Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Author of "The Portion of Labor" "Jerome" "A New England Nun" Etc.
Illustrations by W. D. Stevens
New York and London Harper & Brothers Publishers 1905
To Annie Fields Alden and Harriet Alden
Banbridge lies near enough to the great City to perceive after nightfall, along the southern horizon, the amalgamated glow of its multitudinous eyes of electric fire. In the daytime the smoke of its mighty breathing, in its race of progress and civilization, darkens the southern sky. The trains of great railroad systems speed between Banbridge and the City. Half the male population of Banbridge and a goodly proportion of the female have for years wrestled for their daily bread in the City, which the little village has long echoed, more or less feebly, though still quite accurately, with its own particular little suburban note.
Banbridge had its own "season," beginning shortly after Thanksgiving, and warming gradually until about two weeks before Lent, when it reached its high-water mark. All winter long there were luncheons and teas and dances. There was a whist club, and a flourishing woman's club, of course. It was the women who were thrown with the most entirety upon the provincial resources. But they were a resolved set, and they kept up the gait of progress of their sex with a good deal of success. They improved their minds and their bodies, having even a physical-culture club and a teacher coming weekly from the City. That there were links and a golf club goes without saying.
It was spring, and golf had recommenced for some little time. Mrs. Henry Lee and Mrs. William Van Dorn passed the links that afternoon.
The two ladies were being driven about Banbridge by Samson Rawdy, the best liveryman in Banbridge, in his best coach, with his two best horses. The horses, indeed, two fat bays, were considered as rather sacred to fashionable calls, as was the coach, quite a resplendent affair, with very few worn places in the cloth lining.
Banbridge ladies never walked to make fashionable calls. They had a coach even for calls within a radius of a quarter of a mile, where they could easily have walked, and did walk on any other occasion. It would have shocked the whole village if a Banbridge woman had gone out in her best array, with her card-case, making calls on foot. Therefore, in this respect the ladies who were better off in this world's goods often displayed a friendly regard for those who could ill afford the necessary expense of state calls. Often one would invite another to call with her, defraying all the expenses of the trip, and Mrs. Van Dorn had so invited Mrs. Lee to-day. Mrs. Lee, who was a small, elderly woman, was full of deprecating gratitude and a sense of obligation which made it appear incumbent upon her not to differ with her companion in any opinion which she might advance, and, as a rule, to give her the initiative in conversation during their calls, and the precedence in entry and retreat.
Mrs. Van Dorn was as small as her companion, but with a confidence of manner which seemed to push her forward in the field of vision farther than her size warranted.
She was also highly corseted, and much trimmed over her shoulders, which gave an effect of superior size and weight; her face, too, was very full and rosy, while the other's was narrow and pinched at the chin and delicately transparent.
Mrs. Van Dorn sat quite erect on the very edge of the seat, and so did Mrs. Lee. Each held her card-case in her two hands encased in nicely cleaned, white kid gloves. Each wore her best gown and her best bonnet. The coach was full of black velvet streamers, and lace frills and silken lights over precise knees, and the nodding of flowers and feathers.
There was, moreover, in the carriage a strong odor of Russian violet, which diffused itself around both the ladies. Russian violet was the calling perfume in vogue in Banbridge. It nearly overcame the more legitimate fragrance of the spring day which floated in through the open windows of the coach.
It was a wonderful day in May. The cherry-trees were in full bloom, and tremulous with the winged jostling of bees, and the ladies inhaled the sweetness intermingled with their own Russian violet in a bouquet of fragrance. It was warm, but there was the life of youth in the air; one felt the bound of the pulse of the spring, not its lassitude of passive yielding to the forces of growth.
The yards of the village homes, or the grounds, as they were commonly designated, were gay with the earlier flowering shrubs, almond and bridal wreath and Japanese quince. The deep scarlet of the quince-bushes was evident a long distance ahead, like floral torches. Constantly tiny wings flashed in and out the field of vision with insistences of sweet flutings. The day was at once redolent and vociferous.
"It is a beautiful day," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
"Yes, it is beautiful," echoed Mrs. Lee, with fervor.
Her faded blue eyes, under the net-work of ingratiating wrinkles, looked aside, from self-consciousness, out of the coach window at a velvet lawn with a cherry-tree and a dark fir side by side, and a Japanese quince in the foreground.
After passing the house, both ladies began pluming themselves, carefully rubbing on their white gloves and asking each other if their bonnets were on straight.
"Your bonnet is so pretty," said Mrs. Lee, admiringly.
"It's a bonnet I have had two years, with a little bunch of violets and new strings," said Mrs. Van Dorn, with conscious virtue.
"It looks as if it had just come out of the store," said Mrs. Lee. She was vainly conscious of her own headgear, which was quite new that spring, and distinctly prettier than the other woman's. She hoped that Mrs. Van Dorn would remark upon its beauty, but she did not. Mrs. Van Dorn was a good woman, but she had her limitations when it came to admiring in another something that she had not herself.
Mrs. Lee's superior bonnet had been a jarring note for her all the way. She felt in her inmost soul, though she would have been loath to admit the fact to herself, that a woman whom she had invited to make calls with her at her expense had really no right to wear a finer bonnet—that it was, to say the least, indelicate and tactless. Therefore she remarked, rather dryly, upon the beauty of a new pansy-bed beside the drive into which they now turned. The bed looked like a bit of fairy carpet in royal purples and gold.
"I call that beautiful," said Mrs. Van Dorn, with a slight emphasis on the that, as if bonnets were nothing; and Mrs. Lee appreciated her meaning.
"Yes, it is lovely," she said, meekly, as they rolled past and quite up to the front-door of the house upon whose mistress they were about to call.
"I wonder if Mrs. Morris is at home," said Mrs. Van Dorn, as she got a card from her case.
"I think it is doubtful, it is such a lovely day," said Mrs. Lee, also taking out a card.
Samson Rawdy threw open the coach door with a flourish and assisted the ladies to alight. He had a sensation of distinct reverence as the odor of Russian violet came into his nostrils.
"When them ladies go out makin' fashionable calls they have the best perfumery I ever seen," he was fond of remarking to his wife.
Sometimes he insisted upon her going out to the stable and sniffing in the coach by way of evidence, and she would sniff admiringly and unenviously. She knew her place. The social status of every one in Banbridge was defined quite clearly. Those who were in society wore their honors easily and unquestioned, and those who were not went their uncomplaining ways in their own humble spheres.
Mrs. Van Dorn and Mrs. Henry Lee, gathering up their silken raiment genteelly, holding their visiting-cards daintily, went up the front-door steps, and Mrs. Lee, taking that duty upon herself, since she was Mrs. Van Dorn's guest, pulled the door-bell, having first folded her handkerchief around her white glove.
"It takes so little to soil white gloves," said she, "and I think it is considerable trouble to send them in and out to be cleaned."
"I clean mine with gasolene myself," said Mrs. Van Dorn, with the superiority of a woman who has no need for such economies, yet practises them, over a woman who has need but does not.
"I never had much luck cleaning them myself," said Mrs. Lee, apologetically.
"It is a knack," admitted Mrs. Van Dorn. Then they waited in silence, listening for an approaching footstep.
"If she isn't at home," whispered Mrs. Van Dorn, "We can make another call before the two hours are up." Mr. Rawdy was hired by the hour.
"Yes, we can," assented Mrs. Lee.
Then they waited, and neither spoke. Mrs. Lee had occasion to sneeze, but she pinched her nose energetically and repressed it.
Suddenly both straightened themselves and held their cards in readiness.
"How does my bonnet look?" whispered Mrs. Lee.
Mrs. Van Dorn paid no attention, for then the door was opened and Mrs. Morris's maid appeared, with cap awry and her white apron over a blue-checked gingham which was plainly in evidence at the sides.
The ladies gave her their cards, and followed her into the best parlor, which was commonly designated in Banbridge as the reception-room. The best parlor was furnished with a sort of luxurious severity. There were a few pieces of staid old furniture of a much earlier period than the others, but they were rather in the background in the gloomy corners, and the new pieces were thrust firmly forward into greater evidence.
Mrs. Van Dorn sat down on the corner of a fine velvet divan, and Mrs. Lee near her on the edge of a gold chair. Then they waited, while the maid retired with their cards. "It's a pretty room, isn't it?" whispered Mrs. Lee, looking about.
"She kept a few pieces of the old furniture that she had in her old house when this new one was built, didn't she?"
"Yes. I suppose she didn't feel as if she could buy all new."
The ladies studied all the furnishings of the room, keeping their faces in readiness to assume their calling expression at an instant's notice when the hostess should appear.
"Did she have those vases on the mantel-shelf in the old house?" whispered Mrs. Lee, after a while; but Mrs. Van Dorn made a warning gesture, and instantly both ladies straightened themselves and looked pleasantly expectant, and Mrs. Morris appeared.
She was a short and florid woman, and her face was flushed a deep rose; beads of perspiration glistened on her forehead, her black hair clung to it in wet strands. In her expression polite greeting and irritation and intense discomfort struggled for mastery. She had been house-cleaning when the door-bell rang, and had hastened into her black skirt and black-and-white silk blouse. The blouse was buttoned wrong, and it did not meet the skirt in the back; and she had quite overlooked her neckgear, but of that she was pleasantly unconscious, also of the fact that there was a large black smooch beside her nose, giving her both a rakish and a sinister air.
"I am so glad to find you in," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
"I was telling Mrs. Van Dorn that I was so afraid you would be out, it is such a lovely day," said Mrs. Lee.
"I am so glad I was in," responded Mrs. Morris, with effusion. "I should have been so disappointed to miss your call."
Then the ladies seated themselves, and the conversation went on. Overhead the maid could be heard heavily tramping. The carpet of that room was up, and the mistress and maid had planned to replace it before night; but the mistress held fast to her effusive air of welcome. It had never been fashionable or even allowable not to be at home when one was at home in Banbridge. When Banbridge ladies went abroad calling, in the coach, much was exacted. Mrs. Morris could never have held up her social head again had she fibbed, or bidden the maid fib—that is, if it had been discovered.
"How lovely your house is, Mrs. Morris!" said Mrs. Van Dorn, affably. The Morris house was only a year old, and had not yet been nearly exhausted as a topic of polite conversation.
"Thank you," said Mrs. Morris. "Of course there are things about the furnishings, but one cannot do everything in a minute."
"Now, my dear Mrs. Morris," said Mrs. Lee, "I think everything is sweet." Mrs. Lee said sweet with an effect as if she stamped hard to emphasize it. She made it long and extremely sibilant. Mrs. Lee always said sweet after that fashion.
"Oh, of course you would rather have all your furniture new, than part new and part old," said Mrs. Van Dorn; "but, as you say, you can't do everything at once."
Mrs. Van Dorn was inclined at times to be pugnaciously truthful, when she heard any one else lie. Her hostess looked uneasily at an old red velvet sofa in a dark corner, which was not so dark that a worn place along the front edge did not seem to glare at her. Nobody by any chance sat on that sofa and looked at the resplendent new one. They always sat on the new and faced the old. Mrs. Morris began absently calculating, while the conversation went on to other topics, if she could possibly manage a new sofa before summer.
Mrs. Lee asked if she knew if the new people in the Ranger place, "Willow Lake," were very rich? She said she had heard they were almost millionaires.
"Yes," said Mrs. Morris. "Very rich indeed. Mr. Morris says he thinks they must be, from everything he hears."
"Of course it does not matter in one way or another whether they are rich or not," said Mrs. Lee.
"Well, I don't know," said Mrs. Van Dorn. "Of course nobody is going to say that money is everything, and of course everybody knows that good character is worth more than anything else, and yet I do feel as if folks with money can do so much if they have the will."
"I think that these new people are very generous with their money," said Mrs. Morris. "I heard they about supported the church in Hillfield, New York, where they used to live, and Captain Carroll has joined the Village Improvement Society, and he says he is very much averse to trading with any but the local tradesmen."
"What is he captain of?" inquired Mrs. Lee, who had at times a fashion of putting a question in a most fatuously simple and childish manner.
"Oh, I don't suppose he is really captain of anything now," replied Mrs. Morris. "I don't know how he happened to be captain, but I suppose he must have been a captain in the regular army."
"I suppose he hasn't any business, he is so very rich?"
"Oh yes; he has something in the City. I dare say he does not do very much at it, but I presume he is an active man and does not want to be idle."
"Why didn't he stay in the army, then?" asked Mrs. Lee, clasping her small white kid hands and puckering her face inquiringly.
"I don't know. Perhaps that was too hard, or took him away too far. I suppose some of those army posts are pretty desolate places to live in, and perhaps his wife was afraid of the Indians."
"He's got a wife and family, I hear," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
Both calling ladies were leaning farther and farther towards Mrs. Morris with an absorption of delight. It was as if the three had their heads together over a honey-pot.
"Mr. Lee said he heard they had a fine turnout," said Mrs. Lee.
"Mrs. Peel told me that Mr. Peel said the horses never cost less than a thousand," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
"A thousand!" repeated Mrs. Morris. "Mr. Morris said horses like those were never bought under twenty-five hundred, and Mr. Morris is a pretty good judge of horse-flesh."
"Mr. Van Dorn said Dr. Jerrolds told him that Captain Carroll told him he expected to keep an automobile, and was afraid the Ranger stable wouldn't be large enough," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
"So I heard," said Mrs. Lee.
"I hear he pays a very large rent to Mr. Ranger—the largest rent he has ever got for that house," said Mrs. Morris.
"Well, I hear he pays fifty dollars a month."
"Why, he never got more than forty before!" said Mrs. Lee. "That is, I don't believe he ever did."
"I know he didn't," said Mrs. Morris, positively.
"Well, it is a handsome place," said Mrs. Lee.
"Yes, it is, but these new people aren't satisfied. They must have been used to pretty grand things where they came from. They want the stable enlarged, as I said before, and a box-stall. Mr. Carroll owns a famous trotter that he hasn't brought here yet, because he is afraid the stable isn't warm enough. I heard he wanted steam-heat out there, and a room finished for the coachman, and hard-wood floors all over the house. They say he has two five-thousand-dollar rugs."
"The house is let furnished, I thought," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
"Yes, it is, and the furniture is still there. The Carrolls don't want to bring on many of their own things till they are sure the house is in better order. I heard they talk of buying it."
"Do you know how much—" inquired Mrs. Van Dorn, breathlessly, while Mrs. Lee leaned nearer, her eyes protruding, her small thin mouth open, and her white kid fingers interlacing.
"Well, I heard fifteen thousand."
Both callers gasped.
"Well, it is a great thing for Banbridge to have such people come here and buy real estate and settle, if they are the right sort," said Mrs. Van Dorn, rising to go; and Mrs. Lee followed her example, with a murmur of assent to the remark.
"Must you go?" said Mrs. Morris, with an undertone of joy, thinking of her carpet up-stairs, and rising with thinly veiled alacrity.
"Have you called?" asked Mrs. Van Dorn, moving towards the door, and gathering up her skirts delicately with her white kid fingers, preparatory to going down the steps. Mrs. Lee followed, also gathering up her skirts.
"No, I have not yet," replied Mrs. Morris, preceding them to the door and opening it for them, "but I intend to do so very soon. I have been pretty busy house-cleaning since they came, and that is only two weeks ago, but I am going to call."
"I think it is one's duty to call on new-comers, with a view to their church-going, if nothing else," said Mrs. Van Dorn, with a virtuous air.
"So do I," said Mrs. Lee.
"Good-afternoon," said Mrs. Van Dorn. "What a beautiful day it is!"
Both ladies bade Mrs. Morris good-afternoon and she returned the salutation with unction. Both ladies looked fascinatedly to the last at the black smooch on her cheek as they backed out.
"I thought I should burst right out laughing every time I looked at her, in spite of myself," whispered Mrs. Lee, as they passed down the walk.
"So did I."
"And no collar on!"
"Yes. She must have been house-cleaning."
"Yes. Well, I don't want to say disagreeable things, but really it doesn't seem to me that I would have been house-cleaning such an afternoon as this, when people were likely to be out calling."
"Well, I know I would not," said Mrs. Van Dorn, decidedly. "I should have done what I could in the morning, and left what I couldn't do till next day."
"So should I."
Samson Rawdy stood at the coach-door, and both ladies stepped in. Then he stood waiting expectantly for orders. The ladies looked at each other.
"Where shall we go next?" asked Mrs. Lee.
"Well, I don't know," said Mrs. Van Dorn, hesitatingly. "We were going to Mrs. Fairfield's next, but I am afraid there won't be time if—"
"It really seems to me that we ought to go to call on those new people," said Mrs. Lee.
"Well, I think so too. I suppose there would be time if Mrs. Fairfield wasn't at home, and it is such a lovely day I doubt if she is, and it is on the way to the Carrolls'." She spoke with sudden decision to Samson Rawdy. "Drive to Mr. Andrew Fairfield's, and as fast as you can, please." Then she and Mrs. Lee leaned back as the coach whirled out of the Morris grounds.
It was only a short time before they wound swiftly around the small curve of drive before the Fairfield house. "There is no need of both of us getting out," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
Mrs. Van Dorn alighted and went swiftly with a tiptoeing effect upon the piazza-steps. She was seen to touch the bell. She waited a short space, and then she did not touch it again. She tucked the cards under the door-step, and hurried back to the carriage.
"I knew she wasn't at home," said she, in a whisper, "it is such a lovely day." She turned to Samson Rawdy, who stood holding open the coach-door. "Now you may drive to those new people who have moved into the Ranger place," said she, "Mrs. Carroll's."
There are days in spring wherein advance seems as passive as is the progress of a log down the race of a spring freshet. Then there are other days wherein it seems that every mote must feel to the full its sentient life, and its swelling towards development or fulfilment. On a day like the latter, everything and everybody bestirs. The dust motes spin in whirling columns, the gnats dance for their lives their dance of death before the wayfarer. The gardeners and the grave-diggers turn up the earth with energy, making the clods fly like water. The rich play, or work that they may play, as do the poor. Everybody is up and wide awake and doing. The earth and the habitations thereof are rubbed, cleaned, and swept, or skylarked over; the boy plays with his marbles on the sidewalk or whoops over the fields; the housewives fling wide open their house windows, and the dust of the winter flies out like smoke; the tradesmen set out their new wares to public view, the bees make honey, the birds repeat their world-old nesting songs, the cocks crow straight through the day; nothing stops till the sun sets, and even then it is hard for such an ardent clock of life to quite run down.
It was that spirit of unrest which had sent the two ladies out making calls. There was not one where, if the womenkind were at home at all and not afield, but they had been possessed of the spring activity, until they reached the Ranger place, where the new-comers to Banbridge lived. The Ranger place was, in some respects the most imposing house in Banbridge. It stood well back from the road, in grounds which deserved the name. They were extensive, dotted with stately groups of spruces and pines, and there was in the rear of the house a pond with a rustic bridge, fringed with willows, which gave the place its name, "Willow Lake." The house had formerly been owned by two maiden women with much sentiment, the sisters of the present owner. The place was "Willow Lake." The pond was the "Willow Mere," in defiance of the name of the place. The little rustic bridge was the "Bridge of Sighs," for some obscure reason, perhaps buried in the sentimental past of the sisters. And the little hollow which was profusely sprinkled with violets in the spring was "Idlewild." It was in "Idlewild" that the new family, perverse to the spirit of the day, idled when the callers drove up the road in the best coach.
There was in the little violet-sprinkled hollow a small building with many peaks as to its roof, and diamond-paned windows which had been fitted out with colored glass in a hideous checker-work of orange and crimson and blue, which the departed sisters had called, none but themselves knew why, "The Temple." On the south side grew a rose-bush of the kind which flourished most easily in the village, taking most kindly to the soil. It was an ordinary kind of rose. The sisters had called it an eglantine, but it was not an eglantine. They had been very fond, when the weather permitted, of sitting in this edifice with their work. The place was fitted up with a rustic table and two quite uncomfortable rustic chairs, particularly uncomfortable for the sisters, who were of a thin habit of body.
When James Ranger, who was himself not a man of sentiment, showed the new aspirant for the renting of the place this fantastic building, he spoke of it with a species of apology.
"My sisters had this built," said he, "and it cost considerable," for he did not wish to disparage the money value of anything.
When the family were established in their new home, one of the first things which they did—they signifying Mrs. Carroll, Miss Anna Carroll, the daughters Miss Ina and Miss Charlotte Carroll, and the son Edward Carroll, called Eddy by the family—was to march in a body upon the little "Temple," and, armed with stones, proceed with shouts of merriment to smash out every spear of the crimson and orange and blue glass in the windows. They then demolished the rustic furniture and made of that a noble bonfire. Mrs. Carroll had indeed wondered, between fits of laughter, in her sweet drawl, if they ought to destroy the furniture, as it could not be said, strictly speaking, to belong to them to destroy, but she was promptly vetoed by all the others in merry chorus.
"They are too hideous to live," said Ina; "they ought to be burned. It is our plain duty to burn them."
Therefore they burned them, and brought out some of the parlor chairs to replace them. Then Eddy was sent to Rosenstein's, the village dry-goods store of Banbridge, for yards of green mosquito netting, which, the Carroll credit being newly established with a blare of trumpets, he purchased. Then they had tacked up the green mosquito netting over the window and door gaps, for they had forcibly wrenched the ornate door from its hinges and added it to the bonfire, and the temple of the Muses stood in a film of gently undulating green under the green willows, and was rather a thing of beauty.
The Carrolls loved to pass away the time in that retreat veiled with cloudy green, through which they could see the dull glimmer of the pond, like an old shield of silver, reflecting the waving garlands of the willows, which at that time of year were as beautiful as trees of heaven, having effects of waving lines of liquid green light, and the charming violet-blue turf around them.
The afternoon of the call all the female members of the Carroll family were out there. Captain Carroll was in the City, and Eddy, who, being a boy, was more susceptible to the lash of atmospheric influence, had gone fishing.
"I wonder why Eddy likes to go fishing," said Mrs. Carroll, in her sweet drawl. "Eddy never caught anything."
"You don't have a very high opinion of your son's powers as a fisherman, Amy," said Ina, and they all laughed. The Carrolls were an easy-to-laugh family, and always seemed to find delicious humor in one another's remarks.
"Amy never thinks any of us can catch anything," said Charlotte, the younger daughter, and they all laughed again.
Mrs. Carroll was always Amy in her family. Never did one of her children address her as a parent.
They were a charming group in the little, green, gloomy place, each with the strongest possible family likeness to the others. They were as much alike as the roses on one bush; all were, although not tall, long, and slim of body, and childishly round of face, with delicate coloring; all had pathetic dark eyes and soft lengths of dark hair. Mrs. Carroll and her husband's sister, although not nearly related (Mrs. Carroll had married her many-times-removed cousin), resembled each other as if they had been sisters of one family, and the children resembled their mother. The only difference among any of them was a slight difference of expression that existed mostly in the youngest girl, Charlotte. There were occasions when Charlotte Carroll's expression of soft and pathetic wistfulness and pleading could change to an expression of defiance, almost fierceness.
Her mother often told her that she resembled in disposition her paternal grandmother, who had been a woman of high temper, albeit a great beauty.
"Charlotte, dear, you are just like your grandmother, dear Arthur's mother, who was the worst-tempered and loveliest woman in Kentucky," Mrs. Carroll often remarked. She scarcely sounded the t in Kentucky, since she also was of the South, where the languid air tends to produce elisions. The Carrolls came originally from Kentucky, and had lived there until after the births of the two daughters. When they were scarcely more than infants, Arthur Carroll had experienced the petty and individual, but none the less real, cataclysm of experience which comes to most men sooner or later. It is the earthquake of a unit, infinitesimal, but entirely complete of its kind, and possibly as far-reaching in its thread of consequences. Arthur Carroll had had his palmy days, when he was working with great profits, and, as he believed, with entire righteousness and regard to his fellow-men, a coal-mine in the Kentucky mountains. He had inherited it from his father, as the larger part of his patrimony. When most of the property had been dissipated, at the time of the civil war, the elder Carroll, who was broken by years and reverses, used often to speak of this unimproved property of his, to his son Arthur, who was a young boy at the time. Anna, who was a mere baby, was the only other child.
"When you are a man, Arthur," he was fond of remarking—"when you are a man, you must hire some money, sell what little is left here, if necessary, and work that coal-mine. I always meant to do it myself, and reckon I should have, if that damned war had not taken the money and the strength out of the old man. But when you are a man, Arthur, you must work that mine, and you must build up what the war has torn down. You can buy back and restore, Arthur, and if the South should get back her rights by that time, as she may, why, then, you can stock up the old place again, and go on as your father did."
The old man, who was gouty and full of weary chills of body and mind, used to sit in the sun and dream, to his faint solace, until Arthur was a grown man and through college, and Anna a young girl at school near by. The little that had been left, with the bare exception of the home estate, the plantation, and the mine, had been sold to pay for Arthur's education. Arthur had been out of college only one summer when his father died. His mother, whose proud spirit had fretted the flesh from her bones and drunk up her very blood with futile rage and repining, had died during the war. Then Arthur, who had control of everything, as his sister's guardian, set to work to carry out his father's cherished dream with regard to the coal-mine. He sold every foot of the estate to a neighboring planter, an old friend of his father's, at a sacrifice, with a condition attached that he should have the option of buying it back for cash, at an advanced price, at the end of five years. The purchaser, who was a shrewd sort, of Scotch descent, curiously grafted on to an impetuous, hot-blooded Southern growth, looked at the slim young fellow with his expression of ingenuous almost fatuous confidence in his leading-strings of fate, and considered that he was safe enough and had made a good bargain. He too had suffered from the war, in more ways than one. He had come out of the strife shorn in his fleece of worldly wealth and mutilated as to his body. He limped stiffly on a wooden leg, and his fine buildings had gone up in fire and smoke. But during the years since the war he had retrieved his fortunes. People said he was worth more than before; everything he had handled had prospered. He was one of those men whose very touch seems to multiply possessions. He was a much younger man than Arthur's father, and robust at the time of his death. He explained to Arthur that he was doing him an incalculable service in purchasing his patrimonial estate, when he announced his decision so to do, after taking several weeks to conceal his alacrity.
"It is not everybodee would take a propertee, with such a condeetion attached, Arthur, boy," he said. He had at times a touch of the Scotch in his accent. His father had been straight from the old country when he married the planter's daughter. "Not everybodee, with such a condeetion," he repeated, and the boy innocently believed him. He had been used, ever since he was a child and could remember anything, to seeing a good deal of the man. The Southern wife had died early and the man had been lonely and given to frequent friendly meetings with Mr. Carroll, who had valued him.
"He's the right sort, Arthur," he had often told the boy; "you can depend on him. He has given his gold and his flesh and blood for the South, although he came on one side of another race and might have sided against us. He's the right sort."
So the Scotch-Southern planter had been one of the bearers at the old Carroll's funeral, and the son, when he had formulated his business schemes, had gone to this friend with them, and with his proposal for the sale of the Carroll property. The boy, who was honorable to the finish, had been loath to ask, in the then reduced state of the property, for a loan on mortgage to the extent which he would require; therefore he proposed this conditional sale as offering rather better, or at least more evident, security, and he regarded it in his own mind as practically amounting to the same thing. He was as sure of his being able to purchase back his own, should he secure the necessary funds, as he would have been of paying up the mortgage. The advance price would about twice cover the interest at a goodly rate, had the affair been conducted on the mortgage basis. Arthur himself had proposed that, and "I will of course pay for any improvements you may have made in the mean time," he said. There was nothing in the least mean or ungenerous about Arthur Carroll. He meant, on the whole, rather more squarely to his fellow-men than to himself.
Then with the money obtained from the sale of his patrimony he went to work on his coal-mine. A very trifle of a beginning had been made on it before the war, so he had not actually to break the first ground. The previous owner had died bankrupt from lack of capital, and his minor daughter had inherited it. It was from the minor daughter that the elder Carroll had purchased it, partly with a view to assisting the child, who had been left penniless except for the mine, at the death of her father, who was of a distant branch of Carroll's own family. With the proceeds of the sale the girl was supported and educated; then she lost the remainder through the dishonesty of her guardian. That was the year after young Carroll began to work the mine. Then he married her. She was a beautiful girl, and helpless as a flower. He married her without a cent to support her except the old coal-mine, and he worked as hard and bravely as a man could. And he prospered, to the utter amazement of everybody who watched him, and who had prophesied failure from the start. In four years he was looked upon with respect. People said he was fast getting rich. He went to the man who had bought the Carroll place, at the end of the four years, with the money in his hand and proposed purchasing it. He had not a doubt, such was his trust in the friendliness of the man, that he would gladly consent and pat him on the back with fatherly affection for his success; but, to his amazement, he was refused, although still under the guise of the purest philanthropy.
"No, Arthur, boy," he said. "It is best for you to keep the money in your business awhile longer. It will not do, in a big undertaking like a mine, for you to be creepled. No, Arthur, boy, wait until the next year is up. It is for your good."
In vain Arthur offered an advance upon the original advance price. "No, Arthur, boy," he repeated.
"No, Arthur, boy," he continued to repeat. "It is not wise for you to be creepled in your business."
Arthur protested that he would not be crippled, but with no avail. He went away disappointed, and yet with his faith unshaken. He did not know what transpired later on, that negotiations which would materially enhance the value of the property were being carried on with a railroad by the planter, who was himself one of the railroad directors.
About six months after Arthur's attempt to purchase back his ancestral acres, and while he was at high tide of a small prosperity, this same man came to him with a proposal for him to furnish on contract a large quantity of coal to this same railroad. Arthur jumped at the chance. The contract was drawn up by a lawyer in the nearest town and signed. Arthur, trusting blindly to the honesty and good-will of everybody, had hurried for his train without seeing more than that the stipulated rates had been properly mentioned in the contract. His wife was ill; in fact, Charlotte was only a few days old, and he was anxious and eager to be home. There had been no strikes at that period in that vicinity, and indeed comparatively few in the whole country. Arthur would almost as soon have thought of guarding in his contract against an earthquake; but the strike clause was left out, and there was a strike. In consequence he was unable to fill the contract without ruin, and he was therefore ruined. In the end the old friend of his father, who had purchased his patrimony, remained in undisputed possession of it, with an additional value of several thousands from the passage of the railroad through one end of the plantation, and had, besides, the mine. Arthur had sold the mine at a nominal price to pay his debts, to a third party who represented this man. He had been left actually penniless with a wife and two babies to support, but as his pocket became empty his very soul had seemed to become full to overflowing with the rage and bitterness of his worldly experience. He had learned that the man whom he had trusted had instigated the strike; he learned about the railroad deal. One night he went to his plantation with a shot-gun. He approached the house which had formerly been his own home, where the man was living then. He fully intended to shoot him. He had not a doubt but he should do it, and he had always considered that he should have carried out his purpose had not an old horse which the man had purchased with the estate, and which was loose on the lawn, from some reason or other, whinnied eagerly, and sidled up to him, and thrust her nose over his shoulder. He had been used, when a boy, to feed her sugar, and she remembered. Arthur went away through the soft Southern moonlight without shooting the man. Somehow it was because of the horse, and he never knew why it was. The old childish innocence and happiness seemed to flood over him in a light of spirit which dimmed the moonlight and swept away the will for murder from his soul. But the bitterness and the hate of the man who had wronged him never left him. The next day he went North, and the man in possession breathed more easily, for he had had secret misgivings.
"You had better look out," another man had said to him. "You have trodden on the toes of a tiger when you have trodden on the toes of a Carroll. Sooner or later you will have to pay for it."
No one in the little Kentucky village knew what had become of Arthur Carroll for some time, with the exception of an aunt of Mrs. Carroll's, who was possessed of some property and who lived there. She knew, but she told nothing, probably because she had a fierce pride of family. After years the Carroll girls, Ina and Charlotte, had come back to their father's birthplace and attended a small school some three miles distant from the village, a select young ladies' establishment at which their mother had been educated, and they had visited rather often at their great-aunt Catherine's. After they had finished school, the great-aunt had paid the bills, although nobody knew it, not even the elderly sisters who kept the school, since the aunt lied and stated that Captain Carroll had sent the money. Arthur Carroll was called captain then, and nobody knew why, least of all Carroll himself. Suddenly he had been called captain, and after making a disclaimer or two at first, he had let it go; it was a minor dishonesty, and forced upon him in a measure. The old aunt calmly stated that he had joined the army, been rapidly promoted, and had resigned. People laughed a little, but not to her face. Besides, she had stated that Arthur was a very rich man, and much thought of among the Yankees, and nobody was in a position to disprove that. Certainly when the feminine Carrolls visited in the old place, their appearance carried out the theory of riches. They were very well dressed, and they looked well fed, with that placid, assured air which usually comes only from the sense of possession.
The feminine Carrolls had been speaking of this old aunt that spring day as they sat idly in the little green-curtained temple beside the pond. They had indulged in a few low, utterly gentle, and unmalicious laughs of reminiscence at some of her eccentricities; then they had agreed that she was a good old soul, and said no more of her, but gazed with languorous delight at the spring scene misty with green and rose and gold like the smoke of some celestial fire.
Through the emerald dazzle of the trailing willow-boughs could be seen a small, blooming apple-tree, and a bush full of yellow flowers. Miss Anna Carroll and Ina held books in their laps, but they never looked in them. They were all very well dressed and they wore quite a number of fine jewels on their hands and at their necks, particularly Mrs. Carroll. Her stones, though only of the semi-precious kind, were very beautiful, amethysts which had belonged to a many-times-removed creole grandmother of hers, and the workmanship of whose fine setting dated back to France, and there was a tradition of royal ownership. Mrs. Carroll had a bracelet, a ring, a brooch, and a necklace. The stones, although deeply tinted, showed pink now instead of purple. In fact, they seemed to match the soft, rose-tinted India silk which she wore.
"Amy's amethysts match colors like chamellons," said Ina. "Look how pink they are."
"Lovely," said Charlotte, gazing admiringly. "The next time I go to a dance, you promised I should wear the necklace, Amy, dear."
"You will not go to a dance for a long time in Banbridge, sweet, I fear," said Mrs. Carroll, with loving commiseration.
"Somebody will call soon, and we shall be asked to something," said Charlotte, with conviction.
"Nobody has called yet," Ina said.
"We have only been here three weeks," said Miss Anna Carroll, who was a beautiful woman, and, but for a certain stateliness of carriage, might have seemed but little older than her elder niece.
"Somebody may be calling this afternoon," said Ina, "and the maid has gone out, and we should not know they called."
"Oh, let them leave their cards," said Mrs. Carroll, easily. "That is the only way to receive calls, and make them. If one could only know when people would be out, but not have them know you knew, always—that would be lovely—and if one only knew when they were coming, so one could always be out—that would be lovelier still." Mrs. Carroll had a disjointed way of speaking when she essayed a long speech, that had almost an infantile effect.
"Amy, how very ungracious of you, dear," said Miss Anna Carroll. "You know you always love people when you really do meet them."
"Oh yes," replied Amy, "I know I love them."
Meantime, Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Van Dorn were ringing the door-bell of the Carroll house. They rang the bell and waited, and nobody came.
"Did you ring the bell?" asked Mrs. Van Dorn, anxiously.
"I thought I did. I pressed the button very hard."
"I didn't hear it. I think you had better ring again."
Mrs. Lee obediently pressed the bell again, and then both ladies heard distinctly the far-away tinkle in the depths of the house.
"I heard that," said Mrs. Lee.
"Yes, so did I. It rang that time."
Then the ladies waited again.
"Suppose you ring again," said Mrs. Van Dorn, and Mrs. Lee rang again. Then they waited again, straining their ears for the slightest sound in the house.
"I am afraid they are out," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
"So am I. It is such a lovely afternoon."
Mrs. Van Dorn, after they had waited a short time, put out her hand with a decisive motion, and rang the bell yet again.
"I'm going to make sure they are not at home," said she, "for I don't know when I shall get out calling again, and I always feel as if it was my duty to call on new-comers in the village pretty soon after they move in."
Then they waited again, but no one came. Once Mrs. Lee started and said she was sure she heard some one coming, but it was only the rumble of a train at a station two miles away.
"Shall we leave our cards?" said Mrs. Lee. "I don't suppose there is much use in waiting any longer, or ringing again."
Mrs. Van Dorn, who had been staring intently at the door, looked quickly at her companion with a curious expression. Her face had flushed.
"What is it?" asked Mrs. Lee. "You don't suppose any one is in there and not coming to the door?" Mrs. Lee had a somewhat suspicious nature.
"No; I don't think there is a soul in that house, but—"
"Why, don't you see what they have done?"
"I am afraid I don't quite know what you mean," Mrs. Lee returned, in a puzzled way. It was quite evident that Mrs. Van Dorn wished her to grasp something which her own mind had mastered, that she wished it without further explanation, and Mrs. Lee felt bewilderedly apologetic that she could not comply.
"Don't you see that they have gone off and left the front door unlocked?" said Mrs. Van Dorn, with inflections of embarrassment, eagerness, and impatience. If she and Mrs. Lee had been, as of yore, school-children together, she would certainly have said, "You ninny!" to finish.
"Why!" returned Mrs. Lee, with a sort of gasp. She saw then that the front door was not only unlocked, but slightly ajar. "Do you suppose they really are not at home?" she whispered.
"Of course they are not at home."
"Would they go away and leave the front door unlocked?"
"They might be in the back part of the house, and not have heard the bell," Mrs. Lee said, with a curious tone, as if she replied to some unspoken suggestion.
"I know this house as well as I do my own. You know how much I used to be here when the Ranger girls were alive. There is not a room in this house where anybody with ears can't hear the bell."
Still, Mrs. Van Dorn spoke in that curiously ashamed and indignant voice. Mrs. Lee contradicted her no further.
"Well, I suppose you must be right," said she. "There can't be anybody at home; but it is strange they went off and did not even shut the front door."
"I don't know what the Ranger girls would have said, if they knew it. They would have had a fit at the bare idea of going away for ever so short a time, and leaving the house and furniture alone and the door unlocked."
"Their furniture is here now, I suppose?"
"Yes, I suppose so—some of it, anyway, but I don't know how much furniture these people bought, of course."
"Mr. Lee said he heard they had such magnificent things."
"I heard so, but you hear a good deal that isn't so in Banbridge!"
"That is true. I suppose you knew the house and the Ranger girls' furniture so well that you could tell at a glance what was new and what wasn't?"
"Yes, I could."
As with one impulse both women turned and peered through a green maze of trees and bushes at Samson Rawdy, several yards distant.
"Can you see him?" whispered Mrs. Lee.
"Yes. I think he's asleep. He is sitting with his head all bent over."
Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Van Dorn regarded each other. Both looked at once ashamed and defiant before the other, then into each pair of eyes leaped a light of guilty understanding and perfect sympathy. There are some natures for whom curiosity is one of the master passions, and the desire for knowledge of the affairs of others can become a lust, and Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Van Dorn were of the number. Mrs. Van Dorn gave her head in her best calling-bonnet a toss, and the violets, which were none too securely fastened, nodded loosely; then she thrust her chin forward, she sniffed like a hunting-hound on the scent, pushed open the front-door, and entered, with Mrs. Lee following. As Mrs. Van Dorn entered, the violets on her bonnet became quite detached and fell softly to the floor of the porch, but neither of the ladies noticed.
Mrs. Lee, in particular, had led a monotonous life, and she had a small but intense spirit which could have weathered extremes. Now her faculties seemed to give a leap; she was afraid, but there was distinct rapture in her fear. She had not been so actively happy since she was a child and had been left at home with the measles one Sunday when the rest of the family had gone to church, and she had run away and gone wading in the brook, at the imminent risk not only of condign punishment, but of the measles striking in. She felt now just as then, as if something terrible and mysterious were striking in, and she fairly smacked her soul over it.
Mrs. Lee no longer shrank; she stood up straight; she also thrust her chin forward; her nose sharpened, her blue eyes contracted under her light brows. She even forgot her role of obligation, and did not give Mrs. Van Dorn the precedence; she actually pushed before her. Mrs. Van Dorn had closed the front door very softly, and they stood in a long, narrow hall, with an obsolete tapestry carpet, and large-figured gold and white paper revealing its gleaming scrolls in stray patches of light. Mrs. Lee went close to an old-fashioned black-walnut hat-tree, the one article of furniture besides a chair in the hall.
"Was this theirs?" she whispered to Mrs. Van Dorn.
Mrs. Van Dorn nodded.
Mrs. Lee deliberately removed the nice white kid glove from her right hand, and extending one small taper forefinger, rubbed it over the surface of the black-walnut tree; then she pointed meaningly at the piece of furniture, which plainly, even in the half-light, disclosed an unhousewifely streak. She also showed the dusty forefinger to the other lady, and they both nodded with intense enjoyment.
Then Mrs. Lee folded her silk skirts tightly around her and lifted them high above her starched white petticoat lest she contaminate them in such an untidy house; Mrs. Van Dorn followed her example, and they tiptoed into the double parlors. They were furnished, for the most part, with the pieces dating back to the building of the house, in one of the ugliest eras of the country, both in architecture and furniture. The ceilings in these rather small square rooms were so lofty that one was giddy with staring at the elaborate cornices and the plaster centrepieces. The mantels were all of massively carved marble, the windows were few and narrow, the doors multitudinous, and lofty enough for giants. The parlor floor was carpeted with tapestry in enormous designs of crimson roses, in deliriums of arabesques, though there were a few very good Eastern rugs. The furniture was black-walnut, upholstered in crimson plush; the tables had marble tops; the hangings were lace under heavily fringed crimson lambrequins dependent from massive gilt mouldings. There were a bronze clock and a whatnot and a few gilt-framed oil-paintings of the conventional landscape type, contemporary with the furniture in American best parlors. Still, there were a few things in the room which directly excited comment on the part of the visitors. Mrs. Lee pointed at some bronzes on the shelf.
"Those are theirs, aren't they?" said she.
"Yes, the Ranger girls had some very handsome Royal Worcester vases. I guess James Ranger saw to it that those weren't left here."
Mrs. Van Dorn eyed the bronzes with outward respect, but she did not admire them. Banbridge ladies, as a rule, unless they posed, did not admire bronzes. She also viewed with some disapproval a number of exquisite little Chinese ivory carvings on the whatnot. "Those are theirs," said she. "The Ranger girls had some handsome bound books and a silver card-receiver, and a bust of Clytie on top of the whatnot. I suppose these are very expensive; I have always heard so. I never priced any, but it always seemed to me that they hardly showed the money."
"I suppose they have afternoon tea," said Mrs. Lee, regarding a charming little inlaid tea-table, decked with Dresden.
"Perhaps so," replied Mrs. Van Dorn, doubtfully. "But I have noticed that when tea-tables are so handsome, folks don't use them. They are more for show. That cloth is beautiful."
"There is a tea-stain on it," declared Mrs. Lee, pointing triumphantly.
"That is so," assented Mrs. Van Dorn. "They must use it." She looked hard at the stain on the tea-cloth. "It's a pity to get tea on such a cloth as that," said she. "It will never come out."
"Oh, I don't believe that will trouble them much," said Mrs. Lee, with soft maliciousness. She indicated with the pointed toe of her best calling-shoe, a hole in the corner of the resplendent Eastern rug.
"Oh," returned Mrs. Van Dorn.
"I know it is considered desirable to have these Oriental things worn," said Mrs. Lee, "but there is no sense in letting an expensive rug like this wear out, and no good house-keeper would."
"Well, I agree with you," said Mrs. Van Dorn.
Presently they passed on to the other rooms. They made a long halt in the dining-room.
"That must be their solid silver," said Mrs. Van Dorn, regarding rather an ostentatious display on the sideboard.
"The idea of going away and leaving all that silver, and the doors unlocked!" said Mrs. Lee.
"Evidently they are people so accustomed to rich things that they don't think of such risks," said Mrs. Van Dorn, with a curious effect of smacking her lips over possessions of her own, instead of her neighbors. She in reality spoke from the heights of a small but solid silver service, and a noble supply of spoons, and Mrs. Lee knew it.
"I suppose they must have perfectly beautiful table-linen," remarked Mrs. Lee, with a wistful glance at the sideboard-drawers.
"Yes, I suppose so," assented Mrs. Van Dorn, with a half-sigh. Her eyes also on the closed drawers of the sideboard, were melancholy, but there was a line which neither woman could pass. They could pry about another woman's house in her absence, but they shrank from opening her drawers and investigating her closets. They respected all that was covered from plain sight. Up-stairs it was the same. Things were strewn about rather carelessly, therefore they saw more than they would otherwise have done, but the closet-doors and the bureau-drawers happened to be closed, and those were inviolate.
"If all their clothes are as nice as these, they must have wardrobes nicer than any ever seen in Banbridge," said Mrs. Lee, fingering delicately a lace-trimmed petticoat flung over a chair in one of the bedrooms. "This is real lace, don't you think so, Mrs. Van Dorn?"
"I don't think. I know," replied Mrs. Van Dorn. "They must have elegant wardrobes, and they must be very wealthy people. They—" Suddenly Mrs. Van Dorn cut her remarks short. She turned quite pale and clutched at her companion's silk-clad arm. "Hush!" she whispered. "What was that?"
Mrs. Lee, herself ashy white, looked at her. Both had distinctly heard a noise. Now they heard it again. The sound was that of footsteps, evidently those of a man, in the lower hall.
"What shall we do? Oh, what shall we do?" said Mrs. Lee, in a thin whisper. She trembled so that she could scarcely stand.
Mrs. Van Dorn, trying to speak, only chattered. She clutched Mrs. Lee harder.
"Is there a back staircase? Oh, is there?" whispered Mrs. Lee. "Is there?" The odor of a cigar stole softly through the house. "I can smell his cigar," whispered Mrs. Lee, in an agony.
Mrs. Van Dorn pulled herself together. She nodded, and began pulling Mrs. Lee towards the door.
"Oh," panted Mrs. Lee, "anything except being caught up-stairs in their bedrooms! They might think—anything."
"Hurry!" hissed Mrs. Van Dorn. They could hear the footsteps very distinctly, and the cigar-smoke made them want to cough. Holding their silk skirts like twisted ropes around them so they should not rustle, still clinging closely one to the other, the two women began slowly moving, inch by inch, through the upper hall, towards the back stairs. These they descended in safety, and emerged on the lower hall.
They were looking for a rear door, with the view of a stealthy egress and a skirting of the bushes on the lawn unobserved until they should gain the shelter of the carriage, when there was a movement at their backs, and a voice observed, "Good-afternoon, ladies," and they turned, and there was Captain Arthur Carroll. He was a man possibly well over forty, possibly older than that, but his face was as smooth as a boy's, and he was a man of great stature, with nevertheless a boyish cant to his shoulders. Captain Arthur Carroll was a very handsome man, with a viking sort of beauty. He was faultlessly dressed in one of the lightest of spring suits and a fancy waistcoat, and he held quite gracefully the knot of violets which had fallen from Mrs. Van Dorn's bonnet.
The two stood before him, gasping, coloring, trembling. For both of them it was horrible. All their lives they had been women who had held up their heads high in point of respectability and more. None was above them in Banbridge, no shame of wrong-doing or folly had ever been known by either of them, and now both their finely bonneted heads were in the dust. They stood before this handsome, courteously smiling gentleman and were conscious of a very nakedness of spirit. Their lust of curiosity was laid bare, they were caught in the act. Mrs. Van Dorn opened her mouth, she tried to speak, but she only made a strange, croaking sound. Her face was now flaming. But Mrs. Lee was pale, and she stood rather unsteadily.
Arthur Carroll at first looked merely bewildered. "Aren't the ladies at home?" said he. "Have you seen the ladies?" He glanced at Mrs. Van Dorn's deflowered bonnet, and extended the bunch of violets. "Yours, I think," he said. Mrs. Van Dorn took them with an idiotic expression, and he asked again if they had seen the ladies.
The spectacle of two elderly, well-dressed females of Banbridge quaking before him in this wise, and of their sudden appearance in his house, was a mystery too great to be grasped at once even by a clever man, and he was certainly a clever man. So he stared for a second, while the two remained standing before him, holding their card-cases in their shaking, white-gloved fingers, and Mrs. Van Dorn with the violets; then suddenly an expression of the most delighted comprehension and amusement overspread his face.
"Oh," he said, politely, with a great flourish, as it were of deference, "the ladies are not in. They will be exceedingly sorry to have missed your call. But will you not come in and sit down?"
Mrs. Van Dorn gained voice enough to gasp that she thought they must go. Captain Carroll stood back, and the two women, pressing closely together, tottered through the hall towards the front door.
Captain Carroll followed, beaming with delighted malice. "I hope you will call again, when the ladies are home," he said to Mrs. Van Dorn, whom he recognized as the leader.
She made an inarticulate attempt at "Thank you." She was making for the door, like a scared hare to the entrance of its cover.
"But I have not your names, ladies, that I may inform Mrs. Carroll who has called?" said Captain Carroll, in his stingingly polite voice.
Both women looked over their shrinking shoulders at him at that. Suddenly the hideous consequences of it all, the afterclap, sounded in their ears. That was the end of their fair fame in Banbridge, in their world. Life for them was over. Their faces, good, motherly, elderly village faces, after all, were pitiful; the shame in them was a shame to see, so ignominious was it. They stood convicted of such a mean fault, that the shame was the meaner also.
Suddenly Mr. Carroll's face changed. It became broadly comprehensive, so generously lenient that it was fairly grand. A certain gentleness also was evident, his voice was kind.
"Never mind, ladies," said Arthur Carroll. "There is really very little use in your telling me your names, because my memory is so bad. I remember neither names nor faces. If I should meet you on the street, and should fail to recognize you on that account, I trust that you will pardon me. And—" said Captain Carroll, "on that account, I will not say anything about your call to the ladies of my family; I should be sure to get it all wrong. We will wait, and trust that you will find them at home the next time you call. Good-afternoon, ladies." Captain Carroll had further mercy. He allowed the ladies to leave the house unattended and to dive desperately into the waiting coach.
"Home at once," Mrs. Van Dorn cried, hoarsely, to Samson Rawdy, waking from his nap in some bewilderment.
Captain Carroll was standing on the porch with a compound look of kindest pity and mirth on his face when the Carroll ladies came strolling round that way from the pond. He kissed them all, as was his wont; then he laughed out inconsequently.
"What are you laughing at, dear?" asked Amy.
"At my thoughts, sweetheart."
"What are your thoughts, daddy?" asked Charlotte.
"Thoughts I shall never tell anybody, honey," he replied, with another laugh. And Captain Arthur Carroll never did tell.
History often repeats itself where one would least expect it, and the world-old tide of human nature has a way of finding world-old channels. Therefore it happened in Banbridge, as in ancient times, that there was a learned barber, or perhaps, to be more strictly accurate, a barber who thought that he was learned. He would have been entirely ready, had his customers coincided with his views, to have given his striped pole its old signification of the ribbon bandage which bound the arm of a patient after bleeding, and added surgery to his hair-cutting and his beard-shaving. John Flynn had the courage of utter conviction as to his own ability to master all undertakings at which he chose to tilt. An aspiration once conceived, he never parted with, but held to it as a part of his life. Non-realization made not the slightest difference. His sense of time as a portion of eternity never left him, and therefore his patience under tardy fulfilment of his desires never faltered. Some ten years before, he decided that he would at some earlier or later date become mayor of Banbridge, and his decision was still impregnable. After every new election of another candidate, he begged his patrons for their votes another time, and was not in the least disturbed nor daunted that they had failed in their former promises. Flynn's good-nature was as unfaltering as his self-esteem, perhaps because of his self-esteem. He only smiled with fatuous superiority when from time to time, after the elections, his patrons would chaff him about his failure to secure the mayoralty. They did so with more effect since there were always among the horse-players on such occasions a few who would cast votes for the barber, esteeming it as a choice and perennial joke, and his reading his name among the unsuccessful candidates served to foster his delusion and keep Flynn's ambition alive.
One Sunday, shortly after the Carrolls had moved to Banbridge, John Flynn was shaving Jacob Rosenstein, who kept the principal dry-goods store of the village, and a number of men were sitting and lounging about, waiting their turns. Flynn's shop was on the main street in the centre of the business district—his shop, or his "Tonsorial Parlor," as his sign had it. It was quite an ornate establishment. There was a lace lambrequin in the show-window, a palm in each corner, between which stood a tank of gold-fish, and below the lace lambrequin swung a gilt cage containing an incessantly hopping, though silent, yellow canary.
Flynn was intensely proud and fond of the establishment, and was insulted if it was alluded to as a barber-shop. He himself never even thought of it, much less spoke of it, as such. "Well, I must be going to the 'Parlor,'" he would say when setting out to business. He was unmarried, and lived in a boarding-house.
As Flynn shaved Rosenstein, who was naturally speechless, his landlady's husband, Billy Amidon, was talking a good deal. Amidon was always shaved for nothing, in consideration of the fact that his wife supported him with board money, and the barber had an undefined conviction that it was mean to take it back after he had just paid it. Amidon was a notorious talker, and was called a very "dry sort of man," which, in the village vernacular, signified that he was esteemed a wit.
"Well," he said to another man, who was leaning with a relaxation of all his muscles against the little strip of counter, which contained a modest assortment of hair-oils and shaving-brushes and soaps which nobody was ever seen to buy—"well, John has lost ten pounds since the election, Tappan."
Tappan ran a milk-route between Banbridge and Ardmoor, a little farming-place six miles out. Tappan was an Ardmoor man. His milk-wagon stood in front of the "Tonsorial Parlor." He had a drink of beer at Frank Steinbach's saloon next door, and now was waiting for his Sunday shave before going home. His milk-peddling was over for the day. He was a hard-working-man, and had been on the road since four o'clock. He had a heavy look about his eyes, and he greeted Amidon's facetiousness with a weary and surly hitch.
"Has he?" he replied, indifferently.
But a very young, very small man, sitting in one of the "Parlor" arm-chairs, laughed like a child, with intense enjoyment. "Yep," he said, "I've noticed that. As much as ten pounds has went since election, sure."
"Shet up," replied Flynn, carefully scraping his patron's face. He said "Shet up" with an expression of foolish pride. The postmaster of Banbridge, who was sitting somewhat aloof and held himself with a constraint of exclusiveness (he was new to his office and had not yet lost the taste of its dignity), laughed.
"Let me see, how many votes did you have this year, John?" he asked, condescendingly.
"Five," replied John, with open exultation.
"Now, John, why didn't you get more than that, I'd like to know?"
Flynn laughed knowingly. "Oh," he said, "it's the old story—not money enough."
"But a lot promised they'd vote for you, didn't they, John?" persisted the postmaster, Sigsbee Ray, with a wink of humorous confidence at the others.
"Yep, but damme, who expects anybody to keep an election promise if he ain't paid for it? I ain't unreasonable. What's elections for? You wait."
"Haven't you given up yet, John?"
"Well, I guess not. You wait."
"Say, John," interposed Amidon, "how much did you pay them five what voted for you this year, hey?"
Flynn looked up from Rosenstein's belathered face with a burst of simple triumph. "I didn't pay any of them a penny," said he. "There is damn fools everywhere, and you wait," said he, "an' see ef there ain't more come to light next time. I'll fetch it yet, along of the fools, an' ef I can raise a leetle money, an' I begin to see my way clear to that."
"How's that?" John was asked by the small young man.
"I'm layin' low 'bout that," replied John, mysteriously.
"Now, John," said the postmaster, "you wouldn't lay low if there was a good chance to make some money, and not give us poor devils a chance?"
The postmaster spoke consciously. He expected what came, the buzz of remonstrance at his classing himself in his new office with poor devils.
"You'd better talk about poor devils," growled the milkman, Tappan. "You'd better talk. Huh! here you be, don't hev to git to work till eight o'clock, an' quittin' at eight nights, and fifteen hundred a year. You'd better talk, Mr. Ray. If you was a man gittin' up at three of a winter's mornin', and settin' out with a milk-route at four, an' makin' 'bout half a penny a quart, an' cussed at that 'cause it ain't all cream—if you was as dead tired as I be this minute you might talk."
"Well, I'm willing to allow that I am not as hard pushed as you are," said the postmaster, with magnanimous humility.
"You'd better. Poor devils, huh! I guess I know what poor devils be, and the hell they're in. Bet your life I do. Huh!"
"I'm a poor devil 'nough myself, when it comes to that," said Amidon, "but I reckon you kin speak for yourself when it comes to talkin' about bein' in hell, Tappan. Fur's I'm concerned, I'm findin' this a purty comfertable sort of place."
Amidon was a tall man, and he stretched his length luxuriously as he spoke. Tappan eyed him malignantly. He was not a pleasant-tempered man, and now he was both weary and impatient of waiting for his turn with the barber.
"I should think any man might be comfortable, ef he had a wife takin' boarders to support him, but mebbe if she was to be asked to tell the truth, she'd tell a different story," he said. Tappan spoke in a tone of facetious rage, and the others laughed, all except the barber. He had a curious respect for his landlady's husband.
"Ef a lady has the undisposition to let her husband subside on her bounty, it is between them twain. Who God has joined together, let no man set asunder," said he, bombastically, and even the surly milkman, and Rosenstein under his manipulating razor, when a laugh was dangerous, laughed. John Flynn, when he waxed didactic, and made use of large words and phrases, was the comic column of Banbridge.
Amidon, thus defended, chuckled also, albeit rather foolishly, and slouched to the door. "Guess I'll drop up and git the Sunday paper. I'll be in later on, John," he mumbled. He had the grace to be somewhat ashamed both by the attack and by the defence, and was for edging out, but stopped on the threshold of the door, arrested by something which the small man said.
"Talkin' about poor devils, there's one man in Banbridge ain't no poor devil. S'pose you know we've got a J. P. Morgan right amongst us?"
"Who?" asked the postmaster; and Amidon, directly now the conversation was thoroughly shifted from himself, returned to his former place.
"I know who he means," said he, importantly. "Oh, it's the man what's rented the Ranger place. They say he's a millionaire."
The milkman straightened himself interestedly. "I rather guess he is," said he. "They take two quarts of cream every morning, and three quarts of milk."
"Lord!" said the barber, gaping over his patron's head. "Lord!"
Although very short and slight, the barber had a large face, simple, amiable with a smirk of conceit as to the lower part; his forehead was very large and round, as was his head, and his blue eyes were very placid, even beautiful. The barber never laughed.
"Two quarts of cream!" said the small man. "Whew!"
"He must be rich if he takes all that cream," said the postmaster. "A half a pint a day about breaks me, but my wife must have it for her coffee."
Rosenstein had so far got his freedom of speech, for the barber had never ceased operation to speak, though rather guardedly. "He must be rich," he said. "Any man in Banbridge that buys as much as he does from a store in the place, an' wants his bills regular every Saturday night, has got somethin'."
"Has he paid 'em?" asked the postmaster.
"All except the last one, an' that he didn't pay because I couldn't cash a check for five hundred and give him the balance. 'Lord, sir,' says I, 'ef you want a check of that value cashed, you'll have to go to John Wanamaker. That's as much as I take in Banbridge in a whole year.' 'Well, mebbe you'll do better this year,' says he, laughing, and goes out. He's a fine-spoken man, an' it was a lucky day for Banbridge when he come here."
"He don't buy many postage-stamps," said the postmaster, thoughtfully, "but he asked me if I should be able to let him have as much as ten dollars' worth at a time, ef he wanted 'em, an' I said I should, an' I've just ordered in more. An' he has a big mail."
The barber had been opening his mouth and catching his breath preparatory to speaking and saying more than any of them. Now he spoke: "That man's wuth a mighty lot of money now," said he, "but what he's wuth now ain't nothin' to what he's goin' to be wuth some day."
"What do you mean, John?" asked Amidon, patronizingly.
"Well, now, I'll tell you what I mean. That man, it's Cap. Carroll what's just arraigned to Banbridge that you're all talkin' about, ain't it?"
"Yes. Go ahead."
"Well, now, Cap. Carroll is agoin' to be one of them great clapatalists, ef he ain't now," he said.
"Well, he got holt of some stock that's goin' to bust the market and turn Wall Street into a mill-stream in less than a year, ef it keeps on as it has went so fur."
"What is it?" asked the small man.
The milkman sighed wearily. "Oh, slow up yer jaw, and gimme a chance sometime," he growled. "I want to git home an' git my breakfast. I'm hungry."
Flynn began hurriedly finishing off Rosenstein, talking with no less eagerness as he did so. "Well, it's Bonaflora mining-stock, ef you want to know," he said, importantly.
"Where is it?" asked the postmaster, with a peculiar smile.
"Out West somewhere. It ain't but fifty cents a share, an' it's goin' up like a skyrocket, an' there's others. There's a new railroad out there, an' other mines, an' a new invention for makin' fuel out of coal-dust, an' some other things."
"Is Captain Carroll the president of them?" asked the small man, with an impressed air. He was very young, and eager-looking, and very shabby. He grubbed on a tiny ancestral farm, for a living for himself and wife and four children, young as he was. He had never had enough to eat, at least of proper food. He did not come to the "Tonsorial Parlor" to be shaved, for he hacked away at his innocent cheeks at home with his deceased father's old razor, but he loved a little gossip. In fact, John Flynn's barber-shop was his one dissipation. Sometimes he looked longingly at a beer-saloon, but he had no money, unless he starved Minna and the children, and for that he was too good and too timid. His Minna was a stout German girl, twice his size, and she ruled him with a rod of iron. She did not approve of the barber-shop, and so the pleasure had something of the zest of a forbidden one.
Every Sunday he was at his wit's end, which was easily reached, to invent a suitable excuse for his absence. To-day it had been to see if Mrs. Amidon did not want to buy some apples. Some of their last winter's store had been miraculously preserved, and Minna saw the way to a few pennies thereby. He could quite openly say that he had been to the barber-shop to-day, having seen Amidon there, therefore he was quite easy in his mind, and leaned back in his chair with perfect content. One of the children at home cried all the time. A yawning mouth of wrath at existence was about all he ever saw of that particular baby, and Minna almost always scolded, and this was a haven of peace to little Willy Eddy.
Here he felt like a man among men; at home he felt like nothing at all among women. The children were all girls. Sometimes he wondered if a boy-baby might not have been a refuge. He was not very clean; his hands were still stained with picking over potatoes the day before; his shoulders in their rusty coat had a distinct hunch; but he was radiantly happy talking of the rich Captain Carroll. He seemed to taste the honey of the other man's riches and importance in his own mouth. Willy Eddy did not know the meaning of envy. He had such a fund of sympathetic imagination that he possessed the fair possessions of others like a child with fairy tales.
"Is he president of all of them?" asked little Willy Eddy, with gusto, and looked as if he himself held them all in his meagre potato-stained hands.
"No," replied the barber, with importance—"no, he's more than a president. A president is nothin' except a figger-head. I don't care what he's president of, whether it is of this great country or of railroads or what not. They could git along without the president, but they can't without this gentleman. He's the promoter."
"Oh!" said the small man.
The milkman sighed wrathfully again. "Oh, hang it all!" he said. "I've seed promoters. It's mostly their own pockets they promote."
"Well, I don't know," said the postmaster, as one with authority. "I don't know. Captain Carroll was in the office the other day, and we had a little talk, and it struck me that some of the ventures he is interested in were quite promising. And it is different with a man of his wealth. When a poor man takes up anything of the kind, you can suspect, but this is different. He said to me that he had no occasion, so far as the money was concerned, to turn his finger over for any of them or to open his mouth concerning them. He said he would not be afraid to stake every dollar he had in the world on them if it was necessary."
Flynn had daintily anointed Rosenstein's shaven face with witch-hazel and was now dusting it with powder. Tappan was slouching towards the chair.
"Have you bought some of the stock?" the barber asked, abruptly, of the postmaster, who smiled mysteriously and hedged.
"Well, maybe I have, and maybe again I haven't," said he. "Have you, John?"
"Not yet," replied the barber. "I am deflecting upon the matter. It requires considerable loggitation when a man has penuriously saved a circumscribed sum from the sweat of his brow."
"That's so. Don't be rash, John," said Amidon.
It was not especially funny, but since Amidon intended it to be, they all obligingly laughed, except Tappan, who set himself with a grunt in the chair and had the white sheet of which Rosenstein had been denuded tied around his neck.
Rosenstein, who was a lean man, with a much-lined face, cast a glance at himself in the looking-glass, and heaved an odd sigh as he turned away to get his hat.
"You don't seem to be much stuck on your looks, old man," remarked Amidon.
Rosenstein cast a perfectly good-humored but rather melancholy look at Amidon. "No; I never was," he replied, soberly. "Can't remember when I wouldn't have preferred to meet some other fellow in the looking-glass. It's such an awful thing, the intimacy with himself that's forced on a man when he comes into this world."
"That's so," assented Amidon, rather stupidly, but he was not to be abashed with the other man's metaphysics. Rosenstein did credit to his German ancestry at times, and was then in deep waters for his village acquaintances.
"Who would you ruther meet in the lookin'-glass than yerself?" pursued Amidon.
"Not you," replied Rosenstein, with unexpected repartee, and was going out amid a chorus of glee at Amidon's discomfiture when another man darkened the doorway, and the storekeeper fell back as Captain Carroll entered amid a sullen silence.
The postmaster rose, and in a second the small man and Amidon followed his example. Carroll greeted them all with a cordiality which had in it a certain implication of admiring confidence. Not a man there but felt at once that this new-comer had a most flattering recognition of himself in particular, to the exclusion of all the others. It was odd how he contrived to produce this impression, but produce it he did. It was Arthur Carroll's great charm, the great secret of a remarkable influence over his fellow-men. He appealed with consummate skill to the selfish side of every one with whom he came in contact, he exalted him in his own eyes far above the masses with whom he was surrounded, by who could tell what subtle alchemy. Each man preened unconsciously his panoply of spiritual pride under this other man's gentle, courteous eyes. Even Rosenstein straightened himself. And besides, this was the respectful admiration which the man himself excited, by reason of his fine appearance and address, his good looks, his irreproachable clothes, and his reputed wealth.
Arthur Carroll made an entrance into the "Tonsorial Parlor." Moreover, the other men could see out in front of the establishment, the coach, the coachman in livery—the first livery on record as actually resident in Banbridge; liveries had passed through, but never before tarried—the fretting steeds with their glittering equipment. Around the coach had already gathered several small boys, huddled together, and transfixed with awe too deep for impudence.
Carroll, having greeted the men, said good-morning urbanely to the barber, who had ceased lathering Tappan and was looking at him indeterminately. It seemed dreadful to him that this great man should have to wait for the milkman. The barber was a conservative to the core, and would speak of the laboring-classes and tradesmen as if he himself were on the other side of the highway from birth. Tappan himself, who, as said before, was naturally surly, was also a dissenter on principle, and had an enlarged sense of injury, had qualms at keeping waiting a man who patronized him to the extent of two quarts of cream and three quarts of milk daily. It was like quarrelling with his bread-and-butter, as he put it, when alluding to the affair later on.
"I ain't goin' through the world seein' no men as is better 'n I be," he said, "but there's jest this much about it, I ain't a fool, an' I know enough to open the door when a man wants to walk through to pay me some money. Ef Carroll hadn't been takin' that much cream and milk, I'd set there in that barber's-chair ef I'd had a year's beard to shave, an' I'd kept him waitin', and enjoyed it, but, as it was, I did what I did."
What Tappan did was to wave back Flynn's lathering-hand, and to say, rather splutteringly, that he would wait, "ef Captain Carroll was in a hurry."
But Captain Carroll was in no hurry, it seemed, and, moreover, gave the impression that if he had been about to catch a railroad train to keep an important business engagement, he would not have dreamed of thrusting himself in before the milkman with his milk all delivered. He, moreover, gave the impression that he considered the milkman a polished gentleman for his handsome offer, and all this without saying so much. Captain Carroll seated himself, and completed the impression by tendering everybody cigars. Then the "Tonsorial Parlor" and its patrons waiting for a Sunday-morning shave became a truly genteel function. Willy Eddy, who was dreamily imaginative, and read the Sunday papers when his Minna gave him a chance and did not chide him for the waste of money, remembered things he had read about the swagger New York clubs. He smoked away and made-believe he was a clubman, and enjoyed himself artlessly. The sun got farther around and the south window was a sheet of burning radiance. It became rather too warm, and on Carroll making a motion to move his chair into the shade, every other man moved into the sunshine, and sat sweltering and smoking in a fatuous vainglory. The canary bird hopped faster and faster. The gold-fishes swam with a larger school of bright reflections. A bumblebee flew in the open window and buzzed dangerously near the hero's head. Willy Eddy rose and, ostentatiously, at his own risk, drove the intruder away, and was gratefully thanked. Truly hero-worship, while it is often foolish and fool-making, is not the worst sentiment of mankind. When the great man made a move to order his coachman to take the wonderful rig away, and drive, because the horses were restive and needed exercise, and he himself—the delicate humor of the thing—also needed exercise and would walk home, Amidon sped in his service as he had never sped in the service of the long-suffering wife, at that moment struggling painfully with the Sunday dinner, and bringing wood from the shed to replenish the fire.
Carroll did not need to lead up to his mining and other interests. The subject was broached at once by the others. The postmaster opened it. He spoke with less humility than the others, as being more on a footing of equality.
"Well, captain, heard lately from the Boniflora?" he asked, knowingly. And Carroll replied that he had received a letter from the manager the night before which gave most encouraging information concerning the prospects.
"Anything of the United Fuel?" continued the postmaster.
"Large block just sold, at an advance of six and three-eighths," replied Carroll, blowing the smoke from his mouth. Carroll inspired confidence by the very quietness and lack of enthusiasm with which he spoke of his enterprises. All his listeners thought privately that he was in no way anxious to sell his stock, after all. Perhaps, moreover, he did not intend to sell any but large blocks. Little Willy Eddy ventured to ask for information on the latter point.
"Mebbe you don't keer nothin' about sellin' of it unless it is in big lumps?" he queried, timidly. He was thinking of a matter of $250 which his father had saved from pension-money, and was still in the savings-bank. Carroll replied (but with the greatest indifference) that they often sold stock in very small blocks, and the confidence of them waxed apace. Amidon thought of a little money which his wife had saved from her boarders, and the barber immediately resolved to invest every cent he had in the United Fuel. Such was Captain Carroll's graciousness and urbanity that he idled away an hour in the barber-shop, and the other men melted away, although reluctantly, from an atmosphere of such effulgence. The milkman's hollow stomach drove him home for his breakfast. Little Willy Eddy thought uneasily of his Minna, and took his departure. The postmaster had a Sunday mail to sort. And Amidon went out to get a drink of beer; Carroll's cigar had dried his throat. Carroll was shaven last, and Flynn did his best by him, even unto a new jar of cold cream, double the quantity of witch-hazel, and a waste of powder. Then after he had carefully adjusted his hat, and was at last about to go, Flynn stopped him.
"Beg your pardon, sir," said he, "but—"
"But what?" said Carroll, rather kindly.
The barber's lip was actually quivering. The magnitude and importance of what he was about to propose almost affected his weakly emotional nature to tears.
He finally made out to say, while tears were actually rolling down his cheeks under Carroll's puzzled regard, that he had $1000 which he had saved, and he would like to invest every penny of it in United Fuel. And before Carroll knew what he was at, he had actually produced $1000 in a bulky roll of much-befingered notes, from some hiding-place, and was waving them before Carroll's eyes.
"Here," said he, "here is the money. You may as well take it now. You can get the securities in New York to-morrow, and bring them out on the train. Here is the money. Take it."
Arthur Carroll did not move to take the money. He stood looking at the excited man with a curious expression. In fact, his face seemed to reflect the emotion of the barber's. His voice was a trifle husky.
"Is that all you have saved?" he asked.
"Every dollar," replied the barber, continuing to wave and thrust the bills, but he raised an edge of his apron to his eyes, overflowing with the stupendousness of it. "Every dollar. I might have saved more, but I've been laid up winters considerable with grippe, and folks don't like to be shaved by a grippy barber. Dunno's I blame 'em. I've had to hire, and hirin' comes high. I've had considerable to do for a widder with four children, too—she's my brother's widder—an', take it all together, I 'ain't been able to save another dollar. But that don't make no odds, as long as I'm going to double it in that stock of yourn. Take it."
Carroll backed away almost sternly. "I don't want your money," he said.
The barber stood aghast. Captain Carroll had actually a look of offence.
"I hope as I hain't done nothin' that ain't reg'lar," he stammered.
Captain Carroll stepped close to him. He laid one white long-fingered hand on the barber's white jacket-sleeve. He whispered with slyest confidence, although no one was within hearing:
"You keep that money a little while longer," he whispered. "I wouldn't say it to every man, but I will to you. There's going to be a lawsuit, and the stock may drop a point or two. It won't drop much, and it will recover more than it loses, but then is the time to buy, especially when you want a big block, and—I'll let you know."
"Thank you, thank you," said the barber, restoring the bills to a greasy old pocket-book. He was faint with gratitude. "All right," he said, and he nodded and winked with intensest comprehension. "All right. You let me know."
"Yes, I'll let you know when it is best to invest," repeated Carroll. He turned on the threshold. "See here," he said, "if I were you, I'd put that money in a bank. I wouldn't keep it here."
"Oh, nobody knows it's here, except you, and you are safe, I ruther guess."
The barber laughed like a child. Carroll went out and passed up the street. He heard from the Episcopal church the sound of singing. Finally he left it behind. He was passing along a short extent where there were no houses. On one side there was a waste tract of land, and on the other a stretch of private grounds. The private grounds were bordered by a budding hedge, the waste lot bristled with strong young weeds. Carroll, as he swung along with his stately carriage of the head and shoulders, took out his pocket-book. It was an important-looking affair, the size of bank-notes. He opened it. There was not a vestige of money within. He laughed a little softly to himself, and replaced it. He lived on a street which diverged at right angles from the main street. Just as he was about turning the corner, a runabout in which were seated two men passed him. It stopped, and the men turned and looked back at him. Then before Carroll turned the corner, one hailed him:
"Hullo!" he said.
"Hullo!" returned Carroll, and stood waiting while the man swung his trap round with cautious hisses—he drove a high-stepping mare.
"Are you a man by the name of Carroll?" said he, holding the fretting mare tightly, and seesawing the lines, as she tried to dart first one way, then the other.
"Well, look a-here," said the man, "I heerd you wanted to buy some hosses."
"You heard rightly," said Carroll.
"Wall, I've got a pair that can't be beat. Kentucky bred, four-year-old, sound as a whip. Not an out."
"Are you a trader?"
"Yep. Hed them hosses in last week. New-Yorker jest sent for 'em, then he died sudden, and his heirs threw 'em on the market at a sacrifice."
Carroll looked at the men, and they looked at him. The two men in the runabout resembled each other, and were evidently brothers. Carroll's eyes on the men were sharp, so were theirs on him. Carroll's eyes were looking for knavery, and the men's were looking for suspicion of knavery.
"How much?" asked Carroll, finally.
The men looked at each other. One made a motion with his lips; the other nodded.
"Fifteen hundred," said the first speaker, "and damned cheap."
"Well, you can bring them around, and I'll look at them," said Carroll. "Any night after seven."
Carroll walked on, turning up the road which led to his own house, and the men whirled about again and then drove on, the mare breaking into a gallop.
In Banbridge no one in trade was considered in polite society, with one exception. The exception was Randolph Anderson. Anderson had studied for the law. He had set up his office over the post-office, hung out his innocent and appealing little sign, and sat in his new office-chair beside his new desk, surrounded by the majesty of the lettered law, arranged in shelves in alphabetical order, for several years, during which his affairs were constantly on a descending scale. Then at last came a year when scarcely one client had darkened his doors except Tappan, who wanted to sue a delinquent customer and attach some of his personal property. After ascertaining that the personal property had been cannily transferred to the debtor's wife, he had told Anderson, upon the presentation of a modest bill, that he was a fraud and he could have done better himself. Beside this backward stroke of business, Anderson had that year a will to draw up, for which he was never paid, and had married a couple who had reimbursed him in farm produce. At the expiration of that year the lawyer, having to all intents and purposes been given up by the law, gave it up in his turn. Every cent of the money which he had inherited from his father had been expended. Nothing remained except his mother's small property, which barely sufficed to support her. Anderson then borrowed money from his uncle, who was well-to-do, giving him his note for three years, rented a store on Main Street, purchased a stock of groceries, and went into trade. His course made quite a sensation. He was the first Anderson in the memory of Banbridge, where the name was an old one, to be outside the genteel pale of a profession. His father had been a physician, his grandfather a clergyman.
"If my son had studied medicine instead of law, he could have at least subsisted upon the proceeds of his profession," his mother said, with the gentle and dignified dissent which was her attitude with regard to her son's startling move. "People are simply obliged by the laws of the flesh to go through measles and whooping-coughs and mumps, and they have to be born and die, and when they get in the way of microbes they have to be ill and they have to call in a physician, and some few of them pay him, so he can manage at least to live. Of course law is different. If people haven't any money they can forego quarrels, unless they are forced upon them. Quarrels are luxuries. It really began to seem to me that all the opportunity for a lawyer in Banbridge was in the simple line of suing some one for debt, and there is always that way, which does seem to me rather dishonest, of putting the property out of one's hands."
There was undoubtedly much truth in what Mrs. Sylvia Anderson said. She was a shrewd old woman, with such a softly feminine manner that she misled people into thinking the contrary. Banbridge folk rather pitied Randolph Anderson for having such a sweetly helpless and incapable mother, albeit very pretty and very much of a lady.
Mrs. Anderson was a large woman, but delicately articulated, with small hands, and such tiny feet that she toppled a little when she walked. Her complexion was like a child's, and she fluffed her thick white locks over her ears and swathed her throat high in soft laces, concealing all the aged lines in face and figure with innocent feminine arts.
Randolph adored his mother. He had never cared for any other woman. He had sat at his mother's little feet all his life, although he had at times his own masculine way, as in the matter of the deserting of his profession for trade. He had remained firm, although his mother had said much against it.
"Frankly, I do not approve of it, dear," she said. "I agree, but I do not approve. I do not like it, that you should desert the trodden path of your forebears. It is not so much that I am proud, but I am conservative. I believe there is a certain harmony between the man and the road his race have travelled. I believe he is a very sorry figure on another, especially if it be on a lower level."
"I don't think it is a question of level," said Randolph. "A road is simply a question of progress."
"Well, perhaps," said his mother, "but in that case the state of things is the same. A grocer would cut a sorry figure on your road, even if it ran parallel towards the same goal, and a lawyer would cut a sorry figure on a grocer's. Frankly, dear, I really doubt if you will make a good grocer."
Randolph laughed. "At least I hope I can earn our bread-and-butter," he said. Then he went on seriously. "It is just here," he said—"you and I are not sordid. Neither of us cares about money for itself, but here we are on this earth, with that existence which has its money price, and obligations imposed upon us. We cannot shirk it. We must live, and in order to live we must have a certain amount of money. Now all we have in this world for material goods is this old house and your little pittance. We have not a cent besides. If we were to try living on that, it would not last out your lifetime. If it would, I should not combat your prejudices, but we could lie on our oars and eat up the old place, and later on I would hustle for myself. But it will not. Now, I have demonstrated that I cannot earn anything by my profession. I have tried it faithfully and well. Last year I did not earn enough to pay my office rent. I never shall in Banbridge, and there is no sense whatever in my striking out in a new place with no prestige and no money. You and I simply want enough to live on, enough money to buy the wherewithal to keep the flame of life comfortably burning, and I can think of no other way than this grocery business. People must eat. You are certainly sure of earning something, if you offer people something they want. In my profession there is nothing that they do want."