Marriage a la Mode
BY MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
ILLUSTRATED BY FRED PEGRAM
NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1909
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN
COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY MRS. HUMPHRY WARD COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY MARY AUGUSTA WARD PUBLISHED, MAY, 1909
TO L. C. W.
THIS STORY APPEARED IN ENGLAND UNDER THE TITLE OF "DAPHNE." THE PUBLISHERS ARE INDEBTED TO THE PROPRIETORS OF THE "PALL MALL MAGAZINE" FOR THEIR PERMISSION TO USE THE DRAWINGS BY MR. FRED PEGRAM.
"He caught the hand, he gathered its owner into a pair of strong arms, and bending over her, he kissed her"
"In the dead of night Daphne sat up in bed, looking at the face and head of her husband beside her on the pillow"
"Her whole being was seething with passionate and revengeful thought"
Marriage a la Mode
"A stifling hot day!" General Hobson lifted his hat and mopped his forehead indignantly. "What on earth this place can be like in June I can't conceive! The tenth of April, and I'll be bound the thermometer's somewhere near eighty in the shade. You never find the English climate playing you these tricks."
Roger Barnes looked at his uncle with amusement.
"Don't you like heat, Uncle Archie? Ah, but I forgot, it's American heat."
"I like a climate you can depend on," said the General, quite conscious that he was talking absurdly, yet none the less determined to talk, by way of relief to some obscure annoyance. "Here we are sweltering in this abominable heat, and in New York last week they had a blizzard, and here, even, it was cold enough to give me rheumatism. The climate's always in extremes—like the people."
"I'm sorry to find you don't like the States, Uncle Archie."
The young man sat down beside his uncle. They were in the deck saloon of a steamer which had left Washington about an hour before for Mount Vernon. Through the open doorway to their left they saw a wide expanse of river, flowing between banks of spring green, and above it thunderous clouds, in a hot blue. The saloon, and the decks outside, held a great crowd of passengers, of whom the majority were women.
The tone in which Roger Barnes spoke was good-tempered, but quite perfunctory. Any shrewd observer would have seen that whether his uncle liked the States or not did not in truth matter to him a whit.
"And I consider all the arrangements for this trip most unsatisfactory," the General continued angrily. "The steamer's too small, the landing-place is too small, the crowd getting on board was something disgraceful. They'll have a shocking accident one of these days. And what on earth are all these women here for—in the middle of the day? It's not a holiday."
"I believe it's a teachers' excursion," said young Barnes absently, his eyes resting on the rows of young women in white blouses and spring hats who sat in close-packed chairs upon the deck—an eager, talkative host.
"H'm—Teachers!" The General's tone was still more pugnacious. "Going to learn more lies about us, I suppose, that they may teach them to school-children? I was turning over some of their school-books in a shop yesterday. Perfectly abominable! It's monstrous what they teach the children here about what they're pleased to call their War of Independence. All that we did was to ask them to pay something for their own protection. What did it matter to us whether they were mopped up by the Indians, or the French, or not? 'But if you want us to go to all the expense and trouble of protecting you, and putting down those fellows, why, hang it,' we said, 'you must pay some of the bill!' That was all English Ministers asked; and perfectly right too. And as for the men they make such a fuss about, Samuel Adams, and John Adams, and Franklin, and all the rest of the crew, I tell you, the stuff they teach American school-children about them is a poisoning of the wells! Franklin was a man of profligate life, whom I would never have admitted inside my doors! And as for the Adamses—intriguers—canting fellows!—both of them."
"Well, at least you'll give them George Washington." As he spoke, Barnes concealed a yawn, followed immediately afterwards by a look of greater alertness, caused by the discovery that a girl sitting not far from the doorway in the crowd outside was certainly pretty.
The red-faced, white-haired General paused a moment before replying, then broke out: "What George Washington might have been if he had held a straight course I am not prepared to say. As it is, I don't hesitate for a moment! George Washington was nothing more nor less than a rebel—a damned rebel! And what Englishmen mean by joining in the worship of him I've never been able to understand."
"I say, uncle, take care," said the young man, looking round him, and observing with some relief that they seemed to have the saloon to themselves. "These Yankees will stand most things, but——"
"You needn't trouble yourself, Roger," was the testy reply; "I am not in the habit of annoying my neighbours. Well now, look here, what I want to know is, what is the meaning of this absurd journey of yours?"
The young man's frown increased. He began to poke the floor with his stick. "I don't know why you call it absurd?"
"To me it seems both absurd and extravagant," said the other with emphasis. "The last thing I heard of you was that Burdon and Co. had offered you a place in their office, and that you were prepared to take it. When a man has lost his money and becomes dependent upon others, the sooner he gets to work the better."
Roger Barnes reddened under the onslaught, and the sulky expression of his handsome mouth became more pronounced. "I think my mother and I ought to be left to judge for ourselves," he said rather hotly. "We haven't asked anybody for money yet, Uncle Archie. Burdon and Co. can have me in September just as well as now; and my mother wished me to make some friends over here who might be useful to me."
"Useful to you. How?"
"I think that's my affair. In this country there are always openings—things turning up—chances—you can't get at home."
The General gave a disapproving laugh. "The only chance that'll help you, Roger, at present—excuse me if I speak frankly—is the chance of regular work. Your poor mother has nothing but her small fixed income, and you haven't a farthing to chuck away on what you call chances. Why, your passage by the Lucania alone must have cost a pretty penny. I'll bet my hat you came first class."
The young man was clearly on the brink of an explosion, but controlled himself with an effort. "I paid the winter rate; and mother who knows the Cunard people very well, got a reduction. I assure you, Uncle Archie, neither mother nor I is a fool, and we know quite well what we are about."
As he spoke he raised himself with energy, and looked his companion in the face.
The General, surveying him, was mollified, as usual, by nothing in the world but the youth's extraordinary good looks. Roger Barnes's good looks had been, indeed, from his childhood upward the distinguishing and remarkable feature about him. He had been a king among his schoolfellows largely because of them, and of the athletic prowess which went with them; and while at Oxford he had been cast for the part of Apollo in "The Eumenides," Nature having clearly designed him for it in spite of the lamentable deficiencies in his Greek scholarship, which gave his prompters and trainers so much trouble. Nose, chin, brow, the poising of the head on the shoulders, the large blue eyes, lidded and set with a Greek perfection, the delicacy of the lean, slightly hollow cheeks, combined with the astonishing beauty and strength of the head, crowned with ambrosial curls—these possessions, together with others, had so far made life an easy and triumphant business for their owner. The "others," let it be noted, however, had till now always been present; and, chief amongst them, great wealth and an important and popular father. The father was recently dead, as the black band on the young man's arm still testified, and the wealth had suddenly vanished, wholly and completely, in one of the financial calamities of the day. General Hobson, contemplating his nephew, and mollified, as we have said, by his splendid appearance, kept saying to himself: "He hasn't a farthing but what poor Laura allows him; he has the tastes of forty thousand a year; a very indifferent education; and what the deuce is he going to do?"
Aloud he said:
"Well, all I know is, I had a deplorable letter last mail from your poor mother."
The young man turned his head away, his cigarette still poised at his lips. "Yes, I know—mother's awfully down."
"Well, certainly your mother was never meant for a poor woman," said the General, with energy. "She takes it uncommonly hard."
Roger, with face still averted, showed no inclination to discuss his mother's character on these lines.
"However, she'll get along all right, if you do your duty by her," added the General, not without a certain severity.
"I mean to do it, sir." Barnes rose as he spoke. "I should think we're getting near Mount Vernon by this time. I'll go and look."
He made his way to the outer deck, the General following. The old soldier, as he moved through the crowd of chairs in the wake of his nephew, was well aware of the attention excited by the young man. The eyes of many damsels were upon him; and, while the girls looked and said nothing, their mothers laughed and whispered to each other as the young Apollo passed.
Standing at the side of the steamer, the uncle and nephew perceived that the river had widened to a still more stately breadth, and that, on the southern bank, a white building, high placed, had come into view. The excursionists crowded to look, expressing their admiration for the natural scene and their sense of its patriotic meaning in a frank, enthusiastic chatter, which presently enveloped the General, standing in a silent endurance like a rock among the waves.
"Isn't it fine to think of his coming back here to die, so simply, when he'd made a nation?" said a young girl—perhaps from Omaha—to her companion. "Wasn't it just lovely?"
Her voice, restrained, yet warm with feeling, annoyed General Hobson. He moved away, and as they hung over the taffrail he said, with suppressed venom to his companion: "Much good it did them to be 'made a nation'! Look at their press—look at their corruption—their divorce scandals!"
Barnes laughed, and threw his cigarette-end into the swift brown water.
"Upon my word, Uncle Archie, I can't play up to you. As far as I've gone, I like America and the Americans."
"Which means, I suppose, that your mother gave you some introductions to rich people in New York, and they entertained you?" said the General drily.
"Well, is there any crime in that? I met a lot of uncommonly nice people."
"And didn't particularly bless me when I wired to you to come here?"
The young man laughed again and paused a moment before replying.
"I'm always very glad to come and keep you company, Uncle Archie."
The old General reddened a little. Privately, he knew very well that his telegram summoning young Barnes from New York had been an act of tyranny—mild, elderly tyranny. He was not amusing himself in Washington, where he was paying a second visit after an absence of twenty years. His English soul was disturbed and affronted by a wholly new realization of the strength of America, by the giant forces of the young nation, as they are to be felt pulsing in the Federal City. He was up in arms for the Old World, wondering sorely and secretly what the New might do with her in the times to come, and foreseeing an ever-increasing deluge of unlovely things—ideals, principles, manners—flowing from this western civilization, under which his own gods were already half buried, and would soon be hidden beyond recovery. And in this despondency which possessed him, in spite of the attentions of Embassies, and luncheons at the White House, he had heard that Roger was in New York, and could not resist the temptation to send for him. After all, Roger was his heir. Unless the boy flagrantly misbehaved himself, he would inherit General Hobson's money and small estate in Northamptonshire. Before the death of Roger's father this prospective inheritance, indeed, had not counted for very much in the family calculations. The General had even felt a shyness in alluding to a matter so insignificant in comparison with the general scale on which the Barnes family lived. But since the death of Barnes pere, and the complete pecuniary ruin revealed by that event, Roger's expectations from his uncle had assumed a new importance. The General was quite aware of it. A year before this date he would never have dreamed of summoning Roger to attend him at a moment's notice. That he had done so, and that Roger had obeyed him, showed how closely even the family relation may depend on pecuniary circumstance.
The steamer swung round to the landing-place under the hill of Mount Vernon. Again, in disembarkation, there was a crowd and rush which set the General's temper on edge. He emerged from it, hot and breathless, after haranguing the functionary at the gates on the inadequacy of the arrangements and the likelihood of an accident. Then he and Roger strode up the steep path, beside beds of blue periwinkles, and under old trees just bursting into leaf. A spring sunshine was in the air and on the grass, which had already donned its "livelier emerald." The air quivered with heat, and the blue dome of sky diffused it. Here and there a magnolia in full flower on the green slopes spread its splendour of white or pinkish blossom to the sun; the great river, shimmering and streaked with light, swept round the hill, and out into a pearly distance; and on the height the old pillared house with its flanking colonnades stood under the thinly green trees in a sharp light and shade which emphasized all its delightful qualities—made, as it were, the most of it, in response to the eagerness of the crowd now flowing round it.
Half-way up the hill Roger suddenly raised his hat.
"Who is it?" said the General, putting up his eyeglass.
"The girl we met last night and her brother."
"Captain Boyson? So it is. They seem to have a party with them."
The lady whom young Barnes had greeted moved toward the Englishmen, followed by her brother.
"I didn't know we were to meet to-day," she said gaily, with a mocking look at Roger. "I thought you said you were bored—and going back to New York."
Roger was relieved to see that his uncle, engaged in shaking hands with the American officer, had not heard this remark. Tact was certainly not Miss Boyson's strong point.
"I am sure I never said anything of the kind," he said, looking brazenly down upon her; "nothing in the least like it."
"Oh! oh!" the lady protested, with an extravagant archness. "Mrs. Phillips, this is Mr. Barnes. We were just talking of him, weren't we?"
An elderly lady, quietly dressed in gray silk, turned, bowed, and looked curiously at the Englishman.
"I hear you and Miss Boyson discovered some common friends last night."
"We did, indeed. Miss Boyson posted me up in a lot of the people I have been seeing in New York. I am most awfully obliged to her," said Barnes. His manner was easy and forthcoming, the manner of one accustomed to feel himself welcome and considered.
"I behaved like a walking 'Who's Who,' only I was much more interesting, and didn't tell half as many lies," said the girl, in a high penetrating voice. "Daphne, let me introduce you to Mr. Barnes. Mr. Barnes—Miss Floyd; Mr. Barnes—Mrs. Verrier."
Two ladies beyond Mrs. Phillips made vague inclinations, and young Barnes raised his hat. The whole party walked on up the hill. The General and Captain Boyson fell into a discussion of some military news of the morning. Roger Barnes was mostly occupied with Miss Boyson, who had a turn for monopoly; and he could only glance occasionally at the two ladies with Mrs. Phillips. But he was conscious that the whole group made a distinguished appearance. Among the hundreds of young women streaming over the lawn they were clearly marked out by their carriage and their clothes—especially their clothes—as belonging to the fastidious cosmopolitan class, between whom and the young school-teachers from the West, in their white cotton blouses, leathern belts, and neat short skirts, the links were few. Miss Floyd, indeed, was dressed with great simplicity. A white muslin dress, a la Romney, with a rose at the waist, and a black-and-white Romney hat deeply shading the face beneath—nothing could have been plainer; yet it was a simplicity not to be had for the asking, a calculated, a Parisian simplicity; while her companion, Mrs. Verrier, was attired in what the fashion-papers would have called a "creation in mauve." And Roger knew quite enough about women's dress to be aware that it was a creation that meant dollars. She was a tall, dark-eyed, olive-skinned woman, thin almost to emaciation: and young Barnes noticed that, while Miss Floyd talked much, Mrs. Verrier answered little, and smiled less. She moved with a languid step, and looked absently about her. Roger could not make up his mind whether she was American or English.
In the house itself the crowd was almost unmanageable. The General's ire was roused afresh when he was warned off the front door by the polite official on guard, and made to mount a back stair in the midst of a panting multitude.
"I really cannot congratulate you on your management of these affairs," he said severely to Captain Boyson, as they stood at last, breathless and hustled, on the first-floor landing. "It is most improper, I may say dangerous, to admit such a number at once. And, as for seeing the house, it is simply impossible. I shall make my way down as soon as possible, and go for a walk."
Captain Boyson looked perplexed. General Hobson was a person of eminence; Washington had been very civil to him; and the American officer felt a kind of host's responsibility.
"Wait a moment; I'll try and find somebody." He disappeared, and the party maintained itself with difficulty in a corner of the landing against the pressure of a stream of damsels, who crowded to the open doors of the rooms, looked through the gratings which bar the entrance without obstructing the view, chattered, and moved on. General Hobson stood against the wall, a model of angry patience. Cecilia Boyson, glancing at him with a laughing eye, said in Roger's ear: "How sad it is that your uncle dislikes us so!"
"Us? What do you mean?"
"That he hates America so. Oh, don't say he doesn't, because I've watched him, at one, two, three parties. He thinks we're a horrid, noisy, vulgar people, with most unpleasant voices, and he thanks God for the Atlantic—and hopes he may never see us again."
"Well, of course, if you're so certain about it, there's no good in contradicting you. Did you say that lady's name was Floyd? Could I have seen her last week in New York?"
"Quite possible. Perhaps you heard something about her?"
"No," said Barnes, after thinking a moment. "I remember—somebody pointed her out at the opera."
His companion looked at him with a kind of hard amusement. Cecilia Boyson was only five-and-twenty, but there was already something in her that foretold the formidable old maid.
"Well, when people begin upon Daphne Floyd," she said, "they generally go through with it. Ah! here comes Alfred."
Captain Boyson, pushing his way through the throng, announced to his sister and General Hobson that he had found the curator in charge of the house, who sent a message by him to the effect that if only the party would wait till four o'clock, the official closing hour, he himself would have great pleasure in showing them the house when all the tourists of the day had taken their departure.
"Then," said Miss Floyd, smiling at the General, "let us go and sit in the garden, and feel ourselves aristocratic and superior."
The General's brow smoothed. Voice and smile were alike engaging. Their owner was not exactly pretty, but she had very large dark eyes, and a small glowing face, set in a profusion of hair. Her neck, the General thought, was the slenderest he had ever seen, and the slight round lines of her form spoke of youth in its first delicate maturity. He followed her obediently, and they were all soon in the garden again, and free of the crowd. Miss Floyd led the way across the grass with the General.
"Ah! now you will see the General will begin to like us," said Miss Boyson. "Daphne has got him in hand."
Her tone was slightly mocking. Barnes observed the two figures in front of them, and remarked that Miss Floyd had a "very—well—a very foreign look."
"Not English, you mean?—or American? Well, naturally. Her mother was a Spaniard—a South American—from Buenos Ayres. That's why she is so dark, and so graceful."
"I never saw a prettier dress," said Barnes, following the slight figure with his eyes. "It's so simple."
His companion laughed again. The manner of the laugh puzzled her companion, but, just as he was about to put a question, the General and the young lady paused in front, to let the rest of the party come up with them. Miss Floyd proposed a seat a little way down the slope, where they might wait the half-hour appointed.
That half-hour passed quickly for all concerned. In looking back upon it afterwards two of the party were conscious that it had all hung upon one person. Daphne Floyd sat beside the General, who paid her a half-reluctant, half-fascinated attention. Without any apparent effort on her part she became indeed the centre of the group who sat or lay on the grass. All faces were turned towards her, and presently all ears listened for her remarks. Her talk was young and vivacious, nothing more. But all she said came, as it were, steeped in personality, a personality so energetic, so charged with movement and with action that it arrested the spectators—not always agreeably. It was like the passage of a train through the darkness, when, for the moment, the quietest landscape turns to fire and force.
The comparison suggested itself to Captain Boyson as he lay watching her, only to be received with an inward mockery, half bitter, half amused. This girl was always awakening in him these violent or desperate images. Was it her fault that she possessed those brilliant eyes—eyes, as it seemed, of the typical, essential woman?—and that downy brunette skin, with the tinge in it of damask red?—and that instinctive art of lovely gesture in which her whole being seemed to express itself? Boyson, who was not only a rising soldier, but an excellent amateur artist, knew every line of the face by heart. He had drawn Miss Daphne from the life on several occasions; and from memory scores of times. He was not likely to draw her from life any more; and thereby hung a tale. As far as he was concerned the train had passed—in flame and fury—leaving an echoing silence behind it.
What folly! He turned resolutely to Mrs. Verrier, and tried to discuss with her an exhibition of French art recently opened in Washington. In vain. After a few sentences, the talk between them dropped, and both he and she were once more watching Miss Floyd, and joining in the conversation whenever she chose to draw them in.
As for Roger Barnes, he too was steadily subjugated—up to a certain point. He was not sure that he liked Miss Floyd, or her conversation. She was so much mistress of herself and of the company, that his masculine vanity occasionally rebelled. A little flirt!—that gave herself airs. It startled his English mind that at twenty—for she could be no more—a girl should so take the floor, and hold the stage. Sometimes he turned his back upon her—almost; and Cecilia Boyson held him. But, if there was too much of the "eternal womanly" in Miss Floyd, there was not enough in Cecilia Boyson. He began to discover also that she was too clever for him, and was in fact talking down to him. Some of the things that she said to him about New York and Washington puzzled him extremely. She was, he supposed, intellectual; but the intellectual women in England did not talk in the same way. He was equal to them, or flattered himself that he was; but Miss Boyson was beyond him. He was getting into great difficulties with her, when suddenly Miss Floyd addressed him:
"I am sure I saw you in New York, at the opera?"
She bent over to him as she spoke, and lowered her voice. Her look was merry, perhaps a little satirical. It put him on his guard.
"Yes, I was there. You were pointed out to me."
"You were with some old friends of mine. I suppose they gave you an account of me?"
"They were beginning it; but then Melba began to sing, and some horrid people in the next box said 'Hush!'"
She studied him in a laughing silence a moment, her chin on her hand, then said:
"That is the worst of the opera; it stops so much interesting conversation."
"You don't care for the music?"
"Oh, I am a musician!" she said quickly. "I teach it. But I am like the mad King of Bavaria—I want an opera-house to myself."
"You teach it?" he said, in amazement.
She nodded, smiling. At that moment a bell rang. Captain Boyson rose.
"That's the signal for closing. I think we ought to be moving up."
They strolled slowly towards the house, watching the stream of excursionists pour out of the house and gardens, and wind down the hill; sounds of talk and laughter filled the air, and the western sun touched the spring hats and dresses.
"The holidays end to-morrow," said Daphne Floyd demurely, as she walked beside young Barnes. And she looked smiling at the crowd of young women, as though claiming solidarity with them.
A teacher? A teacher of music?—with that self-confidence—that air as though the world belonged to her! The young man was greatly mystified. But he reminded himself that he was in a democratic country where all men—and especially all women—are equal. Not that the young women now streaming to the steamboat were Miss Floyd's equals. The notion was absurd. All that appeared to be true was that Miss Floyd, in any circumstances, would be, and was, the equal of anybody.
"How charming your friend is!" he said presently to Cecilia Boyson, as they lingered on the veranda, waiting for the curator, in a scene now deserted. "She tells me she is a teacher of music."
Cecilia Boyson looked at him in amazement, and made him repeat his remark. As he did so, his uncle called him, and he turned away. Miss Boyson leant against one of the pillars of the veranda, shaking with suppressed laughter.
But at that moment the curator, a gentle, gray-haired man, appeared, shaking hands with the General, and bowing to the ladies. He gave them a little discourse on the house and its history, as they stood on the veranda; and private conversation was no longer possible.
A sudden hush had fallen upon Mount Vernon. From the river below came the distant sounds of the steamer, which, with its crowds safe on board, was now putting off for Washington. But the lawns and paths of the house, and the formal garden behind it, and all its simple rooms upstairs and down, were now given back to the spring and silence, save for this last party of sightseers. The curator, after his preliminary lecture on the veranda, took them within; the railings across the doors were removed; they wandered in and out as they pleased.
Perhaps, however, there were only two persons among the six now following the curator to whom the famous place meant anything more than a means of idling away a warm afternoon. General Hobson carried his white head proudly through it, saying little or nothing. It was the house of a man who had wrenched half a continent from Great Britain; the English Tory had no intention whatever of bowing the knee. On the other hand, it was the house of a soldier and a gentleman, representing old English traditions, tastes, and manners. No modern blatancy, no Yankee smartness anywhere. Simplicity and moderate wealth, combined with culture—witness the books of the library—with land-owning, a family coach, and church on Sundays: these things the Englishman understood. Only the slaves, in the picture of Mount Vernon's past, were strange to him.
They stood at length in the death-chamber, with its low white bed, and its balcony overlooking the river.
"This, ladies, is the room in which General Washington died," said the curator, patiently repeating the familiar sentence. "It is, of course, on that account sacred to every true American."
He bowed his head instinctively as he spoke. The General looked round him in silence. His eye was caught by the old hearth, and by the iron plate at the back of it, bearing the letters G. W. and some scroll work. There flashed into his mind a vision of the December evening on which Washington passed away, the flames flickering in the chimney, the winds breathing round the house and over the snow-bound landscape outside, the dying man in that white bed, and around him, hovering invisibly, the generations of the future.
"He was a traitor to his king and country!" he repeated to himself, firmly. Then as his patriotic mind was not disturbed by a sense of humour, he added the simple reflection—"But it is, of course, natural that Americans should consider him a great man."
The French window beside the bed was thrown open, and these privileged guests were invited to step on to the balcony. Daphne Floyd was handed out by young Barnes. They hung over the white balustrade together. An evening light was on the noble breadth of river; its surface of blue and gold gleamed through the boughs of the trees which girdled the house; blossoms of wild cherry, of dogwood, and magnolia sparkled amid the coverts of young green.
Roger Barnes remarked, with sincerity, as he looked about him, that it was a very pretty place, and he was glad he had not missed it. Miss Floyd made an absent reply, being in fact occupied in studying the speaker. It was, so to speak, the first time she had really observed him; and, as they paused on the balcony together, she was suddenly possessed by the same impression as that which had mollified the General's scolding on board the steamer. He was indeed handsome, the young Englishman!—a magnificent figure of a man, in height and breadth and general proportions; and in addition, as it seemed to her, possessed of an absurd and superfluous beauty of feature. What does a man want with such good looks? This was perhaps the girl's first instinctive feeling. She was, indeed, a little dazzled by her new companion, now that she began to realize him. As compared with the average man in Washington or New York, here was an exception—an Apollo!—for she too thought of the Sun-god. Miss Floyd could not remember that she had ever had to do with an Apollo before; young Barnes, therefore, was so far an event, a sensation. In the opera-house she had been vaguely struck by a handsome face. But here, in the freedom of outdoor dress and movement, he seemed to her a physical king of men; and, at the same time, his easy manner—which, however, was neither conceited nor ill-bred—showed him conscious of his advantages.
As they chatted on the balcony she put him through his paces a little. He had been, it seemed, at Eton and Oxford; and she supposed that he belonged to the rich English world. His mother was a Lady Barnes; his father, she gathered, was dead; and he was travelling, no doubt, in the lordly English way, to get a little knowledge of the barbarians outside, before he settled down to his own kingdom, and the ways thereof. She envisaged a big Georgian house in a spreading park, like scores that she had seen in the course of motoring through England the year before.
Meanwhile, the dear young man was evidently trying to talk to her, without too much reference to the gilt gingerbread of this world. He did not wish that she should feel herself carried into regions where she was not at home, so that his conversation ran amicably on music. Had she learned it abroad? He had a cousin who had been trained at Leipsic; wasn't teaching it trying sometimes—when people had no ear? Delicious! She kept it up, talking with smiles of "my pupils" and "my class," while they wandered after the others upstairs to the dark low-roofed room above the death-chamber, where Martha Washington spent the last years of her life, in order that from the high dormer window she might command the tomb on the slope below, where her dead husband lay. The curator told the well-known story. Mrs. Verrier, standing beside him, asked some questions, showed indeed some animation.
"She shut herself up here? She lived in this garret? That she might always see the tomb? That is really true?"
Barnes, who did not remember to have heard her speak before, turned at the sound of her voice, and looked at her curiously. She wore an expression—bitter or incredulous—which, somehow, amused him. As they descended again to the garden he communicated his amusement—discreetly—to Miss Floyd.
Did Mrs. Verrier imply that no one who was not a fool could show her grief as Mrs. Washington did? That it was, in fact, a sign of being a fool to regret your husband?
"Did she say that?" asked Miss Floyd quickly.
"Not like that, of course, but——"
They had now reached the open air again, and found themselves crossing the front court to the kitchen-garden. Daphne Floyd did not wait till Roger should finish his sentence. She turned on him a face which was grave if not reproachful.
"I suppose you know Mrs. Verrier's story?"
"Why, I never saw her before! I hope I haven't said anything I oughtn't to have said?"
"Everybody knows it here," said Daphne slowly. "Mrs. Verrier married three years ago. She married a Jew—a New Yorker—who had changed his name. You know Jews are not in what we call 'society' over here? But Madeleine thought she could do it; she was in love with him, and she meant to be able to do without society. But she couldn't do without society; and presently she began to dine out, and go to parties by herself—he urged her to. Then, after a bit, people didn't ask her as much as before; she wasn't happy; and her people began to talk to him about a divorce—naturally they had been against her marrying him all along. He said—as they and she pleased. Then, one night about a year ago, he took the train to Niagara—of course it was a very commonplace thing to do—and two days afterwards he was found, thrown up by the whirlpool; you know, where all the suicides are found!"
Barnes stopped short in front of his companion, his face flushing.
"What a horrible story!" he said, with emphasis.
Miss Floyd nodded.
"Yes, poor Madeleine has never got over it."
The young man still stood riveted.
"Of course Mrs. Verrier herself had nothing to do with the talk about divorce?"
Something in his tone roused a combative instinct in his companion. She, too, coloured, and drew herself up.
"Why shouldn't she? She was miserable. The marriage had been a great mistake."
"And you allow divorce for that?" said the man, wondering. "Oh, of course I know every State is different, and some States are worse than others. But, somehow, I never came across a case like that—first hand—before."
He walked on slowly beside his companion, who held herself a little stiffly.
"I don't know why you should talk in that way," she said at last, breaking out in a kind of resentment, "as though all our American views are wrong! Each nation arranges these things for itself. You have the laws that suit you; you must allow us those that suit us."
Barnes paused again, his face expressing a still more complete astonishment.
"You say that?" he said. "You!"
"And why not?"
"But—but you are so young!" he said, evidently finding a difficulty in putting his impressions. "I beg your pardon—I ought not to talk about it at all. But it was so odd that——"
"That I knew anything about Mrs. Verrier's affairs?" said Miss Floyd, with a rather uncomfortable laugh. "Well, you see, American girls are not like English ones. We don't pretend not to know what everybody knows."
"Of course," said Roger hurriedly; "but you wouldn't think it a fair and square thing to do?"
"Why, to marry a man, and then talk of divorcing him because people didn't invite you to their parties."
"She was very unhappy," said Daphne stubbornly.
"Well, by Jove!" cried the young man, "she doesn't look very happy now!"
"No," Miss Floyd admitted. "No. There are many people who think she'll never get over it."
"Well, I give it up." The Apollo shrugged his handsome shoulders. "You say it was she who proposed to divorce him?—yet when the wretched man removes himself, then she breaks her heart!"
"Naturally she didn't mean him to do it in that way," said the girl, with impatience. "Of course you misunderstood me entirely!—entirely!" she added with an emphasis which suited with her heightened colour and evidently ruffled feelings.
Young Barnes looked at her with embarrassment. What a queer, hot-tempered girl! Yet there was something in her which attracted him. She was graceful even in her impatience. Her slender neck, and the dark head upon it, her little figure in the white muslin, her dainty arms and hands—these points in her delighted an honest eye, quite accustomed to appraise the charms of women. But, by George! she took herself seriously, this little music-teacher. The air of wilful command about her, the sharpness with which she had just rebuked him, amazed and challenged him.
"I am very sorry if I misunderstood you," he said, a little on his dignity; "but I thought you——"
"You thought I sympathized with Mrs. Verrier? So I do; though of course I am awfully sorry that such a dreadful thing happened. But you'll find, Mr. Barnes, that American girls——" The colour rushed into her small olive cheeks. "Well, we know all about the old ideas, and we know also too well that there's only one life, and we don't mean to have that one spoilt. The old notions of marriage—your English notions," cried the girl facing him—"make it tyranny! Why should people stay together when they see it's a mistake? We say everybody shall have their chance. And not one chance only, but more than one. People find out in marriage what they couldn't find out before, and so——"
"You let them chuck it just when they're tired of it?" laughed Barnes. "And what about the——"
"The children?" said Miss Floyd calmly. "Well, of course, that has to be very carefully considered. But how can it do children any good to live in an unhappy home?"
"Had Mrs. Verrier any children?"
"Yes, one little girl."
"I suppose she meant to keep her?"
"Why, of course."
"And the father didn't care?"
"Well, I believe he did," said Daphne unwillingly. "Yes, that was very sad. He was quite devoted to her."
"And you think that's all right?" Barnes looked at his companion, smiling.
"Well, of course, it was a pity," she said, with fresh impatience; "I admit it was a pity. But then, why did she ever marry him? That was the horrible mistake."
"I suppose she thought she liked him."
"Oh, it was he who was so desperately in love with her. He plagued her into doing it."
"Poor devil!" said Barnes heartily. "All right, we're coming."
The last words were addressed to General Hobson, waving to them from the kitchen-garden. They hurried on to join the curator, who took the party for a stroll round some of the fields over which George Washington, in his early married life, was accustomed to ride in summer and winter dawns, inspecting his negroes, his plantation, and his barns. The grass in these Southern fields was already high; there were shining fruit-trees, blossom-laden, in an orchard copse; and the white dogwood glittered in the woods.
For two people to whom the traditions of the place were dear, this quiet walk through Washington's land had a charm far beyond that of the reconstructed interior of the house. Here were things unaltered and unalterable, boundaries, tracks, woods, haunted still by the figure of the young master and bridegroom who brought Patsy Curtis there in 1759. To the gray-haired curator every foot of them was sacred and familiar; he knew these fields and the records of them better than any detail of his own personal affairs; for years now he had lived in spirit with Washington, through all the hours of the Mount Vernon day; his life was ruled by one great ghost, so that everything actual was comparatively dim. Boyson too, a fine soldier and a fine intelligence, had a mind stored with Washingtoniana. Every now and then he and the curator fell back on each other's company. They knew well that the others were not worthy of their opportunity; although General Hobson, seeing that most of the memories touched belonged to a period before the Revolution, obeyed the dictates of politeness, and made amends for his taciturnity indoors by a talkative vein outside.
Captain Boyson was not, however, wholly occupied with history or reminiscence. He perceived very plainly before the walk was over that the General's good-looking nephew and Miss Daphne Floyd were interested in each other's conversation. When they joined the party in the garden it seemed to him that they had been disputing. Miss Daphne was flushed and a little snappish when spoken to; and the young man looked embarrassed. But presently he saw that they gravitated to each other, and that, whatever chance combination might be formed during the walk, it always ended for a time in the flight ahead of the two figures, the girl in the rose-coloured sash and the tall handsome youth. Towards the end of the walk they became separated from the rest of the party, and only arrived at the little station just in time before the cars started. On this occasion again, they had been clearly arguing and disagreeing; and Daphne had the air of a ruffled bird, her dark eyes glittering, her mouth set in the obstinate lines that Boyson knew by heart. But again they sat together in the car, and talked and sparred all the way home; while Mrs. Verrier, in a corner of the carriage, shut her hollow eyes, and laid her thin hands one over the other, and in her purple draperies made a picture a la Melisande which was not lost upon her companions. Boyson's mind registered a good many grim or terse comments, as occasionally he found himself watching this lady. Scarcely a year since that hideous business at Niagara, and here she was in that extravagant dress! He wished his sister would not make a friend of her, and that Daphne Floyd saw less of her. Miss Daphne had quite enough bees in her own bonnet without adopting Mrs. Verrier's.
Meanwhile, it was the General who, on the return journey, was made to serve Miss Boyson's gift for monopoly. She took possession of him in a business-like way, inquiring into his engagements in Washington, his particular friends, his opinion of the place and the people, with a light-handed acuteness which was more than a match for the Englishman's instincts of defence. The General did not mean to give himself away; he intended, indeed, precisely the contrary; but, after every round of conversation Miss Boyson felt herself more and more richly provided with materials for satire at the expense of England and the English tourist, his invincible conceit, insularity, and condescension. She was a clever though tiresome woman; and expressed herself best in letters. She promised herself to write a "character" of General Hobson in her next letter to an intimate friend, which should be a masterpiece. Then, having led him successfully through the role of the comic Englishman abroad, she repaid him with information. She told him, not without some secret amusement at the reprobation it excited, the tragic story of Mrs. Verrier. She gave him a full history of her brother's honourable and brilliant career; and here let it be said that the precieuse in her gave way to the sister, and that she talked with feeling. And finally she asked him with a smile whether he admired Miss Floyd. The General, who had in fact been observing Miss Floyd and his nephew with some little uneasiness during the preceding half-hour, replied guardedly that Miss Floyd was pretty and picturesque, and apparently a great talker. Was she a native of Washington?
"You never heard of Miss Floyd?—of Daphne Floyd? No? Ah, well!"—and she laughed—"I suppose I ought to take it as a compliment, of a kind. There are so many rich people now in this queer country of ours that even Daphne Floyds don't matter."
"Is Miss Floyd so tremendously rich?"
General Hobson turned a quickened countenance upon her, expressing no more than the interest felt by the ordinary man in all societies—more strongly, perhaps, at the present day than ever before—in the mere fact of money. But Miss Boyson gave it at once a personal meaning, and set herself to play on what she scornfully supposed to be the cupidity of the Englishman. She produced, indeed, a full and particular account of Daphne Floyd's parentage, possessions, and prospects, during which the General's countenance represented him with great fidelity. A trace of recalcitrance at the beginning—for it was his opinion that Miss Boyson, like most American women, talked decidedly too much—gave way to close attention, then to astonishment, and finally to a very animated observation of Miss Floyd's slender person as she sat a yard or two from him on the other side of the car, laughing, frowning, or chattering with Roger.
"And that poor child has the management of it all?" he said at last, in a tone which did him credit. He himself had lost an only daughter at twenty-one, and he held old-fashioned views as to the helplessness of women.
But Cecilia Boyson again misunderstood him.
"Oh, yes!" she said, with a cool smile. "Everything is in her own hands—everything! Mrs. Phillips would not dare to interfere. Daphne always has her own way."
The General said no more. Cecilia Boyson looked out of the window at the darkening landscape, thinking with malice of Daphne's dealings with the male sex. It had been a Sleeping Beauty story so far. Treasure for the winning—a thorn hedge—and slain lovers! The handsome Englishman would try it next, no doubt. All young Englishmen, according to her, were on the look-out for American heiresses. Music teacher indeed! She would have given a good deal to hear the conversation of the uncle and nephew when the party broke up.
The General and young Barnes made their farewells at the railway station, and took their way on foot to their hotel. Washington was steeped in sunset. The White House, as they passed it, glowed amid its quiet trees. Lafayette Square, with its fountains and statues, its white and pink magnolias, its strolling, chatting crowd, the fronts of the houses, the long vistas of tree-lined avenues, the street cars, the houses, the motors, all the openings and distances of the beautiful, leisurely place—they saw them rosily transfigured under a departing sun, which throughout the day had been weaving the quick spells of a southern spring.
"Jolly weather!" said Roger, looking about him. "And a very nice afternoon. How long are you staying here, Uncle Archie?"
"I ought to be off at the end of the week; and of course you want to get back to New York? I say, you seemed to be getting on with that young lady?"
The General turned a rather troubled eye upon his companion.
"She wasn't bad fun," said the young man graciously; "but rather an odd little thing! We quarrelled about every conceivable subject. And it's queer how much that kind of girl seems to go about in America. She goes everywhere and knows everything. I wonder how she manages it."
"What kind of girl do you suppose she is?" asked the General, stopping suddenly in the middle of Lafayette Square.
"She told me she taught singing," said Roger, in a puzzled voice, "to a class of girls in New York."
The General laughed.
"She seems to have made a fool of you, my dear boy. She is one of the great heiresses of America."
Roger's face expressed a proper astonishment.
"Oh! that's it, is it? I thought once or twice there was something fishy—she was trying it on. Who told you?"
The General retailed his information. Miss Daphne Floyd was the orphan daughter of an enormously rich and now deceased lumber-king, of the State of Illinois. He had made vast sums by lumbering, and then invested in real estate in Chicago and Buffalo, not to speak of a railway or two, and had finally left his daughter and only child in possession of a fortune generally estimated at more than a million sterling. The money was now entirely in the girl's power. Her trustees had been sent about their business, though Miss Floyd was pleased occasionally to consult them. Mrs. Phillips, her chaperon, had not much influence with her; and it was supposed that Mrs. Verrier advised her more than anyone else.
"Good heavens!" was all that young Barnes could find to say when the story was told. He walked on absently, flourishing his stick, his face working under the stress of amused meditation. At last he brought out:
"You know, Uncle Archie, if you'd heard some of the things Miss Floyd was saying to me, your hair would have stood on end."
The General raised his shoulders.
"I dare say. I'm too old-fashioned for America. The sooner I clear out the better. Their newspapers make me sick; I hate the hotels—I hate the cooking; and there isn't a nation in Europe I don't feel myself more at home with."
Roger laughed his clear, good-tempered laugh. "Oh! I don't feel that way at all. I get on with them capitally. They're a magnificent people. And, as to Miss Floyd, I didn't mean anything bad, of course. Only the ideas some of the girls here have, and the way they discuss them—well, it beats me!"
"What sort of ideas?"
Roger's handsome brow puckered in the effort to explain. "They don't think anything's settled, you know, as we do at home. Miss Floyd doesn't. They think they've got to settle a lot of things that English girls don't trouble about, because they're just told to do 'em, or not to do 'em, by the people that look after them!"
"'Everything hatched over again, and hatched different,'" said the General, who was an admirer of George Eliot; "that's what they'd like, eh? Pooh! That's when they're young. They quiet down, like all the rest of the world."
Barnes shook his head. "But they are hatching it over again. You meet people here in society you couldn't meet at home. And it's all right. The law backs them up."
"You're talking about divorce!" said the General. "Aye! it's astounding! The tales one hears in the smoking-room after dinner! In Wyoming, apparently, six months' residence, and there you are. You prove a little cruelty, the husband makes everything perfectly easy, you say a civil good-bye, and the thing's done. Well, they'll pay for it, my dear Roger—they'll pay for it. Nobody ever yet trifled with the marriage law with impunity."
The energy of the old man's bearing became him.
Through Roger's mind the thought flashed: "Poor dear Uncle Archie! If he'd been a New Yorker he'd never have put up with Aunt Lavinia for thirty years!"
They turned into their hotel, and ordered dinner in an hour's time. Roger found some English letters waiting for him, and carried them off to his room. He opened his mother's first. Lady Barnes wrote a large and straggling hand, which required many sheets and much postage. It might have been observed that her son looked at the sheets for a minute, with a certain distaste, before he began upon them. Yet he was deeply attached to his mother, and it was from her letters week by week that he took his marching orders. If she only wouldn't ride her ideas quite so hard; if she would sometimes leave him alone to act for himself!
Here it was again—the old story:
"Don't suppose I put these things before you on my account. No, indeed; what does it matter what happens to me? It is when I think that you may have to spend your whole life as a clerk in a bank, unless you rouse yourself now—(for you know, my dear Roger, though you have very good wits, you're not as frightfully clever as people have to be nowadays)—that I begin to despair. But that is entirely in your own hands. You have what is far more valuable than cleverness—you have a delightful disposition, and you are one of the handsomest of men. There! of course, I know you wouldn't let me say it to you in your presence; but it's true all the same. Any girl should be proud to marry you. There are plenty of rich girls in America; and if you play your cards properly you will make her and yourself happy. The grammar of that is not quite right, but you understand me. Find a nice girl—of course a nice girl—with a fortune large enough to put you back in your proper sphere; and it doesn't matter about me. You will pay my rent, I dare say, and help me through when I want it; but that's nothing. The point is, that I cannot submit to your career being spoiled through your poor father's mad imprudence. You must retrieve yourself—you must. Nobody is anything nowadays in the world without money; you know that as well as I do. And besides, there is another reason. You have got to forget the affair of last spring, to put it entirely behind you, to show that horrid woman who threw you over that you will make your life a success in spite of her. Rouse yourself, my dear Roger, and do your best. I hope by now you have forwarded all my introductions? You have your opportunity, and I must say you will be a great fool if you don't use it. Do use it my dear boy, for my sake. I am a very unhappy woman; but you might, if you would, bring back a little brightness to my life."
After he had read the letter, young Barnes sat for some time in a brown study on the edge of his bed. The letter contained only one more repetition of counsels that had been dinned into his ears for months—almost ever since the financial crash which had followed his father's death, and the crash of another sort, concerning himself, which had come so quick upon it. His thoughts returned, as they always did at some hour of the day or night, to the "horrid woman." Yes, that had hit him hard; the lad's heart still throbbed with bitterness as he thought of it. He had never felt anything so much; he didn't believe he should ever mind anything so much again. "I'm not one of your sentimental sort," he thought, half congratulating himself, half in self-contempt. But he could not get her out of his head; he wondered if he ever should. And it had gone pretty far too. By Jove! that night in the orchard!—when she had kissed him, and thrown her arms round his neck! And then to write him that letter, when things were at their worst. She might have done the thing decently. Have treated a fellow kindly at least. Well, of course, it was all done with. Yes, it was. Done with!
He got up and began to pace his small room, his hands in his pockets, thinking of the night in the orchard. Then gradually the smart lessened, and his thoughts passed away to other things. That little Yankee girl had really made good sport all the way home. He had not been dull for a moment; she had teased and provoked him so. Her eyes, too, were wonderfully pretty, and her small, pointed chin, and her witch-like imperious ways. Was it her money, the sense that she could do as she liked with most people, that made her so domineering and masterful? Very likely. On the journey he had put it down just to a natural and very surprising impudence. That was when he believed that she was a teacher, earning her bread. But the impudence had not prevented him from finding it much more amusing to talk to her than to anybody else.
And, on the whole, he thought she had not disliked him, though she had said the rudest things to him, and he had retaliated. She had asked him, indeed, to join them in an excursion the following day, and to tea at the Country Club. He had meant, if possible, to go back to New York on the morrow. But perhaps a day or two longer——
So she had a million—the little sprite? She was and would be a handful!—with a fortune or without it. And possessed also of the most extraordinary opinions. But he thought he would go on the excursion, and to the Country Club. He began to fold his mother's letter, and put it back into its envelope, while a slight flush mounted in his cheeks, and the young mouth that was still so boyish and candid took a stiffer line.
"Is Miss Floyd at home?"
The questioner was Mrs. Verrier, who had just alighted from her carriage at the door of the house in Columbia Avenue inhabited by Miss Floyd and her chaperon.
The maid replied that Miss Floyd had not yet returned, but had left a message begging Mrs. Verrier to wait for her. The visitor was accordingly ushered to the drawing-room on the first floor.
This room, the staircase, the maid, all bore witness to Miss Floyd's simplicity—like the Romney dress of Mount Vernon. The colour of the walls and the hangings, the lines of the furniture, were all subdued, even a little austere. Quiet greens and blues, mingled with white, showed the artistic mind; the chairs and sofas were a trifle stiff and straight legged; the electric fittings were of a Georgian plainness to match the Colonial architecture of the house; the beautiful self-coloured carpet was indeed Persian and costly, but it betrayed its costliness only to the expert. Altogether, the room, one would have said, of any bourse moyenne, with an eye for beauty. Fine photographs also, of Italian and Dutch pictures, suggested travel, and struck the cultivated cosmopolitan note.
Mrs. Verrier looked round it with a smile. It was all as unpretending as the maid who ushered her upstairs. Daphne would have no men-servants in her employ. What did two ladies want with them, in a democratic country? But Mrs. Verrier happened to know that Daphne's maid-servants were just as costly in their degree as the drawing-room carpet. Chosen for her in London with great care, attracted to Washington by enormous wages, these numerous damsels played their part in the general "simplicity" effect; but on the whole Mrs. Verrier believed that Daphne's household was rather more expensive than that of other rich people who employed men.
She walked through the room, looking absently at the various photographs and engravings, till her attention was excited by an easel and a picture upon it in the back drawing-room. She went up to it with a muttered exclamation.
"So she bought it! Daphne's amazing!"
For what she saw before her was a masterpiece—an excessively costly masterpiece—of the Florentine school, smuggled out of Italy, to the wrath of the Italian Government, some six months before this date, and since then lost to general knowledge. Rumour had given it first to a well-known collection at Boston; then to another at Philadelphia; yet here it was in the possession of a girl of two-and-twenty of whom the great world was just—but only just—beginning to talk.
"How like Daphne!" thought her friend with malice. The "simple" room, and the priceless picture carelessly placed in a corner of it, lest any one should really suppose that Daphne Floyd was an ordinary mortal.
Mrs. Verrier sat down at last in a chair fronting the picture and let herself fall into a reverie. On this occasion she was dressed in black. The lace strings of a hat crowned with black ostrich feathers were fastened under her chin by a diamond that sparkled in the dim greenish light of the drawing-room; the feathers of the hat were unusually large and drooping; they curled heavily round the thin neck and long, hollow-eyed face, so that its ivory whiteness, its fatigue, its fretful beauty were framed in and emphasized by them; her bloodless hands lay upon her lap, and the folds of the sweeping dress drawn round her showed her slenderness, or rather her emaciation. Two years before this date Madeleine Verrier had been a great beauty, and she had never yet reconciled herself to physical losses which were but the outward and visible sign of losses "far more deeply interfused." As she sat apparently absorbed in thought before the picture, she moved, half consciously, so that she could no longer see herself in a mirror opposite.
Yet her thoughts were in truth much engaged with Daphne and Daphne's proceedings. It was now nearly three weeks since Roger Barnes had appeared on the horizon. General Hobson had twice postponed his departure for England, and was still "enduring hardness" in a Washington hotel. Why his nephew should not be allowed to manage his courtship, if it was a courtship, for himself, Mrs. Verrier did not understand. There was no love lost between herself and the General, and she made much mock of him in her talks with Daphne. However, there he was; and she could only suppose that he took the situation seriously and felt bound to watch it in the interests of the young man's absent mother.
Was it serious? Certainly Daphne had been committing herself a good deal. The question was whether she had not been committing herself more than the young man had been doing on his side. That was the astonishing part of it. Mrs. Verrier could not sufficiently admire the skill with which Roger Barnes had so far played his part; could not sufficiently ridicule her own lack of insight, which at her first meeting with him had pronounced him stupid. Stupid he might be in the sense that it was of no use to expect from him the kind of talk on books, pictures, and first principles which prevailed in Daphne's circle. But Mrs. Verrier thought she had seldom come across a finer sense of tactics than young Barnes had so far displayed in his dealings with Daphne. If he went on as he had begun, the probability was that he would succeed.
Did she, Madeleine Verrier, wish him to succeed?
Daphne had grown tragically necessary to her, in this world of American society—in that section of it, at any rate, in which she desired to move, where the widow of Leopold Verrier was always conscious of the blowing of a cold and hostile breath. She was not excluded, but she was not welcome; she was not ostracized, but she had lost consideration. There had been something picturesque and appealing in her husband; something unbearably tragic in the manner of his death. She had braved it out by staying in America, instead of losing herself in foreign towns; and she had thereby proclaimed that she had no guilty sense of responsibility, no burden on her conscience; that she had only behaved as a thousand other women would have behaved, and without any cruel intention at all. But she knew all the same that the spectators of what had happened held her for a cruel woman, and that there were many, and those the best, who saw her come with distaste and go without regret; and it was under that knowledge, in spite of indomitable pride, that her beauty had withered in a year.
And at the moment when the smart of what had happened to her—personally and socially—was at its keenest; when, after a series of quarrels, she had separated herself from the imperious mother who had been her evil genius throughout her marriage, she had made friends, unexpectedly, owing to a chance meeting at a picture-gallery, with Daphne Floyd. Some element in Daphne's nature had attracted and disarmed her. The proud, fastidious woman had given the girl her confidence—eagerly, indiscriminately. She had poured out upon her all that wild philosophy of "rights" which is still struggling in the modern mind with a crumbling ethic and a vanishing religion. And she had found in Daphne a warm and passionate ally. Daphne was nothing if not "advanced." She shrank, as Roger Barnes had perceived, from no question; she had never been forbidden, had never forbidden herself, any book that she had a fancy to read; and she was as ready to discuss the relative divorce laws of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, as the girls of fifty years ago were to talk of the fashions, or "Evangeline." In any disputed case, moreover, between a man and a woman, Daphne was hotly and instinctively on the side of the woman. She had thrown herself, therefore, with ardour into the defence of Mrs. Verrier; and for her it was not the wife's desertion, but the husband's suicide which had been the cruel and indefensible thing. All these various traits and liberalisms had made her very dear to Madeleine Verrier.
Now, as that lady sat in her usual drooping attitude, wondering what Washington would be like for her when even Daphne Floyd was gone from it, the afternoon sun stole through the curtains of the window on the street and touched some of the furniture and engravings in the inner drawing-room. Suddenly Mrs. Verrier started in her chair. A face had emerged thrown out upon the shadows by the sun-finger—the countenance of a handsome young Jew, as Rembrandt had once conceived it. Rare and high intelligence, melancholy, and premonition:—they were there embodied, so long as the apparition lasted.
The effect on Mrs. Verrier was apparently profound. She closed her eyes; her lips quivered; she leaned back feebly in her chair, breathing a name. The crisis lasted a few minutes, while the momentary vision faded and the sun-light crept on. The eyelids unclosed at last, slowly and painfully, as though shrinking from what might greet the eyes beneath them. But the farther wall was now in deep shade. Mrs. Verrier sat up; the emotion which had mastered her like a possession passed away; and rising hurriedly, she went back to the front drawing-room. She had hardly reached it when Miss Floyd's voice was heard upon the stairs.
Daphne entered the room in what appeared to be a fit of irritation. She was scolding the parlour-maid, whose high colour and dignified silence proclaimed her both blameless and long-suffering. At the sight of Mrs. Verrier Daphne checked herself with an effort and kissed her friend rather absently.
"Dear Madeleine!—very good of you to wait. Have they given you tea? I suppose not. My household seems to have gone mad this afternoon. Sit down. Some tea, Blount, at once."
Mrs. Verrier sank into a corner of the sofa, while Daphne, with an "ouf!" of fatigue, took off her hat, and threw herself down at the other end, her small feet curled up beneath her. Her half-frowning eyes gave the impression that she was still out of temper and on edge.
"Where have you been?" asked her companion quietly.
"Listening to a stuffy debate in the Senate," said Daphne without a smile.
"The Senate. What on earth took you there?"
"Well, why shouldn't I go?—why does one do anything? It was just a debate—horribly dull—trusts, or something of that kind. But there was a man attacking the President—and the place was crowded. Ugh! the heat was intolerable!"
"Who took you?"
Daphne named an under-secretary—an agreeable and ambitious man, who had been very much in her train during the preceding winter, and until Roger Barnes appeared upon the scene.
"I thought until I got your message that you were going to take Mr. Barnes motoring up the river."
"Mr. Barnes was engaged." Daphne gave the information tersely, rousing herself afterwards to make tea, which appeared at that moment.
"He seems to have been a good deal engaged this week," said Mrs. Verrier, when they were alone again.
Daphne made no reply. And Mrs. Verrier, after observing her for a moment, resumed:
"I suppose it was the Bostonians?"
"I suppose so. What does it matter?" The tone was dry and sharp.
"Daphne, you goose!" laughed Mrs. Verrier, "I believe this is the very first invitation of theirs he has accepted at all. He was written to about them by an old friend—his Eton master, or somebody of that sort. And as they turned up here on a visit, instead of his having to go and look for them at Boston, of course he had to call upon them."
"I dare say. And of course he had to go to tea with them yesterday, and he had to take them to Arlington this afternoon! I suppose I'd better tell you—we had a quarrel on the subject last night."
"Daphne!—don't, for heaven's sake, make him think himself too important!" cried Mrs. Verrier.
Daphne, with both elbows on the table, was slowly crunching a morsel of toast in her small white teeth. She had a look of concentrated energy—as of a person charged and overcharged with force of some kind, impatient to be let loose. Her black eyes sparkled; impetuosity and will shone from them; although they showed also rims of fatigue, as if Miss Daphne's nights had not of late been all they should be. Mrs. Verrier was chiefly struck, however, by the perception that for the first time Daphne was not having altogether her own way with the world. Madeleine had not observed anything of the same kind in her before. In general she was in entire command both of herself and of the men who surrounded her. She made a little court out of them, and treated them en despote. But Roger Barnes had not lent himself to the process; he had not played the game properly; and Daphne's sleep had been disturbed for the first time in history.
It had been admitted very soon between the two friends—without putting it very precisely—that Daphne was interested in Roger Barnes. Mrs. Verrier believed that the girl had been originally carried off her feet by the young man's superb good looks, and by the natural distinction—evident in all societies—which they conferred upon him. Then, no doubt, she had been piqued by his good-humoured, easy way—the absence of any doubt of himself, of tremor, of insistence. Mrs. Verrier said to herself—not altogether shrewdly—that he had no nerves, or no heart; and Daphne had not yet come across the genus. Her lovers had either possessed too much heart—like Captain Boyson—or a lack of coolness, when it really came to the point of grappling with Daphne and her millions, as in the case of a dozen she could name. Whereby it had come about that Daphne's attention had been first provoked, then peremptorily seized by the Englishman; and Mrs. Verrier began now to suspect that deeper things were really involved.
Certainly there was a good deal to puzzle the spectator. That the English are a fortune-hunting race may be a popular axiom; but it was quite possible, after all, that Roger Barnes was not the latest illustration of it. It was quite possible, also, that he had a sweet-heart at home, some quiet, Quakerish girl who would never wave in his face the red flags that Daphne was fond of brandishing. It was equally possible that he was merely fooling with Daphne—that he had seen girls he liked better in New York, and was simply killing time till a sportsman friend of whom he talked should appear on the scene and take him off to shoot moose and catch trout in the province of Quebec. Mrs. Verrier realized that, for all his lack of subtlety and the higher conversation, young Barnes had managed astonishingly to keep his counsel. His "simplicity," like Daphne's, seemed to be of a special type.
And yet—there was no doubt that he had devoted himself a great deal. Washington society had quickly found him out; he had been invited to all the most fastidious houses, and was immensely in request for picnics and expeditions. But he had contrived, on the whole, to make all these opportunities promote the flirtation with Daphne. He had, in fact, been enough at her beck and call to make her the envy of a young society with whom the splendid Englishman promised to become the rage, and not enough to silence or wholly discourage other claimants on his time.
This no doubt accounted for the fact that the two charming Bostonians, Mrs. Maddison and her daughter, who had but lately arrived in Washington and made acquaintance with Roger Barnes, were still evidently in ignorance of what was going on. They were not initiated. They had invited young Barnes in the innocence of their hearts, without inviting Daphne Floyd, whom they did not previously know. And the young man had seen fit to accept their invitation. Hence the jealousy that was clearly burning in Daphne, that she was not indeed even trying to hide from the shrewd eyes of her friend.
Mrs. Verrier's advice not to make Roger Barnes "too important" had called up a flash of colour in the girl's cheeks. But she did not resent it in words; rather her silence deepened, till Mrs. Verrier stretched out a hand and laughingly turned the small face towards her that she might see what was in it.
"Daphne! I really believe you're in love with him!"
"Not at all," said Daphne, her eyelids flickering; "I never know what to talk to him about."
"As if that mattered!"
"Elsie Maddison always knows what to talk to him about, and he chatters to her the whole time."
Mrs. Verrier paused a moment, then said: "Do you suppose he came to America to marry money?"
"I haven't an idea."
"Do you suppose he knows that you—are not exactly a pauper?"
Daphne drew herself away impatiently. "I really don't suppose anything, Madeleine. He never talks about money, and I should think he had plenty himself."
Mrs. Verrier replied by giving an outline of the financial misfortunes of Mr. Barnes pere, as they had been described to her by another English traveller in Washington.
Daphne listened indifferently. "He can't be very poor or he wouldn't behave as he does. And he is to inherit the General's property. He told me so."
"And it wouldn't matter to you, Daphne, if you did think a man had married you for money?"
Daphne had risen, and was pacing the drawing-room floor, her hands clasped behind her back. She turned a cloudy face upon her questioner. "It would matter a great deal, if I thought it had been only for money. But then, I hope I shouldn't have been such a fool as to marry him."
"But you could bear it, if the money counted for something?"
"I'm not an idiot!" said the girl, with energy. "With whom doesn't money count for something? Of course a man must take money into consideration." There was a curious touch of arrogance in the gesture which accompanied the words.
"'How pleasant it is to have money, heigh-ho!—How pleasant it is to have money,'" said Mrs. Verrier, quoting, with a laugh. "Yes, I dare say, you'd be very reasonable, Daphne, about that kind of thing. But I don't think you'd be a comfortable wife, dear, all the same."
"What do you mean?"
"You might allow your husband to spare a little love to your money; you would be for killing him if he ever looked at another woman!"
"You mean I should be jealous?" asked Daphne, almost with violence. "You are quite right there. I should be very jealous. On that point I should 'find quarrel in a straw.'"
Her cheeks had flushed a passionate red. The eyes which she had inherited from her Spanish grandmother blazed above them. She had become suddenly a woman of Andalusia and the South, moved by certain primitive forces in the blood.
Madeleine Verrier held out her hands, smiling.
"Come here, little wild cat. I believe you are jealous of Elsie Maddison."
Daphne approached her slowly, and slowly dropped into a seat beside her friend, her eyes still fixed and splendid. But as she looked into them Madeleine Verrier saw them suddenly dimmed.
"Daphne! you are in love with him!"
The girl recovered herself, clenching her small hands. "If I am," she said resolutely, "it is strange how like the other thing it is! I don't know whether I shall speak to him to-night."
"To-night?" Mrs. Verrier looked a little puzzled.
"At the White House. You're going, of course."
"No, I am not going." The voice was quiet and cold. "I am not asked."
Daphne, vexed with herself, touched her friend's hand caressingly. "It will be just a crush, dear. But I promised various people to go."
"And he will be there?"
"I suppose so." Daphne turned her head away, and then sprang up. "Have you seen the picture?"
Mrs. Verrier followed her into the inner room, where the girl gave a laughing and triumphant account of her acquisition, the agents she had employed, the skill with which it had been conveyed out of Italy, the wrath of various famous collectors, who had imagined that the fight lay between them alone, when they found the prize had been ravished from them. Madeleine Verrier was very intelligent, and the contrast, which the story brought out, between the girl's fragile youth and the strange and passionate sense of power which breathed from her whenever it became a question of wealth and the use of it, was at no point lost upon her companion.
Daphne would not allow any further talk of Roger Barnes. Her chaperon, Mrs. Phillips, presently appeared, and passed through rather a bad quarter of an hour while the imperious mistress of the house inquired into certain invitations and card-leavings that had not been managed to her liking. Then Daphne sat down to write a letter to a Girls' Club in New York, of which she was President—where, in fact, she occasionally took the Singing Class, with which she had made so much play at her first meeting with Roger Barnes. She had to tell them that she had just engaged a holiday house for them, to which they might go in instalments throughout the summer. She would pay the rent, provide a lady-superintendent, and make herself responsible for all but food expenses. Her small face relaxed—became quite soft and charming—as she wrote.
"But, my dear," cried Mrs. Phillips in dismay, as Daphne handed her the letter to read, "you have taken the house on Lake George, and you know the girls had all set their hearts on that place in the White Mountains!"
Daphne's lips tightened. "Certainly I have taken the house on Lake George," she said, as she carefully wiped her pen. "I told them I should."
"But, my dear, they are so tired of Lake George! They have been there three years running. And you know they subscribe a good deal themselves."
"Very well!—then let them do without my help. I have inquired into the matter. The house on Lake George is much more suitable than the White Mountains farm, and I have written to the agent. The thing's done."
Mrs. Phillips argued a little more, but Daphne was immovable.
Mrs. Verrier, watching the two, reflected, as she had often done before, that Mrs. Phillips's post was not particularly enviable. Daphne treated her in many ways with great generosity, paid her highly, grudged her no luxury, and was always courteous to her in public. But in private Daphne's will was law, and she had an abrupt and dictatorial way of asserting it that brought the red back into Mrs. Phillips's faded cheeks. Mrs. Verrier had often expected her to throw up her post. But there was no doubt something in Daphne's personality which made life beside her too full of colour to be lightly abandoned.
* * * * *
Daphne presently went upstairs to take off her walking-dress, and Mrs. Phillips, with a rather troubled face, began to tidy the confusion of letters she had left behind her.
"I dare say the girls won't mind," said Madeleine Verrier, kindly.
Mrs. Phillips started, and her mild lips quivered a little. Daphne's charities were for Daphne an amusement; for this gentle, faded woman, who bore all the drudgery of them, they were the chief attraction of life in Daphne's house. Mrs. Phillips loved the club-girls, and the thought of their disappointment pained her.
"I must try and put it to them," was her patient reply.
"Daphne must always have her way," Madeleine went on, smiling. "I wonder what she'll do when she marries."
Mrs. Phillips looked up quickly.
"I hope it'll be the right man, Mrs. Verrier. Of course, with anyone so—so clever—and so used to managing everything for herself—one would be a little anxious."
Mrs. Verrier's expression changed. A kind of wildness—fanaticism—invaded it, as of one recalling a mission. "Oh, well, nothing is irrevocable nowadays," she said, almost with violence. "Still I hope Daphne won't make a mistake."
Mrs. Phillips looked at her companion, at first in astonishment. Then a change passed over her face. With a cold excuse she left Mrs. Verrier alone.
The reception at the White House was being given in honour of the delegates to a Peace Congress. The rooms were full without being inconveniently crowded and the charming house opened its friendly doors to a society more congruous and organic, richer also in the nobler kind of variety than America, perhaps, can offer to her guests elsewhere. What the opera and international finance are to New York, politics and administration are, as we all know, to Washington. And the visitor from Europe, conversationally starved for want of what seem to him the only topics worth discussing, finds himself within hearing once more of ministers, cabinets, embassies, and parliamentary gossip. Even General Hobson had come to admit that—especially for the middle-aged—Washington parties were extremely agreeable. The young and foolish might sigh for the flesh-pots of New York; those on whom "the black ox had trodden," who were at all aware what a vast tormenting, multitudinous, and headstrong world man has been given to inhabit; those who were engaged in governing any part of that world, or meant some day to be thus engaged; for them Washington was indispensable, and New York a mere entertainment.
Moreover Washington, at this time of the world's history, was the scene of one of those episodes—those brisker moments in the human comedy—which every now and then revive among us an almost forgotten belief in personality, an almost forgotten respect for the mysteries behind it. The guests streaming through the White House defiled past a man who, in a level and docketed world, appeared to his generation as the reincarnation of forces primitive, over-mastering, and heroic. An honest Odysseus!—toil-worn and storm-beaten, yet still with the spirit and strength, the many devices, of a boy; capable like his prototype in one short day of crushing his enemies, upholding his friends, purifying his house; and then, with the heat of righteous battle still upon him, with its gore, so to speak, still upon his hands, of turning his mind, without a pause and without hypocrisy, to things intimate and soft and pure—the domestic sweetness of Penelope, the young promise of Telemachus. The President stood, a rugged figure, amid the cosmopolitan crowd, breasting the modern world, like some ocean headland, yet not truly of it, one of the great fighters and workers of mankind, with a laugh that pealed above the noise, blue eyes that seemed to pursue some converse of their own, and a hand that grasped and cheered, where other hands withdrew and repelled. This one man's will had now, for some years, made the pivot on which vast issues turned—issues of peace and war, of policy embracing the civilized world; and, here, one saw him in drawing-rooms, discussing Alaric's campaigns with an Oxford professor, or chatting with a young mother about her children.
Beside him, the human waves, as they met and parted, disclosed a woman's face, modelled by nature in one of her lightest and deftest moods, a trifle detached, humorous also, as though the world's strange sights stirred a gentle and kindly mirth behind its sweet composure. The dignity of the President's wife was complete, yet it had not extinguished the personality it clothed; and where royalty, as the European knows it, would have donned its mask and stood on its defence, Republican royalty dared to be its amused, confiding, natural self.
All around—the political, diplomatic world of Washington. General Hobson, as he passed through it, greeted by what was now a large acquaintance, found himself driven once more to the inward confession—the grudging confession—as though Providence had not played him fair in extorting it—that American politicians were of a vastly finer stamp than he had expected to find them. The American press was all—he vowed—that fancy had painted it, and more. But, as he looked about him at the members of the President's administration—at this tall, black-haired man, for instance, with the mild and meditative eye, the equal, social or intellectual, of any Foreign Minister that Europe might pit against him, or any diplomat that might be sent to handle him; or this younger man, sparely built, with the sane, handsome face—son of a famous father, modest, amiable, efficient; or this other, of huge bulk and height, the sport of caricature, the hope of a party, smiling already a presidential smile as he passed, observed and beset, through the crowded rooms; or these naval or military men, with their hard serviceable looks, and the curt good manners of their kind:—the General saw as clearly as anybody else, that America need make no excuses whatever for her best men, that she has evolved the leaders she wants, and Europe has nothing to teach them.
He could only console himself by the remembrance of a speech, made by a well-known man, at a military function which the General had attended as a guest of honour the day before. There at last was the real thing! The real, Yankee, spread-eagle thing! The General positively hugged the thought of it.
"The American soldier," said the speaker, standing among the ambassadors, the naval and military attaches, of all the European nations, "is the superior of all other soldiers in three respects—bravery, discipline, intelligence."
Bravery, discipline, intelligence! Just those—the merest trifle! The General had found himself chuckling over it in the visions of the night.
Tired at last of these various impressions, acting on a mind not quite alert enough to deal with them, the General went in search of his nephew. Roger had been absent all day, and the General had left the hotel before his return. But the uncle was sure that he would sooner or later put in an appearance.
It was of course entirely on Roger's account that this unwilling guest of America was her guest still. For three weeks now had the General been watching the affair between Roger and Daphne Floyd. It had gone with such a rush at first, such a swing and fervour, that the General had felt that any day might bring the denouement. It was really impossible to desert the lad at such a crisis, especially as Laura was so excitable and anxious, and so sure to make her brother pay for it if he failed to support her views and ambitions at the right moment. The General moreover felt the absolute necessity of getting to know something more about Miss Floyd, her character, the details of her fortune and antecedents, so that when the great moment came he might be prepared.
But the astonishing thing was that of late the whole affair seemed to have come to some stupid hitch! Roger had been behaving like a very cool hand—too cool by half in the General's opinion. What the deuce did he mean by hanging about these Boston ladies, if his affections were really fixed on Miss Daphne?—or his ambitions, which to the uncle seemed nearer the truth.
"Well, where is the nephew?" said Cecilia Boyson's voice in his ear.
The General turned. He saw a sharp, though still young face, a thin and willowy figure, attired in white silk, a pince-nez on the high-pitched nose, and a cool smile. Unconsciously his back stiffened. Miss Boyson invariably roused in him a certain masculine antagonism.
"I should be glad if you would tell me," he said, with some formality. "There are two or three people here to whom he should be introduced."
"Has he been picnicking with the Maddisons?" The voice was shrill, perhaps malicious.
"I believe they took him to Arlington, and somewhere else afterwards."
"Ah," said Cecilia, "there they are."
The General looked towards the door and saw his nephew enter, behind a mother and daughter whom, as it seemed to him, their acquaintances in the crowd around them greeted with a peculiar cordiality; the mother, still young, with a stag-like carriage of the head, a long throat, swathed in white tulle, and grizzled hair, on which shone a spray of diamonds; the daughter, equally tall and straight, repeating her mother's beauty with a bloom and radiance of her own. Innocent and happy, with dark eyes and a soft mouth, Miss Maddison dropped a little curtsey to the presidential pair, and the room turned to look at her as she did so.
"A very sweet-looking girl," said the General warmly. "Her father is, I think, a professor."
"He was. He is now just a writer of books. But Elsie was brought up in Cambridge. How did Mr. Roger know them?"
"His Eton tutor told him to go and see them."
"I thought Miss Floyd expected him to-day?" said Miss Boyson carelessly, adjusting her eyeglass.
"It was a mistake, a misunderstanding," replied the General hurriedly. "Miss Floyd's party is put off till next week."
"Daphne is just coming in," said Miss Boyson.
The General turned again. The watchful Cecilia was certain that he was not in love with Daphne. But the nephew—the inordinately handsome, and by now much-courted young man—what was the real truth about him?
Cecilia recognized—with Mrs. Verrier—that merely to put the question involved a certain tribute to young Barnes. He had at any rate done his fortune-hunting, if fortune-hunting it were, with decorum.
"Miss Floyd is looking well to-night," remarked the General.
Cecilia did not reply. She and a great part of the room were engaged in watching Roger Barnes and Miss Maddison walking together through a space which seemed to have been cleared on purpose for them, but was really the result of a move towards the supper-room.
"Was there ever such a pair?" said an enthusiastic voice behind the General. "Athene and Apollo take the floor!" A gray-haired journalist with a small, bewrinkled face, buried in whiskers, and beard, laid a hand on the General's arm as he spoke.
The General smiled vaguely. "Do you know Mrs. and Miss Maddison?"
"Rather!" said the little man. "Miss Elsie's a wonder! As pretty and soft as they make them, and a Greek scholar besides—took all sorts of honours at Radcliffe last year. I've known her from her cradle."
"What a number of your girls go to college!" said the General, but ungraciously, in the tones of one who no sooner saw an American custom emerging than his instinct was to hit it.
"Yes; it's a feature of our modern life—the life of our women. But not the most significant one, by a long way."
The General could not help a look of inquiry.
The journalist's face changed from gay to grave. "The most significant thing in American life just now——"
"I know!" interrupted the General. "Your divorce laws!"
The journalist shook his head. "It goes deeper than that. What we're looking on at is a complete transformation of the idea of marriage——"
A movement in the crowd bore the speaker away. The General was left watching the beautiful pair in the distance. They were apparently quite unconscious that they roused any special attention. Laughing and chatting like two children, they passed into the supper-room and disappeared.