The Exposure of Lord Stansford by Robert Barr
The large mansion of Louis Heckle, millionaire and dealer in gold mines, was illuminated from top to bottom. Carriages were arriving and departing, and guests were hurrying up the carpeted stair after passing under the canopy that stretched from the doorway to the edge of the street. A crowd of on-lookers stood on the pavement watching the arrival of ladies so charmingly attired. Lord Stansford came alone in a hansom, and he walked quickly across the bit of carpet stretched to the roadway, and then more leisurely up the broad stair. He was an athletic young fellow of twenty-six, or thereabout. The moment he entered the large reception-room his eyes wandered, searchingly, over the gallant company, apparently looking for some one whom he could not find. He passed into a further room, and through that into a third, and there, his searching gaze met the stare of Billy Heckle. Heckle was a young man of about the same age as Lord Stansford, and he also was seemingly on the look-out for some one among the arriving guests. The moment he saw Lord Stansford a slight frown gathered upon his brow, and he moved among the throng toward the spot where the other stood. Stansford saw him coming, and did not seem to be so pleased as might have been expected, but he made no motion to avoid the young man, who accosted him without salutation.
"Look here," said Heckle gruffly, "I want a word with you."
"Very well," answered Stansford, in a low voice; "so long as you speak in tones no one else can hear, I am willing to listen."
"You will listen, whether or no," replied the other, who, nevertheless, took the hint and subdued his voice. "I have met you on various occasions lately, and I want to give you a word of warning. You seem to be very devoted to Miss Linderham, so perhaps you do not know she is engaged to me."
"I have heard it so stated," said Lord Stansford, "but I have found some difficulty in believing the statement."
"Now, see here," cried the horsey young man, "I want none of your cheek, and I give you fair warning that, if you pay any more attention to the young lady, I shall expose you in public. I mean what I say, and I am not going to stand any of your nonsense."
Lord Stansford's face grew pale, and he glanced about him to see if by chance any one had overheard the remark. He seemed about to resent it, but finally gained control over himself and said--
"We are in your father's house, Mr. Heckle, and I suppose it is quite safe to address a remark like that to me!"
"I know it's quite safe--anywhere," replied Heckle. "You've got the straight tip from me; now see you pay attention to it."
Heckle turned away, and Lord Stansford, after standing there for a moment, wandered back to the middle room. The conversation had taken place somewhat near a heavily-curtained window, and the two men stood slightly apart from the other guests. When they left the spot the curtains were drawn gently apart, and a tall, very handsome young lady stepped from between them. She watched Lord Stansford's retreat for a moment, and then made as though she would follow him, but one of her admirers came forward to claim her hand for the first dance. "Music has just begun in the ball-room," he said. She placed her hand on the arm of her partner and went out with him.
When the dance was over, she was amazed to see Lord Stansford still in the room. She had expected him to leave, when the son of his host spoke so insultingly to him, but the young man had not departed. He appeared to be enjoying himself immensely, and danced through every dance with the utmost devotion, which rather put to shame many of the young men who lounged against the walls; never once, however, did he come near Miss Linderham until the evening was well on, and then he passed her by accident. She touched him on the arm with her fan, and he looked round quickly.
"Oh, how do you do, Miss Linderham?" he said.
"Why have you ignored me all the evening?" she asked, looking at him with sparkling eyes.
"I haven't ignored you," he replied, with some embarrassment; "I did not know you were here."
"Oh, that is worse than ignoring," replied Miss Linderham, with a laugh; "but now that you do know I am here, I wish you to take me into the garden. It is becoming insufferably hot in here."
"Yes," said the young man, getting red in the face, "it is warm."
The girl could not help noticing his reluctance, but nevertheless she took his arm, and they passed through several rooms to the terrace which faced the garden. Lord Stansford's anxious eyes again seemed to search the rooms through which they passed, and again, on encountering those of Billy Heckle, Miss Linderham's escort shivered slightly as he passed on. The girl wondered what mystery was at the bottom of all this, and with feminine curiosity resolved to find out, even if she had to ask Lord Stansford himself. They sauntered along one of the walks until they reached a seat far from the house. The music floated out to them through the open windows, faint in the distance. Miss Linderham sat down and motioned Lord Stansford to sit beside her. "Now," she said, turning her handsome face full upon him, "why have you avoided me all the evening?"
"I haven't avoided you," he said.
"Tut, tut, you mustn't contradict a lady, you know. I want the reason, the real reason, and no excuses."
Before the young man could reply, Billy Heckle, his face flushed with wine or anger, or perhaps both, strode down the path and confronted them.
"I gave you your warning," he cried.
Lord Stansford sprang to his feet; Miss Linderham arose also, and looked in some alarm from one young man to the other.
"Stop a moment, Heckle; don't say a word, and I will meet you where you like afterwards," hurriedly put in his lordship.
"Afterwards is no good to me," answered Heckle. "I gave you the tip, and you haven't followed it."
"I beg you to remember," said Stansford, in a low voice with a tremor in it, "there is a lady present."
Miss Linderham turned to go.
"Stop a moment," cried Heckle; "do you know who this man is?"
Miss Linderham stopped, but did not answer.
"I'll tell you who he is: he is a hired guest. My father pays five guineas for his presence here to-night, and every place you have met him, he has been there on hire. That's the kind of man Lord Stansford is. I told you I should expose you. Now I am going to tell the others."
Lord Stansford's face was as white as paper. His teeth were clinched, and taking one quick step forward, he smote Heckle fair between the two eyes and felled him to the ground.
"You cur!" he cried. "Get up, or I shall kick you, and hate myself ever after for doing it."
Young Heckle picked himself up, cursing under his breath.
"I'll settle with you, my man," he cried; "I'll get a policeman. You'll spend the remainder of this night in the cells."
"I shall do nothing of the sort," answered Lord Stansford, catching him by both wrists with an iron grasp. "Now pay attention to me, Billy Heckle: you feel my grip on your wrist; you felt my blow in your face, didn't you? Now you go into the house by whatever back entrance there is, go to your room, wash the blood off your face, and stay there, otherwise, by God, I'll break both of your wrists as you stand here," and he gave the wrists a wrench that made the other wince, big and bulky as he was.
"I promise," said Heckle.
"Very well, see that you keep your promise."
Young Heckle slunk away, and Lord Stansford turned to Miss Linderham, who stood looking on, speechless with horror and surprise.
"What a brute you are!" she cried, her under lip quivering.
"Yes," he replied quietly. "Most of us men are brutes when you take a little of the varnish off. Won't you sit down, Miss Linderham? There is no need now to reply to the question you asked me: the incident you have witnessed, and what you have heard, has been its answer."
The young lady did not sit down; she stood looking at him, her eyes softening a trifle.
"Is it true, then?" she cried.
"Is what true?"
"That you are here as a hired guest?"
"Yes, it is true."
"Then why did you knock him down, if it was the truth?"
"Because he spoke the truth before you."
"I hope, Lord Stansford, you don't mean to imply that I am in any way responsible for your ruffianism?"
"You are, and in more than one sense of the word. That young fellow threatened me when I came here to-night, knowing that I was his father's hired guest; I did not wish exposure, and so I avoided you. You spoke to me, and asked me to bring you out here. I came, knowing that if Heckle saw me he would carry out his threat. He has carried it out, and I have had the pleasure of knocking him down."
Miss Linderham sank upon the seat, and once more motioned with her fan for him to take the place beside her.
"Then you receive five guineas a night for appearing at the different places where I have met you?"
"As a matter of fact," said Stansford, "I get only two guineas. I suppose the other three, if such is the price paid, goes to my employers."
"I thought Mr. Heckle was your employer tonight?"
"I mean to the company who let me out, if I make myself clear; Spink and Company. Telephone 100,803. If you should ever want an eligible guest for any entertainment you give, and men are scarce, you have only to telephone them, and they will send me to you."
"Oh, I see," said Miss Linderham, tapping her knee with the fan.
"It is only justice to my fellow employes," continued Lord Stansford, "to say that I believe they are all eligible young men, but many of them may be had for a guinea. The charge in my case is higher as I have a title. I have tried to flatter myself that it was my polished, dignified manner that won me the extra remuneration; but after your exclamation on my brutality to-night, I am afraid I must fall back on my title. We members of the aristocracy come high, you know."
There was silence between them for a few moments, and then the girl looked up at him and said--
"Aren't you ashamed of your profession, Lord Stansford?"
"Yes," replied Lord Stansford, "I am."
"Then why do you follow it?"
"Why does a man sweep a street-crossing? Lack of money. One must have money, you know, to get along in this world; and I, alas, have none. I had a little once; I wanted to make it more, so gambled--and lost. I laid low for a couple of years, and saw none of my old acquaintances; but it was no use, there was nothing I could turn my hand to. This profession, as you call it, led me back into my old set again. It is true that many of the houses I frequented before my disaster overtook me, do not hire guests. I am more in demand by the new-rich, like Heckle here, who, with his precious son, does not know how to treat a guest, even when that guest is hired."
"But I should think," said Miss Linderham, "that a man like you would go to South Africa or Australia, where there are great things to be done. I imagine, from the insight I have had into your character, you would make a good fighter. Why don't you go where fighting is appreciated, and where they do not call a policeman?"
"I have often thought of it, Miss Linderham, but you see, to secure an appointment, one needs to have a certain amount of influence, and be able to pass examinations, I can't pass an examination in anything. I have quarrelled with all my people, and have no influence. To tell you the truth, I am saving up money now in the hope of being able to buy an outfit to go to the Cape."
"You would much rather be in London, though, I suppose?"
"Yes, if I had a reasonably good income."
"Are you open to a fair offer?"
"What do you mean by a fair offer?"
"I mean, would you entertain a proposal in your present line of business with increased remuneration?"
The young man sat silent for a few moments and did not look at his companion. When he spoke there was a shade of resentment in his voice.
"I thought you saw, Miss Linderham, that I was not very proud of my present occupation."
"No, but, as you said, a man will do anything for money."
"I beg your pardon for again contradicting you, but I never said anything of the sort."
"I thought you did, when you were speaking of the crossing-sweeping; but never mind, I know a lady who has plenty of money; she is an artist; at least, she thinks she is one, and wishes to devote her life to art. She is continually pestered by offers of marriage, and she knows these offers come to her largely because of her money. Now, this lady wishes to marry a man, and will settle upon him two thousand pounds a year. Would you be willing to accept that offer if I got you an introduction?"
"It would depend very much on the lady," said Stansford.
"Oh no, it wouldn't; for you would have nothing whatever to do with her, except that you would be her hired husband. She wants to devote herself to painting, not to you--don't you understand? and so long as you did not trouble her, you could enjoy your two thousand pounds a year. You, perhaps, might have to appear at some of the receptions she would give, and I have no doubt she would add five guineas an evening for your presence. That would be an extra, you know."
There was a long silence between them after Maggie Linderham ceased speaking. The young man kicked the gravel with his toes, and his eyes were bent upon the path before him. "He is thinking it over," said Miss Linderham to herself. At last Lord Stansford looked up, with a sigh.
"Did you see the late scuffle between the unfortunate Heckle and myself?"
"Did I see it?" she asked. "How could I help seeing it?"
"Ah, then, did you notice that when he was down I helped him up?"
"Yes; and threatened to break his wrists when you got him up."
"Quite so. I should have done it, too, if he had not promised. But what I wanted to call your attention to, was the fact that he was standing up when I struck him, and I want also to impress upon you the other fact, that I did not hit him when he was down. Did you notice that?"
"Of course, I noticed it. No man would hit another when he was down."
"I am very glad, Miss Linderham, that you recognise it as a code of honour with us men, brutes as we are. Don't you think a woman should be equally generous?"
"Certainly; but I don't see what you mean."
"I mean this, Miss Linderham, that your offer is hitting me when I'm down."
"Oh!" exclaimed Miss Linderham, in dismay. "I'm sure I beg your pardon; I did not look at it in that light."
"Oh, it doesn't matter very much," said Stansford, rising; "it's all included in the two guineas, but I'm pleased to think I have some self- respect left, and that I can refuse your lady, and will not become a hired husband at two thousand pounds a year. May I see you back to the house, Miss Linderham? As you are well aware, I have duties towards other guests who are not hired, and it is a point of honour with me to earn my money. I wouldn't like a complaint to reach the ears of Spink and Company."
Miss Linderham rose and placed her hand within his arm.
"Telephone, what number?" she asked.
"Telephone 100,803," he answered. "I am sorry the firm did not provide me with some of their cards when I was at the office this afternoon."
"It doesn't matter," said Miss Linderham; "I will remember," and they entered the house together.
Next day, at a large studio in Kensington, none of the friends who had met Miss Linderham at the ball the evening before would have recognised the girl; not but what she was as pretty as ever, perhaps a little prettier, with her long white pinafore and her pretty fingers discoloured by the crayons she was using. She was trying to sketch upon the canvas before her the figure of a man, striking out from the shoulder, and she did not seem to have much success with her drawing, perhaps because she had no model, and perhaps because her mind was pre- occupied. She would sit for a long time staring at the canvas, then jump up and put in lines which did not appear to bring the rough sketch any nearer perfection.
The room was large, with a good north window, and scattered about were the numberless objects that go to the confusing make-up of an artist's workshop. At last Miss Linderham threw down her crayon, went to the end of the room where a telephone hung, and rang the bell.
"Give me," she said, "100,803."
After a few moments of waiting, a voice came.
"Is that Spink and Company?" she asked.
"Yes, madam," was the reply.
"You have in your employ Lord Stansford, I think?"
"Is he engaged for this afternoon?"
"Well, send him to Miss Linderham, No. 2,044, Cromwell Road, South Kensington."
The man at the other end wrote the address, and then asked--
"At what hour, madam?"
"I want him from four till six o'clock."
"Very well, madam, we shall send him."
"Now," said Miss Linderham, with a sigh of relief, "I can have a model who will strike the right attitude. It is so difficult to draw from memory."
The reason why so many women fail as artists, as well as in many other professions, may be because they pay so much attention to their own dress. It is an astonishing fact to record that Miss Linderham sent out for a French hairdresser, who was a most expensive man, and whom she generally called in only when some very important function was about to take place.
"I want you," she said, "to dress my hair in an artistic way, and yet in a manner that it will seem as if no particular trouble had been taken. Do you understand me?"
"Ah, perfectly, mademoiselle," said the polite Frenchman. "You shall be so fascinating, mademoiselle, that----"
"Yes," said Miss Linderham, "that is what I want."
At three o'clock she had on a dainty gown. The sleeves were turned up, as if she were ready for the most serious work. The spotless pinafore which covered this dress had the most fetching little frill around it; all in all, it was doubtful if any studio in London, even one belonging to the most celebrated painter, had in it as pretty a picture as Miss Maggie Linderham was that afternoon. At three o'clock there came a ring at the telephone, and when Miss Linderham answered the call, the voice which she had heard before said--
"I am very sorry to disappoint you, madam, but Lord Stansford resigned this afternoon. We could send you another man if you liked to have him."
"No, no!" cried Miss Linderham; and the man at the other end of the telephone actually thought she was weeping.
"No, I don't want any one else. It doesn't really matter."
"The other man," replied the voice, "would be only two guineas, and it was five for Lord Stansford. We could send you a man for a guinea, although we don't recommend him."
"No," said Miss Linderham, "I don't want anybody. I am glad Lord Stansford is not coming, as the little party I proposed to give, has been postponed."
"Ah, then, when it does come off, madam, I hope----"
But Miss Linderham hung up the receiver, and did not listen to the recommendations the man was sending over the wire about his hired guests. The chances are that Maggie Linderham would have cried had it not been that her hair was so nicely, yet carelessly, done; but before she had time to make up her mind what to do, the trim little maid came along the gallery and down the steps into the studio, with a silver salver in her hand, and on it a card, which she handed to Miss Linderham, who picked up the card and read, "Richard Stansford."
"Oh," she cried joyfully, "ask him to come here."
"Won't you see him in the drawing-room, miss?"
"No, no; tell him I am very busy, and bring him to the studio."
The maid went up the stair again. Miss Linderham, taking one long, careful glance at herself, looking over her shoulder in the tall mirror, and not caring to touch her wealth of hair, picked up her crayon and began making the sketch of the striking man even worse than it was before. She did not look round until she heard Lord Stansford's step on the stair, then she gave an exclamation of surprise on seeing him. The young man was dressed in a wide-awake hat, and the costume which we see in the illustrated papers as picturing our friends in South Africa. All he needed was a belt of cartridges and a rifle to make the picture complete.
"This is hardly the dress a man is supposed to wear in London when he makes an afternoon call on a lady, Miss Linderham," said the young man, with a laugh, "but I had either to come this way or not at all, for my time is very limited. I thought it was too bad to leave the country without giving you an opportunity to apologise for your conduct last night, and for the additional insult of hiring me for two hours this afternoon. And so, you see, I came."
"I am very glad you did," replied Miss Linderham. "I was much disappointed when they telephoned me this afternoon that you had resigned. I must say that you look exceedingly well in that outfit, Lord Stansford."
"Yes," said the young man, casting a glance over himself; "I am compelled to admit that it is rather becoming. I have had the pleasure of attracting a good deal of attention as I came along the street."
"They took you for a cowboy, I suppose?"
"Well, something of that sort. The small boy, I regret to say, was so unfeeling as to sing 'He's got 'em on,' and other ribald ditties of that kind, which they seemed to think suited the occasion. But others looked at me with great respect, which compensated for the disadvantages. Will you pardon the rudeness of a pioneer, Miss Linderham, when I say that you look even more charming in the studio dress than you did in ball costume, and I never thought that could be possible?"
"Oh," cried the girl, flushing, perhaps, because the crimson paint on the palette she had picked up reflected on her cheek. "You must excuse this working garb, as I did not expect visitors. You see, they telephoned me that you were not coming."
The deluded young man actually thought this statement was correct, which in part it was, and he believed also that the luxuriant hair tossed up here and there with seeming carelessness was not the result of an art far superior to any the girl herself had ever put upon canvas.
"So you are off to South Africa?" she said.
"Yes, the Cape."
"Oh, is the Cape in South Africa?"
"Well, I think so," replied the young man, somewhat dubiously, "but I wouldn't be certain about it, though the steamship company guarantee to land me at the Cape, wherever it is."
The girl laughed.
"You must have given it a great deal of thought," she said, "when you don't really know where you are going."
"Oh, I have a better idea of direction than you give me credit for. I am not such a fool as I looked last night, you know; then I belonged to Spink and Company, and was sublet by them to old Heckle; now I belong to myself and South Africa. That makes a world of difference, you know."
"I see it does," replied Miss Linderham. "Won't you sit down?"
The girl herself sank into an armchair, while Stansford sat on a low table, swinging one foot to and fro, his wide-brimmed hat thrown back, and gazed at the girl until she reddened more than ever. Neither spoke for some moments.
"Do you know," said Stansford at last, "that when I look at you South Africa seems a long distance away!"
"I thought it was a long distance away," said the girl, without looking up.
"Yes; but it's longer and more lonely when one looks at you. By Jove, if I thought I couldn't do better, I would be tempted to take that two thousand a year offer of yours and----"
"It wasn't an offer of mine," cried the girl hastily. "Perhaps the lady I was thinking of wouldn't have agreed to it, even if I had spoken to her about it."
"That is quite true; still, I think if she had seen me in this outfit she would have thought me worth the money."
"You think you can make more than two thousand a year out in South Africa? You have become very hopeful all in a moment. It seems to me that a man who thinks he can make two thousand a year is very foolish to let himself out at two guineas an evening."
"Do you know, Miss Linderham, that was just what I thought myself, and I told the respectable Spink so, too. I told him I had had an offer of two thousand a year in his own line of business. He said that no firm in London could afford the money. 'Why,' he cried, waxing angry, 'I could get a Duke for that.'"
"'Well,' I replied, 'it is purely a matter of business with me. I was offered two thousand pounds a year as ornamental man by a most charming young lady, who has a studio in South Kensington, and who is herself, when dressed up as an artist, prettier than any picture that ever entered the Royal Academy'; that's what I told Spink."
The girl looked up at him, first with indignation in her eyes, and then with a smile hovering about her pretty lips.
"You said nothing of the sort," she answered, "for you knew nothing about this studio at that time, so you see I am not going to emulate your dishonesty by pretending not to know you are referring to me."
"My dishonesty!" exclaimed the young man, with protest in his voice. "I am the most honest, straightforward person alive, and I believe I would take your two thousand a year offer if I didn't think I could do better."
"Where, in South Africa?"
"No, in South Kensington. I think that when the lady learns how useful I could be around a studio--oh, I could learn to wash brushes, sweep out the room, prepare canvases, light the fire; and how nicely I could hand around cups of tea when she had her 'At Homes,' and exhibited her pictures! When she realises this, and sees what a bargain she is getting, I feel almost certain she will not make any terms at all."
The young man sprang from the table, and the girl rose from her chair, a look almost of alarm in her face. He caught her by the arms.
"What do you think, Miss Linderham? You know the lady. Don't you think she would refuse to have anything to do with a cad like Billy Heckle, rich as he is, and would prefer a humble, hard-working farmer from the Cape?"
The girl did not answer his question.
"Are you going to break my arms as you threatened to do his wrists last night?"
"Maggie," he whispered, in a low voice, with an intense ring in it, "I am going to break nothing but my own heart if you refuse me."
The girl looked up at him with a smile.
"I knew when you came in you weren't going to South Africa, Dick," was all she said; and he, taking advantage of her helplessness, kissed her.