The clang of the distant church bell was ringing out for the daily morning service, and Miss Cattledon was picking her way across the road to attend to it, her thin white legs displayed, and a waterproof cloak on. It had rained in the night, but the clouds were breaking, promising a fine day. I stood at the window, watching the legs and the pools of water; Miss Deveen sat at the table behind, answering a letter that had come to her by the morning post.
“Have you ever thought mine a peculiar name, Johnny?” she suddenly asked.
“No,” I said, turning to answer her. “I think it a pretty one.”
“It was originally French: De Vigne: but like many other things has been corrupted with time, and made into what it is. Is that ten o’clock striking?”
Yes: and the bell was ceasing. Miss Cattledon would be late. It was a regular penalty to her, I knew, to go out so early, and quite a new whim, begun in the middle of Lent. She talked a little in her vinegar way of the world’s wickedness in not spending some of its working hours inside a church, listening to that delightful curate with the mild voice, whose hair had turned prematurely grey. Miss Deveen, knowing it was meant for her, laughed pleasantly, and said if the many years’ prayers from her chamber had not been heard as well as though she had gone into a church to offer them up, she should be in a poor condition now. I went with Miss Cattledon one Monday morning out of politeness. There were nine-and-twenty in the pews, for I counted them: eight-and-twenty being single ladies (to judge by the look), some young, some as old as Cattledon. The grey-haired curate was assisted by a young deacon, who had a black beard and a lisp and his hair parted down the middle. It was very edifying, especially the ten-minutes’ gossip with the two clergymen coming out, when we all congregated in the aisle by the door.
“My great-grandfather was a grand old proprietor in France, Johnny; a baron,” continued Miss Deveen. “I don’t think I have much of the French nature left in me.”
“I suppose you speak French well, Miss Deveen?”
“Not a word of it, Johnny. They pretended to teach it me when I was a child, but I’m afraid I was unusually stupid. Why, who can this be?”
She alluded to a ring at the visitors’ bell. One of the servants came in and said that the gentleman who had called once or twice before had come again.
Miss Deveen looked up, first at the servant, then at me. She seemed to be considering.
“I will see him in two or three minutes, George”— and the man shut the door.
“Johnny,” she said, “I have taken you partly into my confidence in this affair of the lost studs; I think I will tell you a little more. After I sent for Lettice Lane here — and my impression, as I told you, was very strongly in favour of her innocence — it occurred to me that I ought to see if anything could be done to prove it; or at least to set the matter at rest, one way or the other, instead of leaving it to time and chance. The question was, how could I do it? I did not like to apply to the police, lest more should be made of it than I wished. One day a friend of mine, to whom I was relating the circumstances, solved the difficulty. He said he would send to me some one with whom he was well acquainted, a Mr. Bond, who had once been connected with the detective police, and who had got his dismissal through an affair he was thought to have mismanaged. It sounded rather formidable to my ears, ‘once connected with the detective police;’ but I consented, and Mr. Bond came. He has had the thing in hand since last February.”
“And what has he found out?”
“Nothing, Johnny. Unless he has come to tell me now that he has — for it is he who is waiting. I think it may be so, as he has called so early. First of all, he was following up the matter down in Worcestershire, because the notion he entertained was, that the studs must have been taken by one of the Whitneys’ servants. He stayed in the neighbourhood, pursuing his inquiries as to their characters and habits, and visiting all the pawnbrokers’ shops that he thought were at available distances from the Hall.”
“Did he think it was Lettice Lane?”
“He said he did not: but he took care (as I happen to know) to worm out all he could of Lettice’s antecedents while he was inquiring about the rest. I had the girl in this room at his first visit, not alarming her, simply saying that I was relating the history of the studs’ disappearance to this friend who had called, and desired her to describe her share in it to make the story complete. Lettice suspected nothing; she told the tale simply and naturally, without fear: and from that very moment, Johnny, I have felt certain in my own mind the girl is as innocent as I am. Mr. Bond ‘thought she might be,’ but he would not go beyond that; for women, he said, were crafty, and knew how to make one think black was white.”
“Miss Deveen, suppose, after all, it should turn out to have been Lettice?” I asked. “Should you proceed against her?”
“I shall not proceed against any one, Johnny; and I shall hush the matter up if I can,” she answered, ringing for Mr. Bond to be shown in.
I was curious to see him also; ideas floating through my brain of cocked-hats and blue uniform and Richard Mayne. Mr. Bond turned out to be a very inoffensive-looking individual indeed; a little man, wearing steel spectacles, in a black frock-coat and grey trousers.
“When I last saw you, madam,” he began, after he was seated, and Miss Deveen had told him he might speak before me, “I mentioned that I had abandoned my search in the country, and intended to prosecute my inquiries in London.”
“You did, Mr. Bond.”
“That the theft lay amongst Sir John Whitney’s female servants, I have thought likely all along,” continued Mr. Bond. “If the thief felt afraid to dispose of the emeralds after taking them — and I could find no trace of them in the country — the probability was that she would keep them secreted about her, and get rid of them as soon as she came to London, if she were one of the maids brought up by Lady Whitney. There were two I thought in particular might have done it; one was the lady’s maid; the other, the upper-housemaid, who had been ill the night of their disappearance. All kinds of ruses are played off in the pursuit of plunder, as we have cause to learn every day; and it struck me the housemaid might have feigned illness, the better to cover her actions and throw suspicion off herself. I am bound to say I could not learn anything against either of these two young women; but their business took them about the rooms at Whitney Hall; and an open jewel-case is a great temptation.”
“It is,” assented Miss Deveen. “That carelessness lay at my door, and therefore I determined never to prosecute in this case; never, in fact, to bring the offender to open shame of any sort in regard to it.”
“And that has helped to increase the difficulty,” remarked Mr. Bond. “Could the women have been searched and their private places at Whitney Hall turned out, we might or might not have found the emeralds; but ——”
“I wouldn’t have had it done for the Lord Chancellor, sir,” interrupted Miss Deveen, hotly. “One was searched, and that was quite enough for me, for I believe her to be innocent. If you can get at the right person quietly, for my own satisfaction, well and good. My instructions went so far, but no farther.”
Mr. Bond took off his spectacles for a minute, and put them on again. “I understood this perfectly when I took the business in hand,” he said quietly. “Well, madam, to go on. Lady Whitney brought her servants to London, and I came up also. Last night I gleaned a little light on the matter.”
He paused, and put his hand into his pocket. I looked, and Miss Deveen looked.
“Should you know the studs again?” he asked her.
“You may as well ask me if I should know my own face in the glass, Mr. Bond. Of course I should.”
Mr. Bond opened a pill-box: three green studs lay in it on white cotton. He held it out to Miss Deveen.
“Are these they?”
“No, certainly not,” replied Miss Deveen, speaking like one in disappointment. “Those are not to be compared with mine, sir.”
Mr. Bond put the lid on the box, and returned it to his pocket. Out came another box, long and thin.
“These are my studs,” quickly exclaimed Miss Deveen, before she had given more than a glance. “You can look yourself for the private marks I told you about, Mr. Bond.”
Three brilliant emeralds, that seemed to light up the room, connected together by a fine chain of gold. At either end, the chain was finished off by a small square plate of thin gold, on one of which was an engraved crest, on the other Miss Deveen’s initials. In shape the emeralds looked like buttons more than studs.
“I never knew they were linked together, Miss Deveen,” I exclaimed in surprise.
“Did you not, Johnny?”
Never. I had always pictured them as three loose studs. Mr. Bond, who no doubt had the marks by heart before he brought them up, began shutting them into the box as he had the others.
“Anticipating from the first that the studs would most probably be found at a pawnbroker’s, if found at all, I ventured to speak to you then of a difficulty that might attend the finding,” said he to Miss Deveen. “Unless a thing can be legally proved to have been stolen, a pawnbroker cannot be forced to give it up. And I am under an engagement to return these studs to the pawnbroker, whence I have brought them, in the course of the morning.”
“You may do so,” said Miss Deveen. “I dare say he and I can come to an amicable arrangement in regard to giving them up later. My object has been to discover who stole them, not to bring trouble or loss upon pawnbrokers. How did you discover them, Mr. Bond?”
“In a rather singular manner. Last evening, in making my way to Regent Street to a place I had to go to on business, I saw a young woman turn out of a pawnbroker’s shop. The shutters were put up, but the doors were open. Her face struck me as being familiar; and I remembered her as Lady Whitney’s housemaid — the one who had been ill in bed, or pretended to be, the night the studs were lost. Ah, ah, I thought, some discovery may be looming up here. I have some acquaintance with the proprietor of the shop; a very respectable man, who has become rich by dint of hard, honest work, and is a jeweller now as well as a pawnbroker. My own business could wait, and I went in and found him busy with accounts in his private room. He thought at first I had only called in to see him in passing. I gave him no particulars; but said I fancied a person in whom I was professionally interested, had just been leaving some emerald studs in his shop.”
“What is the pawnbroker’s name?” interrupted Miss Deveen.
“James. He went to inquire, and came back, saying that his assistant denied it. There was only one assistant in the shop: the other had left for the night. This assistant said that no one had been in during the last half-hour, excepting a young woman, a cousin of his wife’s; who did not come to pledge anything, but simply to say how-d’ye-do, and to ask where they were living now, that she might call and see the wife. Mr. James added that the man said she occupied a good situation in the family of Sir John and Lady Whitney, and was not likely to require to pledge anything. Plausible enough, this, you see, Miss Deveen; but the coincidence was singular. I then told James that I had been in search for these two months of some emerald studs lost out of Sir John Whitney’s house. He stared a little at this, paused a moment in thought, and then asked whether they were of unusual value and very beautiful. Just so, I said, and minutely described them. Mr. James, without another word, went away and brought the studs in. Your studs, Miss Deveen.”
“And how did he come by them?”
“He won’t tell me much about it — except that they took in the goods some weeks ago in the ordinary course of business. The fact is he is vexed: for he has really been careful and has managed to avoid these unpleasant episodes, to which all pawnbrokers are liable. It was with difficulty I could get him to let me bring them up here: and that only on condition that they should be in his hands again before the clock struck twelve.”
“You shall keep faith with him. But now, Mr. Bond, what is your opinion of all this?”
“My opinion is that that same young woman stole the studs: and that she contrived to get them conveyed to London to this assistant, her relative, who no doubt advanced money upon them. I cannot see my way to any other conclusion under the circumstances,” continued Mr. Bond, firmly. “But for James’s turning crusty, I might have learned more.”
“I will go to him myself,” said Miss Deveen, with sudden resolution. “When he finds that my intention is to hold his pocket harmless and make no disturbance in any way, he will not be crusty with me. But this matter must be cleared up if it be possible to clear it.”
Miss Deveen was not one to be slow of action, once a resolve was taken. Mr. Bond made no attempt to oppose her: on the contrary, he seemed to think it might be well that she should go. She sent George out for a cab, in preference to taking her carriage, and said I might accompany her. We were off long before Miss Cattledon’s conference with the curates within the church was over.
The shop was in a rather obscure street, not far from Regent Street. I inquired for Mr. James at the private door, and he came out to the cab. Miss Deveen said she had called to speak to him on particular business, and he took us upstairs to a handsomely furnished room. He was a well-dressed, portly, good-looking man, with a pleasant face and easy manners. Miss Deveen, bidding him sit down near her, explained the affair in a few words, and asked him to help her to elucidate it. He responded frankly at once, and said he would willingly give all the aid in his power.
“Singular to say, I took these studs in myself,” he observed. “I never do these things now, but my foreman had a holiday that day to attend a funeral, and I was in the shop. They were pledged on the 27th of January: since Mr. Bond left this morning I have referred to my books.”
The 27th of January. It was on the night of the 23rd that the studs disappeared. Then the thief had not lost much time! I said so.
“Stay a minute, Johnny,” cried Miss Deveen: “you young ones sum up things too quickly for me. Let me trace past events. The studs, as you say, were lost on the 23rd; the loss was discovered on the 24th, and Lettice Lane was discharged; on the 25th those of us staying at Whitney Hall began to talk of leaving; and on the 26th you two went home after seeing Miss Chalk off by rail to London.”
“And Mrs. Hughes also. They went up together.”
“Who is Mrs. Hughes?” asked Miss Deveen.
“Don’t you remember? — that young married lady who came to the dance with the Featherstons. She lives somewhere in London.”
Miss Deveen considered a little. “I don’t remember any Mrs. Hughes, Johnny.”
“But, dear Miss Deveen, you must remember her,” I persisted. “She was very young-looking, as little as Sophie Chalk; Harry Whitney, dancing with her, trod off the tail of her thin pink dress. I heard old Featherston telling you about Mrs. Hughes, saying it was a sad history. Her husband lost his money after they were married, and had been obliged to take a small situation.”
Recollection flashed upon Miss Deveen. “Yes, I remember now. A pale, lady-like little woman with a sad face. But let us go back to business. You all left on the 26th; I and Miss Cattledon on the 27th. Now, while the visitors were at the Hall, I don’t think the upper-housemaid could have had time to send off the studs by rail. Still less could she have come up herself to pledge them.”
Miss Deveen’s head was running on Mr. Bond’s theory.
“It was no housemaid that pledged the studs,” spoke Mr. James.
“I was about to say, Mr. James, that if you took them in yourself over the counter, they could not have been sent up to your assistant.”
“All the people about me are trustworthy, I can assure you, ma’am,” he interrupted. “They would not lend themselves to such a thing. It was a lady who pledged those studs.”
“Yes, ma’am, a lady. And to tell the truth, if I may venture to say it, the description you have now given of a lady just tallies with her.”
“It seems so to me,” continued Mr. James. “Little, pale, and lady-like: that is just what she was.”
“Dear me!” cried Miss Deveen, letting her hands drop on her lap as if they had lost their power. “You had better tell me as much as you can recollect, please.”
“It was at dusk,” said Mr. James. “Not quite dark, but the lamps were lighted in the streets and the gas indoors: just the hour, ma’am, that gentlefolk choose for bringing their things to us. I happened to be standing near the door, when a lady came into the shop and asked to see the principal. I said I was he, and retired behind the counter. She brought out these emerald studs”— touching the box —“and said she wanted to sell them, or pledge them for their utmost value. She told me a tale, in apparent confidence, of a brother who had fallen into debt at college, and she was trying to get together some money to help him, or frightful trouble might come of it. If it was not genuine,” broke off Mr. James, “she was the best actor I ever saw in all my life.”
“Please go on.”
“I saw the emeralds were very rare and beautiful. She said they were an heirloom from her mother, who had brought the stones from India and had them linked together in England. I told her I could not buy them; she rejoined that it might be better only to pledge them, for they would not be entirely lost to her, and she might redeem them ere twelve months had passed if I would keep them as long as that. I explained that the law exacted it. The name she gave was Mary Drake, asking if I had ever heard of the famous old forefather of theirs, Admiral Drake. The name answers to the initials on the gold.”
“‘M. D.’ They were engraved for Margaret Deveen. Perhaps she claimed the crest, also, Mr. James,” added that lady, sarcastically.
“She did, ma’am; in so far as that she said it was the crest of the Drake family.”
“And you call her a lady?”
“She had every appearance of one, in tone and language too. Her hand — she took one of her gloves off when showing the studs — was a lady’s hand; small, delicate, and white as alabaster. Ma’am, rely upon it, though she may not be a lady in deeds, she must be living the life of one.”
“But now, who was it?”
Yes, who was it? Miss Deveen, looking at us, seemed to wait for an answer, but she did not get one.
“How much did you lend upon the studs?”
“Ten pounds. Of course that is nothing like their value.”
“Should you know her again? How was she dressed?”
“She wore an ordinary Paisley shawl; it was cold weather; and had a thick veil over her face, which she never lifted.”
“Should not that have excited your suspicion?” interrupted Miss Deveen. “I don’t like people who keep their veils down while they talk to you.”
The pawnbroker smiled. “Most ladies keep them down when they come here. As to knowing her again, I am quite certain that I should; and her voice too. Whoever she was, she went about it very systematically, and took me in completely. Her asking for the principal may have thrown me somewhat off my guard.”
We came away, leaving the studs with Mr. James: the time had not arrived for Miss Deveen to redeem them. She seemed very thoughtful as we went along in the cab.
“Johnny,” she said, breaking the silence, “we talk lightly enough about the Finger of Providence; but I don’t know what else it can be that has led to this discovery so far. Out of the hundreds of pawnbroking establishments scattered about the metropolis, it is wonderfully strange that this should have been the one the studs were taken to; and furthermore, that Bond should have been passing it last night at the moment Lady Whitney’s housemaid came forth. Had the studs been pledged elsewhere, we might never have heard of them; neither, as it is, but for the housemaid’s being connected with Mr. James’s assistant.”
Of course it was strange.
“You were surprised to see the studs connected together, Johnny. That was the point I mentioned in reference to Lettice Lane. ‘One might have fallen down,’ she sobbed out to me, in leaving Whitney Hall; ‘even two; but it’s beyond the bounds of probability that three should, ma’am.’ She was thinking of the studs as separated; and it convinced me that she had never seen them. True, an artful woman might say so purposely to deceive me, but I am sure that Lettice has not the art to do it. But now, Johnny, we must consider what steps to take next. I shall not rest until the matter is cleared.”
“Suppose it should never get on any further!”
“Suppose you are like a young bear, all your experience to come?” retorted Miss Deveen. “Why, Johnny Ludlow, do you think that when that Finger I ventured to speak of is directing an onward course, It halts midway? There cannot, I fear, be much doubt as to the thief; but we must have proof.”
“You think it was ——”
“Mrs. Hughes. What else can I think? She is very nice, and I could not have believed it of her. I suppose the sight of the jewels, combined with her poverty, must have proved the temptation. I shall get back the emeralds, but we must screen her.”
“Miss Deveen, I don’t believe it was Mrs. Hughes.”
“Not believe it?”
“No. Her face is not that of one who would do such a thing. You might trust it anywhere.”
“Oh, Johnny! there you are at your faces again!”
“Well, I was never deceived in any face yet. Not in one that I thoroughly trusted.”
“If Mrs. Hughes did not take the studs, and bring them to London, and pledge them, who else could have brought them? They were taken to Mr. James’s on the 27th, remember.”
“That’s the puzzle of it.”
“We must find out Mrs. Hughes, and then contrive to bring her within sight of Mr. James.”
“The Whitneys know where she lives. Anna and Helen have been to call upon her.”
“Then our way is pretty plain. Mind you don’t breathe a syllable of this to mortal ear, Johnny. It might defeat our aims. Miss Cattledon, always inquisitive, will question where we have been this morning with her curious eyes; but for once she will not be satisfied.”
“I should not keep her, Miss Deveen.”
“Yes you would, Johnny. She is faithful; she suits me very well; and her mother and I were girls together.”
It was a sight to be painted. Helen Whitney standing there in her presentation dress. She looked wonderfully well. It was all white, with a train behind longer than half-a-dozen peacocks’ tails, lace and feathers about her hair. The whole lot of us were round her; the young ones had come from the nursery, the servants peeped in at the door; Miss Cattledon had her eye-glass up; Harry danced about the room.
“Helen, my dear, I admire all very much except your necklace and bracelets,” said Miss Deveen, critically. “They do not match: and do not accord with the dress.”
The necklace was a row of turquoises, and did not look much: the bracelets were gold, with blue stones in the clasps. The Whitney family did not shine in jewels, and the few diamonds they possessed were on Lady Whitney today.
“But I had nothing else, Miss Deveen,” said Helen, simply. “Mamma said these must do.”
Miss Deveen took off the string of blue beads as if to examine them, and left in its place the loveliest pearl necklace ever seen. There was a scream of surprise; some of us had only met with such transformations in fairy tales.
“And these are the bracelets to match, my dear. Anna, I shall give you the same when your turn for making your curtsey to your queen comes.”
Anna smiled faintly as she looked her thanks. She always seemed regularly down in spirits now, not to be raised by pearl necklaces. For the first time her sad countenance seemed to strike Tod. He crossed over.
“What is wrong, Anna?” he whispered. “Are you not well?”
“Quite well, thank you,” she answered, her cheeks flushing painfully.
At this moment Sophie Chalk created a diversion. Unable to restrain her feelings longer, she burst into tears, knelt down outside Helen’s dress, and began kissing her hand and the pearl bracelet in a transport of joy.
“Oh, Helen, my dear friend, how rejoiced I am? I said upstairs that your ornaments were not worthy of you.”
Tod’s eyes were glued on her. Bill Whitney called out Bravo. Sophie, kneeling before Helen in her furbelows, made a charming tableau.
“It is good acting, Tod,” I said in his ear.
He turned sharply. But instead of cuffing me into next week, he just sent his eyes straight out to mine.
“Do you call it acting?”
“I am sure it is. But not for you.”
“You are bold, Mr. Johnny.”
But I could tell by the subdued tone and the subdued manner, that his own doubts had been at last awakened whether or not it was acting.
Lady Whitney came sailing downstairs, a blaze of yellow satin; her face, with flurry, like a peony. She could hardly say a word of thanks for the pearls, for her wits had gone wool-gathering. When she was last at Court herself, Bill was a baby in long-clothes. We went out with them to the carriage; the lady’s-maid taking at least five minutes to settle the trains: and Bill said he hoped the eyes at the windows all round enjoyed the show. The postillion — an unusual sight in London — and the two men behind wore their state liveries, white and crimson; their bouquets bigger than cabbages.
“You will dance with me the first dance to-night?” Tod whispered to Sophie Chalk, as they were going in after watching the carriage away.
Sophie made a slight pause before she answered; and I saw her eyes wander out in the distance towards Bill Whitney.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, with a great display of gratitude. “But I think I am engaged.”
“Engaged for the first dance?”
“Yes. I am so sorry.”
“The second, then?”
“With the greatest pleasure.”
Anna heard it all as well as I. Tod gave Sophie’s hand a squeeze to seal the bargain, and went away whistling.
Not being in the world of fashion, we did not know how other people finished up Drawing-room days (and when Helen Whitney went to Court they were Drawing-rooms), but the Whitneys’ programme was this: A cold collation in lieu of dinner, when Fate should bring them home again, and a ball in the evening. The ball was our joint invention. Sitting round the schoolroom fire one night we settled it for ourselves: and after Sir John and my lady had stood out well, they gave in. Not that it would be much of a ball, for they had few acquaintances in London, and the house was small.
But now, had any aid been wanted by Miss Deveen to carry out her plans, she could not have devised better than this. For the Whitneys invited (all unconsciously) Mrs. Hughes to the ball. Anna came into Miss Deveen’s after they had been sending out the invitations (only three days before the evening), and began telling her the names as a bit of gossip. She came at last to Mrs. Hughes.
“Mrs. Hughes,” interrupted Miss Deveen, “I am glad of that, Anna, for I want to see her.”
Miss Deveen’s seeing her would not go for much in the matter of elucidation; it was Mr. James who must see her; and the plan by which he might do so was Miss Deveen’s own. She went down and arranged it with him, and before the night came, it was all cut and dried. He and she and I knew of it; not another soul in the world.
“You will have to help me in it a little, Johnny,” she said. “Be at hand to watch for Mr. James’s arrival, and bring him up to me.”
We saw them come back from the Drawing-room between five and six, Helen with a brilliant colour in her cheeks; and at eight o’clock we went in. London parties, which begin when you ought to be in your first sleep, are not understood by us country people, and eight was the hour named in the Whitneys’ invitations. Cattledon was screwed into a rich sea-green satin (somebody else’s once), with a water-lily in her thin hair; and Miss Deveen wore all her diamonds. Sir John, out of his element and frightfully disconsolate, stood against the wall, his spectacles lodged on his old red nose. The thing was not in his line. Miss Deveen went up to shake hands.
“Sir John, I am rather expecting a gentleman to call on me on business to-night,” she said; “and have left word for him to step in and see me here. Will you forgive the liberty?”
“I’m sure it’s no liberty; I shall be glad to welcome him,” replied Sir John, dismally. “There’ll not be much here but stupid boys and girls. We shall get no whist to-night. The plague only knows who invented balls.”
It was a little odd that, next to ourselves, Mrs. Hughes should be the first to arrive. She was very pale and pretty, and her husband was a slender, quiet, delicate man, looking like a finished gentleman. Miss Deveen followed them with her eyes as they went up to Lady Whitney.
“She does not look like it, does she, Johnny?” whispered Miss Deveen to me. No, I was quite sure she did not.
Sophie Chalk was in white, with ivy leaves in her spangled hair, the sweetest fairy to look at ever seen out of a moonlight ring. Helen, in her Court dress and pearls, looked plain beside her. They stood talking together, not noticing that I and Tod were in the recess behind. Most of the people had come then, and the music was tuning up. The rooms looked well; the flowers, scattered about, had come up from Whitney Hall. Helen called to her brother.
“We may as well begin dancing, William.”
“Of course we may,” he answered. “I don’t know what we have waited for. I must find a partner. Miss Chalk, may I have the honour of dancing the first dance with you?”
That Miss Chalk’s eyes went up to his with a flash of gratitude, and then down in modesty to the chalked floor, I knew as well as though they had been behind her head instead of before it.
“Oh, thank you,” said she, “I shall be so happy.” And I no more dared glance at Tod than if he had been an uncaged crocodile. She had told him she was engaged for it.
But just as William was about to give her his arm, and some one came and took away Helen, Lady Whitney called him. He spoke with his mother for a minute or two and came back with a cloud on his face.
“I am awfully sorry, Sophie. The mother says I must take out Lady Esther Starr this first time, old Starr’s wife, you know, as my father’s dancing days are over. Lady Esther is seven-and-thirty if she’s a day,” growled Bill, “and as big as a lighthouse. I’ll have the second with you, Sophie.”
“I am afraid I am engaged for the second,” hesitated Miss Sophie. “I think I have promised Joseph Todhetley.”
“Never mind him,” said Bill. “You’ll dance it with me, mind.”
“I can tell him I mistook the dance,” she softly suggested.
“Tell him anything. All right.”
He wheeled round, and went up to Lady Esther, putting on his glove. Sophie Chalk moved away, and I took courage to glance sideways at Tod.
His face was white as death: I think with passion. He stood with his arms folded, never moving throughout the whole quadrille, only looking out straight before him with a fixed stare. A waltz came next, for which they kept their partners. And Sophie Chalk had enjoyed the luck of sitting down all the time. Whilst they were making ready for the second quadrille, Tod went up to her.
“This is our dance, Miss Chalk.”
Well, she had her share of boldness. She looked steadily in his face, assuring him that he was mistaken, and vowing through thick and thin that it was the third dance she had promised him. Whilst she was excusing herself, Bill came up to claim her. Tod put out his strong arm to ward him off.
“Stay a moment, Whitney,” he said, with studied calmness, “let me have an understanding first with Miss Chalk. She can dance with you afterwards if she prefers to do so. Miss Chalk, you know that you promised yourself to me this morning for the second dance. I asked you for the first: you were engaged for that, you said, and would dance the second with me. There could be no mistake, on your side or on mine.”
“Oh, but indeed I understood it to be the third, dear Mr. Todhetley,” said she. “I am dreadfully sorry if it is my fault. I will dance the third with you.”
“I have not asked you for the third. Do as you please. If you throw me over for this second dance, I will never ask you for another again as long as I live.”
Bill Whitney stood by laughing; seeming to treat the whole as a good joke. Sophie Chalk looked at him appealingly.
“And you certainly promised me, Miss Chalk,” he put in. “Todhetley, it is a misunderstanding. You and I had better draw lots.”
Tod bit his lip nearly to bleeding. All the notice he took of Bill’s speech was to turn his back upon him, and address Sophie.
“The decision lies with you alone, Miss Chalk. You have engaged yourself to him and to me: choose between us.”
She put her hand within Bill’s arm, and went away with him, leaving a little honeyed flattery for Tod. But Bill Whitney looked back curiously into Tod’s white face, all his brightness gone; for the first time he seemed to realize that it was serious, almost an affair of life or death. His handkerchief up, wiping his damp brow, Tod did not notice which way he was going, and ran against Anna. “I beg your pardon,” he said, with a start, as if waking out of a dream. “Will you go through this dance with me, Anna?”
Yes. He led her up to it; and they took their places opposite Bill and Miss Chalk.
Mr. James was to arrive at half-past nine. I was waiting for him near the entrance door. He was punctual to time; and looked very well in his evening dress. I took him up to Miss Deveen, and she made room for him on the sofa by her side, her diamonds glistening. He must have seen their value. Sir John had his rubber then in the little breakfast-parlour: Miss Cattledon, old Starr, and another making it up for him. Wanting to see the game played out, I kept by the sofa.
This was not the dancing-room: but they came into it in couples between the dances, to march round in the cooler air. Mr. James looked and Miss Deveen looked; and I confess that whenever Mrs. Hughes passed us, I felt queer. Miss Deveen suddenly arrested her and kept her talking for a minute or two. Not a word bearing upon the subject said Mr. James. Once, when the room was clear and the measured tread to one of Strauss’s best waltzes could be heard, Lady Whitney approached. Catching sight of the stranger by Miss Deveen, she supposed he had been brought by some of the guests, and came up to make his acquaintance.
“A friend of mine, dear Lady Whitney,” said Miss Deveen.
Lady Whitney, never observing that no name was mentioned, shook hands at once with Mr. James in her homely country fashion. He stood up until she had moved away.
“Well?” said Miss Deveen, when the dancers had come in again. “Is the lady here?”
I had expected him to say No, and could have struck him for destroying my faith in Mrs. Hughes. She was passing at the moment.
“Do you see her now?” whispered Miss Deveen.
“Not now. She was at the door a moment ago.”
“Not now!” exclaimed Miss Deveen, staring at Mrs. Hughes. “Is it not that lady?”
Mr. James sent his eyes in half-a-dozen directions.
“Which lady, ma’am?”
“The one who has just passed in black silk, with the simple white net quilling round the neck.”
“Oh dear, no!” said Mr. James. “I never saw that lady in my life before. The lady, the lady, is dressed in white.”
Miss Deveen looked at him, and I looked. Here, in the rooms, and yet not Mrs. Hughes!
“This is the one,” he whispered, “coming in now.”
The one, turning in at that particular instant, was Sophie Chalk. But others were before her and behind her. She was on Harry Whitney’s arm.
“Why don’t you dance, Miss Deveen?” asked bold Harry, halting before the sofa.
“Will you dance with me, Master Harry?”
“Of course I will. Glad to get you.”
“Don’t tell fibs, young man. I might take you at your word, if I had my dancing-shoes on.”
Harry laughed. Sophie Chalk’s blue eyes happened to rest on Mr. James’s face: they took a puzzled expression, as if wondering where she had seen it. Mr. James rose and bowed to her. She must have recognized him then, for her features turned livid, in spite of the powder upon them.
“Who is it, Johnny?” she whispered, in her confusion, loosing Harry’s arm and coming behind.
“Well, you must ask that of Miss Deveen. He has come here to see her: something’s up, I fancy, about those emerald studs.”
Had it been to save my fortune, I could not have helped saying it. I saw it all as in a mirror. She it was who had taken them, and pledged them afterwards. A similar light flashed on Miss Deveen. She followed her with her severe face, her condemning eyes.
“Take care, Johnny!” cried Miss Deveen.
I was just in time to catch Sophie Chalk. She would have fallen on my shoulder. The room was in a commotion at once: a young lady had fainted. What from? asked every one. Oh, from the heat, of course. And no other reason was breathed.
Mr. James’s mission was over. It had been successful. He made his bow to Lady Whitney, and withdrew.
Miss Deveen sent for Sophie Chalk the next day, and they had it out together, shut up alone. Sophie’s coolness was good for any amount of denial, but it failed here. And then she took the other course, and fell on her knees at Miss Deveen’s feet, and told a pitiable story of being alone in the world, without money to dress herself, and the open jewel-casket in Miss Deveen’s chamber (into which accident, not design, had really taken her) proving too much in the moment’s temptation. Miss Deveen believed it; she told her the affair should never transpire beyond the two or three who already knew it; that she would redeem the emeralds herself, and say nothing even to Lady Whitney; but, as a matter of course, Miss Chalk must close her acquaintance with Sir John’s family.
And, singular to say, Sophie received a letter from someone that same evening, inviting her to go out of town. At least, she said she did.
So, quitting the Whitneys suddenly was plausibly accounted for; and Helen Whitney did not know the truth for many a day.
What did Tod think? For that, I expect, is what you are all wanting to ask. That was another curious thing — that he and Bill Whitney should have come to an explanation before the ball was over. Bill went up to him, saying that had he supposed Tod could mean anything serious in his admiration of Sophie Chalk, he should never have gone in for admiring her himself, even in pastime; and certainly would not continue to do so or spoil sport again.
“Thank you for telling me,” answered Tod, with indifference. “You are quite welcome to go in for Sophie Chalk in any way you please. I have done with her.”
“No,” said Bill, “good girls must grow scarcer than they are before I should go in seriously for Sophie Chalk. She’s all very well to talk and laugh with, and she is uncommonly fascinating.”
It was my turn to put in a word. “As I told you, Bill, months ago, Sophie Chalk would fascinate the eyes out of your head, give her the chance.”
Bill laughed. “Well she has had the chance, Johnny: but she has not done it.”
Altogether, Sophie, thanks to her own bad play, had fallen to a discount.
When Miss Deveen announced to the world that she had found her emerald studs (lost through an accident, she discovered, and recovered in the same way) people were full of wonder at the chances and mistakes of life. Lettice Lane was cleared triumphantly. Miss Deveen sent her home for a week to shake hands with her friends and enemies, and then took her back as her own maid.
And the only person I said a syllable to was Anna. I knew it would be safe: and I dare say you would have done the same in my place. But she stopped me at the middle of the first sentence.
“I have known it from the first, Johnny: I was nearly as sure of it as I could be; and it is that that has made me so miserable.”
“Known it was Sophie Chalk?”
“As good as known it. I had no proof, only suspicion. And I could not see whether I ought to speak the suspicion even to mamma, or to keep it to myself. As things have turned out, I am very thankful to have been silent.”
“How was it, then?”
“That night at Whitney Hall, after they had all come down from dressing, mamma sent me up to William’s room with a message. As I was leaving it — it is at the end of the long corridor, you know — I saw some one peep cautiously out of Miss Cattledon’s chamber, and then steal up the back stairs. It was Sophie Chalk. Later, when we were going to bed, and I was quite undressed, Helen, who was in bed, espied Sophie’s comb and brush on the table — for she had dressed in our room because of the large glass — and told me to run in with them: she only slept in the next room. It was very cold. I knocked and entered so sharply that the door-bolt, a thin, creaky old thing, gave way. Of course I begged her pardon; but she seemed to start up in terrible fear, as if I had been a ghost. She had not touched her hair, but sat in her shawl, sewing at her stays; and she let them drop on the carpet and threw a petticoat over them. I thought nothing, Johnny; nothing at all. But the next morning when commotion arose and the studs were missing, I could not help recalling all this; and I quite hated myself for thinking Sophie Chalk might have taken them when she stole out of Miss Cattledon’s room, and was sewing them later into her stays.”
“You thought right, you see.”
“Johnny, I am very sorry for her. I wish we could help her to some good situation. Depend upon it, this will be a lesson to her: she will never so far forget herself again.”
“She is quite able to take care of herself, Anna. Don’t let it trouble you. I dare say she will marry Mr. Everty.”
“Who is Mr. Everty?”
“Some one who is engaged in the wine business with Sophie Chalk’s brother-in-law, Mr. Smith.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55