Read CHAPTER IV - FATHER AND SON of Jewel A Chapter In Her Life , free online book, by Clara Louise Burnham, on ReadCentral.com.

When later they were alone, the girl looked at her mother, her eyes luminous.

“You see,” she began rather breathlessly, “even you must see, he is beginning to drive us away.”

“I do hope, Eloise, you are not going to indulge in any heroics over this affair,” returned Mrs. Evringham, who had braced herself to meet an attack. “Does the unpleasant creature suppose we would stay with him if we were not obliged to?”

“If we are obliged to, which I don’t admit, need you demand further favors than food and shelter? How could you speak of Essex Maid! How can you know in your inmost heart, as you do, that we are eating the bread of charity, and then ask for the apple of his eye!” exclaimed Eloise desperately.

“Go away with your bread and apples,” responded Mrs. Evringham flippantly. “I have a real worry now that that wretched little cousin of yours is coming.”

“She is not my cousin please remember,” responded the girl bitterly. “Mr. Evringham reminded us of that to-night.”

“Now don’t you begin calling him Mr. Evringham!” protested her mother. “You don’t want to take any notice of the man’s absurdities. You will only make matters worse.”

“No, I shall go on saying grandfather for the little while we stay. Otherwise, he would know his words were rankling. It will be a little while? Oh mother!”

Mrs. Evringham pushed the pleading hand away. “I can’t tell how long it will be!” she returned impatiently. “We are simply helpless until your father’s affairs are settled. I thought I had told you that, Eloise. He worshipped you, child, and no matter what that old curmudgeon says, Lawrence would wish us to remain under his protection until we see our way clear.”

“Won’t you have a business talk with him, so we can know what we have to look forward to?” The girl’s voice was unsteady.

“I will when the right time comes, Eloise. Can’t you trust your mother? Isn’t it enough that we have lost our home, our carriages, all our comforts and luxuries, through this man’s bad judgment-”

“You will cling to that!” despairingly.

“And have had to come out to this Sleepy Hollow of a place, where life means mere existence, and be so poor that the carfare into New York is actually a consideration! I’m quite satisfied with our martyrdom as it is, without pinching and grinding as we should have to do to live elsewhere.”

“Then you don’t mean to attempt to escape?” returned Eloise in alarm.

“Hush, hush, Goosie. We will escape all in good time if we don’t succeed in taming the bear. As it is, I have to work single handed,” dropping into a tone of reproach. “You are no help at all. You might as well be a simpering wax dummy out of a shop window. I would have been ashamed at your age if I could not have subjugated any man alive. We might have had him at our feet weeks ago if you had made an effort.”

“No, no, mother,” sadly. “I saw when we first came how effusiveness impressed him, and I tried to behave so as to strike a balance-that is, after I found that we were here on sufferance and not as welcome guests.”

“Pshaw! You can’t tell what such a hermit is thinking,” returned Mrs. Evringham. “It is the best thing that could happen to him to have us here. Dr. Ballard said so only to-day. What is troubling me now is this child of Harry’s. I was sure by father’s tone when he first spoke of her that he would not even consider such an imposition.”

“I think he did feel so,” returned Eloise, her manner quiet again. “That was an example of the way you overreach yourself. The word presumption on your lips applied to uncle Harry determined grandfather to let the child come.”

“You think he really has sent for her then!” exclaimed Mrs. Evringham. “You think that is what the telegram meant! I’m sure of it, too.” Then after a minute’s exasperated thought, “I believe you are right. He is just contrary enough for that. If I had urged him to let the little barbarian come, he couldn’t have been induced to do so. That wasn’t clever of me!” The speaker made the admission in a tone which implied that in general her cleverness was unquestioned. “Well, I hope she will worry him out of his senses, and I don’t think there is much doubt of it. It may turn out all for the best, Eloise, after all, and lead him to appreciate us.” Mrs. Evringham cast a glance at the mirror and patted her waved hair. “And yet I’m anxious, very anxious. He might take a fancy to the girl,” she added thoughtfully.

“I’m such a poor-spirited creature,” remarked Eloise.

“What now?”

“I ought to be strong enough to leave you since you will not come; to leave this roof and earn my own living, some way, any way; but I’m too much of a coward.”

“I should hope so,” returned her mother briefly. “You’d soon become one if you weren’t at starting. Girls bred to luxury, as you have been, must just contrive to live well somehow. They can’t stand anything else.”

“Nonsense, mother,” quietly. “They can. They do.”

“Yes, in books I know they do.”

“No, truth is stranger than fiction. They do. I have been looking for that sort of stamina in myself for weeks, but I haven’t found it. It is a cruel wrong to a girl not to teach her to support herself.”

“My dear! You were going to college. You know you would have gone had it not been for your poor father’s misfortunes.”

Eloise’s eyes filled again at the remembrance of the young, gay man who had been her boon companion since her babyhood, and at the memory of those last sad days, when she knew he had agonized over her future even more than over that of his volatile wife.

“My dear, as I’ve told you before, a girl as pretty as you are should know that fortune cannot be unkind, nor the sea of life too rough. In each of the near waves of it you can see a man’s head swimming toward you. You don’t know the trouble I have had already in silencing those who wished to speak before you were old enough. They could any of them be summoned now with a word. Let me see. There is Mr. Derwent-Mr. Follansbee-Mr. Weeks-”

“Hush, mother!” ejaculated the girl in disgust.

“Exactly. I knew you would say they were too old, or too bald, or too short, or too fat. I’ve been a girl myself. Of course there is Nat Bonnell, and a lot more little waves and ripples like him, but they always were out of the question, and now they are ten times more so. That is the reason, Eloise,” the mother’s voice became impressive to the verge of solemnity, “why I feel that Dr. Ballard is almost a providence.”

The girl’s clear eyes were reflective. “Nat Bonnell is a wave who wouldn’t remember a girl who had slipped out of the swim.”

“Very wise of him,” returned Mrs. Evringham emphatically. “He can’t afford to. Nat is-is-a-decorative creature, just as you are,-decorative. He must make it pay, poor boy.”

Meanwhile Mrs. Forbes had sought her son in the barn. He and she had had their supper in time for her to be ready to wait at dinner.

“Something doing, something doing,” murmured Zeke as he heard the impetuosity of her approaching step.

“That soup was hot!” she exclaimed defiantly.

“Somebody scald you, ma? I can do him up, whoever he is,” said Zeke, catching up a whip and executing a threatening dance around the dimly lighted barn.

His mother’s snapping eyes looked beyond him. “He said it was cold; but it was only because he was distracted. What do you suppose those people are up to now? Trying to get Essex Maid for Mamzell to ride!”

Zeke stopped in his mad career and returned his mother’s stare for a silent moment. “And not a dungeon on the place probably!” he exclaimed at last. “Just like some folks’ shiftlessness.”

“They asked it. They asked Mr. Evringham if that girl couldn’t ride Essex Maid while he was in the city!”

’Zekiel lifted his eyebrows politely. “Where are their remains to be interred?” he inquired with concern.

“Well, not in this family vault, you may be sure. He gave it to them to-night for a fact.” Mrs. Forbes smiled triumphantly. “’I didn’t know Eloise remembered her father,’” she mimicked. “I’ll bet that got under their skin!”

“Dear parent, you’re excited,” remarked Zeke.

She brought her reminiscent gaze back to rest upon her son. “Get your coat quick, ’Zekiel. Here’s the telegram. Take the car that passes the park gate, and stop at the station. That’s the nearest place.”

Ezekiel obediently struggled into the coat hanging conveniently near. “What does the telegram say?-’Run away, little girl, the ogre isn’t hungry’?”

“Not much! She’s coming. He’s sending for the brat.”

“Poor brat! How did it happen?”

“Just some more of my lady’s doings,” answered Mrs. Forbes angrily. “Of course she had to put in her oar and exasperate Mr. Evringham until he did it to spite her.”

“Cutting off his own nose to spite his face, eh?” asked Zeke, taking the slip of paper.

“Yes, and mine. It’s going to come heavy on me. I could have shaken that woman with her airs and graces. Catch her or Mamzell lifting their hands!”

“Yet they want her, do they?”

“No, Stupid! That’s why she’s coming. Can’t you understand?”

“Blessed if I can,” returned the boy as he left the barn; “but I know one thing, I pity the kid.”

Mr. Evringham received a prompt answer to his message. His son appointed, as a place of meeting, the downtown hotel where he and his wife purposed spending the night before sailing.

Father and son had not met for years, and Mr. Evringham debated a few minutes whether to take the gastronomic and social risk of dining with Harry en famille at the noisy hotel above mentioned, or to have dinner in assured comfort at his club-finally deciding on the latter course.

It was, therefore, nearly nine o’clock before his card was presented to Mr. and Mrs. Harry, to whom it brought considerable relief of mind, and they hastened down to the dingy parlor with alacrity.

“You see we thought you might accept our invitation to dinner,” said Harry heartily, as he grasped his parent’s passive hand; “but your business hours are so short, I dare say you have been at home since the middle of the afternoon.” As he spoke the hard lines of his father’s impassive face smote him with a thousand associations, many of them bringing remorse. He wondered how much his own conduct had had to do with graving them so deeply.

His wife’s observant eyes were scanning this guardian of her child from the crown of his immaculate head to the toes of his correct patent leathers. His expressionless eyes turned to her. “This is your wife?” he asked, again offering the passive hand.

“Yes, father, this is Julia,” responded Harry proudly. “I’m sorry the time is so short. I do want you to know her.”

The young man’s face grew eloquent.

“That is a pleasure to come,” responded Mr. Evringham mechanically. He turned stiffly and cast a glance about. “You brought your daughter, I presume?”

“Yes, indeed,” answered Mrs. Evringham. “Harry was so glad to receive your permission. We had made arrangements for her provisionally with friends in Chicago, but we were desirous that she should have this opportunity to see her father’s home and know you.”

Mr. Evringham thought with regret of those friends in Chicago. Many times in the last two days he had deeply repented allowing himself to be exasperated into thus committing himself.

“Do sit down, father,” said Harry, as his wife seated herself in the nearest chair.

Mr. Evringham hesitated before complying. “Well,” he said perfunctorily, “you have gone into something that promises well, eh Harry?”

“It looks that way. I’m chiefly occupied these days in being thankful.” The young man smiled with an extraordinary sweetness of expression, which transfigured his face, and which his father remembered well as always promising much and performing nothing. “I might spend a lot of time crying over spilt milk, but Julia says I mustn’t,”-he glanced across at his wife, whose dark eyes smiled back,-“and what Julia says goes. I intend to spend a year or two doing instead of talking.”

“It will answer better,” remarked his father.

“Yes, sir,” Harry’s voice grew still more earnest. “And by that time, perhaps, I can express my regret to you, for things done and things left undone, with more convincingness.”

The older man made a slight gesture of rejection with one well-kept hand. “Let bygones be bygones,” he returned briefly.

“When I think,” pursued Harry, his impulsive manner in strange contrast to that of his listener, “that if I had been behaving myself all this time, I might have seen dear old Lawrence again!”

Mr. Evringham kept silence.

“How are Madge and Eloise? I thought perhaps Madge might come in and meet us at the train.”

“They are in the best of health, thank you. Eh-a-I think if you’ll call your daughter now we will go. It’s rather a long ride, you know. No express trains at this hour. When you return we will have more of a visit.”

Harry and his wife exchanged a glance. “Why Jewel is asleep,” answered the young man after a pause. “She was so sleepy she couldn’t hold her eyes open.”

“You mean you’ve let her go to bed?” asked Mr. Evringham, with a not very successful attempt to veil his surprise and annoyance.

“Why-yes. We supposed she would see us off, you know.”

“Your memory is rather short, it strikes me,” returned his father. “You sail at eight A.M., I believe. Did you think I could get in from Bel-Air at that hour?”

“No. I thought you would naturally remain in the city over night. You used to stay in rather frequently, didn’t you?”

“I’ve not done so for five years; but you couldn’t know that. Is it out of the question to dress the child again? I hope she is too healthy to be disturbed by a trifle like that.”

Mrs. Evringham cast a startled look at her father-in-law. “It would disappoint Jewel very much not to see us off,” she returned.

Mr. Evringham shrugged his shoulders. “Let it go then. Let it go,” he said quickly.

Harry’s plain face had grown concerned. “Is Mrs. Forbes with you still?” he asked.

“Oh, yes. I couldn’t keep house without Mrs. Forbes. Well,” rising, “if you young people will excuse me, I believe I will go to the club and turn in.”

“Couldn’t you stand it here one night, do you think?” asked Harry, rising. “The club is rather far uptown for such an early start.”

“No. I’ll be on hand. I’m used to rising early for a canter. I’ll take it with a cab horse this time. That will be all the difference.” And with this attempt at jocularity, Mr. Evringham shook hands once more and departed, swallowing his ill-humor as best he could. Any instincts of the family man which might once have reigned in him had long since been inhibited. This episode was a cruel invasion upon his bachelor habits.

Left alone, Harry and his wife without a word ascended to their room and with one accord approached the little bed in the corner where their child lay asleep.

The man took his wife’s hand. “I’ve done it now, Julia,” he said dejectedly. “It’s my confounded optimism again.”

“Your optimism is all right,” she returned, smoothing his hand gently, though her heart was beating fast, and the vision of her father-in-law, with his elegant figure and cold eyes, was weighing upon her spirit.

Harry looked long on the plain little sleeping face, so like his own in spite of its exquisite child-coloring, and bending, touched the tossed, straight, flaxen hair.

“We couldn’t take her, I suppose?” he asked.

“No,” replied the yearning mother quietly. “We have prayed over it. We must know that all will be right.”

“His bark is worse than his bite,” said Harry doubtfully. “It always was; and Mrs. Forbes is there.”

“You say she is a kind sort of woman?”

“Why, I suppose so,” uncertainly. “I never had much to do with her.”

“And your sister? Isn’t it very strange that she didn’t come in to meet us? I was so certain I should put Jewel into her hands I feel a little bewildered.”

“You’re a trump!” ejaculated Harry hotly, “and you’ve married into a family where they’re scarce. Madge might have met us at the train, at least.”

“Perhaps she is very sad over her loss,” suggested Julia.

“In the best of health. Father said so. Oh well, she never was anything but a big butterfly and Eloise a little one. I remember the last time I saw the child, a pretty fairy with her long pink silk stockings. She must have been just about the age of Jewel.”

The mother stooped over the little bed and the dingy room looked pleasanter for her smile. “Jewel hasn’t any pink silk stockings,” she murmured, and kissed the warm rose of the round cheek.

The little girl stirred and opened her eyes, at first vaguely, then with a start.

“Is it time for the boat?” she asked, trying to rise.

Her father smoothed her hair. “No, time to go to sleep again. We’re just going to bed. Good-night, Jewel.” He stooped to kiss her, and her arms met around his neck.

“It was an April fool, wasn’t it?” she murmured sleepily, and was unconscious again.

The mother hid her face for a moment on her husband’s shoulder. “Help me to feel that we’re doing right,” she whispered, with a catch in her breath.

“As if I could help you, Julia!” he returned humbly.

“Oh, yes, you can, dear.” She withdrew from his embrace, and going to the dresser, took down her hair. The smiling face of a doll looked up at her from the neighboring chair, where it was sitting bolt upright. Her costume was fresh from the modiste, and her feet, though hopelessly pigeon-toed, were encased in bronze boots of a freshness which caught the dim gaslight with a golden sheen.

Mrs. Evringham smiled through her moist eyes.

“Well, Jewel was sleepy. She forgot to undress Anna Belle,” she said.

Letting her hair fall about her like a veil, she caught up the doll and pressed it to her heart impulsively. “You are going to stay with her, Anna Belle! I envy you, I envy you!” she whispered. An irrepressible tear fell on the sumptuous trimming of the little hat. “Be good to her; comfort her, comfort her, little dolly.” Hastily wiping her eyes, she turned to her husband, still holding the doll. “We shall have to be very careful, Harry, in the morning. If we are harboring one wrong or fearful thought, we must not let Jewel know it.”

“Oh, I wish it were over! I wish the next month were over!” he replied restively.