Page images
PDF
EPUB

"There's old Daddy Longlegs whistling away like the very devil," remarked one fellow to another. "Gad, what spirits the old chap has! nothing seems to take 'em down, not even such a taste of the infernal as we've had to-day, with the pretty nearly certain prospect of worse to follow." "Ah! expect Daddy has managed to get leave," said the other man languidly. "Never! By Jove, I'll go and see. If Daddy has managed to screw another leave out of the chief, I'll go and try my luck while he's in the right mood."

Without more ado Chester better known in the Creams as the Bouncer pulled himself out of his chair and went off to the quarters occupied by Daddy Longlegs, who, by the by, was put down in the army list as the Honorable Wilfred Okedon, and took rank as the second senior subaltern.

"I say, Daddy," began the Bouncer, "what are you kicking up such a devil of a shine for, eh?"

66

"Got a two days' leave," returned Daddy genially. Going up to town for the Daverels' dance."

Whether he got it or not makes no difference to our story. Daddy Longlegs accomplished the loan of a crush hat, and with his portmanteau went gaily off to town to spend his two days' leave, and enjoy himself at the Daverels' dance.

Now it happened that the Daverels were enormously rich people; not perhaps quite of the same set as Daddy Longlegs' family, who if poor, made up for their poverty by a superabundance of pride and a still greater abundance of pedigree. In fact, the Okedons were so poor and so proud and so blessed or cursed with pedigree, whichever way you like to put it, that Daddy was looked upon quite as a special treasure by the Daverels, and as being able to give a brightness and lustre to their dance, such as does not fall to the lot of many young men to have the credit of.

The Daverels were city people — bankers. If the truth be told they were almost Jews. Not that so much as a single drop of Semitic blood ran in their veins, unless indeed it had been inherited from those lost tribes of whom we every now and "Any chance of my getting a two days again hear so much. No, it was not by out of the chief?" inquired the Bouncer. blood that the Daverels were almost Jews, "I should say not the very smallest,' ," but by association; for the great firm of returned Daddy coolly. “Of course you which George Daverel was now the head, can try it on- but Jane is in a bad temper stood to the world as " Moss and Daverel," to-day, very.' and without doubt the defunct Mr. Moss, when in the flesh, had been an Israelite a Hebrew-a Jew!

"Is it the gout or the War Office?" asked the Bouncer with keen interest, born of a hope of leave, not of anxiety for his chief's state of mind, body, or estate.

"Neither. It's Tommy. I don't quite know what Tommy's been up to, but Jane's more like an owl with the toothache than usual. I say, old chap, can you lend me a crush hat? Mine got filled with jam or something the other night."

"Yes, if I don't get leave but you see I may want it myself. Get Smiler's-his is just new; it wants the shine taken off it."

"Oh, Smiler's hats are miles too big for me," returned Daddy. "Be quick and ask for your leave, and as you are sure not to get it, send the hat round to me on your way."

"You can get Smiler's," retorted the Bouncer coolly. "His head is rather bigger than yours, but his hat will impart a dignity to your general appearance which will improve you immensely," and then, as Daddy Longlegs sent a good solid, substantial clothes-brush spinning across the room, the Bouncer disappeared in a hurry to ask for his leave.

It seemed as if the great house of Moss and Daverel was fated to die out, unless its present head thought fit to take in partners from the large and efficient staff in order to keep the concern going, much on the same principle as gardeners graft strong, young, green shoots on to old trees of great rarity and past beauty and worth. For Mr. Daverel had only one child, Vio. let, who would one day be the heiress of all his vast wealth and who now was the darling of his heart and the very apple of his eye. To be explicit, it was for the sake of the apple of Mr. Daverel's eye that Wilfred Okedon had with infinite pain and difficulty screwed that two days' leave out of his unwilling colonel, that he had borrowed a crush hat, and had come to town feeling as blithe and gay as any bird.

And yet, when he had reached the great flower-decked, gorgeous palace in Queen's Gate, and had scaled the crowded staircase and found himself holding the young hostess's hand in his, this big, handsome, popular young aristocrat, with his long pedigree and his brave gray eyes, and his devil-may-care contempt for everything

and everybody except just those which suited him for the moment, felt himself of no greater account than if he had been one of the ridiculous insects whose name he bore among his comrades.

"I've come awfully early, Miss Daverel," he explained, "because I was so afraid you wouldn't save me a dance; but you have, haven't you?"

shakes then. I think she likes me," he went on fondly. "Oh, d- it all, I know she likes me! The question is, does she like me well enough?"

[ocr errors]

Now, when Daddy Longlegs was away from Violet Daverel, he generally answered this question which was one he asked himself a great many times in the course of the day to his entire satisfac"No, Mr. Okedon, I haven't," said tion; but when he was near her he seemed Miss Daverel with a mischievous laugh. to forget that she was Violet, the girl he "Then, good-night!" said Daddy, fall-loved, and to remember only that she was ing off the dizzy height of sweet and pleas- Miss Daverel, the heiress. ant hope at once, and going down - down -down-to the lowest depths of misery and despair. "I'm going, Miss Daverel,

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

And yet, although Miss Daverel raised not the smallest objection to his doing so, and was looking more lovely than he had ever seen her look before, Daddy Longlegs went back to his hotel in the small hours of the morning, and back to Aldershot when his leave was ended, without having brought matters any nearer to the conclusion for which he had been wishing for months past without, indeed, having made the smallest attempt to do so.

In truth, despite his handsome face and his brave and bonny gray eyes, his long lithe form and his popularity, his family pride and his family tree, the Honorable Wilfred Okedon was neither more nor less than afraid - not of Violet Daverel the beauty, nor of Violet the girl, but of Miss Daverel the heiress. “If only," he sighed, as his train sped swiftly towards the military land of sand and thorns, "if only she were not so beastly rich; but the cursed money crops up every minute just when I'm beginning to feel it's all right. I wish she hadn't any moneyor no, I don't quite wish that; but I do wish I had as much as she has. I could get the whole business settled out of hand in a brace of

[ocr errors]

So it came about that a week or two later, when the Creams got their orders for the Egyptian affair of '82, Daddy Longlegs went to say good-bye to Violet Dayerel, feeling that now it would not be right to speak, whether he was convinced of her liking for him or not.

For this campaign might just make all the difference in the world to him. He might come back maimed and shattered out of recognition; he might not come back at all.

If poor Daddy had possessed as much perception and power of reading the human countenance as he had honor, he would just have told Violet Daverel that it was only his body which was going out to active service, unless, indeed, she would give him a heart to take with him. But Daddy did not know the heart of woman, and so, in spite of the agony in Violet Daverel's blue eyes, he said good-bye, and went away.

66

Perhaps," the girl murmured, as he held her hand at parting, "perhaps you will let us hear how you are getting on? We shall be anxious father and I; and if you have time to write to write a line or two, father will—”

[ocr errors]

"I will write to you if I may," cried poor Daddy.

"Oh, yes, you may," answered Miss Daverel, in a tone which would have made ninety-nine men out of a hundred propose on the spot.

But Daddy was the soul of honor. He never for a moment dreamt of taking ad vantage of the softening influences of a parting which might be forever; but he just bent down and kissed the little trembling hand which he would have given worlds to call his own.

"God bless you," he said brokenly. "God bless you-darling!" and was

gone.

CHAPTER II.

NATURALLY enough, Violet Daverel was a good deal upset by the parting.

For her, poor girl, it was a painful and cruel position in which she found herself. She felt sure that Daddy liked her. But, by the by, she did not call him by that name-did not, indeed, actually know that, out of compliment to his long legs, the name had been given him by his brother officers.

In his family he had always been called Willie, and in society he was Willie Okedon still.

She felt quite sure that Willie Okedon liked her; and, unfortunately for her, every one of her friends, and even her acquaintances, seemed quite sure of it also. Many were the condolences offered her upon the horrors of war and the special and melancholy interest which she must take in the present campaign, many were the inquiries after the absent one, until at last Miss Violet got so thoroughly sick of explaining that she was not engaged to Mr. Okedon, and of declaring which was a lie - that she took no more interest in him than in any other acquaintance who had gone out to the land of the Pharaohs on a desperate errand of life or death, that in sheer selfdefence she began to accept, and even somewhat to encourage, the attentions of another young gentleman who came to hand just then just by way of proving that if Willie Okedon had left his heart behind him, she had not lent him one to take with him, and also that she was in no wise wearing the willow for a man who had not loved her well enough to ask her to wait for him until the campaign should be over.

Now, Miss Daverel's new admirer was not by any means troubled with those little niceties of honor which had guided poor Daddy Longlegs; he was not at all afraid of Violet, the girl; still less of Violet Daverel, the beauty; and least of all of Miss Daverel, the heiress; and, in fact, Miss Daverel the heiress was the prize he meant to win, while for the beauty and the girl he cared nothing at all.

Like poor Daddy, Sir Piers Trevor had a very long pedigree behind him; like poor Daddy, he was but modestly blessed with wealth of this world; like poor Daddy, he was big and strong-"a great hulking brute one or two had been known to describe him; and unlike Daddy, he was no beauty, but, on the contrary, a decidedly ugly man. Not so ugly in feature, perhaps, for his nose and cast of head were perfect, but in the lowering look of the hard eyes, and in the cruel set of the rather large mouth, not made less pronounced by the heavy, square chin. Yes,

it was an ugly face, yet one which might have been charming had the expression been pleasing.

But the expression was bad; and ugly the face was, even when he was making the most efforts to show at his best, and it is no exaggeration to say that while she encouraged him, Violet Daverel hated him.

Not always! Sometimes when she had for a moment forgotten the vision of Willie Okedon's brave gray eyes shining through a mist of tears, had forgotten that last choking "God bless you darling!"

- she found Sir Piers Trevor a fairly pleasant companion. Certainly after he began to haunt her presence, she had to endure no more painful condolences about that other one, who had gone away without a word which could compromise himself.

It was very hard on poor Daddy that his self-renunciation had been so entirely misunderstood by the lady of his love. It would have been so much more to his lik ing and his comfort, poor lad, if he had carried her promise and her love with him instead of hanging on a hope which seemed almost hopeless, while he knew "that scoundrel, Piers Trevor, was hanging about her." And, of course, he did know it and very soon, for we all have those kind friends whol et us hear of those annoyances and sorrows which the heart could not grieve about if it did not know.

Thus some time passed before poor Daddy felt able to write the line or two for which Violet Daverel had asked; then an incident happened one evening in the streets of Alexandria which served to give him the necessary excuse for recalling himself for that was how he put it to her memory.

[ocr errors]

He was loafing in one of the cafés with several other officers and a lot of Europeans, when, finding the heat and noise greater than he could bear, he went out to smoke a cigarette on the veranda until the others should be ready to go back to their quarters at Ramleh. As he stood leaning against one of the supports of the veranda, he saw a very old negro woman come tottering along carrying a bag in her hand.

"Poor old girl," said Daddy to himself, and feeling in his one pocket found a bit of silver and tossed it to her with a careless, "Hi, old lady, here's something for you."

The old woman mumbled out what Daddy supposed was a stream of thanks, and eventually went on her way. Not unobserved, however, for a supple, shadow-like individual, in the dingiest of white

garments, slid from the shade cast by a house opposite, and darting down the road she had taken, fell upon her, and a scuffle for the money followed.

Daddy Longlegs never thought of the danger into which he might be going, but just gave a shout to his comrades within the café, and set off down the moon-lit road as fast as his long legs could carry him.

66

"No, you don't, you brute! he remarked to this dingy person, who, being troubled with no fine sense of honor about respect due to the feminine sex, began to belabor the old negress soundly. And forthwith Daddy, with an exceedingly strong and useful riding-whip, without which he never went out when off duty, began to play vigorously upon the softer parts of the dingy person's body.

The effect was miraculous. The dingy person dropped his victim and howled what the half-dozen officers, who came racing down the street, afterwards graphically described as "blue murder." And Daddy, when he had given him a good drubbing, gave him a shake and a parting kick and sent him flying back whence he had come like a shot from a catapult, yelling "blue murder" still.

When the old woman realized that the great gentleman who had given her the money had come to her rescue, and had thoroughly flogged the cowardly thief, who had hankered after her bit of fortune, into the bargain, she fell down in the dust at his feet, and passionately embraced his long legs in a way most embarrassing to him.

"Take the old girl off!" he cried. "She'll throw me down to a certainty. Confound it, don't stand in that idiotic way giggling like a lot of school-misses! Take her off!"

Unfortunately the officers were too thoroughly amused at the sight of Daddy in this dilemma, to help him, even if they had wanted to do so, which they didn't; and the old woman began to change her tactics and to sway backwards and forwards, uttering a kind of sing-song chant in an exceedingly croaky and cracked voice.

Under this new expression of gratitude, poor Daddy had less hold of the ground than ever, but the old woman held on to him, and he perforce had to hold on to the old woman, while his brother officers stood round the odd combination and roared, simply roared with laughter.

And, at last, in spite of his anger and his unutterable disgust, the infection of

the jolly laughter proved too strong for Daddy to resist and he began to laugh also. It was fatal to his equilibrium, for he went over promptly, and after a moment's struggle parted company with the old lady, and with a scramble got himself together in a tailor's heap and sat laughing until, as he said afterwards, he thought he should have died of laughing.

The only one who did not in any way seem to see the humor of the situation was the cause of it all. The old negro lady sat back on her heels, after she had gathered herself together again, and besought Daddy in tones of abject fear not to visit his fall upon her miserable head.

"What does she say?" asked Daddy, still sitting on the ground like a tailor, with a hand on either knee. "Jack, you understand that sort of lingo, don't you? What does she say?"

"She says that you are her lord and master," the officer who answered to the name of Jack replied.

"God forbid!" exclaimed Daddy piously. "And grant I be lord and master to something better than that when my time comes.'

A fresh roar of laughter followed, and Jack Despard explained further. “And she says you are not to punch her head for tumbling you over, which she didn't mean to.”

"Poor old thing," said Daddy. "Tell her it's all right. By the by, have any of you chaps got a coin or two to spare? You might hand them over to the old girl, if you have."

As he spoke he dropped the few shillings he had about him into his white sunhelmet and handed it round for further contributions, with the result of a shower of silver, such as to the old negro lady's eyes meant wealth-wealth untold, riches for the rest of her life.

To say that she expressed gratitude is to put it so mildly as to convey no real idea of the scene which followed. She delivered a long and passionate harangue, accompanied by every gesture of which her withered old arms were capable.

"What's she cussing about now, Jack?" asked Daddy of Despard.

"She says will you tell her where she can find you, then she will bring you a powerful charm in the morning which will give you happiness for all the rest of your life. I suppose you don't want to hear all the flowery gratitude and such like?"

"Not quite. Tell her to come to Ramleh. I suppose it won't do to discourage the old girl. She might try the evil eye

dodge on one you know."

- deuced unpleasant that,

Eventually one of the officers produced a small note-book and wrote Daddy's name and address on a blank leaf, which he tore out and handed over to the old woman. Then the officers went off to their quarters, and the old negress went on her way rejoicing.

As a matter of fact not one of them expected to hear or see any more of the heroine of the incident, not any of them being blessed with faith in the honesty or gratefulness of any natives or sojourners in that delightful country. But towards noon, when they were thinking of lunch, Despard came into the veranda of the mess-hut where Daddy was smoking a cigarette and reading his letters in company with half the officers of the regiment. "I say, Daddy," he said, "that old dusky beauty that you're lord and master to is asking for you."

"She's brought the charm," said Daddy, putting up his correspondence into a heap. "Where is she?"

"Out here. Come along."

They found her squatting on a big stone just round the corner, looking as much dead as alive; for naturally, at her age, a sound belaboring, followed by an exciting rescue by a great gentleman, and a still more exciting exhibition of gratitude ending in a complete downfall to mother earth, have their effect. At the sight of Daddy she roused up a little, however, and tried to get on to her feet.

"Stay where you are," shouted Daddy; then, finding that she did not understand even the plainest and loudest of English, said to Despard, "Tell the old girl to sit still."

Finally, after a good deal of gesticulation and a long harangue, “Daddy's beauty," as the officers by common consent called her, produced her charm, her gift of gratitude. It came from some wonderful inner recess of her truly wonderful garments, it was wrapped in many folds of cotton rag, and finally, as all these were unwound, it came to light, and was neither more nor less than an ordinary small fan of carved ivory.

"What the devil good can that be to me?" Daddy ejaculated; but the "dusky beauty," having found out that Despard was the only one of all the group who could understand her, was speaking to him in wild, excited accents.

"She says," said the interpreter, when the old woman paused, "that this fan is some hundreds of years old; that it was

blessed by some wise woman of her race, and that it has a peculiar power, being able to give happiness in love matters to its fortunate possessor."

"Odd of the old girl to part with it," murmured Daddy.

"Just what I said to her. But she says she is too old for it to affect her now, and that she has had the best of husbands in her time."

“How many?” asked some one.

Despard put the question." She says she has only had five," he said, when the old woman had replied to him, at which all the men laughed again and even the old lady herself joined in, looking quite coquettish as she held up her five fingers by way of corroborating the number of her late spouses.

"Well, tell the old girl I'm immensely obliged to her, and that I'll take great care of the fetish," said Daddy; and presently the dusky beauty took her departure, leav ing him to the contemplation of his new possession.

It was a small fan, and evidently very old; it was quaintly and delicately carved with figures of men and women, birds and animals, with flowers also, and with strange hieroglyphics deeply graven along the end sticks.

"Yet

"H'm, rum thing to get hold of," said Daddy, turning it over and over. the old girl seemed to set high value on it. Gives success in love affairs. Oh! by Jove. I'll send it to her. Yes, I will."

And so he did. He packed it up securely and sent it off to Violet Daverel the very next day, and with it he sent a short note giving a brief description of his adventure with the old negress, and ending, "I know you will take care of it for me."

CHAPTER III.

Now by the time this strange token of remembrance reached Violet Daverel she had become very intimate with Sir Piers Trevor.

She had not only become very intimate with him but she had learned to like him very much better than she had done at first. And he had quite made a conquest of her father, to whom Sir Piers was a very brilliant parti indeed.

Violet was not altogether to be blamed for her apparent changeableness. Many weeks had gone by and Willie Okedon had never written the few lines by which he had promised she should hear of his welfare, the lines for which she had asked him. If he had plenty of pride, so had

« PreviousContinue »