VOL. XXXI JUNE, 1908 No. 2
MY FIRST APPEARANCE IN AMERICA THE DECREE MADE ABSOLUTE PRESIDENT JOHNSON AND HIS WAR ON CONGRESS THE CRYSTAL-GAZER BOB, DEBUTANT TWO PORTRAITS BY GILBERT STUART MARY BAKER G. EDDY HER FRUITS THE KEY TO THE DOOR THE WAYFARERS THE PROBLEMS OF SUICIDE PRAIRIE DAWN THE DOINGS OF THE DEVIL YOUNG HENRY AND THE OLD MAN EDITORIAL
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Transcriber's Note: The Table of Contents was added by the transcriber.
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MY FIRST APPEARANCE IN AMERICA
The first time that there was any talk of my going to America was, I think, in 1874, when I was playing in "The Wandering Heir." Dion Boucicault wanted me to go, and dazzled me with figures, but I expect the cautious Charles Reade influenced me against accepting the engagement.
When I did go, in 1883, I was thirty-five and had an assured position in my profession. It was the first of eight tours, seven of which I went with Henry Irving. The last was in 1907, after his death. I also went to America one summer on a pleasure trip. The tours lasted three months at least, seven months at most. After a rough calculation, I find that I have spent not quite five years of my life in America. Five out of sixty is not a large proportion, yet I often feel that I am half American. This says a good deal for the hospitality of a people who can make a stranger feel so completely at home in their midst. Perhaps it also says something for my adaptableness!
"When we do not speak of things with a partiality full of love, what we say is not worth being repeated." That was the answer of a courteous Frenchman, who was asked for his impressions of a country. In any case it is almost imprudent to give one's impressions of America. The country is so vast and complex that even those who have amassed mountains of impressions soon find that there still are mountains more. I have lived in New York, Boston, and Chicago for a month at a time, and have felt that to know any of these great towns even superficially would take a year. I have become acquainted with this and that class of Americans, but I realize that there are thousands of other classes that remain unknown.
The Unknown Dangers of America
I set out in 1883 from Liverpool on board the "Britannic" with the fixed conviction that I should never, never return. For six weeks before we started the word America had only to be breathed to me, and I burst into floods of tears! I was leaving my children, my bullfinch, my parrot, my "aunt" Boo, whom I never expected to see again alive, just because she said I never would, and I was going to face the unknown dangers of the Atlantic and of a strange, barbarous land. Our farewell performances in London had cheered me up a little—though I wept copiously at every one—by showing us that we should be missed. Henry Irving's position seemed to be confirmed and ratified by all that took place before his departure. The dinners he had to eat, the speeches he had to make and to listen to, were really terrific! One speech at the Rabelais Club had, it was said, the longest peroration on record. It was this kind of thing: "Where is our friend Irving going? He is not going like Nares to face the perils of the far North. He is not going like A—— to face something else. He is not going to China," etc.—and so on. After about the hundredth "he is not going," Lord Houghton, who was one of the guests, grew very impatient and interrupted the orator with: "Of course he isn't! He's going to New York by the Cunard Line. It'll take him about a week!"
New York Before the "Sky-scrapers"
My first voyage was a voyage of enchantment to me. The ship was laden with pig-iron, but she rolled and rolled and rolled. She could never roll too much for me. I have always been a splendid sailor, and I feel jolly at sea. The sudden leap from home into the wilderness of waves does not give me any sensation of melancholy.
What I thought I was going to see when I arrived in America, I hardly remember. I had a vague idea that all American women wore red flannel shirts and bowie knives and that I might be sandbagged in the street! From somewhere or other I had derived an impression that New York was an ugly, noisy place.
Ugly! When I first saw that marvellous harbour I nearly cried—it was so beautiful. Whenever I come now to the unequalled approach to New York I wonder what Americans must think of the approach from the sea to London. How different are the mean, flat, marshy banks of the Thames, and the wooden toy light-house at Dungeness, to the vast, spreading harbour, with its busy multitude of steam boats and ferry boats, its wharf upon wharf, and its tall statue of Liberty dominating all the racket and bustle of the sea traffic of the world!
That was one of the few times in America when I did not miss the poetry of the past. The poetry of the present, gigantic, colossal, and enormous, made me forget it. The "sky-scrapers," so splendid in the landscape now, did not exist in 1883; but I find it difficult to divide my early impressions from my later ones. There was Brooklyn Bridge, though, hung up high in the air like a vast spider's web. Between 1883 and 1893 I noticed a great change in New York and other cities. In ten years they seemed to have grown with the energy of tropical plants. But between 1893 and 1907 I saw no evidence of such feverish increase. It is possible that the Americans are arriving at a stage when they can no longer beat the record! There is a vast difference between one of the old New York brownstone houses and one of the fourteen-storied buildings near the river, but between this and the Times Square Building or the still more amazing Flatiron Building, which is said to oscillate at the top—it is so far from the ground—there is very little difference. I hear that they are now beginning to build downwards into the earth, but this will not change the appearance of New York for a long time.
I had not to endure the wooden shed in which most people landing in America have to struggle with the custom-house officials—a struggle as brutal as a "round in the ring" as Paul Bourget describes it. We were taken off the "Britannic" in a tug, and Mr. Abbey, Lawrence Barrett, and many other friends met us—including the much-dreaded reporters.
When we landed, I drove to the Hotel Dam, Henry to the Brevoort House. There was no Diana on the top of the Madison Square Building then—the building did not exist, to cheer the heart of a new arrival as the first evidence of beauty in the city. There were horse trams instead of cable cars; but a quarter of a century has not altered the peculiarly dilapidated carriages in which one drives from the dock, the muddy sidewalks, and the cavernous holes in the cobble-paved streets. Had the elevated railway, the first sign of power that one notices after leaving the boat, begun to thunder through the streets? I cannot remember New York without it.
I missed then, as I miss now, the numberless hansoms of London plying in the streets for hire. People in New York get about in the cars, unless they have their own carriages. The hired carriage has no reason for existing, and when it does, it celebrates its unique position by charging two dollars for a journey which in London would not cost fifty cents!
Irving Brings Shakespeare to America
There were very few theatres in New York when we first went there. All that part of the city which is now "up town" did not exist, and what was then "up" is now more than "down" town. The American stage has changed almost as much. Even then there was a liking for local plays which showed the peculiarities of the different States, but they were more violent and crude than now. The original American genius and the true dramatic pleasure of the people is, I believe, in such plays, where very complete observation of certain phases of American life and very real pictures of manners are combined with comedy almost childlike in its naivete. The sovereignty of the young girl which is such a marked feature in social life is reflected in American plays. This is by the way. What I want to make clear is that in 1883 there was no living American drama as there is now, that such productions of romantic plays and Shakespeare as Henry Irving brought over from England, were unknown, and that the extraordinary success of our first tours would be impossible now. We were the first, and we were pioneers and we were new. To be new is everything in America. Such palaces as the Hudson Theatre, New York, were not dreamed of when we were at the Star, which was, however, quite equal to any theatre in London, in front of the footlights. The stage itself, the lighting appliances, and the dressing-rooms were inferior.
Our First Appearance Before an American Audience
Henry made his first appearance in America in "The Bells." He was not at his best on the first night, but he could be pretty good even when he was not at his best. I watched him from a box. Nervousness made the company very slow. The audience was a splendid one—discriminating and appreciative. We felt that the Americans wanted to like us. We felt in a few days so extraordinarily at home. The first sensation of entering a foreign city was quickly wiped out.
On the second night in New York it was my turn. "Command yourself—this is the time to show you can act!" I said to myself as I went on the stage of the Star Theatre, dressed as Henrietta Maria. But I could not command myself. I played badly and cried too much in the last act. But the people liked me, and they liked the play, perhaps because it was historical, and of history the Americans are passionately fond. The audience took many points which had been ignored in London. I had always thought Henry as Charles I. most moving when he made that involuntary effort to kneel to his subject, Moray, but the Lyceum audiences never seemed to notice it. In New York the audience burst out into the most sympathetic, spontaneous applause that I have ever heard in a theatre.
My impression of the way the American women dressed in 1883 was not favourable. Some of them wore Indian shawls and diamond ear-rings. They dressed too grandly in the street and too dowdily in the theatre. All this has changed. The stores in New York are now the most beautiful in the world, and the women are dressed to perfection. They are as clever at the demi-toilette as the Parisian, and the extreme neatness and smartness of their walking gowns is very refreshing after the floppy, blowsy, trailing dresses, accompanied by the inevitable feather boa, of which English girls, who used to be so tidy and "tailor-made," now seem so fond. The universal white "waist" is so pretty and trim on the American girl. It is one of the distinguishing marks of a land of the free, a land where "class" hardly exists. The girl in the store wears the white waist; so does the rich girl on Fifth Avenue. It costs anything from seventy-five cents to fifty dollars!
London, when I come back from America, always seems at first like an ill-lighted village, strangely tame, peaceful, and backward. Above all, I miss the sunlight of America, and the clear blue skies of an evening.
"Are you glad to get back?" said an English friend.
"It's a land of vulgarity, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes, if you mean by that a wonderful land—a land of sunshine and light, of happiness, of faith in the future!" I answered. I saw no misery or poverty there. Everyone looked happy. What hurts me on coming back to England is the hopeless look on so many faces; the dejection and apathy of the people standing about in the streets. Of course there is poverty in New York, but not among the Americans. The Italians, the Russians, the Poles—all the host of immigrants washed in daily across the harbour—these are poor, but you don't see them unless you go Bowery ways and even then you can't help feeling that in their sufferings there is always hope. Vulgarity? I saw little of it. I thought that the people who had amassed large fortunes used their wealth beautifully. When a man is rich enough to build himself a big, new house, he remembers some old house which he once admired, and he has it imitated with all the technical skill and care that can be had in America. This accounts for the odd jumble of styles in Fifth Avenue, along the lake-side in Chicago, in the new avenues in St. Louis and elsewhere. One millionaire's house is modelled on a French chateau, another on an old Colonial house in Virginia, another on a monastery in Mexico, another is like an Italian palazzo. And their imitations are never weak or pretentious. The architects in America seem to me to be far more able than ours, or else they have a freer hand and more money.
The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens
It is sad to remember that Mr. Stanford White was one of the best of these splendid architects. It was Stanford White with Saint-Gaudens, that great sculptor, whose work dignifies nearly all the great cities in America, who had most to do with the Exhibition buildings of the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. It was odd to see that fair dream city rising out of the lake, so far more beautiful in its fleeting loveliness than the Chicago of the stock-yards and the pit which had provided the money for its beauty. The millionaires did not interfere with the artists at all. They gave their thousands—and stood aside. The result was one of the loveliest things conceivable. Saint-Gaudens and the rest did their work as well as though the buildings were to endure for centuries instead of being burned in a year to save the trouble of pulling down! The World's Fair recalled to me the story of how Michelangelo carved a figure in snow which, says the chronicler Vasari who saw it, "was superb."
Saint-Gaudens gave me a cast of his medallion of Bastien-Lepage, and wrote to a friend of mine: "Bastien had 'le coeur au metier.' So has Miss Terry, and I will place that saying in the frame that is to replace the present unsatisfactory one." He was very fastidious about this frame and took such a lot of trouble to get it right.
It must have been very irritating to Saint-Gaudens when he fell a victim to that extraordinary official Puritanism which sometimes exercises a petty censorship over works of art in America. The medal that he made for the World's Fair was rejected at Washington because it had on it a beautiful little nude figure of a boy—holding an olive branch—emblematical of young America. I think a commonplace wreath and some lettering were substituted.
Saint-Gaudens did the fine bas-relief of Robert Louis Stevenson which was chosen for the monument in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh. He gave my daughter a medallion cast from this, because he knew that she was a great lover of Stevenson. The bas-relief was dedicated to his friend, Joe Evans. I knew Saint-Gaudens first through Joe Evans, an artist who, while he lived, was to me and to my daughter the dearest of all in America. His character was so fine and noble—his nature so perfect. Many were the birthday cards he did for me, original in design, beautiful in execution. Whatever he did, he put the best of himself into it. I wrote this in my diary the year he died:
"I heard on Saturday that our dear Joe Evans is dangerously ill. Yesterday came the worst news. Joe was not happy, but he was just heroic, and this world wasn't half good enough for him. I wonder if he has gone to a better. I keep on getting letters about him. He seems to have been so glad to die. It was like a child's funeral, I am told, and all his American friends seem to have been there—Saint-Gaudens, Taber, etc. A poem about the dear fellow by Mr. Gilder has one very good line in which he says the grave 'might snatch a brightness from his presence there.' I thought that was very happy, the love of light and gladness being the most remarkable thing about him, the dear sad Joe."
Robert Taber, dear, and rather sad too, was a great friend of Joe's. They both came to me first in the shape of a little book in which was inscribed: "Never anything can be amiss when simpleness and duty tender it." "Upon this hint I spake," the book began. It was all the work of a few boys and girls who from the gallery of the Star Theatre, New York, had watched Irving's productions and learned to love him and me. Joe Evans had done a lovely picture by way of frontispiece of a group of eager heads hanging over the gallery's edge, his own and Taber's among them. Eventually Taber came to England and acted with Henry Irving in "Peter the Great" and other plays.
Like his friend Joe, he too was heroic. His health was bad and his life none too happy—but he struggled on. His career was cut short by consumption and he died in the Adirondacks in 1904.
I cannot speak of all my friends in America, or anywhere, for the matter of that, individually. My personal friends are so many, and they are all wonderful—wonderfully staunch to me! I have "tried" them so, and they have never given me up as a bad job.
Dramatic Criticism in America
William Winter, poet, critic, and exquisite man, was one of the first to write of Henry with whole-hearted appreciation. But all the criticism in America, favourable and unfavourable, surprised us by the scholarly knowledge it displayed. In Chicago the notices were worthy of the Temps or the Journal des Debats. There was no attempt to force the personality of the writer into the foreground nor to write a style that would attract attention to the critic and leave the thing criticised to take care of itself. William Winter and, of late years, Alan Dale have had their personalities associated with their criticisms, but they are exceptions. Curiously enough, the art of acting appears to bore most dramatic critics, the very people who might be expected to be interested in it. The American critics, however, at the time of our early visits, were keenly interested, and showed it by their observation of many points which our English critics had passed over. For instance, writing of "Much Ado about Nothing," one of the Americans said of Henry in the Church Scene that "something of him as a subtle interpreter of doubtful situations was exquisitely shown in the early part of this fine scene by his suspicion of Don John—felt by him alone, and expressed only by a quick covert look, but a look so full of intelligence as to proclaim him a sharer in the secret with his audience."
"Wherein does the superiority lie?" wrote another critic in comparing our productions with those which had been seen in America up to 1884. "Not in the amount of money expended, but in the amount of brains; in the artistic intelligence and careful and earnest pains with which every detail is studied and worked out. Nor is there any reason why Mr. Irving or any other foreigner should have a monopoly of either intelligence or pains. They are common property and one man's money can buy them as well as another's. The defect in the American manager's policy heretofore has been that he has squandered his money upon high salaries for a few of his actors; and in costly, because unintelligent, expenditure for mere dazzle and show."
William Winter and His Children
William Winter soon became a great personal friend of ours, and visited us in England. He was one of the few sad people I met in America. He could have sat upon the ground and "told sad stories of the deaths of kings" with the best. In England he loved going to see graveyards, and knew where every poet was buried. He was very familiar with the poetry of the immediate past—Cowper, Coleridge, Gray, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and the rest. He liked us, so everything we did was right to him. He could not help being guided entirely by his feelings. If he disliked a thing, he had no use for it. Some men can say, "I hate this play, but of its kind it is admirable." Willie Winter could never take that unemotional point of view.
His children came to stay with me in London. When we were all coming home from the theatre one night after Faust (the year must have been 1886), I said to little Willie:
"Well, what do you think of the play?"
"Oh my!" said he, "it takes the cake."
"Takes the cake," said his little sister scornfully. "It takes the ice-cream!"
"Won't you give me a kiss?" said Henry to the same little girl one night.
"No, I won't, with all that blue stuff on your face." (He was made up for Mephistopheles.) Then, after a pause, "But why—why don't you take it!" She was only five years old at the time!
Discovering the Southern Darkey
For quite a while during the first tour I stayed in Washington with my friend, Miss Olive Seward, and all the servants of that delightful household were coloured. This was my first introduction to the negroes, whose presence in the country makes America seem more foreign than anything to European eyes. They are more sharply divided into high and low types than white people, and are not in the least alike in their types. It is safe to call any coloured man "George." They all love it, perhaps because of George Washington; and most of them are really named George. I never met with such perfect service as they can give. Some of them are delightful. The beautiful, full voice of the "darkey" is so attractive—so soothing, and they are so deft and gentle. Some of the women are beautiful, and all the young appeared to me to be well-formed. As for the babies! I washed two or three little piccaninnies when I was in the South, and the way they rolled their gorgeous eyes at me was "too cute," which means, in British-English, "fascinating."
At the Washington house, the servants danced a cake-walk for me—the coloured cook, a magnificent type, who "took the cake," saying, "That was because I chose a good handsome boy to dance with, Missie." They sang, too. Their voices were beautiful—with such illimitable power, yet as sweet as treacle.
The little page boy had a pet of a woolly head—Henry once gave him a tip, a "fee," in American-English, and said: "There, that's for a new wig when this one is worn out," gently pulling the astrakhan-like hair. The tip would have bought him many wigs, I think!
"Why, Uncle Tom, how your face shines to-night!" said my hostess to one of the very old servants.
"Yes, Missie, glycerine and rose-water, Missie!"
He had taken some from her dressing-table to shine up his face in honour of me! A shiny complexion is considered to be a great beauty among the blacks. The dear old man! He was very bent and very old; and looked like one of the logs that he used to bring in for the fire—a log from some hoary, lichened tree whose life was long since past. He would produce pins from his head when you wanted one; he had them stuck in his pad of white woolly hair. "Always handy then, Missie," he would say.
"Ask them to sing 'Sweet Violets,' Uncle Tom."
He was acting as a sort of master of the ceremonies at the entertainment the servants were giving me.
"Don't think they know dat, Miss Olly."
"Why I heard them singing it the other night!" And she hummed the tune.
"Oh, dat was 'Sweet Vio-letts,' Miss Olly!"
Washington was the first city I had seen in America where the people did not hurry, and where the social life did not seem entirely the work of women. The men asserted themselves here as something more than machines in the background, untiringly turning out the dollars while their wives and daughters give luncheons and teas at which only women are present.
Beautifully as the women dress, they talk very little about clothes. I was much struck by their culture—by the evidence that they had read far more and developed a more fastidious taste than most young Englishwomen. Yet it is all mixed up with extraordinary naivete. Their vivacity, the appearance, at least, of reality, the animation, the energy of American women, delighted me. They are very sympathetic, too, in spite of a certain callousness which comes of regarding everything in life, even love, as "lots of fun." I did not think that they, or the men either, had much natural sense of beauty. They admire beauty in a curious way through their intellect. Nearly every American girl has a cast of the winged Victory of the Louvre in her room. She makes it a point of her education to admire it.
There! I am beginning to generalize—the very thing I was resolute to avoid. How silly to generalize about a country which embraces such extremes of climate as the sharp winters of Boston and New York, and the warm winds of Florida which blow through palms and orange groves!
THE DECREE MADE ABSOLUTE
BY MARIE BELLOC LOWNDES
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR G. DOVE
James Tapster was eating his solitary, well-cooked dinner in his comfortable and handsome house, a house situated in one of the half-moon terraces which line and frame the more aristocratic side of Regent's Park, and which may, indeed, be said to have private grounds of their own, for each resident enjoys the use of a key to a portion of the Park entitled locally the "Inclosure."
Very early in his life Mr. Tapster had made up his mind that he would like to live in Cumberland Crescent, and now he was living there; very early in his life he had decided that no one could order a plain yet palatable meal as well as he could himself, and now for some months past Mr. Tapster had given his own orders, each morning, to the cook.
To-night Mr. Tapster had already eaten his fried sole, and was about to cut himself off a generous portion of the grilled undercut before him, when he heard the postman's steps hurrying around the Crescent. He rose with a certain quick deliberateness, and, going out into the hall, opened the front door just in time to avoid the rat-tat-tat. Then, the one letter he had expected duly in his hand, he waited till he had sat down again in front of his still empty plate before he broke the seal and glanced over the type-written sheet of note-paper:
SHORTERS COURT, THROGMORTON ST. November 4, 190-.
In reply to your letter of yesterday's date, I have been to Bedford Row and seen Greenfield, and he thinks it probable that the Decree will be made Absolute to-day; in that case you will have received a wire before this letter reaches you.
Your affect' brother, WM. A. TAPSTER.
In the same handwriting as the signature were added two holograph lines: "Glad you have the children home again. Maud will be round to see them soon."
Mr. Tapster read over once again the body of the letter, and there came upon him an instinctive feeling of intense relief; then, with a not less instinctive feeling of impatience, his eyes traveled down again to the postscript: "Maud will be round to see them soon." Well, he would see about that! But he did not exclaim, even mentally, as most men feeling as he then felt would have done, "I'll be damned if she will!" knowing the while that Maud certainly would.
His brother's letter, though most satisfactory as regarded its main point, put Mr. Tapster out of conceit with the rest of his dinner; so he rang twice and had the table cleared, frowning at the parlor-maid as she hurried through her duties, and yet not daring to rebuke her for having neglected to answer the bell the first time he rang. After a pause, he rose and turned toward the door—but no, he could not face the large, cheerless drawing-room up-stairs; instead, he sat down by the fire, and set himself to consider his future and, in a more hazy sense, that of his now motherless children.
But very soon, as generally happens to those who devote any time to that least profitable of occupations, Mr. Tapster found that his thoughts drifted aimlessly, not to the future where he would have them be, but to the past—that past which he desired to forget, to obliterate from his memory.
Till rather more than a year ago few men of his age—he had then been sixty, he was now sixty-one—enjoyed a pleasanter and, from his own point of view, a better filled life than James Tapster. How he had scorned the gambler, the spendthrift, the adulterer—in a word, all those whose actions bring about their own inevitable punishment! He had always been self-respecting and conscientious—not a prig, mind you, but inclined rather to the serious than to the flippant side of life; and, so inclining, he had found contentment and great material prosperity.
Not even in those days to which he was now looking back so regretfully had Mr. Tapster always been perfectly content; but now the poor man, sitting alone by his dining-room fire, remembered only what had been good and pleasant in his former state. He was aware that his brother William and William's wife, Maud, both thought that even now he had much to be thankful for. His line of business was brisk, scarcely touched by foreign competition, his income increasing at a steady rate of progression, and his children were exceptionally healthy. But, alas! now that, in place of there being a pretty little Mrs. Tapster on whom to spend easily earned money, his substance was being squandered by a crowd of unmanageable and yet indispensable thieves,—for so Mr. Tapster voicelessly described the five servants whose loud talk and laughter were even now floating up from the basement below,—he did not feel his financial stability so comfortable a thing as he had once done. His very children, who should now be, as he told himself complainingly, his greatest comfort, had degenerated from two sturdy, well-behaved little boys and a charming baby girl into three unruly, fretful imps, setting him at defiance, and terrorizing their two attendants, who, though carefully chosen by their Aunt Maud, did not seem to manage them as well as the old nurse who had been an ally of the ex-Mrs. Tapster.
Looking back at the whole horrible affair—for so, in his own mind, Mr. Tapster justly designated the divorce case in which he had figured as the successful petitioner—he wondered uneasily if he had done quite wisely—wisely, that is, for his own repute and comfort.
He knew very well that had it not been for William, or rather, for Maud, he would never have found out the dreadful truth. Nay, more, he was dimly aware that but for them, and for their insistence on it as the only proper course open to him, he would never have taken action. All would have been forgiven and forgotten, had not William, and more especially Maud, said he must divorce Flossy, if not for his own sake,—ah, what irony!—then for that of his children.
Of course, he felt grateful to his brother William and to his brother's wife for all they had done for him since that sad time. Still, in the depths of his heart, Mr. Tapster felt entitled to blame and sometimes almost to hate his kind brother and sister. To them both, or rather, to Maud, he really owed the break-up of his life; for, when all was said and done, it had to be admitted (though Maud did not like him to remind her of it), that Flossy had met the villain while staying with the William Tapsters at Boulogne. Respectable London people should have known better than to take a furnished house at a disreputable French watering-place, a place full of low English!
Sometimes it was only by a great exercise of self-control that he, James Tapster, could refrain from telling Maud what he thought of her conduct in this matter, the more so that she never seemed to understand how greatly she—and William—had been to blame. On one occasion Maud had even said how surprised she had been that James had cared to go away to America, leaving his pretty young wife alone for as long as three months. Why hadn't she said so at the time, then? Of course, he had thought that he could leave Flossy to be looked after and kept out of mischief by Maud and William. But he had been, in more than one sense, alas! bitterly deceived.
Still, it's never any use crying over spilt milk, so Mr. Tapster got up from his chair and walked around the room, looking absently, as he did so, at the large Landseer engravings, of which he was naturally proud. If only he could forget, put out of his mind forever, the whole affair! Well, perhaps with the Decree being made Absolute would come oblivion.
He sat down again before the fire. Staring at the hot embers, he reminded himself that Flossy, wicked, ungrateful Flossy, had disappeared out of his life. This being so, why think of her? The very children had at last left off asking inconvenient questions about their mama.
By the way, would Flossy still be their mama after the Decree had been made Absolute? So Mr. Tapster now suddenly asked himself. He hesitated, perplexed. But, yes, the Decree being made Absolute would not undo, or even efface, that fact. The more so—though surely here James Tapster showed himself less logical than usual—the more so that Flossy, in spite of what Maud had always said about her, had been a loving and, in her own light-hearted way, a careful mother. But, though Flossy would remain the mother of his children,—odd that the Law hadn't provided for that contingency—she would soon be absolutely nothing, and less than nothing, to him, the father of those children. Mr. Tapster was a great believer in the infallibility of the Law, and he subscribed whole-heartedly to the new reading, "What Law has put asunder, let no man join together."
To-night Mr. Tapster could not help looking back with a certain complacency to his one legal adventure. Nothing could have been better done or more admirably conducted than the way the whole matter had been carried through. His brother William, and William's solicitor, Mr. Greenfield, had managed it all so very nicely. True, there had been a few uncomfortable moments in the witness-box, but every one, including the judge, had been most kind. As for his counsel, the leading man who makes a specialty of these sad affairs, not even James Tapster himself could have put his own case in a more delicate and moving fashion. "A gentleman possessed of considerable fortune—" so had he justly been described; and counsel, without undue insistence on irrelevant detail, had drawn a touching and a true picture of Mr. Tapster's one romance, his marriage eight years before to the twenty-year-old daughter of an undischarged bankrupt. Even the Petitioner had scarcely seen Flossy's dreadful ingratitude in its true colors till he had heard his counsel's moderate comments on the case.
This evening Mr. Tapster saw Flossy's dreadful ingratitude terribly clearly, and he wondered, not for the first time, how his wife could have had the heart to break up his happy home. Why, but for him and his offer of marriage, Flossy Ball—that had been his wife's maiden name—would have had to earn her own living! And as she had been very pretty, very "fetching," she would probably have married some good-for-nothing young fellow of her own age, lacking the means to support a wife in decent comfort,—such a fellow, for instance, as the wretched "co" in the case; while with Mr. Tapster—why, she had had everything the heart of woman could wish for—a good home, beautiful clothes, and the being waited on hand and foot. A strange choking feeling came into his throat as he thought of how good he had been to Flossy, and how very bad had been her return for that kindness.
But this—this was dreadful! He was actually thinking of her again, and not, as he had meant to do, of himself and his poor motherless children! Time enough to think of Flossy when he had news of her again. If her lover did not marry her—and, from what Mr. Greenfield had discovered about him, it was most improbable that he would ever be in a position to do so—she would certainly reappear on the Tapster horizon: Mr. Greenfield said "they" always did. In that case, it was arranged that William should pay her a weekly allowance. Mr. Tapster, always, as he now reminded himself sadly, ready to do the generous thing, had fixed that allowance at three pounds a week, a sum which had astonished, in fact quite staggered, Mr. Greenfield's head clerk, a very decent fellow, by the way.
"Of course, it shall be as you wish, Mr. Tapster, but you should think of the future and of your children. A hundred and fifty pounds a year is a large sum; you may feel it a tax, sir, as years go on——"
"That is enough," Mr. Tapster had answered, kindly but firmly; "you have done your duty in laying that side of the case before me. I have, however, decided on the amount named; should I see reason to alter my mind, our arrangement leaves it open to me at any time to lower the allowance."
But, though this conversation had taken place some months ago, and though Mr. Tapster still held true to his generous resolve, as yet Flossy had not reappeared. Mr. Tapster sometimes told himself that if he only knew where she was, what she was doing,—whether she was still with that young fellow, for instance,—he would think much less about her than he did now. Only last night, going for a moment into the night nursery,—poor Mr. Tapster now enjoyed his children's company only when he was quite sure that they were asleep,—he had had an extraordinary, almost a physical impression of Flossy's presence; he certainly had felt a faint whiff of her favorite perfume. Flossy had been fond of scent, and, though Maud always said that the use of scent was most unladylike, he, James, did not dislike it.
With sudden soreness, Mr. Tapster now recalled the one letter Flossy had written to him just before the actual hearing of the divorce suit. It had been a wild, oddly worded appeal to him to take her back, not—as Maud had at once perceived on reading the letter—because she was sorry for the terrible thing she had done, but simply because she was beginning to hanker after her children. Maud had described the letter as shameless and unwomanly in the extreme, and even William, who had never judged his pretty young sister-in-law as severely as his wife had always done, had observed sadly that Flossy seemed quite unaware of the magnitude of her offense against God and man.
* * * * *
Mr. Tapster, who prided himself on his sharp ears, suddenly heard a curious little sound. He knew it for that of the front door being first opened, and then shut again, extremely quietly. He half rose from his chair by the fire, then sat down again heavily.
By Maud's advice, he always locked the area gate himself when he came home each evening. But how foolish of Maud—such a sensible woman, too—to think that servants and their evil ways could be circumvented so easily. Of course, the maids went in and out by the front door in the evening, and the policeman—a most respectable officer standing at point duty a few yards lower down the road—must be well aware of these disgraceful "goings on".
For the first two or three months of his widowerhood (how else could he term his present peculiar wifeless condition?) there had been a constant coming and going of servants, first chosen, and then dismissed, by Maud. At last she suggested that her brother-in-law should engage a lady housekeeper, and the luckless James Tapster had even interviewed several applicants for the post after they had been chosen—sifted out, as it were—by Maud. Unfortunately, they had all been more or less of his own age, and plain, very plain; while he, naturally enough, would have preferred to see something young and pretty about him again.
It was over this housekeeper question that he had at last escaped from Maud's domestic thraldom; for his sister-in-law, offended by his rejection of each of her candidates, had declared that she would take no more trouble about his household affairs! Nay, more, she had reminded him with a smile that she had honestly tried to make pleasant, that there is, after all, no fool like an old fool—about women. This insinuation had made Mr. Tapster very angry, and straightway he had engaged a respectable cook-housekeeper, and, although he had soon become aware that the woman was feathering her own nest,—James Tapster, as you will have divined ere now, was fond of good workaday phrases,—yet she had a pleasant, respectful manner, and kept rough order among the younger servants.
Mr. Tapster's sister-in-law now interfered only where his children were concerned. Never having been herself a mother, she had, of course, been able to form a clear and unprejudiced judgment as to how children, and especially as to how little boys, should be physically and mentally trained. As yet, however, Maud had not been very successful with her two nephews and infant niece, but this was doubtless owing to the fact that there had been something gravely amiss with each of the five nurses who had been successively engaged by her during the last year.
The elder of Mr. Tapster's sons was six, and the second four; the youngest child, a little girl named, unfortunately, Flora, after her mother, was three years old. There had been a fourth, Flossy's second baby, also a girl, who had only lived one day. All this being so, was it not strange that a young matron who had led, for some four years out of the eight years her married life had lasted, so wholly womanly and domestic an existence as had fallen to the lot of Flossy, should have been led astray by the meretricious allurements of unlawful love?—Maud's striking thought and phrase, this.
And yet, Flossy, in spite of her frivolity, had somehow managed the children far better than Maud was now able to do. At the present time, so Mr. Tapster admitted to himself with something very like an inward groan, his two sons possessed every vice of which masculine infancy is capable. They had become, so he was told by their indignant nurses, the terror of the well-behaved children who shared with them the pleasures of the Park Inclosure, where they took their daily exercise; and Baby, once so sweet and good, was now very fretful and peevish.
* * * * *
Again the train of Mr. Tapster's mournful thoughts was disturbed by a curious little sound—that of some one creeping softly down the staircase leading from the upper floors. Once more he half rose from his chair, only to fall heavily back again, with a look of impotent annoyance on his round, whiskered face. Where was the use of his going out into the hall and catching Nurse on her way to the kitchen? Maud had declared, very early in the day, that there should be as little communication as possible between the kitchen and the nursery, but Mr. Tapster sometimes found himself in secret sympathy with the two women whose disagreeable duty it was to be always with his three turbulent children.
Mr. Tapster frowned and stared gloomily into the fire; then he suddenly pulled himself together rather sharply, for the door behind him had slowly swung open. This was intolerable! The parlor-maid had again and again been told that, whatever might have been the case in her former places, no door in Mr. Tapster's house was to be opened without the preliminary of a respectful knock.
Fortified by the memory of what had been a positive order, he turned round, nerving himself to deliver the necessary rebuke. But instead of the shifty-eyed, impudent-looking woman he had thought to see, there stood close to him, so close that he could almost have touched her, Flossy, his wife, or rather the woman who, though no longer his wife, had still, as he had been informed to his discomfiture, the right to bear his name.
A very strange feeling, and one so complicated that it sat uneasily upon him, took instant possession of Mr. Tapster: anger, surprise, and relief warred with one another in his heart.
Then he began to think that his eyes must be playing him some curious trick, for the figure at which he was staring remained strangely still and motionless. Was it possible that his mind, dwelling constantly on Flossy, had evoked her wraith? But, no, looking up in startled silence at the still figure standing before him, he realized that not so would memory have conjured up the pretty, bright little woman of whom he had once been proud. Flossy still looked pretty, but she was thin and pale, and there were dark rings round her eyes; also, her dress was worn, her hat curiously shabby.
As Mr. Tapster stared up at her, noting these things, one of her hands began playing nervously with the fringe of the dining-table cover, and the other sought the back of what had once been one of her dining-room chairs. As he watched her making these slight movements, nature so far reasserted itself that a feeling of poignant regret, of pity for her, as well as, of course, a much larger share of pity for himself, came over James Tapster.
Had Flossy spoken then,—had she possessed the intuitive knowledge of men which is the gift of so many otherwise unintelligent women,—the whole of Mr. Tapster's future, to say nothing of her own, might have been different and, it may be suggested, happier.
But the moment of softening and mansuetude slipped quickly by, and was succeeded by a burst of anger; for Mr. Tapster suddenly became aware that Flossy's left hand, the little thin hand resting on the back of the chair, was holding two keys which he recognized at once as his property. The one was a replica of the latch-key which always hung on his watch-chain, while the other and larger key, to which was attached a brass tag bearing the name of Tapster and the address of the house, gave access to the Inclosure Garden opposite Cumberland Crescent!
Avoiding her eager, pitiful look, Mr. Tapster set himself to realize, with a shrewdness for which William and Maud would never have given him credit, what Flossy's possession of those two keys had meant during the last few months.
This woman, who both was and was not Mrs. Tapster, had retained the power to come freely in and out of his house! She had been able to make her way, with or without the connivance of the servants, into his children's nursery at any hour of the day or night convenient to herself! With the aid of that Inclosure key, she had no doubt often seen the children during their daily walk! In a word, Flossy had been able to enjoy all the privileges of motherhood while having forfeited all those of happy wifehood!
His mind hastened heavily on. What a fool he must have looked before his servants! How they must have laughed to think that he was being so deceived and taken in! Why, even the policeman who stood at point duty outside must have known all about it!
Small wonder that Mr. Tapster felt extremely incensed; small wonder that his heart, hardening, solidifying, expelled any feeling of pity provoked by Flossy's sad and downcast appearance.
"I must request you," he said, in a voice which even to himself sounded harsh and needlessly loud, "to give me up those keys which you hold in your hand. You have no right to their possession, and I grieve to think that you took advantage of my great distress of mind not to return them with the things of which I sent you a list by my brother William. I cannot believe"—and now Mr. Tapster lied as only the very truthful can lie on occasion—"I cannot believe, I say, that you have taken advantage of my having overlooked them, and that you have ever before to-night forced yourself into this house! Still less can I believe that you have taught our—my—children to deceive their father!"
Even when uttering his first sentence, he had noticed that there had come over Flossy's face—which was thinner, if quite as pretty and youthful-looking, as when he had last seen it—an expression of obstinacy which he had once well known and always dreaded. It had been Flossy's one poor weapon against her husband's superior sense and power of getting his own way, and sometimes it had vanquished him in that fair fight which is always being waged between the average husband and wife.
"You are right," she cried passionately. "I have not taught the children to deceive you! I have never come into this house until I felt sure that they were asleep and alone, though I've often wondered that they never woke up and knew that their own mother was there! But more than once, James, I've felt like going after that society which looks after badly treated children—for the last nurse you had for them was so cruel! If she hadn't left you soon I should have had to do something! I used to feel desperate when I saw her shake Baby in her pram; why, one day, in the Inclosure, a lady spoke to her about it, and threatened to tell her—her mistress——"
Flossy's voice sank to a shamed whisper. The tears were rolling down her cheeks; she was speaking in angry gasps, and what she said actually made James Tapster feel, what he knew full well he had no reason to feel, ashamed of himself. "That is why," she went on, "that is why I have, as you say, forced myself into your house, and why, too, I have now come here to ask you to forgive me—to take me back—just for the sake of the children."
Mr. Tapster's mind was one that traveled surely, if slowly. He saw his chance, and seized it. "And why," he said impressively, "had that woman—the nurse, I mean—no mistress? Tell me that, Flossy. You should have thought of all that before you behaved as you did!"
"I didn't know—I didn't think——"
Mr. Tapster finished the sentence for her: "You didn't think," he observed impressively, "that I should ever find you out."
Then there came over him a morbid wish to discover—to learn from her own lips—why Flossy had done such a shameful and extraordinary thing as to be unfaithful to her marriage vow.
"Whatever made you behave so?" he asked in a low voice. "I wasn't unkind to you, was I? You had a nice, comfortable home, hadn't you?"
"I was mad," she answered, with a touch of sharp weariness. "I don't suppose I could ever make you understand; and yet,"—she looked at him deprecatingly,—"I suppose, James, that you too were young once, and—and—mad?"
Mr. Tapster stared at Flossy. What extraordinary things she said! Of course he had been young once; for the matter of that, he didn't feel old—not to say old—even now. But he had always been perfectly sane—she knew that well enough! As for her calling herself mad, that was a mere figure of speech. Of course, in a sense, she had been mad to do what she had done, and he was glad that she now understood this; but her saying so simply begged the whole question, and left him no wiser than he was before.
There was a long, tense silence between them. Then Mr. Tapster slowly rose from his arm-chair and faced his wife.
"I see," he said, "that William was right. I mean, I suppose I may take it that that young fellow has gone and left you?"
"Yes," she said, with a curious indifference, "he has gone and left me. His father made him take a job out in Brazil just after the case was through."
"And what have you been doing since then?" asked Mr. Tapster suspiciously. "How have you been living?"
"His father gives me a pound a week." Flossy still spoke with that curious indifference. "I tried to get something to do"—she hesitated, then offered the lame explanation—"just to have something to do, for I've been awfully lonely and miserable, James; but I don't seem to be able to get anything."
"If you had written to Mr. Greenfield or to William, they would have told you that I had arranged for you to have an allowance," he said, and then again he fell into silence....
Mr. Tapster was seeing a vision of himself, magnanimous, forgiving—taking the peccant Flossy back to his heart and becoming once more, in a material sense, comfortable! If he acceded to her wish, if he made up his mind to forgive her, he would have to begin life all over again, move away from Cumberland Crescent to some distant place where the story was not known—perhaps to Clapham, where he had spent his boyhood.
But how about Maud? How about William? How about the very considerable expense to which he had been put in connection with the divorce proceedings? Was all that money to be wasted? Mr. Tapster suddenly saw the whole of his little world rising up in judgment, smiling pityingly at his folly and weakness. During the whole of a long and of what had been, till this last year, a very prosperous life, Mr. Tapster had always steered his safe course by what may be called the compass of public opinion, and now, when navigating an unknown sea, he could not afford to throw that compass overboard, so——
"No," he said; "no, Flossy. It would not be right for me to take you back. It wouldn't do."
"Wouldn't it?" she asked piteously. "Oh, James, don't say no like that, all at once! People do forgive each other—sometimes. I don't ask you to be as kind to me as you were before—only to let me come home and see after the children!"
But Mr. Tapster shook his head. The children! Always the children! He noticed, even now, that she didn't say a word of wanting to come back to him; and yet, he had been such a kind, nay, if Maud were to be believed, such a foolishly indulgent husband.
And then, Flossy looked so different. Mr. Tapster felt as if a stranger were standing there before him. Her appearance of poverty shocked him. Had she looked well and prosperous, he would have felt injured, and yet her pinched face and shabby clothes certainly repelled him. So again he shook his head, and there came into his face a look which Flossy had always known in old days to spell finality, and when he again spoke she saw that her knowledge had not misled her.
"I don't want to be unkind," he said ponderously. "If you will only go to William, or write to him if you would rather not go to the office,"—Mr. Tapster did not like to think that any one once closely connected with him should "look like that" in his brother's office,—"he will tell you what you had better do. I'm quite ready to make you a handsome allowance—in fact, it is all arranged. You need not have anything more to do with that fellow's father—an army colonel, isn't he?—and his pound a week; but William thinks, and I must say I agree, that you ought to go back to your maiden name, Flossy, as being more fair to me."
"And am I never to see the children again?" she asked.
"No; it wouldn't be right for me to let you do so." He hesitated, then added, "They don't miss you any more now"; with no unkindly intent he concluded, "soon they'll have forgotten you altogether."
And then, just as Mr. Tapster was hesitating, seeking for a suitable and not unkindly sentence of farewell, he saw a very strange, almost a desperate look come over Flossy's face, and, to his surprise, she suddenly turned and left the room, closing the door very carefully behind her.
He stared after her. How very odd of her to say nothing! And what a strange look had come over her face! He could not help feeling hurt that she had not thanked him for what he knew to be a very generous and unusual provision on the part of an injured husband.... Mr. Tapster took a silk handkerchief out of his pocket and passed it twice over his face, then once more he sought and sank into the arm-chair by the fire.
Even now he still felt keenly conscious of Flossy's nearness. What could she be doing? Then he straightened himself and listened; yes, it was as he feared; she had gone up-stairs—up-stairs to look at the children, for now he could hear her coming down again. How obstinate she was, how obstinate and ungrateful! Mr. Tapster wished he had the courage to go out into the hall and face her, in order to tell her how wrong her conduct was. Why, she had actually kept the keys—those keys that were his property!
Suddenly he heard her light footsteps hurrying down the hall; now she was opening the front door—it slammed, and again Mr. Tapster felt pained to think how strangely indifferent Flossie was to his interests. Why, what would the servants think, hearing the front door slam like that?
But still, now that it was over, he was glad the interview had taken place, for henceforth—or so, at least, Mr. Tapster believed—the Flossy of the past, the bright, pretty, prosperous Flossy of whom he had been so proud, would cease to haunt him. He remembered, with a feeling of relief, that she was going to his brother William; of course, she would then, among greater renunciations, be compelled to return the two keys—for they, that is, his brother and himself, would have her in their power. They would not behave unkindly to her—far from it; in fact, they would arrange for her to live with some quiet, religious lady in a country town a few hours from London.
Then Mr. Tapster began going over each incident of the strange little interview, for he wanted to tell his brother William exactly what had taken place.
His conscience was quite clear, except with regard to one matter, and that, after all, needn't be mentioned to William. He felt rather ashamed of having asked the question which had provoked so strange and wild an answer—so unexpected a retort. Mad? What had Flossy meant by asking him if he had ever been mad? No one had ever used the word in connection with James Tapster before—save once. Oddly enough, that occasion also had been in a way connected with Flossy, for it had happened when he had gone to tell William and Maud of his engagement.
It was on a fine day nine years ago come this May, and he had found William and William's wife walking in their little garden on Havenstock Hill. His kind brother, as always, had been most sympathetic, and had even made a suitable joke—Mr. Tapster remembered it very sadly to-night—concerning the spring and a young man's fancy; but Maud had been really disagreeable. She had said, "It's no use talking to you, James, for you're mad, quite mad!"
Strange that he should remember all this to-night, for, after all, it had nothing to do with the present state of affairs.
Mr. Tapster felt rather shaken and nervous; he pulled out his repeater watch, but, alas! it was still very early—only ten minutes to nine. He couldn't go to bed yet. Perhaps he would do well to join a club. He had always thought rather poorly of men who belonged to clubs—most of them were idle, lazy fellows; but still, circumstances alter cases.
Suddenly he began to wish that Flossy had remained a little longer. He thought of all sorts of things—improving, kindly remarks—he would have liked to say to her. He blamed himself for not having offered her any refreshment; she would probably have refused to take anything, but still, it was wrong on his part not to have thought of it. A pound a week for everything! No wonder she looked starved. Why, his own household bills, exclusive of wine or beer, had worked out, since he had had this new expensive housekeeper, at something like fifteen shillings a head, a fact which he had managed to conceal from Maud, who "did" her William so well on exactly ten shillings and ninepence all round!
* * * * *
It struck nine from the neighboring church, where Mr. Tapster had sittings,—but where he seldom was able to go on Sunday mornings, for he was proud of being among those old-fashioned folk who still regard Sunday as essentially a day of rest,—and there came a sudden sound of hoarse shouting from the road outside. Though he was glad of anything that broke the oppressive silence with which he felt encompassed, Mr. Tapster found time to tell himself that it was disgraceful that vulgar street brawlers should invade so quiet a residential thoroughfare as Cumberland Crescent. But order would soon be restored, for the sound of a policeman's whistle cut sharply through the air.
The noise, however, continued; he could hear the tramp of feet hurrying past his house and then leaving the pavement for the other side of the road. What could be the matter? Something very exciting must be going on just opposite his front door, that is, close to the Inclosure railings.
Mr. Tapster got up from his chair, and walked in a leisurely way to the wide window. He drew aside the thick red rep curtains, and lifted a corner of the blind. Then, through the slightly foggy haze, he saw that which rather surprised him and made him feel actively indignant; for a string of people, men, women, and boys, were hurrying into the Inclosure Garden—that sacred place set apart for the exclusive use of the nobility and gentry who lived in Cumberland Crescent and the adjoining terraces.
What an abominable thing! Why, the grass would all be trampled down; and these dirty people, these slum folk, who seem to spring out of the earth when anything of a disagreeable or shameful nature is taking place,—a fire, for instance, or a brawl,—might easily bring infectious diseases on to those gravel paths where the little Tapsters and their like run about, playing their innocent games. Some careless person had evidently left the gate unlocked, and the fight, or whatever it was, must be taking place inside the Inclosure!
Mr. Tapster tried in vain to see what was going on inside the railings, but everything beyond the brightly lighted road was wrapped in gray darkness. Some one suddenly held up high a flaming torch, and the watcher at the window saw that the shadowy crowd which had managed to force its way into the Park hung together, like bees swarming, on the farther lawn through which flowed the Serpentine. With the gleaming of the yellow, wavering light there had fallen a sudden hush and silence, and Mr. Tapster wondered uneasily what those people were doing there, and what it was they were pressing forward so eagerly to see.
Then he realized that it must have been a fight, after all, for now the crowd was parting in two, and down the lane so formed Mr. Tapster saw coming toward the gate, and so in a sense toward himself, a rather pitiful little procession. Some one had evidently been injured, and that seriously; for four men, bearing a sheep-hurdle on which lay a huddled mass, were walking slowly toward the gate, and he heard distinctly the gruffly uttered words: "Stand back, please—back, there! We're going across the road." The now large crowd suddenly swayed forward; indeed, to Mr. Tapster's astonished eyes, they seemed to be actually making a rush for his house, and a moment later they were pressing around his area-railings.
Looking down on the upturned faces below him, Mr. Tapster was very glad that a stout pane of glass stood between himself and the sinister-looking men and women who seemed to be staring up at him, or rather at his windows, with faces full of cruel, wolfish curiosity. He let the blind fall to gently. His interest in the vulgar, sordid scene had suddenly died down; the drama was now over; in a moment the crowd would disperse, the human vermin (but Mr. Tapster would never have used, even to himself, so coarse an expression) would be on their way back to their burrows. But before he had even time to rearrange the curtains in their right folds, there came a sudden loud, persistent knocking at his front door.
Mr. Tapster turned around sharply, feeling justly incensed. Of course, he knew what it was—some good-for-nothing urchin finding a vent for his excited feelings. His parlor-maid, who was never in any hurry to open the door,—she had once kept him waiting ten minutes when he had forgotten his latch-key,—would certainly take no notice of this unseemly noise, but he, James Tapster, would himself hurry out and try to catch the delinquent, take his name and address, and thoroughly frighten him.
As he reached the door of the dining-room, Mr. Tapster heard the front door open—open, too,—and this was certainly very surprising,—from the outside! In the hall he saw that it was a policeman—in fact, the officer on point duty close by—who had opened his front door, and apparently with a latch-key.
The constable spoke, as constables always do to the Mr. Tapsters of this world, in respectful and subdued tones:
"Can I just come in and speak to you, sir? There's been a sad accident—your lady fallen in the water; we found these keys in her pocket, and then some one said she was Mrs. Tapster"; and the policeman held out the two keys which had played a not unimportant part in Mr. Tapster's interview with Flossy. "A man on the bridge saw her go in," went on the policeman, "so she wasn't in the water long,—something like a quarter of an hour,—for we soon found her. I suppose you would like her taken up-stairs, sir?"
"No, no," stammered Mr. Tapster, "not up-stairs; the children are up-stairs."
Mr. Tapster's round, prominent eyes were shadowed with a great horror and an even greater surprise. He stood staring at the man before him, his hands clasped in a wholly unconscious gesture of supplication.
The constable gradually edged himself backward into the dining-room. Realizing that he must take on himself the onus of decision, he gave a quiet look round.
"If that's the case," he said firmly, "we had better bring her in here; that sofa that you have there, sir, will do nicely for her to be laid upon while they try to bring her round. We've got a doctor already."
Mr. Tapster bent his head; he was too much bewildered to propose any other plan; and then he turned, turned to see his hall invaded by a strange and sinister quartet. It was composed of two policemen and of two of those loafers of whom he so greatly disapproved. They were carrying a hurdle from which Mr. Tapster quickly averted his eyes. But, though he was able to shut out the sight he feared to see, he could not prevent himself from hearing certain sounds, those, for instance, made by the two loafers, who breathed with ostentatious difficulty as if to show they were unaccustomed to bearing even so comparatively light a burden as Flossy drowned.
There came a sudden short whisper-filled delay. The doorway of the dining-room was found to be too narrow, and the hurdle was perforce left in the hall.
An urgent voice, full of wholly unconscious irony, muttered in Mr. Tapster's ear: "Of course, you would like to see her, sir," and he felt himself being propelled forward. Making an effort to bear himself so that he should not feel afterward ashamed of his lack of nerve, he forced himself to stare with dread-filled yet fascinated eyes at that which had just been laid upon the leather sofa.
Flossy's hat, the shabby hat which had shocked Mr. Tapster's sense of what was seemly, was gone; her fair hair had all come down, and hung in pale-gold wisps about the face already fixed in the soft dignity which seems so soon to drape the features of those who die by drowning. Her widely opened eyes were now wholly emptied of the anguish with which they had gazed on Mr. Tapster in this very room less than an hour ago. Her mean brown serge gown, from which the water was still dripping, clung closely to her limbs, revealing the slender body which had four times endured, on behalf of Mr. Tapster, the greatest of woman's natural ordeals. But that thought, it is scarcely necessary to say, did not come to add an extra pang to those which that unfortunate man was now suffering, for Mr. Tapster naturally thought maternity was in every married woman's day's work—and pleasure.
* * * * *
It might have been a moment, for all that he knew, or it might have been an hour, when at last something came to relieve the unbearable tension of Mr. Tapster's feelings. He had been standing aside, helpless, aware of and yet not watching the efforts made to restore Flossy to consciousness.
The doctor raised himself and straightened his cramped shoulders and tired arms. With a look of great concern on his face, he approached the bereaved husband.
"I'm afraid it's no good," he said; "the shock of the plunge in the cold water probably killed her. She was evidently in poor health, and—and ill-nourished; but, of course, we shall go on for some time longer, and——"
But whatever he had meant to say remained unspoken, for a telegraph-boy, with the impudence natural to his kind, was forcing his way into and through the crowded room. "James Tapster, Esquire?" he cried in a high, childish treble.
The master of the house held out his hand mechanically. He took the buff envelop and stared down at it, sufficiently master of himself to perceive that some fool had apparently imagined Cumberland Crescent to be in South London; before his eyes swam the line, "Delayed in transmission." Then, opening the envelop, he saw the message for which he had now been waiting so eagerly for some days; but it was with indifference that he read the words,
"The Decree has been made Absolute."
PRESIDENT JOHNSON AND HIS WAR ON CONGRESS
ILLUSTRATED WITH PHOTOGRAPHS
I was on the point of returning to the West when I received a message from Horace Greeley, the famous editor of the New York Tribune, asking me to take charge of the news bureau of that journal in Washington, as its chief correspondent. Although the terms offered by Mr. Greeley were tempting, I was disinclined to accept, because I doubted whether the work would be congenial to me, and because it would keep me in the East. But Mr. Greeley, as well as some of my friends in Congress, persuaded me that, since I had studied the condition of things in the South and could give reliable information concerning it, my presence in Washington might be useful while the Southern question was under debate. This determined me to assent, with the understanding, however, that I should not consider myself bound beyond the pending session of Congress.
Thus I entered the journalistic fraternity. My most agreeable experience consisted in my association with other members of the craft. I found among the correspondents of the press a number of gentlemen of uncommon ability and high principle—genuine gentlemen, who loved truth for its own sake, who heartily detested sham and false pretense, and whose sense of honor was of the finest. This was the rule, to which, as to all rules, there were of course some exceptions; but they were rare. My more or less intimate contact with public men high and low was not so uniformly gratifying. I enjoyed, indeed, the privilege of meeting statesmen of high purpose, of well-stored minds, of unselfish patriotism, and of the courage of their convictions. But disgustingly large was, on the other hand, the number of small, selfish politicians I ran against—men who seemed to know no higher end than the advantage of their party, which involved their own; who were always nervously sniffing for the popular breeze; whose most demonstrative ebullitions of virtue consisted in the most violent denunciations of the opposition; whose moral courage quaked at the appearance of the slightest danger to their own or their party's fortunes; and whose littlenesses exposed them sometimes with involuntary frankness to the newspaper correspondent whom they approached to beg for a "favorable notice" or for the suppression of an unwelcome news item. They were by no means in all instances men of small parts. On the contrary, there were men of marked ability and large acquirements among them. But never until then had I known how great a moral coward a member of Congress may be.
It is probably now as it was then. There were few places in the United States where the public men appearing on the national stage were judged as fairly and accurately as they were in Newspaper Row in Washington.
I remained at the head of the Tribune office in Washington, according to my promise to Mr. Greeley, to the end of the winter season, and then accepted the chief-editorship of the Detroit Post, a new journal established at Detroit, Michigan, which was offered to me—I might almost say urged upon me—by Senator Zachariah Chandler. In the meantime I had occasion to witness the beginning of the political war between the executive and the legislative power concerning the reconstruction of the "States lately in rebellion."
The Beginnings of the Struggle
I am sure I do not exaggerate when I say that this political war has been one of the most unfortunate events in the history of this Republic, for it made the most important problem of the time, a problem of extraordinary complexity, which required the calmest and most delicate and circumspect treatment, the foot-ball of a personal and party brawl which was in the highest degree apt to inflame the passions and to obscure the judgment of everybody concerned in it. Since my return from the South, the evil effects of Mr. Johnson's conduct in encouraging the reactionary spirit prevalent among the Southern whites had become more and more evident and alarming from day to day. Charles Sumner told me that his personal experience with the President had been very much like mine. When Sumner left Washington in the spring, he had received from Mr. Johnson at repeated intervals the most emphatic assurances that he would do nothing to precipitate the restoration of the "States lately in rebellion" to the full exercise of self-governing functions, and even that he favored the extension of the suffrage to the freedmen. The two men had parted with all the appearance of a perfect friendly understanding. But when the Senator returned to Washington in the late autumn that understanding seemed to have entirely vanished from the President's mind and to have given place to an irritated temper and a certain acerbity of tone in the assertion of the "President's policy."
From various other members of Congress I heard the same story. Mr. Johnson, strikingly unlike Abraham Lincoln, evidently belonged to that unfortunate class of men with whom a difference of opinion on any important matter will at once cause personal ill feeling and a disturbance of friendly intercourse. By many Congressmen Mr. Johnson was regarded as one who had broken faith, and the memory of the disgraceful exhibition of himself in a drunken state at the inauguration ceremonies, which under ordinary circumstances everybody would have been glad to forget, was revived, so as to make him appear as a person of ungentlemanly character. All these things combined to impart to the controversies which followed a flavor of reckless defiance and rancorous bitterness, the outbursts of which were sometimes almost ferocious.
The first gun of the political war between the President and Congress, which was to rage four years, was fired by Thaddeus Stevens in the House of Representatives by the introduction, even before the hearing of the President's Message, of the resolution already mentioned, which substantially proclaimed that the reconstruction of the late rebel States was the business, not of the President alone, but of Congress. This theory, which was constitutionally correct, was readily supported by the Republican majority, and thus the war was declared. Of Republican dissenters who openly took the President's part, there were but few—in the Senate, Doolittle of Wisconsin, Dixon of Connecticut, Norton of Minnesota, Cowan of Pennsylvania, and, for a short period, Morgan of New York, as the personal friend of Mr. Seward. In the House of Representatives, Mr. Raymond of New York, the famous founder of the New York Times, acted as the principal Republican champion of the "President's policy."
Stevens the Dominating Figure of the Struggle
Thaddeus Stevens was the acknowledged leader of the Republicans in the House. Few historic characters have ever been more differently judged from different points of view. A Southern writer of fiction has painted him as the fiend incarnate; others have spoken of him as a great leader of his time, far-sighted, a man of uncompromising convictions, intellectually honest, of unflinching courage and energy. I had come into personal contact with him in the Presidential campaigns of 1860 and 1864, when he seemed to be pleased with my efforts. I had once heard him make a stump speech which was evidently inspired by intense hatred of slavery, and remarkable for argumentative pith and sarcastic wit. But the impression his personality made upon me was not sympathetic: his face, long and pallid, topped with an ample dark-brown wig which was at the first glance recognized as such; beetling brows overhanging keen eyes of uncertain color which sometimes seemed to scintillate with a sudden gleam; the under lip defiantly protruding; the whole expression usually stern. His figure would have looked stalwart but for a deformed foot which made him bend and limp. His conversation, carried on in a hollow voice devoid of music, easily disclosed a well-informed mind, but also a certain absolutism of opinion, with contemptuous scorn for adverse argument. He belonged to the fierce class of anti-slavery men who were inspired by humane sympathy with the slave and righteous abhorrence of slavery, but also by hatred of the slaveholder. What he himself seemed to enjoy most in his talk was his sardonic humor, which he made play upon men and things like lurid freaks of lightning. He shot out such sallies with a fearfully serious mien, or at least he accompanied them with a grim smile which was not at all like Abraham Lincoln's hearty laugh at his own jests.
Thus Mr. Stevens' discourse was apt to make him appear a hardened cynic, inaccessible to the finer feelings, and indifferent whether he gave pain or pleasure. But now and then a remark escaped him—I say "escaped him," because he evidently preferred to wear the acrid tendencies of his character on the outside—which indicated that there was behind his cynicism a rich fund of human kindness and sympathy. And this was strongly confirmed by his neighbors at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, his home, where on one of my campaigning tours I once spent a day and a night. With them, even with many of his political opponents, "old Thad," as they called him, appeared to be eminently popular. They had no end of stories to tell about the protection he had given to fugitive slaves, sometimes at much risk and sacrifice to himself, and of the many benefactions he had bestowed with a lavish hand upon the widows and orphans and other persons in need, and of his generous fidelity to his friends. They did not, indeed, revere him as a model of virtue, but of the occasional lapses of his bachelor life from correct moral standards, which seemed to be well known and freely talked about, they spoke with affectionate lenity of judgment.
When I saw him again in Washington at the opening of the Thirty-ninth Congress, in December, 1865, he looked very much aged since our last meeting, and infirm in health. In repose his face was like a death-mask, and he was carried in a chair to his seat in the House by two stalwart young negroes. There is good authority for the story that once when they had set him down, he said to them, with his grim humor: "Thank you, my good fellows. What shall I do when you are dead and gone?" But his eyes glowed from under his bushy brows with the old keen sparkle, and his mind was as alert as ever. It may be that his age—he was then seventy-four—and his physical infirmities, admonishing him that at best he would have only a few years more to live, served to inspire him with an impatient craving and a fierce determination to make the best of his time, and thus to intensify the activity of his mental energies. To compass the abolition of slavery had been the passion of his life. He had hailed the Civil War as the great opportunity. He had never been quite satisfied with Lincoln, whose policy seemed to him too dilatory. He demanded quick, sharp, and decisive blows.
Now that the abolition of slavery was actually decreed, he saw President Johnson follow a policy which, in his view, threatened to undo the great work. His scornful anger at Andrew Johnson was equaled only by his contempt for the Republicans who sided with the President. He was bound to defeat this reactionary attempt and to see slavery thoroughly killed beyond the possibility of resurrection, at any cost. As to the means to be employed, he scrupled little. He wanted the largest possible Republican majority in Congress, and to this end he would have expelled any number of Democrats from their seats, by hook or crook. When my old friend and quondam law partner, General Halbert E. Paine, who was chairman of the Committee on Elections in the House, told him that, in a certain contested election case to be voted upon, both contestants were rascals, Stevens simply asked: "Well, which is our rascal?" He said this, not in jest, but with perfect seriousness. He would have seated Beelzebub in preference to the angel Gabriel, had he believed Beelzebub to be more certain than Gabriel to aid him in beating the President's reconstruction policy. His speeches were short, peremptory, and commanding. He bluntly avowed his purposes, however extreme they seemed to be. He disdained to make them more palatable by any art of persuasion, or to soften the asperity of his attacks by charitable circumlocution. There was no hypocrisy, no cant in his utterances. With inexorable intellectual honesty, he drew all the logical conclusions from his premises. He was a terror in debate. Whenever provoked, he brought his batteries of merciless sarcasm into play with deadly effect. Not seldom, a single sentence sufficed to lay a daring antagonist sprawling on the ground amid the roaring laughter of the House, the luckless victim feeling as if he had heedlessly touched a heavily charged electric wire. No wonder that even the readiest and boldest debaters were cautious in approaching old Thaddeus Stevens too closely, lest something stunning and sudden happen to them. Thus the fear he inspired became a distinct element of power in his leadership—not a wholesome element, indeed, at the time of a great problem which required the most circumspect and dispassionate treatment.
William Pitt Fessenden
A statesman of a very different stamp was Senator Fessenden of Maine, who, being at the head of the senatorial part of the joint Committee on Reconstruction, presided over that important body. William Pitt Fessenden was a man who might easily have been overlooked in a crowd. There was nothing in his slight figure, his thin face framed in spare gray hair and side whiskers, and his quiet demeanor, to attract particular notice. Neither did his appearance in the Senate Chamber impress one at first sight as that of a great power in that important assembly. I saw him more than once there walk with slow steps up and down in the open space behind the seats, with his hands in his trousers pockets, with seeming listlessness, while another senator was speaking, and then ask to be heard, and, without changing his attitude, make an argument in a calm conversational tone, unmixed with the slightest oratorical flourish, so solid and complete that little more remained to be said on the subject in question. He gave the impression of having at his disposal a rich and perfectly ordered store of thought and knowledge upon which he could draw with perfect ease and assurance. When I was first introduced to him, he appeared to be rather distant in manner than inviting friendly approach. But I was told that ill health had made him unsociable and somewhat morose and testy, and, indeed, there was often the trace of suffering and weariness in his face. It was also remarked in the Senate that at times he was ill-tempered and inclined to indulge in biting sarcasms and to administer unkind lectures to other senators, which in some instances disturbed his personal intercourse with his colleagues. But there was not one of them who did not hold him in the highest esteem as a statesman of commanding ability and of lofty ideals, as a gentleman of truth and conscience, as a great jurist and an eminent constitutional lawyer, as a party man of most honorable principles and methods, and as a patriot of noblest ambition for his country.
Being a man also of conservative instincts, averse to unnecessary conflicts, and always disinclined to go to extremes, in action as well as in language, he was expected to exert a moderating influence in his committee; and this expectation was not disappointed so far as his efforts to prevent a final breach between the President and the Republican majority in Congress were concerned. But regarding the main question whether the "States lately in rebellion" should be fully restored to their self-governing functions and to full participation in the government of the Republic without having given reasonable guaranties for the maintenance of the "legitimate results of the war," he was in point of principle not far apart from Mr. Stevens.
The President's Logic
It must be admitted that, if we accept his premises, Mr. Johnson made in point of logic a pretty plausible case. His proposition was that a State, in the view of the Federal Constitution, is indestructible; that an ordinance of secession adopted by its inhabitants, or its political organs, did not take it out of the Union; that by declaring and treating those ordinances of secession as "null and void," of no force, virtually non-existent, the Federal government itself had accepted and sanctioned that theory; that during the rebellion the constitutional rights and functions of those States were merely suspended, and that when the rebellion ceased they were ipso facto restored; that, therefore, the rebellion having actually ceased, those States were at once entitled to their former rights and privileges—that is, to the recognition of their self-elected State governments and to their representation in Congress. Admitting the premises, this was logically correct in the abstract.
But this was one of the cases to which a saying, many years later set afloat by President Cleveland, might properly have been applied: we were confronting a condition, not a theory. The condition was this: Certain States had through their regular political organs declared themselves independent of the Union. They had, for all practical purposes, actually separated themselves from the Union. They had made war upon the Union. That war put those States in a position not foreseen by the Constitution. It imposed upon the government of the Union duties not foreseen by the Constitution; by "military necessity," war necessity, the Union was compelled to emancipate the negroes from slavery and to accept their military services. The war had compelled the government of the Union to levy large loans of money and thus to contract a huge public debt. The government had also, in the course of the war, the aid of the Union men of the South. It had thus assumed solemn obligations for value received or services rendered. It had assumed the duty to protect the emancipated negroes in their freedom, the Southern Union men in their security, and the public creditor from loss. This duty was a duty of honor as well as of policy. The Union could, therefore, not consent, either in point of honor or of sound policy, to the restoration of the late rebel States to the functions of self-government and to full participation in the national government so long as that restoration was reasonably certain to put the freedom of the emancipated slaves, or the security of the Southern Union men, or the rights of the public creditor, into serious jeopardy.
Lincoln's Policy versus Johnson's
It was pretended at the time, and it has since been asserted by historians and publicists of high standing, that Mr. Johnson's Reconstruction policy was only a continuation of that of Mr. Lincoln. This was true only in a superficial sense, and not in reality. Mr. Lincoln had, indeed, put forth reconstruction plans which contemplated an early restoration of some of the rebel States; but he had done this while the Civil War was still going on, and for the evident purpose of encouraging loyal movements in those States and of weakening the Confederate State governments there by opposing to them governments organized in the interest of the Union, which could serve as rallying-points to the Union men. So long as the rebellion continued in any form and to any extent, the State governments he contemplated would have been substantially in the control of really loyal men who had been on the side of the Union during the war. Moreover, he always emphatically affirmed, in public as well as private utterance, that no plan of reconstruction he had ever put forth was meant to be "exclusive and inflexible," but might be changed according to different circumstances.
Now circumstances did change; they changed essentially with the collapse of the Confederacy. There was no more organized armed resistance to the national government, to distract which loyal State governments in the South might have been efficacious. But there was an effort of persons lately in rebellion to get possession of the reconstructed Southern State governments for the purpose, in part, of using their power to save or restore as much of the system of slavery as could be saved or restored. The success of these efforts was to be accomplished by the precipitate and unconditional readmission of the late rebel States to all their constitutional functions. This situation had not yet developed when Lincoln was assassinated. He had not contemplated it when he put forth his plans of reconstructing Louisiana and the other States. Had he lived, he would have as ardently wished to stop bloodshed and to reunite all the States as he ever did. But is it to be supposed, for a moment, that, seeing the late master class in the South still under the influence of their old traditional notions and prejudices, and at the same time sorely pressed by the distressing necessities of their situation, intent upon subjecting the freedmen again to a system very much akin to slavery, Lincoln would have consented to abandon those freedmen to the mercies of that master class!