Ethel Watts Mumford Grant.

Whitewash online

. (page 7 of 13)
Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 7 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and temptations ! " He bowed his head on his
free hand and looked gloomily into the mirror


She followed his glance and gazed approval on
their common reflections. How handsome he
was! and how well she was looking herself!
The wine and excitement had flushed her cheeks
and lighted her eyes with a starry radiance;
a dew of perspiration had dampened her hair and
ruffled it into soft curls. Her satisfaction in
her own appearance made her the more ready
to admire him, made her the more lenient to
his avowed fault; besides, what woman ever
scorns to triumph over a rival in any man s
estimation ?

" A woman s intuition permits her to divine
conditions that are not actually within her expe
rience," she answered, softly, sipping the glass
of champagne before her with grave apprecia
tion, " and I think I can fairly say that you have
not fallen in my estimation. One learns," and
here Philippa looked vastly worldly-wise and bit
ter, " not to expect a man s life to be as spotless
as a woman s, or even a woman s as spotless as
it ought to be. I must own, though, that what
you tell me of Victoria would surprise most of
her friends more than it does me. I have never



quite held her in my esteem to the point of abso
lute trust. There is a suggestion of defiance in
her Bohemianism. She permits herself liberties
that are not wise. She lunches with any man
she likes, whenever she pleases, in the most public
places. I often used to speak to her about it,
and she always resented it, maintaining that as
long as a woman stayed in broad daylight,
and in a public place, she was sufficiently chap
eroned. But such things show a disregard of
public opinion that sooner or later leads to graver
offences, not only against the laws of convention,
but against the laws of God."

Valdeck hid a smile with his serviette. She
was too delicious, this girl. His curiosity began
to rise concerning this Victoria whose character
he had just destroyed. Evidently she was a
woman of independence and intelligence. It was
rather a pity to spoil her reputation; but it had
to be done. Besides, he reflected, was it not a
custom current in society, was it not sufficient to
justify any calumny, that the person thus pun
ished should happen to know things derogatory



to the calumniator ? " The greater the truth the
greater the libel " works more ways than one.

" Philippa," he said, apparently coming out of
a brown study, " you are the sweetest, dearest
woman in the world. I shall never forget your
kindness and charity, as I can never forget your
loveliness and truth. My lady of goodness! I
believe there is not another such combination of
beauty, brains, and sincerity on the face of the
earth." " How she swallowed it all ! " he added to

She drew out her tiny jewelled watch and
glanced at it with a pout. " We must go soon,"
she murmured, reluctantly. " Aunt Lucy keeps
such close count of my every moment, and "
she turned her innocent eyes to his face "I
do so hate deception."

" And she really believes it," he thought, de
lightedly; "she honestly thinks herself the soul
of truth!"

" Not yet," he begged aloud ; " a few moments
more or less count very little to Aunt Lucy, while
to me you don t realize what they are to me!



And when shall I see you again? To-morrow?
where? "

Philippa remembered with annoyance that Mor
ton Conway was coming to take her driving in
the afternoon. She couldn t very well refuse. She
had a luncheon engagement, and dressmaker s in
the morning, dinner and theatre-party at the
Wellsleys oh, dear ! The dressmaker would
have to wait.

" I ll go over to Victoria s early in the morn
ing," she said, slowly, " about ten I can t very
well go earlier. I ll make her tell me what she
intends to do, and let me see suppose you
wait in the Turkish room at the Waldorf, at
twelve. If by any chance I should be detained,
I ll call you up on the telephone at half after.
I ll be there, though," she added, looking her

" You are so good ! " he said again. " Now
that I have the assurance that you will not believe
anything that will be said against me, now
that you know the very worst that can be said
with truth, I can t tell you how relieved I am.
Confession lightens one s load wonderfully. The


Catholic doctrine is founded on a real human
need. If every one loved God as I love you "

" Oh ! " cried Philippa, interrupting with al
most terrified emphasis ; " don t, don t say such
things to compare me with the Deity ! "

She was genuinely shocked, for Philippa was
very devout on Sundays and in Lent.

" Forgive me," he begged, humbly. " I did
not mean to hurt your beautiful faith. Unfor
tunately, I can believe in nothing only in you
and my duty to my fellow man."

She was not displeased. Atheism sat not unbe
comingly on manly shoulders, though to her think
ing it was to the last degree bad form in a woman.
Religion, like one s evening dress, was the proper
thing and indispensable for certain occasions,
though she attributed her religious fervor to quite
different emotions.

The more Valdeck turned the leaves of his
companion s character, the greater was his amuse
ment. It was like reading some written study of
the ultrafeminine. It might be worth one s trouble
to sketch out a romance with her for the sake
of watching her clockwork. But time pressed ;



another week and he would have dropped from
this crude sphere as completely as if he had never
existed to reincarnate himself under another
name, in another country, and build up an excel
lent reputation that would shield the sources of
his wealth, if all went well.

Philippa rose, and began the various adjust
ments of hairpins and garments, always premoni
tory of her going forth.

"Must you go now?" he asked. "I won t
tease ; you know best but must you ? "

She nodded, almost sadly.

He bowed his head in acquiescence to the inevi
table, and rang the bell for the waiter. Hastily
settling his bill, he turned to her once more.
She was carefully prodding her hat with a topaz-
headed pin, as she studied her face in the glass.
He crossed over and stood beside her. She thrilled
with his presence.

" You are so beautiful ! " he whispered. " May
I ? " And before she could protest he folded
her in his arms, turned her flushed face to his,
and kissed her on the mouth.

For an instant she yielded to his arm, resting


her head on his breast for the infinitesimal frac
tion of a second. A quivering delight mounted
from her heart and dimmed her eyes. But in a
moment she was herself again.

" Mr. Valdeck ! " she said, severely. " And I
trusted you in coming here ! "

The tone was perfect. " Just as if she hadn t
been waiting for that all the evening," he thought,
admiringly. " She s a genius." He kept silent,
only looking at her with humble, dog-like eyes,
as a hound reproved for showing too much ex
uberance of affection.

With a petulant movement she caught up her
jacket, pouted, smiled, looked at him and then
at it, and finally held it out with an inimitable
gesture of amused reluctance.

11 You ll have to help me into it, I suppose."

He sprang forward, took the outstretched gar
ment and clasped it fondly.

" No, no, it isn t for you to keep," she laughed.

The operation of getting into the wrap was
prolonged, and difficult, numerous hooks had to
be attended to and sleeves smoothed, to all of
which Philippa laughingly submitted, unconscious



of the deft unfastening of her treasured jewel,
and its sudden disappearance down a concealing
sleeve. At the door he took her hand and kissed
it fervently.

" Let me go first, dear," he said, passing in
front. " I want to see if the coast is clear. I
told the waiter to call a cab."

Feeling more deliciously wicked than ever,
Philippa crept through the hall and down the
stairs. All was quiet, and with the glee of a
schoolboy who successfully carries out a danger
ous prank, she sprang into the waiting carriage.

1 60


MRS. DURHAM opened the door to Vic
toria s familiar knock. "Well?" she said, re
moving a thick cork penholder from her mouth.
She wore a gingham apron plentifully besprinkled
with ink-stains, and her hair showed signs of her
recent labors.

Victoria threw down her muff and slung her
fur collar across the room. " I saw the consul,
and he has taken the matter up; but it seems
there is red tape enough to strangle us all. I m
sorry I ever touched the thing."

" What is he going to do? "

Victoria subsided into a chair. " About what
you suggested. He is going to cable to half a
dozen proper authorities, have Valdeck shad
owed if they think best. I suggested having his
rooms searched, but there are all sorts of difficul
ties. He s a Russian subject, or claims to be;



the consul intimated all sorts of horrifying inter
national complications. He seemed disgusted that
I brought the thing to him, and I must confess
I m sorry I did. If I hadn t seen that child die,
I don t think I should have touched it, but
well, it s done now ; the machinery is going."

" Yes," said Mrs. Durham, whirling about in
her office chair ; " it now remains to be seen
who will be drawn in, and what sort of a sausage
will be the result."

" I m inclined to think I shall season it largely
myself," Victoria answered, ruefully. " Philippa
is going to make it warm for me when she finds
herself dragged in by the ears the brooch,
I mean, with her pathetic little story about dear
mother s heirloom, too."

Mrs. Durham chuckled, but sobered suddenly.
" Be very careful," she advised, " how you go
about that. She would be an unpleasant enemy.
She, as the challenged party, has the choice of
weapons, and unless I vastly misjudge her, they
will be of a type that you wouldn t soil your
hands with."

" I know it. Oh, why didn t you head me off?


I ll get myself and every one else into a hornet s

" Because, dear, I believe that dangerous ani
mals should not be left at large; such creatures
owe their immunity to the trouble they give lazy

" And besides," added Victoria, " it isn t your
fight, and it will be entertaining to watch."

Mrs. Durham swung completely about and
faced her friend. " You have such a disagreeable
little way of dragging the Sunday clothes off
my rag doll, but it s invaluable from a literary

" Apparently I m to be a sort of god from the
machine for every one s benefit but my own,"
murmured Victoria. " But the Philippa question
is serious."

A knock at the door startled them both, and
Victoria rose reluctantly to answer the summons.

" Good morning, dear," a well-known voice
trilled, gaily. " I stopped in early, as you told
me you were always home. May I come in, or
do I disturb?"



" We were just talking of you." Victoria s
expression was composite.

" Speaking of angels," Mrs. Durham added,
rising to greet their visitor.

Philippa entered, more gorgeous than ever,
rustling aggressively in her silk petticoats. Her
light tan cloth gown, with its cleverly combined
touches of gold and brown, set off her blonde
prettiness to perfection. She felt a glow of pleas
ure as she noted Victoria s dishevelled appearance,
and the bespattered apron that concealed Mrs.
Durham s graceful figure. She regarded her
friend with a new and cruel interest, bred of
the last-night confidences. It was delightful to
feel that she held this girl s reputation in the
hollow of her hand this girl who had let her
read scorn of her, Philippa s, life and character
the girl whose appearance had forced her to
hedge and definitely engage herself when she had
other more interesting occupations. Truly, it was
a sweet morsel. Her musings gave her an ex
pression, half-sweet, half-sinister, and added a
new tone of superiority to her voice. Victoria



was instantly conscious of the change, but was
too full of her story to wonder at its origin.

The talk drifted on to indifferent topics as Mrs.
Durham kept the ball rolling on things operatic
and literary. Then she rose, excusing herself
gracefully on the plea of work, and left the friends
alone. Victoria plunged into the subject next
her consciousness.

" I hope," she said, " you won t be angry, but
I ve something to say about that pin you had on

Philippa s face showed a kaleidoscope of ex
pressions, but a painful recollection dominated.

" Do you know, Victoria, I lost it I can t
imagine how. I was dining last night at the
Denisons , and when I got home, it was gone.
I can t imagine how; the fastening was secure.
I must have pulled it off with my wraps. I m
heartbroken over it ! "

" Lost ! " cried Victoria, aghast, seeing the one
plank of her proof against Valdeck disappear
into thin air. She looked sharply at her friend.
For once she did not question the truth of her
statement; the chagrin was genuine. "It must



be found!" she ejaculated, sharply. "It must!
You see " and she floundered into her explana
tions "I know more about that pin than you
can guess. I know that Mr. Valdeck gave it to
you; I ll tell you all. Of course, you couldn t
very well tell me before everybody at the tea ;
I understood that perfectly. I admired the quick
way you turned it off, and I ought to have had
more tact than to blurt out such a question
but that s just like me."

Philippa played amazement. " Why, Vic, what
are you talking about? Are you insane? "

" I m going to tell you the whole story," Vic
toria went on, disregarding the interruption, " and
let you judge for yourself."

Philippa s thoughts during the recital were a
series of repressed exclamations. " Heavens !
she s accusing him of burglary! Did one ever
hear of such vindictiveness ! Lucius was right ;
she s a danger in petticoats ! What a horrible lie !
Oh! it s murder now! What next, I wonder!
The wickedness of it ! She s overstepping herself ;
nobody will believe that. Can such women live,
to play with a man s life and character like that?
1 66


She d ruin him for vengeance! And the calm
of her! She ll go to any length. Poor Lucius!
How wise he was to tell me!" And running
in and out of these comments, like an arabesque
movement in a Persian rug, stood the Pharisee s
thankfulness in every tone and variation. Never
had Philippa felt more virtuous than now as she
beheld the iniquities of her friend s character in
all their blackness. Yet she must contain her
righteous indignation if she was to save Valdeck
from the net that would be cast about him.

Victoria s story reached its climax. Philippa s
mental exclamation points multiplied. His
mother s pin that he gave me out of his great
love of me a part of the plunder! What won t
she say ! The very idea ! She ought to be buried
alive for such infamy. Never mind, a day of
retribution will come, and the dispensing hand
of justice may be the small white-gloved one
lying here so meekly. She looked at the hand

"What will you do?" she asked, at length,
" for, of course, you will have to prove such a
remarkable story."



Victoria described her visit to the French con
sulate, and the measures that would probably be

Her listener s heart stopped beating.

Detectives! A search! Impossible! The
whole villainous plot was clear as day. Evidently
Victoria knew of Valdeck s secret connection with
the Polish Educational League. The money he
was collecting he would be unable to explain with
out implicating himself and the generous patriots,
without putting himself and them practically into
the power of the Russian secret police. Valdeck
had assured her that even in America there was
no safety once their positions were well authenti

On fire to put him on his guard, she cut short
the interview. She must go at once. She must
warn him, must help him at any cost. Her
manner was strangely abstracted, and to Victoria s
amazement she did not try to defend her protege,
but took her leave with unaccustomed quiet. Vic
toria looked after her with puzzled eyes.

" Now what on earth " she began aloud.

"What did she say?" came from Mrs. Dur-


ham, peeping in between the curtains of her

" Nothing at all. I don t understand it."

"Didn t get angry? didn t make any demur
to your statements concerning dear mamma s
jewels? "

" She didn t seem really surprised, either, now
that I come to think of it. I can t make it out."
Victoria sighed, wearily. " I wish I knew what
she has up her sleeve for she has something."

" Do you suppose," Mrs. Durham ventured,
shrewdly, " that he has told her himself oh, not
the real thing, but some explanation ? "

Victoria shook her head. " Hardly ; it is too
grave. It wouldn t do for him to block me by
fighting fire with a fire sure to burn him just
as badly."

"What then?"

" That s just it ; I don t see any explanation.
Oh, it s probably only imagination. She was
quiet about it for the reason that she wasn t
sufficiently interested. You know how one always
attributes a deeper motive than the apparent one
because the obvious appears too simple."



" That is the habit of wily people," said Mrs.
Durham ; " but Vic, my dear, you are not of that
kind. You are direct; that is your power and
your charm. I ll back an impression of yours
against three of my own, and I m not so very
modest and humble about my own penetration.
My advice to you, my girl, is, if you feel there
is a screw loose in the elegant Miss Ford, watch
her. You are very apt to be right."

" I don t intend," said Victoria, rising, " to
bother my head about it longer. Mr. Conway and
I are going to lunch at the Casino. Don t you
want to come ? "

Mrs. Durham shook her head. " No, I can t.
I have to be at Miss Allison s at two."

" I m sorry. I d like you two to be friends.
He is the rarest thing in the world, a well-bal
anced enthusiast."

" Why don t you marry him, Vic? You seem
to admire him so much."

" I m altogether too fond of him for that," she
answered, gravely.

Mrs. Durham nodded. " Yes, as one nears the
years of, say indiscretion, it s well to treasure


an occasional illusion. It makes one think kindly
of one s self as well as of others."

" Besides," Victoria went on, occupied with her
own chain of thought, " he keeps my mind too
busy when we are together ; I have no leisure to
think of anything but the subject in hand. And
I ve always observed that to fall in love with a
person, there must be a possibility of an occasional
silence, or, at least, a lull : then one s senses begin
to take note. But with a person who keeps
your intellect continually occupied, there is no
leisure for emotions. That s why you see so
many clever people fall in love with stupid ones,
or those for whom they are entirely unfitted."

" Why don t you give lectures on the tender
passion? " asked Mrs. Durham, with fine irony.

" Because," returned Victoria, " I should prob
ably champion the idea of return-tickets, good
for six months, for matrimonial explorers. How
on earth does a person know whether he likes a
country he has never seen? And from what I
have known of my friends who have settled in
the holy united states of matrimony, I think they
all regret not having had the land prospected."



" I cancel your lecture tour, my dear. As I
remarked before, your directness is startling.
However, that does not alter my belief that you
would be very happy married to the right man."

" But," objected Victoria, " how am I to know
the right man ? They all say they are and I
don t know."

Mrs. Durham stamped her foot. " Go on to
your Platonic rendezvous ; there is no convincing
you of obvious facts."

Victoria planted herself firmly before her chum.
" Do you want to get rid of me, or do you think
twenty-five is so old that you wish to provide
for me as one sends a pauper to the old ladies
home? I won t marry till I ve found Galahad,
Don Quixote, and Satan himself rolled into one.
He d be worth studying."

" And I ll bet you the proceeds of my next
chef-d oeuvre," Mrs. Durham replied, " that you
marry the most ordinary of mortals, and before
you re five years older, too."

" Cassandra ! " and Victoria shook her friend
by the shoulders.

" Cassandra s prophecies were fulfilled, if you


will recall your Iliad, my lady, so put that in
your cigarette and smoke it."

" You are incorrigible," said Victoria, freeing
her captive. "I m going I ll be home early,
though. Morton is going driving with somebody,
he told me, so we won t linger over the coffee."

Pushing in her rebellious hairpins with her
familiar gesture, she found her hat and gloves,
smoothed herself down, and waved a final

Twenty minutes later she was in sight of
the low building situated in the centre of the
Park. Morton was waiting for her, wandering
up and down in the checkered light and shade
under the wistaria arbor now bare and gray.
His face lighted with affectionate greeting as he
recognized the swing of her strong young body
and the free stride of her walk.

" Hello, Empress of India, Queen of the Isles !
I hope you re as hungry as I am."

She held out her hand in frank delight at his

" Starved and starving for a good old-fash
ioned talk with you, too." She gave his shoulder



a familiar pat, and they turned toward the res
taurant. "It s like old times, isn t it? And I
have so much to say that I m positively choked."

He looked at her carefully, taking in every
detail of her dress and person.

" You re looking extremely well, Tory. Do
you know, I ve often wondered why you haven t

She turned on him sharply. " I say, what has
got into you all to-day? Mrs. Durham has been
sermonizing from the same text, and now you
begin. What put it into your head? Are you
contemplating it yourself? "

With her usual logic she had hit the nail on
the head, and Morton, who was bursting to tell,
had a struggle to prevent his secret slipping from
him. He sought the usual refuge of exaggerated

" Alas ! the only girl I ever loved has refused
to tell me when she ll marry me. There are others,
I know, and I have even been told that I m a
catch ; but somehow well, my affairs aren t in
teresting. " You tell me of yours. I had the
table put here," he added, as he drew out her


chair for her, " because I knew that you would
insist on out-of-doors if you froze for it ; but
the lunch is hot, so I ll let you have your way."

" Line of least resistance," she laughed. " By
the way, speaking of resistance, I see you won
your case."

He nodded. " Yes, but it was more trouble
than it was worth ; the law "

" Tell me," she broke in, abruptly, " do you
know anything about extradition? I ve man
aged to get myself mixed up in a possible Franco-
Russian-American row, and I m beginning to be
sorry for it."

" You ll be considerably more sorry before
you re through, my dear, unsophisticated infant.
You ll have subpoenas and things served on you."

She held up an appealing hand. " Don t ! You
make me feel like a dining-table."

" You ll feel more like the dinner when they
dish you up, young lady. How did you ever get
mixed up in the thing? "

" That s the worst of it," Victoria answered,
ruefully. " I did it. I ve pushed the button, and
I suppose it s opened the Exposition, like the



President and the World s Fair. Yes, you might
just as well settle back and listen, for I m going
to tell you the whole story. This is the fourth
time in two days Mrs. D., the French consul,
Philippa Ford, and now you."

"Why Miss Ford?" hastily inquired Morton.

" Because she was mixed up in it, too. I m not
shouting this about generally. I told Mrs. Dur
ham because the thing struck me all of a heap,
and I had to get it out or die. I told the French
consul because I had to shift the responsibility.
I told Philippa because I thought she ought to
know, and I tell you because you are a sort of
twin, and because I want your help. Bob is at
college, and, besides, he s too much of a boy to
be of any use."

" Don t forget to eat," Morton observed,
kindly ; " nothing like nourishment when you
have to act and think."

Victoria obediently devoured what was put
before her as she went over the familiar story.
She was too engrossed to notice that her unvar
nished opinion of Philippa s character for veracity

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 7 of 13)