Providence And Mrs. Urmy
by Armiger Barclay and Oliver Sandys
The Story of an International Marriage
Lady Hartley (née Miss Persis Van Ness) gave
a little gasp. In her excitement the paper rustled
noisily to her knee.
"O-h! Have you seen this?" She shot the Morning
Post across the breakfast table to Mrs. Rufus P. Urmy,
with her finger marking a paragraph.
Mrs. Urmy glanced at it. "I guess it ought to corral him
right away," she said, with the merest suspicion of embarrassment.
"You see, it's Jeannette's last chance. Two
seasons in England and never a catch, so I——"
"You did it?" Lady Hartley looked at her friend in round-eyed
"I—I had to do something," allowed Mrs. Urmy, with
a dawning suspicion that perhaps she had, after all, run
afoul of British conventions, which she found as difficult
of comprehension as her regular morning study of Debrett.
"That's so. Jeannette'll raise Cain." Mrs. Urmy got
up from the table. "It's this a-way, Persis. I reckon I
fixed your little affair up with Lord Hartley to home, and
you've got to thank me for it. Now, I'm trying to do the
same for my girl. She can't, or she won't, play her own hand.
Every chance she's had she's let slide, and I allow she's
got to marry a title before I go back to the States. Some
one's got to hustle when Providence isn't attending to
business, and as there's nobody else to do it, I've taken
on the contract." She pointed to the paragraph. "I
own up I don't see just how, but there wasn't much
time, and it was the best I could do."
Lady Hartley slowly reread the incriminating paragraph:
"A marriage has been arranged, and will shortly take
place between the Earl of Chilminster, of Sapworth Hall,
Wilts, and Miss Jeannette L. Urmy, of Boston, Massachusetts."
"It knocks me out!" she murmured, lapsing into the
Western idiom which a whole week spent in the society of
her bosom friend was bound to call up. "But why Lord
Chilminster?" She pronounced the name Chilster.
"Why won't he do? Isn't he the real thing? I picked
him out in my sample book of the aristocracy, and when I
fitted the name on to Jeannette—the Countess of Chilminster—it
sounded quite elegant."
"Then it wasn't because you knew I knew him?" demanded
Mrs. Urmy's hostess with growing amazement.
Mrs. Urmy's face took on a blank expression.
"You've heard me mention the name. That's how it's
pronounced," explained Lady Hartley. "His place isn't
far from here."
"You don't say! The way these British titles are pronounced
is enough to make you doubt your own eyesight.
I didn't know. But if he's a friend of yours that'll
likely make it all the easier."
"Lord Chilminster!" Lady Hartley spoke in an awed tone.
She felt it would be useless to make Mrs. Urmy understand
the enormity of her offence against good taste, and
presently her astonishment gave way to amusement.
"Lavinia," she rippled, "as a matchmaker you take the
cake! I don't believe——" She paused, listening. "Hush!
Miss Jeannette Urmy came in through the open French
window. She was dressed in a natty little cotton frock,
looked fresh and chic, and only pleasantly American. Perhaps
she inherited her good looks and refined tastes from
"popper" Urmy, deceased, in which case that gentleman
must have committed one serious error of taste and judgment
when he selected Jeannette's mother for his better half.
"My! You're late, Jeannette!" observed Mrs. Urmy,
shooting a quick glance at Lady Hartley.
At the same moment, both ladies, by common consent,
sauntered toward the door. They knew Jeannette's temperament.
A crisis, such as the announcement in the Morning
Post was sure to evoke, was one at which they were
not anxious to assist.
"Oh, I'm ahead of time," answered Jeannette. "I've
been up since six looking for eggs."
"Eggs?" echoed Lady Hartley.
"Yes; I collect birds' eggs." She picked up the newspaper
and let her eye wander along the items in the Court
Circular. "But getting up early makes me homesick. The
best time of my life was when I was a kid, when I hadn't
an idea beyond the woods on the old Massachusetts farm,
when popper kept his store, and—Oh!"
She had reached the fatal announcement, and sat with
parted lips, rigid as stone, while the world seemed toppling
about her ears. There was a long pause. Jeannette's lips
gradually tightened, and her firm hand crumpled up the
"Mommer!" she exclaimed. "Here, Mommer!" But
Mrs. Urmy and Lady Hartley had beaten a diplomatic retreat.
Jeannette jumped to her feet, the color flaming in her face,
her eyes snapping with indignation. "Oh!" she cried, impotently.
"I'll—I'll—oh! what can I do? It must come
out! He must apologize. Who did it? Oh, I don't even
know him, the—wretch!"
The "chuff-chuff" of a motor-car coming up the drive
interrupted her outburst, and she looked up to see it being
driven up and halted before the entrance. Lady Hartley
had a perfect fleet of cars. Jeannette at once jumped to
the conclusion that this was one of them. She had a sudden
inspiration. It was running free—ready to start. There
was temptation in the soft purr of its engine. The driver,
quietly dressed, but not in livery, she appraised as one of
Lady Hartley's motor-men.
"Shall I?" she whispered. "Dare I? I can set things
straight at once if I do. Persis will be wild with me for
going off without a word, but I'll—I'll chance it!"
She ran into the hall, slipped into her motoring coat, and,
throwing discretion to the winds, walked out to the front
of the house and quickly up to the car.
"How soon can you drive me to Sapworth Hall?" she
asked, getting in and pulling the rug around her.
The barefaced appropriation of his car by an unknown
young woman almost took Lord Chilminster's breath away.
He had, at much inconvenience to himself, motored all the
way to Lady Hartley's to contradict and sift an amazing
and annoying report that he had discovered in the Morning
Post. He had heard Lady Hartley mention the name of
Urmy as that of a friend of hers, and naturally decided that
she was the proper person to consult. But before he had
time to get out of his car and ring the bell here was a young
person, springing from goodness knows where, mistaking
him for a motor-man, and ordering him about. For a moment
he was speechless. Then, as the humor of the situation
began to appeal to him, so did the good looks of the girl.
"Really," he began. "You see I——"
"Don't talk, get under way!" commanded Jeannette.
"Quick! Her ladyship has altered her mind about going
out. You've got to take me to Sapworth Hall. It's thirty
miles. I want to be there by lunch-time. Do you know
"I—I think so," stammered Chilminster.
Her bewildering eagerness to be off was infectious. The
noble owner of the car felt it. But apart from that, he was
quite ready for an adventure in such pleasant company.
He forgot all about the object of his visit. Without another
word he let in the clutch and started.
Jeannette sank back with a sigh of relief. She credited
herself with having secured Persis's car very neatly. The
man might, perhaps, get into trouble, but she could make
that up to him by a generous tip. Her one idea was to contradict
and confute the disgraceful announcement at its
fountain-head. It was providential that the unknown Lord
Chilminster's place was so near; but had it been ten times
as far off, Jeannette, boiling with justifiable indignation, and
with her mind made up to exact reparation, would have gone
"It's awful! It's unheard of! I—I won't have it!
Who can have done it?" she kept repeating through white
teeth set viciously. "I'll have it contradicted in large
print by this time to-morrow, or the American Ambassador
She was not quite sure what ambassadors did under similar
circumstances, and she left the mental threat unfinished.
Anyhow, it was a disgrace to herself, and her sex, if not a
slight on her country, and it redoubled her determination
to "get even" with the perpetrator of it. She leaned forward
to make herself heard.
"Set a killing pace," she called. "I'll make it up to you."
Chilminster nodded, hid a smile, and let the car out to
the top of its speed. It ate up mile after mile; and as it
came to Jeannette that each one brought her nearer and
nearer to the hateful person whose name had been so scandalously
bracketed with her own, she experienced a feeling
of nervousness. The boldness of her escapade began to
alarm her. What should she say? How express in words
her view of an intolerable situation which no self-respecting
girl could even calmly think about?
Lord Chilminster's mind was almost similarly engaged.
He was wondering who Miss Jeannette L. Urmy could be,
and whether she was aware of the obnoxious paragraph
in the paper. He did not do her the injustice to suppose
that she had inspired it (he had an open mind on that point),
but as he was not responsible for it himself, he had a suspicion
that she might be. Chilminster had met very few
unmarried American girls, but like most Englishmen, he
was aware of their capacity for resolution in most matters.
Then, again, it was leap year. Suppose—— For a little
while he did a lot of hard thinking.
"I say," he called suddenly, looking over his shoulder.
"Isn't there a Miss Urmy staying at the White House?"
Jeannette drew herself up and fixed him with a stony stare.
"I am Miss Urmy," she answered frigidly.
The start that Chilminster gave unconsciously affected
the steering-wheel, and the car swerved sharply.
"What are you doing? You're driving disgracefully!"
"I—I beg your pardon," faltered Chilminster. "I thought
you were her lady's maid."
He felt he owed her that one. A girl who could announce
her approaching marriage with a stranger (Chilminster
no longer gave her the benefit of the doubt) and follow up
that glaring indiscretion by a visit to her victim, was—— The
imminence of such a thing alarmed him. Was she coming
to propose—to molest him? He got hot thinking of it.
The situation had undergone a complete change since he
had started out in a rage, and some trepidation, to confront
Miss Urmy herself, if need be. Now trepidation over-balanced
all his other emotions. Miss Urmy was behind
him, in his own automobile, and he was meekly driving
her at a cracking speed to his own house! It was too late
to turn back now. The thing had to be seen through. Besides,
he could not help feeling a curiosity to know what was
in his passenger's mind, and to discover her bewildering
plan of action.
Neither spoke for the rest of the journey, and at length the
car passed through the lodge gates, swept up the drive, and
stopped at the entrance to Sapworth Hall. Jeannette got out.
"You had better go round to the stables and ask for something
to eat. I may be some time," was all she volunteered
as she rang the bell.
Rather staggered by the order, but foreseeing a bad quarter
of an hour ahead of him, Chilminster was glad of the
respite. He opened the throttle and slid out of sight as
Jeannette was admitted.
His lordship was out, the butler informed her. Then
she would wait—wait all day, if necessary, she said decisively,
following the man into the library. No, she was in
no need of refreshment, but her chauffeur, who had gone
round to the stables, might be glad of something in the servants'
With a foot impatiently tapping the polished floor, she
sat summoning up all her determination whilst awaiting
the ordeal before her. For, by this time had come the inevitable
reaction, and the sudden impulse that had made her
act as she had seemed, somehow, out of relation to the motive
that had inspired it. Not that she regretted having come:
her self-respect demanded that sacrifice; but she wished
the unpleasant affair over.
An intolerable ten minutes passed. The beautiful seventeenth
century room, like a reflection on the spirit of democracy,
was getting on Jeannette's nerves. The strain of
listening, watching the big mahogany door for the expected
entrance of Lord Chilminster, at last reduced her to a state
of apathy, and when he did come quietly in she was taken
"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting," he said.
Jeannette stared. Bareheaded, gaiterless, minus his driving
coat, very self-contained and eminently aristocratic,
the supposed motor-man advanced into the room.
"You see, you told me to take the car round to the stables,"
he proceeded, with a touch of apology in his tone.
"You—you are the Earl of Chilminster?" she gasped.
"Of Sapworth Hall, Wilts," he augmented, like one who
quotes. "And you are Miss Jeannette L. Urmy, of Boston,
Massachusetts, I believe."
There was quite a long silence.
"You knew all along," she flushed angrily.
Chilminster raised a hand in protest. "Not until you
"Then why didn't you stop? You ought to have taken
me back immediately you knew who I was."
"So I would have if——"
"You mean you didn't believe me. You thought I was
a lady's maid!" Jeannette interrupted indignantly.
"That was an error of judgment for which I humbly
apologize. We are all liable to make mistakes sometimes.
You, Miss Urmy, for instance, took me for a motor-man.
You also appropriated my car, and commanded me to bring
you here at a murderous—no, a killing pace. And I think
you added that you would make it up to me."
Jeannette's face tingled. She had come to accuse, and,
instead, found herself patiently listening to a recital of her
indiscretions. But if Lord Chilminster was a strategist,
Jeannette was a tactician. She appreciated the danger of
a passive defense, and conversely, of the value of a vigorous
aggression. Without a moment's hesitation she began
a counter attack.
"In to-day's Morning Post——" she commenced.
"Ah, the Morning Post!" echoed Chilminster, also changing
"There was a disgraceful announcement."
"Half of it certainly was—irksome."
"Which half?" asked Jeannette suspiciously.
"I have no conscientious scruples about matrimony in
the abstract," parried Chilminster.
"But I have. I object altogether to the paragraph. I
"Then you did not insert it?"
"I insert it? I?" flamed Jeannette. She drew herself
up as haughtily as a pretty woman can under the disadvantage
of being seated in a yielding easy chair. "Do
you mean to assert, Lord Chilminster, that I——?"
She was interrupted by the entrance of the butler.
"Luncheon is served, my lord," he announced.
"You will take off your coat?"
Lord Chilminster turned to Miss Urmy, and advanced a
step in anticipation. The butler—with a well-trained
butler's promptness—was behind her, and before she could
frame a word of objection, the fur-lined garment had slipped
from her shoulders.
Thus must martyrs have marched to the stake, was one
of Jeannette's bewildered reflections as she preceded her
host out of the room, and, as in a dream, found herself a few
minutes later facing him across the luncheon table. Outwardly,
the meal proceeded in well-ordered calm. Lord
Chilminster made no further reference to the debatable
topic; only talked lightly and pleasantly on a variety of
As the lady's host that, of course, was the only attitude
he could adopt; but the fact remains that he did so de bonne
volonté. Perhaps because, so far, he had scored more points
than his opponent in the morning's encounter; perhaps,
also, because of her undeniable good looks, his irritation,
due to the circumstances that had prompted that encounter,
began to lessen with truites en papilotte, was almost forgotten
in face of a mousse de volaille, and entirely vanished among
asperges vertes mousseline.
Miss Jeannette L. Urmy, with her veil lifted, and relieved
of her voluminous coat, was, he had to admit, distractingly
pretty; not at all the type he had pictured as the original
of the name. Young, pretty, and charming women (he was
convinced that au fond she was charming) ought to have
no obstinate prejudices against marriage. He even ventured
to think that Miss Urmy's mind had become obscured
on that point by those—well, indiscreet lines in the Morning
Post. They had upset him; then why not her? They were
As for Jeannette, in spite of Lord Chilminster's effortless
ease, her powers of conversation were frozen. She was
reduced to monosyllables, and she ate in proportion. It
was a humiliating experience to be accepting the hospitality
of the enemy; one, moreover, that made it awkward for her
to prolong hostilities. Having broken bread in his tents
(a Puritan strain was responsible for the illustration) she
felt disarmed. Besides, she was rather ashamed of her
maladroitness in mistaking Lord Chilminster for a common
motor-man. It argued gaucherie. Perhaps he thought her
unconventional call a violation of good taste—considered
her forward! He had plainly shown his annoyance about
that obnox—that embarrassing paragraph, and that fact
spiked most of her batteries. He might, after all, prove to
"Do you mind if I smoke?"
Lord Chilminster's voice startled her out of her reverie.
The servants had noiselessly retired, and they were alone.
"I—I feel ready to sink through the floor," she rejoined
He returned his cigarette case to his pocket, looking quite
concerned. "I'm so sorry. I ought not to have——"
"No, no. Please smoke. It isn't that," stammered Jeannette.
"It's the Morning Post?"
Jeannette evaded his eye.
"Yes; it does put us in rather a tight place," mediated
Nothing was said for a moment.
"Engaged!" he murmured.
Jeannette raised her eyes and noted his reflective attitude.
"Who can have put it in?" he went on.
"I can't imagine."
"It does seem strange," admitted Jeannette in a detached
"It's not as if we were——"
"No," she interposed hurriedly.
"Well, what ought we to do about it? Of course, we
can contradict it, but——"
"But what?" she asked, filling his pause.
"I hate advertisement—that is, unnecessary advertisement,"
Chilminster corrected himself. "It would make
us—I mean me—look so—so vacillating."
He looked up rather suddenly, and just missed Jeannette's
eyes by the thousandth of a second.
What could he mean? she asked herself, while her heart
pumped boisterously. Was he magnanimous enough to
be thinking of accepting a compromising situation to save
her? What he had said sounded very unselfish. Of course,
she couldn't allow him to. What a pity he was not an
American—or something quite ordinary. Then she might——
"There's nothing for it but to write to the paper, I suppose?"
he said ruefully.
"I—I suppose not." The comment was dragged from
Jeannette in a tone as unconsciously reluctant as his was
Chilminster sighed. "It's so rough on you."
Jeannette felt a consuming anxiety to know whether
his sympathy was occasioned by the announcement or the
suggested denial of it.
"And on you, too," she admitted. "What were you
thinking—how did you propose to phrase it?"
"I?" he asked apprehensively. "To be quite frank. I
haven't got as far as that. Never wrote to the papers in
my life," he added pusillanimously.
"But I can't," argued Jeannette. Her determination
of two hours ago had vanished into the Ewigkeit.
Chilminster had an inspiration. "What do you say if
we do it together?"
While she digested this expedient he fetched paper and
pencil, and then sat gazing at the ceiling for inspiration.
"Well?" she queried at the end of a minute.
"How ought one to begin these things?" asked the desperate
Jeannette cogitated deeply. "It's so difficult to say what
one wants to a stranger in a letter, isn't it?" she hesitated.
"Wouldn't a telegram do?"
"By Jove! Yes; and simply say: 'Miss Urmy wishes
"In my name!" exclaimed Jeannette.
"Well—you are the person aggrieved."
"I really don't think it's fair to put the whole of the responsibility
on my shoulders," she demurred.
"No, I suppose not," Chilminster admitted grudgingly.
"How would this do: 'Miss Urmy and Lord Chilminster
wish to contradict their engagement——'"
"But that implies that there was an engagement!"
Chilminster pondered the deduction. "So it does. I see.
People would jump to the conclusion that we were in a desperate
hurry to alter our minds!"
"And, of course, we haven't."
"Y-es. I don't know how you feel about it, but if there's
one thing I dislike it's tittle-tattle about my private affairs."
"Horrid!" shivered Jeannette. "What are we to do?"
Her tone was so hopeless, so full of tears, that it melted
Chilminster. Susceptibilities that had been simmering within
him for an hour past came unexpectedly to the boil; and
as they did so the difficulty vanished.
"Why need we bother at all about it?" he asked impulsively.
For a world of moments, Jeannette stared at him, revolving
the question. Then a faint radiance came into her
face, and grew and grew until it burned. Jeannette bit
her lip. Jeannette looked down.
"What do you mean?" she asked in confusion.
"Don't—don't you think we had better—take the
consequences?" said Chilminster, as he reached across the
table and let his hand fall on hers.
Mrs. Urmy stood at the window looking with lack-lustre
eyes across the park. She had had six solid hours in which
to reflect on that risky communication of hers to the
Morning Post, and Jeannette's disappearance since breakfast
time provided a gloomy commentary on it. She fidgeted
uneasily as she recalled her daughter's scared look
when reading the paper, and maternal forebodings discounted
her interest in an automobile that showed at intervals between
the trees of the drive as it approached the White House.
But two moments later it occurred to her that it was Jeannette
who sat on its front seat beside the driver; and, as the
car drew up, her experienced eye detected something in the
demeanor of the pair that startled but elated her.
"Here's Jeannette!" she called over her shoulder to
Lady Hartley. "In an auto with a young man. Say,
Persis, who is he?"
Lady Hartley hurried to the window, gave one look, and
doubted the evidence of her eyes.
"Lavinia, it's Lord Chilminster!" she cried, with a catch
in her voice.
The two women flashed a glance brimful of significance
at one another. Lady Hartley's expressed uncertainty;
Mrs. Urmy's triumph—sheer, complete, perfect triumph.
"Didn't I say it was a sure thing?" she shrilled excitedly.
"It's fixed them up! Come right ahead and introduce me
to my future son-in-law!"
As she raced to the door she added half to herself: "I
don't want to boast, but, thank the Lord, I've got Jeannette
off this season!"