Mary Jane Holmes.

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shining mass at the back of her head and fastened with a comb of pink
coral, Lord Hardy's gift, when he was in Naples with her. At her throat
she wore a blush rose and another in her belt, with no jewelry of any
kind, except her wedding ring, and Bessie's turquois, which she still
appropriated. Nothing could be simpler than her whole dress, and nothing
more becoming, for it gave her a sweet girlish look, which she knew
always produced an effect.

Meanwhile the expected guests had arrived, and Daisy heard them in the
hall as they took possession of the room opposite hers. Lady Jane was
very tired, and hot, and dusty, for she had come from Edinburgh that
day, and she glanced around her luxurious apartment with a feeling of
comfort and relief, as she issued her orders to her maid, Lydia, and
talked to her husband.

"Open the little trunk, Lydia, and take out my pearl-colored grenadine;
I cannot wear a heavy silk to-night; and find my Valenciennes fichu and
my small diamonds, I don't suppose there is any one in particular here,
unless it is Lady Oakley, and she, I presume has the room opposite this.
She did, the last time we were here. John, we are really very
comfortable. Mrs. Smithers knows how to keep up an attractive house, and
is a charming woman, though, of course, not quite to the manner born.
Was her father an iron monger, or what?"

"He was a wholesale merchant, and worth a mint of money. Why, he could
buy out every McPherson and Trevellian in the United Kingdom," was
John's reply; and then, with a little toss of her head, Lady Jane began
her toilet, for it wanted but an hour of dinner.

"There, that will do for me; I can finish the rest myself. And now go to
Blanche's room and see to her and send Neil to me," she said to Lydia,
when she was nearly dressed.

Lydia obeyed, and after she had gone, Lady Jane said to her husband:

"I hope Mrs. Smithers will not object to Blanche, even if she was not
invited. I really could not leave her behind."

There was no reply from John, who was busy in the dressing-room, but a
fresh young voice from the doorway answered her:

"I think it was downright cheeky to bring her without an invitation.
With her giggling, and her _reelys_, and her _yis-es_ - all she can
say - and her white eyebrows and tow hair, she is not very ornamental,
even if she has ten thousand a year."

The speaker was Neil McPherson, the boy who on the Fourth of July had
been thrashed by Grey Jerrold for his sneer at the American flag, find
his comments on American ladies. He was a year older than Grey, with a
dark, handsome face, a pleasant smile, and winsome ways when he chose to
be agreeable. As a rule, he was very good-natured, and his manners were
perfect for a boy of fifteen; but there was in all he did or said an air
of superiority, as if he felt himself quite above the majority of his
companions, which, indeed, was the fact. Trained by his mother from
infancy to consider the Trevellian blood the best in England outside the
pale of royalty, and the McPherson blood the best outside the peerage,
it was not strange that his good qualities - and he had many - should be
warped, and dwarfed, and overshadowed by an indomitable pride and
supreme selfishness, which would prompt him at any time to sacrifice his
best friend in behalf of his own interest. And yet Neil was generally a
favorite, for he was frank, and obliging, and good-humored, and very
gentlemanly in his manner, and quick to render the little attentions so
gratifying to the ladies, by whom he was held in high esteem as a
pattern boy. He was the idol of his mother, who saw no fault in him
whatever, and who had commenced already to plan for him a brilliant
marriage, or at least a marriage of money, for her own income was not
large, and that of her husband smaller still.

Blanche Trevellian, whom Neil had designated as tow-haired, and
white-browed, was her grand-niece, and Neil's second cousin, and as
heiress to ten thousand a year, she might develop into a desirable
_parti_, notwithstanding her ordinary appearance now. And so, when the
girl became an orphan, Lady Jane offered to take charge of her, and took
her into the family as the daughter of the house, though she never
encouraged Neil to think of her as a sister. She was his cousin Blanche,
and entitled to a great deal of forbearance and respect, because of her
money, and because her mother had been the granddaughter of a duke. Neil
called her cousin Blanche, and quarreled with and teased her, and made
fun of her white eyebrows, and said her feet were too big, and her
ankles too small, and that on standing she always bent her knees to make
herself look short; for she was very tall and angular, and awkward every
way.

"Wait till my cousin Bessie grows up; there's a beauty for you," he had
said to his mother on his return from Stoneleigh, where he had spent a
few days the winter previous, and greatly to the annoyance of his
mother, he talked constantly of the lovely child who had made so strong
an impression upon him.

Lady Jane had heard much of Daisy's exploits, and as the stories
concerning her were greatly exaggerated, she looked upon her, if not
actually an abandoned woman, as one whose good name was hopelessly
tarnished, and she never wished to see either her face or that of her
child. Nor did she dream how near the enemy was to her; only just across
the hall, in the room which she fully believed to be occupied by her
friend, old Lady Oakley, from Grosvenor Square. When her husband and
Neil went out, as they did soon after the latter had expressed himself
with regard to Blanche and been sharply reproved, they left the door
ajar, and she could hear the sound of footsteps in the room opposite,
where Lady Oakley was supposed to be making her toilet, just as Lady
Jane was making hers.

"I believe I will go and see her," she said to herself, when her
dressing was completed and she found she had a good fifteen minutes
before the dinner hour, and stepping across the hall she knocked at
Daisy's door.

Daisy's first impulse was to call out, "_Entrez!_" as she did on the
Continent; her second, to open the door herself, which she did,
disclosing to the view of her astonished visitor, not a fat, red-faced
dowager of seventy, but a wonderful vision of girlish loveliness, clad
in simple muslin, with a mischievous twinkle in the blue eyes which met
hers so fearlessly.

"I beg your pardon, miss," Lady Jane began, stammeringly: "I thought
this was Lady Oakley's room. She is my friend. I hope you will excuse
me," she continued, as she detected the smothered mirth in Daisy's eyes.

"There is nothing to excuse," Daisy began, in perfectly well-bred tones,
"the mistake was natural. Lady Oakley did occupy this room, I believe,
but she is now in the north wing, as Mrs. Smithers kindly gave this room
to me so that I might be near you; that is, if, as I suppose, you are
Lady Jane McPherson?" and she looked steadily at her visitor, who with a
slight bridling of her long neck, bowed in the affirmative, never
doubting that the young person before her was fully her equal,
notwithstanding the plainness of her dress, every detail of which she
took in at a glance and mentally pronounced perfect.

"Some poor earl's daughter whom Mrs. Smithers has found. She has a
peculiar talent for making good acquaintances," she thought, just as
Daisy offered her hand, which she involuntarily took, but dropped as if
it had been a viper when the latter said:

"Then you are my aunt, or rather my husband's aunt, for I am Mrs.
Archibald McPherson, and I am so glad to meet you."

Had a bomb-shell exploded at Lady Jane's feet and struck her in the face
she could not have been more astonished. Stepping quickly back from this
claimant to her notice, her face grew pale for an instant, and then
flushed with anger, as she gasped:

"_You_, Mrs. Archibald McPherson! that - that - " she did not say what,
but added, "What are you doing here?"

"Visiting Mrs. Smithers like yourself," Daisy replied, with
imperturbable gravity. "We were together in Florence, where I was sick,
and she was kind enough to like me, and she invited me to spend this
month with her, so that I might meet Archie's relatives, whom she
thought I ought to know, and Lady Oakley thinks so too. She came
yesterday."

"Yes," Lady Jane kept repeating, as she retreated step by step till she
stood in her own door, with her eyes still fixed upon Daisy, who
fascinated her in spite of her deeply rooted prejudice, amounting almost
to hatred.

The creature, as she designated her, was far prettier than she had
supposed, and might pass for a lady with those who knew nothing of her
antecedents - but then her reputation as a bold, fast woman! Would it be
safe or right to allow Blanche, whom she designed for Neil, to remain
under the same roof with such a person? was her first query. Still, if
Mrs. Smithers, who was a power in the social world, notwithstanding her
connection with trade, had taken her up, and Lady Oakley, too, perhaps
it would be better not to make a scene and show her animosity too much.
She could be barely civil to the woman and cut her visit short on one
pretext or another. Thus deciding, she said:

"Meeting you so suddenly has surprised me very much, Mrs. McPherson. I
hope your husband is well. I knew him when a boy. Perhaps he is in the
drawing-room. I think I will go down, as it is nearly dinnertime," and
bowing stiffly, she went down the stairs, every nerve quivering with
insulted dignity, and not quite certain whether she heard a smothered
laugh or not from the room, where Daisy was shaking with laughter at
what she termed the old cat's discomfiture.

"Nasty thing!" she said "how she hates me, and how little I care! I hope
I sha'n't let her spoil my fun. I have the inside track, and I mean to
keep it!"

Thus deciding, she, too, started for the drawing-room, where the guests
were assembling for dinner, and where Mrs. Smithers, who was by nature
rather officious and anxious to right everything, was explaining to Lady
Jane that she had invited Mr. and Mrs. Archibald McPherson to meet her,
and was descanting upon the beauty and amiability of the latter, whom
her ladyship was sure to like.

"A little too much of a coquette, perhaps," she said, "but so very
pretty and piquant that she cannot help attracting admiration."

"Yes, I know - I have seen her. I made her acquaintance in the upper
hall," Lady Jane answered, coldly, and this saved the embarrassment of
an introduction when Daisy at last appeared, perfectly self-possessed
and graceful, and looking, as Lady Jane unwillingly confessed to
herself, as innocent as a Madonna.

Meanwhile Archie had sought his uncle, resolved to have the awkwardness
of their first meeting over before any prying eyes were upon them. He
found him alone, and, mustering all his courage, went up to him and
offered his hand, as if nothing had ever occured to separate them.

John McPherson had heard from his host that his nephew was there, and
was in a most perturbed state of mind, on his wife's account, rather
than on his own. She would be very indignant, and perhaps do something
rash, he feared, while, for himself he wanted to see the boy, whom he
had always liked. It was while he was thinking thus that Archie came
suddenly upon him. In his surprise, Mr. McPherson forgot everything
except the young man standing so humbly before him, with a look on his
face, and in his eyes, like the brother dead years ago, and who, when
dying, had said, "Be kind to Archie."

Extending both hands to his nephew, he said:

"Archie, by Jove, I am glad to see you. I hope you are well, though upon
my word, you don't look so," and he glanced curiously, and with a
sensation of pity, at the young man, who, though scarcely thirty-one,
might have passed for forty, he was so pale and care worn, while his
clothes were threadbare and shining in places, and hung upon him
loosely. But at this cordial greeting, there was a wonderful
transformation, and Archie's face grew almost boyish in its expression,
and there was a moisture in his eyes as he took his uncle's hands and
held them, while he answered the questions put to him so rapidly.
Remembering at last that it was his duty to reprove his nephew a little,
the Hon. John said to him:

"I have been very angry with you, for your hasty marriage was not what I
could have wished. It has severed you from - us - from Lady Jane
completely."

"Yes, I know," Archie replied. "I supposed you would not like it; but my
marriage was for myself, and not for any one else."

"And it has proved all you could wish?" his uncle asked, regarding him
steadily.

Archie's face was very red, and his lips were white, as he replied:

"Daisy was very young. We ought to have waited; but she is beautiful,
and greatly admired."

"Umph! More's the pity!" John said. Then, after a moment's silence, he
continued: "I say, Archie, how have you managed to live all these years?
I hear of you everywhere I hope you have not resorted to the
gaming-table?"

"Never!" came decidedly from Archie, "Do you think I would break my
promise to my father? I have never touched a card, even for amusement,
though I have wanted to so much, when I needed money sadly and saw how
easily it was won at Monte Carlo."

"Your wife plays, though!" John said sharply; and Archie replied:

"I have nothing to say on that score, except that Daisy takes care of
me. I should starve without her; for you know I was not brought up to
work, and it is too late now to begin, though I believe I'd be willing
to break stone on the highway, if I had the strength."

"Yes, yes, I see," the uncle interposed, a horrible dread seizing him
lest his nephew might do something beneath a McPherson unless he was
prevented.

"How much have you now? - how much money, I mean?"

"Just one shilling; and Daisy has, ten. If Mrs. Smithers had not invited
us here, Heaven only knows what we should have done, for Daisy will not
stay at Stoneleigh; so we travel from place to place, and she manages
somehow," Archie said: and his uncle rejoined:

"And makes her name a by-word and a reproach, as I suppose you know."

"Daisy is my wife!" Archie replied, with a dignity for which his uncle
menially respected him.

Just then the last dinner-bell rang, and rising from his seat, John put
his hand first in his vest pocket and then into Archie's hand, where he
left a twenty-pound note, saying rapidly:

"You needn't tell _her_ - your wife I mean, or mine, either. A man may do
as he likes occasionally."

They were walking toward the house, arm-in-arm, and Archie's step was
lighter, and his face brighter and handsomer than it had been in many a
day. Indeed, he was quite his old self as he entered the drawing room
and greeted his august aunt, who received him more graciously than, she
had his wife.

Just then Neil came in with Bessie, whom he took to his mother, saying:

"Look, mother, here is Bessie. Didn't I tell you she was a beauty?"

Then, as his mother merely inclined her head, he lifted the child in
his arms and held her close to the proud lips which touched the white
forehead coldly, while a frown darkened the lady's face, for
notwithstanding that Bessie was so young and Neil a mere boy, she
disapproved of the liking between them lest it should interfere with
Blanche. But Neil did not fancy Blanche, and he did like Bessie, and
took her in to dinner, holding her little hand while she skipped and
jumped at his side and looked up in his face with those great blue eyes
which moved him strangely now, and which in the after time were to
bewilder and intoxicate and awaken in him all the better impulses of his
nature and then become the sweetest and the saddest memory of his life.

"It is so nice to go to dinner with big people and have all you want to
eat, isn't it?" she said to him, as she settled herself in her chair and
adjusted her napkin with all the precision of a grown person.

"Of course it's nice," Neil replied, never dreaming what a real dinner
was to this child who had so often dined on a bit of bread, a few
shriveled grapes, a fig or two and some raisins, trying hard to keep her
tears back when the bread was dry and scanty and she was very hungry.

She was very happy with Neil at her side, and she laughed and chatted
with him and told him of Stoneleigh and the white rabbit old Anthony was
rearing for him when he came at Christmas as he had promised to do.

Dinner being over, Archie, who did not smoke, excused himself from the
gentlemen who did, and taking Bessie with him, sauntered off into the
grounds till he reached the seat where he had found his uncle. Sitting
down upon it and taking Bessie in his lap he told her of his good
fortune and showed her the bank-note.

"Oh, I am so glad!" the child exclaimed; "for now we are real, and not
impostors, are we?"

"Not in the sense of not having any money," he replied, but there was a
sad, anxious expression on his face, as he looked down upon the little
girl beside him, and thought of the future and what it might bring to
her.

"Bessie," he said, at last, "how would you like to live at Stoneleigh
altogether, and not be traveling about?"

"Oh, I'd like it so much," Bessie said, "but I am afraid mamma would
not. She hates Stoneleigh, it's so dull."

"But you and I might live there. You would be my little housekeeper and
I could teach you your lessons," Archie said, conjuring up in his mind a
vision of a quiet home with Bessie as his companion.

If Daisy did not choose to stay with him she could go and come as she
liked, he thought, and then and there he decided that _his_ wandering
life was at an end.

The next day the party at Penrhyn Park was increased by Mr. and Mrs.
Burton Jerrold from Boston: "very nice Americans, especially the lady,
who might pass for an Englishwoman," Mrs. Smithers informed her guests.

"Yes, I know them, or rather I know their son Grey, the young cub who
thrashed me so last Fourth of July when we were at Melrose," Neil
exclaimed; "but he's not a bad fellow after all, and we grew to be good
friends, I hope he is coming, too."

But Grey did not come, as the reader will remember, for his mother made
it a kind of punishment for his quarrel with Neil, that he should remain
in London while she visited at Penrhyn Park, where she met with Lady
Jane McPherson, whom she admired greatly, and with Daisy, whom she
detested for the bold coquetry, which manifested itself so plainly after
the arrival of Lord Hardy, that even Mrs. Smithers' sense of propriety
was shocked, and she began to look forward with pleasure to the day when
her house would be freed from the presence of this lady.

The month of August was the limit of the visit, and Daisy would have
gone then had there been any place to go to except Stoneleigh. But there
was not; no friendly door was open to her. She could not return to
London, and she would not go to Stoneleigh: so, she resolved to remain
where she was until Lord Hardy returned to his country seat in Ireland,
and then she would go there and take Archie and Bessie with her.

To carry out this purpose she began suddenly to droop and affect a
languor and weakness she was far from feeling, for she had really never
been better in her life, and Archie knew it, and watched her with dismay
as she enacted the role of the interesting invalid to perfection. A
little hacking cough came on, with a pain in her side, and finally, to
Mrs. Smithers' horror, she took to her bed the last week in August,
unable to sit up, but overwhelmed with grief at her inability to travel,
and fear lest she should be a burden upon her hostess, and outstay her
welcome.

Never dreaming that it was a farce to gain time, Mrs. Smithers made the
best of it, and saw guest after guest depart, until only the Welsh
McPhersons remained, and she was longing to get away herself to the
north of Scotland, where she was due the middle of September.
Fortunately Lord Hardy went home sooner than he had intended, and wrote
to Daisy and her husband that his house was ready for them, and then the
invalid recovered her strength rapidly, and was able in three days to
leave Penrhyn Park, and travel to Ireland with Archie, who had fought
hard to return to Stoneleigh and begin the new life he had resolved
upon. But Daisy knew better than to go to Hardy Manor without him, and
she persuaded him to go with her and then to Paris, from which place she
made a flying visit to Monte Carlo, where she met with such success that
she did not greatly object to spending the holidays at Stoneleigh,
whither they went just before Christmas.

It was at this time that Archie received his aunt's letter offering to
take little Bessie and bring her up as a sensible, useful woman. For a
moment Archie's heart leaped into his throat as he thought of
emancipating his child from the baneful influence around her, but when
he remembered how desolate he should be without her, he said:

"I cannot let her go."

Upon one point, however, he was still resolved; he would remain at
Stoneleigh and keep Bessie with him. Nothing could change that decision.
Daisy would of course go where she pleased. He could not restrain her,
and as many Englishwomen did travel alone on the Continent, she might
escape remark in that respect, and be no more talked about than if he
were with her. At first Daisy objected to this plan. It was necessary
for her to earn their living, she said, and the least Archie could do
was to give the support of his presence. But Archie was firm, and when
in February Daisy started again on her trip, which had for its
destination Monte Carlo and Genoa, Archie was left behind with his
twenty-pound note, which he had not yet touched, and with Bessie as his
only companion.




CHAPTER VI.

SEVEN YEARS LATER.


Seven years, and from a lovely child of eight years old Bessie McPherson
had grown to a wonderfully beautiful girl of fifteen, whose face once
seen could never be forgotten, it was so sweet, and pure, and refined,
and yet so sad in its expression at times, as if she carried some burden
heavier than the care of her father, who was fast sinking into a state
of confirmed invalidism, and to whom she devoted all the freshness of
her young life, with no thought for herself or her own comfort. And
there was a shadow on the girl's life; a burden of shame and regret for
the silly, frivolous mother, who spent so little time at home, but who
flitted from place to place on the Continent, not always in the best of
company but managing generally to hang on to some old dowager either
English, French, or German, and so cover herself with an appearance of
respectability. Sometimes Lord Hardy was with her, and sometimes he was
not, for as he grew older and knew her better, he began to weary of her
a very little. Just now he was in Egypt, and before he started he sent
her a receipt in full for all her indebtedness to him for borrowed money
which he knew she could never pay. And Daisy had written to her husband
that the debt was paid, and had given him to understand that a stroke of
unparalleled success had enabled her to do it. When her mother died two
years before, and left a few hundreds to her daughter, Archie had urged
the necessity of sending the whole to young Hardy, but Daisy had refused
and spent it for herself. Now, however, it was paid, and he was glad,
and quite content with his uneventful life, even though, it was a life
of the closest economy and self-denial for himself and Bessie.

When Daisy had plenty she divided with the household at Stoneleigh, and
when she had little she kept it for herself, and Archie and Bessie
shifted for themselves - or rather the latter did, and was sometimes
almost as hungry as she had been when she ate the dry bread and
shriveled grapes on the fifth floor back of some large hotel.

Bessie understood perfectly her mother's mode of life, and knew that
though she was not degraded in the worst sense of the word, she was an
adventuress and a gambler, whom good, pure women shunned, and over whom
she mourned as a mother mourns for the child which has gone astray. And
yet Bessie's life was a comparatively happy one, for she had her father,
and she had Neil, her cousin, the handsome and spirited boy from Eton,
and later the dashing student from Oxford, who came sometimes to
Stoneleigh and made the place like heaven to the young girl blooming
there unseen and unknown to the great world outside, and Bessie hoped to
see him soon, for she was going with her father to London, where she had
never been since she was a child, and of which she did not remember



Online LibraryMary Jane HolmesBessie's Fortune A Novel → online text (page 14 of 39)