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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesKathleen - Chapter 13
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Kathleen - Chapter 13 Post by :eniks Category :Long Stories Author :Christopher Morley Date :May 2012 Read :2185

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Kathleen - Chapter 13


Blair, nervously playing with a key, stood by the fire in the drawing-room. Mrs. Kent had excused herself and gone upstairs. In the dining-room, across the hall, he could see Kathleen gleaning over the supper table while the maid cleared away the dishes. In spite of his peevishness, he smiled to see her pick up one of the stuffed eggs on a fork, taste it, and lay it down with a grimace. At the other end of the drawing-room Mr. Kent, leaning on his cane, was rummaging among some books.

"Here we are," said the antiquarian, hobbling back with several heavy tomes. "Here is Clarendon's History. Now I want to read you what he has to say about that incident in 1645, then I will read you my manuscript notes, to show you how they fill up the gaps. Kathleen!"

"Yes, Dad," answered Kathleen, coming into the room.

"Will you get me my glasses, dear?"

"Yes, indeed," and she ran across the room to fetch them from the bookcase where he had left them. She seated herself on the arm of her father's chair. She was a charming and graceful figure, swinging the slender ankle that the Scorpions afterward described with imaginative fervour as "a psalm," "a fairy-tale," and "an aurora borealis." They none of them ever agreed as to the dress she wore that evening; but Eliza Thick, who was perhaps the most observant, declared that it looked like a chintz curtain. I think it must have had small sprigs of flowers printed on it. Her eyes, exclaimed the broken-hearted gas-man, were like "a twilight with only two stars." Perhaps he meant a street with two lamps lighted.

"Oh, I'm so glad you're going to read your notes to Mr. Blair," she said, mischievously. "They are so fascinating, and there's such a jolly lot of them."

"Perhaps Mr. Kent's eyes are tired?" said Blair, hastily.

"Not a bit, not a bit!" said Mr. Kent. "I don't often get such a good listener. By the way, what happened to that nice young curate? I hope the gas-man didn't injure him?"

Kathleen looked at Blair with dancing eyes.

"He had to go," declared Blair. "He was awfully sorry. He asked me to make his apologies."

"Perhaps the Bishop sent for him suddenly," said Kathleen.

"Well," resumed Mr. Kent, "I shall begin with the Battle of Naseby. After that memorable struggle, a portion of the royalist forces--"

The front-door bell trilled briskly.

"Oh, dear me," sighed poor Mr. Kent, looking up from his papers. "The fates are against us, Mr. Blair."

The Scotch terrier had been lying by the fire, caressed by the toe of Kathleen's slipper, as she sat on the arm of her father's chair. Suddenly he jumped up, wagging his tail, and barked with evident glee. A tall, dark-eyed girl, a little older than Kathleen, pushed the hall curtains aside and darted into the room.

"Joe, you darling!" cried Kathleen. "How's your leg?"

"What do you mean?" asked Joe. "Which leg? What's wrong with it?"

"Well, Joe, my dear, this is a jolly surprise," said Mr. Kent, laying aside his books. "We heard you were laid up. Some misunderstanding somewhere. We've got a friend of yours here, you see--Mr. Blair."

Blair wished he could have sunk through the floor. He would have given anything to be with the other four in the darkness of the cellar. His ears and cheeks burned painfully.

"How do you do, Mr. Blair," said Josephine, cordially. "There must be some mistake, I've never met Mr. Blair before."

"My dear Joe," cried Kathleen, "I do think we have all gone nuts. Look here!" She took three sheets of paper from the mantelpiece. "Did you or did you not send us those telegrams?"

Joe ran her eye over the messages, reading them aloud.

"Miss Kathleen Kent:

"My friend Blair of Trinity now in Wolverhampton for historical study staying at Blue Boar nice chap American--"

Here Joe raised her eyes and looked appraisingly at Blair, whose confusion was agonizing.

"may he call on you if so send him a line sorry can't write hurt hand playing soccer love to all. Joe."

"Frederick Kent: Unavoidably detained Oxford hurt leg playing soccer wish you could join me at once very urgent. Joe."

She bent down to the terrier which was standing affectionately at her feet.

"Well, Fred, old boy," she said, patting him, "did Joe send you a telegram, heh?"

"Mrs. Philip Kent: Have found very good cook out of place am sending her to you earnestly recommend give her a trial reliable woman but eccentric name Eliza Thick will call Sunday morning. Joe."

"My dear Kathleen," said Joe, "you flatter me. I never sent any of those messages. Do you know any other Joes?"

"I beg your pardon, Miss Kent," said Blair. "But I must tell you. I sent two of those telegrams, and I think I can guess who sent the other. Miss Eliza Thick herself."

"You!" exclaimed Mr. Kent and both girls in the same breath.

"Yes, Mr. Kent. I blush to confess it, but you and your family have been abominably hoaxed, and I can see nothing for it but to admit the truth. Painful as it is, I prefer to tell you everything."

The two girls settled themselves on the couch and Mr. Kent, bewildered, sat upright in his chair. The dog, satisfied that everything was serene, jumped on the divan and lay down between Joe and Kathleen. The unhappy Blair stood awkwardly on the hearth rug.

"Last January," he began, "a gentleman by the name of Kenneth Forbes, an undergraduate of Merton College (now studying the gas meter in your cellar), was in Blackwell's book shop, in Oxford, browsing about. Lying on a row of books in a corner of the shop he happened to see a letter, without an envelope. He picked it up and glanced at it. It had evidently been dropped there by some customer.

"The address engraved on the paper was 318, Bancroft Road, Wolverhampton. It was dated last October and the letter began: 'Dear Joe, Thank you so much for the tie--it is pretty and I do wear ties sometimes, so I sha'n't let the boys have it.' In the upper left-hand corner were four crosses, and the words 'These are from Fred.' The letter was signed 'Kathleen.'"

The two girls looked at each other.

"It so happened," continued Blair, "that the man who found the letter had promised to write, the very next day, the first chapter of a serial story for a little literary club to which he belonged. At the time when he found this letter lying about the bookshop he was racking his brain for a theme for his opening chapter. A great idea struck him. He put the letter in his pocket and hurried back to his room.

"His idea was to build up a story around the characters of the letter. He had no idea whom it came from or to whom it was addressed. The thought of making these unknown persons of the letter the figures of the story appealed to him, and with an eager pen he set down the first chapter, with 'Kathleen' as heroine and 'Joe' as hero."

A faint line of colour crept up Kathleen's girlish cheek.

"This idea, which suggested itself to Forbes when he found the letter in the bookshop, was taken up enthusiastically by the group of undergraduates composing the little club. The fabrication of the story was the chief amusement of the term.

"It would be unfair to me and to the other men not to say frankly that the whim was not taken up in any malicious or underhand spirit. Given the idea as it first came to the man in the bookshop, the rest flowed naturally out of it, urged by high spirits. I must tell you honestly that the characters of that letter became very real to us. We speculated endlessly on their personalities, tastes, and ages. We all became frantic admirers of the lady who had signed the letter, and considered ourselves jealous rivals of the man 'Joe,' to whom, as we supposed, it had been written. And when the end of term came, the five members who had entered most completely into the spirit of the game agreed to come to Wolverhampton for the express purpose of attempting to make the acquaintance of the Kathleen who had so engaged their fancy."

"Really, I think this is dreadfully silly," said Kathleen, colouring. "Joe, are we characters in a serial, or are we real persons?"

"This confession is very painful for me, Mr. Kent," said Blair, "because things don't seem to have turned out at all as we thought, and I'm afraid we have abused your hospitality barbarously. I can only beg that you will forgive this wild prank, which was actuated by the most innocent motives."

"Then do I understand," asked Mr. Kent, "that your interest in Wolverhampton history was merely simulated, for the purpose of making the acquaintance of my daughter?"

"You make me very much ashamed, sir, but that is the truth."

Mr. Kent rose to his feet, leaning on his cane.

"Well, well," he said, "I have no wish to seem crabbed. I'm sorry to lose so excellent a listener. I thought it was too good to be true! But when one has a daughter one must expect her to grow up, and become the heroine of serial stories. I trust that that story is not to be published--I can ask that, at least!"

"Our intention," said Blair, "was to give the manuscript to Miss Kent as a token of our united admiration."

"Well," said Mr. Kent, "make my apologies to the other conspirators. I take it that that dreadful Eliza Thick was one of them. I hope our cook will be back to-morrow. Upon my word, those stuffed eggs were indescribable! Joe, my dear, suppose you let me take you up to see your aunt. I expect these people will want to recriminate each other a little, and reach some sort of misunderstanding."

Joe and Mr. Kent left the room, but a moment later Mr. Kent reappeared at the door.

"Mr. Blair," he said, "please don't think me lacking in sportsmanship. I was young once myself. I just wanted to say that I think you all staged it remarkably well. Give Mr. Carter my compliments on that telegram from the Bishop."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Blair, as Mr. Kent vanished behind the curtains. "I forgot. Those fellows are still down in the cellar." He held out the key. "I must let them out."

"Wait a minute," said Kathleen. "I have no desire to see that Eliza Thick again, nor that odious curate--not even the enterprising gas-man!"

For the space of fifteen thoughts or so there was silence. Kathleen sat at one end of the big couch, the firelight shimmering round her in a softening glow. Blair stood painfully at the other side of the hearth.

"Miss Kathleen," he said, "I want to beg you, on behalf of the other fellows, not to be too severe with them. I guess I'm the worst offender, with my bogus telegrams and my deliberate deception of your father. But I ought to explain that we all came here with a definite intention in mind. The man who was first able to engage you in friendly conversation and get you to accept an invitation to come to Oxford for Eights Week, was to be the winner of the competition."

"I've already accepted an invitation for Eights Week," she said, after a pause.

He uttered a dejected silence that was a classic of its kind, a marvel of accurate registration.

Kathleen looked up at him for the first time since his confession of the hoax. Their eyes met.

"Is it Carter?" he asked, woefully.

"I've promised to go and stay with Joe at Maggie Hall."

"Look here," he said. "I expect to row in the Trinity boat. Will you and your mother and--and Miss Joe--watch the racing from our barge, one afternoon anyway? Then you could come to tea in my rooms afterward, and I'll ask the other fellows in to meet you."

"The parson and the policeman and the gas-man, and--and--Eliza Thick?"

"Yes. They're all splendid chaps, I know you'll like them."

"Well," she murmured, "I dare say Eliza Thick would be all right in his proper costume. I shall never forget his nest-building genius! Now I understand what he meant by all that talk about counterfeiters."

"You will come to the Trinity barge?" he begged.

There was a pause. A dropping coal clicked in the grate, and Kathleen's small slipper tapped on the fender.

"I should think," she said, "that a man as persistent as you would make a good oar. I'm glad the others aren't Americans, too. It was bad enough as it was!"

"Miss Kathleen," he pleaded, "I guess I can't make you understand what I'd like to. But if you'll just come punting up the Cher, on Sunday in Eights Week, there are so many things I'd like to tell you."

"Yes, I've always wanted to hear about America, and the difference between a Republican and a Democrat."

"And you _will come?"

Kathleen rose, laughing.

"I have already accepted Joe's invitation," she said. "Good-night, Mr. Blair." She gave him her hand.

He held it as long as he dared, looking her straight in the eye. "I'm not nearly as jealous of Joe as I was!"

She was gone through the curtains, a flash of dainty grace. Then her face reappeared.

"If you care to call again some time, Dad would love to read you those notes on the Battle of Wolverhampton!"

Blair looked round the room. The dog, lying by the fire, got up, stretched, and wagged his tail. Blair pulled out his watch. "Giminy!" he said, "I'd better go down and let those poor devils out of the cellar."

Christopher Morley's Novel: Kathleen

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