Stephen Hudson.

Elinor Colhouse online

. (page 1 of 7)
Online LibraryStephen HudsonElinor Colhouse → online text (page 1 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Elinor Colhouse

Stephen Hudson









Printed by
The RivEUiiDE Press LiiMited, Edinburgh







To the memory of
Charles Louis Philippe

r-> /r» x?-> r^ r^ -r*


The mornine was a most inconvenient
time to receive a stranger, especiall)' that
morning, as she had been washing her
hair, and besides, that ornery half-breed
help never got her work done till dinner-
time. But there was Richard Kurt wait-
ing downstairs to see her. She began
hastily doing up her hair, which, though
not as silky as she would have liked, was
thick and could be speedily what she called
"wadged into shape." She " wadged " it,
therefore, and put on her dress, the fas-
tenings of which she had been altering
while her hair dried. Pinning down the
front with various brooches and scarfpins,
gifts from different admirers, she read again
the letter she had received the previous day
from Frank Waters.


Elinor C olho u s e

" Af)' dear Ne//,—rve just tmselfishly
given young Kichard Kurt a note of intro-
duction to you. He s the nepheii) of Mr
Theophihis Kurt, Preside7it of the C. W.
and M., who is now in London. Richard's
father' is rich. Fm not high-flier enough
for you.

" He asked if you were a flirt and I told
him, as yoji zvere the prettiest girl in the
South, you might be with so7ne people, I
only knew you as what I remain, your old

Glancing in the mirror, she rubbed her
nose with an old powder leather and went

The young man came towards her from
the arm-chair beside the fireplace. He
looked hardly more than a boy, tall and
very slight. The shutters were half
closed, but she could see that his hair
was lightish, that his eyes were dark and
that he had a little fair moustache.

" I hope I haven't come at an


Elinor Col house

inconvenient hour. Miss Colhouse ? " His
accent was very English.

•' Not at all. I'm delighted. When did
you arrive ? " She dropped gracefully and
so lightly into the old arm-chair with a
broken spring that it didn't even creak,
while he stood, stick and straw hat in

" Early this morning. I thought I'd
come at once because I shan't be staying
long." He fidgeted a little, then sat down
at her suggestion.

" Don't you like Manitou ? "

" I don't know it, do I ? It's not the
sort of place I expected. As far as I can
make out, there's no sport to be got."

Elinor was prepared for this point of
view. In New York, those who were not
sportsmen talked as though they were.

"Do you hunt in England?" She
asked the question as though it didn't
make any difference whether he did or
not, but New York had taught her that
the hunting brand was the best.


Elinor C olhouse

" When I cret the chance."

" I suppose your people do."

He laughed. " You should see the
governor on a horse."

" Your father isn't a sportsman then ? "

"Well, you see, his idea of riding is
what he learnt when he came to London
as a boy and rode in the Park on Sun-
days. He hasn't got any seat at all.
Now mother can ride. She's got a perfect
seat and hands ; she's a born horsewoman."
He spoke eagerly. She felt he had a lot
to say about his mother.

" Where did she learn ? "

" Oh, I don't know. Picked it up, I

She was puzzled. What did he mean
by picking it up. " I suppose she lived
in the country ? "

" I don't know where mother lived be-
fore she married the governor." His eyes
were dark and penetrating when hers met
them, but he frequently looked away, as
thoueh he thouo;ht he was staring. He


Elinor C olhou s c

spoke very distinctly and his manner
was eager and jerky, with an occasional
nervous gesture.

In answer to his inquiry she told him
she lived in Waterville but had just come
from New York, where she had been visit-
ing a friend. She was aware he was
looking at her closely though she pre-
tended not to notice. He appeared to
have nothing more to say and she gazed
towards the opening in the half-shuttered
window. He was on her left, the best
side of her profile, as it happened, though
both were so good it hardly mattered.
She sat back with grace in the low arm-
chair, her arms, bare to the elbow, along
the sides and her tapering fingers clasp-
ing the edges. Her dress was a little
open at the neck and her breast rose and
fell rhythmically. She turned, creating
another pose, as he got up.

" I must be going ; it's lunch-time. May
I come back this afternoon } I should like
to call on Mrs Colhouse."


Elinor Colhouse

She restrained any sign of satisfaction.
" My mother will be very pleased. We
could go for a walk if you like and come
back here after."

" I should love to." He went lightly
to the door, opening it to a flood of sun-
shine which lit up his light, straight hair
and made him look younger than ever.

But it was the impression she made on
him that mattered and she hoped he had
taken an alluring portrait away with him.

• •


Her bedroom window commanded the
path which was a short cut to the hotel
and she watched him from behind the
curtain. Again his extreme youthfulness
struck her ; he did not look more than
eighteen. His figure was unmistakably
that of a gentleman ; his loose-fitting tweed
suit and brown shoes were un-American.

Her self-made blue dimity dress was
suitable for a short walk on a summer
afternoon. Its flimsiness set off her slight,


Elinor C olhous e

graceful figure ; the open neck edged with
lace displayed her mellow olive skin. The
red roses drooping over the brim of her
lei^horn hat a""ainst her blue-black hair
matched the touch of artifice on her lips
and cheeks. Two dark red roses lay on
the dressing-table, and as she entered the
sitting-room she held them to her finely
cut nostrils, standing on the threshold
while he came towards her. His ad-
miration, though restrained, was obvious.
Any man she knew would have greeted
her with a flattering allusion to what she
was aware was an artistic presentation of
herself. He made none.

" How kind of you to take me out, but
it's awfully hot for a walk."

"We needn't go far and we can sit down
somewhere in the shade."

They strolled by the side of the lake
till they reached a small path which led
upwards gently, through stretches of
heather, to a timber gate with pine-trees
on either side. They had hardly spoken

Elinor Col house

^ i

till she asked him to lift the top bars.
Slightly raising her skirt, she gave a
little run and, touching the lowest bar
lightly with her foot, bounded forward
like a bird. A few steps farther on were
some felled fir-trees to which she pointed
with her parasol.

" You mustn't sit on them in that pretty
dress." He threw off his jacket and laid
it where she could sit with comfort. She
disposed herself gracefully and he threw
himself down beside her.

" Do you think you can bear a day or
two longer here ? " She gazed down at
him with a demure expression in her large
dark eyes.

" Of course, this is delightful," he broke
off lamely. "Do you mind my smoking
a pipe :

" No ; I like them." No American she
knew smoked a pipe.

" I'm sorry, the pouch is in the pocket
— may I ? "

She moved herself just enough for him


Elinor C olh o u s e

to feel in the pocket ; in extracting the
pouch he had to put his hand partly under
her thigh and he Hushed.

She took no notice of his embarrass-
ment and lay back, displaying carelessly
a shapely silk-clad calf. He lit his pipe
and leant his back against the log upon
which she was sitting. A minute passed ;
neither spoke. A bird called in the dis-
tance, another answered it, there was a
faint lapping of water from the lake
beyond. He jumped up and stood facing

" I don't mean to fall in love with you,
you know."

She lifted her face slowly and smiled.

"Who thought about such a thing, Mr
Kurt?" It was the first time she had
given him a name.

" I've thought about it. How can one
help it when one's with you ? "

" That's very flattering." Her tone
was bantering.

" Don't laugh at me. I want to be
B 17

Elinor Col house

friends with you but I don't want to flirt.
I don't know how to. I always wonder
what these Americans say to girls. They
seem to be able to go on all day every
day talking to them. What on earth do
they talk about ? What am I to talk to you
about?" He looked her squarely in the

She laughed but she knew it was not
the ri<jht lautjh for the occasion. Her
laugh was a source of anxiety. She couldn't
get it right, though she had made a special
study of it even at theatres.

" Tell me about your life in England.
I'd love to hear about that."

She indicated that he should sit down
beside her again. He did so, pulling
valiantly at his pipe.

" I don't know where to begin. Besides,
I've been gone a year."

" Have you been a year in Cliftonburg.-^"

" No ; thank God. I was in Canada for
nine months with Billy Kartwright."

" Do you mean Sir William Leicester


Elinor Col house

Kartwright, who married Isolde Allones ? "
She knew all about the Kartwrights from
Town Topics and if Richard Kurt was
a friend of theirs he must be very well

" Yes. You see, he was in the
governor's business. I don't know what
he did there — not much, I should think.
They got up a big farming company ;
the governor put money into it. The
company owned land at different places
along the line between Medicine Hat
and Calgary and Billy Kartwright went
along in a caboose organising settle-
ments." He paused and considered an
instant. *' It was a fine scheme, but when
the labourers found out that the Canadians
got double as much as they'd contracted
for they turned it down. Billy Kart-
wright did it all on a grand scale. He
got over I don't know how many Polled
Angus and Galloway bulls, Clydesdale
stallions and Roscommon rams, and they
all went wrong — got sick or something —


Elinor Col house

and when the snow came they half starved ;
they couldn't feed in the snow like the
native-bred ones could. The imported
ploughs were no good for the soil ;
nothing was any good. And Kartwright
made his friends managers of the farms,
Public School fellows and all that, who
didn't know the West and took the whole
thing as a sort of sporting scheme. One
got up a scratch pack of hounds ; another

started laying out a cricket pitch "

His pipe had gone out ; he began relight-
ing it. "You can imagine the rest," he
said, between the puffs.

" And what did Sir William Kartwright
do } "

" He went off home with his wife and
left Blackett and me to run the show."
He paused. "Well, perhaps not exactly
that. He appointed a Scotch land bailiff
general manager but the labourers collared
him and stuck him in a cage. He looked
like a baboon anyhow." He lay back and
laughed heartily at the recollection.


Elinor Colhouse

" But where is Sir Leicester Kartwright
now ?" Elinor was not interested in what
happened to the bailiff.

" In England, trying to put things
rieht with his shareholders. I think the
governor expected to lose his money, and
only took shares to please Kartwright and
get me a job. You see, the governor's
got a big business. Of course they spend
a lot of money, especially my mother ; he
doesn't seem to care what she spends."
He knocked the ashes out of his pipe
on his heel and looked up at her. " I
love her to spend a lot of money and
have everything. She ought to ; there's
no one like her. But he kicks up a row
about my spending a few pounds more
than my allowance, and keeps me out
here when I want to go to the 'varsity."

Elinor was puzzled and was framing
a non-committal remark, when he got
up suddenly and added : "I say, I'm
cracked to go on saying all this. That's
the worst of me. I can't stop talking


Elinor C olhou s e

when I get started. But please don't
think I always do it. I don't know

why I did to-day, except that " He

paused, and as he stood looking at her
his brown eyes glistened.

She rose gracefully to her feet and,
slipping her hand inside his arm, pressed
it gently.

" I say, you are kind." He kept her
hand close to his side as they walked
slowly on together.

• ■ •


They found Mrs Colhouse sitting in
the porch, talking across the rose fence
to Mrs Shuter, who, Elinor considered,
was a common old woman. She shot
a displeased glance at her mother, turn-
ing her back to the boundary, on the
other side of which the objectionable
neighbour was sitting under a laburnum-
tree. When Elinor presented Richard
Kurt to her mother, she was unpleasantly
conscious that he had noticed her ungra-


Elinor Colhouse

ciousness. The deference of his attitude
towards Mrs Colhouse and his remark,
obviously intended for the ignored neigh-
bour to overhear : "How nice for you to
have such a charming garden next door.
Isn't that laburnum lovely ?" increased her

Richard placed a chair for her with its
back to the fence, but she ignored the
attention and entered the house. Just
like mammy to give her away like that
with her po' white trash. She flew upstairs,
and in her annoyance threw her pretty
leehorn hat on the bed with a vehemence
that turned it over on its bent brim in
a state of abject disgrace. After she had
powdered her nose, she felt sorry for it
and, giving it one or two restoring pokes,
replaced it on her head. When she had
removed her shoes and put on high-heeled
slippers, dipped her hands in cool water
and sprayed herself with essence of lilac,
especially after she had taken a good look
at herself in the mirror, she felt better.


Elinor C olh ou s e

All the Mrs Shuters in the world couldn't
alter the fact of her uncommon beauty,
and if he thought she had a temper, let
him. A girl with a face and figuie like
hers had a right to a good deal more
than temper. She went slowly down-
stairs, humming and, standing well inside
the door, where Mrs Shuter couldn't see
her, suggested their coming into the house.
Cold tea and some cakes were on the table,
which Mrs Colhouse began serving, but
Kurt insisted that she should sit down and
offered her the first glass and the plate
with sliced lemon. Why did he make
such a point of handing everything to
mammy first ? She made an effort to
repress her feelings, but she could not
force herself to join in the conversation,
and though he looked at her shyly now
and then while he talked, she returned
monosyllables and he soon got up and
said he must be going.

" You have been so kind. I will come
and say good-bye before I go."


Elinor Col house

For an instant her spirits sank, but she
collected herself and asked : " There's a
dance at the hotel this evening, isn't there ?"

" A dance ? I didn't know. I say, do
come." He advanced into the little sitting-
room again. " And you too, Mrs Colhouse,
won't you ? "

" Mr Kurt, I haven't been to a dance for
twenty years, but I daresay Nell will go."

" If there is one, may I come and fetch
you ? " He looked anxiously at Elinor.

" If you like. But I must know at once."

With a hurried good-bye he ran up the
garden path.

" A nice fool you made me look."

"Why how, Nell?"

"I've told you to keep away from Mrs

** But, my dear, I can't be rude to our
neighbour, and you wearing her roses too."

" I'll pay for them, come to that. I
don't want her around when I've got
company. She'll get cackling about all


Elinor Colhouse

sorts of things. I've told you that ever
so often."

" But sure-ly that EngHsh boy don't
matter. He's too young to count, isn't

EHnor felt her temper rising but she
restrained herself. " Now, mammy, you
listen to me. I know Richard Kurt's
young, but he's the best chance I've ever
had and probably shall ever have. His
parents live in London, and they've got
a big position there. You know I've
always wanted to marry an Englishman.
His father's rich — how rich I don't know.
He says he's got no money himself, but
that don't matter, he will have. And I
mean to marry him if I can and chance
it. That's all there is about it."

Mrs Colhouse threw herself back in her
chair and gazed at her daughter with as-
tonished eyes. " Marry him, that baby,
and you only saw him to-day for the first
time. Lord 'a' mercy. You'd be taking a

kid to raise."


Elinor C olhouse

Elinor made an impatient sound with
her tongue against the back of her teeth.
"See here, mammy, you know I've got
sense and you know the sort of Hfe we
lead. Now I'm determined to get out of
it myself and get you out too."

" How did you get to know him ?" Mrs
Colhouse asked.

" Frank Waters gave him a letter to

Mrs Colhouse looked up inquiringly.

" You remember the time Sissie Warren
went up to Cliftonburg to that great ball
where there was a baron and came back
with her head buzzing full of it. That
ball was given by Mr Theophilus Kurt,
this boy's uncle, and he's the president of
the C.W. & M. He's in London now."

Mrs Colhouse stared at Elinor through

her spectacles with a startled expression.

" And what would he say to it all ? He'd

never want that boy to get engaged while

he's away."

Elinor went to the mirror over the


Elinor C olhou s e

mantel and pulled a long pin out of her
hat. "I don't intend to be encracred to
him when his uncle comes back." She
calmly arranged a curl beside her temple.
" Then what do you mean to do ? "
Elinor turned round and tiptoed across
the room to her mother's chair with her
finger on her lips. " I mean to be married
to him," she whispered.


There was a dance at the hotel, and
by eight o'clock the combined intensive
labours of Elinor and her mother had
wrought so great a change in what she
called her " old blue rag " that only an
expert could have identified it as the one
she wore with such success at the Pome-
granate Club Ball two years before. It
was of blue velvet, with black guipure
and bead ornaments. The sleeves were
like elongated balloons. Elinor, born
strategist of the wardrobe that she was,
laid her plans against emergency well in


Elinor Col house

advance. At odd moments for some time
past she had bespangled two square yards
or so of the turquoise blue velvet with
faceted bits of jet, replacing therewith
the more meagre and less salient sleeves
of an earlier period. There were other
modifications of more or less significance,
but it was the final assembling of the
parts that had called for her extreme
ingenuity under pressure of time. The
effort made so heavy a demand upon her
nerves that by the time the work of art
had reached safety point her appetite
had been completely cut and her only
preparation for the evening's contin-
gencies was a glass of cold tea. Mrs
Colhouse had stood nobly in the breach,
meeting difficulties as they arose, and sup-
plying reinforcements of needles, threads,
hooks, eyes, beads, tucks and so forth
whenever requisitioned. It was hardly
to be expected that such an enterprise
could be brought to a successful con-
clusion without one or two small reverses.


Elinor C olhous^e

One came when, daintily underclothed,
perfumed and curled, Elinor raised her
arms for her dress to be slipped over her
head. A hook caught a strand of hair ;
it might have been — ought to have been
—avoided. It was true that Mrs Colhouse
was not so young as she had been, that
she had had no supper and had taken off
her spectacles just before to rub her eyes,
but it was maddening for Elinor, of whom
that coiffure had demanded at least twenty
minutes of precious time. She stamped
with helpless rage as her mother, making
matters worse in her misguided attempts
to disentangle the tress, brought the whole
delicate fabric crumbling down in ruin

" Oh, mammy, you old fool, you've done
for my hair ; and oh, oh, you're hurting —
you're hurting. Oh, dear ! oh, dear ! " and
she broke into sobs. It was an awful mo-
ment, but Elinor surmounted it. Brush-
ing her mother aside, restraining her tears
and concentrating her will, she defeated
the hook, extricated her head and drew the


Elinor Col house

dress down, standing a little dishevelled
and breathing hard, but ready, if necessary,
for another punishing round. It came.
This time it really was a case of criminal
negligence. Mammy had actually sewn
two hooks where eyes ought to have been,
and vice versa. Elinor stood motionless,
too overcome for utterance. The little
brass clock derisively indicated twenty

minutes to nine. " Did ever anyone ?

Was there ever such a born fool, such a
doggorned idiot ? "

A sound struck on her ear as thoucfh
it were in the room ; she turned sharply
round. Through the window, open to
the vault of heaven and to the path lead-
ing to the hotel, she saw Richard Kurt,
and at that instant the sound stopped.
He had been whistling. Now, silent and
without looking up, he disappeared from
her view as he made his way below her
to the front of the house.

" And to think, besides everything else,
you left that window open ! "


Elinor C olhou s e

She Hung the words at her mother ; it
was past bearing.

To Mrs Colhouse's half-frightened " Do
you think he saw you ? " she did not
vouchsafe an answer.

He apologised for being unable to take
her to the hotel in a cab ; none were available.
At this she laughed. " Hacks in Manitou !
Now if you'd asked for a buggy "

"A buggy! Of course. I'd not
thought of that."

She was pinning a chiffon scarf round
her hair.

" I'm glad you didn't. It would have
blown me about more and it's only a few
steps. Would you take these ? " Her
manner was graciousness itself as she
handed him her dancing slippers, daintily
tied up with blue ribbon. He turned them
over, fingering them. " I say, you have
got small feet."

The wind blew pretty stiflfly in their faces
as they mounted the slight ascent. It


Elinor Cowhouse

went clean through her thin ball dress,
over which she had thrown a light cashmere
shawl, an old possession of her mother's.
On almost any other occasion the discom-
fort of the walk, the feeling of disarrange-
ment, would have put her on bad terms
with herself, but this evening she battled
on cheerfully and when he apologised for
the breeze she said she enjoyed it.

They had passed through the crowded
lobby together and stood at the entrance
of the ballroom. She was enjoying the
sensation their entrance had created. She
knew she was the loveliest amongst the
many pretty girls as she was the best
dressed. She knew too that the arrival
on the scene of Kurt was an event, not
only because his clothes were noticeably
well cut and his whole appearance elegant,
nor was it because his hair was parted
at the extreme left side of his head and
brushed straight back in a fashion no man
there would have ventured, even had he
thought of it. What it was she did not
c 33

Elinor C olhou s e

exactly know, but perhaps it was his general
Engllshness that made him superior to the
other men. And what pleased her still
more was that the other men knew it and
disliked him for it and that the girls knew
it also and envied her. When he re-
marked: " I'm afraid we'll have to sit it out;
I can't dance like that," she muttered, half
absently: "Like what?" In her pleased
absorption she had not grasped the mean-
ing of his words and it was only when he
added: "We don't reverse in England,
you know," that her attention was roused.
She knew that everything he did and said
would be critically noticed, that their
manner together was under scrutiny, but
she did not waver. "We'll dance as you
dance in England."

He stood with his arm extended, and
she, taking two gliding steps, swung him
into the midst of the dancers. He had an
ear for time but no idea of dancing.

"Just swing with me," she whispered.
" Let yourself go ; I'll steer."


Elinor Colhouse

He did as she told him. It was not
a perfect success but it was near enough.
They circled up and down. With every
turn he improved ; before the waltz was
finished he had got into the step.

" That'll do for now. Take me into
the lobby."

" I say, you are a splendid dancer. I
never could have got through without
you." He looked at her, admiration in
his eyes.

" I suppose I do dance well." Her tone

1 3 4 5 6 7

Online LibraryStephen HudsonElinor Colhouse → online text (page 1 of 7)