The Trials of Tony/His Last Chance
His Last Chance
BELIEVE me, sir, believe me, you do Tony an injustice!"
Lord Raymes looked dryly at the fervent advocate and then glanced at his son. Through the arch that separated the smoking-room from the billiard-room he could see Tony practicing losing hazards into the middle pocket.
"I am glad to find he still has an admirer left," he replied.
"Meanin' me?" said Algie eagerly. "Gad, sir, he has! I put a deuced high value on Tony."
"I'll let you have him for two-and-six, clothes and all," smiled Tony's parent.
Algie's pink face grew pinker and his voice sank to an impassioned murmur:
"Excuse me sayin' so, sir, but aren't you just a little too sarcastic about dear old Tony—sometimes, you know? Of course, I know you're fond of him——"
"In a purely paternal way, I assure you," his host gently interposed.
"But look here: it's not his fault he hasn't——"
"Luck, I was goin' to say."
"Ah, it's want of luck he suffers from, is it?"
"It's a devilish nasty complaint, Algernon," said the old gentleman. "They sometimes have to bury people for it."
Algie's appeal grew the more earnest:
"But couldn't you do something for him? Excuse my pressing you, but he's my oldest pal, you know."
Lord Raymes looked at him curiously. He was as charming an old nobleman as you could wish to meet, but among his engaging qualities enthusiasm had never been conspicuous. Yet even he was affected by Algie's ardor.
"You are a remarkable young man, Algie," he observed. "For your sake I am almost tempted to give him another inning."
"I knew you'd be a sportsman——"
Lord Raymes interrupted him with a sedative gesture.
"Tony!" he called, "come here."
Anthony laid down his cue and came into the smoking-room.
"Dear old Algie bin puttin' in his oar?" he inquired amiably.
"Trying to, dear Tony," said his friend.
Algie glanced at Lord Raymes.
"You've a dear, kind, sportin' guv'nor; that's what you have, Tony."
Tony smiled open approval upon his father.
"It don't need a very extra big check; what?" he remarked pleasantly.
"The size makes no difference whatever."
"Good man!" said Tony.
"Because," continued Lord Raymes, "I have no intention of giving you another penny."
The two young men could not restrain an exclamation of disapproval. Yet that they did not mean to be unduly severe appeared from the charitable tenor of Anthony's next observation: "I say, Father, you can't be feelin' fit."
"I am suffering from an attack of your own complaint, Tony."
"Want of luck, I understand."
Tony appeared seriously concerned.
"You have, Tony; that's all."
"Me! Not—er—badly, you don't mean; what?"
"Yes, Tony, a sharp attack. I have glanced through your bills."
His son smiled reassuringly.
"Oh, the bills are nothin'. That kind of fellow is used to waitin'. It's only the I. O. U.'s that you need settle."
"I shall not settle them," replied his parent.
"Not settle a debt of honor?"
Algie appeared as horrified as his friend.
"Surely, sir," he exclaimed, "that isn't final?"
"Final," Lord Raymes pronounced with emphasis.
The two young men looked at one another miserably, and then in a subdued voice Algernon asked:
"But what's dear old Tony goin' to do?"
For a moment a sudden animation burned in the old gentleman's eye, and in a voice that rang with decision he pronounced the one word:
Tony showed no answering enthusiasm.
"You've suggested that before."
"I suggest it again."
"But, dash it, I've had a go at it. I've actually been engaged once."
"Twice, Tony," corrected his friend.
"Oh, twice; so it was. That's not bad."
His father smiled acidly.
"And I bought you out of it each time."
A triumphant smile burst through the gloom of Anthony's countenance.
"Now, you see! There's an instance of my bad luck!"
"Two instances," said Lord Raymes gently; "do yourself justice, my boy."
"As to marryin' heiresses," Tony continued, "I don't know how it is, but, somehow, I never seem to get 'em in the right kind of corner. When I catch their hands I seem to lose their attention, and when I catch their attention I seem to lose their hands. There's a trick in it, I suppose."
His parent regarded him inscrutably. When he spoke it was with the same air of bland finality:
"Well, my boy, since you suffer from this distressing weakness it is clear that we must find you a problem so simple that you can't muddle it, even if you try."
"It mustn't be a woman, then."
"It is a woman."
The young men exclaimed together:
"What? You know one?"
"One," said his lordship with emphasis; "your last chance, Tony."
With tantalizing deliberation Lord Raymes selected a fresh cigar. Then, with a faint smile on his thin, clean-shaven lips, he inquired in a casual way:
"Did you ever by any chance happen to observe one of my female domestics who answers to the name of Mary?"
The two young men exchanged significant glances.
"I—er—have noticed her," confessed Tony; "but—er—why not stick to what we were talkin'——"
"She leaves tomorrow."
"But, I say," expostulated Tony, "I assure you there's nothin'; I've only just spoken to her once—or twice—or certainly only two or three times; you really needn't sack her!"
"I am not sacking her," said his father; "she is retiring to the front stairs. It seems that this Mary Dishett was the fortunate possessor of an uncle in the State of Minnesota. He has just died, leaving her three hundred thousand pounds."
"Three hundred thousand pounds!" exclaimed Algie in an awed voice.
"And I haven't an uncle worth sixpence!" cried Tony bitterly. "What about luck now? Who can blame me after this? It's simply luck: there's nothing else the matter that I can see. Just give me a chance like that!"
His father looked at him steadily.
"I give you this chance."
For a moment they gazed at him with wonder in their amiable blue eyes, until at length his meaning penetrated to their understandings.
"What!" cried Tony, turning very pink indeed, "you don't mean to say she was the girl you meant? You wouldn't actually let me marry Mary!"
"If the law of England gave me sufficient authority I should make you."
"But—but," stammered the unhappy young man—"but wouldn't it be morganatic?"
"Not if it took place in church."
Algie looked exceedingly serious.
"Honestly, sir, would you ask our Tony, our own dear Tony, to marry a servant?" he demanded.
"In the first place," replied Lord Raymes, "she will cease to be a servant tomorrow morning. In the second, she is a decidedly superior and sensible girl—in that respect, at least, as well equipped as our dear Tony. In the third, I see no possible alternative. I have always known that Tony belonged to the unemployable; I had begun to suspect that he belonged, also, to the unmarryable. But Providence has sent Mary, and by a chance too fortunate to be called mere accident, she has already found favor in his eyes. I suggest that he marry her."
His lordship was possessed of a singularly-dignified presence, and these weirds, uttered with extreme gravity, evidently impressed Algernon.
"By Jove, you know!" he murmured. "But haven't you any family pride, Father?"
"No, Tony. Not enough to split."
"Tony," his friend cried suddenly, "I agree with Lord Raymes! You have no choice left. It's best, dear boy; it's best. She's a ripper. And three hundred thousand pounds! I envy you, Tony!"
The friend of his youth looked at him plaintively. They were two to one against him now, and he had always disliked being in the minority. One met such queer company in minorities: fellows with dashed ideas and other forms of bounder. In a melancholy voice he made his first concession:
"I don't mind goin' the length of tossin' you for her."
"Good sportsman and all the rest of it!" cried Algie in uncontrollable admiration; "but supposin' you lost. Who's to pay your I. O. U.'s then; what?"
"I see your point," murmured Anthony.
His father watched him with a comprehending eye.
"My boy," said he, "let me advise you to go and shut yourself up for half an hour and think it over quietly. Just keep repeating to yourself, 'Three hundred thousand pounds and a pretty girl thrown in, or a pickaxe on the Yukon,' and make up your mind which alternative you prefer. There is no third choice, remember."
"You won't give me even—er—well, I don't ask for more than a thousand pounds?"
"I shall pay your passage to Alaska and that's the last penny I shall spend on you."
"Payin' it to Monte Carlo would cost you less," his son suggested.
"I am in an extravagant humor, Tony."
Tony was struck with a bright idea.
"Well, look here, then: you fork out the passage money to Alaska and leave the spendin' of it to me."
"Lead him away, Algernon."
Algie took his friend's arm and drew him toward the door, encouraging him thus:
"She's a ripper, Tony, a regular ripper! And I'll be your best man; I'll see you through it. Dear old boy, England can't afford to lose you. It's worth making any sacrifice to avoid that. You can arrange for a divorce afterward; but nail the boodle now, Tony, nail the boodle now!"
The thin, suave voice of Lord Raymes followed them.
"Three hundred thousand pounds, Tony, and a devilish worthy young woman. I couldn't do more for you if I were your tailor."
Anthony seemed sensible of his kindness.
"It is deuced good of you," he confessed.
"You are my Benjamin," replied his parent; and to this duet of mutual affection the young man retired to meditate.
"Ring the bell, will you, Algie?" requested his host, and smiled down amiably at his cigar.
"On the whole," he explained, "it might be safer to say a word to this young lady ourselves before we let Tony loose on her. He seems lacking in method."
"He is full of beans, sir, I assure you."
"I wish to prevent their becoming might-have-beens."
In a moment a footman entered.
"Tell Mary I should like to see her for a few minutes," said Lord Raymes.
"Mary Dishett, my lord, or Mary Frisk?"
"Ah, two Marys, are there? I mean the heiress, Mary Dishett."
He turned to his young guest with a smile more amiable than ever.
"Well, Algie, do you think we are going to break Tony's run of ill luck at last?"
"I hope so, sir. He's had a very tryin' life of it, has Tony."
"So has his father," observed Lord Raymes.
Algie looked pained.
"But isn't that, sir," he urged—"I say it with all deference—isn't that partly because you don't quite appreciate dear Tony?"
Lord Raymes seemed struck with the cogency of this argument.
"I believe you are right," he said deliberately. "How you illuminate a subject, Algernon!"
The door opened, and he turned with his most courteous smile.
"Ah, Mary, good-evening!"
At a glance it was apparent that Miss Dishett embodied respectability. Her age was nine and twenty, her face a guarantee of sound principles, her expression chastely reserved, and her demeanor decorous. With lowered eyes and lips respectfully compressed she articulated not without elegance:
"Thank you, my lord."
Lord Raymes indicated the most inviting chair in the room.
"Again I thank you, my lord," said this exemplary young woman, "but till tomorrow morning, which time I leaves your lordship's service, I should feel more comfortable in the species of chair I fills at prayers."
And so saying she seated herself in a fashion appropriate to the pious reminiscence.
During this brief passage the most remarkable disturbances had agitated Algie's comely countenance. Seizing the old gentleman's arm he whispered distractedly:
"Good Heavens! I say, this isn't the same girl!"
"This is not the same Mary that Tony fancied!"
Lord Raymes remained calm—even complacent, it seemed.
"I am glad to hear it," he replied. "Tony's taste is atrocious."
Algie was silenced, though not quite reassured.
"Hitherto, Mary," Lord Raymes resumed, "I have not had the opportunity of congratulating you upon the good fortune that has befallen you. I am sure it could not have happened to a more deserving—er—young lady. My only regret is that it is going to deprive me of the pleasure of your society."
"In a sense, my lord," replied Miss Dishett politely, "I regret it also. I always has 'ad—'as had, I should say—a partiality for the nobility."
This answer appeared to afford his lordship considerable satisfaction. His manner grew more confidential.
"Well, my dear girl," he inquired genially, "and what do you propose to do with three hundred thousand pounds?"
"My lord, I have a brother in need of pecuniary assistance."
My lord's face clouded.
"It is not for me to advise you, Mary; but as an elderly man with some experience of the world, I say: 'Think twice, think twice, ' Mary!"
"He asks for a hundred pounds, my lord."
My lord's face cleared.
"A hundred pounds? Certainly, my dear girl, certainly send him a hundred pounds, and—er—let him understand that he must in future—ah—depend on his own exertions; as a young man should, Mary, as a young man certainly should."
"My lord, I shall take the liberty of accepting of your advice."
My lord smiled benevolently.
"Very charming of you, Mary; very charming. And now, what do you mean to do with the rest of your fortune?"
An expression of remarkable determination came into Miss Dishett's face.
"Your lordship, if I says it who shouldn't, it do seem a pity to throw away so much knowledge of the ways of the servant classes. I think of having such a 'ouse—'aving such a house—my lord, as will require the keeping of numerous domestics of both sexes."
His lordship smiled sympathetically.
"With a view to improving their conditions—that sort of thing, eh?"
A gleam of austere purpose kindled in Miss Dishett's eye.
"With a view, my lord, of learning 'em to avoid many errors into which they falls under gentlemen and ladies unacquainted with their natural sinfulness."
"Gad!" cried he. "It might be myself speaking of the House of Lords!"
Regarding her with evidently increased respect he inquired:
"And have you got your eye on a suitable mansion?"
Her glance again sought the floor, and a little smile broke the rigidity of her lips.
"Begging your pardon, my lord, but—your lordship wasn't wanting to let, was you?"
His lordship controlled his emotions with difficulty.
"To——! Er—well, my dear girl——"
"Of course, we all knows you are 'ard up."
"Oh, you do, do you?"
"Then you think my little place might suit you?"
"In most ways, my lord, certainly. The steepness of the back stairs I have sometimes in the past complained of. In the future, if I was thinking of making any alterations——"
"You'd pitch 'em steeper, I suppose?"
Miss Dishett looked grave.
"Well, my lord, the footmen do need something to take the exuberance out of them."
"One lives and learns, Algie," murmured Lord Raymes.
He turned upon Mary a smile more beneficent than ever.
"Let us suppose we have established you in some suitable and—er—chaste mansion; the next thing is, how are we going to furnish it, eh?"
"I have already, my lord, decided there will be a grand piano, but no statuary."
"Capital, capital! But, my dear child, I am thinking of an article of furniture even more important than a grand piano. The happy man, Mary! You must find him: eh?"
Miss Dishett lowered her eyes.
"Such sentiments 'ave been far from my thoughts. Do I understand your lordship to mean——"
"A young fellow to share this mansion. Ha, ha! What?"
Miss Dishett looked up again.
"A young gentleman, my lord; I will have nothing less."
"Precisely, precisely, my dear girl; but why not have something more?"
The heiress permitted her virgin eyes to study his countenance for a moment. Apparently the inspection was satisfactory, for when she replied it was with an air of reciprocal confidence.
"Well, my lord, 'aving enjoyed the hospitality of the aristocracy for so long, I can't help feeling it my duty to give the titled classes the first chance."
With charming coyness she added:
"Has your lordship any names to suggest?"
Lord Raymes bent affectionately over his late housemaid and, delicately raising one of her hands, pressed it gently between his own.
"I offer you my only unmarried child."
"Gu-gu?" she exclaimed.
"I beg your lordship's pardon. The name slipped out quite unintentional. It was how he was known amongst us—in what is now former days, my lord."
He smiled indulgently.
"Well, Mary, and what do you say to Gu-gu?"
"One of the best, Miss Dishett!" cried Algie. "A ripper—simply a ripper!"
Miss Dishett meditated.
"I'd have to choose the housemaids accordingly. I had promised that Mary Frisk a place, but that would have to be off."
Then, with an expression at once businesslike and demure, she addressed her prospective father-in-law:
"My lord, may I be plain with you?"
"You can never be plain, Mary," he answered gallantly, "but you may be as plain as you can. What is it? My dear boy's character? His accomplishments?"
She shook her head.
"Those do not worry me. I had not heard of them one way nor the other. It is this: Does a Honorable's coachman wear a cockade in his 'at—in 'is hat—my lord?"
"The coachman of three hundred thousand pounds wears whatever three hundred thousand pounds chooses," he replied with conviction.
"Then, my lord, I do accept of him."
"Good sportsman!" cried Algie. "Gad, you're a brace of rippers—born for one another, if you ask me."
It was this moment of triumph that the genius of Anthony selected for his reëntry. By one moist hand he led a girl radiant in blushes and golden curls and decked in the same uniform as Miss Dishett.
"Father," he cried, "Mary has consented! Who says I can't do the sportin' thing if I make up my mind and all the rest of it; what?"
Miss Dishett rose.
"My lord," she said with finality, though without emotion, "you 'ave done your best, but some luxuries is too expensive at any price, and some presents isn't worth the postage. I return 'im to you with thanks."
Algie always quotes this incident as the breaking point of his friend's bad luck. Things had to mend after that; and we are happy to record that they did. His Mary's abilities proved as remarkable as the other Mary's good fortune. She is now proprietress of the most extensive steam laundry in London—an undertaking so prosperous that Tony has recently purchased his first dirigible balloon.