- CHAPTER IV THE KINDNESS OF MISS ROLLS
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THE KINDNESS OF MISS ROLLS
PETER found it not so easy as he had expected to snatch an opportunity of interesting Ena in Miss Child. His sister was even more than ordinarily interested in her own affairs, which had reached a critical stage, and if Peter, having run her to earth in her cabin, attempted to talk of any one save Ena Rolls or Lord Raygan her eyes became like shut windows. He could almost see her soul turning its back and walking away behind the panes of opaque-grey glass.
There had been another evening prowl with the young female panther before the evasive chance was grasped, and the storm-tossed, overdue Monarchic hoped to dock within eighteen hours.
Things were growing desperate for Peter. He was not, of course, in love with the "queer, arresting face," but he could not bear to think of its arriving alone and unprotected in New York. Something must be done, and he resorted to bribery.
"Look here, Sis," he began, "I've just thought there may be reasons why Raygan can't make up his mind to visit a bit on our side, now he and his family are here."
"He hasn't said he won't do it," Ena cut in.
"No, but he hasn't said he will, has he?"
"Not yet. I daren't seem too eager."| | 30
"To save my life, I don't see why you should be eager. But as you are, I've been giving my mind to the subject." (This was subtle of Peter.) "I've come to the conclusion that the man would like to stay. I'm sure his sister would. Perhaps you can answer for the mother. The trouble may be money."
"Perhaps. I've thought of that. But what can we do? We can't go to him out of a clear sky and offer to lend."
"I might propose to put him on to a good thing."
"Oh, Peter, would you help me like that, in a man's way?"
"I would, if you'd do me a favour, in a woman's way."
"What is it? But whatever it is, I'm sure to!"
They were in Miss Rolls's cabin, the one she had generously taken over from Lady Raygan and Eileen. Ena was sitting on the seat under the window; Peter was looking uncomfortable on a camp-chair. It was a small cabin, boiling over with dresses, though the "Young Moon" had not yet been added to their number. Peter had never found his sister in a propitious mood for the gift, and had been keeping the "Moon," figuratively, up his sleeve till the right moment came. Now, perhaps, it had come.
Ena had been lying down after luncheon. She had given herself this little rest because she knew that Raygan was going to play poker in the smoking-room. She had learned bridge—though cards bored her—just as she had learned tennis and golf and all sorts of eccentric dances, in order to be popular, to be in the swim, to do just what the fashionable people were doing—the people at the top, where she wanted to arrive.
But she could not play poker! And if she could, it would have been impossible to go with Lord Raygan into the smoking-room. Luckily no other girl would be | | 31 there, so Ena resigned herself to the loss of valuable time on her last day.
"Why, yes," Peter answered. "I believe you are sure to! It won't be a hard favour to do, Sis. It's only to let me introduce a girl, a very nice girl, and then to be kind and help her if she needs it."
Ena laughed."Is that all? I guess—I mean, I fancy—I can promise that. Girls don't need much help nowadays. Who is she? Have I seen her?"
" No. You haven't seen her."
"Is she pretty?" Peter had expected that question. Ena, and all the other girls he knew, invariably asked it. But he did not quite know what to answer.
"She's awfully attractive," he said. "The sort you'd turn and look after in a crowd. She hasn't got what you'd call features, but—you can't take your eyes off her somehow. She looks—she looks—well, a tiny bit like a—a—perfectly gloriously fascinating—golliwog."
"Great big, wide-apart eyes, I mean; dark, floating ones, with immense eyelashes that curl up and stick out when you see her profile. She's got a short, round face—no, kind of heart-shaped, I guess, and a little delicate, turned-up nose, like the Duchess of Marlborough's; and a lovely mouth—yes, her mouth is lovely, no mistake! She's nearly always laughing, even when she isn't happy. She's got a long neck, like a flower stem, and long legs——"
"Good gracious, what a description! For Heaven's sake, who is the creature?"
"Oh, I know it must sound queer; but she's the most fascinating girl you ever saw, and any man would say so. She's a Miss Child——"
"There's no Miss Child on the passenger list."
"Maybe not; because she's one of Nadine's models, | | 32 I bought you a gorgeous dress off her. I've been—saving it for a surprise. It's called the 'New'—no, the 'Young Moon.'"
Ena forgot for a moment that she badly needed help from her brother and began sharply to catechize him. "When did you buy me a dress? The day Lord Raygan offered to go back to that room and choose me one and I said no, I didn't want a dress?"
"Yes. That was the day. I couldn't let her try it on in vain."
"Oh, you bought it to please her—the girl like a golliwog?"
"She isn't like a golliwog, really. That's not fair. And I bought the dress to please you, of course. It's mighty pretty. I've got it in my room."
"I wonder what your steward thinks? Well, I'll thank you when I see it. But what an idea, to introduce one of those models to me! Lord Raygan said they were all bleached and painted, except the girl who wasn't pretty."
"That's my one. But I think she is pretty, and better than pretty. Her eyes—and her smile——"
"Never mind her eyes and her smile. I can't be introduced to a model, Petro. I won't know a dressmaker."
"Mother was one. And father's mother was a washer——"
"Be still, for the love of Heaven! If anyone should hear!"
"I'm not ashamed of——"
"Well, I am! Oh, Petro, don't be horrid, just when I really need you to be nice. And you can be nice—very nice. Don't let's even think about the family past. It's awful! It's a blot. But it can't be helped. We must try to live it down. And we can, with our money. We can and we must. A great chance has come to us. | | 33 the more because of—of what you reminded me—we must be careful of the sort of people we mix ourselves up with——"
"This girl is a lady."
Then Ena lost her temper. "They all are," she snapped. "I suppose she's a clergyman's daughter, and her parents are dead."
"Her mother is," Peter admitted.
"She would be! What does the girl want help for? Doesn't Nadine pay her wages?"
"She only engaged with Nadine to work out her passage."
"Oh! They say girls from all over the world are bearing down on poor little old New York since Owen Johnson wrote 'The Salamander.'"
"My hat! Ena, I never knew before you had anything of the cat in you!"
This, and a flash in the eyes which were bluer than hers, brought Miss Rolls to her bearings. She remembered the reason for going softly with Peter. Luckily she had done no great mischief yet.
"Can't you take a joke, Petro?" she teased him, laughing. "I'm not a cat, or a pig, either. But you do scare me a little. You don't like this girl, do you?"
"Of course I like her."
"You know what I mean by 'like.' And I hope I know what you mean. You always yearn over every creature who hasn't as much money as we have and needs ours. Sure it's no more than that this time? It would be—just the limit, the outside edge and down the other side, if you fell in love with a dressmaker's model. It would be like—like reverting to type. We must climb, not—root."
Peter laughed—nervously, his sister feared. "What a girl you are! You needn't fash yourself about my feelings for Miss Child. All I want is to help her to get on."| | 34
"Oh! To help her get on? Well, then, you may introduce her to me, if it can be done without taking up too much time. You know, Petro, it's my last day on board, and I have my feelings just as you have. How can we manage it? Can you bring her here?"
"I can't 'bring' her anywhere," Peter retorted rather gruffly."She isn't a servant looking for a place. I've told you she's a lady."
"Oh, all right. What do you suggest?"
"She hasn't much time to herself. Since the weather improved, business is brisker. But after her dinner she gets in a walk down on B deck, where nobody else goes. I could take you there about half-past eight."
"Very well. That's the programme." Ena spoke with regained cheerfulness, because no one need witness an introduction effected on B deck, and because a sentence of Peter's had been like a bull's-eye lantern directing a ray along the right track."I'll be ever so nice to Miss Child to-night—and afterward, too, in New York, if you can bring anything off with Lord Raygan about the visit. Are you playing poker with him this afternoon?"
"Yes. Some chaps wanted——"
"I know. He told me. But he didn't mention you Afterward, will you work right up to the 'good thing' you can put him on to? He'll be in just the mood—if he loses. And he says he always does lose."
"Yes. I'll let him see that he might do well ford himself by staying. Gee! Think of a fellow needing a bribe to spend a couple of weeks in God's country!"
"He doesn't know yet that it is God's country. We must show him. Oh, Peter, won't the Van Raaltens and the Arlingtons fall over themselves with rage if the Earl of Raygan and his mother and sister stop with us for a fortnight!"
"Stop with us for a fortnight!" mimicked Peter, | | 35 scornful yet affectionate now."You get more British every day in your accent and conversation, my kid."
"Well, I try hard enough! I do like their way of speaking. They make our voices sound grating and our expressions crude."
"Our ways for mine!"
"You can have them. Now run away, Petro. I'll see the 'Young Moon' later. I need a nap. Lay awake last night worrying!"
But when he had gone she lay awake planning.
This golliwog girl was undoubtedly dangerous. The absorbed look in Peter's eyes when he described her singular attractions contradicted the statement that his feelings were Platonic.
He "only wanted to help!" Pooh! Still Ena was glad he had said that, because it had given her a brilliant idea. It was also rather a cruel idea, but all is fair in love and war: and this might be both.
Of course, if the girl were coming to New York to be a Salamander, the weapon would be useless. Ena must find another. She could not be sure until she had met Miss Child; but she told herself that no glorified golliwog, however sly, could pull the wool over her eyes for five minutes! She would soon know whether Peter were right or wrong about this clergyman's daughter whose mother was dead.
Poor Petro, he was such a fool about people—such a dear, nice, but sometimes inconvenient fool! Just mother's disposition over again, with a touch of father's cleverness splashed in here and there where you'd least expect it—but never in the place where it would be most useful.
As Ena reflected thus, she was vaguely pleased with herself after the fashion of an earnest student who suddenly finds that he is actually thinking in French. Before she went to Madame Yarde's Finishing School for | | 36 Young Ladies, she had been so accustomed to saying pa and ma that it had been very difficult to overcome the habit. Even now, once in a while she—but, thank Heaven, not once since meeting Lord Raygan; she was sure of that. He had said, "You talk quite like our girls." And all the rest of the day she had been happy; for sometimes, in a good-natured sort of way, he made fun of what he absurdly called "the American accent."
Ena shut her eyes and composed herself to lie down without ruffling her hair. But she could not sleep, She made pictures of Lord Raygan and his mother and Lady Eileen visiting at their house on Long Island.
Would they think it more "swell" of the Rollses to be living in the country than in New York? She hoped so, and almost believed they would, for she understood from novels, and what she had learned in London, that the "smart people" only "ran into town for the theatre and that sort of thing" in winter. Now it was October—almost winter. And in the automobile it was just an hour and twenty-five minutes from Sea Gull Manor (Ena had named the new place herself) to New York.
Besides, in the country the visitors wouldn't so easily find out that the family hadn't got "into" things—the things that mattered. Of course, they could see what the family was. They could see that anywhere, alas! But poor father and mother were better against a country background. And foreigners might attribute some quaint tricks of manner and speech to their being Americans, just as she and Peter hadn't known how awful the cockney accent was until they had been told by English people.
Oh, it was lovely over there! Nobody snubbed her. She would give anything to live on that side all her life, married to a man of title, and go home occasionally, to pay back the proud cats who had scratched. Mean- | | 37 while, it would be a step on the golden ladder to flaunt Lord Raygan and his mother and Eileen as guests. Then, if Rags could swallow the family and propose (as sometimes she thought he contemplated doing) how wonderful it would be! Her ideal accomplished!
No golliwog on earth should be allowed to defeat this end. For the addition of a model, dressmaking golliwog to the family would be the final obstacle. Lord Raygan was now undecided. He was perhaps waiting to see how the rest of the Rollses shaped up. If he could stand them as relations, all would be well. All must be well!
That night Win wore for her walk a long blue coat in place of the mackintosh. It was shabby, but becoming; and her dark hair was tucked into a close-fitting cap of the same blue as the cloak. She knew what was due to happen at half-past eight, and though grateful to Mr. Balm of Gilead, dreaded the result of his kindness.
Miss Rolls would be the first American girl she had ever met; but she knew how an English girl would feel about being introduced to a vague waif picked up by a brother in a dressmaker's showroom on shipboard. It would have been ungracious to refuse the offered introduction so well meant, but the fifth dryad was not looking forward to it with pleasurable sensations.
When she saw the brother and sister coming towards her, however, the smile on Miss Rolls's face was encouraging. It was dimly like Peter's smile, and there was a certain family resemblance about the faces: both dark, with eager eyes that seemed light in contrast with dead-black hair, but the eagerness of Miss Rolls's look was different from the eagerness of her brother's. His was slightly wistful in its search for something he did not yet know. Hers was dissatisfied, searching for something she wanted and had not got.| | 38
He was a lean young man, not very tall, but with rather the air of an ex-college athlete. She was a plump, short girl, somewhat square in build, but distinctly handsome, showing beautiful teeth in her cordial smile. If the smile had been less cordial Miss Child might have conceived the catty idea that the magnificent ruby velvet, hooded evening cloak had been put on to impress the humble new acquaintance. However, it would have been mean to suspect a sister of Mr. Balm of Gilead of such a snobbish trick. And there was the smile.
"Miss Child, I'm very pleased to meet you," said the handsome girl warmly, just as her brother had hopefully prophesied. "Peter's told me quite a lot about you. I think you're awfully brave."
"Perhaps one doesn't deserve much credit for courage in doing a thing one wants to do," answered Winifred, her slim, ringless hand responding to the kind pressure of the plump one wearing too many rings. (They were all rubies to-night. Miss Rolls had read about a wonderful Russian woman before whom men went down like ninepins and who always matched her dresses with her jewels.)
Yes, Ena thought, Peter was right; the creature was a lady. She had a soft, throaty voice, like a blackbird when it talks to itself, and oh, a creamy accent! Miss Rolls would have given anything to extract it, like pith, from the long white stem in which it seemed to live. She would have been willing to pay well for it, and for Miss Child's length of limb, so necessary to show off the latest fashions. She saw and appreciated the odd, golliwog charm of wide-apart eyes under high arch of brow. And the full, laughing mouth with the short upper lip, was beautiful, like the mouths of marvellous girls on magazine covers. The creature looked brave and rather sweet, and Miss Rolls was quite sorry for her; but the thing had to be done.| | 39
"Petro, you go away and let us have a talk," said Petro's sweet sister gaily. "Two is company; three's none."
And Petro went, thinking Ena the grandest sort of a pal. He had done his best for her already. Raygan and the two ladies had graciously agreed to stay for a fortnight at least in the country upon which Providence had thrust them. Peter had Marconied home, and home would certainly Marconi back an invitation to Sea Gull Manor. As he said to Ena, he had pressed the button; she must do the rest. But he felt now as if he would enjoy doing a great deal more for her than he had yet done.
"And just what do you want to accomplish in New York, Miss Child?" inquired Miss Rolls, as they began slowly to pace the otherwise deserted deck.
"I have wild hopes of getting newspaper work of some sort through one letter of introduction I have," answered Win, "or into a choir as contralto, from the other. If not—oh, well, everybody says America's the country for women."
"Yes, it is. We have splendid fun," Ena assured her. "The men are so kind to us."
"I think they must be," Win agreed. "Mr. Rolls has been very kind. Are all the rest like him?"
"I—suppose they have different ways of being kind—some of them. Some may be safer than others. I hardly know how to put it!"
"I think I understand."
"I—wonder if you do. Oh, Miss Child, I wish I dared speak to you frankly!"
When people begin thus there is invariably something disagreeable to follow; but Winifred Child braced herself and said calmly: "Please do."
"It's very difficult. I'm quite afraid of you."
"It's I who ought to be afraid of you."| | 40
"Don't be! I wish I could make you trust me. Can I?"
"I'm throwing things at you so suddenly. But what else can I do? We haven't much time. My brother 'll come back and join us. And—it's about him I want to speak. He's so—interested in you."
"That's very nice of him." Winifred's voice was as cold and bright as a very small icicle.
"It ought to be! But—well, he's a dear brother and a splendid fellow in many ways. I hate to say anything against him. Yet I'd hate still more to have you—disappointed. His one fault is—he's rather foolish about women, especially those not exactly in his own set. Do you see what I mean? It's so hard for me! He said to-day he was going to try to help you. That frightened me a little. I felt I must give you this tiny warning, for Peter has such a trustworthy air, hasn't he?"
"Yes, indeed he has," answered Win, loyal still to Mr. Balm of Gilead, alias Peter Pan. But the night had grown colder.
"I'm his sister. I can't help feeling responsible for him. And, in a way, I feel responsible for you, too, as it's through him I've met you—and you'll be a stranger in our country. That's why I shouldn't have dared let this chance pass without speaking. Yet I keep rambling on, without the courage to say much."
"It isn't necessary to dot all the i's and cross the t's," returned Winifred, trying not to let her voice be sharp or her tone bitter, for she had to believe that this girl was sincere. A sister would not blacken the character of a brother for the mere pleasure of hearing herself talk!
"You do take this as I mean it, don't you?"
"I think so."| | 41
"Thank you so much. It's very sweet and generous of you not to be angry with me and think me a busybody meddling in other people's business. But it is my business to see that my brother doesn't hurt a girl who trusts him—a stranger in a strange land. All I want you to promise is that instead of letting him help you, when he offers to, as he's sure to do—if he hasn't already—you'll let me do it."
"I'm hoping not to need help, except from the friends of my friend who has given me introductions," Win justified her pride of womanhood.
"I don't suppose you will need anything else. You look as if you could get along anywhere. But if you do need a push, promise you won't accept favours from my brother, or let him come into your life at all. It's entirely for your own sake I ask."
"I understand that, Miss Rolls. What other reason could there be?"
"There couldn't be any other. Do promise. I'm so frightened for you."
"I shall certainly accept no help from Mr. Rolls."
"That's good! It relieves my mind. And swear you won't let him dream that I've said anything, or interfered with his plans."
"Well—when a man with Peter's one fault offers to help a girl get on in New York——Please don't be offended."
"I am not. Of course, it goes without saying that I won't let him know I've had a warning from you."
"He'd never speak to me again if you even gave him a hint."
"Don't be afraid. I won't; not the faintest. Why, we're landing to-morrow morning early! There won't be a chance to say more than 'Good-bye.'"
"There's to-night, after I go in. He'll be back——"| | 42
"I'm going in, too. I shall go when you go."
"Perhaps it would be better. Oh, you don't know what a weight is off my mind!"
"I'm glad it is gone."
"And you'll write to me, won't you, and let me know how you get along? Write just what you need. I'll be delighted——"
"If I need anything—thank you."
"My address is Sea Gull Manor, Old Chesterton, Long Island. Shall I write it down?"
"No, please don't trouble. I can always remember addresses. You're really very good—to take an interest. And—and I know it must have been hard for you to—to feel you had to speak."
It was also hard, desperately hard, for Win to pay this tribute to Miss Rolls's unselfish interest in her moral welfare. She tried to be grateful, to feel that her late friend's sister had been brave and fine and unconventional thus to defend a strange girl against one so near. But despite reason's wise counsel, her heart was hot within her. She felt like a heathen assured by an earnest missionary that her god was a myth.
She disliked sweet Miss Rolls intensely, and would have loved to let loose upon her somewhat obtuse head the sarcasm of which at that moment she felt herself a past mistress. She wanted to be rich and important and have Miss Rolls, poor and suppliant, at her mercy. Horrified, she saw by the searchlight of her anger dark depths of cruelty and revenge in her own nature. She longed to rush to Peter and tell him everything, and believe in him again, for it was hard to lose a; friend—an ideal, ewe-lamb of a friend. She wished she might wake up in her over-crowded state room and find that this hateful conversation had been a dream.
But she could not do any of these brutal, silly or | | 43 impossible things. She was not dreaming. All was true. Miss Rolls had meant well, and Mr. Balm of Gilead did not exist. He was only Peter Rolls, a rich, selfish fellow who thought girls who had to work fair game. His sister must know his true inwardness. Probably she had learned through unpleasant, hushed-up experiences, through seeing skeletons unfleshed by Peter stalk into the family cupboard.
"You ungrateful beast, behave yourself!" Miss Child boxed the ears of her sulky ego and shook it.
The throaty quiver in the blackbird-voice of the dangerous golliwog went vibrating through Miss Rolls's conscience in a really painful way. She felt as if she had had a shock of electricity. But, thank goodness, the worst was over, and now that she had grasped safety (for instinct said that the girl would not betray) she could afford to be generous.
She reminded herself that she had acted entirely in self-defence, not through malice, and she had not told a single lie about Peter. She had but said—in words—that some men were safer than others, which every one knew to be true. That Peter was rather foolish about women (so he was—ridiculously soft, not modern in his ideas at all!) and that it would be better for the girl to accept help from her—Ena—than from a young man. It was very good advice, and nothing Peter ought to be angry about, even if he should ever hear—which, pray Heaven he might not! As Ena reminded herself how wise and tactful she had been, a faint glow stole into the chilly zone round her heart, just as you can heat a cold foot by concentrating yourself on telling it that it is warm.
"I want to be your friend," she went on sweetly. "Perhaps you aren't very rich? As girl to girl, let me offer you a little, little present—or a loan—a hundred dollars. I've got it with me—"| | 44
"Oh, thank you many times, but I couldn't possibly!" cried Win. "I don't need it. I have lots of money."
"I'm glad—though I should have liked the pleasure," said Ena. And she genuinely would, because the act of giving would have pumped warmth into the cold place without waiting for time to change the temperature.
"There's one thing you must let me do, anyhow," she persisted. "That dress—the ' Blue Moon,' isn't it?—that you tried on and my brother bought for me, I want you to accept it. Oh, don't say no! It's miles too long for me" (she couldn't have brought herself to confess that it was hopelessly small for waist and hips) "and I never enjoy altered dresses—the style's lost. So you'll not be robbing me. If you won't have it, I shall believe it's a sign that you're offended at my interference."
Winifred thought for an instant and drew a long breath. "Then I must take the dress," she said. "It's more than good of you, of course. I sha'n't be in the kind of world where I can wear it, but——"
"Keep it to remember this evening—I mean, to remember me," Miss Rolls hastily amended.
"I will," said Win simply. But there was no danger that she would ever forget Miss Rolls.
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