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A Tragedy in Black and White and Other Stories

Love And Lucre

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Love And Lucre.

The Good ship Waitotara was drawing near the end of her voyage, and in a short time the motley assembly of travellers, who had met for the first time six weeks ago, would separate and become as much utter strangers to each other, as though they had not eaten and drank, quarrelled or made love, during that period.

Amongst the passengers was a certain Miss Minnie Martyn, two-and-twenty years of age, fairly good-looking, bright, and prospective heiress to £50,000. She was an only child; her mother was dead, and her father, immersed in business, had sent her to England a year before, to visit various relations and to see a little of the world. She was now returning home, brimful of life and spirits, and with a decided penchant for flirtation. She had been placed under the chaperonage of a family friend, a Mrs. Ferguson, who was the very type of a certain sort of old lady, exceedingly good-natured and intensely garrulous. Mrs. Ferguson was a very bad sailor, so that the voyage was half over before she made her appearance in public.

Minnie, therefore, had had plenty of time to take stock of the rest of the passengers and to decide that the ladies were uninteresting, and that the flirtable portion of the community was, for various reasons, unavailable.

To be sure, there was one exception to the rule in the person of a Mr. Langley, one of the three bachelors on board; but he went to the other extreme, and instead of confining his polite attentions to one particular lady, to her triumph and the envy of her fair companions, made himself page 92 generally agreeable. He would sing sentimental duets with one girl in the music saloon, and ten minutes after, would be on deck teaching another the rudiments of astronomy beneath the star-lit sky; whilst he would tell a third, in the strictest confidence, that never, never had he met a woman to compare with her. In justice to him, it must be admitted that he was almost, if not quite, as lavish of his courtesies to the married and middle-aged ladies on board, admired their children, and wound their wool untiringly. He was also extremely popular with the husbands, being always ready with a good story, or delighted to take a hand in a quiet game of cards.

Such being the case, it was no wonder that Mr. Langley should be voted the life and soul of the ship, and that Minnie should only receive her just share of his petits soins.

The other two unmarried men appeared to be hopelessly wrapped up in themselves. One was a rather exaggerated specimen of that curious creature the masher, and was wholly absorbed in his shirt-collars and dainty boots. The other was a hypochondriacal gentleman, who had been advised to try the sea voyage and New Zealand climate. His thoughts seemed to be entirely occupied with religion and medicine, which he administered to himself in alternate doses. He was of a generous nature, and was always ready to offer a tract or a draught to anyone whom he considered to be in need of such medicaments.

The rest of the passengers were not remarkable. There was a newly-married couple, who were little addition to society in general. There were the elderly husbands of the before-mentioned middle-aged ladies, who spent their days in smoking, arguing, grumbling, and playing cards; there were several young families, ranging from the baby of a tender age, who cried all night, to the overgrown hobbledehoy, who was a general nuisance; and there were various young ladies and spinsters, seeking employment in the Colonies as governesses, lady-helps, or wives.

It may be understood, therefore, that such being her fellow-travellers, Miss Martyn was beginning to get rather page 93 tired of life on board ship and to long for more congenial companions, when she gradually became aware of the pleasing fact, that she herself was more in request than formerly. She could not understand it at all, and at first thought that her increasing popularity was merely a fancy; but, as time went on, she was convinced that for some reason she was a far more important person than she had been. The heads of the families (male) remarked to one another that she was a deuced fine girl; the matrons became almost oppressively motherly in their kindness; while as for the three bachelors, their behaviour underwent a striking change.

Mr. Birket, the invalid, not only inquired anxiously after her health every day, and recommended Eau-de-Cologne baths as being wholesome, but also undertook the supervision of her spiritual welfare, and presented her with a copy of an address he had once given, called “A Warning to Young Persons,” entreating her to study it carefully.

The popular bachelor, though still kind and attentive to everyone else, became most assiduous in his courtesies to her, and his compliments, uttered or implied, grew more flowery and frequent every day.

The fashionable youth, Mr. St. Clare, had even managed to withdraw from the contemplation of his clothes so much of his mind as was necessary to evolve an occasional brilliant remark, such as: “Vewy warm to-day, Miss Martyn. Makes a fella' want to sit in his bones, as what's-his-name—Shakespeare—says. Funny fella', Shakespeare. Wead any of his books, Miss Martyn?” Or, perhaps of an evening, while leaning over the bulwarks watching the glittering track left by the rudder, he would say: “Pwetty stuff, phosph'rus, isn't it, Miss Martyn? Fella's say it's good for bwains. Don't believe it. Knew fella' once who lived on fish because of the phosph'rus, and he had no more bwains than you or I.”

One day, shortly after Minnie had noticed the difference in her companions' behaviour, she was sitting in the music saloon waiting for Mr. Langley, who had asked her to try an accompaniment to one of his songs. One of the pros-pective page 94 governesses or helpmates was also sitting in the saloon, doing some high-art embroidery. The day was hot, and Minnie rather cross.

“Oh, dear!” she sighed, “I wonder if that man is coming or not. I wish he wouldn't keep me waiting so long. He is ever so much nicer than he used to be, though. So they all are. Would you believe it,” she added, with a laugh, “yesterday, on deck, I dropped my fan, and Mr. St. Clare, who was standing by, actually bent down to pick it up. He was so long stooping, though, that I got tired of waiting, and picked it up myself, but it was really a miraculous effort on his part, wasn't it?”

“Yes, dear! it certainly was,” answered Miss Bowker, a slightly acidulated damsel of some forty odd summers. “But then of course you are an heiress, and men are so mercenary. Havn't you always found it so, love?”

Minnie started. It had never struck her that the fact of her having money might have become known, and raised her in the public estimation. The middle-aged maiden, noticing the effect of her little sting, smilingly proceeded to plant another.

“I have often thought,” said she, “that, though of course it is extremely pleasant to be wealthy, yet it must be very mortifying to feel that it is only for the sake of the money that people are so attentive.”

“Yes,” agreed Minnie calmly, “it is mortifying; and besides, so much flattery and attention bores one after a time. I am sure, dear Miss Bowker, I have often envied you your freedom from such troubles. I really don't think I have ever seen a man pestering you with his politeness. How do you manage to keep them at such a distance? Oh! Mr. Langley,” turning with her sweetest smile to that individual, who had just entered, “I thought you were never coming;” and she walked to the piano, leaving Miss Bowker rather in doubt as to which had had the best of the encounter.

At the earliest opportunity Minnie taxed Mrs. Ferguson with having spread the report of her being an heiress. page 95 The old lady guiltily acknowledged that she had said something to one or two people, which being interpreted meant that in Minnie's temporary absence one afternoon, she had entertained all the passengers with a glowing account of that young lady's parentage, possessions, and prospects.

“What does it matter, child,” said she, “you will only make yourself miserable with your romantic notions about being loved for yourself alone. And probably when the right man comes, you won't stop to question whether it is you or your money he wants.”

“Very likely not,” answered Minnie, then as she turned away, she murmured to herself with true feminine justice: “At all events neither of those men is the right one, and I'll just give them all a lesson.”

From that day forward Minnie devoted her energies to riveting the chains of her three adorers. She would stroll on deck in the moonlight with one, would take the spiritual and medicinal advice of another, and pay as much heed to the wit and wisdom of the third, as though she were a second Queen of Sheba, and he a worthy successor of Solomon. In short, as Miss Bowker virtuously said, “the way that young woman went on, was a disgrace to her sex.”

On the last evening of the voyage there was a final dance. The night was clear and bright, and the sea so calm that the motion of the ship was no hindrance to the dancers. Minnie, who was looking her very best, was engaged for innumerable waltzes to Messrs. Langley and St. Clare, and Mr. Birket had obtained her promise to go in to supper with him.

A polka and a square dance had been performed with much vigour, and then came two waltzes. Mr. Langley was Minnie's partner for both, and as the last bars of the second waltz were dying away, he drew her apart from the other dancers under pretext of observing the beauty of the moonlight on the water, and then and there plunged into a violent declaration of love.

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“Miss Martyn,” said he, “Minnie! You must have seen how I adore you. By Heaven, I never loved a woman as I do you. I know I am not worthy of such a pearl among girls, but oh, dearest, if you will be my wife it would make me so happy. Look here! We'll get married next week if you'll only say the word, and we'll be as jolly as—as, by Jove, two turtle doves. Only say you'll have me, Minnie darling.”

Minnie's revenge with regard to one of her mercenary lovers was complete; she had now only to upbraid and dismiss him with scorn; but while he had been pleading so eloquently for his own happiness, a sudden thought flashed through her brain. He should not be let off so easily, the lesson should be thoroughly effectual if she could make it so. Without stopping to consider the drawbacks or difficulties of her plan, she proceeded to execute it.

“Oh, Mr. Langley,” she murmured, with an air of shyness which did great credit to her powers of acting, “I am so surprised. I never thought you loved me.”

Mr. Langley renewed his ardent protestations, and at last Minnie uttered a coy assent. Her enraptured suitor was about to burst forth in gratitude, but Minnie stopped him.

“I am going to make a condition,” she said, “and that is, that you are not to breathe a word about this, and you are not to see me for six months after we land. It seems odd, but I am rather romantic, and I should like to have a proof of your devotion. If you break this condition I will never marry you.”

In vain did Mr. Langley try to shake her decision, Minnie remained firm, and he yielded at last with rather a bad grace.

“At least you will give me a kiss,” he begged, “just one little one, darling.”

“No, oh no!” cried Minnie, “I could'nt think of such a thing, besides, there's Miss Bowker, she might see us. And there's Mr. Birket too; I'm sure he is looking for page 97 me.” And she hastily made her escape, leaving Mr. Langley muttering maledictions against all “third persons who on spoiling těte-à-tětes insist.”

Mr. Birket was seeking Minnie to ask her if she would not like some refreshment. He conducted her solemnly into the saloon and provided her with something to eat. When she had finished and rose to go, he said in a bland voice:

“Pray wait a moment, dear Miss Martyn; I have somewhat to say to you.”

Minnie sat down again, and he continued—“My sweet young friend, you may perhaps have noticed that I have singled you out from your companions. It is written, that it is not good for man to live alone, and you have seemed to me to be an exceedingly suitable help-mate for a man of my habits. There are, of course, slight defects in your character, but all flesh is liable to err, and I fancy that with patience, I could mould you into a most admirable person. I should not feel justified in marrying on my own income, but, as I have heard from the worthy Mrs. Ferguson, that you are well furnished with this world's goods, I have no scruples on that score. I will not insist on an immediate answer, but I feel sure that if you will consider what I have said, you will see the advantages of the proposed union. I am now about to retire, as this unwonted agitation has slightly disturbed me. Good night, and bless you my fair maid. I await your answer with confidence.”

At the end of this remarkable speech, Mr. Birket cast a benevolent smile on Minnie, and pressing her hand, slowly withdrew.

It is to be feared that Minnie's bump of veneration was not largely developed, for as her uncouth wooer disappeared she indulged in a hearty laugh.

“What an idea!” she said to herself, “fancy being moulded by a creature like that. And he seems to take it for granted that I shall accept him. So I shall, I could'nt bear to disappoint him, but as for marrying him! C'est page 98 toute autre chose. So we are to live on my money, are we; he has no scruples about it. At any rate Mr. Langley had the grace to say nothing about that, whatever he may have thought. I wonder now, how Mr. St. Clare will express his sentiments, as I suppose he will propose to me next. Talk of an angel,—here he comes.”

Sure enough that gentleman had just entered the saloon, evidently in quest of some one or something. Catching sight of Minnie, he came towards her, exclaiming:

“Been looking for you ev'wywhere, Miss Martyn.” Then sinking into a seat at her side he continued: “Doocid hard work dancin', isn't it now, Miss Martyn? Lets stay and rest here for a bit.”—–A slight pause.

“Saw that queer fella' Birket talkin' to you; awful bore isn't he? Don't wonder he likes talkin' to you though. 'Pon my soul, you're the jolliest girl I evah met. You are indeed.”

“Oh, Mr. St. Clare!” murmured Minnie, playing with her fan.

“'Pon honour, I mean it, Miss Martyn. Nevah saw such a jolly gurl as you. Give you my word I feel quite mis'rable away from you, like—like fish out of watah, don't cher know. I say, Miss Martyn, what do you say to marryin' me?” Another pause; then the impassioned youth went on: “You know I am weally extremely fond of you, Miss Martyn, and I think we should pull vewy well together, eh? What do you think?”

“I think.” said Minnie softly, “that it is very kind of you to ask me. But if I say yes, will you promise me one thing?” And she rapidly proposed the same conditions as she had exacted from Mr. Langley. Like that gentleman, her present suitor objected strongly at first, but Minnie finally succeeded in drawing from him a promise not to mention the engagement, nor to try to see her till six months later.

“You may write to me if you like,” said she, “and tell me how you are getting on, etc. Now please take me back to the deck, people will be wondering where I am.”

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Next day the Waitotara touched at one of the New Zealand ports. Here Minnie landed, her three fiancés were all going farther. Before leaving the ship she had a fare-well interview with each one separately, reminded him of his promise, and said what indeed was very true, that she looked forward eagerly to meeting him at the end of his probation. She managed to frustrate any intentions as to a more tender leave-taking on the part of any of her betrothed, and at last went away in such good spirits, that no one would have imagined that she was engaged to, and parting from, three men at once.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was a glorious morning in spring, six months later, and a certain New Zealand city had arrayed itself in its holiday garb, with a view to making the most of the somewhat infrequent dissipations enjoyed by it. It was in fact, the first day of the races, and the greater part of the inhabitants of the city, and many sojourners within its belts, were engaged in active preparations for the festivities. One gentleman, however, whose carefully made toilet suggested a happy combination of the swell and the sport, with perhaps a dash of the lover, as set forth by the choice white flower in his coat, had turned his back on the crowded streets, and was walking rapidly in the direction of the public gardens. Arrived at the gate thereof, he passed through and pursued certain shady paths till he stopped on the bank of the river, close to a picturesque bridge.

He looked at his watch, and saying to himself “rather early yet,” took from his waistcoat pocket a little note directed in a feminine handwriting to “C. Langley, Esq,” and read it through with an air of great satisfaction. Putting it back again, he sat down on the knotted rustic bench that offered a tempting resting-place to the weary wayfarer, and endeavoured to while away the time by drawing diagrams on the gravel with his stick.

Presently he heard a step in the opposite direction from that in which he had come, and starting up, walked quickly page 100 forward. But when the owner of the step turned the corner, the anxious watcher was considerably surprised and not overjoyed, to see, not the lady of his heart, but one of his fellow passengers on board the Waitotara, viz., Mr. St. Clare, more elaborately and extensively got up than ever. This very unexpected rencontre did not seem to afford the new comer unmixed pleasure, however, the two men, politely dissembling their feelings, shook hands, and began a friendly, if slightly forced, conversation. Their talk, after a bit, became rather desultory and spasmodic, each gentleman wondering what the other was waiting for, and why he didn't go.

Just then some one was heard walking over the bridge. Both men looked up eagerly, and their faces underwent a ludicrous change when, instead of a graceful female flgure, they beheld the gaunt shambling form of the third of Minnie Martyn's favoured suitors. Slowly did he cross the bridge, and then perceiving his former acquaintances he advanced towards them, and held out his hand with a limp smile. This duty of friendship accomplished, he extracted from an inner pocket a small bottle and a minimglass, and carefully measuring out a few drops, drank them off, and sat down on the rustic bench, smiling benevolently.

The other two had watched has proceedings with a sort of hideous fascination. So very different had the meeting proved from the one anticipated, that neither knew quite what to say, till the silence was broken by Mr. Birket, who bleated forth:

“This is indeed an unexpected joy. It is a most singular coincidence that we three should meet again in this manner. It is quite like old days, is it not? Our little group will be still more complete when Miss Martyn—.”

“Miss Martyn!” exclaimed the other two men, the spell dissolved at last.

“Yes,” went on Mr. Birket, placidly closing his eyes. “No doubt you remember her. A very plump and pleasing page 101 young person. She made an appointment to meet me here this morning. It was very inconvenient to me, but what pains will we not undergo for love,” simpering in a feeble manner.

“Minnie made an appointment with you! Why she begged me to come here,” interrupted Mr. Langley.

“And she wrote to ask me the same thing,” gasped Mr. St. Clare, producing a duplicate to the note in the possession of Mr. Langley.

“But she is engaged to me!”

“So she is to me!”

Opening his eyes, Mr. Birket said firmly:

“You are both grievously mistaken. The girl plighted her troth to me,” at the same time bringing out of his pocket, together with a box of pills, a third little note precisely similar to the other two, and handing it round for inspection.

“It is weally vewy confusing,” sighed Mr. St Clare.

“There's some devilry in it,” said Mr. Langley moodily, “When did you propose to her?”

“The last night on board ship; she accepted me, but made me promise not to say anything about it.”

“The little jade, that's the very way she treated me. She's been playing fast and loose with us both, and I suppose that creature”—with a contemptuous gesture towards the peacefully ruminating invalid—“is in the same box. She's fooled us all nicely; never meant to marry any of us.”

“Weally, I think, we've had an extremely lucky escape. She would have been a very fatiguin' wife, you know.”

“I should like to know how she excuses her infamous behaviour. By jingo, there she is!”

“Pwettier than evah, too.”

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So it was. Minnie Martyn in a most becoming frock, and followed at a short distance by a good-looking man, tripped gaily up to the group of righteously indignant lovers, both hands outstretched, and her pretty face dimpling with laughter.

“Oh!” she said, shaking hands vigorously, “I am so glad to see you all again. You got my notes? It was really awfully good of you to come; I hope it wasn't a great bother. It reminds one of old times when you were heiress-hunting on board the Waitotara, doesn't it? But I'm forgetting all my manners. Frank!” to the good-looking man, “These are some fellow-passengers of mine. Gentlemen, allow me to introduce my husband.”

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