The Tempting of Tavernake by E. Phillips Oppenheim - HTML preview
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A week later Tavernake was in London. A visit to his friend Mr. Martin had easily proved the truth of Pritchard's words, and he found himself in possession of a sum of money at least twice as great as he had anticipated. He stayed at a cheap hotel in the Strand and made purchases under Pritchard's supervision. For the first few days he was too busy for reflection. Then Pritchard let him alone while he ran over to Paris, and Tavernake suddenly realized that he was in the city to which he had thought never to return. He passed the back of the theatre where he had waited for Beatrice, he looked up at the entrance of the Milan Court; he lunched alone, and with a curious mixture of feelings, at the little restaurant where he had supped with Beatrice. It was over, that part of his life, over and finished. Yet, with his natural truthfulness, he never attempted to disguise from himself the pain at his heart. Three times in one day he found himself, under some pretext or another, in Imano's Restaurant. Once, in the middle of the street, he burst into a fit of laughter. It was while Pritchard was in London, and he asked him a question.
"Pritchard," he remarked, "you area man of experience. Did any one ever care for two women at the same time?"
Pritchard removed his cigar from his teeth and stared at his companion.
"Why, my young friend," he replied, "I've found no trouble myself in being fond of a dozen."
Tavernake smiled and said no more. Pritchard was one of the good fellows of the world, but there were things which were hidden from him. Yet Tavernake, who had fallen into a habit, during his solitude, of analyzing his sensations, was puzzled by this one circumstance, that when he thought of Elizabeth, though his heart never failed to beat more quickly, the sense of shame generally stole over him; and when he thought of Beatrice, a curious loneliness, a loneliness that brought with it a pain, seemed suddenly to make the hours drag and his pleasures flavorless. For two days he was puzzled. Then his habit of taking long walks helped him toward a solution. In a small outlying music-hall in the east-end of London, he saw the same announcement that he had noticed in the Norfolk newspaper,--"Professor Franklin" in large type, and "Miss Beatrice Franklin" in small.
That night he attended the music-hall. The scene was practically a repetition of the one in Norwich, only with additions. The professor's bombastic performance met with scarcely any applause. Its termination was, indeed, interrupted by catcalls and whistles from the gallery. Beatrice's songs, on the other hand, were applauded more vociferously than ever. She had hard work to avoid a third encore.
At the end of the performance, Tavernake made his way to the stage-door and waited. The neighborhood was an unsavory one, and the building itself seemed crowded in among a row of shops of the worst order, fish stalls, and a glaring gin palace. Long before Beatrice came out, Tavernake could hear the professor's voice down the covered passage, the professor's voice apparently raised in anger.
"Undutiful behavior, that's what I call it--undutiful!"
They emerged into the street, the professor very much the same as usual; Beatrice paler, with a pathetic droop about her mouth. Tavernake came eagerly forward.
"Beatrice!" he cried, holding out his hand.
The professor drew back. Beatrice stood still,--for a moment it seemed as though she were about to faint. Tavernake grasped her hands.
"I am so sorry!" he exclaimed, clumsily. "I ought not to have come up like that."
She smiled a little wan smile.
"I am quite all right," she replied, "only the heat inside was rather trying, and even out here the atmosphere isn't too good, is it? How did you find us out?"
"By chance again," Tavernake answered. "I have news. May I walk with you a few steps?"
She glanced timidly toward her father. The professor was holding aloof in dignified silence.
"Perhaps," Tavernake said quickly, "you would take supper with me? I am going abroad, and I should like to say good-bye properly. A bottle of champagne and some supper. What do you say, Professor?"
The professor suffered his features to relax.
"A very admirable idea," he declared. "Where shall we go?"
"Is it too late to get to Imano's?" Tavernake suggested.
The professor hesitated.
"A taxicab," he remarked, "would do it, if--"
He paused, and Tavernake smiled.
"A taxicab it shall be," he decided. "I am in funds just for the moment. Come along, both of you, and I'll tell you all about it."
He made her take his arm, although her fingers did no more than touch his coat sleeve.
"Pritchard came and dug me out," he continued. "I am going abroad with him. It's sort of prospecting in some new country at the back of British Columbia. We see what we can find and then go to a financier's and start companies, mining companies and oil fields-anything. I am off in a week."
Beatrice half closed her eyes. They had hailed a passing cab and she sank back among the cushions with a sigh of relief.
"Dear Leonard," she murmured, "I am so glad, so very happy for your sake. This is the sort of thing which I hoped would happen."
"And now tell me about yourselves," he went on.
There was a sudden silence. Tavernake was conscious that Beatrice's clothes were distinctly shabbier, that the professor's hat was shiny. The professor cleared his throat.
"I do not wish," he said, "to intrude our private matters upon one who, although I will not call him a stranger, is assuredly not one of our old friends. At the same time, I admit that a little trouble has arisen between Beatrice and myself, and we were discussing it at the moment you arrived. I shall appeal to you now. As an unprejudiced member of the audience to-night, Mr. Tavernake, you will give me your honest opinion?"
"Certainly," Tavernake promised, with a sinking premonition of what was to come.
"What I complain of," the professor began, speaking with elaborate and impressive slowness, "is that my performance is hurried over and that too long a time is taken up by Beatrice's songs. The management remark upon the applause which her efforts occasionally ensure, but, as I would point out to you, sir," he continued, "a performance such as mine makes too deep an impression for the audience to show their appreciation of it by such vulgar methods as hand-clapping and whistling. You follow me, I trust, Mr. Tavernake?"
Why, yes, of course," Tavernake admitted.
"I take a sincere and earnest interest in my work," the professor declared, "and I feel that when it has to be scamped that my daughter may sing a music-hall ditty, the result is, to say the least of it, undignified. For some reason or other, I have been unable to induce the management to see entirely with me, but my point is that Beatrice should sing one song only, and that the additional ten minutes should be occupied by me in either a further exposition of my extraordinary powers as a hypnotist, or in a little address to the audience upon the hidden sciences. Now I appeal to you, Mr. Tavernake, as a young man of common sense. What is your opinion?"
Tavernake, much too honest to be capable in a general way of duplicity, was on the point of giving it, but he caught Beatrice's imploring gaze. Her lips were moving. He hesitated.
"Of course," he began, slowly, "you have to try and put yourself into the position of the major part of the audience, who are exceedingly uneducated people. It is very hard to give an opinion, Professor. I must say that your entertainment this evening was listened to with rapt interest."
The professor turned solemnly towards his daughter.
"You hear that, Beatrice?" he said severely. "You hear what Mr. Tavernake says? 'With rapt interest!'"
"At the same time," Tavernake went on, "without a doubt Miss Beatrice's songs were also extremely popular. It is rather a pity that the management could not give you a little more time."
"Failing that, sir," the professor declared, "my point is, as I explained before, that Beatrice should give up one of her songs. What you have said this evening more than ever confirms me in my view."
Beatrice smiled thankfully at Tavernake.
"Well," she suggested, "at any rate we will leave it for the present. Sometimes I think, though, father, that you frighten them with some of your work, and you must remember that they come to be amused."
"That," the professor admitted, "is the most sensible remark you have made, Beatrice. There is indeed something terrifying in some of my manifestations, terrifying even to myself, who understand so thoroughly my subject. However, as you say, we will dismiss the matter for the present. The thought of this supper party is a pleasant one. Do you remember, Mr. Tavernake, the night when you and I met in the balcony at Imano's?"
"Perfectly well," Tavernake answered.
"Now I shall test your memory," the professor continued, with a knowing smile. "Can you remember, sir, the brand of champagne which I was then drinking, and which I declared, if you recollect, was the one which best agreed with me, the one brand worth drinking?"
"I am afraid I don't remember that," Tavernake confessed. "Restaurant life is a thing I know so little of, and I have only drunk champagne once or twice in my life."
"Dear, dear me!" the professor exclaimed. "You do astonish me, sir. Well, that brand was Veuve Clicquot, and you may take my word for it, Mr. Tavernake, and you may find this knowledge useful to you when you have made a fortune in America and have become a man of pleasure; there is no wine equal to it. Veuve Clicquot, sir, if possible of the year 1899, though the year 1900 is quite drinkable."
"Veuve Clicquot," Tavernake repeated. "I'll remember it for this evening."
The professor beamed.
"My dear," he said to Beatrice, "Mr. Tavernake will think that I had a purpose in testing his memory."
"And hadn't you, father?" she asked.
They all laughed together.
"Well, it is pleasant," the professor admitted, "to have one's weaknesses ministered to, especially when one is getting on in life," he added, with a ponderous sigh. "Never mind, we will think only of pleasant subjects this evening. It will be quite interesting, Mr. Tavernake, to hear you order the supper."
"I sha'n't attempt it," Tavernake answered. "I shall pass it on to you."
"This reminds me," the professor declared, "of the old days. I feel sure that this is going to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We shall think of it often, Mr. Tavernake, when you lie sleeping under the stars. Why, what a wonderful thing these taxicabs are! You see, we have arrived."
They secured a small table in a corner at Imano's, and Tavernake found himself curiously moved as he watched Beatrice take off her worn and much mended gloves and look around uneasily at the other guests. Her clothes were indeed shabby, and there were hollows now in her cheeks.
Again he felt that pain, a pain for which he could not account. Suddenly America seemed so far away, the loneliness of the great continent became an actual and appreciable thing. The professor was very much occupied ordering the supper. Tavernake leaned across the table.
"Do you remember our first supper here, Beatrice?" he asked.
She nodded, with an attempt at brightness which was a little pitiful.
"Yes," she replied, "I remember it quite well. And now, please, Leonard, don't talk to me again until I have had a glass of wine. I am tired and worn out, that is all." Even Tavernake knew that she was struggling against the tears which already dimmed her eyes. He filled her glass himself. The professor set his own down empty with the satisfied smile of a connoisseur.
"I think," he said, "that you will agree with me about this vintage. Beatrice, this is what will bring color into your cheeks. My little girl," he continued, turning to Tavernake, "will soon need a holiday. I am hoping presently to be able to arrange a short tour by myself, and if so, I shall send her to the seaside. Now I want you particularly to try the fish salad --the second dish there. Beatrice, let me help you."
Presently the orchestra began to play. The warmth of the room, the wine and the food-Tavernake had a horrible idea once that she had eaten nothing that day--brought back some of the color to Beatrice's cheeks and a little of the light to her eyes. She began to talk something in the old fashion. She avoided, however, any mention of that other supper they had had together. As time went on, the professor, who had drunk the best part of two bottles of wine and was talking now to a friend, became almost negligible. Tavernake leaned across the table.
"Beatrice," he whispered, "you are not looking well. I am afraid that life is getting harder with you."
She shook her head.
"I am doing what I must," she answered. "Please don't sympathize with me. I am hysterical, I think, tonight. It will pass off."
"But, Beatrice," he ventured, timidly, "could one do nothing for you? I don't like these performances, and between you and me, we know they won't stand your father's show much longer. It will certainly come to an end soon. Why don't you try and get back your place at the theatre? You could still earn enough to keep him."
"Already I have tried," she replied, sorrowfully. "My place is filled up. You see," she added, with a forced laugh, "I have lost some of my looks, Leonard. I am thinner, too. Of course, I shall be all right presently, but it's rather against me at these west-end places."
Again he felt that pain at his heart. He was sure now that he was beginning to understand!
"Beatrice," he whispered, "give it up--marry me I will take care of him."
The flush of color faded from her cheeks. She shivered a little and looked at him piteously.
"Leonard," she pleaded, "you mustn't. I really am not very strong just now. We have finished with all that--it distresses me."
"But I mean it," he begged. "Somehow, I have felt all sorts of things since we came in here. I think of that night, and I believe--I do believe that what came to me before was madness. It was not the same."
She was trembling now.
"Leonard," she implored, "if you care for me at all, be quiet. Father will turn round directly and I can't bear it. I shall be your very faithful friend; I shall think of you through the long days before we meet again, but don't--don't spoil this last evening."
The professor turned round, his face mottled, his eyes moist, a great good-humor apparent in his tone.
"Well, I must say," he declared, "that this has been a most delightful evening. I feel immensely better, and you, too, I hope, Beatrice?"
She nodded, smiling.
"I trust that when Mr. Tavernake returns," the professor continued, "he will give us the opportunity of entertaining him in much the same manner. It will give me very much pleasure, also Beatrice. And if, sir," he proceeded, "during your stay in New York you will mention my name at the Goat's Club, or the Mosquito Club, you will, I think, find yourself received with a hospitality which will surprise you."
Tavernake thanked him and paid the bill. They walked slowly down the room, and Tavernake was curiously reluctant to release the little hand which clasped his.
"I have kept this to the last," Beatrice said, in a low tone. "Elizabeth is in London."
He was curiously unmoved.
"Yes?" he murmured.
"I should like you--I think it would be well for you to go and see her," she went on. "You know, Leonard, you were such a strange person in those days. You may imagine things. You may not realize where you are. I think that you ought to go and see her now, now that you have lived through some suffering, now that you understand things better. Will you?"
"Yes, I will go," Tavernake promised.
Beatrice glanced round towards where her father was standing.
"I don't want him to know," she whispered. "I don't want either him or myself to be tempted to take any of her money. She is living at Claridge's Hotel. Go there and see her before you leave for your new life."
He stood at the door and watched them go down the Strand, the professor, flamboyant, walking erect with flying coat-tails, and his big cigar held firmly between his teeth; Beatrice, a wan figure in her black clothes, clinging to his arm. Tavernake watched them until they disappeared, conscious of a curious excitement, a strange pain, a sense of revelation. When at last they were out of sight and he turned back for his coat and hat, his feet were suddenly leaden. The band was playing the last selection--it was the air which Beatrice had sung only that night at the east-end music-hall. With a sudden overpowering impulse he turned and strode down the Strand in the direction where they had vanished. It was too late. There was no sign of them.