The Dazzling Miss Davison. 1910 The Dazzling Miss Davison. 1910

The Dazzling Miss Davison. 1910

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CHAPTER I

A roomy, comfortable, old-fashioned house in Bayswater, with high windows, big rooms, and little balconies just big enough to hold a wealth of flowers in summer and a very pretty show of evergreens when the season for flowers was past.

On October a row of asters, backed up by a taller row of foliage plants, made the house look bright and pretty, and the young faces that appeared at the windows of the drawing-room made it prettier still.

Mr. and Mrs. Aldington, the occupiers of the house, thought that there was nothing pleasanter in life than the gayety of young people, and so, as they had only two children, a son and a daughter, both grown up, they gave a general invitation to the younger generation, of which, particularly on a Sunday afternoon and evening, the contemporaries of their son and daughter were not slow to avail themselves.

Especially was it the pleasure of these good-hearted

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 people to extend hospitality to those young folks whose lives were, for one reason or another, not so bright as those of their own children. And many a friendless young barrister waiting for a brief, young doctor struggling for a practice, and many a girl whose parents had a hard time of it in keeping up a fair position on an unfairly small income, found recreation and a warm welcome at the old-fashioned house in Bayswater.

Some of them found more than that. Gerard Buckland, for instance, a clever young barrister who was tired of hearing of the great things he was to do some day, since he was unable to get even small things to do to go on with, found at the Aldingtons something that he had stoutly resolved to do without until he had “got on.”

He found, in other words, his “ideal.”

It was on a bright Sunday afternoon, when the big drawing-room was full of lively people, mostly young, and all talking at once, that Gerard, having been introduced by Arthur Aldington two Sundays previously, took advantage for the third time of the general invitation given him by the host and hostess, and found himself surrounded by a dozen people among whom he knew no one except the Aldingtons themselves.

Whereupon Rose, the daughter of the house, made him sit by her, and, as he was shyly looking over a basketful of loose photographs which he had found

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 on a table beside him, undertook the task of showman, and told him all about the pictures as he looked at them one by one.

It chanced that the second picture he picked up after Rose’s arrival was the portrait of a girl which attracted him at once.

“What an interesting face!” said he, as he looked at the photograph.

“And she’s an interesting girl too!” said Rose, who was a plain, amiable young woman of six-and-twenty, whom everybody liked and nobody had as yet chosen. “She’s the daughter of a Colonel, who speculated, and then died and left his wife and two girls with scarcely anything to live upon. Papa says it’s one of the saddest stories he knows. They’ve gone to live in a cottage somewhere, after living in one of the most beautiful houses you ever saw in the country, and having a flat in town as well.”

Gerard Buckland was looking intently at the photograph, which was that of a quite young woman with an oval face, delicate features, and an expression which combined vivacity with intelligence.

“She looks very clever,” he said.

“Yes, so she is—and very pretty too.”

“Yes, very, very pretty.”

He was fascinated; and when he was compelled to look at other photographs, he placed that of the girl whose story he had just heard at the side of the basket, in such a position that he could glance at it

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 again from time to time, and amuse himself by speculating about this girl who was so handsome, so clever, and so unlucky.

Rose Aldington noticed his preoccupation with the picture, and said, with a smile—

“I see you admire her, just as everyone else does.”

“I was thinking the story a sad one,” said Gerard, rather confused at being discovered in his act of adoration.

“Oh, well, perhaps she’ll marry well, and her sister too, and then it will be all right. The sister is even better-looking than Ra—than she is, and just as nice. Only unluckily she hadn’t finished growing up when their father died, so she hasn’t had the benefit of such a good education as the elder.”

“It’s hard upon a girl, though, when she has to marry just for money,” observed Gerard.

“Oh, yes, of course. And I’m not sure that this particular girl would do it either. But that’s the usual thing to say, isn’t it, when a very pretty girl is left unexpectedly poor?”

“Yes.”

Gerard answered quite shortly, and looked at the photograph again. And at that moment the door opened, and an exclamation rose to his lips as he recognized in the new arrival the very girl whose picture he held in his hand.

He felt the blood rush to his face as he looked at

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 her. He saw at once that the absence of color from the photograph had given him an altogether wrong impression of what the girl herself would be like. She was of medium height, slender, pale, brown-haired, brown-eyed, and her dress was plain almost to dowdiness.

But she carried herself so well, her figure was so graceful, her expression so intelligent, and her smile so charming, that she attracted instinctive attention in greater measure than any of the other girls in the room.

“Rachel!” cried Mrs. Aldington.

“Miss Davison!” cried her son Arthur at the same moment.

And the new-comer was brought into the group near the fire and surrounded, while Gerard Buckland, at a little distance, listened to the tones of her voice, and approved of them as he had done of every detail concerning her.

Only one thing about her seemed amiss. Well as she wore her plain, almost shabby clothes, neat and graceful as she looked in them, Gerard felt that they were not the clothes which she ought to be wearing, that her beauty demanded a better setting than the plain serge skirt, the black jacket, the gray felt mushroom hat with its trimming of a quill and a big black rosette, which, though they became her, were not quite smart enough either for the occasion or for her own type of womanhood.

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Gerard saw the glance of Rose Aldington wander in his direction with a sly look, and he hoped she would not forget to find an opportunity to introduce him to the interesting guest.

He was not disappointed. Before tea was brought in, Rose had contrived the introduction, and Gerard found himself in conversation with the girl whom he felt to be the nearest he had yet met to the sort of floating ideal of what is most gracious in woman, which he, in common with most young men, carried about in his mind, ready to crystallize into the face and form of some human, breathing, living girl.

As she interested him, so did he, perhaps, interest her. The tall, shy, handsome fair man of five-and-twenty, who spoke so softly, but who looked as if his voice could be heard in other and stronger tones upon occasion, and of whom it had been whispered in her ear by Rose that he was “so clever, bound to make a name for himself at the bar,” was pleasant to look upon and to listen to, and the two young people, in that pleasant twilight which Mrs. Aldington loved, and which she would not too soon have broken in upon by gas and candles, soon began to find that they had many things to say to each other, as they sipped tea and nibbled cake, to the accompaniment of the other gay young voices, in the illumination of the leaping firelight.

Somebody had drawn the talk of the whole room

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 into the old channel of woman’s rights and position, and immediately the whole company had broken up into interested little couples and groups to discuss it with the same freshness of interest as if it had never been discussed before.

Rachel Davison was rather bitter about it.

“It’s all very well to talk,” she said, “about the right of woman to act for herself, and to make a position for herself, and the rest of it. But you want more than the right: you must have the power. And that is what we shall never get,” she added, with a sigh.

Gerard argued with her.

“Why shouldn’t they have the power?” he said. “When once the barriers of prejudice are pulled down, what’s to prevent a woman from entering any field where she feels her talents will be best employed?”

She raised her eyebrows.

“When once the barriers of prejudice are broken down!” echoed she. “But that will be never. You don’t recognize how strong they are! Why, look at my mother, for instance; she’s more particular about little things, prejudices and that sort of thing, than about important ones. And she’s not alone, she’s one of a type, the most common type. She would rather see her daughters dead, I’m quite sure, than engaged in any occupation which she’s been accustomed to think unwomanly.”

[8]

“But she belongs to the last generation. We go on enlarging our ideas. You, for instance, don’t agree with her, I can see.”

“Not in everything, certainly; though I agree with her enough to sympathize with her, and to wish that the world were just as she sees it, with plenty of work for all, and work of the pleasantest kind—work that one could engage in without loss of dignity, and with credit to oneself.”

“There’s plenty of such work to be found now. What about the dignity of labor?”

“All very well in theory, but quite a mistake in practice. At any rate, there’s nothing dignified about any calling which I, for example, could find to follow. Now poor mamma thinks it’s all right, that one has only to look about to find ways of utilizing what she calls one’s talents, and to make heaps of money by them.”

“Perhaps she’s right after all. I’m sure you wouldn’t be long in finding an opening for yours, if you wanted one.”

“What makes you say that? At least I know. Of course, it’s the sort of thing a man must say to a woman. But, as a matter of stern fact, I haven’t any talents, and for a woman without to look for remunerative and dignified labor is just the most appalling waste of time imaginable.”

“I’m quite sure you have talents, only perhaps you don’t recognize them yourself yet.”

[9]

“What makes you speak so certainly, when I tell you I have not?”

Gerard hesitated.

“I’m not quite sure whether I dare tell why. The thing I should have to say, if I were to tell the truth, is the sort of thing some ladies as young as you don’t care to hear.”

He looked at her with shy interest, and she, alert and inquisitive, insisted upon his explaining.

“Whether I like to hear it or not, I must know what you mean,” she said, with charming imperiousness.

“Well, then, Miss Davison, you look—may I say it?—‘brainy.’”

She nodded, smiling.

“I’ve been told that before, but the look is deceptive. I’m only just not quite an idiot. I can’t do anything—except one thing that I don’t think I’ll own to,” she added, with a laugh.

“Let me put you through a short catechism. Can’t you play?—the piano, I mean.”

“Not even well enough to get through the accompaniment of a song at sight, or to play an easy piece that I haven’t diligently practiced till the family is tired to death of it.”

“Can’t you paint?”

“Oh, yes, I can copy drawing-master’s pictures, which are like nothing in heaven or earth or the water under the earth.”

[10]

“You can sing, I feel sure.”

“Yes, I can, but you have to sit very near the piano to hear me.”

“Then you have some other accomplishments which you have concealed from me,” said Gerard, affecting a judicial frown.

Miss Davison laughed merrily.

“Well, I have one, but wild horses shan’t drag from me what it is. And, if you knew, you would not advise me to use it.”

“Come, come, I must have complete confession. No half-way measures. Let me see if I can’t suggest a way of utilizing this mysterious accomplishment.”

She laughed, blushed crimson, and suddenly opening her hand, showed him, lying flat on the palm, a little silver pencil-case, at sight of which he uttered an exclamation.

“Why, that’s mine, isn’t it?” said he. “How did you—”

He stopped, she laughed, and Rose Aldington, who was sitting near, joined in her mirth, which was of rather a shame-faced kind.

“Showing off again, Rachel?” she said.

Miss Davison laughed, gave the pencil-case back to Gerard, and said, with a demure look—

“There! that’s my best accomplishment. I flatter myself I can pick pockets with any amateur living.

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 Now you wouldn’t recommend me to take to that as a livelihood, would you?”

He was amused, almost dismayed, but protested earnestly that there must be a hundred ways in which such exceeding dexterity could be profitably exercised without having recourse to the profession she suggested.

But, in the meantime, Rose Aldington having drawn the attention of the rest of the people in the room to Rachel’s accomplishment, she was called upon to give another exhibition of her skill, and this she did in various ways, transferring trifles from the mantelpiece to the table and back again so quickly and cleverly that the eye could not follow her movements, and performing other little feats requiring extreme delicacy of touch and quickness of eye, until they all told her she would make her fortune if she were to set up as a conjurer.

Gerard, however, was more deeply interested than the rest. He learned from her that she performed these various tricks without ever having been taught conjuring, and he argued from this that, if she were only to train her special faculties in some given direction, she could not fail to become exceedingly expert.

“I should have thought,” he said, “that you would make a very clever milliner, with your wonderfully light touch.”

[12]

Miss Davison sighed.

“I believe I should,” she said; “but my mother won’t hear of it. Prejudice again! And I daresay that the talent which seems extraordinary when it is untrained, would turn out quite commonplace if I were to be pitted, at any calling such as millinery, against those who have for years been brought up to it.”

“I don’t think so,” said Gerard. “Indeed, I’m sure you do yourself an injustice. Your lightness of hand and quickness of eye are quite remarkable. And the wonderful way in which you move, so that you get from one place to another without being seen on the way, if I may so express it, reminds one rather of a bird than of the average solid, stolid thing we call a human being.”

Miss Davison was amused, rather pleased, by his evident enthusiasm, and when he modestly and stammeringly expressed a hope that she would let him know if she decided to make any practical use of her talents, she told him that when she and her mother came to town, she would ask him to go and see them.

“At present,” she added, “we are living quite in the country, and we can’t receive any visitors because my mother is not well enough.”

“And how shall I know—through the Aldingtons—when you come to town?” asked Gerard eagerly.

“Oh, yes; they will know before anyone. Mrs. Aldington is such a dear, and so is her husband; and

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 so, for that matter, are Arthur and Rose. Yes, whenever we come up, and wherever we settle, they will know our address at once.”

When Miss Davison rose to go, Gerard Buckland was not long in following her. He came up with her before she reached the corner of the street, and begged to be allowed to see her to the station.

But she refused, saying quite gently that she must get used to going about alone, and that it was the first step towards women’s rights.

He looked pained.

“I should have been so very grateful to you if you had let me call upon you!” he said humbly, wistfully.

Her face grew grave.

“No,” she said; “I can’t do that. The plain truth is that my mother has not yet got over a terrible change in circumstances which we’ve suffered not long ago, and she can’t bear that anyone should see us in what is practically a workman’s cottage. Prejudice again, of course, but it has to be considered.”

“May I hope for the pleasure of meeting you again at the Aldingtons?”

“Oh, yes, I’m often there. I shall be very pleased to see you again when I go there.”

She gave him her hand and he was obliged to bid her good-bye and leave her.

But the impression she had made upon him was so strong, deepened, no doubt, by the circumstances in

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 which she was placed, and also, perhaps, by her resolute attitude which was neither coquetry nor prudery, but simply pride, that he could scarcely think of anything for the next few days but the pale oval face and the big brown eyes, alternately gay and grave, and the soft voice that was different from the voices of other girls.

He went to the Aldingtons assiduously after that, always hoping to meet Miss Davison again. But each time he was disappointed, and at last he grew ashamed of calling so often, and of being so dull when he was there, and absented himself for a couple of months from the old-fashioned Bayswater house and its gay circle.

Then he called again, but only to hear that nothing had been seen or heard of the Davisons for some time. At last, six months after his meeting with Rachel, and while the remembrance of her face, her voice, and her quietly outspoken opinions was still fresh upon him, Gerard met Arthur Aldington one day in the Strand and was at once reproached for neglecting them.

Gerard made excuses, and asked after Miss Davison.

Arthur’s face changed.

“I don’t know what’s happened to them,” said he, with a perplexed look. “I haven’t seen anything of any of them till a day or two ago. And then”....

[15]

 He checked himself, and said, “You were quite gone on Rachel, weren’t you?”

“I admired her immensely,” said Gerard. “I wanted to see her again, but she wouldn’t let me call; said her mother didn’t like receiving people in a cottage, after the sort of life she’d been used to.”

Arthur smiled.

“Oh, that was all rot,” said he simply. “Mrs. Davison is the most fluffy, gentle old lady in the world. It was Rachel who was ashamed of their simple way of living, always Rachel. She twists her mother and sister round her little finger, and she could have had the entire population of London to call if she’d chosen.”

Gerard looked hurt.

“She’s an odd girl,” went on Arthur. “The other day I met her for the first time for months at the Stores. I went there to get some things for mother, and I ran against Rachel. She was beautifully dressed, looked awfully smart, and seemed quite confused at meeting me. She didn’t answer when I asked her where she was living, but said her mother was at Brighton and her sister at school in Richmond. And I asked her why she hadn’t been to see us, and she said she had meant to come, but had been busy. And she promised to come last Sunday, but she didn’t.”

“Is she living in town?”

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“I don’t know; but she’s doing well, anyhow. She looked remarkably prosperous. She puzzled me altogether.”

Gerard, whose interest in Rachel Davison had been revived and strengthened by this meeting, and these details concerning the girl who had roused his keen admiration, called next Sunday at the Aldingtons, but only to be disappointed and still further puzzled by the accounts he received of Rachel Davison.

For Rose had met her, shopping at Marshall and Snelgrove’s, and Rachel, who was exquisitely dressed and accompanied by a well-dressed but undistinguished-looking man had cut her dead.

“She’s married, I suppose, and to some sweep whom she doesn’t want to introduce to us,” suggested Arthur.

And Gerard’s spirits ran down to zero at the thought.

GENRE
Fiction & Literature
RELEASED
2021
21 April
LANGUAGE
EN
English
LENGTH
154
Pages
PUBLISHER
Rectory Print
SIZE
13.2
MB

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