The Tempting of Tavernake by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter XX. A Pleasant Reunion
Tavernake awoke some hours later with a puzzled sense of having lost his own identity, of having taken up another man's life, stepped into another man's shoes. From the day of his first arrival in London, a raw country youth, till the night when he had spoken to Beatrice on the roof of Blenheim House, nothing that could properly be called an adventure had ever happened to him. He had never for a moment felt the want of it; he had not even indulged in the reading of books of romance. The thing which had happened last night, as in the cold morning sunlight he sat up in his bed, seemed to him a thing grotesque, inconceivable. It was not really possible that those people --those well-bred, well-looking people--had seriously contemplated an enormity which seemed to belong to the back pages of history, or that he, Tavernake, had burst through a wall with no weapons in his hand, and had dominated the situation! He sat there steadily thinking. It was incredible, but it was true! There existed still in his mind some faint doubt as to whether they would really have proceeded to extremities. Pritchard himself had made light of the whole affair, afterwards had treated it, indeed, as a huge practical joke. Tavernake, remembering that little group as he had first seen it, remained doubtful.
By degrees, his own personal characteristics began to assert themselves. He began to wonder how his action would affect his commercial interests. He had probably made an enemy of this wonderful sister of Beatrice's, the woman who had so completely filled his thoughts during the last few days, the woman, too, who was to have found the money by means of which he was to set his feet upon the first rung of the ladder. This was a thing, he decided, which must be settled at once. He must see her and know exactly what terms they were on, whether or not she meant to be off with her bargain. The thought of action of any sort was stimulating. He rose and dressed, had his breakfast, and set out on his pilgrimage.
Soon after eleven o'clock, he presented himself at the Milan Court and asked for Mrs. Wenham Gardner. For several minutes he waited about in nervous anticipation, then he was told that she was not at home. More than a little disappointed, he pressed for news of her. The hall porter thought that she had gone down into the country, and if so it was doubtful when she would be back. Tavernake was now seriously disconcerted.
"I want particularly to wire to her," he insisted. "Please find out from her maid how I shall direct a telegram."
The hall porter, who was a most superior person, regarded him blandly.
"We do not give addresses, sir," he explained, "unless at the expressed wish of our clients. If you leave a telegram here, I will send it up to Mrs. Gardner's rooms to be forwarded."
Tavernake scribbled one out, begging for news of her return, added his address and left the place. Then he wandered aimlessly about the streets. There seemed something flat about the morning, some aftermath of the excitement of the previous night was still stirring in his blood. Nevertheless, he pulled himself together with an effort, called for a young surveyor whom he had engaged to assist him, and spent the rest of the day out upon the hill. Religiously he kept his thoughts turned upon his work until the twilight came. Then he hurried home to meet the disappointment which he had more than half anticipated. There was no telegram for him! He ate his dinner and sat with folded arms, looking out into the street. Still no telegram! The restlessness came back once more. Soon after ten o'clock it became unbearable. He found himself longing for company, the loneliness of his little room since the departure of Beatrice had never seemed so real a thing. He stood it as long as he could and then, catching up his hat and stick, he set his face eastwards, walking vigorously, and with frequent glances at the clocks he passed.
A few minutes past eleven o'clock, he found himself once more in that dark thoroughfare at the back of the theatre. The lamp over the stage-door was flickering in the same uncertain manner, the same motor-cars were there, the same crowd of young men, except that each night they seemed to grow larger. This time he had a few minutes only to wait. Beatrice came out among the earliest. At the sight of her he was suddenly conscious that he had, after all, no excuse for coming, that she would probably cross-examine him about Elizabeth, would probably guess the secret of his torments. He shrank back, but he was a moment too late for she had seen him. With a few words of excuse to the others with whom she was talking, she picked up her skirts and came swiftly across the muddy street. Tavernake had no time to escape. He remained there until she came, but his cheeks were hot, and he had an uncomfortable feeling that his presence, that their meeting like this, was an embarrassment to both of them.
"My dear Leonard," she exclaimed, "why do you hide over there?"
"I don't know," he answered simply.
"It looks as though you didn't want to see me," she remarked. "If you didn't, why are you here?"
"I suppose I did want to see you," he replied. "Anyhow, I was lonely. I wanted to talk to some one. I walked all the way up here from Chelsea."
"You have something to tell me?" she suggested.
"There was something," he admitted. "I thought perhaps you ought to know. I had supper with your father last night. We talked about you."
She started as though he had struck her; her face was suddenly pale and anxious.
"Are you serious, Leonard?" she asked. "My father?"
"I am sorry," he said. "I ought not to have blundered. it out like that. I forgot that you--you were not seeing anything of him."
"How did you meet him?"
"By accident," he answered. "I was sitting alone up in the balcony at Imano's, and he wanted my table because he could see you from there, so we shared it, and then we began talking. I knew who he was, of course; I had seen him in your sister's room. He told me that he had engaged the table for every night this week."
She looked across the road.
"I can't go out with those people now," she declared. "Wait here for me."
She went back to her friends and talked to them for a moment or two. Tavernake could hear Grier's protesting voice and Beatrice's light laugh. Evidently they were trying uselessly to persuade her to change her mind. Soon she came back to him.
"I am sorry," he said reluctantly. "I am afraid that I have spoiled your evening."
"Don't be foolish, please," she replied taking his arm. "Do you believe that my father will be up in the balcony at Imano's to-night?"
"He told me so."
"We will go and sit up there," she decided. "He knows where I am to be found now so it doesn't matter. I should like to see him."
They walked off together. Though she was evidently absent and distressed, Tavernake felt once more that sense of pleasant companionship which her near presence always brought him.
"There is something else I must ask you," she began presently. "I want to know if you have seen Pritchard lately."
"I was with him last night," Tavernake answered.
"He was asking questions?"
"Not about you," Tavernake assured her quickly. "It is your sister in whom he is interested."
Beatrice nodded, but she seemed very little relieved. Tavernake could see that the old look of fear was back in her face.
"I am sorry, Beatrice," he said, regretfully. "I seem just now to be always bringing you reminiscences of the people whom it terrifies you to hear about."
She shook her head.
"It isn't your fault, Leonard," she declared, "only it is rather strange that you should be mixed up with them in any way, isn't it? I suppose some day you'll find out everything about me. Perhaps you'll be sorry then that you ever even called yourself my brother."
"Don't be foolish," he answered, brusquely.
She patted his hand.
"Is the speculation going all right?" she asked.
"I am hoping to get the money together this week," he replied. "If I get it, I shall be well off in a year, rich in five years."
"There is just a doubt about your getting it, then?" she inquired.
"Just a doubt," he admitted. "I have a solicitor who is doing his best to raise a loan, but I have not heard from him for two days. Then I have also a friend who has promised it to me, a friend upon whom I am not quite sure if I can rely."
They turned into the Strand.
"Tell me about my father, Leonard," she begged.
He hesitated; it was hard to know exactly how to speak of the professor.
"Perhaps if you have talked with him at all," she went on, "it will help you to understand one of the difficulties I had to face in life."
"He is, I should imagine, a little weak," Tavernake suggested, hesitatingly.
"Very," she answered. "My mother left him in my charge, but I cannot keep him."
"Your sister--" he began.
"My sister has more influence than I. She makes life easier for him."
They reached the restaurant and made their way upstairs. Tavernake appropriated the same table and once more the head waiter protested.
"If the gentleman comes again to-night," Tavernake said, "you will find that he will be only too glad to have supper with us."
Then the professor came. He made his usual somewhat theatrical entrance, carrying his broad-brimmed hat in his hand, brandishing his silver-topped cane. When he saw Tavernake and Beatrice, he stopped short. Then he held out both hands, which Beatrice immediately seized. There were tears in his eyes, tears running down his cheeks. He sat down heavily in the chair which Tavernake was holding for him.
"Beatrice," he exclaimed, "why, this is most affecting! You have come here to have supper with your old father. You trust me, then?"
"Absolutely," she replied, still clasping his hands. "If you give me away to Elizabeth, it will be the end. The next time I shall never be found."
"For some days," he assured her, "I have known exactly where you were to be found. I have never spoken of it. You are safe. My meals up here," he added, with a little sigh, "have been sad feasts. To-night we will be cheerful. Some quails, I think, quails and some Clicquot for you, my dear. You need it. Ah, this is a happiness indeed!"
"You know Mr. Tavernake, father," she remarked, after he had given a somewhat lengthy order to the waiter.
"I met and talked with Mr. Tavernake here the other night," the professor admitted, with condescension.
"Mr. Tavernake was very good to me at a time when I needed help," Beatrice told him.
The professor grasped Tavernake's hands.
"You were good to my child," he said, "you were good to me. Waiter, three cocktails immediately," he ordered, turning round. "I must drink your health, Mr. Tavernake--I must drink your health at once."
Tavernake leaned forward towards Beatrice.
"I wonder," he suggested, "whether you would not rather be alone with your father."
She shook her head.
"You know so much," she replied, "and it really doesn't seem to matter. Tell me, father, how do you spend your time?"
"I must confess, dear," the professor said, "that I have little to do. Your sister Elizabeth is quite generous."
Beatrice sat back in her chair as though she had been struck.
"Father," she exclaimed, "listen! You are living on that money! Doesn't it seem terrible to you? Oh, how can you do it!"
The professor looked at his daughter with an expression of pained surprise.
"My dear," he explained, "your sister Elizabeth has always been the moneyed one of the family. She has brains and I trust her. It is not for me to inquire as to the source of the comforts she provides for me. I feel myself entitled to receive them, and so I accept."
"But, father," she went on, "can't you see--don't you know that it's his money--Wenham's?"
"It is not a matter, this, my child," the professor observed, sharply, "which we can discuss before strangers. Some day we will speak of it, you and L"
"Has he--been heard of?" she asked, in a whisper.
The professor frowned.
"A hot-tempered young man, my dear," he declared uneasily, "a hot tempered young man, indeed. Elizabeth gives me to understand that it was just an ordinary quarrel and away he went."
Beatrice was white to the lips.
"An ordinary quarrel!" she muttered.
She sat quite still. Tavernake unconsciously found himself watching her. There were things in her eyes which frightened him. It seemed as though she were looking out of the gay little restaurant, with its lights and music and air of comfort, out into some distant quarter of the world, some other and very different place. She was living through something which chilled her heart, something terrifying. Tavernake saw those things in her face and his eyes spelt them out mercilessly.
"Father," she whispered, leaning towards him, "do you believe what you have just been saying to me?"
It was the professor's turn to be disturbed. He concealed his discomfiture, however, with a gesture of annoyance.
"That is scarcely a proper question, Beatrice," he answered sharply. "Ah," he added, with more geniality, "the cocktails! My young friend Tavernake, I drink to our better acquaintance! You are English, as I can see, a real Britisher. Some day you must come out to our own great country--my daughter, of course, has told you that we are Americans. A great country, sir,--the greatest I have ever lived in--room to breathe, room to grow, room for a young man like you to plant his ambitions and watch them blossom. To our better acquaintance, Mr. Tavernake, and may we meet some day in the United States!"
Tavernake drank the first cocktail in his life and wiped the tears from his eyes. The professor found safety in conversation.
"You know," he went on, "that I am a man of science. Physiognomy delights me. Men and women as I meet them represent to me varying types of humanity, all interesting, all appealing to my peculiar love of the science of psychology. You, my dear Mr. Tavernake, if I may venture to be so personal, represent to me, as you sit there, the exact prototype of the young working Englishman. You are, I should judge, thorough, dogmatic, narrow, persistent, industrious, and bound to be successful according to the scope and nature of your ambitions. In this country you will never develop. In my country, sir, we should make a colossus of you. We should teach you not to be content with small things; we should raise your hand which you yourself kept to your side, and we should point your finger to the skies. Waiter," he added, turning abruptly round, "if the quails are not yet ready I will take another of these excellent cocktails."
Tavernake was embarrassed. He saw that Beatrice was anxious to talk to her father; he saw, also, that her father was determined not to talk to her. With a little sigh, however, she resigned herself to the inevitable.
"I have lectured, sir," the professor continued, "in most of the cities of the United States, upon the human race. The tendencies of every unit of the human race are my peculiar study. When I speak to you of phrenology, sir, you smile, and you think, perhaps, of a man who sits in a back room and takes your shilling for feeling the bumps of your head. I am not of this order of scientific men, sir. I have diplomas from every university worth mentioning. I blend the sciences which treat with the human race. I know something of all of them. Character reading to me is at once a passion and a science. Leave me alone with a man or a woman for five minutes, paint me a map of Life, and I will set the signposts along which that person will travel, and I shall not miss one."
"You are doing no work over here, father, are you?" Beatrice asked.
"None, my dear," he answered, with a faint note of regret in his tone. "Your sister Elizabeth seemed scarcely to desire it. Her movements are very uncertain and she likes to have me constantly at hand. My daughter Elizabeth," he continued, turning to Tavernake, "is a very beautiful young woman, left in my charge under peculiar circumstances. I feel it my duty, therefore, to be constantly at hand."
Again there was a flash of that strange look in the girl's face. She leaned forward, but her father declined to meet her gaze.
"May I ask one or two personal questions?" she faltered. "Remember, I have not seen or heard anything from either of you for seven months."
"By all means, my dear," the professor declared. "Your sister, I am glad to say, is well. I myself am as you see me. We have had a pleasant time and we have met some dear old friends from the other side. Our greatest trouble is that you are temporarily lost to us."
"Elizabeth doesn't guess--"
"My child," the professor interrupted, "I have been loyal to you. If Elizabeth knew that I could tell her at any moment your exact whereabouts, I think that she would be more angry with me than ever she has been in her life, and, my dear," he added, "you know, when Elizabeth is angry, things are apt to be unpleasant. But I have been dumb. I have not spoken, nor shall I. Yet," the professor went on, "you must not think, Beatrice, that because I yield to your whim in this matter I recognize any sufficient cause why you should voluntarily estrange yourself from those whose right and privilege it is to look after you. You are able, I am glad to see, to make your way in the world. I have attended the Atlas Theatre, and I am glad to see that you have lost none of your old skill in the song and dance. You are deservedly popular there. Soon, I have no doubt, you will aspire to more important parts. Still, my dear child," the professor continued, disposing of his second cocktail, "I see no reason why your very laudable desire to remain independent should be incompatible with a life under your sister's roof and my protection. Mr. Tavernake here, with his British instincts, will, I am sure, agree with me that it is not well for a young lady--my own daughter, sir, but I may say it--of considerable personal attractions, to live alone or under the chaperonage merely of these other young ladies of the theatre."
"I think,", Tavernake said, "that your daughter must have very strong reasons for preferring to live alone."
"Imaginary ones, my dear sir," the professor assured him,-- "altogether imaginary. The quails at last! And the Clicquot! Now this is really a delightful little meeting. I drink to its repetition. This is indeed a treat for me. Beatrice, my love to you! Mr. Tavernake, my best respects! The only vintage, sir," he concluded, setting down his empty glass appreciatively.
"To go back to what you were saying just now," Tavernake remarked, "I quite agree with you about Beatrice's living alone. I am very anxious for her to marry me."
The professor set down his knife and fork. His appearance was one of ponderous theatricality.
"Sir," he declared, "this is indeed a most momentous statement. Am I to take it as a serious offer for my daughter's hand?"
Beatrice leaned over and laid her fingers upon his.
"Father," she said, "it doesn't matter please. I am not willing to marry Mr. Tavernake."
The professor looked from one to the other and coughed.
"Are Mr. Tavernake's means," he asked, "of sufficient importance to warrant his entering into matrimony?"
"I have no money at all to speak of," Tavernake answered. "That really isn't important. I shall very soon make all that your daughter can spend."
"I agree with my daughter, sir," the professor declared. "The subject might well be left until such time as you have improved your position. We will dismiss it, therefore,--dismiss it at once. We will talk--"
"Father," Beatrice interrupted, "let us talk about yourself. Don't you think you would be more contented, happier, if you were to try to arrange for a few--a few demonstrations or lectures over here, as you at first intended? I know that you must find having nothing to do such a strain upon you," she added.
It was perhaps by accident that her eyes were fixed upon the glass which the professor was carrying to his lips. He set it down at once.
"My child," he said, in a low tone, " I understand you."
"No, no," she insisted, "I didn't mean that, but you are always better when you are working. A man like you," she went on, a little wistfully, "should not waste his talents."
"You are perhaps right, my child," he admitted. "I will go and see my agents to-morrow. Up till now," he went on, "I have refused all offers. I have felt that Elizabeth, the care of Elizabeth in her peculiar position, demanded my whole attention. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I have over-estimated the necessity of being constantly at her right hand. She is a very clever woman Elizabeth," he concluded, "very clever indeed."
"Where is she now, father?" Beatrice asked.
"She motored into the country early this morning with some friends," the professor said. "They went to a party last night with Walter Crease, London correspondent to the New York Gazette," he explained, turning a little away from Tavernake. "They were all home very late, I understand, and Elizabeth complained of a headache this morning. Personally, I regret to say that I was not up when they left."
Beatrice leaned quite close to her father.
"Do you see anything of the man Pritchard?" she inquired.
The professor was suddenly flabby. He set down his glass, spilling half its contents. He stole a quick glance at Tavernake.
"My child," he exclaimed, "you ought to consider my nerves! You know very well that the sudden mention of any one whom I dislike so intensely is bad for me. I am surprised at you, Beatrice. You show a culpable lack of consideration for my infirmities."
"I am sorry, father," she whispered, "but is he here?"
"He is," the professor admitted. "Between ourselves," he added, a white, scared look upon his pale face, "he is spoiling my whole peace of mind. My enjoyment of the comforts which Elizabeth is able to provide for me is interfered with by that man's constant presence. He seldom speaks, and yet he seems always to be watching. I do not trust him, Beatrice. I am a judge of men and I tell you that I do not trust him."
"I wish that Elizabeth would go away," Beatrice said in a low tone. "Of course, I have no right--to say things. Nothing serious has perhaps ever happened. And yet--and yet, for her own sake, I do not think that she should stay here in London with Pritchard close at hand."
The professor raised his glass with shaking fingers.
"Elizabeth knows what is best," he declared, "I am sure that Elizabeth knows what is best, but I, too, am beginning to wish that she would go away. Last night we met him at Walter Crease's."
Once more he turned a little nervously towards Tavernake, who was looking down into the body of the restaurant with immovable face.
"We tried to persuade him then to go away. He is really in rather a dangerous position here. Jimmy Post has sworn that he will not be taken back to New York, and there are one or two others--a pretty desperate crew. We tried last night to reason with Pritchard."
"It was no good?" she whispered.
"No good at all," the professor answered, drily. "Perhaps, if we had not been interrupted, we might have convinced him."
"Tell me about it," she begged.
The professor shook his head. Tavernake still had that air of paying no attention whatever to their conversation.
"It is not for you to know about, my dear," he concluded. "You have chosen very wisely to keep out of these matters. Elizabeth has such wonderful courage. My own nerve, I regret to say, is not quite what it was. Waiter, I will take a liqueur of the old brandy in a large glass."
The brandy was brought, but the professor seemed haunted by memories and his spirits never wholly returned. Not until the lights were turned down and Tavernake had paid the bill, did he partially recover his former manner.
"Dear child," he said, as they stood up together, "I cannot tell you what the pleasure has been of this brief reunion."
She rested her fingers upon his shoulders and looked up into his face.
"Father," she begged, softly, "come to me. I can keep you, if you don't mind for a short time being poor. You shall have all my salary except just enough for my clothes, and anything will do for me to wear. I will try so hard to make you comfortable."
He looked at her with an air of offended dignity.
"My child," he replied, "you must not talk to me like that. If I did not feel that my duty lay with Elizabeth, I should insist upon your coming to me, and under those conditions it would be I who should provide, not you. But for the moment I cannot leave your elder sister altogether. She needs me."
Beatrice turned away a little sadly. They all three descended the stairs.
"I shall leave our young friend, Mr. Tavernake, to escort you to your home," the professor announced. "I myself shall telephone to see if Elizabeth has returned. If she is still away, I shall spend an hour or two, I think, with my friends at the Blue Room Club. Beatrice, this has been a joy to me, a joy soon, I hope, to be repeated."
He took both her hands. She smiled at him with an attempt at cheerfulness.
"Good-night, father!" she said.
"And to you, sir, also, good-night!" the professor added, taking Tavernake's hand and holding it for a minute in his, while he looked impressively in his face. "I will not say too much, but I will say this: so much as I have seen of you, I like. Good-night!"
He turned and strode away. Both Beatrice and Tavernake watched him until he disappeared. Then, with a sigh, she picked up her skirts with her right hand, and took Tavernake's arm.
"Do you mind walking home?" she asked. "My head aches."
Tavernake looked for a moment wistfully across the road toward the Milan Court. Beatrice's hand, however, only held his arm the tighter.
"I am going to make you come with me every step of the way," she declared, "so you can just as well make the best of it. Afterwards--"
"What about afterwards?" he interrupted.
"Afterwards," she continued, with decision, "you are to go straight home!"