AND OTHER STORIES
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
By Charles Scribner's Sons.
*** The stories in this volume have appeared in Scribner's Magazine, Harper's Magazine, Weekly, and Young People; and "The Reporter who Made Himself King" also in a volume, the rest of which, however, addressed itself to younger readers.
JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
Page Cinderella 1 Miss Delamar's Understudy 36 The Editor's Story 76 An Assisted Emigrant 105 The Reporter who Made Himself King 119
The servants of the Hotel Salisbury, which is so called because it is situated on Broadway and conducted on the American plan by a man named Riggs, had agreed upon a date for their annual ball and volunteer concert, and had announced that it would eclipse every other annual ball in the history of the hotel. As the Hotel Salisbury had been only two years in existence, this was not an idle boast, and it had the effect of inducing many people to buy the tickets, which sold at a dollar apiece, and were good for "one gent and a lady," and entitled the bearer to a hat-check without extra charge.
In the flutter of preparation all ranks were temporarily levelled, and social barriers taken down with the mutual consent of those separated by them; the night-clerk so far unbent as to personally request the colored hall-boy Number Eight to play a banjo solo at the concert, which was to fill in the pauses between the dances, and the chambermaids timidly consulted with the lady telegraph operator and the lady in charge of the telephone, as to whether or not they intended to wear hats.
And so every employee on every floor of the hotel was working individually for the success of the ball, from the engineers in charge of the electric light plant in the cellar, to the night-watchman on the ninth story, and the elevator-boys who belonged to no floor in particular.
Miss Celestine Terrell, who was Mrs. Grahame West in private life, and young Grahame West, who played the part opposite to hers in the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera that was then in the third month of its New York run, were among the honored patrons of the Hotel Salisbury. Miss Terrell, in her utter inability to adjust the American coinage to English standards, and also in the kindness of her heart, had given too generous tips to all of the hotel waiters, and some of this money had passed into the gallery window of the Broadway Theatre, where the hotel waiters had heard her sing and seen her dance, and had failed to recognize her young husband in the Lord Chancellor's wig and black silk court dress. So they knew that she was a celebrated personage, and they urged the maitre d'hotel to invite her to the ball, and then persuade her to take a part in their volunteer concert.
Paul, the head-waiter, or "Pierrot," as Grahame West called him, because it was shorter, as he explained, hovered over the two young English people one night at supper, and served them lavishly with his own hands.
"Miss Terrell," said Paul, nervously,—"I beg pardon, Madam, Mrs. Grahame West, I should say,—I would like to make an invitation to you."
Celestine looked at her husband inquiringly, and bowed her head for Paul to continue.
"The employees of the Salisbury give the annual ball and concert on the sixteenth of December, and the committee have inquired and requested of me, on account of your kindness, to ask you would you be so polite as to sing a little song for us at the night of our ball?"
The head-waiter drew a long breath and straightened himself with a sense of relief at having done his part, whether the Grahame Wests did theirs or not.
As a rule, Miss Terrell did not sing in private, and had only broken this rule twice, when the inducements which led her to do so were forty pounds for each performance, and the fact that her beloved Princess of Wales was to be present. So she hesitated for an instant.
"Why, you are very good," she said, doubtfully. "Will there be any other people there,—any one not an employee, I mean?"
Paul misunderstood her and became a servant again.
"No, I am afraid there will be only the employees, Madam," he said.
"Oh, then, I should be very glad to come," murmured Celestine, sweetly. "But I never sing out of the theatre, so you mustn't mind if it is not good."
The head-waiter played a violent tattoo on the back of the chair in his delight, and balanced and bowed.
"Ah, we are very proud and pleased that we can induce Madam to make so great exceptions," he declared. "The committee will be most happy. We will send a carriage for Madam, and a bouquet for Madam also," he added grandly, as one who was not to be denied the etiquette to which he plainly showed he was used.
* * * * *
"Will we come?" cried Van Bibber, incredulously, as he and Travers sat watching Grahame make up in his dressing-room. "I should say we would come. And you must all take supper with us first, and we will get Letty Chamberlain from the Gaiety Company and Lester to come too, and make them each do a turn."
"And we can dance on the floor ourselves, can't we?" asked Grahame West, "as they do at home Christmas-eve in the servants' hall, when her ladyship dances in the same set with the butler and the men waltz with the cook."
"Well, over here," said Van Bibber, "you'll have to be careful that you're properly presented to the cook first, or she'll appeal to the floor committee and have you thrown out."
"The interesting thing about that ball," said Travers, as he and Van Bibber walked home that night, "is the fact that those hotel people are getting a galaxy of stars to amuse them for nothing who wouldn't exhibit themselves at a Fifth Avenue dance for all the money in Wall Street. And the joke of it is going to be that the servants will vastly prefer the banjo solo by hall-boy Number Eight."
Lyric Hall lies just this side of the Forty-second Street station along the line of the Sixth Avenue Elevated road, and you can look into its windows from the passing train. It was after one o'clock when the invited guests and their friends pushed open the storm-doors and were recognized by the anxious committee-men who were taking tickets at the top of the stairs. The committee-men fled in different directions, shouting for Mr. Paul, and Mr. Paul arrived beaming with delight and moisture, and presented a huge bouquet to Mrs. West, and welcomed her friends with hospitable warmth.
Mrs. West and Miss Chamberlain took off their hats and the men gave up their coats, not without misgivings, to a sleepy young man who said pleasantly, as he dragged them into the coat-room window, "that they would be playing in great luck if they ever saw them again."
"I don't need to give you no checks," he explained: "just ask for the coats with real fur on 'em. Nobody else has any."
There was a balcony overhanging the floor, and the invited guests were escorted to it, and given seats where they could look down upon the dancers below, and the committee-men, in dangling badges with edges of silver fringe, stood behind their chairs and poured out champagne for them lavishly, and tore up the wine-check which the barkeeper brought with it, with princely hospitality.
The entrance of the invited guests created but small interest, and neither the beauty of the two English girls nor Lester's well-known features, which smiled from shop-windows and on every ash-barrel in the New York streets, aroused any particular comment. The employees were much more occupied with the Lancers then in progress, and with the joyful actions of one of their number who was playing blind-man's-buff with himself, and swaying from set to set in search of his partner, who had given him up as hopeless and retired to the supper-room for crackers and beer.
Some of the ladies wore bonnets, and others wore flowers in their hair, and a half-dozen were in gowns which were obviously intended for dancing and nothing else. But none of them were in decollete gowns. A few wore gloves. They had copied the fashions of their richer sisters with the intuitive taste of the American girl of their class, and they waltzed quite as well as the ladies whose dresses they copied, and many of them were exceedingly pretty. The costumes of the gentlemen varied from the clothes they wore nightly when waiting on the table, to cutaway coats with white satin ties, and the regular blue and brass-buttoned uniform of the hotel.
"I am going to dance," said Van Bibber, "if Mr. Pierrot will present me to one of the ladies."
Paul introduced him to a lady in a white cheese-cloth dress and black walking-shoes, with whom no one else would dance, and the musicians struck up "The Band Played On," and they launched out upon a slippery floor.
Van Bibber was conscious that his friends were applauding him in dumb show from the balcony, and when his partner asked who they were, he repudiated them altogether, and said he could not imagine, but that he guessed from their bad manners they were professional entertainers hired for the evening.
The music stopped abruptly, and as he saw Mrs. West leaving the balcony, he knew that his turn had come, and as she passed him he applauded her vociferously, and as no one else applauded even slightly, she grew very red.
Her friends knew that they formed the audience which she dreaded, and she knew that they were rejoicing in her embarrassment, which the head of the downstairs department, as Mr. Paul described him, increased to an hysterical point by introducing her as "Miss Ellen Terry, the great English actress, who would now oblige with a song."
The man had seen the name of the wonderful English actress on the bill-boards in front of Abbey's Theatre, and he had been told that Miss Terrell was English, and confused the two names. As he passed Van Bibber he drew his waistcoat into shape with a proud shrug of his shoulders, and said, anxiously, "I gave your friend a good introduction, anyway, didn't I?"
"You did, indeed," Van Bibber answered. "You couldn't have surprised her more; and it made a great hit with me, too."
No one in the room listened to the singing. The gentlemen had crossed their legs comfortably and were expressing their regret to their partners that so much time was wasted in sandwiching songs between the waltzes, and the ladies were engaged in criticizing Celestine's hair, which she wore in a bun. They thought that it might be English, but it certainly was not their idea of good style.
Celestine was conscious of the fact that her husband and Lester were hanging far over the balcony, holding their hands to their eyes as though they were opera-glasses, and exclaiming with admiration and delight; and when she had finished the first verse, they pretended to think that the song was over, and shouted, "Bravo, encore," and applauded frantically, and then apparently overcome with confusion at their mistake, sank back entirely from sight.
"I think Miss Terrell's an elegant singer," Van Bibber's partner said to him. "I seen her at the hotel frequently. She has such a pleasant way with her, quite lady-like. She's the only actress I ever saw that has retained her timidity. She acts as though she were shy, don't she?"
Van Bibber, who had spent a month on the Thames the summer before, with the Grahame Wests, surveyed Celestine with sudden interest, as though he had never seen her before until that moment, and agreed that she did look shy, one might almost say frightened to death. Mrs. West rushed through the second verse of the song, bowed breathlessly, and ran down the steps of the stage and back to the refuge of the balcony, while the audience applauded with perfunctory politeness and called clamorously to the musicians to "Let her go!"
"And that is the song," commented Van Bibber, "that gets six encores and three calls every night on Broadway!"
Grahame West affected to be greatly chagrined at his wife's failure to charm the chambermaids and porters with her little love-song, and when his turn came, he left them with alacrity, assuring them that they would now see the difference, as he would sing a song better suited to their level.
But the song that had charmed London and captured the unprotected coast town of New York, fell on heedless ears; and except the evil ones in the gallery, no one laughed and no one listened, and Lester declared with tears in his eyes that he would not go through such an ordeal for the receipts of an Actors' Fund Benefit.
Van Bibber's partner caught him laughing at Grahame West's vain efforts to amuse, and said, tolerantly, that Mr. West was certainly comical, but that she had a lady friend with her who could recite pieces which were that comic that you'd die of laughing. She presented her friend to Van Bibber, and he said he hoped that they were going to hear her recite, as laughing must be a pleasant death. But the young lady explained that she had had the misfortune to lose her only brother that summer, and that she had given up everything but dancing in consequence. She said she did not think it looked right to see a girl in mourning recite comic monologues.
Van Bibber struggled to be sympathetic, and asked what her brother had died of? She told him that "he died of a Thursday," and the conversation came to an embarrassing pause.
Van Bibber's partner had another friend in a gray corduroy waistcoat and tan shoes, who was of Hebraic appearance. He also wore several very fine rings, and officiated with what was certainly religious tolerance at the M.E. Bethel Church. She said he was an elegant or—gan—ist, putting the emphasis on the second syllable, which made Van Bibber think that she was speaking of some religious body to which he belonged. But the organist made his profession clear by explaining that the committee had just invited him to oblige the company with a solo on the piano, but that he had been hitting the champagne so hard that he doubted if he could tell the keys from the pedals, and he added that if they'd excuse him he would go to sleep, which he immediately did with his head on the shoulder of the lady recitationist, who tactfully tried not to notice that he was there.
They were all waltzing again, and as Van Bibber guided his partner for a second time around the room, he noticed a particularly handsome girl in a walking-dress, who was doing some sort of a fancy step with a solemn, grave-faced young man in the hotel livery. They seemed by their manner to know each other very well, and they had apparently practised the step that they were doing often before.
The girl was much taller than the man, and was superior to him in every way. Her movements were freer and less conscious, and she carried her head and shoulders as though she had never bent them above a broom. Her complexion was soft and her hair of the finest, deepest auburn. Among all the girls upon the floor she was the most remarkable, even if her dancing had not immediately distinguished her.
The step which she and her partner were exhibiting was one that probably had been taught her by a professor of dancing at some East Side academy, at the rate of fifty cents per hour, and which she no doubt believed was the latest step danced in the gilded halls of the Few Hundred. In this waltz the two dancers held each other's hands, and the man swung his partner behind him, and then would turn and take up the step with her where they had dropped it; or they swung around and around each other several times, as people do in fancy skating, and sometimes he spun her so quickly one way that the skirt of her walking-dress was wound as tightly around her legs and ankles as a cord around a top, and then as he swung her in the opposite direction, it unwound again, and wrapped about her from the other side. They varied this when it pleased them with balancings and steps and posturings that were not sufficiently extravagant to bring any comment from the other dancers, but which were so full of grace and feeling for time and rhythm, that Van Bibber continually reversed his partner so that he might not for an instant lose sight of the girl with auburn hair.
"She is a very remarkable dancer," he said at last, apologetically. "Do you know who she is?"
His partner had observed his interest with increasing disapproval, and she smiled triumphantly now at the chance that his question gave her.
"She is the seventh floor chambermaid," she said. "I," she added in a tone which marked the social superiority, "am a checker and marker."
"Really?" said Van Bibber, with a polite accent of proper awe.
He decided that he must see more of this Cinderella of the Hotel Salisbury; and dropping his partner by the side of the lady recitationist, he bowed his thanks and hurried to the gallery for a better view.
When he reached it he found his professional friends hanging over the railing, watching every movement which the girl made with an intense and unaffected interest.
"Have you noticed that girl with red hair?" he asked, as he pulled up a chair beside them.
But they only nodded and kept their eyes fastened on the opening in the crowd through which she had disappeared.
"There she is," Grahame West cried excitedly, as the girl swept out from the mass of dancers into the clear space. "Now you can see what I mean, Celestine," he said. "Where he turns her like that. We could do it in the shadow-dance in the second act. It's very pretty. She lets go his right hand and then he swings her and balances backward until she takes up the step again, when she faces him. It is very simple and very effective. Isn't it, George?"
Lester nodded and said, "Yes, very. She's a born dancer. You can teach people steps, but you can't teach them to be graceful."
"She reminds me of Sylvia Grey," said Miss Chamberlain. "There's nothing violent about it, or faked, is there? It's just the poetry of motion, without any tricks."
Lester, who was a trick dancer himself, and Grahame West, who was one of the best eccentric dancers in England, assented to this cheerfully.
Van Bibber listened to the comments of the authorities and smiled grimly. The contrast which their lives presented to that of the young girl whom they praised so highly, struck him as being most interesting. Here were two men who had made comic dances a profound and serious study, and the two women who had lifted dancing to the plane of a fine art, all envying and complimenting a girl who was doing for her own pleasure that which was to them hard work and a livelihood. But while they were going back the next day to be applauded and petted and praised by a friendly public, she was to fly like Cinderella, to take up her sweeping and dusting and the making of beds, and the answering of peremptory summonses from electric buttons.
"A good teacher could make her worth one hundred dollars a week in six lessons," said Lester, dispassionately. "I'd be willing to make her an offer myself, if I hadn't too many dancers in the piece already."
"A hundred dollars—that's twenty pounds," said Mrs. Grahame West. "You do pay such prices over here! But I quite agree that she is very graceful; and she is so unconscious, too, isn't she?"
The interest in Cinderella ceased when the waltzing stopped, and the attention of those in the gallery was riveted with equal intensity upon Miss Chamberlain and Travers who had faced each other in a quadrille, Miss Chamberlain having accepted the assistant barkeeper for a partner, while Travers contented himself with a tall, elderly female, who in business hours had entire charge of the linen department. The barkeeper was a melancholy man with a dyed mustache, and when he asked the English dancer from what hotel she came, and she, thinking he meant at what hotel was she stopping, told him, he said that that was a slow place, and that if she would let him know when she had her night off, he would be pleased to meet her at the Twenty-third station of the Sixth Avenue road on the uptown side, and would take her to the theatre, for which, he explained, he was able to obtain tickets for nothing, as so many men gave him their return checks for drinks.
Miss Chamberlain told him in return, that she just doted on the theatre, and promised to meet him the very next evening. She sent him anonymously instead two seats in the front row for her performance. She had much delight the next night in watching his countenance when, after arriving somewhat late and cross, he recognized the radiant beauty on the stage as the young person with whom he had condescended to dance.
When the quadrille was over she introduced him to Travers, and Travers told him he mixed drinks at the Knickerbocker Club, and that his greatest work was a Van Bibber cocktail. And when the barkeeper asked for the recipe and promised to "push it along," Travers told him he never made it twice the same, as it depended entirely on his mood.
Mrs. Grahame West and Lester were scandalized at the conduct of these two young people and ordered the party home, and as the dance was growing somewhat noisy and the gentlemen were smoking as they danced, the invited guests made their bows to Mr. Paul and went out into cold, silent streets, followed by the thanks and compliments of seven bare-headed and swaying committee-men.
The next week Lester went on the road with his comic opera company; the Grahame Wests sailed to England, Letty Chamberlain and the other "Gee Gees," as Travers called the Gayety Girls, departed for Chicago, and Travers and Van Bibber were left alone.
* * * * *
The annual ball was a month in the past, when Van Bibber found Travers at breakfast at their club, and dropped into a chair beside him with a sigh of weariness and indecision.
"What's the trouble? Have some breakfast?" said Travers, cheerfully.
"Thank you, no," said Van Bibber, gazing at his friend doubtfully; "I want to ask you what you think of this. Do you remember that girl at that servants' ball?"
"Which girl?—Tall girl with red hair—did fancy dance? Yes—why?"
"Well, I've been thinking about her lately," said Van Bibber, "and what they said of her dancing. It seems to me that if it's as good as they thought it was, the girl ought to be told of it and encouraged. They evidently meant what they said. It wasn't as though they were talking about her to her relatives and had to say something pleasant. Lester thought she could make a hundred dollars a week if she had had six lessons. Well, six lessons wouldn't cost much, not more than ten dollars at the most, and a hundred a week for an original outlay of ten is a good investment."
Travers nodded his head in assent, and whacked an egg viciously with his spoon. "What's your scheme?" he said. "Is your idea to help the lady for her own sake—sort of a philanthropic snap—or as a speculation? We might make it pay as a speculation. You see nobody knows about her except you and me. We might form her into a sort of stock company and teach her to dance, and secure her engagements and then take our commission out of her salary. Is that what you were thinking of doing?"
"No, that was not my idea," said Van Bibber, smiling. "I hadn't any plan. I just thought I'd go down to that hotel and tell her that in the opinion of the four people best qualified to know what good dancing is, she is a good dancer, and then leave the rest to her. She must have some friends or relations who would help her to take a start. If it's true that she can make a hit as a dancer, it seems a pity that she shouldn't know it, doesn't it? If she succeeded, she'd make a pot of money, and if she failed she'd be just where she is now."
Travers considered this subject deeply, with knit brows.
"That's so," he said. "I'll tell you what let's do. Let's go see some of the managers of those continuous performance places, and tell them we have a dark horse that the Grahame Wests and Letty Chamberlain herself and George Lester think is the coming dancer of the age, and ask them to give her a chance. And we'll make some sort of a contract with them. We ought to fix it so that she is to get bigger money the longer they keep her in the bill, have her salary on a rising scale. Come on," he exclaimed, warming to the idea. "Let's go now. What have you got to do?"
"I've got nothing better to do than just that," Van Bibber declared, briskly.
The managers whom they interviewed were interested but non-committal. They agreed that the girl must be a remarkable dancer indeed to warrant such praise from such authorities, but they wanted to see her and judge for themselves, and they asked to be given her address, which the impresarios refused to disclose. But they secured from the managers the names of several men who taught fancy dancing, and who prepared aspirants for the vaudeville stage, and having obtained from them their prices and their opinion as to how long a time would be required to give the finishing touches to a dancer already accomplished in the art, they directed their steps to the Hotel Salisbury.
"'From the Seventh Story to the Stage,'" said Travers. "She will make very good newspaper paragraphs, won't she? 'The New American Dancer, endorsed by Celestine Terrell, Letty Chamberlain, and Cortlandt Van Bibber.' And we could get her outside engagements to dance at studios and evening parties after her regular performance, couldn't we?" he continued. "She ought to ask from fifty to a hundred dollars a night. With her regular salary that would average about three hundred and fifty a week. She is probably making three dollars a week now, and eats in the servants' hall."
"And then we will send her abroad," interrupted Van Bibber, taking up the tale, "and she will do the music halls in London. If she plays three halls a night, say one on the Surrey Side, and Islington, and a smart West End hall like the Empire or the Alhambra, at fifteen guineas a turn, that would bring her in five hundred and twenty-five dollars a week. And then she would go to the Folies Bergere in Paris, and finally to Petersburg and Milan, and then come back to dance in the Grand Opera season, under Gus Harris, with a great international reputation, and hung with flowers and medals and diamond sun-bursts and things."
"Rather," said Travers, shaking his head enthusiastically. "And after that we must invent a new dance for her, with colored lights and mechanical snaps and things, and have it patented; and finally she will get her picture on soda-cracker boxes and cigarette advertisements, and have a race-horse named after her, and give testimonials for nerve tonics and soap. Does fame reach farther than that?"
"I think not," said Van Bibber, "unless they give her name to a new make of bicycle. We must give her a new name, anyway, and rechristen her, whatever her name may be. We'll call her Cinderella—La Cinderella. That sounds fine, doesn't it, even if it is rather long for the very largest type."
"It isn't much longer than Carmencita," suggested the other. "And people who have the proud knowledge of knowing her like you and me will call her 'Cinders' for short. And when we read of her dancing before the Czar of All the Russias, and leading the ballet at the Grand Opera House in Paris, we'll say, 'that is our handiwork,' and we will feel that we have not lived in vain."
* * * * *
"Seventh floor, please," said Van Bibber to the elevator boy.
The elevator boy was a young man of serious demeanor, with a smooth-shaven face and a square, determined jaw. There was something about him which seemed familiar, but Van Bibber could not determine just what it was. The elevator stopped to allow some people to leave it at the second floor, and as the young man shoved the door to again, Van Bibber asked him if he happened to know of a chambermaid with red hair, a tall girl on the seventh floor, a girl who danced very well.
The wire rope of the elevator slipped less rapidly through the hands of the young man who controlled it, and he turned and fixed his eyes with sudden interest on Van Bibber's face, and scrutinized him and his companion with serious consideration.
"Yes, I know her—I know who you mean, anyway," he said. "Why?"
"Why?" echoed Van Bibber, raising his eyes. "We wish to see her on a matter of business. Can you tell me her name?"
The elevator was running so slowly now that its movement upward was barely perceptible.
"Her name's Annie—Annie Crehan. Excuse me," said the young man, doubtfully, "ain't you the young fellows who came to our ball with that English lady, the one that sung?"
"Yes," Van Bibber assented, pleasantly. "We were there. That's where I've seen you before. You were there too, weren't you?"
"Me and Annie was dancing together most all the evening. I seen all youse watching her."
"Of course," exclaimed Van Bibber. "I remember you now. Oh, then you must know her quite well. Maybe you can help us. We want to put her on the stage."
The elevator came to a stop with an abrupt jerk, and the young man shoved his hands behind him, and leaned back against one of the mirrors in its side.
"On the stage," he repeated. "Why?"
Van Bibber smiled and shrugged his shoulders in some embarrassment at this peremptory challenge. But there was nothing in the young man's tone or manner that could give offence. He seemed much in earnest, and spoke as though they must understand that he had some right to question.
"Why? Because of her dancing. She is a very remarkable dancer. All of those actors with us that night said so. You must know that yourself better than any one else, since you can dance with her. She could make quite a fortune as a dancer, and we have persuaded several managers to promise to give her a trial. And if she needs money to pay for lessons, or to buy the proper dresses and slippers and things, we are willing to give it to her, or to lend it to her, if she would like that better."
"Why?" repeated the young man, immovably. His manner was not encouraging.
"Why—what?" interrupted Travers, with growing impatience.
"Why are you willing to give her money? You don't know her."
Van Bibber looked at Travers, and Travers smiled in some annoyance. The electric bell rang violently from different floors, but the young man did not heed it. He had halted the elevator between two landings, and he now seated himself on the velvet cushions and crossed one leg over the other, as though for a protracted debate. Travers gazed about him in humorous apprehension, as though alarmed at the position in which he found himself, hung as it were between the earth and sky.
"I swear I am an unarmed man," he said, in a whisper.
"Our intentions are well meant, I assure you," said Van Bibber, with an amused smile. "The girl is working ten hours a day for very little money, isn't she? You know she is, when she could make a great deal of money by working half as hard. We have some influence with theatrical people, and we meant merely to put her in the way of bettering her position, and to give her the chance to do something which she can do better than many others, while almost any one, I take it, can sweep and make beds. If she were properly managed, she could become a great dancer, and delight thousands of people—add to the gayety of nations, as it were. She's hardly doing that now, is she? Have you any objections to that? What right have you to make objections, anyway?"
The young man regarded the two young gentlemen before him with a dogged countenance, but there was now in his eyes a look of helplessness and of great disquietude.
"We're engaged to be married, Annie and me," he said. "That's it."
"Oh," exclaimed Van Bibber, "I beg your pardon. That's different. Well, in that case, you can help us very much, if you wish. We leave it entirely with you!"
"I don't want that you should leave it with me," said the young man, harshly. "I don't want to have nothing to do with it. Annie can speak for herself. I knew it was coming to this," he said, leaning forward and clasping his hands together, "or something like this. I've never felt dead sure of Annie, never once. I always knew something would happen."
"Why, nothing has happened," said Van Bibber, soothingly. "You would both benefit by it. We would be as willing to help two as one. You would both be better off."
The young man raised his head and stared at Van Bibber reprovingly.
"You know better than that," he said. "You know what I'd look like. Of course she could make money as a dancer, I've known that for some time, but she hasn't thought of it yet, and she'd never have thought of it herself. But the question isn't me or what I want. It's Annie. Is she going to be happier or not, that's the question. And I'm telling you that she couldn't be any happier than she is now. I know that, too. We're just as contented as two folks ever was. We've been saving for three months, and buying furniture from the instalment people, and next month we were going to move into a flat on Seventh Avenue, quite handy to the hotel. If she goes onto the stage could she be any happier? And if you're honest in saying you're thinking of the two of us—I ask you where would I come in? I'll be pulling this wire rope and she'll be all over the country, and her friends won't be my friends and her ways won't be my ways. She'll get out of reach of me in a week, and I won't be in it. I'm not the sort to go loafing round while my wife supports me, carrying her satchel for her. And there's nothing I can do but just this. She'd come back here some day and live in the front floor suite, and I'd pull her up and down in this elevator. That's what will happen. Here's what you two gentlemen are doing." The young man leaned forward eagerly. "You're offering a change to two people that are as well off now as they ever hope to be, and they're contented. We don't know nothin' better. Now, are you dead sure that you're giving us something better than what we've got? You can't make me any happier than I am, and as far as Annie knows, up to now, she couldn't be better fixed, and no one could care for her more.
"My God! gentlemen," he cried, desperately, "think! She's all I've got. There's lots of dancers, but she's not a dancer to me, she's just Annie. I don't want her to delight the gayety of nations. I want her for myself. Maybe I'm selfish, but I can't help that. She's mine, and you're trying to take her away from me. Suppose she was your girl, and some one was sneaking her away from you. You'd try to stop it, wouldn't you, if she was all you had?" He stopped breathlessly and stared alternately from one to the other of the young men before him. Their countenances showed an expression of well-bred concern.
"It's for you to judge," he went on, helplessly; "if you want to take the responsibility, well and good, that's for you to say. I'm not stopping you, but she's all I've got."
The young man stopped, and there was a pause while he eyed them eagerly. The elevator bell rang out again with vicious indignation.
Travers struck at the toe of his boot with his stick and straightened his shoulders.
"I think you're extremely selfish, if you ask me," he said.
The young man stood up quickly and took his elevator rope in both hands. "All right," he said, quietly, "that settles it. I'll take you up to Annie now, and you can arrange it with her. I'm not standing in her way."
"Hold on," protested Van Bibber and Travers in a breath. "Don't be in such a hurry," growled Travers.
The young man stood immovable, with his hands on the wire and looking down on them, his face full of doubt and distress.
"I don't want to stand in Annie's way," he repeated, as though to himself. "I'll do whatever you say. I'll take you to the seventh floor or I'll drop you to the street. It's up to you, gentlemen," he added, helplessly, and turning his back to them threw his arm against the wall of the elevator and buried his face upon it.
There was an embarrassing pause, during which Van Bibber scowled at himself in the mirror opposite as though to ask it what a man who looked like that should do under such trying circumstances.
He turned at last and stared at Travers. "'Where ignorance is bliss, it's folly to be wise,'" he whispered, keeping his face toward his friend. "What do you say? Personally I don't see myself in the part of Providence. It's the case of the poor man and his one ewe lamb, isn't it?"
"We don't want his ewe lamb, do we?" growled Travers. "It's a case of the dog in a manger, I say. I thought we were going to be fairy godfathers to 'La Cinderella.'"
"The lady seems to be supplied with a most determined godfather as it is," returned Van Bibber.
The elevator boy raised his face and stared at them with haggard eyes.
"Well?" he begged.
Van Bibber smiled upon him reassuringly, with a look partly of respect and partly of pity.
"You can drop us to the street," he said.
MISS DELAMAR'S UNDERSTUDY
A young man runs two chances of marrying the wrong woman. He marries her because she is beautiful, and because he persuades himself that every other lovable attribute must be associated with such beauty, or because she is in love with him. If this latter is the case, she gives certain values to what he thinks and to what he says which no other woman gives, and so he observes to himself, "This is the woman who best understands me."
You can reverse this and say that young women run the same risks, but as men are seldom beautiful, the first danger is eliminated. Women still marry men, however, because they are loved by them, and in time the woman grows to depend upon this love and to need it, and is not content without it, and so she consents to marry the man for no other reason than because he cares for her. For if a dog, even, runs up to you wagging his tail and acting as though he were glad to see you, you pat him on the head and say, "What a nice dog." You like him because he likes you, and not because he belongs to a fine breed of animal and could take blue ribbons at bench shows.
This is the story of a young man who was in love with a beautiful woman, and who allowed her beauty to compensate him for many other things. When she failed to understand what he said to her he smiled and looked at her and forgave her at once, and when she began to grow uninteresting, he would take up his hat and go away, and so he never knew how very uninteresting she might possibly be if she were given time enough in which to demonstrate the fact. He never considered that, were he married to her, he could not take up his hat and go away when she became uninteresting, and that her remarks, which were not brilliant, could not be smiled away either. They would rise up and greet him every morning, and would be the last thing he would hear at night.
Miss Delamar's beauty was so conspicuous that to pretend not to notice it was more foolish than well-bred. You got along more easily and simply by accepting it at once, and referring to it, and enjoying its effect upon other people. To go out of one's way to talk of other things when every one, even Miss Delamar herself, knew what must be uppermost in your mind, always seemed as absurd as to strain a point in politeness, and to pretend not to notice that a guest had upset his claret, or any other embarrassing fact. For Miss Delamar's beauty was so distinctly embarrassing that this was the only way to meet it,—to smile and pass it over and to try, if possible, to get on to something else. It was on account of this extraordinary quality in her appearance that every one considered her beauty as something which transcended her private ownership, and which belonged by right to the polite world at large, to any one who could appreciate it properly, just as though it were a sunset or a great work of art or of nature. And so, when she gave away her photographs no one thought it meant anything more serious than a recognition on her part of the fact that it would have been unkind and selfish in her not to have shared the enjoyment of so much loveliness with others.
Consequently, when she sent one of her largest and most aggravatingly beautiful photographs to young Stuart, it was no sign that she cared especially for him.
How much young Stuart cared for Miss Delamar, however, was an open question, and a condition yet to be discovered. That he cared for some one, and cared so much that his imagination had begun to picture the awful joys and responsibilities of marriage, was only too well known to himself, and was a state of mind already suspected by his friends.
Stuart was a member of the New York bar, and the distinguished law firm to which he belonged was very proud of its junior member, and treated him with indulgence and affection, which was not unmixed with amusement. For Stuart's legal knowledge had been gathered in many odd corners of the globe, and was various and peculiar. It had been his pleasure to study the laws by which men ruled other men in every condition of life, and under every sun. The regulations of a new mining camp were fraught with as great interest to him as the accumulated precedents of the English Constitution, and he had investigated the rulings of the mixed courts of Egypt and of the government of the little Dutch republic near the Cape with as keen an effort to comprehend, as he had shown in studying the laws of the American colonies and of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
But he was not always serious, and it sometimes happened that after he had arrived at some queer little island where the native prince and the English governor sat in judgment together, his interest in the intricacies of their laws would give way to the more absorbing occupation of chasing wild boar or shooting at tigers from the top of an elephant. And so he was not only regarded as an authority on many forms of government and of law, into which no one else had ever taken the trouble to look, but his books on big game were eagerly read and his articles in the magazines were earnestly discussed, whether they told of the divorce laws of Dakota, and the legal rights of widows in Cambodia, or the habits of the Mexican lion.
Stuart loved his work better than he knew, but how well he loved Miss Delamar neither he nor his friends could tell. She was the most beautiful and lovely creature that he had ever seen, and of that only was he certain.
Stuart was sitting in the club one day when the conversation turned to matrimony. He was among his own particular friends, the men before whom he could speak seriously or foolishly without fear of being misunderstood or of having what he said retold and spoiled in the telling. There was Seldon, the actor, and Rives who painted pictures, and young Sloane, who travelled for pleasure and adventure, and Weimer who stayed at home and wrote for the reviews. They were all bachelors, and very good friends, and jealously guarded their little circle from the intrusion of either men or women.
"Of course the chief objection to marriage," Stuart said—it was the very day in which the picture had been sent to his rooms—"is the old one that you can't tell anything about it until you are committed to it forever. It is a very silly thing to discuss even, because there is no way of bringing it about, but there really should be some sort of a preliminary trial. As the man says in the play, 'you wouldn't buy a watch without testing it first.' You don't buy a hat even without putting it on, and finding out whether it is becoming or not, or whether your peculiar style of ugliness can stand it. And yet men go gayly off and get married, and make the most awful promises, and alter their whole order of life and risk the happiness of some lovely creature on trust, as it were, knowing absolutely nothing of the new conditions and responsibilities of the life before them. Even a river pilot has to serve an apprenticeship before he gets a license, and yet we are allowed to take just as great risks, and only because we want to take them. It's awful, and it's all wrong."
"Well, I don't see what one is going to do about it," commented young Sloane, lightly, "except to get divorced. That road is always open."
Sloane was starting the next morning for the Somali Country, in Abyssinia, to shoot rhinoceros, and his interest in matrimony was in consequence somewhat slight.
"It isn't the fear of the responsibilities that keeps Stuart, nor any one of us back," said Weimer, contemptuously. "It's because we're selfish. That's the whole truth of the matter. We love our work, or our pleasure, or to knock about the world, better than we do any particular woman. When one of us comes to love the woman best, his conscience won't trouble him long about the responsibilities of marrying her."
"Not at all," said Stuart, "I am quite sincere; I maintain that there should be a preliminary stage. Of course there can't be, and it's absurd to think of it, but it would save a lot of unhappiness."
"Well," said Seldon, dryly, "when you've invented a way to prevent marriage from being a lottery, let me know, will you?" He stood up and smiled nervously. "Any of you coming to see us to-night?" he asked.
"That's so," exclaimed Weimer, "I forgot. It's the first night of 'A Fool and His Money,' isn't it? Of course we're coming."
"I told them to put a box away for you in case you wanted it," Seldon continued. "Don't expect much. It's a silly piece, and I've a silly part, and I'm very bad in it. You must come around to supper, and tell me where I'm bad in it, and we will talk it over. You coming, Stuart?"
"My dear old man," said Stuart, reproachfully. "Of course I am. I've had my seats for the last three weeks. Do you suppose I could miss hearing you mispronounce all the Hindostanee I've taught you?"
"Well, good-night then," said the actor, waving his hand to his friends as he moved away. "'We, who are about to die, salute you!'"
"Good luck to you," said Sloane, holding up his glass. "To the Fool and His Money," he laughed. He turned to the table again, and sounded the bell for the waiter. "Now let's send him a telegram and wish him success, and all sign it," he said, "and don't you fellows tell him that I wasn't in front to-night. I've got to go to a dinner the Travellers' Club are giving me." There was a protesting chorus of remonstrance. "Oh, I don't like it any better than you do," said Sloane, "but I'll get away early and join you before the play's over. No one in the Travellers' Club, you see, has ever travelled farther from New York than London or the Riviera, and so when a member starts for Abyssinia they give him a dinner, and he has to take himself very seriously indeed, and cry with Seldon, 'I who am about to die, salute you.' If that man there was any use," he added, interrupting himself and pointing with his glass at Stuart, "he'd pack up his things to-night and come with me."
"Oh, don't urge him," remonstrated Weimer, who had travelled all over the world in imagination, with the aid of globes and maps, but never had got any farther from home than Montreal. "We can't spare Stuart. He has to stop here and invent a preliminary marriage state, so that if he finds he doesn't like a girl, he can leave her before it is too late."
"You sail at seven, I believe, and from Hoboken, don't you?" asked Stuart undisturbed. "If you'll start at eleven from the New York side, I think I'll go with you, but I hate getting up early; and then you see—I know what dangers lurk in Abyssinia, but who could tell what might not happen to him in Hoboken?"
When Stuart returned to his room, he found a large package set upright in an armchair and enveloped by many wrappings; but the handwriting on the outside told him at once from whom it came and what it might be, and he pounced upon it eagerly and tore it from its covers. The photograph was a very large one, and the likeness to the original so admirable that the face seemed to smile and radiate with all the loveliness and beauty of Miss Delamar herself. Stuart beamed upon it with genuine surprise and pleasure, and exclaimed delightedly to himself. There was a living quality about the picture which made him almost speak to it, and thank Miss Delamar through it for the pleasure she had given him and the honor she had bestowed. He was proud, flattered, and triumphant, and while he walked about the room deciding where he would place it, and holding the picture respectfully before him, he smiled upon it with grateful satisfaction.
He decided against his dressing-table as being too intimate a place for it, and so carried the picture on from his bedroom to the dining-room beyond, where he set it among his silver on the sideboard. But so little of his time was spent in this room that he concluded he would derive but little pleasure from it there, and so bore it back again into his library, where there were many other photographs and portraits, and where to other eyes than his own it would be less conspicuous.
He tried it first in one place and then in another; but in each position the picture predominated and asserted itself so markedly, that Stuart gave up the idea of keeping it inconspicuous, and placed it prominently over the fire-place, where it reigned supreme above every other object in the room. It was not only the most conspicuous object there, but the living quality which it possessed in so marked a degree, and which was due to its naturalness of pose and the excellence of the likeness, made it permeate the place like a presence and with the individuality of a real person. Stuart observed this effect with amused interest, and noted also that the photographs of other women had become commonplace in comparison like lithographs in a shop window, and that the more masculine accessories of a bachelor's apartment had grown suddenly aggressive and out of keeping. The liquor case and the racks of arms and of barbarous weapons which he had collected with such pride seemed to have lost their former value and meaning, and he instinctively began to gather up the mass of books and maps and photographs and pipes and gloves which lay scattered upon the table, and to put them in their proper place, or to shove them out of sight altogether. "If I'm to live up to that picture," he thought, "I must see that George keeps this room in better order—and I must stop wandering round here in my bath-robe."
His mind continued on the picture while he was dressing, and he was so absorbed in it and in analyzing the effect it had had upon him, that his servant spoke twice before he heard him.
"No," he answered, "I shall not dine here to-night." Dining at home was with him a very simple affair, and a somewhat lonely one, and he avoided it almost nightly by indulging himself in a more expensive fashion.
But even as he spoke an idea came to Stuart which made him reconsider his determination, and which struck him as so amusing, that he stopped pulling at his tie and smiled delightedly at himself in the glass before him.
"Yes," he said, still smiling, "I will dine here to-night. Get me anything in a hurry. You need not wait now; go get the dinner up as soon as possible."
The effect which the photograph of Miss Delamar had upon him, and the transformation it had accomplished in his room, had been as great as would have marked the presence there of the girl herself. While considering this it had come to Stuart, like a flash of inspiration, that here was a way by which he could test the responsibilities and conditions of married life without compromising either himself, or the girl to whom he would suppose himself to be married.
"I will put that picture at the head of the table," he said, "and I will play that it is she herself, her own, beautiful, lovely self, and I will talk to her and exchange views with her, and make her answer me just as she would were we actually married and settled." He looked at his watch and found it was just seven o'clock. "I will begin now," he said, "and I will keep up the delusion until midnight. To-night is the best time to try the experiment because the picture is new now, and its influence will be all the more real. In a few weeks it may have lost some of its freshness and reality and will have become one of the fixtures in the room."
Stuart decided that under these new conditions it would be more pleasant to dine at Delmonico's, and he was on the point of asking the Picture what she thought of it, when he remembered that while it had been possible for him to make a practice of dining at that place as a bachelor, he could not now afford so expensive a luxury, and he decided that he had better economize in that particular and go instead to one of the table d'hote restaurants in the neighborhood. He regretted not having thought of this sooner, for he did not care to dine at a table d'hote in evening dress, as in some places it rendered him conspicuous. So, sooner than have this happen he decided to dine at home, as he had originally intended when he first thought of attempting this experiment, and then conducted the picture into dinner and placed her in an armchair facing him, with the candles full upon the face.
"Now this is something like," he exclaimed, joyously. "I can't imagine anything better than this. Here we are all to ourselves with no one to bother us, with no chaperone, or chaperone's husband either, which is generally worse. Why is it, my dear," he asked gayly, in a tone that he considered affectionate and husbandly, "that the attractive chaperones are always handicapped by such stupid husbands, and vice versa?"
"If that is true," replied the Picture, or replied Stuart, rather, for the picture, "I cannot be a very attractive chaperone." Stuart bowed politely at this, and then considered the point it had raised as to whether he had, in assuming both characters, the right to pay himself compliments. He decided against himself in this particular instance, but agreed that he was not responsible for anything the Picture might say, so long as he sincerely and fairly tried to make it answer him as he thought the original would do under like circumstances. From what he knew of the original under other conditions, he decided that he could give a very close imitation of her point of view.
Stuart's interest in his dinner was so real that he found himself neglecting his wife, and he had to pull himself up to his duty with a sharp reproof. After smiling back at her for a moment or two until his servant had again left them alone, he asked her to tell him what she had been doing during the day.
"Oh, nothing very important," said the Picture. "I went shopping in the morning and—"
Stuart stopped himself and considered this last remark doubtfully. "Now, how do I know she would go shopping?" he asked himself. "People from Harlem and women who like bargain counters, and who eat chocolate meringue for lunch, and then stop in at a continuous performance, go shopping. It must be the comic paper sort of wives who go about matching shades and buying hooks and eyes. Yes, I must have made Miss Delamar's understudy misrepresent her. I beg your pardon, my dear," he said aloud to the Picture. "You did not go shopping this morning. You probably went to a woman's luncheon somewhere. Tell me about that."
"Oh, yes, I went to lunch with the Antwerps," said the Picture, "and they had that Russian woman there who is getting up subscriptions for the Siberian prisoners. It's rather fine of her because it exiles her from Russia. And she is a princess."
"That's nothing," Stuart interrupted, "they're all princesses when you see them on Broadway."
"I beg your pardon," said the Picture.
"It's of no consequence," said Stuart, apologetically, "it's a comic song. I forgot you didn't like comic songs. Well—go on."
"Oh, then I went to a tea, and then I stopped in to hear Madame Ruvier read a paper on the Ethics of Ibsen, and she—"
Stuart's voice had died away gradually, and he caught himself wondering whether he had told George to lay in a fresh supply of cigars. "I beg your pardon," he said, briskly, "I was listening, but I was just wondering whether I had any cigars left. You were saying that you had been at Madame Ruvier's, and—"
"I am afraid that you were not interested," said the Picture. "Never mind, it's my fault. Sometimes I think I ought to do things of more interest, so that I should have something to talk to you about when you come home."
Stuart wondered at what hour he would come home now that he was married. As a bachelor he had been in the habit of stopping on his way up town from the law office at the club, or to take tea at the houses of the different girls he liked. Of course he could not do that now as a married man. He would instead have to limit his calls to married women, as all the other married men of his acquaintance did. But at the moment he could not think of any attractive married women who would like his dropping in on them in such a familiar manner, and the other sort did not as yet appeal to him.
He seated himself in front of the coal-fire in the library, with the Picture in a chair close beside him, and as he puffed pleasantly on his cigar he thought how well this suited him, and how delightful it was to find content in so simple and continuing a pleasure. He could almost feel the pressure of his wife's hand as it lay in his own, as they sat in silent sympathy looking into the friendly glow of the fire.
There was a long pleasant pause.
"They're giving Sloane a dinner to-night at the 'Travellers'," Stuart said at last, "in honor of his going to Abyssinia."
Stuart pondered for some short time as to what sort of a reply Miss Delamar's understudy ought to make to this innocent remark. He recalled the fact that on numerous occasions the original had shown not only a lack of knowledge in far-away places, but what was more trying, a lack of interest as well. For the moment he could not see her robbed of her pretty environment and tramping through undiscovered countries at his side. So the Picture's reply, when it came, was strictly in keeping with several remarks which Miss Delamar herself had made to him in the past.
"Yes," said the Picture, politely, "and where is Abyssinia—in India, isn't it?"
"No, not exactly," corrected Stuart, mildly; "you pass it on your way to India, though, as you go through the Red Sea. Sloane is taking Winchesters with him and a double express and a 'five fifty.' He wants to test their penetration. I think myself that the express is the best, but he says Selous and Chanler think very highly of the Winchester. I don't know, I never shot a rhinoceros. The time I killed that elephant," he went on, pointing at two tusks that stood with some assegais in a corner, "I used an express, and I had to let go with both barrels. I suppose, though, if I'd needed a third shot I'd have wished it was a Winchester. He was charging the smoke, you see, and I couldn't get away because I'd caught my foot—but I told you about that, didn't I?" Stuart interrupted himself to ask politely.
"Yes," said the Picture, cheerfully, "I remember it very well; it was very foolish of you."
Stuart straightened himself with a slightly injured air and avoided the Picture's eye. He had been stopped midway in what was one of his favorite stories, and it took a brief space of time for him to recover himself, and to sink back again into the pleasant lethargy in which he had been basking.
"Still," he said, "I think the express is the better gun."
"Oh, is an 'express' a gun?" exclaimed the Picture, with sudden interest. "Of course, I might have known."
Stuart turned in his chair and surveyed the Picture in some surprise. "But, my dear girl," he remonstrated kindly, "why didn't you ask, if you didn't know what I was talking about. What did you suppose it was?"
"I didn't know," said the Picture, "I thought it was something to do with his luggage. Abyssinia sounds so far away," she explained, smiling sweetly. "You can't expect one to be interested in such queer places, can you?"
"No," Stuart answered, reluctantly, and looking steadily at the fire, "I suppose not. But you see, my dear," he said, "I'd have gone with him, if I hadn't married you, and so I am naturally interested in his outfit. They wanted me to make a comparative study of the little semi-independent states down there, and of how far the Italian government allows them to rule themselves. That's what I was to have done."
But the Picture hastened to reassure him. "Oh, you mustn't think," she exclaimed, quickly, "that I mean to keep you at home. I love to travel, too. I want you to go on exploring places just as you've always done, only now I will go with you. We might do the Cathedral towns, for instance."
"The what!" gasped Stuart, raising his head. "Oh, yes, of course," he added, hurriedly, sinking back into his chair with a slightly bewildered expression. "That would be very nice. Perhaps your mother would like to go too; it's not a dangerous expedition, is it? I was thinking of taking you on a trip through the South Seas—but I suppose the Cathedral towns are just as exciting. Or we might even penetrate as far into the interior as the English lakes and read Wordsworth and Coleridge as we go."
Miss Delamar's understudy observed him closely for a moment, but he made no sign, and so she turned her eyes again to the fire with a slightly troubled look. She had not a strong sense of humor, but she was very beautiful.
Stuart's conscience troubled him for the next few moments, and he endeavored to make up for his impatience of the moment before, by telling the Picture how particularly well she was looking.
"It seems almost selfish to keep it all to myself," he mused.
"You don't mean," inquired the Picture, with tender anxiety, "that you want any one else here, do you? I'm sure I could be content to spend every evening like this. I've had enough of going out and talking to people I don't care about. Two seasons," she added, with the superior air of one who has put away childish things, "was quite enough of it for me."
"Well, I never took it as seriously as that," said Stuart, "but, of course, I don't want any one else here to spoil our evening. It is perfect."
He assured himself that it was perfect, but he wondered what was the loyal thing for a married couple to do when the conversation came to a dead stop. And did the conversation come to a stop because they preferred to sit in silent sympathy and communion, or because they had nothing interesting to talk about? Stuart doubted if silence was the truest expression of the most perfect confidence and sympathy. He generally found when he was interested, that either he or his companion talked all the time. It was when he was bored that he sat silent. But it was probably different with married people. Possibly they thought of each other during these pauses, and of their own affairs and interests, and then he asked himself how many interests could one fairly retain with which the other had nothing to do?
"I suppose," thought Stuart, "that I had better compromise and read aloud. Should you like me to read aloud?" he asked, doubtfully.
The Picture brightened perceptibly at this, and said that she thought that would be charming. "We might make it quite instructive," she suggested, entering eagerly into the idea. "We ought to agree to read so many pages every night. Suppose we begin with Guizot's 'History of France.' I have always meant to read that, the illustrations look so interesting."
"Yes, we might do that," assented Stuart, doubtfully. "It is in six volumes, isn't it? Suppose now, instead," he suggested, with an impartial air, "we begin that to-morrow night, and go this evening to see Seldon's new play, 'The Fool and His Money.' It's not too late, and he has saved a box for us, and Weimer and Rives and Sloane will be there, and—"
The Picture's beautiful face settled for just an instant in an expression of disappointment. "Of course," she replied slowly, "if you wish it. But I thought you said," she went on with a sweet smile, "that this was perfect. Now you want to go out again. Isn't this better than a hot theatre? You might put up with it for one evening, don't you think?"
"Put up with it!" exclaimed Stuart, enthusiastically; "I could spend every evening so. It was only a suggestion. It wasn't that I wanted to go so much as that I thought Seldon might be a little hurt if I didn't. But I can tell him you were not feeling very well, and that we will come some other evening. He generally likes to have us there on the first night, that's all. But he'll understand."
"Oh," said the Picture, "if you put it in the light of a duty to your friend, of course we will go."
"Not at all," replied Stuart, heartily; "I will read something. I should really prefer it. How would you like something of Browning's?"
"Oh, I read all of Browning once," said the Picture, "I think I should like something new."
Stuart gasped at this, but said nothing, and began turning over the books on the centre table. He selected one of the monthly magazines, and choosing a story which neither of them had read, sat down comfortably in front of the fire, and finished it without interruption and to the satisfaction of the Picture and himself. The story had made the half hour pass very pleasantly, and they both commented on it with interest.
"I had an experience once myself something like that," said Stuart, with a pleased smile of recollection; "it happened in Paris"—he began with the deliberation of a man who is sure of his story—"and it turned out in much the same way. It didn't begin in Paris; it really began while we were crossing the English Channel to—"
"Oh, you mean about the Russian who took you for some one else and had you followed," said the Picture. "Yes, that was like it, except that in your case nothing happened."
Stuart took his cigar from between his lips and frowned severely at the lighted end for some little time before he spoke.
"My dear," he remonstrated, gently, "you mustn't tell me I've told you all my old stories before. It isn't fair. Now that I'm married, you see, I can't go about and have new experiences, and I've got to make use of the old ones."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," exclaimed the Picture, remorsefully. "I didn't mean to be rude. Please tell me about it. I should like to hear it again, ever so much. I should like to hear it again, really."
"Nonsense," said Stuart, laughing and shaking his head. "I was only joking; personally I hate people who tell long stories. That doesn't matter. I was thinking of something else."
He continued thinking of something else, which was, that though he had been in jest when he spoke of having given up the chance of meeting fresh experiences, he had nevertheless described a condition, and a painfully true one. His real life seemed to have stopped, and he saw himself in the future looking back and referring to it, as though it were the career of an entirely different person, of a young man, with quick sympathies which required satisfying, as any appetite requires food. And he had an uncomfortable doubt that these many ever-ready sympathies would rebel if fed on only one diet.
The Picture did not interrupt him in his thoughts, and he let his mind follow his eyes as they wandered over the objects above him on the mantle-shelf. They all meant something from the past,—a busy, wholesome past which had formed habits of thought and action, habits he could no longer enjoy alone, and which, on the other hand, it was quite impossible for him to share with any one else. He was no longer to be alone.
Stuart stirred uneasily in his chair and poked at the fire before him.
"Do you remember the day you came to see me," said the Picture, sentimentally, "and built the fire yourself and lighted some girl's letters to make it burn?"
"Yes," said Stuart, "that is, I said that they were some girl's letters. It made it more picturesque. I am afraid they were bills. I should say I did remember it," he continued, enthusiastically. "You wore a black dress and little red slippers with big black rosettes, and you looked as beautiful as—as night—as a moonlight night."
The Picture frowned slightly.
"You are always telling me about how I looked," she complained; "can't you remember any time when we were together without remembering what I had on and how I appeared?"
"I cannot," said Stuart, promptly. "I can recall lots of other things besides, but I can't forget how you looked. You have a fashion of emphasizing episodes in that way which is entirely your own. But, as I say, I can remember something else. Do you remember, for instance, when we went up to West Point on that yacht? Wasn't it a grand day, with the autumn leaves on both sides of the Hudson, and the dress parade, and the dance afterward at the hotel?"
"Yes, I should think I did," said the Picture, smiling. "You spent all your time examining cannon, and talking to the men about 'firing in open order,' and left me all alone."
"Left you all alone! I like that," laughed Stuart; "all alone with about eighteen officers."
"Well, but that was natural," returned the Picture. "They were men. It's natural for a girl to talk to men, but why should a man want to talk to men?"
"Well, I know better than that now," said Stuart.
He proceeded to show that he knew better by remaining silent for the next half hour, during which time he continued to wonder whether this effort to keep up a conversation was not radically wrong. He thought of several things he might say, but he argued that it was an impossible situation where a man had to make conversation with his own wife.
The clock struck ten as he sat waiting, and he moved uneasily in his chair.
"What is it?" asked the Picture; "what makes you so restless?"
Stuart regarded the Picture timidly for a moment before he spoke. "I was just thinking," he said, doubtfully, "that we might run down after all, and take a look in at the last act; it's not too late even now. They're sure to run behind on the first night. And then," he urged, "we can go around and see Seldon. You have never been behind the scenes, have you? It's very interesting."
"No, I have not, but if we do," remonstrated the Picture, pathetically, "you know all those men will come trooping home with us. You know they will."
"But that's very complimentary," said Stuart. "Why, I like my friends to like my wife."
"Yes, but you know how they stay when they get here," she answered; "I don't believe they ever sleep. Don't you remember the last supper you gave me before we were married, when Mrs. Starr and you all were discussing Mr. Seldon's play? She didn't make a move to go until half past two, and I was that sleepy, I couldn't keep my eyes open."
"Yes," said Stuart, "I remember. I'm sorry. I thought it was very interesting. Seldon changed the whole second act on account of what she said. Well, after this," he laughed with cheerful desperation, "I think I shall make up for the part of a married man in a pair of slippers and a dressing-gown, and then perhaps I won't be tempted to roam abroad at night."
"You must wear the gown they are going to give you at Oxford," said the Picture, smiling placidly. "The one Aunt Lucy was telling me about. Why do they give you a gown?" she asked. "It seems such an odd thing to do."
"The gown comes with the degree, I believe," said Stuart.
"But why do they give you a degree?" persisted the Picture; "you never studied at Oxford, did you?"
Stuart moved slightly in his chair and shook his head. "I thought I told you," he said, gently. "No, I never studied there. I wrote some books on—things, and they liked them."
"Oh, yes, I remember now, you did tell me," said the Picture; "and I told Aunt Lucy about it, and said we would be in England during the season, when you got your degree, and she said you must be awfully clever to get it. You see—she does appreciate you, and you always treat her so distantly."
"Do I?" said Stuart; quietly; "I'm sorry."
"Will you have your portrait painted in it?" asked the Picture.
"In the gown. You are not listening," said the Picture, reproachfully. "You ought to. Aunt Lucy says it's a beautiful shade of red silk, and very long. Is it?"
"I don't know," said Stuart, he shook his head, and dropping his chin into his hands, stared coldly down into the fire. He tried to persuade himself that he had been vainglorious, and that he had given too much weight to the honor which the University of Oxford would bestow upon him; that he had taken the degree too seriously, and that the Picture's view of it was the view of the rest of the world. But he could not convince himself that he was entirely at fault.
"Is it too late to begin on Guizot?" suggested his Picture, as an alternative to his plan. "It sounds so improving."
"Yes, it is much too late," answered Stuart, decidedly. "Besides, I don't want to be improved. I want to be amused, or inspired, or scolded. The chief good of friends is that they do one of these three things, and a wife should do all three."
"Which shall I do?" asked the Picture, smiling good-humoredly.
Stuart looked at the beautiful face and at the reclining figure of the woman to whom he was to turn for sympathy for the rest of his life, and felt a cold shiver of terror, that passed as quickly as it came. He reached out his hand and placed it on the arm of the chair where his wife's hand should have been, and patted the place kindly. He would shut his eyes to everything but that she was good and sweet and his wife. Whatever else she lacked that her beauty had covered up and hidden, and the want of which had lain unsuspected in their previous formal intercourse, could not be mended now. He would settle his step to hers, and eliminate all those interests from his life which were not hers as well. He had chosen a beautiful idol, and not a companion, for a wife. He had tried to warm his hands at the fire of a diamond.
Stuart's eyes closed wearily as though to shut out the memories of the past, or the foreknowledge of what the future was sure to be. His head sank forward on his breast, and with his hand shading his eyes, he looked beyond, through the dying fire, into the succeeding years.
* * * * *
The gay little French clock on the table sounded the hour of midnight briskly, with a pert insistent clamor, and at the same instant a boisterous and unruly knocking answered it from outside the library door.
Stuart rose uncertainly from his chair and surveyed the tiny clock face with a startled expression of bewilderment and relief.
"Stuart!" his friends called impatiently from the hall. "Stuart, let us in!" and without waiting further for recognition a merry company of gentlemen pushed their way noisily into the room.
"Where the devil have you been?" demanded Weimer. "You don't deserve to be spoken to at all after quitting us like that. But Seldon is so good-natured," he went on, "that he sent us after you. It was a great success, and he made a rattling good speech, and you missed the whole thing; and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. We've asked half the people in front to supper—two stray Englishmen, all the Wilton girls and their governor, and the chap that wrote the play. And Seldon and his brother Sam are coming as soon as they get their make-up off. Don't stand there like that, but hurry. What have you been doing?"
Stuart gave a nervous, anxious laugh. "Oh, don't ask me," he cried. "It was awful. I've been trying an experiment, and I had to keep it up until midnight, and—I'm so glad you fellows have come," he continued, halting midway in his explanation. "I was blue."
"You've been asleep in front of the fire," said young Sloane, "and you've been dreaming."
"Perhaps," laughed Stuart, gayly, "perhaps. But I'm awake now in any event. Sloane, old man," he cried, dropping both hands on the youngster's shoulders. "How much money have you? Enough to take me to Gibraltar? They can cable me the rest."
"Hoorah!" shouted Sloane, waltzing from one end of the room to the other. "And we're off to Ab-yss-in-ia in the morn-ing," he sang. "There's plenty in my money belt," he cried, slapping his sides, "you can hear the ten-pound notes crackle whenever I breathe, and it's all yours, my dear boy, and welcome. And I'll prove to you that the Winchester is the better gun."
"All right," returned Stuart, gayly, "and I'll try to prove that the Italians don't know how to govern a native state. But who is giving this supper, anyway?" he demanded. "That is the main thing—that's what I want to know."
"You've got to pack, haven't you?" suggested Rives.
"I'll pack when I get back," said Stuart, struggling into his greatcoat, and searching in his pockets for his gloves. "Besides, my things are always ready and there's plenty of time, the boat doesn't leave for six hours yet."
"We'll all come back and help," said Weimer.
"Then I'll never get away," laughed Stuart. He was radiant, happy, and excited, like a boy back from school for the holidays. But when they had reached the pavement, he halted and ran his hand down into his pocket, as though feeling for his latch-key, and stood looking doubtfully at his friends.
"What is it now?" asked Rives, impatiently. "Have you forgotten something?"
Stuart looked back at the front door in momentary indecision.
"Y-es," he answered. "I did forget something. But it doesn't matter," he added, cheerfully, taking Sloane's arm.
"Come on," he said, "and so Seldon made a hit, did he? I am glad—and tell me, old man, how long will we have to wait at Gib for the P. & O.?"
Stuart's servant had heard the men trooping down the stairs, laughing and calling to one another as they went, and judging from this that they had departed for the night, he put out all the lights in the library and closed the piano, and lifted the windows to clear the room of the tobacco-smoke. He did not notice the beautiful photograph sitting upright in the armchair before the fireplace, and so left it alone in the deserted library.
The cold night-air swept in through the open window and chilled the silent room, and the dead coals in the grate dropped one by one into the fender with a dismal echoing clatter; but the Picture still sat in the armchair with the same graceful pose and the same lovely expression, and smiled sweetly at the encircling darkness.
THE EDITOR'S STORY
It was a warm afternoon in the early spring, and the air in the office was close and heavy. The letters of the morning had been answered and the proofs corrected, and the gentlemen who had come with ideas worth one column at space rates, and which they thought worth three, had compromised with the editor on a basis of two, and departed. The editor's desk was covered with manuscripts in a heap, a heap that never seemed to grow less, and each manuscript bore a character of its own, as marked or as unobtrusive as the character of the man or of the woman who had written it, which disclosed itself in the care with which some were presented for consideration, in the vain little ribbons of others, or the selfish manner in which still others were tightly rolled or vilely scribbled.
The editor held the first page of a poem in his hand, and was reading it mechanically, for its length had already declared against it, unless it might chance to be the precious gem out of a thousand, which must be chosen in spite of its twenty stanzas. But as the editor read, his interest awakened, and he scanned the verses again, as one would turn to look a second time at a face which seemed familiar. At the fourth stanza his memory was still in doubt, at the sixth it was warming to the chase, and at the end of the page was in full cry. He caught up the second page and looked for the final verse, and then at the name below, and then back again quickly to the title of the poem, and pushed aside the papers on his desk in search of any note which might have accompanied it.
The name signed at the bottom of the second page was Edwin Aram, the title of the poem was "Bohemia," and there was no accompanying note, only the name Berkeley written at the top of the first page. The envelope in which it had come gave no further clew. It was addressed in the same handwriting as that in which the poem had been written, and it bore the post-mark of New York city. There was no request for the return of the poem, no direction to which either the poem itself or the check for its payment in the event of its acceptance might be sent. Berkeley might be the name of an apartment-house or of a country place or of a suburban town.
The editor stepped out of his office into the larger room beyond and said: "I've a poem here that appeared in an American magazine about seven years ago. I remember the date because I read it when I was at college. Some one is either trying to play a trick on us, or to get money by stealing some other man's brains."
It was in this way that Edwin Aram first introduced himself to our office, and while his poem was not accepted, it was not returned. On the contrary, Mr. Aram became to us one of the most interesting of our would-be contributors, and there was no author, no matter of what popularity, for whose work we waited with greater impatience. But Mr. Aram's personality still remained as completely hidden from us as were the productions which he offered from the sight of our subscribers. For each of the poems he sent had been stolen outright and signed with his name.
It was through no fault of ours that he continued to blush unseen, or that his pretty taste in poems was unappreciated by the general reader. We followed up every clew and every hint he chose to give us with an enthusiasm worthy of a search after a lost explorer, and with an animus worthy of better game. Yet there was some reason for our interest. The man who steals the work of another and who passes it off as his own is the special foe of every editor, but this particular editor had a personal distrust of Mr. Aram. He imagined that these poems might possibly be a trap which some one had laid for him with the purpose of drawing him into printing them, and then of pointing out by this fact how little read he was, and how unfit to occupy the swivel-chair into which he had so lately dropped. Or if this were not the case, the man was in any event the enemy of all honest people, who look unkindly on those who try to obtain money by false pretences.
The evasions of Edwin Aram were many, and his methods to avoid detection not without skill. His second poem was written on a sheet of note-paper bearing the legend "The Shakespeare Debating Club. Edwin Aram, President."
This was intended to reassure us as to his literary taste and standard, and to meet any suspicion we might feel had there been no address of any sort accompanying the poem. No one we knew had ever heard of a Shakespeare Debating Club in New York city. But we gave him the benefit of the doubt until we found that this poem, like the first, was also stolen. His third poem bore his name and an address, which on instant inquiry turned out to be that of a vacant lot on Seventh Avenue near Central Park.
Edwin Aram had by this time become an exasperating and picturesque individual, and the editorial staff was divided in its opinion concerning him. It was argued on one hand that as the man had never sent us a real address, his object must be to gain a literary reputation at the expense of certain poets, and not to make money at ours. Others answered this by saying that fear of detection alone kept Edwin Aram from sending his real address, but that as soon as his poem was printed, and he ascertained by that fact that he had not been discovered, he would put in an application for payment, and let us know quickly enough to what portion of New York city his check should be forwarded.
This, however, presupposed the fact that he was writing to us over his real name, which we did not believe he would dare to do. No one in our little circle of journalists and literary men had ever heard of such a man, and his name did not appear in the directory. This fact, however, was not convincing in itself, as the residents of New York move from flat to hotel, and from apartments to boarding-houses as frequently as the Arab changes his camping-ground. We tried to draw him out at last by publishing a personal paragraph which stated that several contributions received from Edwin Aram would be returned to him if he would send stamps and his present address. The editor did not add that he would return the poems in person, but such was his warlike intention.
This had the desired result, and brought us a fourth poem and a fourth address, the name of a tall building which towers above Union Square. We seemed to be getting very warm now, and the editor gathered up the four poems, and called to his aid his friend Bronson, the ablest reporter on the New York ——, who was to act as chronicler. They took with them letters from the authors of two of the poems and from the editor of the magazine in which the first one had originally appeared, testifying to the fact that Edwin Aram had made an exact copy of the original, and wishing the brother editor good luck in catching the plagiarist.
The reporter looked these over with a critical eye. "The City Editor told me if we caught him," he said, "that I could let it run for all it was worth. I can use these names, I suppose, and I guess they have pictures of the poets at the office. If he turns out to be anybody in particular, it ought to be worth a full three columns. Sunday paper, too."
The amateur detectives stood in the lower hall in the tall building, between swinging doors, and jostled by hurrying hundreds, while they read the names on a marble directory.
"There he is!" said the editor, excitedly. "'American Literary Bureau.' One room on the fourteenth floor. That's just the sort of a place in which we would be likely to find him." But the reporter was gazing open-eyed at a name in large letters on an office door. "Edward K. Aram," it read, "Commissioner of ——, and City ——."
"What do you think of that?" he gasped, triumphantly.
"Nonsense," said the editor. "He wouldn't dare; besides, the initials are different. You're expecting too good a story."
"That's the way to get them," answered the reporter, as he hurried towards the office of the City ——. "If a man falls dead, believe it's a suicide until you prove it's not; if you find a suicide, believe it's a murder until you are convinced to the contrary. Otherwise you'll get beaten. We don't want the proprietor of a little literary bureau, we want a big city official and I'll believe we have one until he proves we haven't."
"Which are you going to ask for?" whispered the editor, "Edward K. or Edwin?"
"Edwin, I should say," answered the reporter. "He has probably given notice that mail addressed that way should go to him."
"Is Mr. Edwin Aram in?" he asked.
A clerk raised his head and looked behind him. "No," he said; "his desk is closed. I guess he's gone home for the day."
The reporter nudged the editor savagely with his elbow, but his face gave no sign. "That's a pity," he said; "we have an appointment with him. He still lives at Sixty-first Street and Madison Avenue, I believe, does he not?"
"No," said the clerk; "that's his father, the Commissioner, Edward K. The son lives at ——. Take the Sixth Avenue elevated and get off at 116th Street."
"Thank you," said the reporter. He turned a triumphant smile upon the editor. "We've got him!" he said, excitedly. "And the son of old Edward K., too! Think of it! Trying to steal a few dollars by cribbing other men's poems; that's the best story there has been in the papers for the past three months,—'Edward K. Aram's son a thief!' Look at the names—politicians, poets, editors, all mixed up in it. It's good for three columns, sure."
"We've got to think of his people, too," urged the editor, as they mounted the steps of the elevated road.
"He didn't think of them," said the reporter.
The house in which Mr. Aram lived was an apartment-house, and the brass latchets in the hallway showed that it contained three suites. There were visiting-cards under the latchets of the first and third stories, and under that of the second a piece of note-paper on which was written the autograph of Edwin Aram. The editor looked at it curiously. He had never believed it to be a real name.
"I am sorry Edwin Aram did not turn out to be a woman," he said, regretfully; "it would have been so much more interesting."
"Now," instructed Bronson, impressively, "whether he is in or not we have him. If he's not in, we wait until he comes, even if he doesn't come until morning; we don't leave this place until we have seen him."
"Very well," said the editor.
The maid left them standing at the top of the stairs while she went to ask if Mr. Aram was in, and whether he would see two gentlemen who did not give their names because they were strangers to him. The two stood silent while they waited, eying each other anxiously, and when the girl reopened the door, nodded pleasantly, and said, "Yes, Mr. Aram is in," they hurried past her as though they feared that he would disappear in midair, or float away through the windows before they could reach him.
And yet, when they stood at last face-to-face him, he bore a most disappointing air of every-day respectability. He was a tall, thin young man, with light hair and mustache and large blue eyes. His back was towards the window, so that his face was in the shadow, and he did not rise as they entered. The room in which he sat was a prettily furnished one, opening into another tiny room, which, from the number of books in it, might have been called a library. The rooms had a well-to-do, even prosperous, air, but they did not show any evidences of a pronounced taste on the part of their owner, either in the way in which they were furnished or in the decorations of the walls. A little girl of about seven or eight years of age, who was standing between her father's knees, with a hand on each, and with her head thrown back on his shoulder, looked up at the two visitors with evident interest, and smiled brightly.