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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tin Soldier - BOOK ONE _ ON THE SHELF - Chapter XV. HILDA BREAKS THE RULES
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The Tin Soldier - BOOK ONE _ ON THE SHELF - Chapter XV. HILDA BREAKS THE RULES Post by :DaveS Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :April 2012 Read :968

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The Tin Soldier - BOOK ONE _ ON THE SHELF - Chapter XV. HILDA BREAKS THE RULES

BOOK ONE ON THE SHELF - CHAPTER XV. HILDA BREAKS THE RULES

It was Dr. McKenzie who told Hilda of Jean's engagement to Derry Drake.

"I thought it best for them not to say anything to the General until he is better. So you may consider it confidential, Hilda."

"Of course."

She had come to his office to help him with his books. The nurse who somewhat inadequately supplied her place was having an afternoon off. The Doctor had been glad to see her, and had told her so. "I am afraid things are in an awful muddle."

"Not so bad that they can't be straightened out in an hour or two."

"I don't see why you insist upon staying on the General's case. I shouldn't have sent you if I had thought you'd keep at it like this."

"I always keep at things when I begin them, don't I?"

He knew that she did. It was one of the qualities which made her valuable. "I believe that you are staying away to let me see how hard it is to get along without you."

"It wouldn't be a bad idea, but that's not the reason. I am staying because I like the case." She shifted the topic away from herself.

"People will say that Jean has played her cards well."

He blazed, "What do you mean, Hilda?"

"He has a great deal of money."

"What has that to do with it?"

Her smile was irritating. "Oh, I know you are not mercenary. But a million or two won't come amiss in any girl's future--and two country houses, and a house in town."

"You seem to know all about it."

"The General talks a lot--and anyhow, all the world knows it. It's no secret."

"I rather think that Jean doesn't know it. I haven't told her. She realizes that he is rich, but it doesn't seem to have made much impression on her."

"Most people will think she is lucky to have caught him."

"He is not a fish," with rising anger, "and as for Jean, she'd marry him if he hadn't a penny, and you know it, Hilda."

Hilda considered that for a moment. Then she said, "Is it his money or his father's?"

"Belongs to the old man. Derry's mother had nothing but an irreproachable family tree."

Hilda's long hands were clasped on the desk, her eyes were upon them. "If he shouldn't like his son's marriage, he might make things uncomfortable."

"Why shouldn't he like my Jean?"

"He probably will. But there's always the chance that he may not. He may be more ambitious."

Dr. McKenzie ran his fingers through his crinkled hair. "She's good enough for--a king."

"You think that, naturally, but he isn't the doting father of an only daughter."

"If he thinks that my daughter isn't good enough for his son--"

"You needn't shout at me like that," calmly; "but he knows as well as you do that Derry Drake's millions could get him any girl."

He had a flashing sense of the coarse fiber of Hilda's mental make-up. "My Jean is a well-born and well-bred woman," he said, slowly. "It is a thing that money can't buy."

"Money buys a very good counterfeit. Lots of the women who come here aren't ladies, not in the sense that you mean it, but on the surface you can't tell them apart."

He knew that it was true. No one knows better than a doctor what is beneath the veneer of social convention and personal hypocrisy.

"And as for Jean," her quiet voice analyzed, "what do you know of her, really? You've kept her shut away from the things that could hurt her, but how do you know what will happen when you open the gate?"

Yet Emily had said--? His hand came down on top of the desk. "I think we won't discuss Jean."

"Very well, but you brought it on yourself. And now please go away, I've got to finish this and get back--"

He went reluctantly, and returned to say, "You'll come over again before I sail, and straighten things out for me?"

"Of course."

"You don't act as if you cared whether I went or not."

"I care, of course. But don't expect me to cry. I am not the crying kind." The little room was full of sunlight. She was very pink and white and self-possessed. She smiled straight up into his face. "What good would it do me to cry?"

After she had left him he was restless. She had been for so long a part of his life, a very necessary and pleasant part of it. She never touched his depths or rose to his heights. She seemed to beckon, yet not to care when he came.

He spoke of her that night to Emily. "Hilda was here to-day and she reminded me that people might think that my daughter is marrying Derry Drake for his money."

"She would look at it like that."

"When Hilda talks to me"--he was rumpling his hair--"I have a feeling that all the people in the world are unlovely--"

"There are plenty of unlovely people," said Emily, "but why should we worry with what they think?"

She was knitting, and he found himself watching her hands. "You have pretty hands," he told her, unexpectedly.

She held them out in front of her. "When I was a little girl my mother told me that I had three points of beauty--my hands, my feet, and the family nose," she smiled whimsically, "and she assured me that I would therefore never be common-place. 'Any woman may be beautiful,' was her theory, 'but only a woman with good blood in her veins can have hands and feet and a nose like yours--.' I was dreadfully handicapped in the beginning of my life by my mother's point of view. I am afraid that even now if the dear lady looks down from Heaven and sees me working in my Toy Shop she will feel the family disgraced by this one member who is in trade. It was only in the later years that I found myself, that I realized how I might reach out towards things which were broader and bigger than the old ideals of aristocratic birth and inherited possessions."

He thought of Hilda. "Yet it gave you something, Emily," he said, slowly, "that not every woman has: good-breeding, and the ability to look above the sordid. You are like Jean--all your world is rose-colored."

She was thoughtful. "Not quite like Jean. I heard a dear old bishop ask the other day why we should see only the ash cans and garbage cans in our back yards when there was blue sky above? I know there are ash cans and garbage cans, but I make myself look at the sky. Jean doesn't know that the cans are there."

"The realists will tell you that you should keep your eyes on the cans."

"I don't believe it," said Miss Emily, stoutly; "more people are made good by the contemplation of the fine and beautiful than by the knowledge of evil. Eve knew that punishment would follow the eating of the apple. But she ate it. If I had a son I should tell him of the strength of men, not of their weaknesses."

He nodded. "I see. And yet there is this about Hilda. She does not deceive herself;--perhaps you do--and Jean."

"Perhaps it is Hilda who is deceived. All the people in the world are not unlovely--all of them are not mercenary and deceitful and selfish." Her cheeks were flushed.

"Nobody knows that better than a doctor, Emily. I am conscious that Hilda draws out the worst in me--yet there is something about her that makes me want to find things out, to explore life with her--"

He was smiling into the fire. Miss Emily girded herself and gave him a shock. "The trouble with you is that you want the admiration of every woman who comes your way. Most of your patients worship you--Jean puts you on a pedestal--even I tell you that you have a soul. But Hilda withholds the admiration you demand, and you want to conquer her--to see her succumb with the rest of us."

"The rest of you! Emily, you have never succumbed."

"Oh, yes, I have. I seem to be saying, 'He may have a few weaknesses, but back of it all he is big and fine.' But Hilda's attitude indicates, 'He is not fine at all.' And you hate that and want to show her."

He chuckled. "By Jove, I do, Emily. Perhaps it is just as well that I am getting away from her."

"I wouldn't admit it if I were you. I'd rather see you face a thing than run away."

"If Eve had run away from the snake in the apple tree, she would not have lost her Eden--poor Eve."

"Poor Adam--to follow her lead. He should have said, 'No, my dear, apples are not permitted by the Food Administrator; we must practice self-denial.'"

"I think I'd rather have him sinning than such a prig."

"It depends on the point of view."

He enjoyed immensely crossing swords with Emily. There was never any aftermath of unpleasantness. She soothed him even while she criticised.

They spoke presently of Jean and Derry.

"They want to get married."

"Well, why not?"

"She's too young, Emily. Too ignorant of what life means--and he may go to France any day. He is getting restless--and he may see things differently--that his duty to his country transcends any personal claim--and then what of Jean?--a little wife--alone."

"She could stay with me."

"But marriage, _marriage_, Emily--why in Heaven's name should they be in such a hurry?"

"Why should they wait, and miss the wonder of it all, as I have missed it--all the color and glow, the wine of life? Even if he should go to France, and die, she will bear his beloved name--she will have the right to weep."

He had never seen her like this--the red was deep in her cheeks, her voice was shaken, her bosom rose and fell with her agitation.

"Emily, my dear girl--"

"Let them marry, Bruce, can't you see? Can't you see. It is their day--there may be no tomorrow."

"But there are practical things, Emily. If she should have a child?"

"Why not? It will be his--to love. Only a woman with empty arms knows what that means, Bruce."

And this was Emily, this rose-red, wet-eyed creature was Emily, whom he had deemed unemotional, cold, self-contained!

"Men forget, Bruce. You wouldn't listen to reason when you wooed Jean's mother. You were a demanding, imperative lover--you wanted your own way, and you had it."

"But I had known Jean's mother all my life."

"Time has nothing to do with it."

"My dear girl--"

"It hasn't."

She was illogical, and he liked it. "If I let them marry, what then?"

"They will love you for it."

"They ought to love you instead."

"I shall be out of it. They will be married, and you will be in France, and I shall sell--toys--"

She tried to laugh, but it was a poor excuse. He glanced at her quickly. "Shall you miss me, Emily?"

Her hands went out in a little gesture of despair. "There you go, taking my tears to yourself."

He was a bit disconcerted. "Oh, I say--"

"But they are not for you. They are for my lost youth and romance, Bruce. My lost youth and romance."

Leaning back in his chair he studied her. Her eyes were dreamy--the rose-red was still in her cheeks. For the first time he realized the prettiness of Emily; it was as if in her plea for others she had brought to life something in herself which glowed and sparkled.

"Look here," he said. "I want you to write to me."

"I am a busy woman."

"But a letter now and then--"

"Well, now and then--"

He was forced to be content with that. She was really very charming, he decided as he got into his car. She was such a gentlewoman--she created an atmosphere which belonged to his home and hearth.

When he came in late she was not waiting up for him as Hilda had so often waited. There was a plate of sandwiches on his desk, coffee ready in the percolator to be made by the turning on of the electricity. But he ate his lunch alone.

Yet in spite of the loneliness, he was glad that Emily had not waited up for him. It was a thing which Hilda might do--Hilda, who made a world of her own. But Emily's world was the world of womanly graciousness and dignity--the world in which his daughter moved, the world which had been his wife's. For her to have eaten alone with him in his office in the middle of the night would have made her seem less than he wanted her to be.

Before he went to bed, he called up Hilda. "I forgot to tell you when you were here this afternoon that I asked young Drake about Bronson. He says that it isn't possible that the old man is giving the General anything against orders. You'd better watch the other servants and be sure of the day nurse--"

"I am sure of her and of the other servants--but I still have my doubts about Bronson."

"But Drake says--"

"I don't care what he says. Bronson served the General before he served young Drake--and he's not to be trusted."

"I should be sorry to think so; he impresses me as a faithful old soul."

"Well, my eyes are rather clear, you know."

"Yes, I know. Good-night, Hilda."

She hung up the receiver. She had talked to him at the telephone in the lower hall, which was enclosed, and where one might be confidential without feeing overheard.

She sat very still for a few moments in the little booth, thinking; then she rose and went upstairs.

The General was awake and eager.

"Shall I read to you?" Hilda asked.

"No, I'd rather talk."

She shaded the light and sat beside the little table. "Did you like your dinner?"

"Yes. Bronson said you made the broth. It was delicious."

"I like to cook---when I like the people I cook for."

He basked in that.

"There are some patients--oh, I have wanted to salt their coffee and pepper their cereal. You have no idea of the temptations which come to a nurse."

"Are you fond of it--nursing?"

"Yes. It is nice in a place like this--and at Dr. McKenzie's. But there are some houses that are awful, with everybody quarrelling, the children squalling--. I hate that. I want to be comfortable. I like your thick carpets here, and the quiet, and the good service. And the good things to eat, and the little taste of wine that we take together." Her low laugh delighted him.

"The wine? You are going to drink another glass with me before I go to sleep."

"Yes. But it is our secret. Dr. McKenzie would kill me if he knew, and a nurse must obey orders."

"He need never know. And it won't hurt me."

"Of course not. But he has ideas on the subject."

"May I have it now?"

"Wait until Bronson goes to bed."

"Bronson has nothing to do with it. A servant has neither ears nor eyes."

"It might embarrass him if the Doctor asked him. And why should you make him lie?"

Bronson, pottering in, presently, was told that he would not be needed. "Mr. Derry telephoned that he would be having supper after the play at Miss Gray's. You can call him there if he is wanted."

"Thank you, Bronson. Good-night."

When the old man had left them, she said to the General, "Do you know that your son is falling in love?"

"In love?"

"Yes, desperately--at first sight?"

He laughed. "With whom?"

"Dr. McKenzie's daughter."

"What?" He raised himself on his elbow.

"Yes. Jean McKenzie. I am not sure that I ought to tell you, but somehow it doesn't seem right that you are not being told--"

He considered it gravely. "I don't want him to get married," he said at last. "I want him to go to war. I can't tell you, Miss Merritt, how bitter my disappointment has been that Derry won't fight."

"He may have to fight."

"Do you think I want him dragged to defend the honor of his country? I'd rather see him dead." He was struggling for composure.

"Oh, I shouldn't have told you," she said, solicitously.

"Why not? It is my right to know."

"Jean is a pretty little thing, and you may like her."

"I like McKenzie," thoughtfully.

She glanced at him. His old face had fallen into gentler lines. She gave a hard laugh. "Of course, a rich man like your son rather dazzles the eyes of a young girl like Jean."

"You think then it is his--money?"

"I shouldn't like to say that. But, of course, money adds to his charms."

"He won't have any money," grimly, "unless I choose that he shall. I can stop his allowance tomorrow. And what would the little lady do then?"

She shrugged. "I am sure I don't know. She'd probably take Ralph Witherspoon. He's in the race. She dropped him after she met your son."

The General's idea of women was somewhat exalted. He had an old-fashioned chivalry which made him blind to their faults, the champion of their virtues. He had always been, therefore, to a certain extent, at the mercy of the unscrupulous. He had loaned money and used his influence in behalf of certain wily and weeping females who had deserved at his hands much less than they got.

In his thoughts of a wife for Derry, he had pictured her as sweet and unsophisticated--a bit reserved, like Derry's mother--

The portrait which Hilda had subtly presented was of a mercenary little creature, lured by the glitter of gold--off with the old and on with the new, lacking fineness.

"I can stop his allowance," he wavered. "It would be a good test. But I love the boy. The war has brought the first misunderstandings between Derry and me. It would have hurt his mother."

Hilda was always restless when the name was introduced of the painted lady on the stairs. When the General spoke of his wife, his eyes grew kind--and inevitably his thoughts drifted away from Hilda to the days that he had spent with Derry's mother.

"She loved us both," he said.

Hilda rose and crossed the room. A low bookcase held the General's favorite volumes. There was a Globe edition of Dickens on the top shelf, little fat brown books, shabby with much handling. Hilda extracted one, and inserted her hand in the hollow space back of the row. She brought out a small flat bottle and put the book back.

"I always keep it behind 'Great Expectations,'" she said, as she approached the bed. "It seems rather appropriate, doesn't it?"

The old eyes, which had been soft with memories, glistened.

She filled two little glasses. "Let us drink to our--secret."

Then while the wine was firing his veins, she spoke again of Jean and Derry. "It really seems as if he should have told you."

"I won't have him getting married. He can't marry unless he has money."

"Please don't speak of it to him. I don't want to get into trouble. You wouldn't want to get me into trouble, would you?"

"No."

She filled his glass again. He drank. Bit by bit she fed the fire of his doubts of his son. When at last he fell asleep in his lacquered bed he had made up his mind to rather drastic action.

She sat beside him, her thoughts flying ahead into the years. She saw things as she wanted them to be--Derry at odds with his father; married to Jean; herself mistress of this great house, wearing the diamond crown and the pearl collar; her portrait in the place of the one of the painted lady on the stairs; looking down on little Jean who had judged her by youth's narrow standards--whose husband would have no fortune unless he chose to accept it at her hands.

Thus she weighed her influence over the sleeping sick man, thus she dreamed, calm as fate in her white uniform.

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