A Bonus Book
by Paul Leicester Ford
In 1910 New York, a wealthy heiress refuses to marry to the concern of her family. Then her carriage injures a newsboy and Constance goes with him to the hospital, pays for his care, while the streetwise youth plots to get her to fall for his doctor.
ISBN 1-59431-466-7 Classic / Romance
Cover Art © Robin Magderich
Used with permission
“You understand, Josie, that I wouldn’t for a moment wish Constance to marry without being in love, but—”
Mrs. Durant hesitated long enough to convey the inference that she was unfeminine enough to place a value on her own words, and then, the pause having led to a change, or, at least, modification of what had almost found utterance, she continued, with a touch of petulance which suggested that the general principle had in the mind of the speaker a special application, “It is certainly a great pity that the modern girl should be so unimpressionable!”
“I understand and sympathise with you perfectly, dear,” consolingly acceded Mrs. Ferguson. “And Constance has such advantages!”
Quite unnoting that her friend replied to her thought rather than to her words, Mrs. Durant responded at once eagerly, yet defensively: “That is it. No one will deny that Muriel is quite Constance’s equal in mind, and, though perhaps I am not the one to say it, Doris surely excels her in looks. Don’t you think so, darling?” she added.
“Unquestionably,” agreed the friend, with much the quality of firm promptness with which one would bolt a nauseous pill, or extrude an ailing oyster.
“Yet merely because Constance has been out so much longer, and therefore is much more experienced, she self—she monopolises the attentions of the men; you know she does, Josie.”
“Absolutely,” once more concurred Mrs. Ferguson; and this time, though she spoke less quickly, her tone carried greater conviction. “They are—well—she—she undoubtedly—that is, she contrives—somehow—to eclipse, or at least overshadow them.”
“Exactly. I don’t like to think that she manages—but whether she does or not, the results are as bad as if she did; and thoughtlessness—if it is only that, which I can’t believe—is quite as blamable as—as more intentional scheming.”
“Then of course,” said Mrs. Ferguson, “every one knows about her mother’s fortune—and men are so mercenary in these days.”
“Oh, Josie, I don’t like to speak of that myself, but it is such a relief to have you say it. That is the whole trouble. What sort of a chance have my poor dears, who will inherit so little compared to her wealth, and that not till—till we are through with it—against Constance? I call it really shameful of her to keep on standing in their light!”
“Have you—Couldn’t you let her see—drop a hint—of the unconscious injury she is—”
“That is the cruelty of my position,” moaned Mrs. Durant. “I should not hesitate a moment, but the world is so ill-natured about stepmothers that one has to be over-careful, and with daughters of my own, I’m afraid people—perhaps my own husband—would think I was trying to sacrifice her to them.”
“But have you no friend you could ask to—?”
“Josie! Would you?” eagerly interrupted Mrs. Durant. “She will be influenced, I know, by anything you—”
“Gracious, my dear, I never dreamed of—of you asking me! Why, I don’t know her in the least. I couldn’t, really.”
“But for my sake? And you know her as well as—as any one else; for Constance has no intimates or—”
“Don’t you see that’s it? I’d as soon think of—of—From me she would only take it as an impertinence.”
“I don’t see why everybody stands so in awe of a girl of twenty-three, unless it’s because she’s rich,” querulously sighed Mrs. Durant.
“I don’t think it’s that, Anne. It’s her proud face and reserved manner. And I believe those are the real reasons for her not marrying. However much men may admire her, they—they—Well, it’s your kittenish, cuddling kind of a girl they marry.”
“No; you are entirely wrong. Doubtless it is her money, but Constance has had plenty of admirers, and if she were less self—if she considered the interests of the family—she would have married years ago. But she is wholly blind to her duty, and checks or rebuffs every man who attempts to show her devotion. And just because others take their places, she is puffed up into the belief that she is to go through life with an everlasting train of would-be suitors, and so enjoys her own triumph, with never a thought of my girls.”
“Why not ask her father to speak to her?”
“My dear! As if I hadn’t, a dozen times at the least,”
“And what does he say?”
“That Constance shows her sense by not caring for the men -I- invite to the house! As if -I- could help it! Of course with three girls in the house one must cultivate dancing-men, and it’s very unfair to blame me if they aren’t all one could wish.”
“I thought Constance gave up going to dances last winter?”
“She did, but still I must ask them to my dinners, for if I don’t they won’t show Muriel and Doris attention. Mr. Durant should realise that I only do it for their sakes; yet to listen to him you’d suppose it was my duty to close my doors to dancing-men, and spend my time seeking out the kind one never hears of—who certainly don’t know how to dance, and who would either not talk at my dinners, or would lecture upon one subject to the whole table—just because they are what he calls ‘purposeful men.’”
“He probably recognises that the society man is not a marrying species, while the other is.”
“But there are several who would marry Constance in a minute if she’d only give any one of them the smallest encouragement; and that’s what I mean when I complain of her being so unimpressionable. Muriel and Doris like our set of men well enough, and I don’t see what right she has to be so over-particular.”
Mrs. Ferguson rose and began the adjustment of her wrap, while saying, “It seems to me there is but one thing for you to do, Anne.”
“What?” eagerly questioned Mrs. Durant.
“Indulge in a little judicious matchmaking,” suggested the friend, as she held out her hand.
“It’s utterly useless, Josie. I’ve tried again and again, and every time have only done harm.”
“She won’t—she is so suspicious. Now, last winter, Weston Curtis was sending her flowers and—and, oh, all that sort of thing, and so I invited him to dinner several times, and always put him next Constance, and tried to help him in other ways, until she—well, what do you think that girl did?”
Mrs. Ferguson’s interest led her to drop her outstretched hand. “Requested you not to?” she asked.
“Not one word did she have the grace to say to me, Josie, but she wrote to him, and asked him not to send her any more flowers! Just think of it.”
“Then that’s why he went to India.”
“Yes. Of course if she had come and told me she didn’t care for him, I never would have kept on inviting him; but she is so secretive it is impossible to tell what she is thinking about. I never dreamed that she was conscious that I was trying to—to help her; and I have always been so discreet that I think she never would have been if Mr. Durant hadn’t begun to joke about it. Only guess, darling, what he said to me once right before her, just as I thought I was getting her interested in young Schenck!”
“I can’t imagine.”
“Oh, it was some of his Wall Street talk about promoters of trusts always securing options on the properties to be taken in, before attempting a consolidation, or something of that sort. I shouldn’t have known what he meant if the boys hadn’t laughed and looked at Constance. And then Jack made matters worse by saying that my interest would be satisfied with common stock, but Constance would only accept preferred for hers. Men do blurt things out so—and yet they assert that we women haven’t tongue discretion. No, dear, with them about it’s perfectly useless for me to do so much as lift a finger to marry Constance off, let alone her own naturally distrustful nature.”
“Well, then, can’t you get some one to do it for you—some friend of hers?”
“I don’t believe there is a person in the world who could influence Constance as regards marriage,” moaned Mrs. Durant. “Don’t think that I want to sacrifice her, dear; but she really isn’t happy herself—for—well—she is a stepdaughter, you know—and so can never quite be the same in the family life; and now that she has tired of society, she really doesn’t find enough to do to keep busy. Constance wanted to go into the Settlement work, but her father wouldn’t hear of it—and really, Josie, every one would be happier and better if she only would marry—”
“I beg your pardon for interrupting you, mama. I thought you were alone,” came a voice from the doorway. “How do you do, Mrs. Ferguson?”
“Oh!” ejaculated both ladies, as they looked up, to find standing in the doorway a handsome girl, with clear-cut patrician features, and an erect carriage which gave her an air of marked distinction.
“I only stopped to ask about the errand you asked me to do when I went out,” explained the girl, quietly, as the two women hunted for something to say.
“Oh. Yes. Thank you for remembering, darling,” stammered Mrs. Durant, finding her voice at last. “Won’t you please order a bunch of something sent to Miss Porter—and—and—I’ll be very much obliged if you’ll attend to it, Constance, my dear.”
The girl merely nodded her head as she disappeared, but neither woman spoke till the front door was heard to close, when Mrs. Durant exclaimed, “How long had she been standing there?”
“I don’t know.”
“I hope she didn’t hear!”
“I don’t think she could have, or she would have shown it more,”
“That doesn’t mean anything. She never shows anything outwardly. And really, though I wouldn’t purposely have said it to her, I’m not sure that I hope she didn’t hear it—for—well, I do wish some one would give her just such advice.”
“My dear, it isn’t a case for advice; it’s a case for match-making,” reiterated Mrs. Ferguson, as she once more held out her hand.