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HOME > Short Stories > The Queen of Farrandale > CHAPTER VII AT ROSS GRAHAM’S
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 The horses were at the door, likewise the secretary. He had encountered Mrs. Lumbard in the hall, and informed her that the luncheon gong would not sound at present. She lifted her shoulders. “Curfew shall not ring to-night! Why the bouleversement?”
“Miss Frink wishes to do an errand.”
“It must be a marvelous one that won’t wait.”
The crest was lifted high. “She behaves very strangely,” was the dignified reply. “She is”—Grimshaw tapped his temple—“somewhat changed since her shock. It betrays itself in many ways. My deeply beloved and respected Miss Frink!” He shook his head.
Adèle gazed at him curiously, with little whimsical twitches at the corners of her lips. “We can’t expect anything else at her age,” she replied, in the low tone that he had used.
The subject of their remarks now appeared at the head of the stairs, dressed for her drive. She looked a little annoyed to see the couple waiting below together.
“Well, well,” she said testily. “I am not going on a journey. You look as if you were waiting to bid me a long farewell.”
“Would you like me to go with you?” asked Mrs. Lumbard. “I can get my hat very quickly.”
As Miss Frink reached the foot of the stairs, she returned the young woman’s eager gaze coolly. “I am not in the least shy of asking your company when I want you, Adèle,” she returned, pulling on her gloves. “Any last wishes, Grim?”
“I am simply waiting to put you in your carriage, dear lady,” he returned, injured dignity again to the fore.
“All right,” brusquely. “Order lunch to be served in three quarters of an hour; and, Adèle, Mr. Stanwood doesn’t feel ready to come downstairs yet, but he’s sitting up, and you might open the piano again. There is no objection to your playing if you feel like it. He might like it—in the distance.”
Mrs. Lumbard lingered until the secretary had his employer safely ensconced and the glistening horses had driven away. She watched him come up the path, and then went out on the wide veranda behind the white columns to meet him.
“Grim by name and grim by nature,” she said, laughing. “You look funereal.”
“Don’t make silly jokes,” he snapped. “I should think you had had a snub to last you for one while.”
“Wasn’t it right between the eyes?” she returned cheerfully.
“Everything that dear Miss Frink says is straight from the shoulder always,” said her secretary.
“I thought you were going to say straight from the heart. No wonder you call her ‘dear.’ So ingratiating, so affectionate.”
“That is enough of that,” said Leonard curtly. “I am here to protect Miss Frink—even from her poor relations.”
Mrs. Lumbard crimsoned to the roots of her white hair. “That is a nasty, insulting thing to say.” The brown eyes scintillated. “The sacred lunch hour is postponed. I may play in the daytime. If you are here to protect Miss Frink, you would better let her relatives take care of themselves, and turn your attention to the crippled Greek god she has been visiting the last hour. Don’t you know, as well as I do, that she has gone on some errand for him? Perhaps not cigarettes this time, but for something he wants, and wouldn’t you be glad if I could have gone[80] with her and found out what it was? You won’t get anywhere by insulting me, Leonard Grimshaw.”
“There, there, Adèle.” The secretary was coloring, too. He disliked hearing put into words the thoughts that had been grumbling in the back of his head; but Mrs. Lumbard flashed past him and into the house, and, hurrying to open the piano, in a minute the crashing chords of a Rachmaninoff Prelude were sounding through the house. Every time those strong white hands came down, it was with a force which might have been shaking the cockatoo crest.
In the White Room the convalescent’s pensive eyes widened. “Who can that be?” he asked the nurse.
“I’m sure I’ve no idea, Mr. Stanwood. It sounds like a man. Perhaps it is Mr. Grimshaw.”
“Say, if it is, he’s some good, after all. Only that’s a punk thing he’s playing. That stuff’ll do when you’re dead. Would you mind going down and asking him if he knows anything from ‘The Syncopated Playfellows’?”
“I shall be glad to, Mr. Stanwood.” And Miss Damon went downstairs and stood outside the entrance to the drawing-room until the last[81] dignified chord was dying away, then she entered.
“Why, Mrs. Lumbard!” she exclaimed in surprise; “we thought it was a man.”
“I wish I was,” said Adèle vindictively, “and that I was just going to fight a duel, and had the choice of weapons. I’d choose horsewhips and I guarantee I’d get there first.”
Miss Damon’s demure little mouth smiled leniently. “Mr. Stanwood sent me down. He was very pleased to hear music, and we thought it might be Mr. Grimshaw; and Mr. Stanwood wanted me to ask him if he could play something from ‘The Syncopated Playfellows.’”
Adèle’s eyes grew their widest. “Goodness, he’s human then if he did come from Olympus!” The eyes brightened. “To think of having a live one in the house! It’s the jazziest kind of jazz, Miss Damon. I might just as well meet Miss Frink at the door with a string of profanity. Will you stand at the window and watch for the carriage while I loosen up?”
She plunged at once into the audacious rhythm and jerking melody requested, and it was not long before Leonard Grimshaw’s pointed nose and amazed spectacles appeared between the heavy satin portières. Adèle flashed defiance at him and pounded on her[82] complicated way. The secretary felt beating symptoms in his feet, but he still glared.
The barbaric strains came to a close.
“I’m surprised,” he said.
“You look it,” retorted the musician.
Miss Damon glided from the room and upstairs. She found enthusiasm in the pale face of her patient.
“Thank you. Grimshaw isn’t so dusty, after all. Why, he’s a wizard.”
“It wasn’t Mr. Grimshaw. It was a Mrs. Lumbard, a niece of Miss Frink’s, who lives here.”
“Lives here? I wonder why she hasn’t played before.”
“Oh, Miss Fink wouldn’t allow the piano opened while you were ill, Mr. Stanwood.”
“Say”—Hugh looked out the window thoughtfully—“she’s been awfully white to me. Miss or Mrs. Lumbard did you say?” looking back at the nurse.
“Mrs. She’s a widow with white hair. Quite pretty.”
“H’m! She’d better have her hair dyed if she’s going to play like that. It’s a wonder it doesn’t turn red and curl of its own accord.”
Meanwhile Miss Frink had directed her liveried coachman to drive to Ross Graham[83] Company’s. Rex and Regina would probably have gone there if left to themselves, so often did they traverse the road. Holding their heads high, their silver harness jingling, they, like their mistress, seemed to be scorning the parvenu motors among which they threaded their way.
Arrived at the store, Miss Frink told the new coachman where to wait—it was a nuisance to have to break in new servants, to have to initiate a novice into her established customs. She supposed the man who had held that position for so many years could not help dying; nevertheless, if he had not done so Rex and Regina would never have run away with her; and, as she left the victoria with this reflection, another consideration followed close on its heels. She would never have known Hugh Stanwood. A softened expression grew around her thin lips.
Yes, she would probably have received him into the store to please John Ogden, but she would never have taken any notice of him. The clerks in the big establishment held just the same place in her consideration as the lights, or the modern fixtures for carrying cash.
She entered the store and was met by a deferential floorwalker.
“How do, Mr. Ramsay. Where are the men’s[84] dressing-gowns or bathrobes or smoking-jackets, or whatever you call ’em?”
“Why, that’s quite flattering, Miss Frink. I didn’t know that you trusted the manager to plan a department out of your knowledge.”
“That is because you don’t know me, then. I make certain that a person is competent, and after that I don’t tie any strings to him; but this is the first time in my life I ever bought anything for a man. I hope you’ve got something decent.”
“Now, look here, Miss Frink”—they were walking toward the back of the store, and every unoccupied clerk was casting furtive glances at the eagle-eyed proprietor—“that’s heresy, you know. New York might come over here and take a few lessons from our stock.”
Miss Frink’s lips twitched. It was her usual manner of smiling.
“Glad to hear it. Now, prove it.”
They reached the section desired, and Mr. Ramsay nodded to a blonde girl busy with her cash book.
“Dressing-gowns, Miss Duane”—then he bowed and moved away.
Miss Frink’s bright gaze fixed on the clerk. “Haven’t I seen you somewhere else?” she demanded.
“Yes, Madam,” returned the girl. “I am in the glove section, but Miss Aubrey has gone out to lunch, so I’m over here.”
“Do you know anything about the stock?”
Millicent colored under this abruptness, but she smiled.
“Not very much, but I can show you what we have.”
Miss Frink liked her tone and manner.
“Human intelligence, eh?—Do you know who I am?” with sudden consideration that perhaps this sweetness was for the occasion.
“Yes, indeed, Miss Frink. We all know you. I have fitted you to gloves.”
The lady of the old school still regarded the blonde head with its simple twist of hair carried back from a low broad forehead. “I was sure I had seen you. Are you always patient with people that snap you up?”
“Oh, yes. I might lose my job if I wasn’t.” The girl laughed a little.
The wholesomeness of her, with her color coming and going, pleased her customer, but above all the charm of her low-pitched voice attracted Miss Frink.
“Well, let’s get at it, then,” she said. “I want a dressing-gown for a man who is recovering from a severe accident and beginning to sit up.”
Millicent approached a series of hangers, Miss Frink close on her heels.
“What size does he wear?”
“Heaven knows, but he’s built on the quantity plan.”
“Takes a large size, then.”
“That’s the idea.”
“How about this?” Millicent drew out a garment covered with Persian figures.
“Take it away, child. I don’t want a Sheik pattern.”
The girl tried next a soft blue wool wrapper with cord and tassels.
“Nor a baby bunting,” snapped Miss Frink. “I tell you he’s a he-man.”
Millicent could feel the tears of amusement pressing to her eyes, but she was quite frightened at the same time. The customer towered so above her and now began pulling over the gowns with her own hands.
“Look here, haven’t you got something handsome?” demanded Miss Frink at last.
“Oh, I’m sure we have what any one has,” stammered Millicent. “I thought if it was for a sick person, something soft—”
“Well, he isn’t going to be sick all his life, I hope.”
Millicent hurried to some drawers at one side,[87] and opening one drew forth a dressing-gown of heavy black satin on which were printed small wine-colored flowers. Each one burst into brightness with one crimson petal, giving an effect of jewels. The rich cord and tassels showed threads of crimson.
Miss Frink’s expression was one she had probably not worn since she was confronted by her first wax doll with real hair. She grimaced her eyeglasses off.
“Well, I think better of Ross Graham,” she said, after an eager pause.
“It is very rich,” remarked the saleslady, demurely.
“Not too rich for his blood, I guess,” said Miss Frink, handling the lustrous fabric and putting back her eyeglasses.
“Do you suppose it’s big enough?”
“It is a large size.”
“Do you think he’d feel like a Christmas tree in it?”
“Is he a young man?” asked Millicent.
“Oh, yes. He’s got a mustache and beard now,” said Miss Frink, appearing to think aloud as she caressed the satin musingly. “Of course that makes him look older, and his beard is quite red. Much redder than his hair and, of course, crimson—but that will be off[88] in a few days—” She paused, continuing to consider, and Millicent’s soothing voice fell upon her perturbed thought.
“You see the lining is very nice. They have taken that dark tint in the flowers and matched it, so there is nothing too gay about it, I should think.”
Her hazel eyes met Miss Frink’s and her smile was winning. “Of course, you know best, but it seems to me this is a dressing-gown for Prince Charming.”
Miss Frink grimaced her eyeglasses off.
“For whom did you say?” quickly.
Millicent blushed. Miss Frink liked to see her do it.
“Oh, that’s just nonsense, but you know, the hero of all the fairy tales?”
“Don’t know one of them.”
“Well, Prince Charming is always the hero,” laughed Millicent. Miss Frink in her present torn mental condition was not frightening. “I think this dressing-gown looks good enough for him.”
“Very well.” Miss Frink took a long breath and replaced her glasses. “I’ll take it.”
“Do you wish it sent?” Millicent was again the demure saleslady.
“No. Just wrap it up.”
“There are mules that go with it,” suggested the girl. She turned back to the drawer and brought out the glinting satin slippers.
The corners of Miss Frink’s lips drew down. “What fool things for a man!” she remarked.
“I don’t see why,” said Millicent, perceiving that the customer wished urging. “They’re very comfortable, and when he wears the gown he must have some sort of slippers.”
Miss Frink started. “I don’t believe he has any,” she mused. “Put them in,” she added, and sighed again.
“You’re a very good saleswoman,” she said at last. “Probably hungry this minute. I am.”
“Oh, that’s no matter for me. Did—” the girl paused, the box in her hand. “Did you want the price marks taken off?”
“Well, well! You have got more than human intelligence. Of course I do. How much are they, by the way?”
Millicent said nothing, for her customer seized the articles and examined the marks.
“Well”—straightening up—“Prince Charming thinks pretty well of himself, doesn’t he? All right, let the hide go with the hoofs, put the mules in.”
While the box was being wrapped, Miss[90] Frink looked so closely at Millicent that her ready color came again.
“What did Ramsay say your name was?”
“Duane. Millicent Duane.”
“I never have time to beat about the bush. How would you like to come and read to me an hour every day? I’ve lost my reader and I like your voice.”
“Oh, Miss Frink”—the girl’s hands clasped together unconsciously. “I know Damaris. She was so sorry to have offended you. Her hair will grow again very soon—”
“Well, her common sense won’t,” returned Miss Frink impatiently. “When a thing is past with me it’s past. I have no post mortems. Think it over, Miss Duane.”
“But I can’t afford to lose my job, Miss Frink,” said the girl with soft eagerness. “They would never let me go for an hour a day, and my grandfather has just a small pension; we have to be very careful.”
That voice. That wholesome face. That delicately clean shining hair. Miss Frink smiled a little at the ingenuous lack of consciousness of the power of money.
“That would be my care,” she said. “Think it over.”
“Oh, of course, I should like it,” said Millicent,[91] still with eagerness, “if it was right for me. It would give me so much more time with Grandpa. But there is Damaris! I can’t bear to think of hurting her feelings.”
“Stuff and nonsense,” said Miss Frink. “Business is business. You’ll hear from me again.”
A boy was called to carry the box and the purchaser departed leaving Millicent flushed, and happy, and apprehensive.

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