The Courting Of Lady Jane

       Josephine Daskam Bacon / Romance & Love
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The Courting Of Lady Jane Produced by David Widger

THE COURTING OF LADY JANE

By Josephine Daskam

Copyright, 1903, by Charles Scribner's Sons

The colonel entered his sister's room abruptly, sat down on her bed, andscattered a drawerful of fluffy things laid out for packing.

”You don't seem to think about my side of the matter,” he said gloomily.”What am I to do here all alone, for Heaven's sake?”

”That is so like a man,” she murmured, one arm in a trunk. ”Let me see:party-boots, the children's arctics, Dick's sweater--did you think Icould live here forever, Cal?”

”Then you shouldn't have come at all. Just as I get thoroughly settleddown to flowers in the drawing-room, and rabbits in a chafing-dish, andpeople for dinner, you skip off. Why don't you bring the children here?What did you marry into the navy for, anyway? Nagasaki! I wouldn't livein a place called Nagasaki for all that money could buy!”

”You're cross,” said Mrs. Dick placidly. ”Please get off thatbath-wrapper. If you don't like to live alone--Six bath-towels, Dick'sshoe-bag, my old muff (I hope and pray I'll remember that!) Helen'sreefer--Why don't you marry?”

”Marry? Marry! Are you out of your mind, Dosia? I marry!”

The colonel twisted his grayish mustache into points; a look of horrorspread over his countenance.

”Men have done it,” she replied seriously, ”and lived. Look at Dick.”

”Look at him? But how? Who ever sees him? I've ceased to believe in him,personally. I can't look across the Pacific. Consider my age, Dosia;consider my pepper-and-salt hair; consider my bronchitis; consider--”

”Consider your stupidity! As to your hair, I should hate to eat a saladdressed with that proportion of pepper. As to your age, remember you'reonly ten years ahead of me, and I expect to remain thirty-eight for sometime.”

”But forty-eight is centenarian to a girl of twenty-two, Dosia.”

The colonel was plaiting and un-plaiting the ball-fringe of thebed-slip; his eyes followed the motion of his fingers--he did not seehis sister's triumphant smile as she dived again into the trunk.

”That depends entirely on the girl. Take Louise Morris, for instance;she regards you as partly entombed, probably”--the colonel wincedinvoluntarily--”but, on the other hand, a girl like Jane Leroy wouldhave no such nonsense in her head, and she can't be much more thantwenty.”

”She is twenty-two,” cried the unsuspecting colonel eagerly.

”Ah? I should not have said so much. Now such a girl as that, Cal,handsome, dignified, college-bred, is just the wife for an older man.One can't seem to see her marrying some young snip of her own age. She'dbe wasted on him. I happen to know that she refused Wilbur Vail entirelyon that ground. She admitted that he was a charming fellow, but she toldher mother he was far too young for her. And he was twenty-eight.”

”Did she?” The colonel left the fringe. ”But--but perhaps there wereother reasons; perhaps she didn't--”

”Oh, probably she didn't. But still, she said he was too young. That'sthe way with these serious girls. Now I thought Dick was middle-agedwhen I married him, and he was thirty. Jane doesn't take after hermother; she was only nineteen when she was born--I mean, of course, whenJane was born. Will you hand me that crocheted shawl, please?”

”My dear girl, you're not going to try to get that into that trunk, too?Something will break.”

”Not at all, my dear Clarence. Thank you. Will you send Norah up to meas you go down?”

It had not occurred to the colonel that he was going down, but hedecided that he must have been, and departed, forgetting Norah utterlybefore he had accomplished half of the staircase.

He wandered out through the broad hall, reaching down a hat absently,and across the piazza. Then, half unconscious of direction, he crossedthe neat suburban road and strolled up the gravel path of the cottageopposite. Mrs. Leroy was sitting in the bay-window, attaching indefiniteyards of white lace to indefinite yards of white ruffles. Jane, in coolviolet lawn, was reading aloud to her. Both looked up at his light knockat the side door.

”But I am afraid I interrupt,” he suggested politely, as he droppedinto a low chair with a manner that betokened the assurance of a warmwelcome.

”Not the least in the world,” Mrs. Leroy smiled whimsically.

”Lady is reading Pater to me for the good of my soul, and I am listeningpolitely for the good of her manners,” she answered. ”But it is a littlewearing for us both, for she knows I don't understand it, and I know shethinks me a little dishonest for pretending to.”

”Mother!”

The girl's gray eyes opened wide above her cool, creamy cheeks; thedeep dimples that made her mother's face so girlish actually added aregularity and seriousness to the daughter's soft chin. Her chestnuthair was thick and straight, the little half-curls of the same rich tintthat fell over her mother's forehead brushed wavelessly back on eachside of a deep widow's peak.

The two older ones laughed.

”Always uncompromising, Lady Jane!” the colonel cried.

”I assure you, colonel, when Lady begins to mark iniquities, few of usstand!”

Jane smiled gravely, as on two children. ”You know very well that isnonsense,” she said.

Black Hannah appeared in the door, beaming and curtsying to the colonel.

”You-all ready foh yoh tea, Miss Lady?” she inquired.

A sudden recollection threw Mrs. Leroy into one of her irresistible fitsof gentle laughter.

”Oh, Lady,” she murmured, ”do you remember that impossible creature thatlectured me about Hannah's asking you for orders? Did I tell you aboutit, colonel?”

Jane shook her head reprovingly.

”Now, mother dearest, you always make him out worse--”

”Worse, my darling? Worse is a word that couldn't be applied to thatman. Worse is comparative. Positive he certainly was, superlative ismild, but comparative--never!”

”Tell about it, do,” begged the guest.

”Well, he came to see how Lady was growing up--he's a sort of species ofrelative--and he sat in your chair, colonel, and talked the most amazingFourth Reader platitudes in a deep bass voice. And when Hannah askedLady what her orders were for the grocer, he gave me a terrible look andrumbled out: 'I am grieved to see, Cousin Alice, that Jennie has bursther bounds!'

”It sounded horribly indecorous--I expected to see her in fragments onthe floor--and I fairly gasped.”

”Gasped, mother? You laughed in his face!”

”Did I, dearest? It is possible.” Mrs. Leroy admitted. ”And when Ilooked vague he explained, 'I mean that you seem to have relinquishedthe reins very early, Cousin Alice!'

”'Relinquished? Relinquished?' said I. 'Why, dear me, Mr. Wadham, Inever held 'em!'”

”He only meant, mother dear, that--”

”Bless you, my child, I know what he only meant! He explained it tome very fully. He meant that when a widow is left with a ten-year-oldchild, she should apply to distant cousins to manage her and her funds.”

”Disgusting beast!” the colonel exclaimed with feeling, possessinghimself of one of Hannah's beaten biscuits, and smiling as Lady Jane'swhite fingers dropped just the right number of lumps in his tea.

How charming she was, how dignified, how tender to her merry littlemother, this grave, handsome girl! He saw her, in fancy, opposite him athis table, moving so stately about his big empty house, filling it withpretty, useless woman's things, lighting every corner with that lasttouch of grace that the most faithful housekeeper could never hope toadd to his lonely life. For Theodosia had taught him that he was lonely.He envied Dick this sister of his.

He wondered that marriage had never occurred to him before: simply ithad not. Ever since that rainy day in April, twenty years ago, whenthey had buried the slender, soft-eyed little creature with his twistedsilver ring on her cold finger, he had shut that door of life; andthough it had been many years since the little ring had really bound himto a personality long faded from his mind, he had never thought to openthe door--he had forgotten it was there.

He was not a talkative man, and, like many such, he dearly loved to beamused and entertained by others who were in any degree attractive tohim. The picture of these two dear women adding their wit and charm anddainty way of living to his days grew suddenly very vivid to him; herealized that it was an unconscious counting on their continued interestand hospitality that had made the future so comfortable for so
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