The Danger Mark
THE DANGER MARK
ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
JOHN CARRINGTON YATES
- The Seagraves
- In Trust
- The Threshold
- The Year of Discretion
- An Afterglow
- FÍte Galante
- The Love of the Gods
- Ambitions and Letters
- The Prophets
- Through the Woods
- The Danger Mark
- Bon Chien
- Questions and Answers
- In Search of Herself
- The Golden Hours
- Cloudy Mountain
- Sine Die
- The Prologue Ends
- "'Please do tell me somebody is scandalized'"
- "'Can I have what other women have—silk underwear and stockings?'"
- "'Duane!' she gasped—'why did you?'"
- "Oh, the horror of it!—the shame, the agonized surprise"
- "'This is one of those rare occasions ... where goodness is ... amply rewarded'"
- "'I want to confess! I've been horribly depraved for a week!'"
- "She dropped him a very low, very slow, very marvellous courtesy"
- "Crumpled up like a white flower in his arms"
All day Sunday they had raised the devil from attic to cellar; Mrs.Farren was in tears, Howker desperate. Not one out of the fifteenservants considered necessary to embellish the Seagrave establishmentcould do anything with them after Kathleen Severn's sudden departure theweek before.
When the telegram announcing her mother's sudden illness summoned youngMrs. Severn to Staten Island, every servant in the household understoodthat serious trouble was impending for them.
Day by day the children became more unruly; Sunday they were demons; andMrs. Farren shuddered to think what Monday might bring forth.
The day began ominously at breakfast with general target practice,ammunition consisting of projectiles pinched from the interior of hotmuffins. Later, when Mrs. Farren ventured into the schoolroom, she foundScott Seagrave drawing injurious pictures of Howker on the black-board,and Geraldine sorting lumps of sugar from the bowl on thebreakfast-tray, which had not yet been removed.
"Dearies," she began, "it is after nine o'clock and——"
"No school to-day, Mrs. Farren," interrupted Scott cheerfully; "wehaven't anything to do till Kathleen comes back, and you know itperfectly well!"
"Yes, you have, dearie; Mrs. Severn has just sent you this list oflessons." She held out a black-edged envelope.
Geraldine, who had been leisurely occupied in dropping cologne on a lumpof sugar, thrust the lump into her pink mouth and turned sharply on Mrs.Farren.
"What list?" she demanded. "Give that letter to me.... Oh, Scott! Didyou ever hear of anything half so mean? Kathleen's written out about athousand questions in geography for us!"
"I can't stand that sort of interference!" shouted Scott, dropping hischalk and aiming a kick at the big papier-machť globe. "I'm sorryKathleen's mother is probably going to die, but I've had enoughgeography, too."
"Mrs. Severn's mother died on Friday," said the housekeeper solemnly.
The children paused, serious for a moment in the presence of theincomprehensible.
"We're sorry," said Geraldine slowly.... "When is Kathleen coming back?"
"Perhaps to-night, dearie——"
Scott impatiently detached the schoolroom globe from its brass axis:"I'm sorry, too," he said; "but I'm tired of lessons. Now, Mrs. Farren,watch me! I'm going to kick a goal from the field. Here, you hold it,Geraldine; Mrs. Farren, you had better try to block it and cheer forYale!"
Geraldine seized the globe, threw herself flat on the floor, and, headon one side, wriggled, carefully considering the angle. Then, tippingthe globe, she adjusted it daintily for her brother to kick.
"A little higher, please; look out there, Mrs. Farren!" said Scottcalmly; "Harvard is going to score this time. Now, Geraldine!"
Thump! came the kick, but Mrs. Farren had fled, and the big globe struckthe nursery door and bounced back minus half of South America.
For ten minutes the upper floors echoed with the racket. Geraldinefiercely disputed her brother's right to kick every time; then, asusual, when she got what she wanted, gave up to Scott and let himmonopolise the kicking until, satiated, he went back to the black-board,having obliterated several continents from the face of the globe.
"You might at least be polite enough to hold it for me to kick," saidhis sister. "What a pig you are, Scott."
"Don't bother me; I'm drawing Howker. You can't kick straight, anyway——"
"Yes, I can!"
Scott, intent on his drawing, muttered:
"I wish there was another boy in this house; I might have a little funto-day if there was anybody to play with."
There ensued a silence; then he heard his sister's light little feetflying along the hallway toward their bedrooms, but went on calmly withhis drawing, using some effective coloured crayon on Howker's nose.Presently he became conscious that Geraldine had re-entered the room.
"What are you going to do to-day?" he asked, preoccupied.
Geraldine, dressed in her brother's clothes, was kneeling on one kneeand hastily strapping on a single roller-skate.
"I'll show you," she said, rising and shaking the dark curls out of hereyes. "Come on, Scott, I'm going to misbehave all day. Look at me! I'vebrought you the boy you wanted to play with."
Her brother turned, considered her with patronising toleration, thenshrugged his shoulders.
"You look like one, but you're no good," he said.
"I can be just as bad as any boy!" she insisted. "I'll do whatever youdo; I'll do worse, I tell you. Dare me to do something!"
"You don't dare skate backward into the red drawing-room! There's toomuch bric-a-brac."
She turned like a flash and was off, hopping and clattering down-stairson her single skate, and a moment later she whirled into the reddrawing-room backward and upset a Sang-de-boeuf jar, reducing the maidto horrified tears and the jar to powder.
Howker strove in vain to defend his dining-room when Scott appeared onone skate; but the breakfast-room and pantry were forcibly turned intorinks; the twins swept through the halls, met and defeated their nurses,Margaret and Betty, tumbled down into the lower regions, from theredescended to the basement, and whizzed cheerily through the kitchen,waving two skateless legs.
There Mrs. Bramton attempted to buy them off with tribute in the shapeof cup-cakes.
"Sure, darlints, they do be starvin' yez," purred Mrs. Bramton. "Don't Iknow the likes o' them? Now roon away quietlike an' ladylike——"
"Like a hen," retorted Scott. "I want some preserves."
"That's all very well," said Geraldine with her mouth full, "but weexpected to skate about the kitchen and watch you make pastry. Kindlybegin, Mrs. Bramton."
"I'd like to see what's inside of that chicken over there," said Scott."And I want you to give me some raisins, Mrs. Bramton——"
"I'm dying for a glass of milk," added Geraldine. "Get me some dough,somebody; I'm going to bake something."
Scott, who, devoured by curiosity, had been sniffing around the spicecupboard, sneezed violently; a Swedish kitchen-maid threw her apron overher head, weak with laughter.
"If you're laughing at me, I'll fix you, Olga!" shouted Scott in a rage;and the air was suddenly filled with balls of dough. Mrs. Bramton fledbefore the storm; a well-directed volley drove the maids to cover andstampeded the two cats.
"Take whatever is good to eat, Geraldine. Hurrah! The town surrenders!Loot it! No quarter!" shouted Scott. However, when Howker arrived theyretired hastily with pockets full of cinnamon sticks, olives, prunes,and dried currants, climbing triumphantly to the library above, wherethey curled up on a leather divan, under the portrait of their mother,to divide the spoils.
"Am I bad enough to suit you?" inquired Geraldine with pardonable pride.
"Pooh! That's nothing. If I had another boy here I'd—I'd——"
"Well, what?" demanded Geraldine, flushing. "I tell you I can misbehaveas well as any boy. Dare me to do anything and you'll see! I dare you todare me!"
Scott began: "Oh, it's all very easy for a girl to talk——"
"I don't talk; I do it! And you know perfectly well I do!"
"You're a girl, after all, even if you have got on my clothes——"
"Didn't I throw as much dough at Olga and Mrs. Bramton as you did?"
"You didn't hit anybody."
"I did! I saw a soft, horrid lump stick to Olga!"
"Pooh! You can't throw straight——"
"That's a lie!" said Geraldine excitedly.
"If you say that again——"
"All right; go and get the boxing-gloves. You did tell a lie, Scott,because I did hit Olga!"
Scott hastily unstrapped his lone skate, cast it clattering from him,and sped up-stairs. When he returned he hurled a pair of boxing-glovesat Geraldine, who put them on, laced them, trembling with wrath, andflew at her brother as soon as his own gloves were fastened.
They went about their business like lightning, swinging, blocking,countering. Twice she gave him inviting openings and then punished himsavagely before he could get away; then he attempted in-fighting, buther legs were too nimble. And after a while he lost his head and came ather using sheer weight, which set her beside herself with fury.
Teeth clenched, crimson-cheeked, she side-stepped, feinted, and whippedin an upper-cut. Then, darting in, she drove home her left with all hermight; and Scott went down with an unmistakable thud.
"One—two—three—four," she counted, "and you did tell a lie, didn'tyou? Five—six—Oh, Scott! I've made your nose bleed horridly! Does ithurt, dear? Seven—eight——"
The boy, still confused, rose and instinctively assumed the classicattitude of self-defence; but his sister threw down her gloves andoffered him her handkerchief, saying: "You've just got to be fair to menow, Scott. Tell me that I throw straight and that I did hit Olga!"
He hesitated; wiped his nose:
"I take it back. You can throw straight. Ginger! What a crack you justgave me!"
She was all compunction and honey now, hovering around him where hestood stanching honourable wounds. After a while he laughed. "Thunder!"he exclaimed ruefully; "my nose seems to be growing for fair. You're allright, Geraldine."
"Here's my last cup-cake, if you like," said his sister, radiant.
Embarrassed a little by defeat, but nursing no bitterness, he sat downon the leather divan again and permitted his sister to feed him and tellhim that his disaster was only an accident. He tried to think so, too,but serious doubts persisted in his mind. There had been a clean-cutfinish to that swing and jab which disturbed his boy's conceit.
"We'll try it again," he began. "I'm all right now, if you like——"
"Oh, Scott, I don't want to!"
"Well, we ought to know which of us really can lick the other——"
"Why, of course, you can lick me every time. Besides, I wouldn't want tobe able to lick you—except when I'm very, very angry. And I ought notto become angry the way I do. Kathleen tries so hard to make me stopand reflect before I do things, but I can't seem to learn.... Does yournose hurt?"
"Not in the least," said her brother, reddening and changing thesubject. "I say, it looks as though it were going to stop raining."
He went to the window; the big Seagrave house with its mansard roof, setin the centre of an entire city block, bounded by Madison and FifthAvenues and by Ninety-fifth and Ninety-sixth Streets, looked out fromits four red brick faÁades onto strips of lawn and shrubbery, now allgreen and golden with new grass and early buds.
It was topsy-turvy, March-hare weather, which perhaps accounted for theearly April dementia that possessed the children at recurring intervals,and which nothing ever checked except the ultimate slumber of infantileexhaustion.
If anybody in the house possessed authority to punish them, nobodyexercised it. Servants grown gray in the Seagrave service endured much,partly for the children's sakes, partly in memory of the past; but thenewer and younger domestics had less interest in the past glories andtraditions of an old New York family which, except for two littlechildren, ten years old, had perished utterly from the face of the land.
The entire domestic rťgime was a makeshift—had been almost from thebeginning. Mrs. Farren, the housekeeper, understood it; Howker, thebutler, knew it; Lacy knew it—he who had served forty years as coachmanin the Seagrave family.
For in all the world there remained not one living soul who through tiesof kinship was authorised to properly control these children. Nor couldthey themselves even remember parental authority; and only a shadowyrecollection of their grandfather's lax discipline survived, becominggradually, as time passed, nothing more personal to them than a pleasantlegend kept alive and nourished in the carefully guarded stories toldthem