greatly by her intimacy with the family of the rich man of the farther coast, pressed hospitality upon her—recent copies of the Fairport News and the Fundy Ripple, soda-water, and finally a bottle of salts.
Tom found his chair in the car and sat staring unseeingly out at the flying panorama of dark wood and bleak upland, of long, narrow inlets from the bay still burnished with reflections of the dying glory of the sky. He saw nothing but Hilda's face raised toward him. He lived over, with bounds of the heart that shortened his breath, the great revelation of that last moment.
Gradually a realization of things as they were forced itself upon him. Here was he, a struggling young architect of extravagant habits. There was Hilda, moderately successful in her profession of decorator, possessor of a fairly expensive set of tastes of her own, and of an invalid sister whose health, whose very life, depended upon immediate prosperity. And there was Walter Levering. Could anything be more futile than to oppose, against that array of facts, merely the demands of a jealous ache in the heart?
No. In old tales perhaps love was greater than circumstance, but not now. All that remained for him to do was honorably to efface himself. To see her would not be safe for him or for her. And never must Walter Levering be permitted to guess the truth. Walter, with his amour propre so much stronger than his love for her, with his littlenesses and his brooding suspicions, would never be generous to a wife who failed to adore him.
The waiter, arranging a folding table before him—he had absently nodded at the suggestion of dinner—distracted his thoughts. He slid his hand into his pocket for a coin. He felt Hilda's purse. He started from his chair. Then he fell limply back again and stared at the astonished servitor.
"Where are we?" he asked. "What is the next stop? What time do we make it?"
"We just passed Cochuset Junction, sir," announced the waiter. "The next stop is Dolphin Harbor; it's fifty-five minutes from Cochuset. It's six thirty-three now."
"When is there a train back to Fairport from Dolphin Harbor?"
"Four twenty to-morrow morning, sir."
"Same train, sir. Last one through to-day was about four in the afternoon."
"Get me a time-card."
For three minutes he consulted the tables. So Hilda—unless some miracle had been wrought—had missed the last train out of Fairport to Agonquitt. She was alone in that forlorn little town—alone, friendless, penniless. He counted the contents of his wallet and the change in his pockets. Then he sought the conductor in the rear of the car.
The result was that at about six forty-five the cord of communication with the engineer's cab quivered, the train slowed down and paused for a second. When it puffed forward again, Mr. Thomas Dawson stood on the edge of a stubbly field at one end of which the lights of a farmhouse gleamed. He strode toward them through the blue twilight, and in a few minutes, with still further lightened purse, he was driving toward Cochuset Junction in company with a lean Maine farmer who replied with dry mirth to his inquiries concerning garages in that center.
"Well," Tom broke in impatiently, "isn't there a private automobile in the place? Isn't there a summer resident? I don't believe there's a spot on earth where you can't rake up a machine nowadays. And I've got to get back to Fair- port in record time. It's a matter of—almost of life. and death."
Ever since he had found Hilda's purse he had been consumed with one desire—to get back to her before she was obliged to confess to those Leverings that she had deceived them. That Hilda should have to apologize, should have to abase herself before those people, was a thought he could not endure. Her dignity was suddenly of supreme importance to him—her dignity, her comfort, all that made for her peace and welfare. He must reach her in time!
"Wall"—the farmer's drawl was ground for murder in Tom's mind—"there's some folks on the hill has one; stinks like a polecat an' puffs like——"
"What hill? Who are they?"
"It's Derry Hill—piece of old man Derry's land; an' their name's Risley."
Tom turned sharply sideways in the buggy and glared suspiciously at his driver.
"You don't mean James Risley—James V.?" he demanded.
"That's the name on the checks they give me for dairy an' garden truck, sure enough. Why, you don't mean to say that they're friends of yourn, an' you didn't know——"
"See here," cried Tom excitedly. "This is too good! Get me there in five minutes and I'll make that five a ten. To think that Jimmy Risley——"
Hilda had revolved her problems—the large one of her destiny, the small one of the immediate explanations which faced her, for something more than an hour, when the quiet of the village street was broken by the snort of an automobile. Her heart began to pound her sides with irregular beats. Now it was upon her—the moment when she must put away forever the memory of that last look in Tom's eyes, must master the feeling he had awakened in her—awakened?—nay, only revealed; when she must meet Walter's wrath, dispel his doubts, begin her long career of bending her nature to the demands of his.
"Guess here's your machine, miss," announced Mr. Bryan genially as he pushed open the screen door.
The car stopped with horrible abruptness outside. A man leaped from it, crossed the sidewalk in a bound, brushed aside the druggist. Hilda forced her lips into a conciliatory smile; but it faded and her heart leaped into her eyes.
"Tom!" she cried.
"Hilda! " He caught her hands. "My dear, my poor little girl! Am I in time? What have you done? At the station they said that the young lady who had lost her pocketbook was last seen going to Bryan's drug store to telephone. But—do they know Walter and that old woman? Oh, my dear, to think of you here without a cent, and all through my damnable stupidity! Tell me, what have you done?"
She had listened to the torrent of his words with a deepening look of pleasure. It was all so like Tom—the forgetfulness, the waste of time, money, energy, all the extravagance of behavior. It was like him, and she loved it. She smiled as she put out her hand for the purse.
"I've telephoned for Walter," she said.
"From here? Fairport?"
"Where else? Ah—here it comes now."
A second machine snorted to a standstill before the store. Mr. Bryan bustled importantly forward.
"If he dares demand an explanation of you——" began Tom.
"Sh—— He has the right to one."
She arose, steadying herself with a hand on the back of her chair. She had no hope of deferring the inevitable scene, the questions, the explanations. The Leverings had not yet grafted ease of manner, the happy faculty of seeming to ignore, upon their wealth. She realized that here, before the druggist, with the marble slab of the soda fountain for a background, she would have to explain her conduct and hear the first of the reproaches that were to be meted out to her. Perhaps the scene would serve as setting for her casting-off by her irate fiancé.
The door opened and she sat down suddenly again. She had not been prepared for the appearance of her prospective mother-in-law.
"Ah, Walter, what did I tell you?" cried that lady with triumphant bitterness and rage, pointing to Tom, who stood close to Hilda's chair.
"You—you miserable hound!" said Walter, low-toned and threatening, advancing toward the man his mother indicated.
"Hilda, my dearest, go outside. Risley's in his machine. Get in with him. He'll take you over to his place—Mrs. Risley will put you up. Go, my dear love, and leave me to deal with this——" and Tom's words failed for fury.
Her lips quivered, her eyes swam in tears as she arose to do his bidding, never questioning his authority. He walked with her toward the door and held it open for her. She heard a harsh clamor of words behind her, but the agonized "Hilda, Hilda!" of her promised husband she did not hear.
"The more I see," said Mr. Bryan, mixing, after the manner of unskilled story-tellers, philosophy with his narrative, as he related the events of the evening to the Fundy Ripple reporter—"the more I see, the more I believe it ain't what you do, but how you do it that counts. Now, take them—it was certainly the young lady an' the good-looking feller with the smooth face that done the lyin' and the sneakin' an' the gener'l clandestinin'—the gener'l clandestinin'. But somehow it was the old lady jawin' like mad an' the other feller with the little blond mustache sneerin' an' snarlin' that seemed little an' mean. Say, Dan, what are you goin' to head it? 'Cupid Busy in Our First Circles,' eh? That's a good name. They tell me Dr. Leighton's been asked to go down to Cochuset to-morrow an' marry them."