A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter V. After the Opera is Over
In mid-afternoon of the day following the entertainment on board the "Consternation" our two girls were seated opposite one another under the rafters of the sewing room, in the listless, desultory manner of those who have not gone home till morning, till daylight did appear. The dominant note of a summer cottage is the rocking-chair, and there were two in the sewing room, where Katherine and Dorothy swayed gently back and forth as they talked. They sat close to the low, broad window which presented so beautiful a picture of the blue Bay and the white shipping. The huge "Consternation" lay moored with her broadside toward the town, all sign of festivity already removed from hull and rigging, and, to the scarcely slumber-satisfied eyes of the girls, something of the sadness of departure seemed to hang as a haze around the great ship. The girls were not discussing the past, but rather anticipating the future; forecasting it, with long, silent pauses intervening.
"So you will not stay with us? You are determined to turn your wealthy back on the poor Kempt family?" Katherine was saying.
"But I shall return to the Kempt family now and then, if they will let me. I must get away for a time and think. My life has suddenly become all topsy-turvy, and I need to get my bearings, as does a ship that has been through a storm and lost her reckoning."
"'She dunno where she are,' as the song says."
"Exactly: that is the state of things."
"I think it's too bad, Dorothy, that you did not allow us to make public announcement of your good fortune. Just imagine what an ovation you would have had on board the cruiser last night if it had been known that the richest woman in that assemblage was a pretty, shy little creature sitting all by herself, and never indulging in even one dance."
"I shouldn't in the least care for that sort of ovation, Kate, and if every one present were as well pleased with the festivities as I, they must all have enjoyed themselves immensely. I believe my friend Kate did my share of the dancing as well as her own."
"'She danced, and she danced, and she danced them a' din.' I think those are the words of the Scottish song that the Prince quoted. He seems up in Scottish poetry, and does not even resent being called a Scotchman. This energetic person of the song seems to have danced them all to a standstill, as I understood him, for he informs me 'a' means 'all' and 'din' means 'done,' but I told him I'd rather learn Russian than Scotch; it was so much easier, and his Highness was good enough to laugh at that. Didn't the Lieutenant ask you to dance at all?"
"Oh, yes, he did."
"And you refused?"
"I didn't think he had sense enough to ask a girl to dance."
"You are ungrateful, Katherine. Remember he introduced you to the Prince."
"Yes, that's so. I had forgotten. I shall never say anything against him again."
"You like the Prince, then?"
"Of all the crowned heads, emperors, kings, sultans, monarchs of every description, dukes, counts, earls, marquises, whom I have met, and who have pestered my life asking me to share their royal perquisites, I think I may say quite truthfully that I like this Jack Lamont better than any one of them."
"Surely Prince Jack has not offered you his principality already?"
"No, not yet, but with an eye to the future I have persuaded him to give up Tolstoi and read Mark Twain, who is not only equally humorous, but much more sensible than the Russian writer. Jack must not be allowed to give away his estates to the peasants as his silly sister has done. I may need them later on."
"Oh, you've got that far, have you?"
"I have got that far: he hasn't. He doesn't know anything about it, but I'll wake him up when the right time comes. There are many elements of sanity about him. He told me that he intended to give up his estates, but in the first place he had been too busy, and in the second he needed the money. His good sense, however, requires refining, so that he may get rid of the dross. I don't blame him; I blame Tolstoi. For instance, when I asked him if he had patented his liquid city invention, he said he did not wish to make a profit from his discovery, but intended it for the good of humanity at large. Imagine such an idiotic idea as that!"
"I think such views are entirely to his credit," alarmed Dorothy.
"Oh, of course, but the plan is not practicable. If he allows such an invention to slip through his fingers, the Standard Oil people will likely get hold of it, form a monopoly, and then where would humanity at large be? I tell him the right way is to patent it, make all the money he can, and use the cash for benefiting humanity under the direction of some charitable person like myself."
"Did you suggest that to him?"
"I did not intimate who the sensible person was, but I elucidated the principle of the thing."
"Yes, and what did he say?"
"Many things, Dorothy, many things. At one time he became confidential about his possessions in foreign lands. It seems he owns several castles, and when he visits any of them he cannot prevent the moujiks, if that is the proper term for the peasantry over there, from prostrating themselves on the ground as he passes by, beating their foreheads against the earth, and chanting, in choice Russian, the phrase: 'Defer, defer, here comes the Lord High Executioner,' or words to that effect. I told him I didn't see why he should interfere with so picturesque a custom, and he said if I visited one of his castles that these estimable people, at a word from him, would form a corduroy road in the mud with their bodies, so that I might step dry-shod from the carriage to the castle doors, and I stipulated that he should at least spread a bit of stair carpet over the poor wretches before I made my progress across his front yard."
"Well, you did become confidential if you discussed a visit to Russia."
"Yes, didn't we? I suppose you don't approve of my forward conduct?"
"I am sure you acted with the utmost prudence, Kate."
"I didn't lose any time, though, did I?"
"I don't know how much time is required to attain the point of friendship you reached. I am inexperienced. It is true I have read of love at first sight, and I am merely waiting to be told whether or not this is an instance of it."
"Oh, you are very diffident, aren't you, sitting there so bashfully!"
"I may seem timid or bashful, but it's merely sleepiness."
"You're a bit of a humbug, Dorothy."
"I don't know why, but you are. No, it was not a case of love at first sight. It was a case of feminine vengeance. Yes, you may look surprised, but I'm telling the truth. After I walked so proudly off with his high mightiness, we had a most agreeable dance together; then I proposed to return to you, but the young man would not have it so, and for the moment I felt flattered. By and by I became aware, however, that it was not because of my company he avoided your vicinity, but that he was sacrificing himself for his friend."
"Lieutenant Drummond, of course."
"How was he sacrificing himself for Lieutenant Drummond?"
"I surmise that the tall Lieutenant did not fall a victim to my wiles as I had at first supposed, but, in some unaccountable manner, one can never tell how these things happen; he was most anxious to be left alone with the coy Miss Dorothy Amhurst, who does not understand how long a time it takes to fall in love at first sight, although she has read of these things, dear, innocent girl. The first villain of the piece has said to the second villain of the piece: 'There's a superfluous young woman over on our bench; I'll introduce you to her. You lure her off to the giddy dance, and keep her away as long as you can, and I'll do as much for you some day.'
"Whereupon Jack Lamont probably swore-- I understand that profanity is sometimes distressingly prevalent aboard ship-- but nevertheless he allowed the Lieutenant to lead him like a lamb to the slaughter. Well, not being powerful enough to throw him overboard when I realized the state of the case, I did the next best thing. I became cloyingly sweet to him. I smiled upon him: I listened to his farrago of nonsense about the chemical components of his various notable inventions, as if a girl attends a ball to study chemistry! Before half an hour had passed the infant had come to the conclusion that here was the first really sensible woman he had ever met. He soon got to making love to me, as the horrid phrase goes, as if love were a mixture to be compounded of this ingredient and that, and then shaken before taken. I am delighted to add, as a testimony to my own powers of pleasing, that Jack soon forgot he was a sacrifice, and really, with a little instruction, he would become a most admirable flirt. He is coming to call upon me this afternoon, and then he will get his eyes opened. I shall tread on him as if he were one of his own moujiks."
"What a wonderful imagination you have, Kate. All you have said is pure fancy. I saw he was taken with you from the very first. He never even glanced at me."
"Of course not: he wasn't allowed to."
"Nonsense, Kate. If I thought for a moment you were really in earnest, I should say you underestimate your own attractions."
"Oh, that's all very well, Miss Dorothy Dimple; you are trying to draw a red herring across the trail, because you know that what I want to hear is why Lieutenant Drummond was so anxious to get me somewhere else. What use did he make of the opportunity the good-natured Prince and my sweet complacency afforded him?"
"He said nothing which might not have been overheard by any one."
"Come down to particulars, Dorothy, and let me judge. You are so inexperienced, you know, that it is well to take counsel with a more sophisticated friend."
"I don't just remember--"
"No, I thought you wouldn't. Did he talk of himself or of you?"
"Of himself, of course. He told me why he was going to Russia, and spoke of some checks he had met in his profession."
"Ah! Did he cash them?"
"Obstacles-- difficulties that were in his way, which he hoped to overcome."
"Oh, I see. And did you extend that sympathy which--"
There was a knock at the door, and the maid came in, bearing a card.
"Good gracious me!" cried Katherine, jumping to her feet. "The Prince has come. What a stupid thing that we have no mirror in this room, and it's a sewing and sitting room, too. Do I look all right, Dorothy?"
"To me you seem perfection."
"Ah, well, I can glance at a glass on the next floor. Won't you come down and see him trampled on?"
"No, thank you. I shall most likely drop off to sleep, and enjoy forty winks in this very comfortable chair. Don't be too harsh with the young man, Kate. You are quite wrong in your surmises about him. The Lieutenant never made any such arrangement as you suggest, because he talked of nothing but the most commonplace subjects all the time I was with him, as I was just about to tell you, only you seem in such a hurry to get away."
"Oh, that doesn't deceive me in the least. I'll be back shortly, with the young man's scalp dangling at my belt. Now we shan't be long," and with that Katherine went skipping downstairs.
Dorothy picked up a magazine that lay on the table, and for a few moments turned its leaves from one story to another, trying to interest herself, but failing. Then she lifted the newspaper that lay at her feet, but it also was soon cast aside, and she leaned back in her chair with half-closed eyes, looking out at the cruiser in the Bay. A slight haze arose between her and the ship, thickening and thickening until at last it obscured the vessel.
Dorothy was oppressed by a sense of something forgotten, and she strove in vain to remember what it was. It was of the utmost importance, she was certain, and this knowledge made her mental anxiety the greater.
At last out of the gloom she saw Sabina approach, clothed in rags, and then a flash of intuition enabled her to grasp the difficulty. Through her remissness the ball dress was unfinished, and the girl, springing to her feet, turned intuitively to the sewing-machine, when the ringing laugh of Katherine dissolved the fog.
"Why, you poor girl, what's the matter with you? Are you sitting down to drudgery again? You've forgotten the fortune!"
"Are-- are you back already?" cried Dorothy, somewhat wildly.
"Already! Why, bless me, I've been away an hour and a quarter. You dear girl, you've been asleep and in slavery again!"
"I think I was," admitted Dorothy with a sigh.