SOME PRESS NOTICES
"The importance of the theme cannot be doubted, and no one hitherto ignorant of the ravages of the evil and therefore, by implication, in need of being convinced can refuse general agreement with Mr. Sinclair upon the question as he argues it. The character that matters most is very much alive and most entertaining."—The Times.
"Very severe and courageous. It would, indeed, be difficult to deny or extenuate the appalling truth of Mr. Sinclair's indictment."— The Nation.
"There is not a man nor a grown woman who would not be better for reading Sylvia's Marriage."—The Globe
"Those who found Sylvia charming on her first appearance will find her as beautiful and fascinating as ever."—_The Pall Mall.
"A novel that frankly is devoted to the illustration of the dangers that society runs through the marriage of unsound men with unsuspecting women. The time has gone by when any objection was likely to be taken to a perfectly clean discussion of a nasty subject."—T.P.'s Weekly.
AUTHOR OF "THE JUNGLE," ETC., ETC.
BOOK I SYLVIA AS WIFE
BOOK II SYLVIA AS MOTHER
BOOK III SYLVIA AS REBEL
SYLVIA AS WIFE
1. I am telling the story of Sylvia Castleman. I should prefer to tell it without mention of myself; but it was written in the book of fate that I should be a decisive factor in her life, and so her story pre-supposes mine. I imagine the impatience of a reader, who is promised a heroine out of a romantic and picturesque "society" world, and finds himself beginning with the autobiography of a farmer's wife on a solitary homestead in Manitoba. But then I remember that Sylvia found me interesting. Putting myself in her place, remembering her eager questions and her exclamations, I am able to see myself as a heroine of fiction.
I was to Sylvia a new and miraculous thing, a self-made woman. I must have been the first "common" person she had ever known intimately. She had seen us afar off, and wondered vaguely about us, consoling herself with the reflection that we probably did not know enough to be unhappy over our sad lot in life. But here I was, actually a soul like herself; and it happened that I knew more than she did, and of things she desperately needed to know. So all the luxury, power and prestige that had been given to Sylvia Castleman seemed as nothing beside Mary Abbott, with her modern attitude and her common-sense.
My girlhood was spent upon a farm in Iowa. My father had eight children, and he drank. Sometimes he struck me; and so it came about that at the age of seventeen I ran away with a boy of twenty who worked upon a neighbour's farm. I wanted a home of my own, and Tom had some money saved up. We journeyed to Manitoba, and took out a homestead, where I spent the next twenty years of my life in a hand-to-hand struggle with Nature which seemed simply incredible to Sylvia when I told her of it.
The man I married turned out to be a petty tyrant. In the first five years of our life he succeeded in killing the love I had for him; but meantime I had borne him three children, and there was nothing to do but make the best of my bargain. I became to outward view a beaten drudge; yet it was the truth that never for an hour did I give up. When I lost what would have been my fourth child, and the doctor told me that I could never have another, I took this for my charter of freedom, and made up my mind to my course; I would raise the children I had, and grow up with them, and move out into life when they did.
This was when I was working eighteen hours a day, more than half of it by lamp-light, in the darkness of our Northern winters. When the accident came, I had been doing the cooking for half a dozen men, who were getting in the wheat upon which our future depended. I fell in my tracks, and lost my child; yet I sat still and white while the men ate supper, and afterwards I washed up the dishes. Such was my life in those days; and I can see before me the face of horror with which Sylvia listened to the story. But these things are common in the experience of women who live upon pioneer farms, and toil as the slave-woman has toiled since civilization began.
We won out, and my husband made money. I centred my energies upon getting school-time for my children; and because I had resolved that they should not grow ahead of me, I sat up at night, and studied their books. When the oldest boy was ready for high-school, we moved to a town, where my husband had bought a granary business. By that time I had become a physical wreck, with a list of ailments too painful to describe. But I still had my craving for knowledge, and my illness was my salvation, in a way—it got me a hired girl, and time to patronize the free library.
I had never had any sort of superstition or prejudice, and when I got into the world of books, I began quickly to find my way. I travelled into by-paths, of course; I got Christian Science badly, and New Thought in a mild attack. I still have in my mind what the sober reader would doubtless consider queer kinks; for instance, I still practice "mental healing," in a form, and I don't always tell my secret thoughts about Theosophy and Spiritualism. But almost at once I worked myself out of the religion I had been taught, and away from my husband's politics, and the drugs of my doctors. One of the first subjects I read about was health; I came upon a book on fasting, and went away upon a visit and tried it, and came back home a new woman, with a new life before me.
In all of these matters my husband fought me at every step. He wished to rule, not merely my body, but my mind, and it seemed as if every new thing that I learned was an additional affront to him. I don't think I was rendered disagreeable by my culture; my only obstinacy was in maintaining the right of the children to do their own thinking. But during this time my husband was making money, and filling his life with that. He remained in his every idea the money-man, an active and bitter leader of the forces of greed in our community; and when my studies took me to the inevitable end, and I joined the local of the Socialist party in our town, it was to him like a blow in the face. He never got over it, and I think that if the children had not been on my side, he would have claimed the Englishman's privilege of beating me with a stick not thicker than his thumb. As it was, he retired into a sullen hypochondria, which was so pitiful that in the end I came to regard him as not responsible.
I went to a college town with my three children, and when they were graduated, having meantime made sure that I could never do anything but torment my husband, I set about getting a divorce. I had helped to lay the foundation of his fortune, cementing it with my blood, I might say, and I could fairly have laid claim to half what he had brought from the farm; but my horror of the parasitic woman had come to be such that rather than even seem to be one, I gave up everything, and went out into the world at the age of forty-five to earn my own living. My children soon married, and I would not be a burden to them; so I came East for a while, and settled down quite unexpectedly into a place as a field-worker for a child-labour committee.
You may think that a woman so situated would not have been apt to meet Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver, ne Castleman, and to be chosen for her bosom friend; but that would only be because you do not know the modern world. We have managed to get upon the consciences of the rich, and they invite us to attend their tea-parties and disturb their peace of mind. And then, too, I had a peculiar hold upon Sylvia; when I met her I possessed the key to the great mystery of her life. How that had come about is a story in itself, the thing I have next to tell.
2. It happened that my arrival in New York from the far West coincided with Sylvia's from the far South; and that both fell at a time when there were no wars or earthquakes or football games to compete for the front page of the newspapers. So everybody was talking about the prospective wedding. The fact that the Southern belle had caught the biggest prize among the city's young millionaires was enough to establish precedence with the city's subservient newspapers, which had proceeded to robe the grave and punctilious figure of the bridegroom in the garments of King Cophetua. The fact that the bride's father was the richest man in his own section did not interfere with this—for how could metropolitan editors be expected to have heard of the glories of Castleman Hall, or to imagine that there existed a section of America so self-absorbed that its local favourite would not feel herself exalted in becoming Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver?
What the editors knew about Castleman Hall was that they wired for pictures, and a man was sent from the nearest city to "snap" this unknown beauty; whereupon her father chased the presumptuous photographer and smashed his camera with a cane. So, of course, when Sylvia stepped out of the train in New York, there was a whole battery of cameras awaiting her, and all the city beheld her image the next day.
The beginning of my interest in this "belle" from far South was when I picked up the paper at my breakfast table, and found her gazing at me, with the wide-open, innocent eyes of a child; a child who had come from some fairer, more gracious world, and brought the memory of it with her, trailing her clouds of glory. She had stepped from the train into the confusion of the roaring city, and she stood, startled and frightened, yet, I thought, having no more real idea of its wickedness and horror than a babe in arms. I read her soul in that heavenly countenance, and sat looking at it, enraptured, dumb. There must have been thousands, even in that metropolis of Mammon, who loved her from that picture, and whispered a prayer for her happiness.
I can hear her laugh as I write this. For she would have it that I was only one more of her infatuated lovers, and that her clouds of glory were purely stage illusion. She knew exactly what she was doing with those wide-open, innocent eyes! Had not old Lady Dee, most cynical of worldlings, taught her how to use them when she was a child in pig-tails? To be sure she had been scared when she stepped off the train, and strange men had shoved cameras under her nose. It was almost as bad as being assassinated! But as to her heavenly soul—alas, for the blindness of men, and of sentimental old women, who could believe in a modern "society" girl!
I had supposed that I was an emancipated woman when I came to New York. But one who has renounced the world, the flesh and the devil, knowing them only from pictures in magazines and Sunday supplements; such a one may find that he has still some need of fasting and praying. The particular temptation which overcame me was this picture of the bride-to-be. I wanted to see her, and I went and stood for hours in a crowd of curious women, and saw the wedding party enter the great Fifth Avenue Church, and discovered that my Sylvia's hair was golden, and her eyes a strange and wonderful red-brown. And this was the moment that fate had chosen to throw Claire Lepage into my arms, and give me the key to the future of Sylvia's life.
3. I am uncertain how much I should tell about Claire Lepage. It is a story which is popular in a certain sort of novel, but I have no wish for that easy success. Towards Claire herself I had no trace of the conventional attitude, whether of contempt or of curiosity. She was to me the product of a social system, of the great New Nineveh which I was investigating. And later on, when I knew her, she was a weak sister whom I tried to help.
It happened that I knew much more about such matters than the average woman—owing to a tragedy in my life. When I was about twenty-five years old, my brother-in-law had moved his family to our part of the world, and one of his boys had become very dear to me. This boy later on had got into trouble, and rather than tell anyone about it, had shot himself. So my eyes had been opened to things that are usually hidden from my sex; for the sake of my own sons, I had set out to study the underground ways of the male creature. I developed the curious custom of digging out every man I met, and making him lay bare his inmost life to me; so you may understand that it was no ordinary pair of woman's arms into which Claire Lepage was thrown.
At first I attributed her vices to her environment, but soon I realized that this was a mistake; the women of her world do not as a rule go to pieces. Many of them I met were free and independent women, one or two of them intellectual and worth knowing. For the most part such women marry well, in the worldly sense, and live as contented lives as the average lady who secures her life-contract at the outset. If you had met Claire at an earlier period of her career, and if she had been concerned to impress you, you might have thought her a charming hostess. She had come of good family, and been educated in a convent—much better educated than many society girls in America. She spoke English as well as she did French, and she had read some poetry, and could use the language of idealism whenever necessary. She had even a certain religious streak, and could voice the most generous sentiments, and really believe that she believed them. So it might have been some time before you discovered the springs of her weakness.
In the beginning I blamed van Tuiver; but in the end I concluded that for most of her troubles she had herself to thank—or perhaps the ancestors who had begotten her. She could talk more nobly and act more abjectly than any other woman I have ever known. She wanted pleasant sensations, and she expected life to furnish them continuously. Instinctively she studied the psychology of the person she was dealing with, and chose a reason which would impress that person.
At this time, you understand, I knew nothing about Sylvia Castleman or her fianc, except what the public knew. But now I got an inside view—and what a view! I had read some reference to Douglas van Tuiver's Harvard career: how he had met the peerless Southern beauty, and had given up college and pursued her to her home. I had pictured the wooing in the rosy lights of romance, with all the glamour of worldly greatness. But now, suddenly, what a glimpse into the soul of the princely lover! "He had a good scare, let me tell you," said Claire. "He never knew what I was going to do from one minute to the next."
"Did he see you in the crowd before the church door?" I inquired.
"No," she replied, "but he thought of me, I can promise you."
"He knew you were coming?"
She answered, "I told him I had got an admission card, just to make sure he'd keep me in mind!"
4. I did not have to hear much more of Claire's story before making up my mind that the wealthiest and most fashionable of New York's young bachelors was a rather self-centred person. He had fallen desperately in love with the peerless Southern beauty, and when she had refused to have anything to do with him, he had come back to the other woman for consolation, and had compelled her to pretend to sympathize with his agonies of soul. And this when he knew that she loved him with the intensity of a jealous nature.
Claire had her own view of Sylvia Castleman, a view for which I naturally made due reservations. Sylvia was a schemer, who had known from the first what she wanted, and had played her part with masterly skill. As for Claire, she had striven to match her moves, plotting in the darkness against her, and fighting desperately with such weak weapons as she possessed. It was characteristic that she did not blame herself for her failure; it was the baseness of van Tuiver, his inability to appreciate sincere devotion, his unworthiness of her love. And this, just after she had been naively telling me of her efforts to poison his mind against Sylvia while pretending to admire her! But I made allowances for Claire at this moment—realizing that the situation had been one to overstrain any woman's altruism.
She had failed in her subtleties, and there had followed scenes of bitter strife between the two. Sylvia, the cunning huntress, having pretended to relent, van Tuiver had gone South to his wooing again, while Claire had stayed at home and read a book about the poisoners of the Italian renaissance. And then had come the announcement of the engagement, after which the royal conqueror had come back in a panic, and sent embassies of his male friends to plead with Claire, alternately promising her wealth and threatening her with destitution, appealing to her fear, her cupidity, and even to her love. To all of which I listened, thinking of the wide-open, innocent eyes of the picture, and shedding tears within my soul. So must the gods feel as they look down upon the affairs of mortals, seeing how they destroy themselves by ignorance and folly, seeing how they walk into the future as a blind man into a yawning abyss.
I gave, of course, due weight to the sneers of Claire. Perhaps the innocent one really had set a trap—had picked van Tuiver out and married him for his money. But even so, I could hope that she had not known what she was doing. Surely it had never occurred to her that through all the days of her triumph she would have to eat and sleep with the shade of another woman at her side!
Claire said to me, not once, but a dozen times, "He'll come back to me. She'll never be able to make him happy." And so I pictured Sylvia upon her honeymoon, followed by an invisible ghost whose voice she would never hear, whose name she would never know. All that van Tuiver had learned from Claire, the sensuality, the ennin, the contempt for woman—it would rise to torment and terrify his bride, and turn her life to bitterness. And then beyond this, deeps upon deeps, to which my imagination did not go—and of which the Frenchwoman, with all her freedom of tongue, gave me no more than a hint which I could not comprehend.
5. Claire Lepage at this time was desperately lonely and unhappy. Having made the discovery that my arms were sturdy, used to doing a man's work, she clung to them. She begged me to go home with her, to visit her—finally to come and live with her. Until recently an elderly companion, had posed as her aunt, and kept her respectable while she was upon van Tuiver's yacht, and at his castle in Scotland. But this companion had died, and now Claire had no one with whom to discuss her soul-states.
She occupied a beautiful house on the West Side, not far from Riverside Drive; and in addition to the use of this she had an income of eight thousand a year—which was not enough to make possible a chauffeur, nor even to dress decently, but only enough to keep in debt upon. Such as the income was, however, she was willing to share it with me. So there opened before me a new profession— and a new insight into the complications of parasitism.
I went to see her frequently at first, partly because I was interested in her and her associates, and partly because I really thought I could help her. But I soon came to realize that influencing Claire was like moulding water; it flowed back round your hands, even while you worked. I would argue with her about the physiological effects of alcohol, and when I had convinced her, she would promise caution; but soon I would discover that my arguments had gone over her head. I was at this time feeling my way towards my work in the East. I tried to interest her in such things as social reform, but realized that they had no meaning for her. She was living the life of the pleasure-seeking idlers of the great metropolis, and every time I met her it seemed to me that her character and her appearance had deteriorated.
Meantime I picked up scraps of information concerning the van Tuivers. There were occasional items in the papers, their yacht, the "Triton," had reached the Azores; it had run into a tender in the harbour of Gibraltar; Mr. and Mrs. van Tuiver had received the honour of presentation at the Vatican; they were spending the season in London, and had been presented at court; they had been royal guests at the German army-manoeuvres. The million wage-slaves of the metropolis, packed morning and night into the roaring subways and whirled to and from their tasks, read items such as these and were thrilled by the triumphs of their fellow-countrymen.
At Claire's house I learned to be interested in "society" news. From a weekly paper of gossip about the rich and great she would read paragraphs, explaining subtle allusions and laying bare veiled scandals. Some of the men she knew well, referring to them for my benefit as Bertie and Reggie and Vivie and Algie. She also knew not a little about the women of that super-world—information sometimes of an intimate nature, which these ladies would have been startled to hear was going the rounds.
This insight I got into Claire's world I found useful, needless to say, in my occasional forays as a soap-box orator of Socialism. I would go from the super-heated luxury of her home to visit tenement-dens where little children made paper-flowers twelve and fourteen hours a day for a trifle over one cent an hour. I would spend the afternoon floating about in the park in the automobile of one of her expensive friends, and then take the subway and visit one of the settlements, to hear a discussion of conditions which doomed a certain number of working-girls to be burned alive every year in factory fires.
As time went on, I became savage concerning such contrasts, and the speeches I was making for the party began to attract attention. During the summer, I recollect, I had begun to feel hostile even towards the lovely image of Sylvia, which I had framed in my room. While she was being presented at St. James's, I was studying the glass-factories in South Jersey, where I found little boys of ten working in front of glowing furnaces until they dropped of exhaustion and sometimes had their eyes burned out. While she and her husband were guests of the German Emperor, I was playing the part of a Polish working-woman, penetrating the carefully guarded secrets of the sugar-trust's domain in Brooklyn, where human lives are snuffed out almost every day in noxious fumes.
And then in the early fall Sylvia came home, her honeymoon over. She came in one of the costly suites in the newest of the de luxe steamers; and the next morning I saw a new picture of her, and read a few words her husband had condescended to say to a fellow traveller about the courtesy of Europe to visiting Americans. Then for a couple of months I heard no more of them. I was busy with my child-labour work, and I doubt if a thought of Sylvia crossed my mind, until that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon at Mrs. Allison's when she came up to me and took my hand in hers.
6. Mrs. Roland Allison was one of the comfortable in body who had begun to feel uncomfortable in mind. I had happened to meet her at the settlement, and tell her what I had seen in the glass factories; whereupon she made up her mind that everybody she knew must hear me talk, and to that end gave a reception at her Madison Avenue home.
I don't remember much of what I said, but if I may take the evidence of Sylvia, who remembered everything, I spoke effectively. I told them, for one thing, the story of little Angelo Patri. Little Angelo was of that indeterminate Italian age where he helped to support a drunken father without regard to the child-labour laws of the State of New Jersey. His people were tenants upon a fruit-farm a couple of miles from the glass-factory, and little Angelo walked to and from his work along the railroad-track. It is a peculiarity of the glass-factory that it has to eat its children both by day and by night; and after working six hours before midnight and six more after midnight, little Angelo was tired. He had no eye for the birds and flowers on a beautiful spring morning, but as he was walking home, he dropped in his tracks and fell asleep. The driver of the first morning train on that branch-line saw what he took to be an old coat lying on the track ahead, and did not stop to investigate.
All this had been narrated to me by the child's mother, who had worked as a packer of "beers," and who had loved little Angelo. As I repeated her broken words about the little mangled body, I saw some of my auditors wipe away a surreptitious tear.
After I had stopped, several women came up to talk with me at the last, when most of the company was departing, there came one more, who had waited her turn. The first thing I saw was her loveliness, the thing about her that dazzled and stunned people, and then came the strange sense of familiarity. Where had I met this girl before?
She said what everybody always says; she had been so much interested, she had never dreamed that such conditions existed in the world. I, applying the acid test, responded, "So many people have said that to me that I have begun to believe it."
"It is so in my case," she replied, quickly. "You see, I have lived all my life in the South, and we have no such conditions there."
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Our negroes at least can steal enough to eat," she said.
I smiled. Then—since one has but a moment or two to get in one's work in these social affairs, and so has to learn to thrust quickly: "You have timber-workers in Louisiana, steel-workers in Alabama. You have tobacco-factories, canning-factories, cotton-mills—have you been to any of them to see how the people live?"
All this I said automatically, it being the routine of the agitator. But meantime in my mind was an excitement, spreading like a flame. The loveliness of this young girl; the eagerness, the intensity of feeling written upon her countenance; and above all, the strange sense of familiarity! Surely, if I had met her before, I should never have forgotten her; surely it could not be—not possibly—
My hostess came, and ended my bewilderment. "You ought to get Mrs. van Tuiver on your child-labour committee," she said.
A kind of panic seized me. I wanted to say, "Oh, it is Sylvia Castleman!" But then, how could I explain? I couldn't say, "I have your picture in my room, cut out of a newspaper." Still less could I say, "I know a friend of your husband."
Fortunately Sylvia did not heed my excitement. (She had learned by this time to pretend not to notice.) "Please don't misunderstand me," she was saying. "I really don't know about these things. And I would do something to help if I could." As she said this she looked with the red-brown eyes straight into mine—a gaze so clear and frank and honest, it was as if an angel had come suddenly to earth, and learned of the horrible tangle into which we mortals have got our affairs.
"Be careful what you're saying," put in our hostess, with a laugh. "You're in dangerous hands."
But Sylvia would not be warned. "I want to know more about it," she said. "You must tell me what I can do."
"Take her at her word," said Mrs. Allison, to me. "Strike while the iron is hot!" I detected a note of triumph in her voice; if she could say that she had got Mrs. van Tuiver to take up child-labour—that indeed would be a feather to wear!
"I will tell you all I can," I said. "That's my work in the world."
"Take Mrs. Abbott away with you," said the energetic hostess, to Sylvia; and before I quite understood what was happening, I had received and accepted an invitation to drive in the park with Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver. In her role of dea ex machina the hostess extricated me from the other guests, and soon I was established in a big new motor, gliding up Madison Avenue as swiftly and silently as a cloud-shadow over the fields. As I write the words there lies upon my table a Socialist paper with one of Will Dyson's vivid cartoons, representing two ladies of the great world at a reception. Says the first, "These social movements are becoming quite worth while!" "Yes, indeed," says the other. "One meets such good society!"
7. Sylvia's part in this adventure was a nobler one than mine, Seated as I was in a regal motor-car, and in company with one favoured of all the gods in the world, I must have had an intense conviction of my own saintliness not to distrust my excitement. But Sylvia, for her part, had nothing to get from me but pain. I talked of the factory-fires and the horrors of the sugar-refineries, and I saw shadow after shadow of suffering cross her face. You may say it was cruel of me to tear the veil from those lovely eyes, but in such a matter I felt myself the angel of the Lord and His vengeance.
"I didn't know about these things!" she cried again. And I found it was true. It would have been hard for me to imagine anyone so ignorant of the realities of modern life. The men and women she had met she understood quite miraculously, but they were only two kinds, the "best people" and their negro servants. There had been a whole regiment of relatives on guard to keep her from knowing anybody else, or anything else, and if by chance a dangerous fact broke into the family stockade, they had formulas ready with which to kill it.
"But now," Sylvia went on, "I've got some money, and I can help, so I dare not be ignorant any longer. You must show me the way, and my husband too. I'm sure he doesn't know what can be done."
I said that I would do anything in my power. Her help would be invaluable, not merely because of the money she might give, but because of the influence of her name; the attention she could draw to any cause she chose. I explained to her the aims and the methods of our child-labour committee. We lobbied to get new legislation; we watched officials to compel them to enforce the laws already existing; above all, we worked for publicity, to make people realise what it meant that the new generation was growing up without education, and stunted by premature toil. And that was where she could help us most—if she would go and see the conditions with her own eyes, and then appear before the legislative committee this winter, in favour of our new bill!
She turned her startled eyes upon me at this. Her ideas of doing good in the world were the old-fashioned ones of visiting and almsgiving; she had no more conception of modern remedies than she had of modern diseases. "Oh, I couldn't possibly make a speech!" she exclaimed.
"Why not?" I asked.
"I never thought of such a thing. I don't know enough."
"But you can learn."
"I know, but that kind of work ought to be done by men."
"We've given men a chance, and they have made the evils. Whose business is it to protect the children if not the women's?"
She hesitated a moment, and then said: "I suppose you'll laugh at me."
"No, no," I promised; then as I looked at her I guessed. "Are you going to tell me that woman's place is the home?"
"That is what we think in Castleman County," she said, smiling in spite of herself.
"The children have got out of the home," I replied. "If they are ever to get back, we women must go and fetch them."
Suddenly she laughed—that merry laugh that was the April sunshine of my life for many years. "Somebody made a Suffrage speech in our State a couple of years ago, and I wish you could have seen the horror of my people! My Aunt Nannie—she's Bishop Chilton's wife—thought it was the most dreadful thing that had happened since Jefferson Davis was put in irons. She talked about it for days, and at last she went upstairs and shut herself in the attic. The younger children came home from school, and wanted to know where mamma was. Nobody knew. Bye and bye, the cook came. 'Marse Basil, what we gwine have fo' dinner? I done been up to Mis' Nannie, an' she say g'way an' not pester her—she busy.' Company came, and there was dreadful confusion—nobody knew what to do about anything—and still Aunt Nannie was locked in! At last came dinner-time, and everybody else came. At last up went the butler, and came down with the message that they were to eat whatever they had, and take care of the company somehow, and go to prayer-meeting, and let her alone—she was writing a letter to the Castleman County Register on the subject of 'The Duty of Woman as a Homemaker'!"
8. This was the beginning of my introduction to Castleman County. It was a long time before I went there, but I learned to know its inhabitants from Sylvia's stories of them. Funny stories, tragic stories, wild and incredible stories out of a half-barbaric age! She would tell them and we would laugh together; but then a wistful look would come into her eyes, and a silence would fall. So very soon I made the discovery that my Sylvia was homesick. In all the years that I knew her she never ceased to speak of Castleman Hall as "home". All her standards came from there, her new ideas were referred there.
We talked of Suffrage for a while, and I spoke about the lives of women on lonely farms—how they give their youth and health to their husband's struggle, yet have no money partnership which they can enforce in case of necessity. "But surely," cried Sylvia, "you don't want to make divorce more easy!"
"I want to make the conditions of it fair to women," I said.
"But then more women will get it! And there are so many divorced women now! Papa says that divorce is a greater menace than Socialism!"
She spoke of Suffrage in England, where women were just beginning to make public disturbances. Surely I did not approve of their leaving their homes for such purposes as that! As tactfully as I could, I suggested that conditions in England were peculiar. There was, for example, the quaint old law which permitted a husband to beat his wife subject to certain restrictions. Would an American woman submit to such a law? There was the law which made it impossible for a woman to divorce her husband for infidelity, unless accompanied by desertion or cruelty. Surely not even her father would consider that a decent arrangement! I mentioned a recent decision of the highest court in the land, that a man who brought his mistress to live in his home, and compelled his wife to wait upon her, was not committing cruelty within the meaning of the English law. I heard Sylvia's exclamation of horror, and met her stare of incredulity; and then suddenly I thought of Claire, and a little chill ran over me. It was a difficult hour, in more ways than one, that of my first talk with Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver!
I soon made the discovery that, childish as her ignorance was, there was no prejudice in it. If you brought her a fact, she did not say that it was too terrible to be true, or that the Bible said otherwise, or that it was indecent to know about it. Nor, when you met her next, did you discover that she had forgotten it. On the contrary, you discovered that she had followed it to its remote consequences, and was ready with a score of questions as to these. I remember saying to myself, that first automobile ride: "If this girl goes on thinking, she will get into trouble! She will have to stop, for the sake of others!"
"You must meet my husband some time," she said; and added, "I'll have to see my engagement-book. I have so much to do, I never know when I have a moment free."
"You must find it interesting," I ventured.
"I did, for a while; but I've begun to get tired of so much going about. For the most part I meet the same people, and I've found out what they have to say."
I laughed. "You have caught the society complaint already—ennui!"
"I had it years ago, at home. It's true I never would have gone out at all if it hadn't been for the sake of my family. That's why I envy a woman like you—"
I could not help laughing. It was too funny, Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver envying me!
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"Just the irony of life. Do you know, I cut you out of the newspaper, and put you in a little frame on my bureau. I thought, here is the loveliest face I've ever seen, and here is the most-to-be-envied of women."
She smiled, but quickly became serious. "I learned very early in life that I was beautiful; and I suppose if I were suddenly to cease being beautiful, I'd miss it; yet I often think it's a nuisance. It makes one dependent on externals. Most of the beautiful women I've known make a sort of profession of it—they live to shine and be looked at.
"And you don't enjoy that?" I asked.
"It restricts one's life. Men expect it of you, they resent your having any other interest."
"So," I responded, gravely, "with all your beauty and wealth, you aren't perfectly happy?"
"Oh, yes!" she cried—not having meant to confess so much. "I told myself I would be happy, because I would be able to do so much good in the world. There must be some way to do good with money! But now I'm not sure; there seem to be so many things in the way. Just when you have your mind made up that you have a way to help, someone comes and points out to you that you may be really doing harm."
She hesitated again, and I said, "That means you have been looking into the matter of charity."
She gave me a bright glance. "How you understand things!" she exclaimed.
"It is possible," I replied, "to know modern society so well that when you meet certain causes you know what results to look for."
"I wish you'd explain to me why charity doesn't do any good!"
"It would mean a lecture on the competitive wage-system," I laughed—" too serious a matter for a drive!"
This may have seemed shirking on my part. But here I was, wrapped in luxurious furs, rolling gloriously through the park at twilight on a brilliant autumn evening; and the confiscation of property seems so much more startling a proposition when you are in immediate contact with it! This principle, which explains the "opportunism" of Socialist cabinet-ministers and Labour M.P.s may be used to account for the sudden resolve which I had taken, that for this afternoon at least Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver should not discover that I was either a divorced woman, or a soap-box orator of the revolution.
9. Sylvia, in that first conversation, told me much about herself that she did not know she was telling. I became fairly certain, for instance, that she had not married Mr. Douglas van Tuiver for love. The young girl who has so married does not suffer from ennui in the first year, nor does she find her happiness depending upon her ability to solve the problem of charity in connection with her husband's wealth.
She would have ridden and talked longer, she said, but for a dinner engagement. She asked me to call on her, and I promised to come some morning, as soon as she set a day. When the car drew up before the door of her home, I thought of my first ride about the city in the "rubber-neck wagon," and how I had stared when the lecturer pointed out this mansion. We, the passengers, had thrilled as one soul, imagining the wonderful life which must go on behind those massive portals, the treasures outshining the wealth of Ormus and of Ind, which required those thick, bronze bars for their protection. And here was the mistress of all the splendour, inviting me to come and see it from within!
She wanted to send me home in the car, but I would not have that, on account of the push-cart men and the babies in my street; I got out and walked—my heart beating fast, my blood leaping with exultation. I reached home, and there on the bureau was the picture—but behold, how changed! It was become a miracle of the art of colour-photography; its hair was golden, its eyes a wonderful red-brown, its cheeks aglow with the radiance of youth! And yet more amazing, the picture spoke! It spoke with the most delicious of Southern drawls—referring to the "repo't" of my child-labour committee, shivering at the cold and bidding me pull the "fu-uzz" up round me. And when I told funny stories about the Italians and the Hebrews of my tenement-neighbourhood, it broke into silvery laughter, and cried: "Oh, de-ah me! How que-ah!" Little had I dreamed, when I left that picture in the morning, what a miracle was to be wrought upon it.
I knew, of course, what was the matter with me; the symptoms were unmistakable. After having made up my mind that I was an old woman, and that there was nothing more in life for me save labour—here the little archer had come, and with the sharpest of his golden arrows, had shot me through. I had all the thrills, the raptures and delicious agonies of first love; I lived no longer in myself, but in the thought of another person. Twenty times a day I looked at my picture, and cried aloud: "Oh, beautiful, beautiful!"
I do not know how much of her I have been able to give. I have told of our first talk—but words are so cold and dead! I stop and ask: What there is, in all nature, that has given me the same feeling? I remember how I watched the dragon-fly emerging from its chrysalis. It is soft and green and tender; it clings to a branch and dries its wings in the sun, and when the miracle is completed, there for a brief space it poises, shimmering with a thousand hues, quivering with its new-born ecstasy. And just so was Sylvia; a creature from some other world than ours, as yet unsoiled by the dust and heat of reality. It came to me with a positive shock, as a terrifying thing, that there should be in this world of strife and wickedness any young thing that took life with such intensity, that was so palpitating with eagerness, with hope, with sympathy. Such was the impression that one got of her, even when her words most denied it. She might be saying world-weary and cynical things, out of the maxims of Lady Dee; but there was still the eagerness, the sympathy, surging beneath and lifting her words.
The crown of her loveliness was her unconsciousness of self. Even though she might be talking of herself, frankly admitting her beauty, she was really thinking of other people, how she could get to them to help them. This I must emphasize, because, apart from jesting, I would not have it thought that I had fallen under the spell of a beautiful countenance, combined with a motor-car and a patrician name. There were things about Sylvia that were aristocratic, that could be nothing else; but she could be her same lovely self in a cottage—as I shall prove to you before I finish with the story of her life.
I was in love. At that time I was teaching myself German, and I sat one day puzzling out two lines of Goethe:
"Oden and Thor, these two thou knowest; Freya, the heavenly, knowest thou not."
And I remember how I cried aloud in sudden delight: "I know her!" For a long time that was one of my pet names—"Freya dis Himmlische!" I only heard of one other that I preferred—when in course of time she told me about Frank Shirley, and how she had loved him, and how their hopes had been wrecked. He had called her "Lady Sunshine"; he had been wont to call it over and over in his happiness, and as Sylvia repeated it to me—"Lady Sunshine! Lady Sunshine!" I could imagine that I caught an echo of the very tones of Frank Shirley's voice.
10. For several days I waited upon the postman, and when the summons came I dodged a committee-meeting, and ascended the marble stairs with trepidation, and underwent the doubting scrutiny of an English lackey, sufficiently grave in deportment and habiliments to have waited upon a bishop in his own land. I have a vague memory of an entrance-hall with panelled paintings and a double-staircase with a snow-white carpet, about which I had read in the newspapers that it was woven in one piece, and had cost an incredible sum. One did not have to profane it with his feet, as there was an elevator provided.
I was shown to Sylvia's morning-room, which had been "done" in pink and white and gold by some decorator who had known her colours. It was large enough to have held half-a-dozen of my own quarters, and the sun was allowed to flood it. Through a door at one side came Sylvia, holding out her hands to me.
She was really glad to see me! She began to apologize at once for the time she had taken to write. It was because she had so much to do. She had married into a world that took itself seriously: the "idle rich," who worked like slaves. "You know," she said, while we sat on a pink satin couch, and a footman brought us coffee: "you read that Mrs. So-and-so is a 'social queen,' and you think it's a newspaper phrase, but it isn't; she really feels that she's a queen, and other people feel it, and she goes through her ceremonies as solemnly as the Lord's anointed."
She went on to tell me some of her adventures. She had a keen sense of fun, and was evidently suffering for an outlet for it. She saw through the follies and pretences of people in a flash, but they were all such august and important people that, out of regard for her husband, she dared not let them suspect her clairvoyant power.
She referred to her experiences abroad. She had not liked Europe—being quite frankly a provincial person. To Castleman County a foreigner was a strange, dark person who mixed up his consonants, and was under suspicion of being a fiddler or an opera-singer. The people she had met under her husband's charge had been socially indubitable, but still, they were foreigners, and Sylvia could never really be sure what they meant.
There was, for instance, the young son of a German steel-king, a person of amazing savoir faire, who had made bold to write books and exhibit pictures, and had travelled so widely that he had even heard of Castleman County. He had taken Sylvia to show her the sights of Berlin, and had rolled her down the "Sieges Alle," making outrageous fun of his Kaiser's taste in art, and coming at last to a great marble column, with a female figure representing Victory upon the top. "You will observe," said the cultured young plutocrat, "that the Grecian lady stands a hundred meters in the air, and has no stairway. There is a popular saying about her which is delightful—that she is the only chaste woman in Berlin!"
I had been through the culture-seeking stage, and knew my Henry James; so I could read between the lines of Sylvia's experiences. I figured her as a person walking on volcanic ground, not knowing her peril, but vaguely disquieted by a smell of sulphur in the air. And once in a while a crack would open in the ground! There was the Duke of Something in Rome, for example, a melancholy young man, with whom she had coquetted, as she did, in her merry fashion, with every man she met. Being married, she had taken it for granted that she might be as winsome as she chose; but the young Italian had misunderstood the game, and had whispered words of serious import, which had so horrified Sylvia that she flew to her husband and told him the story—begging him incidentally not to horse-whip the fellow. In reply it had to be explained to her she had laid herself liable to the misadventure. The ladies of the Italian aristocracy were severe and formal, and Sylvia had no right to expect an ardent young duke to understand her native wildness.
11. Something of that sort was always happening—something in each country to bewilder her afresh, and to make it necessary for her husband to remind her of the proprieties. In France, a cousin of van Tuiver's had married a marquis, and they had visited the chateau. The family was Catholic, of the very oldest and strictest, and the brother-in-law, a prelate of high degree, had invited the guests to be shown through his cathedral. "Imagine my bewilderment!" said Sylvia. "I thought I was going to meet a church dignitary, grave and reverent; but here was a wit, a man of the world. Such speeches you never heard! I was ravished by the grandeur of the building, and I said: 'If I had seen this, I would have come to you to be married.' 'Madame is an American,' he replied. 'Come the next time!' When I objected that I was not a Catholic, he said: 'Your beauty is its own religion!' When I protested that he would be doing me too great an honour, 'Madame,' said he, 'the honneur would be all to the church!' And because I was shocked at all this, I was considered to be a provincial person!"
Then they had come to London, a dismal, damp city where you "never saw the sun, and when you did see it it looked like a poached egg"; where you had to learn to eat fish with the help of a knife, and where you might speak of bitches, but must never on any account speak of your stomach. They went for a week-end to "Hazelhurst," the home of the Dowager Duchess of Danbury, whose son van Tuiver, had entertained in America, and who, in the son's absence, claimed the right to repay the debt. The old lady sat at table with two fat poodle dogs in infants' chairs, one on each side of her, feeding out of golden trays. There was a visiting curate, a frightened little man at the other side of one poodle; in an effort to be at ease he offered the wheezing creature a bit of bread. "Don't feed my dogs!" snapped the old lady. "I don't allow anybody to feed my dogs!"
And then there was the Honourable Reginald Annersley, the youngest son of the family, home from Eton on vacation. The Honourable Reginald was twelve years of age, undersized and ill-nourished. ("They feed them badly," his mother had explained, "an' the teachin's no good either, but it's a school for gentlemen.") "Honestly," said Sylvia, "he was the queerest little mannikin—like the tiny waiter's assistants you see in hotels on the Continent. He wore his Eton suit, you understand—grown-up evening clothes minus the coat-tails, and a top hat. He sat at tea and chatted with the mincing graces of a cotillion-leader; you expected to find some of his hair gone when he took off his hat! He spoke of his brother, the duke, who had gone off shooting seals somewhere. 'The jolly rotter has nothing to do but spend his money; but we younger sons have to work like dogs when we grow up!' I asked what he'd do, and he said 'I suppose there's nothin' but the church. It's a beastly bore, but you do get a livin' out of it.'
"That was too much for me," said Sylvia. "I proceeded to tell the poor, blas infant about my childhood; how my sister Celeste and I had caught half-tamed horses and galloped about the pasture on them, when we were so small that our little fat legs stuck out horizontally; how we had given ourselves convulsions in the green apple orchard, and had to be spanked every day before we had our hair combed. I told how we heard a war-story about a "train of gunpowder," and proceeded to lay such a train about the attic of Castleman Hall, and set fire to it. I might have spent the afternoon teaching the future churchman how to be a boy, if I hadn't suddenly caught a glimpse of my husband's face!"
12. I did not hear these stories all at once. I have put them together here because they make a little picture of her honeymoon, and also because they show how, without meaning it, she was giving me an account of her husband.
There had been even fewer adventures in the life of young Douglas van Tuiver than in the life of the Honourable Reginald Annersley. When one heard the details of the up-bringing of this "millionaire baby," one was able to forgive him for being self-centred. He had grown into a man who lived to fulfil his social duties, and he had taken to wife a girl who was reckless, high-spirited, with a streak of almost savage pride in her.
Sylvia's was the true aristocratic attitude towards the rest of the world. It could never have occurred to her to imagine that anywhere upon the whole earth there were people superior to the Castlemans of Castleman County. If you had been ignorant enough to suggest such an idea, you would have seen her eyes flash and her nostrils quiver; you would have been enveloped in a net of bewilderment and transfixed with a trident of mockery and scorn. That was what she had done in her husband-hunt. The trouble was that van Tuiver was not clever enough to realise this, and to trust her prowess against other beasts in the social jungle.
Strange to me were such inside glimpses into the life of these two favourites of the gods! I never grew weary of speculating about them, and the mystery of their alliance. How had Sylvia come to make this marriage? She was not happy with him; keen psychologist that she was, she must have foreseen that she would not be happy with him. Had she deliberately sacrificed herself, because of the good she imagined she could do to her family?
I was beginning to believe this. Irritated as she was by the solemn snobberies of van Tuiver's world, it was none the less true that she believed in money; she believed in it with a faith which appalled me as I came to realise it. Everybody had to have money; the social graces, the aristocratic virtues were impossible without it. The rich needed it—even the poor needed it! Could it be that the proud Castlemans of Castleman County had needed it also?
If that guess at her inmost soul was correct, then what a drama was her meeting with me! A person who despised money, who had proven it by grim deeds—and this a person of her own money-worshipping sex! What was the meaning of this phenomenon—this new religion that was challenging the priesthood of Mammon? So some Roman consul's daughter might have sat in her father's palace, and questioned in wonder a Christian slave woman, destined ere long to face the lions in the arena.
The exactness of this simile was not altered by the fact that in this case the slave woman was an agnostic, while the patrician girl had been brought up in the creed of Christ. Sylvia had long since begun to question the formulas of a church whose very pews were rented, and whose existence, she declared, had to be justified by charity to the poor. As we sat and talked, she knew this one thing quite definitely—that I had a religion, and she had none. That was the reason for the excitement which possessed her.
Nor was that fact ever out of my own mind for a moment. As she sat there in her sun-flooded morning-room, clad in an exquisite embroidered robe of pink Japanese silk, she was such a lovely thing that I was ready to cry out for joy of her; and yet there was something within me, grim and relentless, that sat on guard, warning me that she was of a different faith from mine, and that between those two faiths there could be no compromise. Some day she must find out what I thought of her husband's wealth, and the work it was doing in the world! Some day she must hear my real opinion of the religion of motor-cars and hand-woven carpets!
13. Nor was the day so very far off. She sat opposite me, leaning forward in her eagerness, declaring: "You must help to educate me. I shall never rest until I'm of some real use in the world."
"What have you thought of doing?" I inquired.
"I don't know yet. My husband has an aunt who's interested in a day-nursery for the children of working-women. I thought I might help this, but my husband says it does no good whatever—it only makes paupers of the poor. Do you think so?"
"I think more than that," I replied. "It sets women free to compete with men, and beat down men's wages."
"Oh, what a puzzle!" she exclaimed, and then: "Is there any way of helping the poor that wouldn't be open to the same objection?"
That brought us once more to the subject I had put aside at our last meeting. She had not forgotten it, and asked again for an explanation. What did I mean by the competitive wage system?
My purpose in this writing is to tell the story of Sylvia Castleman's life, to show, not merely what she was, but what she became. I have to make real to you a process of growth in her soul, and at this moment the important event is her discovery of the class-struggle and her reaction to it. You may say, perhaps, that you are not interested in the class-struggle, but you cannot alter the fact that you live in an age when millions of people are having the course of their lives changed by the discovery of it. Here, for instance, is a girl who has been taught to keep her promises, and has promised to love, honour and obey a man; she is to find the task more difficult, because she comes to understand the competitive wage-system while he does not understand it and does not wish to. If that seems to you strange material out of which to make a domestic drama, I can only tell you that you have missed some of the vital facts of your own time.
I gave her a little lesson in elementary economics. I showed her how, when a capitalist needed labour, he bought it in the open market, like any other commodity. He did not think about the human side of it, he paid the market-price, which came to be what the labourer had to have in order to live. No labourer could get more, because others would take less.
"If that be true," I continued, "one of the things that follows is the futility of charity. Whatever you do for the wage-worker on a general scale comes sooner or later out of his wages. If you take care of his children all day or part of the day, he can work for less; if he doesn't discover that someone else does, and underbids him and takes his place. If you feed his children at school, if you bury him free, if you insure his life, or even give him a dinner on Christmas Day, you simply enable his landlord to charge him more, or his employer to pay him less."
Sylvia sat for a while in thought, and then asked: "What can be done about such a fact?"
"The first thing to be done is to make sure that you understand it. Nine-tenths of the people who concern themselves with social questions don't, and so they waste their time in futilities. For instance, I read the other day an article by a benevolent old gentleman who believed that the social problem could be solved by teaching the poor to chew their food better, so that they would eat less. You may laugh at that, but it's not a bit more absurd than the idea of our men of affairs, that the thing to do is to increase the efficiency of the workers, and so produce more goods."
"You mean the working-man doesn't get more, even when he produces more?"
"Take the case of the glass factories. Men used to get eight dollars a day there, but someone invented a machine that did the work of a dozen men, and that machine is run by a boy for fifty cents a day."
A little pucker of thought came between her eyes. "Might there not be a law forbidding the employer to reduce wages?"
"A minimum wage law. But that would raise the cost of the product, and drive the trade to another state."
She suggested a national law, and when I pointed out that the trade would go to other countries, she fell back on the tariff. I felt like an embryologist—watching the individual repeating the history of the race!
"Protection and prosperity!" I said, with a smile. "Don't you see the increase in the cost of living? The working-man gets more money in his pay envelope, but he can't buy more with it because prices go up. And even supposing you could pass a minimum wage law, and stop competition in wages, you'd only change it to competition in efficiency—you'd throw the old and the feeble and the untrained into pauperism."
"You make the world seem a hard place to live in," protested Sylvia.
"I'm simply telling you the elementary facts of business. You can forbid the employer to pay less than a standard wage, but you can't compel him to employ people who aren't able to earn that wage. The business-man doesn't employ for fun, he does it for the profit there is in it."
"If that is true," said Sylvia, quickly, "then the way of employing people is cruel."
"But what other way could you have?"
She considered. "They could be employed so that no one would make a profit. Then surely they could be paid enough to live decently!"
"But whose interest would it be to employ them without profit?"
"The State should do it, if no one else will."
I had been playing a game with Sylvia, as no doubt you have perceived. "Surely," I said, "you wouldn't approve anything like that!"
"But why not?"
"Because, it would be Socialism."
She looked at me startled. "Is that Socialism?"
"Of course it is. It's the essence of Socialism."
"But then—what's the harm in it?"
I laughed. "I thought you said that Socialism was a menace, like divorce!"
I had my moment of triumph, but then I discovered how fond was the person who imagined that he could play with Sylvia. "I suspect you are something of a Socialist yourself," she remarked.
She told me a long time afterwards what had been her emotions during these early talks. It was the first time in her life that she had ever listened to ideas that were hostile to her order, and she did so with tremblings and hesitations, combating at every step an impulse to flee to the shelter of conventionality. She was more shocked by my last revelation than she let me suspect. It counted for little that I had succeeded in trapping her in proposing for herself the economic programme of Socialism, for what terrifies her class is not our economic programme, it is our threat of slave-rebellion. I had been brought up in a part of the world where democracy is a tradition, a word to conjure with, and I supposed that this would be the case with any American—that I would only have to prove that Socialism was democracy applied to industry. How could I have imagined the kind of "democracy" which had been taught to Sylvia by her Uncle Mandeville, the politician of the family, who believed that America was soon to have a king, to keep the "foreign riff-raff" in its place!
14. At this time I was living in a three-roomed apartment in one of the new "model tenements" on the East Side. I had a saying about the place, that it was "built for the proletariat and occupied by cranks." What an example for Sylvia of the futility of charity—the effort on the part of benevolent capitalists to civilise the poor by putting bath-tubs in their homes, and the discovery that the graceless creatures were using them for the storage of coals!
Having heard these strange stories, Sylvia was anxious to visit me, and I was, of course, glad to invite her. I purchased a fancy brand of tea, and some implements for the serving of it, and she came, and went into raptures over my three rooms and bath, no one of which would have made more than a closet in her own apartments. I suspected that this was her Southern noblesse oblige, but I knew also that in my living room there were some rows of books, which would have meant more to Sylvia van Tuiver just then than the contents of several clothes-closets.
I was pleased to discover that my efforts had not been wasted. She had been thinking, and she had even found time, in the midst of her distractions, to read part of a book. In the course of our talks I had mentioned Veblen, and she had been reading snatches of his work on the Leisure Class, and I was surprised, and not a little amused, to observe her reaction to it.
When I talked about wages and hours of labour, I was dealing with things that were remote from her, and difficult to make real; but Veblen's theme, the idle rich, and the arts and graces whereby they demonstrate their power, was the stuff of which her life was made. The subtleties of social ostentation, the minute distinctions between the newly-rich and the anciently-rich, the solemn certainties of the latter and the quivering anxieties of the former—all those were things which Sylvia knew as a bird knows the way of the wind. To see the details of them analysed in learned, scientific fashion, explained with great mouthfuls of words which one had to look up in the dictionary—that was surely a new discovery in the book-world! "Conspicuous leisure!" "Vicarious consumption of goods!" "Oh, de-ah me, how que-ah!" exclaimed Sylvia.
And what a flood of anecdotes it let loose! A flood that bore us straight back to Castleman Hall, and to all the scenes of her young ladyhood! If only Lady Dee could have revised this book of Veblen's, how many points she could have given to him! No details had been too minute for the technique of Sylvia's great-aunt—the difference between the swish of the right kind of silk petticoats and the wrong kind; and yet her technique had been broad enough to take in a landscape. "Every girl should have a background," had been one of her maxims, and Sylvia had to have a special phaeton to drive, a special horse to ride, special roses which no one else was allowed to wear.
"Conspicuous expenditure of time," wrote Veblen. It was curious, said Sylvia, but nobody was free from this kind of vanity. There was dear old Uncle Basil, a more godly bishop never lived, and yet he had a foible for carving! In his opinion the one certain test of a gentleman was the ease with which he found the joints of all kinds of meat, and he was in arms against the modern tendency to turn such accomplishments over to butlers. He would hold forth on the subject, illustrating his theories with an elegant knife, and Sylvia remembered how her father and the Chilton boys had wired up the joints of a duck for the bishop to work on. In the struggle the bishop had preserved his dignity, but lost the duck, and the bishop's wife, being also high-born, and with a long line of traditions behind her, had calmly continued the conversation, while the butler removed the smoking duck from her lap!
Such was the way of things at Castleman Hall! The wild, care-free people—like half-grown children, romping their way through life! There was really nothing too crazy for them to do, if the whim struck them. Once a visiting cousin had ventured the remark that she saw no reason why people should not eat rats; a barn-rat was clean in its person, and far choicer in its food than a pig. Thereupon "Miss Margaret" had secretly ordered the yard-man to secure a barn-rat; she had had it broiled, and served in a dish of squirrels, and had sat by and watched the young lady enjoy it! And this, mind you, was Mrs. Castleman of Castleman Hall, mother of five children, and as stately a dame as ever led the grand march at the Governor's inaugural ball! "Major Castleman," she would say to her husband, "you may take me into my bedroom, and when you have locked the door securely, you may spit upon me, if you wish; but don't you dare even to imagine anything undignified about me in public!"
15. In course of time Sylvia and I became very good friends. Proud as she was, she was lonely, and in need of some one to open her eager mind to. Who was there safer to trust than this plain Western woman, who lived so far, both in reality and in ideas, from the great world of fashion?
Before we parted she considered it necessary to mention my relationship to this world. She had a most acute social conscience. She knew exactly what formalities she owed to everyone, just when she ought to call, and how long she ought to stay, and what she ought to ask the other person to do in return; she assumed that the other knew it all exactly as well, and would suffer if she failed in the slightest degree.
So now she had to throw herself upon my mercy. "You see," she explained, "my husband wouldn't understand. I may be able to change him gradually, but if I shock him all at once—"
"My dear Mrs. van Tuiver—" I smiled.
"You can't really imagine!" she persisted. "You see, he takes his social position so seriously! And when you are conspicuous—when everybody's talking about what you do—when everything that's the least bit unusual is magnified—"
"My dear girl!" I broke in again. "Stop a moment and let me talk!"
"But I hate to have to think—"
"Don't worry about my thoughts! They are most happy ones! You must understand that a Socialist cannot feel about such things as you do; we work out our economic interpretation of them, and after that they are simply so much data to us. I might meet one of your great friends, and she might snub me, but I would never think she had snubbed me—it would be my Western accent, and my forty-cent hat, and things like that which had put me in a class in her mind. My real self nobody can snub—certainly not until they've got at it."
"Ah!" said Sylvia, with shining eyes. "You have your own kind of aristocracy, I see!"
"What I want," I said, "is you. I'm an old hen whose chickens have grown up and left her, and I want something to mother. Your wonderful social world is just a bother to me, because it keeps me from gathering you into my arms as I'd like to. So what you do is to think of some role for me to play, so that I can come to see you; let me be advising you about your proposed day-nursery, or let me be a tutor of something, or a nice, respectable sewing-woman who darns the toes of your silk stockings!"
She laughed. "If you suppose that I'm allowed to wear my stockings until they have holes in them, you don't understand the perquisites of maids." She thought a moment, and then added: "You might come to trim hats for me."
By that I knew that we were really friends. If it does not seem to you a bold thing for Sylvia to have made a joke about my hat, it is only because you do not yet know her. I have referred to her money-consciousness and her social-consciousness; I would be idealizing her if I did not refer to another aspect of her which appalled me when I came to realise it—her clothes-consciousness. She knew every variety of fabric and every shade of colour and every style of design that ever had been delivered of the frenzied sartorial imagination. She had been trained in all the infinite minutiae which distinguished the right from the almost right; she would sweep a human being at one glance, and stick him in a pigeon hole of her mind for ever—because of his clothes. When later on she had come to be conscious of this clothes-consciousness, she told me that ninety-nine times out of a hundred she had found this method of appraisal adequate for the purposes of society life. What a curious comment upon our civilization—that all that people had to ask of one another, all they had to give to one another, should be expressible in terms of clothes!
16. I had set out to educate Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver in the things I thought she needed to know. A part of my programme was to find some people of modern sympathies whom she might meet without offence to her old prejudices. The first person I thought of was Mrs. Jessie Frothingham, who was the head of a fashionable girls' school, just around the corner from Miss Abercrombie's where Sylvia herself had received the finishing touch. Mrs. Frothingham's was as exclusive and expensive a school as the most proper person could demand, and great was Sylvia's consternation when I told her that its principal was a member of the Socialist party, and made no bones about speaking in public for us.
How in the world did she manage it? For one thing, I answered, she ran a good school—nobody had ever been heard to deny that. For another, she was an irresistibly serene and healthy person, who would look one of her millionaire "papas" in the eye and tell him what was what with so much decision; it would suddenly occur to the great man that if his daughter could be made into so capable a woman, he would not care what ticket she might vote.
Then too, it was testimony to the headway we are making that we are ceasing to be dangerous, and getting to be picturesque. In these days of strenuous social competition, when mammas are almost at their wits' end for some new device, when it costs incredible sums to make no impression at all—here was offered a new and inexpensive way of being unique. There could be no question that men were getting to like serious women; the most amazing subjects were coming up at dinner-parties, and you might hear the best people speak disrespectfully of their own money, which means that the new Revolution will have not merely its "Egalit Orleans," but also some of the ladies of his family!
I telephoned from Sylvia's house to Mrs. Frothingham, who answered: "Wouldn't you like Mrs. van Tuiver to hear a speech? I am to speak next week at the noon-day Wall Street meeting." I passed the question on, and Sylvia answered with an exclamation of delight: "Would a small boy like to attend a circus?"
It was arranged that Sylvia was to take us in her car. You may picture me with my grand friends—an old speckled hen in the company of two golden pheasants. I kept very quiet and let them get acquainted, knowing that my cause was safe in the hands of one so perfectly tailored as Mrs. Frothingham.
Sylvia expressed her delight at the idea of hearing a Socialist speech, and her amazement that the head of Mrs. Frothingham's should be so courageous, and meantime we threaded our way through the tangle of trucks and surface-cars on Broadway, and came to the corner of Wall Street. Here Mrs. Frothingham said she would get out and walk; it was quite likely that someone might recognise Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver, and she ought not to be seen arriving with the speaker. Sylvia, who would not willingly have committed a breach of etiquette towards a bomb-throwing anarchist, protested at this, but Mrs. Frothingham laughed good-naturedly, saying that it would be time enough for Mrs. van Tuiver to commit herself when she knew what she believed.
The speaking was to be from the steps of the Sub-treasury. We made a dtour, and came up Broad Street, stopping a little way from the corner. These meetings had been held all through the summer and fall, so that people had learned to expect them; although it lacked some minutes of noon, there was already a crowd gathered. A group of men stood upon the broad steps, one with a red banner and several others with armfuls of pamphlets and books. With them was our friend, who looked at us and smiled, but gave no other sign of recognition.
Sylvia pushed back the collar of her sable coat, and sat erect in her shining blue velvet, her eyes and her golden hair shining beneath the small brim of a soft velvet hat. As she gazed eagerly at the busy throngs of men hurrying about this busy corner, she whispered to me: "I haven't been so excited since my dbut party!"
The crowd increased until it was difficult to get through Wall Street. The bell of Old Trinity was tolling the hour of noon, and the meeting was about to begin, when suddenly I heard an exclamation from Sylvia, and turning, saw a well-dressed man pushing his way from the office of Morgan and Company towards us. Sylvia clutched my hand where it lay on the seat of the car, and half gasped: "My husband!"
17. Of course I had been anxious to see Douglas van Tuiver. I had heard Claire Lepage's account of him, and Sylvia's, also I had seen pictures of him in the newspapers, and had studied them with some care, trying to imagine what sort of personage he might be. I knew that he was twenty-four, but the man who came towards us I would have taken to be forty. His face was sombre, with large features and strongly marked lines about the mouth; he was tall and thin, and moved with decision, betraying no emotion even in this moment of surprise. "What are you doing here?" were his first words.
For my part, I was badly "rattled"; I knew by the clutch of Sylvia's hand that she was too. But here I got a lesson in the nature of "social training." Some of the bright colour had faded from her face, but she spoke with the utmost coolness, the words coming naturally and simply: "We can't get through the crowd." And at the same time she looked about her, as much as to say: "You can see for yourself." (One of the maxims of Lady Dee had set forth that a lady never told a lie if she could avoid it.)
Sylvia's husband looked about, saying: "Why don't you call an officer?" He started to follow his own suggestion, and I thought then that my friend would miss her meeting. But she had more nerve than I imagined.
"No," she said. "Please don't."
"Why not?" Still there was no emotion in the cold, grey eyes.
"Because—I think there's something going on."
"What of that?"
"I'm not in a hurry, and I'd like to see."
He stood for a moment looking at the crowd. Mrs. Frothingham had come forward, evidently intending to speak. "What is this, Ferris?" he demanded of the chauffeur.
"I'm not sure, sir," said the man. "I think it's a Socialist meeting." (He was, of course, not missing the little comedy. I wondered what he thought!)
"A Socialist meeting?" said van Tuiver; then, to his wife: "You don't want to stay for that!"
Again Sylvia astonished me. "I'd like to very much," she answered simply.
He made no reply. I saw him stare at her, and then I saw his glance take me in. I sat in a corner as inconspicuous as I could make myself. I wondered whether I was a sempstress or a tutor, and whether either of these functionaries were introduced, and whether they shook hands or not.
Mrs. Frothingham had taken her stand at the base of Washington's statue. Had she by any chance identified the tall and immaculate gentleman who stood beside the automobile? Before she had said three sentences I made sure that she had done so, and I was appalled at her audacity.
"Fellow citizens," she began—"fellow-buccaneers of Wall Street." And when the mild laughter had subsided: "What I have to say is going to be addressed to one individual among you—the American millionaire. I assume there is one present—if no actual millionaire, then surely several who are destined to be, and not less than a thousand who aspire to be. So hear me, Mr. Millionaire," this with a smile, which gave you a sense of a reserve fund of energy and good humour. She had the crowd with her from the start—all but one. I stole a glance at the millionaire, and saw that he was not smiling.
"Won't you get in?" asked his wife, and he answered coldly: "No, I'll wait till you've had enough."
"Last summer I had a curious experience," said the speaker. "I was a guest at a tennis match, played upon the grounds of a State insane-asylum, the players being the doctors of the institution. Here, on a beautiful sunshiny afternoon, were ladies and gentlemen clad in festive white, enjoying a holiday, while in the background stood a frowning building with iron-barred gates and windows, from which one heard now and then the howlings of the maniacs. Some of the less fortunate of these victims of fate had been let loose, and while we played tennis, they chased the balls. All afternoon, while I sipped tea and chatted and watched the games, I said to myself: 'Here is the most perfect simile of our civilization that has ever come to me. Some people wear white and play tennis all day, while other people chase the balls, or howl in dungeons in the background!' And that is the problem I wish to put before my American millionaire—the problem of what I will call our lunatic- asylum stage of civilization. Mind you, this condition is all very well so long as we can say that the lunatics are incurable—that there is nothing we can do but shut our ears to their howling, and go ahead with our tennis. But suppose the idea were to dawn upon us that it is only because we played tennis all day that the lunatic- asylum is crowded, then might not the howls grow unendurable to us, and the game lose its charm?"
Stealing glances about me, I saw that several people were watching the forty-or-fifty-times-over millionaire; they had evidently recognised him, and were enjoying the joke. "Haven't you had enough of this?" he suddenly demanded of his wife, and she answered, guilelessly: "No, let's wait. I'm interested."
"Now, listen to me, Mr. American Millionaire," the speaker was continuing. "You are the one who plays tennis, and we, who chase the balls for you—we are the lunatics. And my purpose to-day is to prove to you that it is only because you play tennis all day that we have to chase balls all the day, and to tell you that some time soon we are going to cease to be lunatics, and that then you will have to chase your own balls! And don't, in your amusement over this illustration, lose sight of the serious nature of what I am talking about—the horrible economic lunacy which is known as poverty, and which is responsible for most of the evils we have in this world to-day—for crime and prostitution, suicide, insanity and war. My purpose is to show you, not by any guess of mine, or any appeals to your faith, but by cold business facts which can be understood in Wall Street, that this economic lunacy is one which can be cured; that we have the remedy in our hands, and lack nothing but the intelligence to apply it."
18. I do not want to bore you with a Socialist speech. I only want to give you an idea of the trap into which Mr. Douglas van Tuiver had been drawn. He stood there, rigidly aloof while the speaker went on to explain the basic facts of wealth-production in modern society. She quoted from Kropotkin: "'Fields, Factories and Work- shops,' on sale at this meeting for a quarter!"—showing how by modern intensive farming—no matter of theory, but methods which were in commercial use in hundreds of places—it would be possible to feed the entire population of the globe from the soil of the British Isles alone. She showed by the bulletins of the United States Government how the machine process had increased the productive power of the individual labourer ten, twenty, a hundred fold. So vast was man's power of producing wealth today, and yet the labourer lived in dire want just as in the days of crude hand-industry!
So she came back to her millionaire, upon whom this evil rested. He was the master of the machine for whose profit the labourer had to produce. He could only employ the labourer to produce what could be sold at a profit; and so the stream of prosperity was choked at its source. "It is you, Mr. Millionaire, who are to blame for poverty; it is because so many millions of dollars must be paid to you in profits that so many millions of men must live in want. In other words, precisely as I declared at the outset, it is your playing tennis which is responsible for the lunatics chasing the balls!"
I wish that I might give some sense of the speaker's mastery of this situation, the extent to which she had communicated her good-humour to the crowd. You heard ripple after ripple of laughter, you saw everywhere about you eager faces, following every turn of the argument. No one could resist the contagion of interest—save only the American millionaire! He stood impassive, never once smiling, never once betraying a trace of feeling. Venturing to watch him more closely, however, I could see the stern lines deepening about his mouth, and his long, lean face growing more set.
The speaker had outlined the remedy—a change from the system of production for profit to one of production for use. She went on to explain how the change was coming; the lunatic classes were beginning to doubt the divine nature of the rules of the asylum, and they were preparing to mutiny, and take possession of the place. And here I saw that Sylvia's husband had reached his limit. He turned to her: "Haven't you had enough of this?"
"Why, no," she began. "If you don't mind—"
"I do mind very much," he said, abruptly. "I think you are committing a breach of taste to stay here, and I would be greatly obliged if you would leave."
And without really waiting for Sylvia's reply, he directed, "Back out of here, Ferris."
The chauffeur cranked up, and sounded his horn—which naturally had the effect of disturbing the meeting. People supposed we were going to try to get through the crowd ahead—and there was no place where anyone could move. But van Tuiver went to the rear of the car, saying, in a voice of quiet authority: "A little room here, please." And so, foot by foot, we backed away from the meeting, and when we had got clear of the throng, the master of the car stepped in, and we turned and made our way down Broad Street.
And now I was to get a lesson in the aristocratic ideal. Of course van Tuiver was angry; I believe he even suspected his wife of having known of the meeting. I supposed he would ask some questions; I supposed that at least he would express his opinion of the speech, his disgust that a woman of education should make such a spectacle of herself. Such husbands as I had been familiar with had never hesitated to vent their feelings under such circumstances. But from Douglas van Tuiver there came—not a word! He sat, perfectly straight, staring before him, like a sphinx; and Sylvia, after one or two swift glances at him, began to gossip cheerfully about her plans for the day-nursery for working-women!
So for a few blocks, until suddenly she leaned forward. "Stop here, Ferris." And then, turning to me, "Here is the American Trust Company."
"The American Trust Company?" I echoed, in my dumb stupidity.
"Yes—that is where the check is payable," said Sylvia, and gave me a pinch.
And so I comprehended, and gathered up my belongings and got out. She shook my hand warmly, and her husband raised his hat in a very formal salute, after which the car sped on up the street. I stood staring after it, in somewhat the state of mind of any humble rustic who may have been present when Elijah was borne into the heavens by the chariot of fire!
19. Sylvia had been something less than polite to me; and so I had not been home more than an hour before there came a messenger-boy with a note. By way of reassuring her, I promised to come to see her the next morning; and when I did, and saw her lovely face so full of concern, I forgot entirely her worldly greatness, and did what I had longed to do from the beginning—put my arms about her and kissed her.
"My dear girl," I protested, "I don't want to be a burden in your life—I want to help you!'"
"But," she exclaimed, "what must you have thought—"
"I thought I had made a lucky escape!" I laughed.
She was proud—proud as an Indian; it was hard for her to make admissions about her husband. But then—we were like two errant school-girls, who had been caught m an escapade! "I don't know what I'm going to do about him," she said, with a wry smile. "He really won't listen—I can't make any impression on him."
"Did he guess that you'd come there on purpose?" I asked.
"I told him," she answered.
"You told him!"
"I'd meant to keep it secret—I wouldn't have minded telling him a fib about a little thing. But he made it so very serious!"
I could understand that it must have been serious after the telling. I waited for her to add what news she chose.
"It seems," she said, "that my husband has a cousin, a pupil of Mrs. Frothingham's. You can imagine!"
"I can imagine Mrs. Frothingham may lose a pupil."
"No; my husband says his Uncle Archibald always was a fool. But how can anyone be so narrow! He seemed to take Mrs. Frothingham as a personal affront."
This was the most definite bit of vexation against her husband that she had ever let me see. I decided to turn it into a jest. "Mrs. Frothingham will be glad to know she was understood," I said.
"But seriously, why can't men have open minds about politics and money?" She went on in a worried voice: "I knew he was like this when I met him at Harvard. He was living in his own house, aloof from the poorer men—the men who were most worth while, it seemed to me. And when I told him of the bad effect he was having on these men and on his own character as well, he said he would do whatever I asked—he even gave up his house and went to live in a dormitory. So I thought I had some influence on him. But now, here is the same thing again, only I find that one can't take a stand against one's husband. At least, he doesn't admit the right." She hesitated. "It doesn't seem loyal to talk about it."
"My dear girl," I said with an impulse of candour, "there isn't much you can tell me about that problem. My own marriage went to pieces on that rock."
I saw a look of surprise upon her face. "I haven't told you my story yet," I said. "Some day I will—when you feel you know me well enough for us to exchange confidences."
There was more than a hint of invitation in this. After a silence, she said: "One's instinct is to hide one's troubles."
"Sylvia," I answered, "let me tell you about us. You must realise that you've been a wonderful person to me; you belong to a world I never had anything to do with, and never expected to get a glimpse of. It's the wickedness of our class-civilization that human beings can't be just human beings to each other—a king can hardly have a friend. Even after I've overcome the impulse I have to be awed by your luxury and your grandness; I'm conscious of the fact that everybody else is awed by them. If I so much as mention that I've met you, I see people start and stare at me—instantly I become a personage. It makes me angry, because I want to know you."
She was gazing at me, not saying a word. I went on: "I'd never have thought it possible for anyone to be in your position and be real and straight and human, but I realise that you have managed to work that miracle. So I want to love you and help you, in every way I know how. But you must understand, I can't ask for your confidence, as I could for any other woman's. There is too much vulgar curiosity about the rich and great, and I can't pretend to be unaware of that hatefulness; I can't help shrinking from it. So all I can say is—if you need me, if you ever need a real friend, why, here I am; you may be sure I understand, and won't tell your secrets to anyone else."
With a little mist of tears in her eyes, Sylvia put out her hand and touched mine. And so we went into a chamber alone together, and shut the cold and suspicious world outside.
20. We knew each other well enough now to discuss the topic which has been the favourite of women since we sat in the doorways of caves and pounded wild grain in stone mortars—the question of our lords, who had gone hunting, and who might be pleased to beat us on their return. I learned all that Sylvia had been taught on the subject of the male animal; I opened that amazing unwritten volume of woman traditions, the maxims of Lady Dee Lysle.
Sylvia's maternal great-aunt had been a great lady out of a great age, and incidentally a grim and grizzled veteran of the sex-war. Her philosophy started from a recognition of the physical and economic inferiority of woman, as complete as any window-smashing suffragette could have formulated, but her remedy for it was a purely individualist one, the leisure-class woman's skill in trading upon her sex. Lady Dee did not use that word, of course—she would as soon have talked of her esophagus. Her formula was "charm," and she had taught Sylvia that the preservation of "charm" was the end of woman's existence, the thing by which she remained a lady, and without which she was more contemptible than the beasts.
She had taught this, not merely by example and casual anecdote, but by precepts as solemnly expounded as bible-texts. "Remember, my dear, a woman with a husband is like a lion-tamer with a whip!" And the old lady would explain what a hard and dangerous life was lived by lion-tamers, how their safety depended upon life-long distrustfulness of the creatures over whom they ruled. She would tell stories of the rending and maiming of luckless ones, who had forgotten for a brief moment the nature of the male animal! "Yes, my dear," she would say, "believe in love; but let the man believe first!" Her maxims never sinned by verbosity.
The end of all this was not merely food and shelter, a home and children, it was the supremacy of a sex, its ability to shape life to its whim. By means of this magic "charm"—a sort of perpetual individual sex-strike—a woman turned her handicaps into advantages and her chains into ornaments; she made herself a rare and wonderful creature, up to whom men gazed in awe. It was "romantic love," but preserved throughout life, instead of ceasing with courtship.
All the Castleman women understood these arts, and employed them. There was Aunt Nannie, when she cracked her whip the dear old bishop-lion would jump as if he had been shot! Did not the whole State know the story of how once he had been called upon at a banquet and had risen and remarked: "Ladies and gentlemen, I had intended to make a speech to you this evening, but I see that my wife is present, so I must beg you to excuse me." The audience roared, and Aunt Nannie was furious, but poor dear Bishop Chilton had spoken but the literal truth, that he could not spread the wings of his eloquence in the presence of his "better half."
And with Major Castleman, though it seemed different, it was really the same. Sylvia's mother had let herself get stout—which seemed a dangerous mark of confidence in the male animal. But the major was fifteen years older than his wife, and she had a weak heart with which to intimidate him. Now and then the wilfulness of Castleman Lysle would become unendurable in the house, and his father would seize him and turn him over his knee. His screams would bring "Miss Margaret" flying to the rescue: "Major Castleman, how dare you spank one of my children?" And she would seize the boy and march off in terrible haughtiness, and lock herself and her child in her room, and for hours afterwards the poor major would wander about the house, suffering the lonelines of the guilty soul. You would hear him tapping gently at his lady's door. "Honey! Honey! Are you mad with me?" "Major Castleman," the stately answer would come, "will you oblige me by leaving one room in this house to which I may retire?"
21. I would give you a wrong idea of Sylvia if I did not make clear that along with this sophistication as to the play-aspects of sex, there went the most incredible ignorance as to its practical realities. In my arguments I had thought to appeal to her by referring to that feature of wage-slavery which more than even child-labour stirs the moral sense of women, but to my utter consternation I discovered that here was a woman nearly a year married who did not know what prostitution was. A suspicion had begun to dawn upon her, and she asked me, timidly: Could it be possible that that intimacy which was given in marriage could become a thing of barter in the market-place? When I told her the truth, I found her horror so great that it was impossible to go on talking economics. How could I say that women were driven to such things by poverty? Surely a woman who was not bad at heart would starve, before she would sell her body to a man!