Thomas Nelson Page.

Gordon Keith online

. (page 25 of 40)
Online LibraryThomas Nelson PageGordon Keith → online text (page 25 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


brown hair.

"Oh! - I beg your pardon! I - I - really - I don't - Thank you very much. I
am very sorry." She turned away stiffly.

"Why?" said Keith, flushing in spite of himself. "You have done me a
favor in enabling me to wait on you. May I introduce myself? And then I
will get some one to do it in person - Mrs. Lancaster or Mrs. Wentworth.
They will vouch for me."

The girl looked up at him, at first with a hostile expression on her
face, which changed suddenly to one of wonder.

"Isn't this Gordon Keith?"

Gordon's eyes opened wide. How could she know him?

"Yes."

"You don't know me?" Her eyes were dancing now, and two dimples were
flitting about her mouth. Keith's memory began to stir. She put her head
on one side.

"'Lois, if you'll kiss me I'll let you ride my horse,'" she said
cajolingly.

"Lois Huntington! It can't be!" exclaimed Keith, delighted. "You are
just so high." Keith measured a height just above his left watch-pocket.
"And you have long hair down your back."

With a little twist she turned her head and showed him a head of
beautiful brown hair done up in a Grecian knot just above the nape of a
shapely little neck.

" - And you have the brightest - "

She dropped her eyes before his, which were looking right into
them - though not until she had given a little flash from them, perhaps
to establish their identity.

" - And you used to say I was your sw - "

"Did I?" (this was very demurely said). "How old was I then?"

"How old are you now?"

"Eighteen," with a slight straightening of the slim figure.

"Impossible!" exclaimed Keith, enjoying keenly the picture she made.

"All of it," with a flash of the eyes.

"For me you are just all of seven years old."

"Do you know who I thought you were?" Her face dimpled.

"Yes; a waiter!"

She nodded brightly.

"It was my good manners. The waiters have struck me much this evening,"
said Keith.

She smiled, and the dimples appeared again.

"That is their business. They are paid for it."

"Oh, I see. Is that the reason others are - what they are? Well, I am
more than paid. My recompense is - you."

She looked pleased. "You are the first person I have met! - Did you have
any idea who I was the other evening?" she asked suddenly.

Keith would have given five years of his life to be able to answer yes.
But he said no. "I only knew you were some one who needed protection,"
he said, trying to make the best of a bad situation. You are too young
to be on the street so late."

"So it appeared. I had been out for a walk to see old Dr. Templeton and
to get a piece of music, and it was later than I thought."

"Whom are you here with?" inquired Keith, to get off of delicate ground.
"Where are you staying?"

"With my cousin, Mrs. Norman Wentworth. It is my first introduction into
New York life."

Just then there was a movement toward the supper-room.

Keith suggested that they should go and find Mrs. Norman. Miss
Huntington said, however, she thought she had better remain where she
was, as Mrs. Norman had promised to come back.

"I hope she will invite you to join our party," she said na√ѓvely.

"If she does not, I will invite you both to join mine," declared Keith.
"I have no idea of letting you escape for another dozen years."

Just then, however, Mrs. Norman appeared. She was with Ferdy Wickersham,
who, on seeing Keith, looked away coldly. She smiled, greatly surprised
to find Keith there. "Why, where did you two know each other?"

They explained.

"I saw you were pleasantly engaged, so I did not think it necessary to
hasten back," she said to Lois.

Ferdy Wickersham said something to her in an undertone, and she held out
her hand to the girl.

"Come, we are to join a party in the supper-room. We shall see you after
supper, Mr. Keith?"

Keith said he hoped so. He was conscious of a sudden wave of
disappointment sweeping over him as the three left him. The young girl
gave him a bright smile.

Later, as he passed by, he saw only Ferdy Wickersham with Mrs. Norman.
Lois Huntington was at another table, so Keith joined her.

After the supper there was to be a novel kind of entertainment: a sort
of vaudeville show in which were to figure a palmist, a gentleman set
down in the programme with its gilt printing as the "Celebrated
Professor Cheireman"; several singers; a couple of acrobatic performers;
and a danseuse: "Mlle. Terpsichore."

The name struck Keith with something of sadness. It recalled old
associations, some of them pleasant, some of them sad. And as he stood
near Lois Huntington, on the edge of the throng that filled the large
apartment where the stage had been constructed, during the first three
or four numbers he was rather more in Gumbolt than in that gay company
in that brilliant room.

"Professor Cheireman" had shown the wonders of the trained hand and the
untrained mind in a series of tricks that would certainly be wonderful
did not so many men perform them. Mlle. de Voix performed hardly less
wonders with her voice, running up and down the scale like a squirrel
in a cage, introducing trills into songs where there were none, and
making the simplest melodies appear as intricate as pieces of opera. The
Burlystone Brothers jumped over and skipped under each other in a
marvellous and "absolutely unrivalled manner." And presently the
danseuse appeared.

Keith was standing against the wall thinking of Terpy and the old hail
with its paper hangings in Gumbolt, and its benches full of eager,
jovial spectators, when suddenly there was a roll of applause, and he
found himself in Gumbolt. From the side on which he stood walked out his
old friend, Terpy herself. He had not been able to see her until she was
well out on the stage and was making her bow. The next second she
began to dance.

After the first greeting given her, a silence fell on the room, the best
tribute they could pay to her art, her grace, her abandon. Nothing so
audacious had ever been seen by certainly half the assemblage. Casting
aside the old tricks of the danseuse, the tipping and pirouetting and
grimacing for applause, the dancer seemed oblivious of her audience and
as though she were trying to excel herself. She swayed and swung and
swept from side to side as though on wings.

Round after round of applause swept over the room. Men were talking in
undertones to each other; women buzzed behind their fans.

She stopped, panting and flushed with pride, and with a certain scorn in
her face and mien glanced over the audience. Just as she was poising
herself for another effort, her eye reached the side of the room where
Keith stood just beside Miss Huntington. A change passed over her face.
She nodded, hesitated for a second, and then began again. She failed to
catch the time of the music and danced out of time. A titter came from
the rear of the room. She looked in that direction, and Keith did the
same. Ferdy Wickersham, with a malevolent gleam in his eye, was
laughing. The dancer flushed deeply, frowned, lost her self-possession,
and stopped. A laugh of derision sounded at the rear.

"For shame! It is shameful!" said Lois Huntington in a low voice to
Keith.

"It is. The cowardly scoundrel!" He turned and scowled at Ferdy.

At the sound, Terpy took a step toward the front, and bending forward,
swept the audience with her flashing eyes.

"Put that man out."

A buzz of astonishment and laughter greeted her outbreak.

"Cackle, you fools!"

She turned to the musicians.

"Play that again and play it right, or I'll wring your necks!"

She began to dance again, and soon danced as she had done at first.

Applause was beginning again; but at the sound she stopped, looked over
the audience disdainfully, and turning, walked coolly from the stage.

"Who is she?" "Well, did you ever see anything like that!" "Well, I
never did!" "The insolent creature!" "By Jove! she can dance if she
chooses!" buzzed over the room.

"Good for her," said Keith, his face full of admiration.

"Did you know her?" asked Miss Huntington.

"Well."

The girl said nothing, but she stiffened and changed color slightly.

"You know her, too," said Keith.

"I! I do not."

"Do you remember once, when you were a tot over in England, giving your
doll to a little dancing-girl? - When your governess was in such
a temper?"

Lois nodded.

"That is she. She used to live in New Leeds. She was almost the only
woman in Gumbolt when I went there. Had a man laughed at her there then,
he would never have left the room alive. Mr. Wickersham tried it once,
and came near getting his neck broken for it. He is getting even
with her now."

As the girl glanced up at him, his face was full of suppressed feeling.
A pang shot through her.

Just then the entertainment broke up and the guests began to leave. Mrs.
Wentworth beckoned to Lois. Wickersham was still with her.

"I will not trust myself to go within speaking distance of him now,"
said Keith; "so I will say good-by, here." He made his adieus somewhat
hurriedly, and moved off as Mrs. Wentworth approached.

Wickersham, who, so long as Keith remained with Miss Huntington, had
kept aloof, and was about to say good night to Mrs. Wentworth, had, on
seeing Keith turn away, followed Mrs. Wentworth.

Every one was still chatting of the episode of the young virago.

"Well, what did you think of your friend's friend?" asked Wickersham of
Lois.

"Of whom?"

"Of your friend Mr. Keith's young lady. She is an old flame of his," he
said, turning to Mrs. Wentworth and speaking in an undertone, just loud
enough for Lois to hear. "They have run her out of New Leeds, and I
think he is trying to force her on the people here. He has cheek enough
to do anything; but I think to-night will about settle him."

"I do not know very much about such things; but I think she dances very
well," said Lois, with heightened color, moved to defend the girl under
an instinct of opposition to Wickersham.

"So your friend thinks, or thought some time ago," said Wickersham. "My
dear girl, she can't dance at all. She is simply a disreputable young
woman, who has been run out of her own town, as she ought to be run out
of this, as an impostor, if nothing else." He turned to Mrs. Wentworth:
"A man who brought such a woman to a place like this ought to be kicked
out of town."

"If you are speaking of Mr. Keith, I don't believe that of him," said
Lois, coldly.

Wickersham looked at her for a moment. A curious light was in his eyes
as he said:

"I am not referring to any one. I am simply generalizing." He shrugged
his shoulders and turned away.

As Mrs. Wentworth and Lois entered their carriage, a gentleman was
helping some one into a hack just behind Mrs. Wentworth's carriage. The
light fell on them at the moment that Lois stepped forward, and she
recognized Mr. Keith and the dancer, Mile. Terpsichore. He was handing
her in with all the deference that he would have shown the highest lady
in the land.

Lois Huntington drove home in a maze. Life appeared to have changed
twice for her in a single evening. Out of that crowd of strangers had
come one who seemed to be a part of her old life. They had taken each
other up just where they had parted. The long breach in their lives had
been bridged. He had seemed the old friend and champion of her
childhood, who, since her aunt had revived her recollection of him, had
been a sort of romantic hero in her dreams. Their meeting had been such
as she had sometimes pictured to herself it would be. She believed him
finer, higher, than others. Then, suddenly, she had found that the
vision was but an idol of clay. All that her aunt had said of him had
been dashed to pieces in a trice.

He was not worthy of her notice. He was not a gentleman. He was what Mr.
Wickersham had called him. He had boasted to her of his intimacy with a
common dancing-girl. He had left her to fly to her and escort her home.

As Keith had left the house, Terpsichore had come out of the side
entrance, and they had met. Keith was just wondering how he could find
her, and he considered the meeting a fortunate one. She was in a state
of extreme agitation. It was the first time that she had undertaken to
dance at such an entertainment. She had refused, but had been
over-persuaded, and she declared it was all a plot between Wickersham
and her manager to ruin her. She would be even with them both, if she
had to take a pistol to right her wrongs.

Keith had little idea that the chief motive of her acceptance had been
the hope that she might find him among the company. He did what he could
to soothe her, and having made a promise to call upon her, he bade her
good-by, happily ignorant of the interpretation which she who had
suddenly sprung uppermost in his thoughts had, upon Wickersham's
instigation, put upon his action.

Keith walked home with a feeling to which he had been long a stranger.
He was somehow happier than he had been in years. A young girl had
changed the whole entertainment for him - the whole city - almost his
whole outlook on life. He had not felt this way for years - not since
Alice Yorke had darkened life for him. Could love be for him again?

The dial appeared to have turned back for him. He felt younger, fresher,
more hopeful. He walked out into the street and tried to look up at the
stars. The houses obscured them; they were hardly visible. The city
streets were no place for stars and sentiment. He would go through the
park and see them. So he strolled along and turned into a park. The
gas-lamps shed a yellow glow on the trees, making circles of feeble
light on the walks, and the shadows lay deep on the ground. Most of the
benches were vacant; but here and there a waif or a belated homegoer sat
in drowsy isolation. The stars were too dim even from this
vantage-ground to afford Keith much satisfaction. His thoughts flew back
to the mountains and the great blue canopy overhead, spangled with
stars, and a blue-eyed girl amid pillows whom he used to worship. An
arid waste of years cut them off from the present, and his thoughts
came back to a sweet-faced girl with dark eyes, claiming him as her old
friend. She appeared to be the old ideal rather than the former.

All next day Keith thought of Lois Huntington. He wanted to go and see
her but he waited until the day after. He would not appear too eager.

He called at Norman's office for the pleasure of talking of her; but
Norman was still absent. The following afternoon he called at Norman's
house. The servant said Mrs. Norman was out.

"Miss Huntington?"

"She left this morning."

Keith walked up the street feeling rather blank. That night he started
for the South. But Lois Huntington was much in his thoughts. He wondered
if life would open for him again. When a man wonders about this, life
has already opened.

By the time he reached New Leeds, he had already made up his mind to
write and ask Miss Abby for an invitation to Brookford, and he wrote his
father a full account of the girl he had known as a child, over which
the old General beamed.

He forgave people toward whom he had hard feelings. The world was better
than he had been accounting it. He even considered more leniently than
he had done Mrs. Wentworth's allowing Ferdy Wickersham to hang around
her. It suddenly flashed on him that, perhaps, Ferdy was in love with
Lois Huntington. Crash! went his kind feelings, his kind thoughts. The
idea of Ferdy making love to that pure, sweet, innocent creature! It was
horrible! Her innocence, her charming friendliness, her sweetness, all
swept over him, and he thrilled with a sense of protection.

Could he have known what Wickersham had done to poison her against him,
he would have been yet more enraged. As it was, Lois was at that time
back at her old home; but with how different feelings from those which
she had had but a few days before! Sometimes she hated Keith, or, at
least, declared to herself that she hated him; and at others she
defended him against her own charge. And more and more she truly hated
Wickersham.

"So you met Mr. Keith?" said her aunt, abruptly, a day or two after her
return. "How did you like him?"

"I did not like him," said Lois, briefly, closing her lips with a snap,
as if to keep the blood out of her cheeks.

"What! you did not like him? Girls are strange creatures nowadays. In my
time, a girl - a girl like you - would have thought him the very pink of a
man. I suppose you liked that young Wickersham better?" she
added grimly.

"No, I did not like him either. But I think Mr. Keith is perfectly
horrid."

"Horrid!" The old lady's black eyes snapped. "Oh, he didn't ask you to
dance! Well, I think, considering he knew you when you were a child, and
knew you were my niece, he might - "

"Oh, yes, I danced with him; but he is not very nice. He - ah - Something
I saw prejudiced me."

Miss Abby was so insistent that she should tell her what had happened
that she yielded.

"Well, I saw him on the street helping a woman into a carriage."

"A woman? And why shouldn't he help her in? He probably was the only man
you saw that would do it, if you saw the men I met."

"A dis - reputable woman," said Lois, slowly.

"And, pray, what do you know of disreputable women? Not that there are
not enough of them to be seen!"

"Some one told me - and she looked it," said Lois, blushing. The old lady
unexpectedly whipped around and took her part so warmly that Lois
suddenly found herself defending Gordon. She could not bear that others
should attack him, though she took frequent occasion to tell herself
that she hated him. In fact, she hated him so that she wanted to see him
to show him how severe she would be.

The occasion might have come sooner than she expected; but alas! Fate
was unkind. Keith was not conscious until he found that Lois Huntington
had left town how much he had thought of her. Her absence appeared
suddenly to have emptied the city. By the time he had reached his room
he had determined to follow her home. That rift of sunshine which had
entered his life should not be shut out again. He sat down and wrote to
her: a friendly letter, expressing warmly his pleasure at having met
her, picturing jocularly his disappointment at having failed to find
her. He made a single allusion to the Terpsichore episode. He had done
what he could, he said, to soothe his friend's ruffled feelings; but,
though he thought he had some influence with her, he could not boast of
having had much success in this. In the light in which Lois read this
letter, the allusion to the dancing-girl outweighed all the rest, and
though her heart had given a leap when she first saw that she had a
letter from Keith, when she laid it down her feeling had changed. She
would show him that she was not a mere country chit to be treated as he
had treated her. His "friend" indeed!

When Keith, to his surprise, received no reply to his letter, he wrote
again more briefly, asking if his former letter had been received; but
this shared the fate of the first.

Meantime Lois had gone off to visit a friend. Her mind was not quite as
easy as it should have been. She felt that if she had it to go over, she
would do just the same thing; but she began to fancy excuses for Keith.
She even hunted up the letters he had written her as a boy.

It is probable that Lois's failure to write did more to raise her in
Keith's estimation and fix her image in his mind than anything else she
could have done. Keith knew that something untoward had taken place, but
what it was he could not conceive. At least, however, it proved to him
that Lois Huntington was different from some of the young women he had
met of late. So he sat down and wrote to Miss Brooke, saying that he was
going abroad on a matter of importance, and asking leave to run down and
spend Sunday with them before he left. Miss Brooke's reply nearly took
his breath away. She not only refused his request, but intimated that
there was a good reason why his former letters had not been acknowledged
and why he would not be received by her.

It was rather incoherent, but it had something to do with "inexplicable
conduct." On this Keith wrote Miss Brooke, requesting a more explicit
charge and demanding an opportunity to defend himself. Still he received
no reply; and, angry that he had written, he took no further steps
about it.

By the time Lois reached home she had determined to answer his letter.
She would write him a severe reply.

Miss Abby, however, announced to Lois, the day of her return, that Mr.
Keith had written asking her permission to come down and see them. The
blood sprang into Lois's face, and if Miss Abby had had on her
spectacles at that moment, she must have read the tale it told.

"Oh, he did! And what - ?" She gave a swallow to restrain her impatience.
"What did you say to him, Aunt Abby? Have you answered the letter?" This
was very demurely said.

"Yes. Of course, I wrote him not to come. I preferred that he should not
come."

Could she have but seen Lois's face!

"Oh, you did!"

"Yes. I want no hypocrites around me." Her head was up and her cap was
bristling. "I came very near telling him so, too. I told him that I had
it from good authority that he had not behaved in altogether the most
gentlemanly way - consorting openly with a hussy on the street! I think
he knows whom I referred to."

"But, Aunt Abby, I do not know that she was. I only heard she was,"
defended Lois.

"Who told you?"

"Mr. Wickersham."

"Well, _he_ knows," said Miss Abigail, with decision. "Though I think he
had very little to do to discuss such matters with you."

"But, Aunt Abby, I think you had better have let him come. We could have
shown him our disapproval in our manner. And possibly he might have some
explanations?"

"I guess he won't make any mistake about that. The hypocrite! To sit up
and talk to me as if he were a bishop! I have no doubt he would have
explanation enough. They always do."



CHAPTER XXIII

GENERAL KEITH VISITS STRANGE LANDS

Just then the wheel turned. Interest was awaking in England in American
enterprises, and, fortunately for Keith, he had friends on that side.

Grinnell Rhodes now lived in England, dancing attendance on his wife,
the daughter of Mr. Creamer of Creamer, Crustback & Company, who was
aspiring to be in the fashionable set there.

Matheson, the former agent of the Wickershams, with whom Ferdy had
quarrelled, had gone back to England, and had acquired a reputation as
an expert. By one of the fortuitous happenings so hard to account for,
about this time Keith wrote to Rhodes, and Rhodes consulted Matheson,
who knew the properties. Ferdy had incurred the Scotchman's implacable
hate, and the latter was urged on now by a double motive. To Rhodes, who
was bored to death with the life he was leading, the story told by the
Wickershams' old superintendent was like a trumpet to a war-horse.

Out of the correspondence with Rhodes grew a suggestion to Keith to come
over and try to place the Rawson properties with an English syndicate.
Keith had, moreover, a further reason for going. He had not recovered
from the blow of Miss Brooke's refusal to let him visit Lois. He knew
that in some way it was connected with his attention to Terpsichore; he
knew that there was a misunderstanding, and felt that Wickersham was
somehow connected with it. But he was too proud to make any further
attempt to explain it.

Accordingly, armed with the necessary papers and powers, he arranged to
go to England. He had control of and options on lands which were
estimated to be worth several millions of dollars at any fair valuation.

Keith had long been trying to persuade his father to accompany him to
New York on some of his visits; but the old gentleman had never been
able to make up his mind to do so.

"I have grown too old to travel in strange lands," he said. "I tried to
get there once, but they stopped me just in sight of a stone fence on
the farther slope beyond Gettysburg." A faint flash glittered in his
quiet eyes. "I think I had better restrain my ambition now to migrations
from the blue bed to the brown, and confine my travels to 'the realms
of gold'!"

Now, after much urging, as Gordon was about to go abroad to try and
place the Rawson properties there, the General consented to go to New
York and see him off. It happened that Gordon was called to New York on
business a day or two before his father was ready to go. So he exacted a
promise that he would follow him, and went on ahead. Though General
Keith would have liked to back out at the last moment, as he had given
his word, he kept it. He wrote his son that he must not undertake to



Online LibraryThomas Nelson PageGordon Keith → online text (page 25 of 40)