A Social Study
New York and London Harper & Brothers Publishers
A MORNING CALL
A French clock on the mantel-piece, framed of brass and crystal, which betrayed its inner structure as the transparent sides of some insects betray their vital processes, struck ten with the mellow and lingering clangor of a distant cathedral bell. A gentleman, who was seated in front of the fire reading a newspaper, looked up at the clock to see what hour it was, to save himself the trouble of counting the slow, musical strokes. The eyes he raised were light gray, with a blue glint of steel in them, shaded by lashes as black as jet. The hair was also as black as hair can be, and was parted near the middle of his forehead. It was inclined to curl, but had not the length required by this inclination. The dark brown mustache was the only ornament the razor had spared on the wholesome face, the outline of which was clear and keen. The face suited the hands—it had the refinement and gentleness of one delicately bred, and the vigorous lines and color of one equally at home in field and court; and the hands had the firm, hard symmetry which showed they had done no work, and the bronze tinge which is the imprint wherewith sky and air mark their lovers. His clothes were of the fashion seen in the front windows of the Knickerbocker Club in the spring of the year 187-, and were worn as easily as a self-respecting bird wears his feathers. He seemed, in short, one of those fortunate natures, who, however born, are always bred well, and come by prescription to most of the good things the world can give.
He sat in a room marked, like himself, with a kind of serious elegance—one of those apartments which seem to fit the person like a more perfect dress. All around the walls ran dwarf book-cases of carved oak, filled with volumes bound in every soft shade of brown and tawny leather, with only enough of red and green to save the shelves from monotony. Above these the wall space was covered with Cordovan leather, stamped with gold fleurs-de-lis to within a yard of the top, where a frieze of palm-leaves led up to a ceiling of blue and brown and gold. The whole expression of the room was of warmth and good manners. The furniture was of oak and stamped leather. The low book-cases were covered with bronzes, casts, and figurines, of a quality so uniformly good that none seemed to feel the temptation either to snub or to cringe to its neighbor. The Owari pots felt no false shame beside the royal Satsuma; and Barbedienne's bronzes, the vases of Limoges and Lambeth and bowls from Nankin and Corea dwelt together in the harmony of a varied perfection.
It was an octagon room, with windows on each side of the fire-place, in which a fire of Ohio coal was leaping and crackling with a cheerful and unctuous noisiness. Out of one window yon could see a pretty garden of five or six acres behind the house, and out of the other a carefully kept lawn, extending some hundred yards from the front door to the gates of hammered iron which opened upon a wide-paved avenue. This street was the glory of Buff-land, a young and thriving city on Lake Erie, which already counted a population of over two hundred thousand souls. The people of Clairfield, a rival town, denied that there was anything like so many inhabitants, and added that "the less we say about 'souls' the better." But this was pure malice; Buffland was a big city. Its air was filled with the smoke and odors of vast and successful trade, and its sky was reddened by night with the glare of its furnaces, rising like the hot breath of some prostrate Titan, conquered and bowed down by the pitiless cunning of men. Its people were, as a rule, rich and honest, especially in this avenue of which I have spoken. If you have ever met a Bufflander, you have heard of Algonquin Avenue. He will stand in the Champs Elysees, when all the vice and fashion of Europe are pouring down from the Place of the Star in the refluent tide that flows from Boulogne Wood to Paris, and calmly tell you that "Algonquin Avenue in the sleighing season can discount this out of sight." Something is to be pardoned to the spirit of liberty; and the avenue is certainly a fine one. It is three miles long and has hardly a shabby house in it, while for a mile or two the houses upon one side, locally called "the Ridge," are unusually line, large, and costly. They are all surrounded with well-kept gardens and separated from the street by velvet lawns which need scarcely fear comparison with the emerald wonders which centuries of care have wrought from the turf of England. The house of which we have seen one room was one of the best upon this green and park-like thoroughfare. The gentleman who was sitting by the fire was Mr. Arthur Farnham. He was the owner and sole occupant of the large stone house—a widower of some years' standing, although he was yet young. His parents had died in his childhood. He had been an officer in the army, had served several years upon the frontier, had suffered great privations, had married a wife much older than himself, had seen her die on the Plains from sheer want, though he had more money than he could get transportation for; and finally, on the death of his grandfather he had resigned, with reluctance, a commission which had brought him nothing but suffering and toil, and had returned to Buffland, where he was born, to take charge of the great estate of which he was the only heir. And even yet, in the midst of a luxury and a comfort which anticipated every want and gratified every taste, he often looked longingly back upon the life he had left, until his nose inhaled again the scent of the sage-brush and his eyes smarted with alkali dust. He regretted the desolate prairies, the wide reaches of barrenness accursed of the Creator, the wild chaos of the mountain canons, the horror of the Bad Lands, the tingling cold of winter in the Black Hills. But the Republic holds so high the privilege of serving her that, for the officer who once resigns—with a good character—there is no return forever, though he seek it with half the lobby at his heels. So Captain Farnham sat, this fine May morning, reading a newspaper which gave the stations of his friends in the "Tenth" with something of the feeling which assails the exile when he cons the court journal where his name shall appear no more.
But while he is looking at the clock a servant enters.
"That same young person is here again."
"What young person?"
There was a slight flavor of reproach in the tone of the grave Englishman as he answered:
"I told you last night, sir, she have been here three times already; she doesn't give me her name nor yet her business; she is settin' in the drawin'-room, and says she will wait till you are quite at leisure. I was about to tell her," he added with still deeper solemnity, "that you were hout, sir, but she hinterrupted of me and said, 'He isn't gone, there's his 'at,' which I told her you 'ad several 'ats, and would she wait in the drawin'-room and I'd see."
Captain Farnham smiled.
"Very well, Budsey, you've done your best—and perhaps she won't eat me after all. Is there a fire in the drawing-room?"
"Let her come in here, then."
A moment afterward the rustle of a feminine step made Farnham raise his head suddenly from his paper. It was a quick, elastic step, accompanied by that crisp rattle of drapery which the close clinging garments of ladies produced at that season. The door opened, and as the visitor entered Farnham rose in surprise. He had expected to see the usual semi-mendicant, with sad-colored raiment and doleful whine, calling for a subscription for a new "Centennial History," or the confessed genteel beggar whose rent would be due to-morrow. But there was nothing in any way usual in the young person who stood before him. She was a tall and robust girl of eighteen or nineteen, of a singularly fresh and vigorous beauty. The artists forbid us to look for physical perfection in real people, but it would have been hard for the coolest-headed studio-rat to find any fault in the slender but powerful form of this young woman. Her color was deficient in delicacy, and her dark hair was too luxuriant to be amenable to the imperfect discipline to which it had been accustomed; but the eye of Andrea, sharpened by criticising Raphael, could hardly have found a line to alter in her. The dress of that year was scarcely more reticent in its revelations than the first wet cloth with which a sculptor swathes his kneaded clay; and pretty women walked in it with almost the same calm consciousness of power which Phryne displayed before her judges. The girl who now entered Farnham's library had thrown her shawl over one arm, because the shawl was neither especially ornamental nor new, and she could not afford to let it conceal her dress of which she was innocently proud; for it represented not only her beautiful figure with few reserves, but also her skill and taste and labor. She had cut the pattern out of an illustrated newspaper, had fashioned and sewed it with her own hands; she knew that it fitted her almost as well as her own skin; and although the material was cheap and rather flimsy, the style was very nearly the same as that worn the same day on the Boulevard of the Italians. Her costume was completed by a pair of eyeglasses with steel rims, which looked odd on her rosy young face.
"I didn't send in my name," she began with a hurried and nervous utterance, which she was evidently trying to make easy and dashing. "because you did not know me from Adam——I have been trying to see you for some time," she continued.
"It has been my loss that you have not succeeded. Allow me to give you a chair."
She flushed and seemed not at all comfortable. This grave young man could not be laughing at her; of course not; she was good-looking and had on a new dress; but she felt all her customary assurance leaving her, and was annoyed. She tried to call up an easy and gay demeanor, but the effort was not entirely successful. She said, "I called this morning—it may surprise you to receive a visit from a young lady——"
"I am too much pleased to leave room for surprise."
She looked sharply at him to see if she were being derided, but through her glasses she perceived no derision in his smile. He was saying to himself, "This is a very beautiful girl who wants to beg or to borrow. I wonder whether it is for herself or for some 'Committee'? The longer she talks the more I shall have to give. But I do not believe she is near-sighted."
She plucked up her courage and said:
"My name is Miss Maud Matchin."
Farnham bowed, and rejoined:
"My name is——"
She laughed outright, and said:
"I know well enough what your name is, or why should I have come here? Everybody knows the elegant Mr. Farnham."
The smile faded from his face. "She is more ill-bred than I suspected," he thought; "we will condense this interview."
He made no reply to her compliment, but looked steadily at her, waiting to hear what she wanted, and thinking it was a pity she was so vulgar, for she looked like the huntress Diana.
Her eyes fell under his glance, which was not at all reassuring. She said in almost a humble tone:
"I have come to ask a great favor of you. I am in a good deal of trouble."
"Let us see what it is, and what we can do," said Farnham, and there was no longer any banter in his voice.
She looked up with sudden pleasure, and her glasses fell from her eyes. She did not replace them, but, clasping her hands tightly together, exclaimed:
"Oh, sir, if you can do anything for me——But I don't want to make you think——" She paused in evident confusion, and Farnham kindly interposed.
"What I may think is not of any consequence just now. What is it you want, and how can I be of service to you?"
"Oh, it is a long story, and I thought it was so easy to tell, and I find it isn't easy a bit. I want to do something—to help my parents—I mean they do not need any help—but they can't help me. I have tried lots of things." She was now stammering and blushing in a way that made her hate herself mortally, and the innocent man in front of her tenfold more, but she pushed on manfully and concluded, "I thought may be you could help me get something I would like."
"What would you like?"
"Most anything. I am a graduate of the high school. I write a good hand, but I don't like figures well enough to clerk. I hear there are plenty of good places in Washington."
"I could do nothing for you if there were. But you are wrong: there are no good places in Washington, from the White House down."
"Well, you are president of the Library Board, ain't you?" asked the high-school graduate. "I think I would like to be one of the librarians."
"Why would you like that?"
"Oh, the work is light, I suppose, and you see people, and get plenty of time for reading, and the pay is better than I could get at anything else. The fact is," she began to gain confidence as she talked, "I don't want to go on in the old humdrum way forever, doing housework and sewing, and never getting a chance at anything better. I have enough to eat and to wear at home, but the soul has some claims too, and I long for the contact of higher natures than those by whom I am now surrounded. I want opportunities for self-culture, for intercourse with kindred spirits, for the attainment of a higher destiny."
She delivered these swelling words with great fluency, mentally congratulating herself that she had at last got fairly started, and wishing she could have struck into that vein at the beginning. Farnham was listening to her with more of pain than amusement, saying to himself: "The high school has evidently spoiled her for her family and friends, and fitted her for nothing else."
"I do not know that there is a vacancy in the library."
"Oh, yes, there is," she rejoined, briskly; "I have been to see the librarian himself, and I flatter myself I made a favorable impression. In fact, the old gentleman seemed really smitten."
"That is quite possible," said Farnham. "But I hope you will not amuse yourself by breaking his heart."
"I can't promise. He must look out for his own heart." She had regained her saucy ease, and evidently enjoyed the turn the conversation was taking. "I find my hands full taking care of myself."
"You are quite sure you can do that?"
"Certainly, sir!" This was said with pouting lips, half-shut eyes, the head thrown back, the chin thrust forward, the whole face bright with smiles of provoking defiance. "Do you doubt it, Monsieur?" She pronounced this word Moshoor.
Farnham thought in his heart "You are about as fit to take care of yourself as a plump pigeon at a shooting match." But he said to her, "Perhaps you are right—only don't brag. It isn't lucky. I do not know what are the chances about this place. You would do well to get some of your friends to write a letter or two in your behalf, and I will see what can be done at the next meeting of the Board."
But her returning fluency had warmed up Miss Maud's courage somewhat, and instead of taking her leave she began again, blushingly, but still boldly enough:
"There is something I would like much better than the library."
Farnham looked at her inquiringly. She did not hesitate in the least, but pushed on energetically, "I have thought you must need a secretary. I should be glad to serve you in that capacity."
The young man stared with amazement at this preposterous proposal. For the first time, he asked himself if the girl's honest face could be the ambush of a guileful heart; but he dismissed the doubt in an instant, and said, simply:
"No, thank you. I am my own secretary, and have no reason for displacing the present incumbent. The library will suit you better in every respect."
In her embarrassment she began to feel for her glasses, which were lying in her lap. Farnham picked up a small photograph from the table near him, and said:
"Do you recognize this?"
"Yes," she said. "It is General Grant."
"It is a photograph of him, taken in Paris, which I received to-day. May I ask a favor of you?"
"What is it?" she said, shyly.
"Stop wearing those glasses. They are of no use to you, and they will injure your eyes."
Her face turned crimson. Without a word of reply she seized the glasses and put them on, her eyes flashing fire. She then rose and threw her shawl over her arm, and said, in a tone to which her repressed anger lent a real dignity:
"When can I learn about that place in the library?"
"Any time after Wednesday," Farnham answered.
She bowed and walked out of the room. She could not indulge in tragic strides, for her dress held her like a scabbard, giving her scarcely more freedom of movement than the high-born maidens of Carthage enjoyed, who wore gold fetters on their ankles until they were married. But in spite of all impediments her tall figure moved, with that grace which is the birthright of beauty in any circumstances, out of the door, through the wide hall to the outer entrance, so rapidly that Farnham could hardly keep pace with her. As he opened the door she barely acknowledged his parting salutation, and swept like a huffy goddess down the steps. Farnham gazed after her a moment, admiring the undulating line from the small hat to the long and narrow train which dragged on the smooth stones of the walk. He then returned to the library. Budsey was mending the fire.
"If you please, sir," he said, "Mrs. Belding's man came over to ask, would you dine there this evening, quite informal."
"Why didn't he come in?"
"I told him you were engaged."
"Ah, very well. Say to Mrs. Belding that I will come, with pleasure."
A HIGH-SCHOOL GRADUATE.
Miss Matchin picked up her train as she reached the gate, picked up her train as she reached the gate, and walked down the street in a state of mind by no means tranquil. If she had put her thoughts in words they would have run like this:
"That was the meanest trick a gentleman ever played. How did he dare know I wasn't nearsighted? And what a fool I was to be caught by that photograph—saw it as plain as day three yards off. I had most made up my mind to leave them off anyway, though they are awful stylish; they pinch my nose and make my head ache. But I'll wear them now," and here the white teeth came viciously together, "if they kill me. Why should he put me down that way? He made me shy for the first time in my life. It's a man's business to be shy before me. If I could only get hold of him somehow! I'd pay him well for making me feel so small. The fact is, I started wrong. I did not really know what I wanted; and that graven image of an English butler set me back so; and then I never saw such a house as that. It is sinful for one man to live there all alone. Powers alive! How well that house would suit my complexion! But I don't believe I'd take it with him thrown in."
It is doubtful whether young girls of Miss Matchin's kind are ever quite candid in their soliloquies. It is certain she was not when she assured herself that she did not know why she went to Farnham's house that morning. She went primarily to make his acquaintance, with the hope also that by this means she might be put in some easy and genteel way of earning money. She was one of a very numerous class in large American towns. Her father was a carpenter, of a rare sort. He was a good workman, sober, industrious, and unambitious. He was contented with his daily work and wage, and would have thanked Heaven if he could have been assured that his children would fare as well as he. He was of English blood, and had never seemed to imbibe into his veins the restless haste and hunger to rise which is the source of much that is good and most that is evil in American life. In the dreams of his early married days he created a future for his children, in the image of his own decent existence. The boys should succeed him in his shop, and the daughters should go out to service in respectable families. This thought sweetened his toil. When he got on well enough to build a shop for himself, he burdened himself with debt, building it firmly and well, so as to last out his boys' time as well as his own. When he was employed on the joiner-work of some of those large houses in Algonquin Avenue, he lost himself in reveries in which he saw his daughters employed as house-maids in them. He studied the faces and the words of the proprietors, when they visited the new buildings, to guess if they would make kind and considerate employers. He put many an extra stroke of fine work upon the servants' rooms he finished, thinking: "Who knows but my Mattie may live here sometime?"
But Saul Matchin found, like many others of us, that fate was not so easily managed. His boys never occupied the old shop on Dean Street, which was built with so many sacrifices and so much of hopeful love. One of them ran away from home on the first intimation that he was expected to learn his father's trade, shipped as a cabin-boy on one of the lake steamers, and was drowned in a storm which destroyed the vessel. The other, less defiant or less energetic, entered the shop and attained some proficiency in the work. But as he grew toward manhood, he became, as the old man called it, "trifling"; a word which bore with it in the local dialect no suggestion of levity or vivacity, for Luke Matchin was as dark and lowering a lout as you would readily find. But it meant that he became more and more unpunctual, did his work worse month by month, came home later at night, and was continually seen, when not in the shop, with a gang of low ruffians, whose head-quarters were in a den called the "Bird of Paradise," on the lake shore. When his father remonstrated with him, he met everything with sullen silence. If Saul lost his temper at this mute insolence and spoke sharply, the boy would retort with an evil grin that made the honest man's heart ache.
"Father," he said one day, "you'd a big sight better let me alone, if you don't want to drive me out of this ranch. I wasn't born to make a nigger of myself in a free country, and you can just bet your life I ain't a-going to do it."
These things grieved Saul Matchin so that his anger would die away. At last, one morning, after a daring burglary had been committed in Buffland, two policemen were seen by Luke Matchin approaching the shop. He threw open a back window, jumped out and ran rapidly down to the steep bluff overlooking the lake. When the officers entered, Saul was alone in the place. They asked after his boy, and he said:
"He can't be far away. What do you want of him? He hain't been doing nothing, I hope."
"Nothing, so far as we know, but we are after two fellows who go by the names of Maumee Jake and Dutch George. Luke runs with them sometimes, and he could make a pile of money by helping of us get them."
"I'll tell him when he comes in," said Saul, but he never saw or heard of his son again.
With his daughters he was scarcely more successful. For, though they had not brought sorrow or shame to his house, they seemed as little amenable to the discipline he had hoped to exert in his family as the boys were. The elder had married, at fifteen years of age, a journeyman printer; and so, instead of filling the place of housemaid in some good family, as her father had fondly dreamed, she was cook, housemaid, and general servant to a man aware of his rights, and determined to maintain them, and nurse and mother (giving the more important function precedence) to six riotous children. Though his child had thus disappointed his hopes, she had not lost his affection, and he even enjoyed the Sunday afternoon romp with his six grandchildren, which ordinarily took place in the shop among the shavings. Wixham, the son-in-law, was not prosperous, and the children were not so well dressed that the sawdust would damage their clothes.
The youngest of Matchin's four children was our acquaintance Miss Maud, as she called herself, though she was christened Matilda. When Mrs. Matchin was asked, after that ceremony, "Who she was named for?" she said, "Nobody in partic'lar. I call her Matildy because it's a pretty name, and goes well with Jurildy, my oldest gal." She had evolved that dreadful appellation out of her own mind. It had done no special harm, however, as Miss Jurildy had rechristened herself Poguy at a very tender age, in a praiseworthy attempt to say "Rogue," and the delighted parents had never called her anything else. Thousands of comely damsels all over this broad land suffer under names as revolting, punished through life, by the stupidity of parental love, for a slip of the tongue in the cradle. Matilda got off easily in the matter of nicknames, being called Mattie until she was pretty well grown, and then having changed her name suddenly to Maud, for reasons to be given hereafter.
She was a hearty, blowzy little girl. Her father delighted in her coarse vigor and energy. She was not a pretty child, and had not a particle of coquetry in her, apparently; she liked to play with the boys when they would allow her, and never presumed upon her girlhood for any favors in their rough sport; and good-natured as she was, she was able to defend herself on occasion with tongue and fists. She was so full of life and strength that, when she had no playing to do, she took pleasure in helping her mother about her work. It warmed Saul Matchin's heart to see the stout little figure sweeping or scrubbing. She went to school but did not "learn enough to hurt her," as her father said; and he used to think that here, at least, would be one child who would be a comfort to his age. In fancy he saw her, in a neat print dress and white cap, wielding a broom in one of those fine houses he had helped to build, or coming home to keep house for him when her mother should fail.
But one day her fate came to her in the shape of a new girl, who sat near her on the school-bench. It was a slender, pasty young person, an inch taller and a year or two older than Mattie, with yellow ringlets, and more pale-blue ribbons on her white dress than poor Mattie had ever seen before. She was a clean, cold, pale, and selfish little vixen, whose dresses were never rumpled, and whose temper was never ruffled. She had not blood enough in her veins to drive her to play or to anger. But she seemed to poor Mattie the loveliest creature she had ever seen, and our brown, hard-handed, blowzy tomboy became the pale fairy's abject slave. Her first act of sovereignty was to change her vassal's name.
"I don't like Mattie; it ain't a bit romantic. I had a friend in Bucyrus whose name was Mattie, and she found out somehow—I believe the teacher told her—that Queen Matilda and Queen Maud was the same thing in England. So you're Maud!" and Maud she was henceforward, though her tyrant made her spell it Maude. "It's more elegant with an e," she said.
Maud was fourteen and her school-days were ending when she made this new acquaintance. She formed for Azalea Windora one of those violent idolatries peculiar to her sex and age, and in a fort-' night she seemed a different person. Azalea was rather clever at her books, and Maud dug at her lessons from morning till night to keep abreast of her. Her idol was exquisitely neat in her dress, and Maud acquired, as if by magic, a scrupulous care of her person. Azalea's blonde head was full of pernicious sentimentality, though she was saved from actual indiscretions by her cold and vaporous temperament. In dreams and fancies, she was wooed and won a dozen times a day by splendid cavaliers of every race and degree; and as she was thoroughly false and vain, she detailed these airy adventures, part of which she had imagined and part read in weekly story-papers, to her worshipper, who listened with wide eyeballs, and a heart which was just beginning to learn how to beat. She initiated Maud into that strange world of vulgar and unhealthy sentiment found in the cheap weeklies which load every news-stand in the country, and made her tenfold more the child of dreams than herself.
Miss Windom remained but a few months at the common school, and then left it for the high school. She told Maud one day of her intended flitting, and was more astonished than pleased at the passion of grief into which the announcement threw her friend. Maud clung to her with sobs that would not be stilled, and with tears that reduced Miss Azalea's dress to limp and moist wretchedness, but did not move the vain heart beneath it. "I wonder if she knows," thought Azalea, "how ugly she is when she bawls like that. Few brunettes can cry stylishly anyhow." Still, she could not help feeling flattered by such devotion, and she said, partly from a habit of careless kindness and partly to rescue the rest of her raiment from the shower which had ruined her neck-ribbon,—
"There, don't be heart-broken. You will be in the high school yourself in no time."
Maud lifted up her eyes and her heart at these words.
"Yes, I will, darling!"
She had never thought of the high school before. She had always expected to leave school that very season, and to go into service somewhere. But from that moment she resolved that nothing should keep her away from those walls that had suddenly become her Paradise.
Her mother was easily won over. She was a woman of weak will, more afraid of her children than of her husband, a phenomenon of frequent occurrence in that latitude. She therefore sided naturally with her daughter in the contest which, when Maud announced her intention of entering the high school, broke out in the house and raged fiercely for some weeks. The poor woman had to bear the brunt of the battle alone, for Matchin soon grew shy of disputing with his rebellious child. She was growing rapidly and assuming that look of maturity which comes so suddenly and so strangely to the notice of a parent. When he attacked her one day with the brusque exclamation, "Well, Mattie, what's all this blame foolishness your ma's being tellin' me ?" she answered him with a cool decision and energy that startled and alarmed him. She stood straight and terribly tall, he thought. She spoke with that fluent clearness of girls who know what they want, and used words he had never met with before out of a newspaper. He felt himself no match for her, and ended the discussion by saying: "That's all moonshine—you shan't go! D'ye hear me?" but he felt dismally sure that she would go, in spite of him.
Even after he had given up the fight, he continued to revenge himself upon his wife for his defeat. "We've got to have a set of gold spoons, I guess. These will never do for highfliers like us." Or, "Drop in at Swillem's and send home a few dozen champagne; I can't stummick such common drink as coffee for breakfast." Or, "I must fix up and make some calls on Algonkin Av'noo. Sence we've jined the Upper Ten, we mustn't go back on Society." But this brute thunder had little effect on Mrs. Matchin. She knew the storm was over when her good-natured lord tried to be sarcastic.
It need hardly be said that Maud Matchin did not find the high school all her heart desired. Her pale goddess had not enough substantial character to hold her worshipper long. Besides, at fifteen, a young girl's heart is as variable as her mind or her person; and a great change was coming over the carpenter's daughter. She suddenly gained her full growth; and after the first awkwardness of her tall stature passed away, she began to delight in her own strength and beauty. Her pride waked at the same time with her vanity, and she applied herself closely to her books, so as to make a good appearance in her classes. She became the friend instead of the vassal of Azalea, and by slow degrees she found their positions reversed. Within a year, it seemed perfectly natural to Maud that Azalea should do her errands and talk to her about her eyes; and Miss Windom found her little airs of superiority of no avail in face of the girl who had grown prettier, cleverer, and taller than herself. It made no difference that Maud was still a vulgar and ignorant girl—for Azalea was not the person to perceive or appreciate these defects. She saw her, with mute wonder, blooming out before her very eyes, from a stout, stocky, frowzy child, with coarse red cheeks and knuckles like a bootblack, into a tall, slender girl, whose oval face was as regular as a conic section, and whose movements were as swift, strong, and graceful, when she forgot herself, as those of a race-horse. There were still the ties of habit and romance between them. Azalea, whose brother was a train-boy on the Lake Shore road, had a constant supply of light literature, which the girls devoured in the long intervals of their studies. But even the romance of Miss Matchin had undergone a change. While Azalea still dreamed of dark-eyed princes, lords of tropical islands, and fierce and tender warriors who should shoot for her the mountain eagle for his plumes, listen with her to the bulbul's song in valleys of roses, or hew out a throne for her in some vague and ungeographical empire, the reveries of Miss Maud grew more and more mundane and reasonable. She was too strong and well to dream much; her only visions were of a rich man who should love her for her fine eyes. She would meet him in some simple and casual way; he would fall in love at sight, and speedily prosper in his wooing; they would be married,—privately, for Maud blushed and burned to think of her home at such times,—and then they would go to New York to live. She never wasted conjecture on the age, the looks, the manner of being of this possible hero. Her mind intoxicated itself with the thought of his wealth. She went one day to the Public Library to read the articles on Rothschild and Astor in the encyclopedias. She even tried to read the editorial articles on gold and silver in the Ohio papers.
She delighted in the New York society journals. She would pore for hours over those wonderful columns which described the weddings and the receptions of rich tobacconists and stock-brokers, with lists of names which she read with infinite gusto. At first, all the names were the same to her, all equally worshipful and happy in being printed, black on white, in the reports of these upper-worldly banquets. But after a while her sharp intelligence began to distinguish the grades of our republican aristocracy, and she would skip the long rolls of obscure guests who figured at the: "coming-out parties" of thrifty shop-keepers of fashionable ambition, to revel among the genuine swells whose fathers were shop-keepers. The reports of the battles of the Polo Club filled her with a sweet intoxication. She knew the names of the combatants by heart, and had her own opinion as to the comparative eligibility of Billy Buglass and Tim Blanket, the young men most in view at that time in the clubs of the metropolis.
Her mind was too much filled with interests of this kind to leave any great room for her studies. She had pride enough to hold her place in her classes, and that was all. She learned a little music, a little drawing, a little Latin, and a little French—the French of "Stratford-atte-Bowe," for French of Paris was not easy of attainment at Buffland. This language had an especial charm for her, as it seemed a connecting link with that elysium of fashion of which her dreams were full. She once went to the library and asked for "a nice French book." They gave her "La Petite Fadette." She had read of George Sand in newspapers, which had called her a "corrupter of youth." She hurried home with her book, eager to test its corrupting qualities, and when, with locked doors and infinite labor, she had managed to read it, she was greatly disappointed at finding in it nothing to admire and nothing to shudder at. "How could such a smart woman as that waste her time writing about a lot of peasants, poor as crows, the whole lot!" was her final indignant comment.
By the time she left the school her life had become almost as solitary as that of the bat in the fable, alien both to bird and beast. She made no intimate acquaintances there; her sordid and selfish dreams occupied her too completely. Girls who admired her beauty were repelled by her heartlessness, which they felt, but could not clearly define. Even Azalea fell away from her, having found a stout and bald-headed railway conductor, whose adoration made amends for his lack of romance. Maud knew she was not liked in the school, and being, of course, unable to attribute it to any fault of her own, she ascribed it to the fact that her father was a mechanic and poor. This thought did not tend to make her home happier. She passed much of her time in her own bedroom, looking out of her window on the lake, weaving visions of ignoble wealth and fashion out of the mists of the morning sky and the purple and gold that made the north-west glorious at sunset. When she sat with her parents in the evening, she rarely spoke. If she was not gazing in the fire, with hard bright eyes and lips, in which there was only the softness of youth, but no tender tremor of girlhood's dreams, she was reading her papers or her novels with rapt attention. Her mother was proud of her beauty and her supposed learning, and loved, when she looked up from her work, to let her eyes rest upon her tall and handsome child, whose cheeks were flushed with eager interest as she bent her graceful head over her book. But Saul Matchin nourished a vague anger and jealousy against her. He felt that his love was nothing to her; that she was too pretty and too clever to be at home in his poor house; and yet he dared not either reproach her or appeal to her affections. His heart would fill with grief and bitterness as he gazed at her devouring the brilliant pages of some novel of what she imagined high life, unconscious of his glance, which would travel from her neatly shod feet up to her hair, frizzed and banged down to her eyebrows, "making her look," he thought, "more like a Scotch poodle-dog than an honest girl." He hated those books which, he fancied, stole away her heart from her home. He had once picked up one of them where she had left it; but the high-flown style seemed as senseless to him as the words of an incantation, and he had flung it down more bewildered than ever. He thought there must be some strange difference between their minds when she could delight in what seemed so uncanny to him, and he gazed at her, reading by the lamp-light, as over a great gulf. Even her hands holding the book made him uneasy; for since she had grown careful of them, they were like no hands he had ever seen on any of his kith and kin. The fingers were long and white, and the nails were shaped like an almond, and though the hands lacked delicacy at the articulations, they almost made Matchin reverence his daughter as his superior, as he looked at his own.
One evening, irritated by the silence and his own thoughts, he cried out with a sudden suspicion:
"Where do you git all them books, and what do they cost?"
She turned her fine eyes slowly upon him and said:
"I get them from the public library, and they cost nothing."
He felt deeply humiliated that he should have made a blunder so ridiculous and so unnecessary.
After she had left the school—where she was graduated as near as possible to the foot of the class—she was almost alone in the world. She rarely visited her sister, for the penury of the Wixham household grated upon her nerves, and she was not polite enough to repress her disgust at the affectionate demonstrations of the Wixham babies. "There, there! get along, you'll leave me not fit to be seen!" she would say, and Jurilda would answer in that vicious whine of light-haired women, too early overworked and overprolific: "Yes, honey, let your aunt alone. She's too tiffy for poor folks like us"; and Maud would go home, loathing her lineage.
The girls she had known in her own quarter were by this time earning their own living: some in the manufactories, in the lighter forms of the iron trade, some in shops, and a few in domestic service. These last were very few, for the American blood revolts against this easiest and best-paid of all occupations, and leaves it to more sensible foreigners. The working bees were clearly no company for this poor would-be butterfly. They barely spoke when they met, kept asunder by a mutual embarrassment. One girl with whom she had played as a child had early taken to evil courses. Her she met one day in the street, and the bedraggled and painted creature called her by her name.
"How dare you?" said Maud, shocked and frightened.
"All right!" said the shameless woman. "You looked so gay, I didn't know."
Maud, as she walked away, hardly knew whether to be pleased or not. "She saw I looked like a lady, and thought I could not be one honestly. I'll show them!"
She knew as few men as women. She sometimes went to the social gatherings affected by her father's friends, Odd Fellows' and Druids' balls and the festivities with which the firemen refreshed themselves after their toils and dangers. But her undeniable beauty gained her no success. She seemed to take pains to avoid pleasing the young carpenters, coachmen, and journeyman printers she met on these occasions. With her head full of fantastic dreams, she imagined herself a mere visitor at these simple entertainments of the common people, and criticised the participants to herself with kindly sarcasm. If she ever consented to dance, it was with the air with which she fancied a duchess might open a ball of her servants. Once, in a round game at a "surprise" party, it came her turn to be kissed by a young blacksmith, who did his duty in spite of her struggles with strong arms and a willing heart. Mr. Browning makes a certain queen, mourning over her lofty loneliness, wish that some common soldier would throw down his halberd and clasp her to his heart. It is doubtful if she would really have liked it better than Miss Maud did, and she was furious as a young lioness. She made herself so disagreeable about it that she ceased to be invited to those lively entertainments; and some of the most eligible of the young "Cariboos"—a social order of a secret and mysterious rite, which met once a week in convenient woodsheds and stable-lofts—took an oath with hands solemnly clasped in the intricate grip of the order, that "they would never ask Miss Matchin to go to party, picnic, or sleigh-ride, as long as the stars gemmed the blue vault of heaven," from which it may be seen that the finer sentiments of humanity were not unknown to the Cariboos.
Maud came thus to be eighteen, and though she was so beautiful and so shapely that no stranger ever saw her without an instant of glad admiration, she had had no suitor but one, and from him she never allowed a word of devotion. Samuel Sleeny, a carpenter who worked with her father, and who took his meals with the family, had fallen in love with her at first sight, and, after a year of dumb hopelessness, had been so encouraged by her father's evident regard that he had opened his heart to Saul and had asked his mediation. Matchin undertook the task with pleasure. Pie could have closed his eyes in peace if he had seen his daughter married to so decent a man and so good a joiner as Sleeny. But the interview was short and painful to Matchin. He left his daughter in possession of the field, and went to walk by the lake shore to recover his self-possession, which had given way beneath her firm will and smiling scorn. When he returned to the shop Sleeny was there, sitting on a bench and chewing pine shavings.
"What did she say?" asked the young fellow. "But never mind—I see plain enough it's no use. She's too good for me, and she knows it."
"Too good!" roared Saul. "She's the golderndest——"
"Hold on there," said Sleeny. "Don't say nothin' you'll have to take back. Ef you say anything ag'in her, you'll have to swaller it, or whip me."
Saul looked at him with amazement.
"Well! you beat me, the pair of you! You're crazy to want her, and she's crazy not to want you. She liked to a' bit my head off for perposin' you, and you want to lick me for calling her a fool."
"She ain't no fool," said Sleeny with sullen resignation; "she knows what she's about," and lie picked up another shaving and ruminated upon it.
The old man walked to and fro, fidgeting with his tools. At last he came back to the young man and said, awkwardly dusting the bench with his hand:
"Sam, you wasn't 'lowin' to leave along o' this here foolishness?"
"That's just what I was 'lowin' to do, sir."
"Don't you be a dern fool, Sam!" and Saul followed up this judicious exhortation with such cogent reasons that poor Sleeny was glad to be persuaded that his chance was not over yet, and that he would much better stay where he was.
"How'll she like it?"
"Oh! it won't make a mite o' difference to her," said the old man airily, and poor Sam felt in his despondent heart that it would not.
He remained and became like the least of her servants. She valued his attachment much as a planter valued the affection of his slaves, knowing they would work the better for it. He did all her errands; fetched and carried for her; took her to church on evenings when she did not care to stay at home. One of the few amusements Saul Matchin indulged in was that of attending spiritualist lectures and seances, whenever a noted medium visited the place. Saul had been an unbeliever in his youth, and this grotesque superstition had rushed in at the first opportunity to fill the vacuum of faith in his mind. He had never succeeded, however, in thoroughly indoctrinating his daughter. She regarded her father's religion with the same contempt she bestowed upon the other vulgar and narrow circumstances of her lot in life, and so had preferred her mother's sober Presbyterianism to the new and raw creed of her sire. But one evening, when she was goaded by more than usual restlessness, Sleeny asked her if she would go with him to a "sperritual lectur." To escape from her own society, she accepted, and the wild, incoherent, and amazingly fluent address she heard excited her interest and admiration. After that, she often asked him to take her, and in the long walk to and from the Harmony Hall, where the long-haired brotherhood held their sessions, a sort of confidential relation grew up between them, which meant nothing to Maud, but bound the heart of Sleeny in chains of iron. Yet he never dared say a word of the feeling that was consuming him. He feared he should lose her forever, if he opened his lips.
Of course, she was not at ease in this life of dreamy idleness. It did not need the taunts of her father to convince her that she ought to be doing something for herself. Her millionaire would never come down to the little house on Dean Street to find her, and she had conscience enough to feel that she ought to earn her own clothes. She tried to make use of the accomplishments she had learned at school, but was astonished to find how useless they were. She made several attempts to be a teacher, but it was soon found that her high-school diploma covered a world of ignorance, and no board, however indulgent, would accept her services. She got a box of colors, and spoiled many fans and disfigured many pots by decorations which made the eyes of the beholder ache; nobody would buy them, and poor Maud had no acquaintances to whom she might give them away. So they encumbered the mantels and tables of her home, adding a new tedium to the unhappy household. She answered the advertisements of several publishing companies, and obtained agencies for the sale of subscription books. But her face was not hard enough for this work. She was not fluent enough to persuade the undecided, and she was too proud to sue in forma pauperis; she had not the precious gift of tears, by which the travelling she-merchant sells so many worthless wares. The few commissions she gained hardly paid for the wear and tear of her high-heeled boots.
One day at the public library she was returning a novel she had read, when a gentleman came out of an inner room and paused to speak to the librarian's assistant, with whom Maud was at the moment occupied—a girl whom she had known at school, and with whom she had renewed acquaintance in this way. It was about a matter of the administration of the library, and only a few words were exchanged. He then bowed to both the ladies, and went out.
"Who was that?" Maud asked.
"Don't you know?" rejoined the other. "I thought everybody knew the elegant Captain Farnham. He is president of our board, you know, and he is just lovely. I always manage to stop him as he leaves a board meeting and get a word or two out of him. It's worth the trouble if I only get a bow."
"I should think so," assented Maud. "He is as sweet as a peach. Is there any chance of getting one of those places? I should like to divide those bows with you."
"That would be perfectly splendid," said her friend, who was a good-natured girl. "Come, I will introduce you to the old Doctor now."
And in a moment Maud was in the presence of the librarian.
She entered at a fortunate moment. Dr. Buchlieber was a near-sighted old gentleman who read without glasses, but could see nothing six feet away. He usually received and dismissed his visitors without bothering himself to discover or imagine what manner of people they were. "I do not care how they look," he would say. "They probably look as they talk, without form and void." But at the moment when Maud entered his little room, he had put on his lenses to look out of the window, and he turned to see a perfect form in a closely fit ting dress, and a face pretty enough to look on with a critical pleasure. He received her kindly, and encouraged her to hope for an appointment, and it was in accordance with his suggestion that she called upon Farnham, as we have related.
She did not go immediately. She took several days to prepare what she called "a harness" of sufficient splendor, and while she was at work upon it she thought of many things. She was not even yet quite sure that she wanted a place in the library. The Doctor had been very kind, but he had given her clearly to understand that the work required of her would be severe, and the pay very light. She had for a long time thought of trying to obtain a clerkship at Washington,—perhaps Farnham would help her to that,—and her mind wandered off among the possibilities of chance acquaintance with bachelor senators and diplomats. But the more she thought of the coming interview, the more her mind dwelt upon the man himself whom she was going to see—his bow and his smile, his teeth and his mustache, and the perfect fit of his clothes. One point in regard to him was still vague in her mind, and as to that her doubts were soon resolved. One evening she said to her father:
"Did you ever see Captain Farnham?"
"Now, what a foolish question that is I'd like to know who built his greenhouses, ef I didn't?"
"He is pretty well off, ain't he?"
Saul laughed with that satisfied arrogance of ignorant men when they are asked a question they can answer easily.
"I rather guess he is; that is, ef you call three, four, five millions well off. I don't know how it strikes you" (with a withering sarcasm), "but I call Arthur Farnham pretty well fixed."
These words ran in Maud's brain with a ravishing sound. She built upon them a fantastic palace of mist and cloud. When at last her dress was finished and she started, after three unsuccessful attempts, to walk to Algonquin Avenue, she was in no condition to do herself simple justice. She hardly knew whether she wanted a place in the library, a clerkship at Washington, or the post of amanuensis to the young millionaire. She was confused by his reception of her; his good-natured irony made her feel ill at ease; she was nervous and flurried; and she felt, as she walked away, that the battle had gone against her.
THE WIDOW AND HER DAUGHTER.
Mrs. Belding's house was next to that of Mr. Farnham, and the neighborly custom of Algonquin Avenue was to build no middle walls of partition between adjoining lawns. A minute's walk, therefore, brought the young man to the door of Mrs. Belding's cottage. She called it a cottage, and so we have no excuse for calling it anything else, though it was a big three-storied house, built of the soft creamy stone of the Buffland quarries, and it owed its modest name to an impression in the lady's mind that gothic gables and dormer windows were a necessary adjunct of cottages. She was a happy woman, though she would have been greatly surprised to hear herself so described. She had not been out of mourning since she was a young girl. Her parents, as she sometimes said, "had put her into black"; and several children had died in infancy, one after the other, until at last her husband, Jairus Belding, the famous bridge-builder, had perished of a malarial fever caught in the swamps of the Wabash, and left her with one daughter and a large tin box full of good securities. She never afterward altered the style of her dress, and she took much comfort in feeling free from all further allegiance to milliners. In fact, she had a nature which was predisposed to comfort. She had been fond of her husband, but she had been a little afraid of him, and, when she had wept her grief into tranquillity, she felt a certain satisfaction in finding herself the absolute mistress of her income and her bedroom. Her wealth made her the object of matrimonial ambition once or twice, and she had sufficient beauty to flatter herself that she was loved more for her eyes than her money; but she refused her suitors with an indolent good-nature that did not trouble itself with inquiries as to their sincerity. "I have been married once, thank you, and that is enough"; this she said simply without sighing or tears. Perhaps the unlucky aspirant might infer that her heart was buried in the grave of Jairus. But the sober fact was that she liked her breakfast at her own hours. Attached to the spacious sleeping-room occupied in joint tenancy by herself and the bridge-builder were two capacious closets. After the funeral of Mr. Belding, she took possession of both of them, hanging her winter wardrobe in one and her summer raiment in the other, and she had never met a man so fascinating as to tempt her to give up to him one of these rooms.
She was by no means a fool. Like many easy-going women, she had an enlightened selfishness which prompted her to take excellent care of her affairs. As long as old Mr. Farnham lived, she took his advice implicitly in regard to her investments, and after his death she transferred the same unquestioning confidence to his grandson and heir, although he was much younger than herself and comparatively inexperienced in money matters. It seemed to her only natural that some of the Farnham wisdom should have descended with the Farnham millions. There was a grain of good sense in this reasoning, founded as it was upon her knowledge of Arthur's good qualities; for upon a man who is neither a sot nor a gambler the possession of great wealth almost always exercises a sobering and educating influence. So, whenever Mrs. Belding was in doubt in any matter of money, she asked Arthur to dine with her, and settle the vexing questions somewhere between the soup and the coffee. It was a neighborly service, freely asked and willingly rendered.
As Farnham entered the widow's cosey library, he saw a lady sitting by the fire whom he took to be Mrs. Belding; but as she rose and made a step toward him, he discovered that she was not in mourning. The quick twilight was thickening into night, and the rich glow of the naming coal in the grate, deepening the shadows in the room, while it prevented him from distinguishing the features of her face, showed him a large full form with a grace of movement which had something even of majesty in it.
"I see you have forgotten me," said a voice as rich and full as the form from which it came. "I am Alice Belding."
"Of course you are, and you have grown as big and beautiful as you threatened to," said Farnham, taking both the young girl's hands in his, and turning until she faced the fire-light. It was certainly a bonny face which the red light shone upon, and quite uncommon in its beauty. The outline was very pure and noble; the eyes were dark-brown and the hair was of tawny gold, but the complexion was of that clear and healthy pallor so rarely met with among blonde women. The finest thing about her face was its expression of perfect serenity. Even now, as she stood looking at Farnham, with her hands in his, her cheek flushed a little with the evident pleasure of the meeting, she received his gaze of unchecked admiration with a smile as quiet and unabashed as that of a mother greeting a child.
"Well, well!" said Farnham, as they seated themselves, "how long has it taken you to grow to that stature? When did I see you last?"
"Two years ago," she answered, in that rich and gentle tone which was a delight to the ear. "I was at home last summer, but you were away—in Germany, I think."
"Yes, and we looked for you in vain at Christmases and Thanksgivings."
"Mamma came so often to New York that there seemed no real necessity of my coming home until I came for good. I had so much to learn, you know. I was quite old and very ignorant when I started away."
"And you have come back quite young and very learned, I dare say."
She laughed a little, and her clear and quiet laugh was as pleasant as her speech.
Mrs. Belding came in with gliding footsteps and cap-strings gently fluttering.
"Why, you are all in the dark! Arthur, will you please light that burner nearest you?"
In the bright light Miss Alice looked prettier than ever; the jet of gas above her tinged her crisp hair with a lustre of twisted gold wire and threw tangled shadows upon her low smooth forehead.
"We have to thank Madame de Veaudrey for sending us back a fine young woman," said Farnham.
"Yes, she is improved," the widow assented calmly. "I must show you the letter Madame de Veaudrey wrote me. Alice is first in languages, first——"
"In peace, and first in the hearts of her countrywomen," interrupted Miss Alice, not smartly, but with smiling firmness. "Let Mr. Farnham take the rest of my qualities for granted, please."
"There will be time enough for you two to get acquainted. But this evening I wanted to talk to you about something more important. The 'Tribune' money article says the Dan and Beersheba Railroad is not really earning its dividends. What am I to do about that, I should like to know?"
"Draw your dividends, with a mind conscious of rectitude, though the directors rage and the 'Tribune' imagine a vain thing," Farnham answered, and the talk was of stocks and bonds for an hour afterward.
When dinner was over, the three were seated again in the library. The financial conversation had run its course, and had perished amid the arid sands of reference to the hard times and the gloomy prospects of real estate. Miss Alice, who took no part in the discussion, was reading the evening paper, and Farnham was gratifying his eyes by gazing at the perfect outline of her face, the rippled hair over the straight brows, and the stout braids that hung close to the graceful neck in the fashion affected by school-girls at that time.
A servant entered and handed a card to Alice. She looked at it and passed it to her mother.
"It is Mr. Furrey," said the widow. "He has called upon you."
"I suppose he may come in here?" Alice said, without rising.
Her mother looked at her with a mute inquiry, but answered in an instant, "Certainly."
When Mr. Furrey entered, he walked past Mrs. Belding to greet her daughter, with profuse expressions of delight at her return, "of which he had just heard this afternoon at the bank; and although he was going to a party this evening, he could not help stopping in to welcome her home." Miss Alice said "Thank you," and Mr. Furrey turned to shake hands with her mother.
"You know my friend Mr. Farnham?"
"Yes, ma'am—that is, I see him often at the bank, but I am glad to owe the pleasure of his acquaintance to you."
The men shook hands. Mr. Furrey bowed a little more deeply than was absolutely required. He then seated himself near Miss Alice and began talking volubly to her about New York. He was a young man of medium size, dressed with that exaggeration of the prevailing mode which seems necessary to provincial youth. His short fair hair was drenched with pomatum and plastered close to his head. His white cravat was tied with mathematical precision, and his shirt-collar was like a wall of white enamel from his shoulders to his ears. He wore white kid gloves, which he secured from spot or blemish as much as possible by keeping the tips of the fingers pressed against each other. His speech was quicker than is customary with Western people, but he had their flat monotone and their uncompromising treatment of the letter R.
Mrs. Belding crossed over to where Farnham was seated and began a conversation with him in an undertone.
"You think her really improved?"
"In every way. She has the beauty and stature of a Brunhild; she carries herself like a duchess, I was going to say—but the only duchess I ever knew was at Schwalbach, and she was carried in a wicker hand-cart. But mademoiselle is lovely, and she speaks very pretty English; and knows how to wear her hair, and will be a great comfort to you, if you can keep the boys at bay for awhile."
"No danger there, I imagine; she will keep them at bay herself. Did you notice just now? Mr. Furrey called especially to see her. He was quite attentive to her last summer. Instead of going to the drawing-room to see him, she wants him to come in here, where he is in our way and we are in his. That is one of Madame de Veaudrey's notions."
"I should fancy it was," said Farnham, dryly; "I have heard her spoken of as a lady of excellent principles and manners."
"Now you are going to side against me, are you? I do not believe in importing these European ideas of surveillance into free America. I have confidence in American girls."
"But see where your theories lead you. In Algonquin Avenue, the young ladies are to occupy the drawing-room, while the parents make themselves comfortable in the library. But the houses in Dean Street are not so spacious. Most citizens in that quarter have only two rooms below stairs. I understand the etiquette prevailing there is for parents, when their daughters receive calls, to spend the evening in the kitchen."
"Oh, dear! I see I'm to get no help from you. That's just the way Alice talks. When she came home to-day, there were several invitations for her, and some notes from young gentlemen offering their escort. She told me in that quiet way of hers, that reminds me of Mr. Belding when he was dangerous, that she would be happy to go with me when I cared to go, and happy to stay at home if I stayed. So I imagine I am booked for a gay season."
"Which I am sure you will greatly enjoy. But this Madame de Veaudrey must be a sensible woman."
"Because I disagree with her? I am greatly obliged. But she is a saint, although you admire her," pursued the good-tempered woman. "She was a Hamilton, you know, and married Veaudrey, who was secretary of legation in Washington. He was afterward minister in Sweden, and died there. She was returning to this country with her three girls, and was shipwrecked and they all three perished. She was picked up unconscious and recovered only after a long illness. Since then she has gone very little into the world, but has devoted herself to the education of young ladies. She never has more than three or four at a time, and these she selects herself. Alice had heard of her from Mrs. Bowman, and we ventured to write to ask admission to her household, and our request was civilly but peremptorily declined. This was while we were in New York two years ago. But a few days afterward we were at church with Mrs. Bowman, and Madame de Veaudrey saw us. She called the next day upon Mrs. Bowman and inquired who we were, and then came to me and begged to withdraw her letter, and to take Alice at once under her charge. It seems that Alice resembled one of her daughters—at all events, she was completely fascinated by her, and Alice soon came to regard her in return as the loveliest of created beings. I must admit I found her a little still—though she was lovely. But still, I cannot help being afraid that she has made Alice a little to particular; you know the young gentlemen don't like a girl to be too stiff."
Farnham felt his heart grow hot with something like scorn for the worthy woman, as she prattled on in this way. He could hardly trust himself to reply and soon took his leave. Alice rose and gave him her hand with frank and winning cordiality. As he felt the warm soft pressure of her strong fingers, and the honest glance of her wide young eyes, his irritation died away for a moment, but soon came back with double force.
"Gracious heavens!" he exclaimed, as he closed the door behind him, and stepped into the clear spring starlight, hardly broken as yet by the budding branches of the elms and limes. "What a crazy woman that mother is! Her daughter has come home to her a splendid white swan, and she is waddling and quacking about with anxiety and fear lest the little male ducklings that frequent the pond should find her too white and too stately."
Instead of walking home he turned up the long avenue, and went rapidly on, spurred by his angry thoughts.
"What will become of that beautiful girl? She cannot hold out forever against the universal custom. She will be led by her friends and pushed by her mother, until she drops to the level of the rest and becomes a romping flirt; she will go to parties with young Furrey, and to church with young Snevel. I shall see her tramping the streets with one, and waltzing all night with another, and sitting on the stairs with a third. She is too pretty to be let alone, and her mother is against her. She is young and the force of nature is strong, and women are born for sacrifice—she will marry one of these young shrimps, and do her duty in the sphere whereto she has been called."
At this thought so sharp a pang of disgust shot through him, that he started with surprise.
"Oh, no, this is not jealousy; it is a protest against what is probable in the name of the eternal fitness of things."
Nevertheless, he went on thinking very disagreeably about Mr. Furrey.
"How can a nice girl endure a fellow who pomatums his hair in that fashion, and sounds his R's in that way, and talks about Theedore Thommus and Cinsunnatta? Still, they do it, and Providence must be on the side of that sort of men. But what business is all this of mine? I have half a mind to go to Europe again."
He stopped, lighted a cigar, and walked briskly homeward. As he passed by the Belding cottage, he saw that the lower story was in darkness, and in the windows above the light was glowing behind the shades.
"So Furrey is gone, and the tired young traveller is going early to rest."
He went into his library and sat down by the dying embers of the grate. His mind had been full of Alice and her prospects during his long walk in the moonlight; and now as he sat there, the image of Maud Matchin suddenly obtruded itself upon him, and he began to compare and contrast the two girls, both so beautiful and so utterly unlike; and then his thoughts shifted all at once back to his own early life. He thought of his childhood, of his parents removed from him so early that their memory was scarcely more than a dream; he wondered what life would have been to him if they had been spared. Then his school-days came up before him; his journey to France with his grandfather; his studies at St. Cyr; his return to America during the great war, his enlistment as a private in the regular cavalry, his promotion to a lieutenancy three days afterward, his service through the terrible campaign of the Peninsula, his wounds at Gettysburg, and at last the grand review of the veterans in front of the White House when the war was over.
But this swift and brilliant panorama did not long delay his musing fancy. A dull smart like that of a healing wound drew his mind to a succession of scenes on the frontier. He dwelt with that strange fascination which belongs to the memory of hardships—and which we are all too apt to mistake for regret—upon his life of toil and danger in the wide desolation of the West. There he met, one horrible winter, the sister-in-law of a brother captain, a tall, languid, ill-nourished girl of mature years, with tender blue eyes and a taste for Byron. She had no home and no relatives in the world except her sister, Mrs. Keefe, whom she had followed into the wilderness. She was a heavy burden on the scanty resources of poor Keefe, but he made her cordially welcome like the hearty soldier that he was. She was the only unmarried white woman within a hundred miles, and the mercury ranged from zero to -20 degrees all winter. In the spring, she and Farnham were married; he seemed to have lost the sense of there being any other women in the world, and he took her, as one instinctively takes to dinner the last lady remaining in a drawing-room, without special orders. He had had the consolation of reflecting that he made her perfectly proud and happy every day of her life that was left. Before the autumn ended, she died, on a forced march one day, when the air was glittering with alkali, and the fierce sun seemed to wither the dismal plain like the vengeance of heaven. Though Farnham was even then one of the richest men in the army, so rigid are the rules imposed upon our service, by the economy of an ignorant demagogy, that no transportation could be had to supply this sick lady with the ordinary conveniences of life, and she died in his arms, on the hot prairie, in the shade of an overloaded baggage wagon. He mourned her with the passing grief one gives to a comrade fallen on the field of honor. Often since he left the army, he reproached himself for not have grieved for her more deeply. "Poor Nellie," he would sometimes say, "how she would have enjoyed this house, if she had lived to possess it." But he never had that feeling of widowhood known to those whose lives have been torn in two.
PROTECTOR AND PROTEGEE.
A few days later, Mr. Farnham attended a meeting of the library board, and presented the name of Miss Matchin as a candidate for a subordinate place in the library. There were several such positions, requiring no special education or training, the duties of which could be as well filled by Miss Maud as by any one else. She had sent several strong letters of recommendation to the board, from prominent citizens who knew and respected her father, for when Maud informed him of her new ambition, Matchin entered heartily into the affair, and bestirred himself to use what credit he had in the ward to assist her.
Maud had not exaggerated the effect of her blandishments upon Dr. Buchlieber. The old gentleman spoke in her favor with great fluency; "she was young, healthy, active, intelligent, a graduate of the high school."
"And very pretty, is she not?" asked a member of the board, maliciously.
The Doctor colored, but was not abashed. He gazed steadily at the interrupter through his round glasses, and said:
"Yes, she is very fine looking—but I do not see that that should stand in her way."
Not another word was said against her, and a ballot was taken to decide the question. There were five members of the board, three besides Farnham and Buchlieber. Maud had two votes, and a young woman whose name had not been mentioned received the other three. Buchlieber counted the ballots, and announced the vote. Farnham flushed with anger. Not only had no attention been paid to his recommendation, but he had not even been informed that there was another candidate. In a few sarcastic words he referred to the furtive understanding existing among the majority, and apologized for having made such a mistake as to suppose they cared to hear the merits of appointees discussed.
The three colleagues sat silent. At last, one of them crossed his legs anew and said:
"I'm sure nobody meant any offence. We agreed on this lady several days ago. I know nothing about her, but her father used to be one of our best workers in the seventh ward. He is in the penitentiary now, and the family is about down to bedrock. The reason we didn't take part in the discussion was we wanted to avoid hard feelings."
The other two crossed their legs the other way, and said they "concurred."
Their immovable phlegm, their long, expressionless faces, the dull, monotonous twang of their voices, the oscillation of the three large feet hung over the bony knees had now, as often before, a singular effect upon Farnham's irritation. He felt he could not irritate them in return; they could not appreciate his motives, and thought too little of his opinion to be angry at his contempt. He was thrown back upon himself now as before. It was purely a matter of conscience whether he should stay and do what good he could, or resign and shake the dust of the city hall from his feet. Whatever he recommended in regard to the administration of the library was always adopted without comment; but, whenever a question of the sort which the three politicians called "practical" arose, involving personal patronage in any form, they always arranged it for themselves, without even pretending to ask his or Buchlieber's opinion.
The very fact of his holding the position of chairman of the board was wounding to his self-love, as soon as he began to appreciate the purpose with which the place had been given him. He and some of his friends had attempted a movement the year before, to rescue the city from the control of what they considered a corrupt combination of politicians. They had begun, as such men always do, too late, and without any adequate organization, and the regular workers had beaten them with ridiculous ease. In Farnham's own ward, where he possessed two thirds of the real estate, the candidates favored by him and his friends received not quite one tenth of the votes cast. The loader of the opposing forces was a butcher, one Jacob Metzger, who had managed the politics of the ward for years. He was not a bad man so far as his lights extended. He sold meat on business principles, so as to get the most out of a carcass; and he conducted his political operations in the same way. He made his bargains with aspirants and office-holders, and kept them religiously. He had been a little alarmed at the sudden irruption of such men as Farnham and his associates into the field of ward politics; he dreaded the combined effect of their money and their influence. But he soon found he had nothing to fear—they would not use their money, and they did not know how to use their influence. They hired halls, opened committee-rooms, made speeches, and thundered against municipal iniquities in the daily press; but Jacob Metzger, when he discovered that this was all, possessed his soul in peace, and even got a good deal of quiet fun out of the canvass. He did not take the trouble to be angry at the men who were denouncing him, and supplied Farnham with beefsteaks unusually tender and juicy, while the young reformer was seeking his political life.
"Lord love you," he said to Budsey, as he handed him a delicious rib-roast the day before election. "There's nothing I like so much as to see young men o' property go into politics. We need 'em. Of course, I wisht the Cap'n was on my side; but anyhow, I'm glad to see him takin' an interest."
He knew well enough the way the votes would run; that every grog-shop in the ward was his recruiting station; that all Farnham's tenants would vote against their landlord; that even the respectable Budsey and the prim Scotch gardener were sure for him against their employer. Farnham's conscience which had roused him to this effort against Metzger's corrupt rule, would not permit him to ask for the votes of his own servants and tenants, and he would have regarded it as simply infamous to spend money to secure the floating crowd of publicans and sinners who formed the strength of Jacob.
His failure was so complete and unexpected that there seemed to him something of degradation in it, and in a fit of uncontrollable disgust he sailed for Europe the week afterward. Metzger took his victory good-naturedly as a matter of course, and gave his explanation of it to a reporter of the "Bale-Fire" who called to interview him.
"Mr. Farnham, who led the opposition to our organize-ation, is a young gen'l'man of fine talents and high character. I ain't got a word to say against him. The only trouble is, he lacks practical experience, and he ain't got no pers'nal magn'tism. Now I'm one of the people, I know what they want, and on that line I carried the ward against a combine-ation of all the wealth and aristocracy of Algonkin Av'noo."
Jacob's magnanimity did not rest with merely a verbal acknowledgment of Farnham's merits. While he was abroad some of the city departments were reorganized, and Farnham on his return found himself, through Metzger's intervention, chairman of the library board. With characteristic sagacity the butcher kept himself in the background, and the committee who waited upon Farnham to ask him to accept the appointment placed it entirely upon considerations of the public good. His sensitive conscience would not permit him to refuse a duty thus imposed, and so with many inward qualms he assumed a chair in the vile municipal government he had so signally failed to overthrow. He had not long occupied it, when he saw to what his selection was attributable. He was a figure-head and he knew it, but he saw no decent escape from the position. As long as they allowed him and the librarian (who was also a member of the board) to regulate the library to their liking, he could not inquire into their motives or decline association with them. He was perfectly free to furnish what mental food he chose to two hundred thousand people, and he felt it would be cowardice to surrender that important duty on any pitiful question of patronage or personal susceptibility.
So once more he stifled the impulse to resign his post, and the meeting adjourned without further incident. As he walked home, he was conscious of a disagreeable foreboding of something in the future which he would like to avoid. Bringing his mind to bear upon it, it resolved itself into nothing more formidable than the coming interview with Miss Matchin. It would certainly be unpleasant to tell her that her hopes were frustrated, when she had seemed so confident. At this thought, he felt the awakening of a sense of protectorship; she had trusted in him; he ought to do something for her, if for nothing else, to show that he was not dependent upon those ostrogoths. But what could be done for such a girl, so pretty, so uncultivated, so vulgarly fantastic? Above all, what could be done for her by a young and unmarried man? Providence and society have made it very hard for single men to show kindness to single women in any way but one.
At his door he found Sam Sleeny with a kit of tools; he had just rung the bell. He turned, as Farnham mounted the steps, and said:
"I come from Matchin's—something about the greenhouse."
"Yes," answered Farnham. "The gardener is over yonder at the corner of the lawn. He will tell you what is to be done."
Sam walked away in the direction indicated, and Farnham went into the house. Some letters were lying on the table in the library. He had just begun to read them when Budsey entered and announced:
"That young person."
Maud came in flushed with the fresh air and rapid walking. Farnham saw that she wore no glasses, and she gained more by that fact in his good-will than even by the brilliancy of her fine eyes which seemed to exult in their liberation. She began with nervous haste:
"I knew you had a meeting to-day, and I could not wait. I might as well own up that I followed you home."
Farnham handed her a chair and took her hand with a kindly earnestness, saying,
"I am very glad to see you."
"Yes, yes," she continued; "but have you any good news for me?"
The anxious eagerness which spoke in her sparkling eyes and open lips touched Farnham to the heart. "I am sorry I have not. The board appointed another person."
The tears sprang to her eyes.
"I really expected it. I hoped you would interest yourself."
"I did all I possibly could," said Farnham. "I have never tried so hard for anybody before, but a majority were already pledged to the other applicant."
She seemed so dejected and hopeless that Farnham, forgetting for a moment how hard it is for a young man to assist a young woman, said two or three fatal words, "We must try something else."
The pronoun sounded ominous to him as soon as he had uttered it. But it acted like magic upon Maud. She lifted a bright glance through her tears and said, like a happy child to whom a new game has been proposed, "What shall we try?"
Simple as the words were, both of them seemed to feel that a certain relation—a certain responsibility—had been established between them. The thought exhilarated Maud; it seemed the beginning of her long-expected romance; while the glow of kind feeling about the heart of Farnham could not keep him from suspecting that he was taking a very imprudent step. But they sat a good while, discussing various plans for Maud's advantage, and arriving at nothing definite; for her own ideas were based upon a dime-novel theory of the world, and Farnham at last concluded that he would be forced finally to choose some way of life for his protegee, and then persuade her to accept it.
He grew silent and thoughtful with this reflection, and the conversation languished. He was trying to think how he could help her without these continued interviews at his house, when she disposed of the difficulty by rising briskly and saying, "Well, I will call again in a day or two, about this hour?"
"Yes, if it suits you best," he answered, with a troubled brow. He followed her to the door. As she went out, she said, "May I pick a flower as I go?"
He seized his hat, and said, "Come with me to the rose-house in the garden, and you shall have something better."
They walked together down the gravel paths, through the neat and well-kept garden, where the warm spring sunshine was calling life out of the tender turf, and the air was full of delicate odors. She seemed as gay and happy as a child on a holiday. Her disappointment of an hour ago was all gone in the feeling that Arthur was interested in her, was caring for her future. Without any definite hopes or dreams, she felt as if the world was suddenly grown richer and wider. Something good was coming to her certainly, something good had come; for was she not walking in this lovely garden with its handsome proprietor, who was, she even began to think, her friend? The turf was as soft, the air as mild, the sun as bright as in any of her romances, and the figure of Farnham's wealth which she had heard from her father rang musically in her mind.
They went into the rose-house, and he gave her two or three splendid satiny Marechal Niels, and then a Jacqueminot, so big, so rich and lustrous in its dark beauty, that she could not help crying out with delight. He was pleased with her joy, and gave her another, "for your hair," he said. She colored with pleasure till her cheek was like the royal flower. "Hallo!" thought Farnham to himself, "she does not take these things as a matter of course." When they came into the garden again, he made the suggestion which had been in his mind for the last half hour.
"If you are going home, the nearest way will be by the garden gate into Bishop's Lane. It is only a minute from there to Dean Street."
"Why, that would be perfectly lovely. But where is the gate?"
"I will show you." They walked together to the lower end of the lawn, where a long line of glass houses built against the high wall which separated the garden from the street called Bishop's Lane, sheltered the grapes and the pine-apples. At the end of this conservatory, in the wall, was a little door of thin but strong steel plates, concealed from sight by a row of pear trees. Farnham opened it, and said, "If you like, you can come in by this way. It is never locked in the daytime. It will save you a long walk."
"Thanks," she replied. "That will be perfectly lovely."
Her resources of expression were not copious, but her eyes and her mouth spoke volumes of joy and gratitude. Her hands were full of roses, and as she raised her beautiful face to him with pleasure flashing from her warm cheeks and lips and eyes, she seemed to exhale something of the vigorous life and impulse of the spring sunshine. Farnham felt that he had nothing to do but stoop and kiss the blooming flower-like face, and in her exalted condition she would have thought little more of it than a blush-rose thinks of the same treatment.
But he refrained, and said "Good morning," because she seemed in no mood to say it first.
"Good-by, for a day or two," she said, gayly, as she bent her head to pass under the low lintel of the gate.
Farnham walked back to the house not at all satisfied with himself. "I wonder whether I have mended matters? She is certainly too pretty a girl to be running in and out of my front door in the sight of all the avenue. How much better will it be for her to use the private entrance, and come and go by a sort of stealth! But then she does not regard it that way. She is so ignorant of this wicked world that it seems to her merely a saving of ten minutes' walk around the block. Well! all there is of it, I must find a place for her before she domesticates herself here."