A Professional Person can be found in






A Professional Person

A. Goodrich-Freer

I

No one quite knows why Lady Sarah McTaggart married Mister Thompson—and Thompson with a p into the bargain. Whether at the end of her fourteenth season she thought an establishment of her own, even in South Kensington, preferable to maiden meditation and perpetual Carlton House Gardens, or whether the Duchess—her sister-in-law and ex officio natural enemy—refused to take her out any more, will never be revealed; but having accepted the position, she is laudably engaged in making the best of it. The Cromwell Road mansion is being divested of its first gloss as rapidly as time will permit, and except for an ever-present nightmare that Mr. Thompson may be called upon to serve his metropolis as Lord Mayor, and be forced to submit to knighthood in consequence, Lady Sarah finds her prospects and her millions endurable enough.

Still, the anomaly of her position must be accounted for somehow; and early in her matronly career it occurred to her to offer eccentricity as an excuse, which even her "own people" might accept in solution of the problem. To decide the direction was less easy. Literature, after the production of two novels, was accounted too expensive even for aristocratic whim and aldermanic indulgence. Religiousness was postponed as a possible resource for decreasing activities. Philanthropy and the East End were becoming common-place. A little mild lion- hunting has answered fairly well, mild rather as to results than as to the vigour of the pursuit. Journalists, American visitors, African explorers, "roar her like any nightingale," and Lady Sarah thinks she has established a salon, and is quite happy.

Her suppers and her wines are of the best; her only difficulty is that of supplying her réunions with what she calls a motif —something which shall differentiate them from the mere "At Homes" of her neighbours. So far, the catastrophe has been averted; Lady Sarah has hitherto contrived to strike her note of colour—technical education, lady-novelist theology, a little gentle political wire-pulling, or, at a pinch, Woman, Central Africa or the County Council.

To-night, however, her guests are conscious of a sense of expectation; a surprise of some sort is in store. The very chairs have an unwonted aspect. Artistic confusion has given place to orderly arrangement, not amounting to anything so depressing as rows, but suggestive of direction towards a central point—a low couch placed in the shadow of the palm-ferns and festoons of roses which decorate the hearth.

Lady Sarah has welcomed her guests, and is now engaged in talk with Lord Ewart, who, as one of her own "people," has ventured to inquire into the prospects of the evening. Finney, the champion interviewer, hovers about within ear-shot, and little Dawson of The Minute Hand fingers his note-book, and wonders if anything is likely to occur which will yield fruit for next Saturday's "pars."

Lady Sarah is at no pains to modulate her voice, and those about her are instinctively aware that what she is saying is for general information.

"Yes, she is a professional young person. I heard of her in a purely accidental manner, and the case seems to be one of more than common interest. It is, as one may say, virgin soil. The possibilities are immense, and I am anxious to pursue them on lines of my own.

Lord Ewart murmurs assent, and Dawson takes out his note-book, under shelter of Lady Orist, who has a weekly double column in The Countess, and who presses a little nearer.

"No doubt in a few weeks she will be the talk of London. She will be exploitée by the Spiritualists, and then 'exposed' by the Society for Psychical Research; meantime—"

"What did you say her name was, dear Lady Sarah?"

"Oh, how d'e do, Lady Orist. Her name? Jeanie. She is a little Yorkshire mill-girl, and has never been out of Airedale in her life."

"How delightful!" murmurs Lady Orist. "And she tells fortunes?"

"I didn't say so," answers Lady Sarah, who hates being interrupted. "So far as I know, it is simply a most instructive case of double personality, such as the French physicians have been investigating at the Salpêtrière." (Dawson jots down, "Mem., cf. Binet, Féré, Janet—English profession behind the Continental.") "My good friend Norwich found her out when he was preaching in Leeds." (Norwich is Lady Sarah's latest thing in popular preachers.) "And now it is nearly half-past ten o'clock, and our little friend will be here directly. Will you kindly arrange yourselves?

There is a rustle of silks and a flashing of diamonds as the ladies make their way to the seats nearest the front; and in the general stir, the entrance of two more visitors is hardly noticed, till the guests become aware that the settee on the hearth-rug has now two occupants, and that Lady Sarah has taken up her place at a little distance to the right.

One of the new-corners is Norwich himself, a slight, fair man in the early forties. His clear eyes have an eager light, his expression is that of hurried benevolence, his whole pose denotes that restless spirit of inquiry, of rushing up to date, for which this excellent man is noted—not to say notorious. He spares neither himself nor any one else in his intense devotion to his self- imposed task of solving the problems of past and future, the history of the race, the prospects and possibilities of Man; and for this, Man—especially Woman, more sensitive and more responsive—is his material.

A little apart sits Jeanie, a fair-haired girl of about thirteen. Her features are delicate, the mouth slightly drooping and very sensitive, the chin pointed, the hazel eyes almost hidden by long lashes, the hair brushed straight back from the high forehead and falling nearly to her waist. She has travelled over a hundred miles to-day—almost her first railway journey—and the little delicate face is very weary. Her black velveteen frock enhances the extreme fairness of her skin. It is a little the worse for wear; but Lady Sarah's electric lights are softened by rose-coloured Bavarian glass, and nothing in the child's dress or appearance is suggestive of incongruity with her surroundings. The habit of wearing clogs has saved her from the elastic-sided boot of the south-country poor, and her little feet are clad in neat shoes tied with a broad black ribbon.

The momentary silence is broken by Lord Ewart. He is an impulsive lad, and is accustomed to take liberties in this household.

"Might I—don't you think a glass of port would do her good, Lady Sarah?" Lady Sarah smiles indulgently. Her own excellently managed little girls, who have been in bed these three hours, have never tasted wine, and she turns to Miss Black, their governess, and says something about "a little lemonade and a sweet biscuit."

Jeanie—with a quiet, almost graceful, dignity that sits oddly on the little childish figure— firmly declines refreshment, and Lord Ewart shrugs his shoulders and walks with long, hurried steps into the further drawing-room, where he buries himself in a beautifully bound copy of The Yellow Fairy-Book, presented by Lady Sarah to one of her darlings on her thirteenth birthday.

Miss Black, who has come forward to receive instructions, lays a gentle hand on the child's shoulder and whispers something in her ear.

Dr. Lawson, a rising young doctor, who is taking "some interest in the scientific aspect of the case," as he tells every one lie speaks to, comes forward hastily and "begs that no one may communicate with the Subject." Miss Black withdraws, without explaining that all she had said was, "I shall not be far off if you want anything, look for me, will you, dear?"

An awkward pause threatens. No one is quite prepared to direct. If it had been a case of "taking the chair," Norwich would have been in his element; but all those gleaming shoulders and diamond-starred heads disconcert him.

The silence is broken by a high childish treble, audible to the furthest corner of the room. Jeanie has risen to her feet. Her brows are knit, and her little hands are nervously twitching at the trimming of her dress. For her, class distinction, more subtle than that of rich and poor, has no existence, and lords and ladies, and lions and literati, are nothing different from her accustomed audience in the vestry room of Little Bethel.

"Friends," she cries in a high-pitched, monotonous voice, "I'm joost boun' to gi'e ye a little clairvoyance. If it's trew, ye've nobbut got to säay so, an' if happen it isn't, then säay so pläain."

Then follows what is no doubt her accustomed opening speech, a rigmarole about magnetism, and sympathy, and the powers of those who have "passed over." It is all mechanical and unmeaning enough; and when she has ended, the long lashes are once more raised, and Jeanie becomes aware that her audience is, for the most part, in fits of laughter. This is a new experience for the little prophetess; she flushes to the roots of her hair, and the childish figure droops wearily. Mr. Norwich smiles encouragement, and begs her to go on.

Jeanie looks anxiously at the row of faces before Tier, and her eyes rest for a full minute upon Miss Black, who, alone of all present, has understood every word of the quaint Airedale dialect, which for her has many a dear association.

The child catches her answering look of sympathy, and seems about to speak, but checks herself, and once more gazes around. Pointing with her small finger at a lady not far distant, she begins again in her clear treble.

"She's lost soomone out of her surroundings läately, has yon," and is about to say more, when a murmur of "Oh, yes—Mrs. Austin, in mourning, of course—a very obvious thing to say," checks her, and again she pauses.

"Quite right, Jeanie, you are doing very well; don't be nervous," says Norwich encouragingly. The child's anxious face is piteous to behold, but her quiet dignity never forsakes her. Finney has caught her eye, and he twirls his long moustache as her next words make him aware that attention is being directed towards himself. She begins to describe a presence which she says is hovering about him.

"Mebbe thee's lost a sister, or happen thee moother died yoong," she says simply. "It's a läady, and, oh, she is pritty!"

But this is too much for Finney's acquaintances. "You bet!" cries Dawson. And further description is drowned in roars of laughter.

Mr. Norwich thinks this borders on frivolity, and interferes, seconded by Doctor Lawson, and encouraged by Lady Sarah. Finney, with exaggerated politeness, rises, and bowing to Jeanie, assures her with mock courtesy, at which her face flushes, that he is highly complimented by the favours of the lady in question, and should much value an introduction.

Jeanie, without reply, turns to Mr. Norwich and suggests that "Lulu had better come now, upon which he briefly explains that Lulu, alleged to be a little negro girl who had "passed over" many years ago, is Jeanie's secondary personality, and that, "as Jeanie is a little exhausted, she will now take possession of the Subject."

Jeanie seats herself, and takes out her pocket-handkerchief, which she proceeds to tie into very tight and complicated knots—the only external sign of whatever disturbance, mental or physicals is taking place.

In about a minute she springs to her feet, her speech, her voice, her very aspect changed. All nervousness has gone, her cheeks have a faint colour, and she chatters gaily and without pause, indifferent to interruption and joining merrily in the laughter she occasions. Her speech is now imperfect—that of a young child, but free alike from Yorkshire accent and idiom and from the wiry timbre peculiar to Airedale.

"Who is the lady who teeps on sayin' 'Grace, Grace'?" Miss Black looks up but does not speak. "S'e stands beside 'ou, s'e does, an' s'e says, 'Take care of'—oh, what a hard word!— somesing 'teen.' Why don't 'ou speak—'ou wis de grey frock? My medi'm saw same as I see, but s'e wouldn't tell. S'e sinks funny sings. S'e fought 'ou wouldn't like it. What is dat word teen?"

Grace Black, finding herself the object of general attention, answers quickly, but with flushed face, "Celestine."

"Dat it. De laidy wears a long black silk dress wis crape all over de front, an' long white ends to her cap behind, an s'e says, 'Grace, take care of 'ouself. 'Ou got to live for Celestine.'"

This new phase promises an amount of interest not to be wasted on the governess, and the competition for Lulu's attention becomes animated. However, she is not to be diverted from her own intentions, and she next dances across the room to Lord Ewart, who is watching her keenly.

"'Ou dot a sister," she says. "'Ou better take care of her. Dere's trouble comin'." Lord Ewart is not the sort of man to discuss his sister in an assembly of this kind, and he answers coldly that "She's all right. You need not trouble about her, thank you."

Lulu is not to be repulsed. "Why don't 'ou like me? 'Ou likes my medi'm. Mos' folks likes me best. My medi'm's moder wis'es it was always Lulu an' never Jeanie. Jeanie's so quiet, an' s'e don't like giving clairvoyance, de 'hands' call after her in de street. Lulu don't niind. I calls back. Only in de mill it's bes' to have Jeanie. Lulu gets to playing—Jeanie calls it läakin—she talks so queer, an' den dere's accidences. See"—and she pointed to a long white scar on her forehead. "Jeanie works all day in de mill, ten hours. Lulu would get drefful tired. It's cos I was tired I got my head cut, an' den de doctors said Jeanie was good not to cry when it was sewed up. Jeanie had come back then. Dey didn't know it wasn't Jeanie dat was hurt!" And the child laughs merrily.

"I likes to come," she chatters on. "I likes seeing de ladies. Jeanie don't, not unless dey are what s'e calls 'in sympathy.' Well, I mustn't stop. S'e said I wasn't to stop long. S'e don't like being controlled, 'cos s'e never knows what I've said. Lulu knows all about Jeanie, but Jeanie don't know nuffin' about Lulu." And she laughs with an air of intense amusement.

The announcement of her speedy departure leads to some excitement among her audience, who press for attention, sometimes receiving more than they had anticipated. Lulu distributes her statements with great impartiality and with an astounding disregard for politeness. She declines conversation with pretty Mrs. Orrell on the ground that she can't see into her surroundings— "dey're all mixed up wis inventions, no troof anywhere"—but is very anxious to enlighten the company as to what the page-boy—who has been summoned to open a window—has got in his pocket.

In the interests of science Dr. Lawson puts in a claim for a share of her attention, and proceeds to sundry pinchings and slappings, to which she is wholly indifferent. He tickles her lips with a feather, drives a long pin—lent by Lady Orist—into the child's arm, and applies ammonia to her nostrils. Finding that she is only bored by the process, he finally releases her.

"Total anæsthesia, and certainly partial, if not total analgesia," he declares. "Condition of the eye that of sleep, arteries small, veins large and relaxed."

The child has fallen suddenly into a seat; she rubs her eyes violently, and little weary, pale- faced Jeanie is once more among us.

She seems utterly exhausted. Her eyes are red and swollen, and she is disinclined to speak, and answers very briefly, though with perfect self-possession, when addressed.

The play is over, the curtain is down, and Miss Black is deputed to take her down-stairs in search of refreshment. As soon as they are out of the room, Grace stops, and stroking the child's hair, kisses her gently on the forehead.

"Little Jeanie," she says, "that was my mother you spoke of. It was very strange." Jeanie eyes her questioningly. "I nöan spöak nowt to thee," she says.

"Well, shall we say that Lulu did then?"

"I knaw nowt o' Lulu," she answers almost fiercely. "I nöan wäant Lulu. It's all along o' her I'm nöan to whoam" [at home] "along o my mother." And in her utter weariness and loneliness, forgetful of pride and dignity, Jeanie sits down on the stairs and cries bitterly. Grace persuades her to come into the deserted schoolroom, where presently, refreshed by tea and sandwiches, Jeanie revives somewhat, and is soon comparatively happy, and talking of her Airedale home. It is only one of the dreary operatives' houses, so hideous a feature of manufacturing life. When both parents and children are away in the mill all day it does not seem worth while to beautify what is a mere nightly shelter.

Of her ten hours' daily work she says little; Sunday and Bank holidays are the landmarks of life. Promises of visits to Zoological Gardens and Madame Tussaud's do not stir Jeanie's ambitions; she is homesick for mother and the little sisters. Even the stepfather's occasional cruelty, even work, and poverty, and hardship are all forgotten, mother is so far away, and Jeanie is so lonely!

II

"Sister Celestine is wanted at once, please. An accident has just come in."

"I must go, then. Good-bye, Grace, or can you wait a little? I may be able to come back presently."

"Yes, I'll wait. Good-bye, darling." And Grace Black leans back in the cosy arm-chair she has herself added to the scant luxuries of the ward-sister's little room in St. Ladbroke's Hospital. Celestine is so fragile, so sensitive to the sight of sorrow and suffering, that her life in the children's ward, though on the whole happy, is inevitably a trying one.

By the time she arrives at the end of the many long passages which lead to the accident- ward, the nurses have done what is possible for the new case. The doctor's examination has been made, and the little pale face, with its aureole of soft brown hair, is already resting quietly upon the pillow.

A brisk young nurse hastens to meet her superior. "A cab accident, Sister," she explains. "The child got frightened, and jumped out. Spinal injury. Dr. Lawson thinks there is nothing to be done. Fortunately he was here. He is coming again soon with the students; he says the case is very interesting. Total anæsthesia. The child recovered consciousness in the middle of the examination, and never made a complaint."

"Was she all alone in the cab, poor little thing?" asks the Sister pityingly.

"No, she was with Mr. Norwich—the great preacher, you know. He was dreadfully sorry, but he was in a great hurry. He was already due to take the chair at a meeting of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and he couldn't wait to hear what the doctor said."

"Are you in pain, dear?" asks Celestine, approaching the little invalid.

"Not a bit," says the child brightly. "Isn't 'ou Celestine? Where's Grace? Grace's influence is somewhere in oo's surroundings. Lulu wants Grace."

Sister Celestine is utterly bewildered. The child's assertions, the strange mixture of professional patter with a speech far too childish for her apparent age, startle her out of all power of reason.

"Fetch Miss Black out of my room," she says; and in a few minutes Grace is standing by the bedside.

"Jeanie!" she exclaims with a cry.

The child laughs. "No, it's Lulu," she answers. "Isn't it a dood sing it isn't Jeanie? She would have cried ever so! Lulu never cries. Dey'll all cry. Her moder an' Mary Hannah an' John William an' all of 'em. Lulu will go an' tell dem Jeanie is quite well—if only dey'll listen!"

She breathes with difficulty. A grey tinge overspreads her waxen features. "Jeanie is wantin' to tome," she gasps; "but Jeauie'll never tome back any more." But for one moment Jeanie is here. "Tell mother I'm gotten two poun' i' you dress pocket," she says. "It'll help buy 'em all a bit o' good black. Give her my love, and Hester Ann an' baby an' all."

And Jeanie is gone. Even Lulu will never come back any more.