Ida Vanstone looked out over the dismal array of chimney pots, saw the drifting pall of smoke like the shadow of her own hopes and fears, and, for the first time in her life, was afraid. And yet she could have ended it all had she liked; ...
Ida Vanstone looked out over the dismal array of chimney pots, saw
the drifting pall of smoke like the shadow of her own hopes and
fears, and, for the first time in her life, was afraid. And yet she
could have ended it all had she liked; a sheet of notepaper and a
penny stamp would have finished this struggle and privation. Ah,
anything but that! She thought as she watched the smoke-wreaths
whirling under the leaden March sky. It was a strange position for a
girl, well bred and well nurtured as she was. Still, the fact
remained that she had parted with her last coin and there was no
prospect of another penny. And, to add to the rest of her troubles,
she was several weeks in arrears with her rent, and unless it was
forthcoming on the morrow she would be turned out into the street.
The position had been hopeless from the first. She had left home
with her eyes open--she had not underrated the struggle that lay
before her. But anything seemed better to her than the loveless
marriage into which her father was attempting to force her. She had
fought against it with the courage of despair.
"Nothing will induce me to marry him," she had assured her father.
"I will rather go out and earn my living."
Robert Vanstone placidly sipped his port. There was a peculiar smile
on his handsome, cynical face.
"Very well, my child," he answered. "You can't say that I prevented
you. I have told you exactly how matters stand; if you don't marry
Wilfred Avis I am a ruined man. I shall have to part with all my
luxuries, sell this beautiful, old house, and end my days in some
shabby foreign watering-place. But, of course, that gives you no
concern. You have had everything you have asked for during the last
twenty years, and when I beg for a little return like this you
refuse. Avis declared last night that he would release me the moment
you consented to be engaged to him. Upon my word, I don't see why you
shouldn't humor him to this extent."
"And break my word afterwards, father?"
"Why not?" Vanstone retorted, coolly. "My dear girl, what does it
matter? Isn't it the privilege of your charming sex to change your
mind? Avis is a hard man, and he's got me into a tight place--but I
don't feel in the least melodramatic about it. With a bit of luck I
should have had him in a tight place. It's all part of the game, as
you would know if you had been venturing in the city as long as I
have. But what's wrong with Avis? He's a fine looking chap,
enormously rich, and half the girls of your acquaintance would be
only too glad of your chance. And let me tell you this--Avis can have
a title whenever he wants it. No man knows more of the working of the
Secret Service than he does--but perhaps I'm saying more than I ought
to. Now, do be sensible, Ida."
"I don't love him," the girl replied quietly. "I might go further,
and say I don't like him. Oh, perhaps I shall learn your worldly
cynicism in time, and come to believe that money is everything, and
honor and honesty of no account. We shall see, father. You have
thrown down a challenge, and I accept it. I'm going to earn my own
living, to try to turn my sketching to account."
"In that case you must look to me for nothing."
"So I understand," Ida went on. "I may succeed or I may fail, and if
I do utterly fail, and have to ask your assistant then I will return
home, and, if Wilfred Avis is still in the same mind, become his
"Vanstone smiled as he helped himself to another glass of port. He
glanced complacently around the dining-room with its mellowed oak
walls and the velvety mez-zo-tints upon them, on the silver and glass
and the litter of dessert on the table. Comfort and luxury and
artistic surroundings were to him as the very breath of life. For
them he was prepared to sacrifice everything that the man of honor
holds most dear. With all his cleverness, however, he had that
certain vein of indolence which always stands in the way of victory.
No one could plan a finer coup than Vanstone and no financial
adventurer could carry it so far. Then perhaps a day's pleasure would
lure him from his post just when his presence was most essential. He
had, too, that contempt for other people's ability which so often is
fatal to success. But as regarded his worldly knowledge and cynicism,
there was no question.