A Daughter of To-day - Cover

A Daughter of To-day

Copyright© 2011 by Sara Jeannette Duncan

Chapter 8

Miss Bell arose late the next morning, which was not unusual. Mrs. Jordan had knocked three times vainly, and then left the young lady's chop and coffee outside the door on the landing. If she would 'ave it cold, Mrs. Jordan reasoned, she would, and more warnin' than knockin' three times no livin' bean could expect Mrs. Jordan went downstairs uneasy in her mind, however. The matter of Miss Bell's breakfast generally left her uneasy in her mind. It was not in reason, Mrs. Jordan thought, that a young littery lady should keep that close, for Elfrida's custom of having her breakfast deposited outside her door was as invariable as it was perplexing. Miss Bell was as charming to her land-lady as she was to everybody else, but Mrs. Jordan found a polite pleasantness that permitted no opportunity for expansion whatever more stimulating to the curiosity and irritating to the mind generally than the worst of bad manners would have been. That was the reason she knocked three times when she brought up Miss Bell's breakfast. At Mr. Ticke's door she wrapped once, and cursorily at that. Mr. Ticke was as conversational as you please on all occasions, and besides, Mr. Ticke's door was usually half open. The shroud of mystery in which Mrs. Jordan wrapped her "third floor front" grew more impenetrable as the days went by. Her original theory, which established Elfrida as the heroine of the latest notorious divorce case, was admirably ingenious, but collapsed in a fortnight with its own weight. "Besides," Mrs. Jordan reasoned, "if it 'ad been that person, ware is the corrispondent all this time? There's been nothin' in the shape of a corrispondent hangin' round this house, for I've kep' my eye open for one. I give 'er up," said Mrs. Jordan darkly, "that's wot I do, an' I only 'ope I won't find 'er suicided on charcoal some mornin' like that pore young poetiss in yesterday's paper."

Another knock, half an hour later, found Elfrida finishing her coffee. Out-of-doors the world was gray, the little square windows were beaten with rain. Inside the dreariness was redeemed to the extent of a breath, a suggestion. An essence came out of the pictures and the trappings, and blended itself with the lingering fragrance of the joss-sticks and the roses and the cigarettes in a delightful manner. The room was almost warm with it. It seemed to centre in Elfrida; as she sat beside the writing-table, whose tumultuous papers had been pushed away to make room for the breakfast dishes, she was instinct with it.

Miss Bell glanced hurriedly around the room. It was unimpeachable—not so much as a strayed collar interfered with its character as an apartment where a young lady might receive. "Come in," she said. She knew the knock.

The door opened slowly to a hesitating push, and disclosed Mr. Golightly Ticke by degrees. Mr. Ticke was accustomed to boudoirs less rigid in their exclusiveness, and always handled Miss Bell's door with a certain amount of embarrassment. If she wanted a chance to whisk anything out of the way he would give her that chance. Fully in view of the lady and the coffee-pot Mr. Ticke made a stage bow. "Here is my apology," he said, holding out a letter; "I found it in the box as I came in."

It was another long thick envelope, and in its upper left hand corner was printed, in early English lettering, The St. George's Gazette. Elfrida took it with the faintest perceptible change of countenance. It was another discomfiture, but it did not prevent her from opening her dark eyes with a remote effect of pathos entirely disconnected with its reception. "And you climbed all these flights to give it to me!" she said, with gravely smiling plaintiveness. "Thank you. Why should you have been so good? Please, please sit down."

Mr. Ticke looked at her expressively. "I don't know, Miss Bell, really. I don't usually take much trouble for people. I say it without shame. Most people are not worth it. You don't mind my saying that you're an exception, though. Besides, I'm afraid I had my eye on my reward."

"You're reward!" Elfrida repeated. Her smiling comprehension insisted that it did not understand.

"The pleasure of saying good-morning to you. But that is an inanity, Miss Bell, and unworthy of me. I should have left you to divine it."

"How could I divine an inanity in connection with you?" she answered, and her eyes underlined her words. When he returned, "Oh, you always parry!" she felt a little thrill of pleasure with herself. "How did it go—last night?" she asked.

"Altogether lovely. Standing room only, and the boxes taken for a week. I find myself quite adorable in my little part now. I feel it, you know. I am James Jones, a solicitor's clerk, to my fingers' ends. My nature changes, my environment changes, the instant I go on. But a little thing upsets me. Last night I had to smoke a cigar—the swell of the piece gives me a cigar—and he gave me a poor one. It wasn't in tone—the unities required that he should give me a good cigar. See? I felt quite confused for the moment."

Elfrida's eyes had strayed to the corner of her letter. "If you want to read that," continued Mr. Ticke, "I know you won't mind me."

"Thanks," said Elfrida calmly. "I've read it already.

It's a rejected article."

"My play came back again yesterday for the thirteenth time. The fellow didn't even look at it. I know, because I stuck the second and third pages together as if by accident, and when it came back they were still stuck. And yet these men pretend to be on the lookout for original work! It's a thrice beastly world, Miss Bell."

Elfrida widened her eyes again and smiled with a vague impersonal winningness. "I suppose one ought not to care," said she, "but there is the vulgar necessity of living."

"Yes," agreed Mr. Ticke; and then sardonically: "Waterloo Bridge at ebb tide is such a nasty alternative. I could never get over the idea of the drainage."

"Oh, I know a better way than that." She chose her words deliberately. "A much better way. I keep it here," holding up the bent little finger of her left hand. It had a clumsy silver ring on it, square and thick in the middle, bearing deep-cut Sanskrit letters. "It is a dear little alternative," she went on, "like a bit of brown sugar. Rather a nice taste, I believe, —and no pain. When I am quite tired of it all I shall use this, I think. My idea is that it's weak to wait until you can't help it. Besides, I could never bear to become—less attractive than I am now."

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