Her Reputation - Talbot Mundy - ebook

Her Reputation ebook

Talbot Mundy

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There are hours of promises, and zero hour; promises initially, which are sometimes even sweeter than their execution. Jacqueline Lanier did not fully realize the time of heyday, and therefore contours of young charm were not tempered by the usual self-affirmation. Therefore, when she was under the care of Desmoe, she knew that between the emotions of gratitude, the philosophy that comes later in life when we are forced to try to explain their mistakes is not very accessible.

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Contents

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER 1. “A scene—a scandal—at church— on Easter Sunday of all days in the year— with nearly everybody in the county looking on!”

CHAPTER 2. “One may safely leave fond nurses to discover ways and means.”

CHAPTER 3. “Andres, I have distressing news for you.”

CHAPTER 4. “Come now. Listen to me, Consuelo.”

CHAPTER 5. “Put not your trust in princes, Jacqueline.”

CHAPTER 6. “Poison—brewed in mine own house!”

CHAPTER 7. “Some one’s going to suffer, Sherry Mansfield, but I’ll make it!”

CHAPTER 8. “You are a prince and I will put my trust in you!”

CHAPTER 9. “Do it again, Desmio!”

CHAPTER 10. “Let me speak to her! Just one word with her!”

CHAPTER 11. “By God! The devil’s own!”

CHAPTER 12. “Me—I’m made!”

CHAPTER 13. “Facts presented with a punch!”

CHAPTER 14. “Consuelo—what is a coroner?”

CHAPTER 15. “Conchita!”

CHAPTER 16. Sherry and nuts

CHAPTER 17. “Who’d believe a word of it?”

CHAPTER 18. “Tell me—Conchita—”

CHAPTER 19. “You to repay—”

CHAPTER 20. “Not easy to trace.”

CHAPTER 21. Bells obey the ears that listen

CHAPTER 22. The underworld

CHAPTER 23. “The Tribune be damned!”

CHAPTER 24. “Young nicee girlee—catchee lich man!”

CHAPTER 25. “Who’s that girl?”

CHAPTER 26. “I hate the Tribune!”

CHAPTER 27. “All the news the public wants.”

CHAPTER 28. “Does she remind you of any one?”

CHAPTER 29. “Meat and drink for him!”

CHAPTER 30. “I’ve heard threats before—lots of ‘em!”

CHAPTER 31. “The devil—half-roasted!”

CHAPTER 32. “D’you suppose we’re very wicked people?”

CHAPTER 33. “And you shall sit in the patio all day long and boss the niggers.”

INTRODUCTION

It has happened, times out of number, that in mid-Africa, in India, in the deserts of Transjordan*–on an ant-heap in the drought, or in the mud of the tropical rain–I have felt a yearning for white lights, a dress suit and a tall silk hat, that corresponds, I suppose, in some degree to the longing a city man feels for those open spaces and far countries which it has been my destiny to wander in and to write about. A traveler, if he is wise, comes home at intervals to meet old friends and to remind himself that a gentler, more conventional world exists, in which events occur and problems arise, and in which delightful people live and move and have their being.

Writing books is only another phase of living life–reliving it, perhaps, in which the appeal of the stiff white shirt transforms itself into a desire to write “civilized” stories. So this story, which is in an entirely different field from my usual haunts in Africa and India, may be said to represent a home-coming, between long journeys; and I hope the public, which has followed me with such encouraging persistence to comparatively unknown places, will concede that I still know how to behave myself in a civilized setting.

But this story is no more mine than is the life of the big cities into which I plunge at long, uncertain intervals. To Bradley King, chief of the Thomas H. Ince staff of editors, belongs the credit for the plot; her genius, art and imagination, and the creative vision of my friend Thomas Ince combined to produce a plan of narrative, now lavishly offered to the eye in a motion picture, which appealed me so strongly that the impulse to transform it into a written book was irresistible. The writing has been a delight to me, and I trust it may prove as entertaining to the public.

Bradley King detected, tracked, ran down and caught the idea for the story –a much more difficult thing to do than those who have never hunted such elusive game will ever guess. She trained it to perform; I wrote this book; and Mr. Ince has made the picture. We hope the book will be accepted by the reader, as it was written, purely to entertain; and that fellow newspaper men will recognize the friendly and entirely sympathetic illustration of the way in which the mighty and far-reaching power of the Press occasionally is abused by individuals.

–T.M.

CHAPTER 1. “A scene–a scandal–at church–on Easter Sunday of all days in the year–with nearly everybody in the county looking on!”

There is an hour of promise, and a zero hour; the promise first; and promises are sometimes even sweeter than fulfillment. Jacqueline Lanier was unconscious of her hour of blossoming, and so the outlines of young loveliness had not been hardened by habitual self-assertion. Since she came under Desmio’s care her lot had been cast in very pleasant places, and she was aware of it, wondering a little now and then, between the thrills of appreciation; but at seventeen we are not much given to philosophy, which comes later in life when we are forced to try to explain away mistakes.

She had come into the world a stormy petrel, but Consuelo and Donna Isabella were the only ones who remembered anything of that, and Consuelo took as much pains to obscure the memory as Donna Isabella did in trying to revive it. Both women were acceptable because everything whatever that belonged to Desmio was perfect–must be. Jacqueline used to wonder what under heaven Desmio could have to confess to on the occasions when he went into the private chapel to kneel beside Father Doutreleau. She herself had no such difficulties; there were always thoughts she had allowed herself to think regarding Donna Isabella. It had cost Jacqueline as much as fifty pater nosters on occasion for dallying with the thought of the resemblance between Donna Isabella and the silver-and-enamel vinegar cruet on the dining-room sideboard. And there was always Consuelo, fruitful of confessions; for you accepted Consuelo, listened to her comments, and obeyed sometimes–exactly as might happen.

Consuelo presumably had been born middle-aged and a widow, and so would remain forever, as dependable as the silvery Louisiana moon that made the plantation darkies love-sick, and as the sun that peeped in every morning between the window-sill and the lower edge of the blind.

You brush your own hair at the convent, but that makes it no less desirable to have it brushed for you at home during the Easter Congé, especially if the hair grows in long dark waves like Jacqueline’s. At the convent you stand before a small plain mirror, which in no way lessens the luxury of a chair at your own dressing-table, in your own delightful room fronting on the patio balcony, in Desmio’s house, while Consuelo “fixes” you.

At the convent you wear a plain frock, all the girls dressed alike; but that does not detract from the virtue of silken underwear and lacy frocks at home.

“Hold your head still, Conchita!”

All Easter week Consuelo had been irritable, and Jacqueline’s blue eyes watched curiously in the mirror the reflection of the duenna’s plump face and the discontented set of the flexible mouth. There was a new atmosphere about the house, and the whole plantation vaguely re-suggested it, as if Desmio’s indisposition were a blight. Yet Desmio himself, and the doctor and Father Doutreleau, and Consuelo had all been at pains to assure her that the illness was nothing serious. True, Donna Isabella had dropped ominous hints; but you could not take Donna Isabella’s opinions quite seriously without presupposing that there was nothing good in the world, nor any use hoping for the best.

“Why are you worried, Consuelo?”

The critical lips pursed, and the expression reflected, in the mirror became reminiscent of younger days, when a child asking questions was discreetly foiled with an evasive answer.

“Because your hair is in knots, Conchita. At the convent they neglect you.”

“I am supposed to look after myself in the convent.”

“Tchutt! There is no reason why they should teach you to neglect yourself.”

“They don’t. The sisters are extremely particular!”

“Tchutt! They don’t know what’s what! It’s a mystery to me they haven’t spoilt your manners–”

“Why–Consuelo!”

“Nobody can fool me. You’ll never have to look after yourself, Conchita –whoever says it!”

That was one of those dark sayings that had prevailed all week. Jacqueline lapsed into silence, frowning; and that made Consuelo smile, for as a frown it was incredible; it was just a ripple above lake-blue eyes.

“You can’t tell me!” exclaimed Consuelo, nodding to her own reflection in the mirror as she put the last few touches to the now decorously ordered hair. Next day’s rearrangement at the convent would fall short of this by a whole infinity.

“Can’t tell you what, Consuelo?”

Pursed lips again. But the evasive answer was forestalled by a knock on the door, and Jacqueline drew the blue dressing-robe about her; for there was no doubt whose the knock was, and you never, if you were wise, appeared in disarray before Donna Isabella. You stood up naturally when she entered. As the door moved Consuelo’s face assumed that blank expression old servants must fall back on when they dare not look belligerent, yet will not seem suppressed.

“Jacqueline–”

Donna Isabella alone, in all that house, on all that plantation, called her Jacqueline and not Conchita.

“–don’t keep the car waiting.”

Jacqueline glanced at the gilt clock on the dressing-table. There was half an hour to spare, but she did not say so, having learned that much worldly wisdom. She watched Donna Isabella’s bright brown eyes as they met Consuelo’s. Consuelo left the room.

Donna Isabella Miro stood still, looking like one of those old engravings of Queen Elizabeth, until the door closed behind her with a vicious snap in token of Consuelo’s unspeakable opinion.

It was one of her characteristics that she kept you standing at attention quite a while before she spoke.

She had her brother’s features, lean and aquiline, almost her brother’s figure; almost his way of standing. Dressed in his clothes, at a distance, she might even have been mistaken for him. But there the resemblance ended. To Jacqueline, Don Andres Miro had been Desmio ever since her three-year-old lips first tried to lisp the name. It had been easiest, too, to say “Sabella,” but at three and a half the Donna had crept in, and remained. At four years it had frozen into Donna Isabella, without the slightest prospect of melting into anything less formal.

“I hope, Jacqueline, that in the days to come you will appreciate how pleasant your surroundings were.”

“Do I seem not to appreciate them, Donna Isabella?”

The older woman smiled–her brother’s smile, with only a certain thinness added, and an almost unnoticeable tightening of the corners of the lips.

“I hope Don Andres’ kindness has not given you wrong ideas.”

“Donna Isabella, how could Desmio give anybody wrong ideas? He’s– he’s–”

Words always failed when Jacqueline tried to say what she thought of Desmio.

“He is absurdly generous. I hope he has not ruined you, as he would have ruined himself long ago, but for my watchfulness.”

“Ruined me? How could he?”

“By giving you wrong notions, Jacqueline.”

“Wrong, Donna Isabella?”

Jacqueline had all her notions of life’s meaning from Desmio. His notions! None but Donna Isabella would have dreamed of calling them by that name! They were ideals; and they were right–right–right–forever right!

“Wrong notions about your future, Jacqueline. Fortunately”–how fond she was of the word fortunately! “Don Andres can never adopt you legally. There is no worse nonsense than adopting other people’s children to perpetuate a family name, and we have cousins of the true stock.”

Lanier blood is good, and Jacqueline knew it; but, as Consuelo said, the convent had not spoiled her manners. She said nothing.

“So–incredibly kind though Don Andres has been to you–you have no claim on him.”

The frown again–and a half-choke in the quiet voice; “Claim? I’m grateful to him! He’s–”

But words failed. Why try to say what Desmio was, when all the world knew?

“Do you call it gratitude–after all he has done for you– knowing what his good name and his position in the country means to him –to make a scene–a scandal–at church on Easter Sunday, of all days in the year, with nearly everybody in the county looking on?”

“I made no scene, Donna Isabella.”

“Jacqueline! If Don Andres knew that Jack Calhoun had walked up the middle of the aisle during High Mass, and had given you an enormous bouquet which you accepted–”

“Should I have thrown the flowers into the aisle?” Jacqueline retorted indignantly. “I put them under the seat–”

“Accepted them, with half the county looking on!”

“I didn’t want to make a scandal–”

“So you encouraged him!”

Jacqueline controlled herself and answered calmly, but the incorrigible frown suggested mirth in spite of her and Donna Isabella’s lean wrists trembled with suppressed anger.

“I have always avoided him. He took that opportunity for lack of a better, Donna Isabella.”

“Can you imagine a young gallant bringing flowers to me during High Mass?”

It was easy to believe that the whole world contained no gallant brave enough for that effrontery! Her narrow face was livid with malice that had seemed to increase since Desmio’s illness.

“If Don Andres knew that for months Jack Calhoun–”

“Let me tell him!” urged Jacqueline. Her impulse had been to tell him all about it long ago. He would have known the fault was not hers, and would have given her good advice, instead of blaming her for what she could not help; whereas Donna Isabella–

Donna Isabella stamped her foot.

“I forbid! You cause a scandal, but you never pause to think what it will mean to those it most concerns! As if your name were not enough, you drag in one of the Calhouns–the worst profligates in Louisiana. The shock will kill him–I forbid you to say a word!”

One learns obedience in convents.

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