THE FASHIONABLE ADVENTURES OF JOSHUA CRAIG
BY DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS
I.—MR. CRAIG ARRAYS HIMSELF II.—IN THE BEST SOCIETY III.—A DESPERATE YOUNG WOMAN IV.—"HE ISN'T LIKE US" V.—ALMOST HOOKED VI.—MR. CRAIG IN SWEET DANGER VII.—MRS. SEVERENCE IS ROUSED VIII.—MR. CRAIG CONFIDES IX.—SOMEWHAT CYCLONIC X.—A BELATED PROPOSAL XI.—MADAM BOWKER HEARS THE NEWS XII.—PUTTING DOWN A MUTINY XIII.—A MEMORABLE MEETING XIV.—MAGGIE AND JOSH XV.—THE EMBASSY GARDEN PARTY XVI.—A FIGHT AND A FINISH XVII.—A NIGHT MARCH XVIII.—PEACE AT ANY PRICE XIX.—MADAM BOWKER'S BLESSING XX.-MR. CRAIG KISSES THE IDOL'S FOOT XXI.—A SWOOP AND A SCRATCH XXII.—GETTING ACQUAINTED XXIII.—WHAT THE MOON SAW AND DID XXIV.—"OUR HOUSE IS AFIRE" XXV.—MRS. JOSHUA CRAIG
THE FASHIONABLE ADVENTURES OF JOSHUA CRAIG
MR. CRAIG ARRAYS HIMSELF
It was one of the top-floor-rear flats in the Wyandotte, not merely biggest of Washington's apartment hotels, but also "most exclusive"—which is the elegant way of saying most expensive. The Wyandotte had gone up before landlords grasped the obvious truth that in a fire-proof structure locations farthest from noise and dust should and could command highest prices; so Joshua Craig's flat was the cheapest in the house. The ninety dollars a month loomed large in his eyes, focused to little-town ideas of values; it was, in fact, small for shelter in "the de luxe district of the de luxe quarter," to quote Mrs. Senator Mulvey, that simple, far- Western soul, who, finding snobbishness to be the chief distinguishing mark of the Eastern upper classes, assumed it was a virtue, acquired it laboriously, and practiced it as openly and proudly as a preacher does piety. Craig's chief splendor was a sitting-room, called a parlor and bedecked in the red plush and Nottingham that represent hotel men's probably shrewd guess at the traveling public's notion of interior opulence. Next the sitting- room, and with the same dreary outlook, or, rather, downlook, upon disheveled and squalid back yards, was a dingy box of a bedroom. Like the parlor, it was outfitted with furniture that had degenerated upward, floor by floor, from the spacious and luxurious first-floor suites. Between the two rooms, in dark mustiness, lay a bathroom with suspicious-looking, wood-inclosed plumbing; the rusted iron of the tub peered through scuffs and seams in the age-grayed porcelain.
Arkwright glanced from the parlor where he was sitting into the gloom of the open bathroom and back again. His cynical brown-green eyes paused upon a scatter of clothing, half-hiding the badly- rubbed red plush of the sofa—a mussy flannel nightshirt with mothholes here and there; kneed trousers, uncannily reminiscent of a rough and strenuous wearer; a smoking-jacket that, after a youth of cheap gayety, was now a frayed and tattered wreck, like an old tramp, whose "better days" were none too good. On the radiator stood a pair of wrinkled shoes that had never known trees; their soles were curved like rockers. An old pipe clamored at his nostrils, though it was on the table near the window, the full length of the room from him. Papers and books were strewn about everywhere. It was difficult to believe these unkempt and uncouth surroundings, and the personality that had created them, were actually being harbored behind the walls of the Wyandotte.
"What a hole!" grumbled Arkwright. He was in evening clothes, so correct in their care and in their carelessness that even a woman would have noted and admired. "What a mess! What a hole!"
"How's that?" came from the bedroom in an aggressive voice, so penetrating that it seemed loud, though it was not, and much roughened by open-air speaking. "What are you growling about?"
Arkwright raised his tone: "Filthy hole!" said he. "Filthy mess!"
Now appeared in the bedroom door a tall young man of unusual strength and nearly perfect proportions. The fine head was carried commandingly; with its crop of dark, matted hair it suggested the rude, fierce figure-head of a Viking galley; the huge, aggressively-masculine features proclaimed ambition, energy, intelligence. To see Josh Craig was to have instant sense of the presence of a personality. The contrast between him standing half- dressed in the doorway and the man seated in fashionable and cynically-critical superciliousness was more than a matter of exteriors. Arkwright, with features carved, not hewn as were Craig's, handsome in civilization's over-trained, overbred extreme, had an intelligent, superior look also. But it was the look of expertness in things hardly worth the trouble of learning; it was aristocracy's highly-prized air of the dog that leads in the bench show and tails in the field. He was like a firearm polished and incrusted with gems and hanging in a connoisseur's wall-case; Josh was like a battle-tested rifle in the sinewy hands of an Indian in full war-paint. Arkwright showed that he had physical strength, too; but it was of the kind got at the gymnasium and at gentlemanly sport—the kind that wins only where the rules are carefully refined and amateurized. Craig's figure had the solidity, the tough fiber of things grown in the open air, in the cold, wet hardship of the wilderness.
Arkwright's first glance of admiration for this figure of the forest and the teepee changed to a mingling of amusement and irritation. The barbarian was not clad in the skins of wild beasts, which would have set him off superbly, but was trying to get himself arrayed for a fashionable ball. He had on evening trousers, pumps, black cotton socks with just enough silk woven in to give them the shabby, shamed air of having been caught in a snobbish pretense at being silk. He was buttoning a shirt torn straight down the left side of the bosom from collar-band to end of tail; and the bosom had the stiff, glassy glaze that advertises the cheap laundry.
"Didn't you write me I must get an apartment in this house?" demanded he.
"Not in the attic," rejoined Arkwright.
"I can't afford anything better."
"You can't afford anything so bad."
Craig looked round as pleased as a Hottentot with a string of colored glass beads. "Why, I've got a private sitting-room AND a private bath! I never was so well-off before in my life. I tell you, Grant, I'm not surprised any more that you Easterners get effete and worthless. I begin to like this lolling in luxury, and I keep the bell-boys on the jump. Won't you have something to drink?"
Arkwright pointed his slim cane at the rent in the shirt. "What are you going to do with that?" said he.
"This? Oh!"—Josh thrust his thick backwoods-man's hand in the tear—"Very simple. A safety-pin or so from the lining of the vest—excuse me, waistcoat—into the edge of the bosom."
"Splendid!" ejaculated Arkwright. "Superb!"
Craig, with no scent for sarcasm so delicate, pushed on with enthusiasm: "The safety-pin's the mainstay of bachelor life," said he rhetorically. "It's his badge of freedom. Why, I can even repair socks with it!"
"Throw that shirt away," said Arkwright, with a contemptuous switch of his cane. "Put on another. You're not dressing for a shindy in a shack."
"But it's the only one of my half-dozen that has a bang-up bosom."
"Bang-up? That sheet of mottled mica?"
Craig surveyed the shiny surface ruefully. "What's the matter with this?" he demanded.
"Oh, nothing," replied Arkwright, in disgust. "Only, it looks more like something to roof a house with than like linen for a civilized man."
Craig reared. "But, damn it, Grant, I'm not civilized. I'm a wild man, and I'm going to stay wild. I belong to the common people, and it's my game—and my preference, too—to stick to them. I'm willing to make concessions; I'm not a fool. I know there was a certain amount of truth in those letters you took the trouble to write me from Europe. I know that to play the game here in Washington I've got to do something in society. But"—here Josh's eyes flashed, and he bent on his friend a look that was impressive—"I'm still going to be myself. I'll make 'em accept me as I am. Dealing with men as individuals, I make them do what I want, make 'em like me as I am."
"Every game has its own rules," said Arkwright. "You'll get on better—quicker—go further—here if you'll learn a few elementary things. I don't see that wearing a whole shirt decently done up is going to compromise any principles. Surely you can do that and still be as common as you like. The people look up to the fellow that's just a little better dressed than they."
Josh eyed Arkwright in the way that always made him wonder whether he was in full possession of the secret of this strenuous young Westerner. "But," said he, "they love and trust the man who will have nothing which all may not have. The shirt will do for this evening." And he turned back into the bedroom.
Arkwright reflected somewhat uncomfortably. He felt that he himself was right; yet he could not deny that "Josh's cheap demagoguery" sounded fine and true. He soon forgot the argument in the study of his surroundings. "You're living like a wild beast here, Josh," he presently called out. "You must get a valet."
A loud laugh was the reply.
"Or a wife," continued Arkwright. Then, in the voice of one announcing an inspiration, "Yes—that's it! A wife!"
Craig reappeared. He had on his waistcoat and coat now, and his hair was brushed. Arkwright could not but admit that the personality took the edge off the clothes; even the "mottled mica"—the rent was completely hid—seemed to have lost the worst of its glaze and stiffness. "You'll do, Josh," said he. "I spoke too quickly. If I hadn't accidentally been thrust into the innermost secrets of your toilet I'd never have suspected." He looked the Westerner over with gentle, friendly patronage. "Yes, you'll do. You look fairly well at a glance—and a man's clothes rarely get more than that."
Craig released his laugh upon his fastidious friend's judicial seriousness. "The trouble with you, Grant, is you've never lived a human life. You've always been sheltered and pampered, lifted in and out of bed by valets, had a suit of clothes for every hour in the day. I don't see how it is I happen to like you." And in Craig's face and voice there was frankly the condescension of superior to undoubted inferior.
Arkwright seemed to be wavering between resentment and amused disdain. Then he remembered the circumstances of their first acquaintance—those frightful days in the Arizona desert, without food, with almost no water, and how this man had been absolute ruler of the party of lost and dying men; how he had forced them to march on and on, with entreaties, with curses, with blows finally; how he had brought them to safety—all as a matter of course, without any vanity or boasting—had been leader by divine right of strength of body and soul. Grant turned his eyes from Craig, for there were tears in them. "I don't see why you like me, either, Josh," said he. "But you do—and—damn it all, I'd die for you."
"I guess you'll come pretty near dying of shame before this evening's over," laughed Craig. "This is the first time in my life I ever was in a fashionable company."
"There's nothing to be frightened about," Grant assured him.
"Frightened!" Josh laughed boisterously—Arkwright could have wished he would temper that laugh. "I—frightened by a bunch of popinjays? You see, it's not really in the least important whether they like me or not—at least, not to me. I'll get there, anyhow. And when I do, I'll deal with them according to their deserts. So they'd better hustle to get solid with me."
In the two years since he had seen Craig, Arkwright had almost forgotten his habit of bragging and blowing about himself—what he had done, what he was going to do. The newspapers, the clippings Josh sent him, had kept him informed of the young Minnesotan's steady, rapid rise in politics; and whenever he recalled the absurd boasting that had made him feel Craig would never come to anything, he assumed it was a weakness of youth and inexperience which had, no doubt, been conquered. But, no; here was the same old, conceited Josh, as crudely and vulgarly self-confident as when he was twenty-five and just starting at the law in a country town. Yet Arkwright could not but admit there had been more than a grain of truth in Craig's former self-laudations, that there was in victories won a certain excuse for his confidence about the future. This young man, not much beyond thirty, with a personality so positive and so rough that he made enemies right and left, rousing the envy of men to fear that here was an ambition which must be downed or it would become a tyranny over them—this young man, by skill at politics and by sympathetic power with people in the mass, had already compelled a President who didn't like him to appoint him to the chief post under an Attorney-General who detested him.
"How are you getting on with the Attorney-General?" asked Arkwright, as they set out in his electric brougham.
"He's getting on with me much better," replied Craig, "now that he has learned not to trifle with me."
"Stillwater is said to be a pretty big man," said Arkwright warningly.
"The bigger the man, the easier to frighten," replied Josh carelessly, "because the more he's got to lose. But it's a waste of time to talk politics to you. Grant, old man, I'm sick and worn out, and how lonesome! I'm successful. But what of that, since I'm miserable? If it wasn't for my sense of duty, by Heaven, I sometimes think I'd drop it all and go back to Wayne."
"Don't do that, Josh!" exclaimed Arkwright. "Don't let the country go rolling off to ruin!"
"Like all small creatures," said Craig, "you take serious matters lightly, and light matters seriously. You right a moment ago when you said I needed a wife."
"That's all settled," said Grant. "I'm going to get you one."
"A woman doesn't need a man—if she isn't too lazy to earn a living," pursued Craig. "But what's a man without a woman about?"
"You want a wife, and you want her quick," said Arkwright.
"You saw what a condition my clothes are in. Then, I need somebody to talk with."
"To talk to," corrected Grant.
"I can't have you round all the time to talk to."
"Heaven forbid!" cried Arkwright. "You never talk about anything but yourself."
"Some day, my boy," said Josh, with his grave good humor of the great man tolerating the antics of a mountebank, "you'll appreciate it wasn't the subject that was dull, but the ears. For the day'll come when everybody'll be thinking and talking about me most of the time."
Arkwright grinned. "It's lucky you don't let go before everybody like that."
"Yes, but I do," rejoined Craig. "And why not? They can't stop my going ahead. Besides, it's not a bad idea"—he nodded, with that shrewdness which was the great, deep-lying vein in his nature— "not at all a bad idea, to have people think you a frank, loose- mouthed, damn fool—IF you ain't. Ambition's a war. And it's a tremendous advantage to lead your enemies to underestimate you. That's one reason why I ALWAYS win...So you're going TO TRY to get me a wife?"
"I'm going to get you one—one of the sort you need. You need a woman who'll tame you down and lick you into shape."
Craig smiled scornfully.
"One who'll know how to smooth the enemies you make with your rough-and-tumble manners; one who'll win friends for you socially—"
Josh made a vehement gesture of dissent. "Not on your life!" cried he. "Of course, my wife must be a lady, and interested in my career. But none of your meddling politicians in petticoats for me! I'll do my own political maneuvering. I want a woman, not a bad imitation of a man."
"Well, let that go," said Arkwright. "Also, she ought to be able to supply you with funds for your political machinery."
Josh sat up as if this were what he had been listening for.
"That's right!" cried he. "Politics is hell for a poor man, nowadays. The people are such thoughtless, short-sighted fools—" He checked himself, and in a different tone went on: "However, I don't mean exactly that—"
"You needn't hedge, Josh, with me."
"I don't want you to be thinking I'm looking for a rich woman."
"Not at all—not at all," laughed his friend.
"If she had too much money it'd be worse for my career than if she had none at all."
"I understand," said Arkwright.
"Enough money to make me independent—if I should get in a tight place," continued Josh. "Yes, I must marry. The people are suspicious of a bachelor. The married men resent his freedom—even the happily married ones. And all the women, married and single, resent his not surrendering."
"I never suspected you of cynicism."
"Yes," continued Craig, in an instantly and radically changed tone, "the people like a married man, a man with children. It looks respectable, settled. It makes 'em feel he's got a stake in the country—a home and property to defend. Yes, I want a wife."
"I don't see why you've neglected it so long."
"And too—ambitious," suggested Arkwright.
"What do you mean?" demanded Josh, bristling.
"You thought you'd wait to marry until you were nearer your final place in the world. Being cut out for a king, you know—why, you thought you'd like a queen—one of those fine, delicate ladies you'd read about."
Craig's laugh might have been confession, it might have been mere amusement. "I want a wife that suits me," said he. "And I'll get her."
It was Arkwright's turn to be amused. "There's one game you don't in the least understand," said he.
"What game is that?"
"The woman game."
Craig shrugged contemptuously. "Marbles! Jacks!" Then he added: "Now that I'm about ready to marry, I'll look the offerings over." He clapped his friend on the shoulder. "And you can bet your last cent I'll take what I want."
"Don't be too sure," jeered Arkwright.
The brougham was passing a street lamp that for an instant illuminated Craig's face. Again Arkwright saw the expression that made him feel extremely uncertain of the accuracy of his estimates of the "wild man's" character.
"Yes, I'll get her," said Josh, "and for a reason that never occurs to you shallow people. I get what I want because what I want wants me—for the same reason that the magnet gets the steel."
Arkwright looked admiringly at his friend's strong, aggressive face.
"You're a queer one, Josh," said he. "Nothing ordinary about you."
"I should hope not!" exclaimed Craig. "Now for the plunge."
IN THE BEST SOCIETY
Grant's electric had swung in at the end of the long line of carriages of all kinds, from coach of ambassador and costly limousine of multi-millionaire to humble herdic wherein poor, official grandee's wife and daughter were feeling almost as common as if they had come in a street car or afoot. Josh Craig, leaning from the open window, could see the grand entrance under the wide and lofty porte-cochere—the women, swathed in silk and fur, descending from the carriages and entering the wide-flung doors of the vestibule; liveries, flowers, lights, sounds of stringed instruments, intoxicating glimpses of magnificence at windows, high and low. And now the electric was at the door. He and Arkwright sprang out, hastened up the broad steps. His expression amused Arkwright; it was intensely self-conscious, resolutely indifferent—the kind of look that betrays tempestuous inward perturbations and misgivings. "Josh is a good deal of a snob, for all his brave talk," thought he. "But," he went on to reflect, "that's only human. We're all impressed by externals, no matter what we may pretend to ourselves and to others. I've been used to this sort of thing all my life and I know how little there is in it, yet I'm in much the same state of bedazzlement as Josh."
Josh had a way of answering people's thoughts direct which Arkwright sometimes suspected was not altogether accidental. He now said: "But there's a difference between your point of view and mine. You take this seriously through and through. I laugh at it in the bottom of my heart, and size it up at its true value. I'm like a child that don't really believe in goblins, yet likes the shivery effects of goblin stories."
"I don't believe in goblins, either," said Arkwright.
"You don't believe in anything else," said Josh.
Arkwright steered him through the throng, and up to the hostess— Mrs. Burke, stout, honest, with sympathy in her eyes and humor in the lines round her sweet mouth. "Well, Josh," she said in a slow, pleasant monotone, "you HAVE done a lot of growing since I saw you. I always knew you'd come to some bad end. And here you are— in politics and in society. Gus!"
A tall, haughty-looking young woman, standing next her, turned and fixed upon Craig a pair of deep, deep eyes that somehow flustered him. Mrs. Burke presented him, and he discovered that it was her daughter-in-law. While she was talking with Arkwright, he examined her toilette. He thought it startling—audacious in its display of shoulders and back—until he got over his dazed, dazzled feeling, and noted the other women about. Wild horses could not have dragged it from him, but he felt that this physical display was extremely immodest; and at the same time that he eagerly looked his face burned. "If I do pick one of these," said he to himself, "I'm jiggered if I let her appear in public dressed this way. Why, out home women have been white-capped for less."
Arkwright had drifted away from him; he let the crowd gently push him toward the wall, into the shelter of a clump of palms and ferns. There, with his hands in his pockets, and upon his face what he thought an excellent imitation of Arkwright's easy, bored expression of thinly-veiled cynicism, he surveyed the scene and tried to judge it from the standpoint of the "common people." His verdict was that it was vain, frivolous, unworthy, beneath the serious consideration of a man of affairs such as he. But he felt that he was not quite frank, in fact was dishonest, with himself in this lofty disdain. It represented what he ought to feel, not what he actually was feeling. "At least," said he to himself, "I'll never confess to any one that I'm weak enough to be impressed by this sort of thing. Anyhow, to confess a weakness is to encourage it... No wonder society is able to suck in and destroy so many fellows of my sort! If I am tempted what must it mean to the ordinary man?" He noted with angry shame that he felt a swelling of pride because he, of so lowly an origin, born no better than the machine-like lackeys, had been able to push himself in upon—yes, up among—these people on terms of equality. And it was, for the moment, in vain that he reminded himself that most of them were of full as lowly origin as he; that few indeed could claim to be more than one generation removed from jack-boots and jeans; that the most elegant had more relations among the "vulgar herd" than they had among the "high folks."
"What are you looking so glum and sour about?" asked Arkwright.
He startled guiltily. So, his mean and vulgar thoughts had been reflected in his face. "I was thinking of the case I have to try before the Supreme Court next week," said he.
"Well, I'll introduce you to one of the Justices—old Towler. He comes of the 'common people,' like you. But he dearly loves fashionable society—makes himself ridiculous going to balls and trying to flirt. It'll do you no end of good to meet these people socially. You'll be surprised to see how respectful and eager they'll all be if you become a recognized social favorite. For real snobbishness give me your friends, the common people, when they get up where they can afford to put on airs. Why, even the President has a sneaking hankering after fashionable people. I tell you, in Washington EVERYTHING goes by social favor, just as it does in London—and would in Paris if fashionable society would deign to notice the Republic."
"Introduce me to old Towler," said Craig, curt and bitter. He was beginning to feel that Arkwright was at least in part right; and it angered him for the sake of the people from whom he had sprung, and to whom he had pledged his public career. "Then," he went on, "I'm going home. And you'll see me among these butterflies and hoptoads no more."
"Can't trust yourself, eh?" suggested Arkwright.
Craig flashed exaggerated scorn that was confession.
"I'll do better than introduce you to Towler," proceeded Arkwright. "I'll present you to his daughter—a dyed and padded old horror, but very influential with her father and all the older crowd. Sit up to her, Josh. You can lay the flattery on as thick as her paint and as high as her topknot of false hair. If she takes to you your fortune's made."
"I tell you, my fortune is not dependent on—" began Craig vehemently.
"Cut it out, old man," interrupted Arkwright. "No stump speeches here. They don't go. They bore people and create an impression that you're both ridiculous and hypocritical."
Arkwright left Josh with Towler's daughter, Mrs. Raymond, who was by no means the horror Arkwright's language of fashionable exaggeration had pictured, and who endured Craig's sophomoric eulogies of "your great and revered father," because the eulogist was young and handsome, and obviously anxious to please her. As Arkwright passed along the edge of the dancers a fan reached out and touched him on the arm. He halted, faced the double line of women, mostly elderly, seated on the palm-roofed dais extending the length of that end of the ballroom.
"Hel-LO!" called he. "Just the person I was looking for. How is Margaret this evening?"
"As you see," replied the girl, unfurling the long fan of eagle plumes with which she had tapped him. "Sit down.... Jackie"—this to a rosy, eager-faced youth beside her—"run away and amuse yourself. I want to talk seriously to this elderly person."
"I'm only seven years older than you," said Arkwright, as he seated himself where Jackie had been vainly endeavoring to induce Miss Severence to take him seriously.
"And I am twenty-eight, and have to admit to twenty-four," said Margaret.
"Don't frown that way. It makes wrinkles; and what's more unsightly than a wrinkled brow in a woman?"
"I don't in the least care," replied the girl. "I've made up my mind to stop fooling and marry."
"If I can't do better." She laughed a low, sweet laugh, like her voice; and her voice suggested a leisurely brook flitting among mossy stones. "You see, I've lost that first bloom of youth the wife-pickers prize so highly. I'm not unsophisticated enough to please them. And I haven't money enough to make them overlook such defects as maturity and intelligence—in fact, I've no money at all."
"You were never so good-looking in your life," said Grant. "I recall you were rather homely as a child and merely nice and fresh-looking when you came out. You're one of those that improve with time."
"Thanks," said the girl dryly. She was in no mood for the barren blossom of non-marrying men's compliments.
"The trouble with you is the same as with me," pursued he. "We've both spent our time with the young married set, where marriage is regarded as a rather stupid joke. You ought to have stuck to the market-place until your business was settled."
She nodded a thoughtful assent. "Yes, that was my sad mistake," said she. "However, I'm going to do my best to repair it."
He reflected. "You must marry money," he declared, as if it were a verdict.
"Either some one who's got it or some one who can get it."
"Some one who's got it, I'd advise."
"Bad advice," commented the girl, her hazel eyes gazing dreamily, languorously into the distance. She looked a woman on romance bent, a woman without a mercenary thought in her head. "Very bad advice," she went on. "Men who've got money may lose it and be unable to make any more. What a helpless thing YOU'D be but for what you have inherited and will inherit. Yet you're above the average of our sort."
"Humph!" said Arkwright, with an irritated laugh. Humor at his expense was a severe strain upon him. It always is to those whose sense of humor is keen; for they best appreciate the sting that lies in the pleasantest jest.
"It would be wiser—if one dared be wise," pursued the girl, "to marry a man who could get money. That kind of man is safest. Only death or insanity can make him a disappointment."
Arkwright eyed her curiously. "What a good head you've got on you, Rita," said he. "Like your grandmother."
The girl shivered slightly. "Don't SPEAK of her!" she exclaimed with an uneasy glance around. And Grant knew he was correct in his suspicion as to who was goading and lashing her to hasten into matrimony.
"Well—have you selected your—"
As Arkwright hesitated she supplied, "Victim." They laughed, she less enthusiastically than he. "Though," she added, "I assure you, I'll make him happy. It takes intelligence to make a man happy, even if he wants the most unintelligent kind of happiness. And you've just admitted I'm not stupid."
Arkwright was studying her. He had a sly instinct that there was a reason deeper than their old and intimate friendship for her reposing this extreme of confidence in him. No doubt she was not without a vague hope that possibly this talk might set him to thinking of her as a wife for himself. Well, why not? He ought to marry, and he could afford it. Where would he find a more ladylike person—or where one who was at the same time so attractive? He studied, with a certain personal interest, her delicate face, her figure, slim and gracefully curved, as her evening dress fully revealed it. Yes, a charming, most ladylike figure. And the skin of her face, of neck and shoulders, was beautifully white, and of the texture suggesting that it will rub if too impetuously caressed. Yes, a man would hesitate to kiss her unless he were well shaved. At the very thought of kissing her Grant felt a thrill and a glow she had never before roused in him. She had an abundance of blue-black hair, and it and her slender black brows and long lashes gave her hazel eyes a peculiar charm of mingled passion and languor. She had a thin nose, well shaped, its nostrils very sensitive; slightly, charmingly-puckered lips; a small, strong chin. Certainly she had improved greatly in the two years since he had seen her in evening dress. "Though, perhaps," reflected he, "I only think so because I used to see her too much, really to appreciate her."
"Well, why didn't you?" she was saying, idly waving her fan and gazing vaguely around the room.
"Why didn't I—what?"
"You were trying to decide why you never fell in love with me."
"So I was," admitted Arkwright.
"Now if I had had lots of cash," mocked she.
He reddened, winced. She had hit the exact reason. Having a great deal of money, he wanted more—enough to make the grandest kind of splurge in a puddle where splurge was everything. "Rather, because you are too intelligent," drawled he. "I want somebody who'd fit into my melting moods, not a woman who'd make me ashamed by seeming to sit in judgment on my folly."
"A man mustn't have too much respect for a woman if he's to fall utterly in love with her—must he?"
Arkwright smiled constrainedly. He liked cynical candor in men, but only pretended to like it in women because bald frankness in women was now the fashion. "See," said he, "how ridiculous I'd feel trying to say sentimental things to you. Besides, it's not easy to fall in love with a girl one has known since she was born, and with whom he's always been on terms of brotherly, quite unsentimental intimacy."
Rita gave him a look that put this suggestion out of countenance by setting him to thrilling again. He felt that her look was artful, was deliberate, but he could not help responding to it. He began to be a little afraid of her, a little nervous about her; but he managed to say indifferently, "And why haven't YOU fallen in love with ME?"
She smiled. "It isn't proper for a well-brought-up girl to love until she is loved, is it?" Her expression gave Grant a faint suggestion of a chill of apprehension lest she should be about to take advantage of their friendship by making a dead set for him. But she speedily tranquilized him by saying: "No, my reason was that I didn't want to spoil my one friendship. Even a business person craves the luxury of a friend—and marrying has been my business," this with a slight curl of her pretty, somewhat cruel mouth. "To be quite frank, I gave you up as a possibility years ago. I saw I wasn't your style. Your tastes in women are rather— coarse."
Arkwright flushed. "I do like 'em a bit noisy and silly," he admitted. "That sort is so—so gemuthlich, as the Germans say."
"Who's the man you delivered over to old Patsy Raymond? I see he's still fast to her."
"Handsome, isn't he?"
"Of a sort."
"It's Craig—the Honorable Joshua Craig—Assistant TO the Attorney-General. He's from Minnesota. He's the real thing. But you'd not like him."
"He looks quite—tame, compared to what he was two years or so ago," said Rita, her voice as indolent as her slowly-moving eagle feathers.
"Oh, you've met him?"
"No—only saw him. When I went West with the Burkes, Gus and the husband took me to a political meeting—one of those silly, stuffy gatherings where some blatant politician bellows out a lot of lies, and a crowd of badly-dressed people listen and swallow and yelp. Your friend was one of the speakers. What he said sounded—" Rita paused for a word.
"Sounded true," suggested Grant.
"Not at all. Nobody really cares anything about the people, not even themselves. No, it sounded as if he had at least half- convinced himself, while the others showed they were lying outright. We rather liked him—at the safe distance of half the hall. He's the kind of man that suggests—menageries—lions— danger if the bars break."
"How women do like that in a man!"
"Do you know him?"
"Through and through. He's a fraud, of course, like all politicians. But beneath the fraud there's a man—I think—a great, big man, strong and sure of himself—which is what can't be said of many of us who wear trousers and pose as lords of creation."
The girl seemed to have ceased to listen, was apparently watching the dancers, Arkwright continued to gaze at his friend, to admire the impressive, if obviously posed, effect of his handsome head and shoulders. He smiled with a tender expression, as one smiles at the weakness of those one loves. Suddenly he said: "By Jove, Rita—just the thing!"
"What?" asked the girl, resuming the languid waving of her eagle fan.
"Marry him—marry Josh Craig. He'll not make much money out of politics. I doubt if even a woman could corrupt him that far. But you could take him out of politics and put him in the law. He could roll it up there. The good lawyers sell themselves dear nowadays, and he'd make a killing."
"This sounds interesting."
"It's a wonder I hadn't thought of it before."
The girl gave a curious, quiet smile. "I had," said she.
"YOU had!" exclaimed Arkwright.
"A woman always keeps a careful list of eligibles," explained she. "As Lucy Burke told me he was headed for Washington, I put him on my list that very night—well down toward the bottom, but, still, on it. I had quite forgotten him until to-night."
Arkwright was staring at her. Her perfect frankness, absolute naturalness with him, unreserved trust of him, gave him a guilty feeling for the bitter judgment on her character which he had secretly formed as the result of her confidences. "Yet, really," thought he, "she's quite the nicest girl I know, and the cleverest. If she had hid herself from me, as the rest do, I'd never for one instant have suspected her of having so much—so much—calm, good sense—for that's all it amounts to." He decided it was a mistake for any human being in any circumstances to be absolutely natural and unconcealingly candid. "We're such shallow fakers," reflected he, "that if any one confesses to us things not a tenth part as bad as what we privately think and do, why, we set him—or her—especially her—down as a living, breathing atrocity in pants or petticoats."
Margaret was of the women who seem never to think of what they are really absorbed in, and never to look at what they are really scrutinizing. She disconcerted him by interrupting his reflections with: "Your private opinion of me is of small consequence to me, Grant, beside the relief and the joy of being able to say my secret self aloud. Also"—here she grew dizzy at her own audacity in the frankness that fools—"Also, if I wished to get you, Grant, or any man, I'd not be silly enough to fancy my character or lack of it would affect him. That isn't what wins men—is it?"
"You and Josh Craig have a most uncomfortable way of answering people's thoughts," said Arkwright. "Now, how did you guess I was thinking mean things about you?"
"For the same reason that Mr. Craig is able to guess what's going on in your head."
"And that reason is—"
She laughed mockingly. "Because I know you, Grant Arkwright—you, the meanest-generous man, and the most generous-mean man the Lord ever permitted. The way to make you generous is to give you a mean impulse; the way to make you mean is to set you to fearing you're in danger of being generous."
"There's a bouquet with an asp coiled in it," said Arkwright, pleased; for with truly human vanity he had accepted the compliment and had thrown away the criticism. "I'll go bring Josh Craig." "No, not to-night," said Miss Severence, with a sudden compression of the lips and a stern, almost stormy contraction of the brows.
"Please don't do that, Rita," cried Arkwright. "It reminds me of your grandmother."
The girl's face cleared instantly, and all overt signs of strength of character vanished in her usual expression of sweet, reserved femininity. "Bring him to-morrow," said she. "A little late, please. I want others to be there, so that I can study him unobserved." She laughed. "This is a serious matter for me. My time is short, and my list of possible eligibles less extended than I could wish." And with a satiric smile and a long, languorous, coquettish glance, she waved him away and waved the waiting Jackie into his place.
Arkwright found Craig clear of "Patsy" Raymond and against the wall near the door. He was obviously unconscious of himself, of the possibility that he might be observed. His eyes were pouncing from blaze of jewels to white neck, to laughing, sensuous face, to jewels again or to lithe, young form, scantily clad and swaying in masculine arm in rhythm with the waltz. It gave Arkwright a qualm of something very like terror to note the contrast between his passive figure and his roving eyes with their wolfish gleam—like Blucher, when he looked out over London and said: "God! What a city to sack!"
Arkwright thought Josh was too absorbed to be aware of his approach; but as soon as he was beside him Josh said: "You were right about that apartment of mine. It's a squalid hole. Six months ago, when I got my seventy-five hundred a year, I thought I was rich. Rich? Why, that woman there has ten years' salary on her hair. All the money I and my whole family ever saw wouldn't pay for the rings on any one of a hundred hands here. It makes me mad and it makes me greedy."
"'I warned you," said Arkwright.
Craig wheeled on him. "You don't—can't—understand. You're like all these people. Money is your god. But I don't want money, I want power—to make all these snobs with their wealth, these millionaires, these women with fine skins and beautiful bodies, bow down before me—that's what I want!"
Arkwright laughed. "Well, it's up to you, Joshua."
Craig tossed his Viking head. "Yes, it's up to me, and I'll get what I want—the people and I.... Who's THAT frightful person?"
Into the room, only a few feet from them, advanced an old woman— very old, but straight as a projectile. She carried her head high, and her masses of gray-white hair, coiled like a crown, gave her the seeming of royalty in full panoply. There was white lace over her black velvet at the shoulders; her train swept yards behind her. She was bearing a cane, or rather a staff, of ebony; but it suggested, not decrepitude, but power—perhaps even a weapon that might be used to enforce authority should occasion demand. In her face, in her eyes, however, there was that which forbade the supposition of any revolt being never so remotely possible.
As she advanced across the ballroom, dancing ceased before her and around her, and but for the noise of the orchestra there would have been an awed and painful silence. Mrs. Burke's haughty daughter-in-law, with an expression of eager desire to conciliate and to please, hastened forward and conducted the old lady to a gilt armchair in the center of the dais, across the end of the ballroom. It was several minutes before the gayety was resumed, and then it seemed to have lost the abandon which the freely- flowing champagne had put into it.
"WHO is that frightful person?" repeated Craig. He was scowling like a king angered and insulted by the advent of an eclipsing rival.
"Grandma,"' replied Arkwright, his flippancy carefully keyed low.
"I've never seen a more dreadful person!" exclaimed Craig angrily. "And a woman, too! She's the exact reverse of everything a woman should be—no sweetness, no gentleness. I can't believe she ever brought a child into the world."
"She probably doubts it herself," said Arkwright.
"Why does everybody cringe before her?"
"That's what everybody asks. She hasn't any huge wealth—or birth, either, for that matter. It's just the custom. We defer to her here precisely as we wear claw-hammer coats and low-neck dresses. Nobody thinks of changing the custom."
Josh's lip curled. "Introduce me to her," he said commandingly.
Arkwright looked amused and alarmed. "Not tonight. All in good time. She's the grandmother of a young woman I want you to meet. She's Madam Bowker, and the girl's name is Severence."
"I want to meet that old woman," persisted Josh. Never before had he seen a human being who gave him a sense of doubt as to the superiority of his own will.
"Don't be in too big a hurry for Waterloo," jested Arkwright. "It's coming toward you fast enough. That old lady will put you in your place. After ten minutes of her, you'll feel like a schoolboy who has 'got his' for sassing the teacher."
"I want to meet her," repeated Craig. And he watched her every movement; watched the men and women bowing deferentially about her chair; watched her truly royal dignity, as she was graciously pleased to relax now and then.
"Every society has its mumbo-jumbo to keep it in order," said Arkwright. "She's ours.... I'm dead tired. You've done enough for one night. It's a bad idea to stay too long; it creates an impression of frivolity. Come along!"
Craig went, reluctantly, with several halts and backward glances at the old lady of the ebon staff.
A DESPERATE YOUNG WOMAN
The house where the Severances lived, and had lived for half a century, was built by Lucius Quintus Severence, Alabama planter, suddenly and, for the antebellum days, notably rich through a cotton speculation. When he built, Washington had no distinctly fashionable quarter; the neighborhood was then as now small, cheap wooden structures where dwelt in genteel discomfort the families of junior Department clerks. Lucius Quintus chose the site partly for the view, partly because spacious grounds could be had at a nominal figure, chiefly because part of his conception of aristocracy was to dwell in grandeur among the humble. The Severence place, enclosed by a high English-like wall of masonry, filled the whole huge square. On each of its four sides it put in sheepish and chop-fallen countenance a row of boarding houses. In any other city the neighborhood would have been intolerable because of the noise of the rowdy children. But in Washington the boarding house class cannot afford children; so, few indeed were the small forms that paused before the big iron Severence gates to gaze into the mysterious maze of green as far as might be—which was not far, because the walk and the branching drives turn abruptly soon after leaving the gates.
From earliest spring until almost Christmas that mass of green was sweet with perfume and with the songs of appreciative colonies of bright birds. In the midst of the grounds, and ingeniously shut in on all sides from any view that could spoil the illusion of a forest, stood the house, Colonial, creeper-clad, brightened in all its verandas and lawns by gay flowers, pink and white predominating. The rooms were large and lofty of ceiling, and not too uncomfortable in winter, as the family was accustomed to temperatures below the average American indoors. In spring and summer and autumn the rooms were delightful, with their old- fashioned solid furniture, their subdued colors and tints, their elaborate arrangements for regulating the inpour of light. All this suggested wealth. But the Severances were not rich. They had about the same amount of money that old Lucius Quintus had left; but, just as the neighborhood seemed to have degenerated when in fact it had remained all but unchanged, so the Severence fortune seemed to have declined, altogether through changes of standard elsewhere. The Severances were no poorer; simply, other people of their class had grown richer, enormously richer. The Severence homestead, taken by itself and apart from its accidental setting of luxurious grounds, was a third-rate American dwelling-house, fine for a small town, but plain for a city. And the Severence fortune by contrast with the fortunes so lavishly displayed in the fashionable quarter of the capital, was a meager affair, just enough for comfort; it was far too small for the new style of wholesale entertainment which the plutocracy has introduced from England, where the lunacy for aimless and extravagant display rages and ravages in its full horror of witless vulgarity. Thus, the Severences from being leaders twenty years before, had shrunk into "quiet people," were saved from downright obscurity and social neglect only by the indomitable will and tireless energy of old Cornelia Bowker.
Cornelia Bowker was not a Severence; in fact she was by birth indisputably a nobody. Her maiden name was Lard, and the Lards were "poor white trash." By one of those queer freaks wherewith nature loves to make mockery of the struttings of men, she was endowed with ambition and with the intelligence and will to make it effective. Her first ambition was education; by performing labors and sacrifices incredible, she got herself a thorough education. Her next ambition was to be rich; without the beauty that appeals to the senses, she married herself to a rich New Englander, Henry Bowker. Her final and fiercest ambition was social power. She married her daughter to the only son and namesake of Lucius Quintus Severence. The pretensions of aristocracy would soon collapse under the feeble hands of born aristocrats were it not for two things—the passion of the masses of mankind for looking up, and the frequent infusions into aristocratic veins of vigorous common blood. Cornelia Bowker, born Lard, adored "birth." In fulfilling her third ambition she had herself born again. From the moment of the announcement of her daughter's engagement to Lucius Severence, she ceased to be Lard or Bowker and became Severence, more of a Severence than any of the veritable Severences. Soon after her son-in-law and his father died, she became so much THE Severence that fashionable people forgot her origin, regarded her as the true embodiment of the pride and rank of Severence—and Severence became, thanks wholly to her, a synonym for pride and rank, though really the Severences were not especially blue-blooded.
She did not live with her widowed daughter, as two establishments were more impressive; also, she knew that she was not a livable person—and thought none the worse of herself for that characteristic of strong personalities. In the Severence family, at the homestead, there were, besides five servants, but three persons—the widowed Roxana and her two daughters, Margaret and Lucia—Lucia so named by Madam Bowker because with her birth ended the Severence hopes of a son to perpetuate in the direct line the family Christian name for its chief heir. From the side entrance to the house extended an alley of trees, with white flowering bushes from trunk to trunk like a hedge. At one end of the alley was a pretty, arched veranda of the house, with steps descending; at the other end, a graceful fountain in a circle, round which extended a stone bench. Here Margaret was in the habit of walking every good day, and even in rainy weather, immediately after lunch; and here, on the day after the Burke dance, at the usual time, she was walking, as usual—up and down, up and down, a slow even stride, her arms folded upon her chest, the muscles of her mouth moving as she chewed a wooden tooth-pick toward a pulp. As she walked, her eyes held steady like a soldier's, as if upon the small of the back of an invisible walker in front of her. Lucia, stout, rosy, lazy, sprawling upon the bench, her eyes opening and closing drowsily, watched her sister like a sleepy, comfortable cat. The sunbeams, filtering through the leafy arch, coquetted with Margaret's raven hair, and alternately brightened and shadowed her features. There was little of feminine softness in those unguarded features, much of intense and apparently far from agreeable thought. It was one of her bad days, mentally as well as physically—probably mentally because physically. She had not slept more than two hours at most, and her eyes and skin showed it.
"However do you stand it, Rita!" said Lucia, as Margaret approached the fountain for the thirty-seventh time. "It's so dull and tiring, to walk that way."
"I've got to keep my figure," replied Margaret, dropping her hands to her slender hips, and lifting her shoulders in a movement that drew down her corsets and showed the fine length of her waist.
"That's nonsense," said Lucia. "All we Severences get stout as we grow old. You can't hope to escape."
"Grow old!" Margaret's brow lowered. Then she smiled satirically. "Yes, I AM growing old. I don't dare think how many seasons out, and not married, or even engaged. If we were rich, I'd be a young girl still. As it is, I'm getting on.'"
"Don't you worry about that, Rita," said Lucia. "Don't you let them hurry you into anything desperate. I'm sure I don't want to come out. I hate society and I don't care about men. It's much pleasanter lounging about the house and reading. No dressing—no fussing with clothes and people you hate."
"It isn't fair to you, Lucy," said Margaret. "I don't mind their nagging, but I do mind standing in your way. And they'll keep you back as long as I'm still on the market."
"But I want to be kept back." Lucia spoke almost energetically, half lifting her form whose efflorescence had a certain charm because it was the over-luxuriance of healthy youth. "I shan't marry till I find the right man. I'm a fatalist. I believe there's a man for me somewhere, and that he'll find me, though I was hid— was hid—even here." And she gazed romantically round at the enclosing walls of foliage.
The resolute lines, the "unfeminine" expression disappeared from her sister's face. She laughed softly and tenderly. "What a dear you are!" she cried.
"You can scoff all you please," retorted Lucia, stoutly. "I believe it. We'll see if I'm not right. ...How lovely you did look last night! ... You wait for your 'right man.' Don't let them hurry you. The most dreadful things happen as the result of girls' hurrying, and then meeting him when it's too late."
"Not to women who have the right sort of pride." Margaret drew herself up, and once more her far-away but decided resemblance to Grandmother Bowker showed itself. "I'd never be weak enough to fall in love unless I wished."
"That's not weakness; it's strength," declared Lucia, out of the fulness of experience gleaned from a hundred novels or more.
Margaret shook her head uncompromisingly. "It'd be weakness for me." She dropped upon the bench beside her sister. "I'm going to marry, and I'm going to superintend your future myself. I'm not going to let them kill all the fine feeling in you, as they've killed it in me."
"Killed it!" said Lucia, reaching out for her sister's hand. "You can't say it's dead, so long as you cry like you did last night, when you came home from the ball."
Margaret reddened angrily, snatched her hand away. "Shame on you!" she cried. "I thought you were above spying."
"The door was open between your bedroom and mine," pleaded Lucia. "I couldn't help hearing."
"You ought to have called out—or closed it. In this family I can't claim even my soul as my own!"
"Please, dear," begged Lucia, sitting up now and struggling to put her arms round her sister, "you don't look on ME as an outsider, do you? Why, I'm the only one in all the world who knows you as you are—how sweet and gentle and noble you are. All the rest think you're cold and cynical, and—"
"So I am," said Margaret reflectively, "except toward only you. I'm grandmother over again, with what she'd call a rotten spot."
"That rotten spot's the real you," protested Lucia.
Margaret broke away from her and resumed her walk. "You'll see," said she, her face stern and bitter once more.
A maidservant descended the steps. "Madam Bowker has come," announced she, "and is asking for you, Miss Rita."
A look that could come only from a devil temper flashed into Margaret's hazel eyes. "Tell her I'm out."
"She saw you from the window."
Margaret debated. Said Lucia, "When she comes so soon after lunch she's always in a frightful mood. She comes then to make a row because, without her after-lunch nap, she's hardly human and can be more—more fiendish."
"I'll not see her," declared Margaret.
"Oh, yes, you will," said Lucia. "Grandmother always has her way."
Margaret turned to the maid. "Tell her I had just gone to my room with a raging headache."
The maid departed. Margaret made a detour, entered the house by the kitchen door and went up to her room. She wrenched off blouse and skirt, got into a dressing sacque and let down her thick black hair. The headache was now real, so upsetting to digestion had been the advent of Madam Bowker, obviously on mischief bent. "She transforms me into a raging devil," thought Margaret, staring at her fiercely sullen countenance in the mirror of the dressing table. "I wish I'd gone in to see her. I'm in just the right humor."
The door opened and Margaret whisked round to blast the intruder who had dared adventure her privacy without knocking. There stood her grandmother—ebon staff in gloved hand—erect, spare body in rustling silk—gray-white hair massed before a sort of turban— steel-blue eyes flashing, delicate nostrils dilating with the breath of battle.
"Ah—Margaret!" said she, and her sharp, quarrel-seeking voice tortured the girl's nerves like the point of a lancet. "They tell me you have a headache." She lifted her lorgnon and scrutinized the pale, angry face of her granddaughter. "I see they were telling me the truth. You are haggard and drawn and distressingly yellow."
The old lady dropped her lorgnon, seated herself. She held her staff out at an angle, as if she were Majesty enthroned to pass judgment of life and death. "You took too much champagne at those vulgar Burkes last night," she proceeded. "It's a vicious thing for a girl to do—vicious in every way. It gives her a reputation, for moral laxity which an unmarried woman can ill-afford to have— unless she has the wealth that makes men indifferent to character. ... Why don't you answer?"
Margaret shrugged her shoulders. "You know I detest champagne and never drink it," said she. "And I don't purpose to begin, even to oblige you."
"To oblige me!"
"To give you pretext for contention and nagging and quarreling."
Madam Bowker was now in the element she had been seeking—the stormy sea of domestic wrangling. She struck out boldly, with angry joy. "I've long since learned not to expect gratitude from you. I can't understand my own weakness, my folly, in continuing to labor with you."
"That's very simple," said Margaret. "I'm the one human being you can't compel by hook or crook to bow to your will. You regard me as unfinished business."
Madam Bowker smiled grimly at this shrewd analysis. "I want to see you married and properly settled in life. I want to end this disgrace. I want to save you from becoming ridiculous and contemptible—an object of laughter and of pity."
"You want to see me married to some man I dislike and should soon hate."
"I want to see you married," retorted the old lady. "I can't be held responsible for your electing to hate whatever is good for you. And I came to tell you that my patience is about exhausted. If you are not engaged by the end of this season, I wash my hands of you. I have been spending a great deal of money in the effort to establish you. You are a miserable failure socially. You attach only worthless men. You drive away the serious men."
"Stupid, you mean."
"I mean serious—the men looking for wives. Men who have something and have a right to aspire to the hand of MY grandchild. The only men who have a right to take the time of an unmarried woman. You either cannot, or will not, exert yourself to please. You avoid young girls and young men. You waste your life with people already settled. You have taken on the full airs and speech of a married woman, in advance of having a husband—and that is folly bordering on insanity. You have discarded everything that men—marrying men—the right sort of men—demand in maidenhood. I repeat, you are a miserable failure."
"A miserable failure," echoed Margaret, staring dismally into the glass.
"And I repeat," continued the old lady, somewhat less harshly, though not less resolutely, "this season ends it. You must marry or I'll stop your allowance. You'll have to look to your mother for your dresses and hats and gee-gaws. When I think of the thousands of dollars I've wasted on you—It's cheating—it's cheating! You have been stealing from me!" Madam Bowker's tone was almost unladylike; her ebon staff was flourishing threateningly.
Margaret started up. "I warned you at the outset!" she cried. "I took nothing from you that you didn't force on me. And now, when you've made dress, and all that, a necessity for me, you are going to snatch it away!"
"Giving you money for dress is wasting it," cried the old lady. "What is dress for? Pray why, do you imagine, have I provided you with three and four dozen expensive dresses a year and hats and lingerie and everything in proportion? Just to gratify your vanity? No, indeed! To enable you to get a husband, one able to provide for you as befits your station. And because I have been generous with you, because I have spared no expense in keeping you up to your station, in giving you opportunity, you turn on me and revile me!"
"You HAVE been generous, Grandmother," said Margaret, humbly. There had risen up before her a hundred extravagances in which the old lady had indulged her—things quite unnecessary for show, the intimate luxuries that contribute only indirectly to show by aiding in giving the feeling and air of refinement. It was of these luxuries that Margaret was especially fond; and her grandmother, with an instinct that those tastes of Margaret's proved her indeed a lady—and made it impossible that she should marry, or even think of marrying, "foolishly"—had been most graciously generous in gratifying them. Now, these luxuries were to be withdrawn, these pampered tastes were to be starved. Margaret collapsed despairingly upon her table. "I wish to marry, Heaven knows! Only—only—" She raised herself; her lip quivered— "Good God, Grandmother, I CAN'T give myself to a man who repels me! You make me hate men—marriage—everything of that kind. Sometimes I long to hide in a convent!"
"You can indulge that longing after the end of this season," said her grandmother. "You'll certainly hardly dare show yourself in Washington, where you have become noted for your dress.... That's what exasperates me against you! No girl appreciates refinement and luxury more than you do. No woman has better taste, could use a large income to better advantage. And you have intelligence. You know you must have a competent husband. Yet you fritter away your opportunities. A very short time, and you'll be a worn, faded old maid, and the settled people who profess to be so fond of you will be laughing at you, and deriding you, and pitying you."
"I've no patience with the women of that clique you're so fond of," the old lady went on. "If the ideas they profess—the shallow frauds that they are!—were to prevail, what would become of women of our station? Women should hold themselves dear, should encourage men in that old-time reverence for the sex and its right to be sheltered and worshiped and showered with luxury. As for you—a poor girl—countenancing such low and ruinous views—Is it strange I am disgusted with you? Have you no pride—no self- respect?"
Margaret sat motionless, gazing into vacancy. She could not but endorse every word her grandmother was saying. She had heard practically those same words often, but they had had no effect; now, toward the end of this her least successful season, with most of her acquaintances married off, and enjoying and flaunting the luxury she might have had—for, they had married men, of "the right sort"—"capable husbands"—men who had been more or less attentive to her—now, these grim and terrible axioms of worldly wisdom, of upper class honor, from her grandmother sounded in her ears like the boom of surf on reefs in the ears of the sailor.
A long miserable silence; then, her grandmother: "What do you purpose to do, Margaret?"
"To hustle," said the girl with a short, bitter laugh. "I must rope in somebody. Oh, I've been realizing, these past two months. I'm awake at last."
Madam Bowker studied the girl's face, gave a sigh of relief. "I feel greatly eased," said she. "I see you are coming to your senses before it's too late. I knew you would. You have inherited too much of my nature, of my brain and my character."
Margaret faced the old woman in sudden anger. "If you had made allowances for that, if you had reasoned with me quietly, instead of nagging and bullying and trying to compel, all this might have been settled long ago." She shrugged her shoulders. "But that's past and done. I'm going to do my best. Only—I warn you, don't try to drive me! I'll not be driven!"
"What do you think of Grant Arkwright?" asked her grandmother.
"I intend to marry him," replied Margaret.
The old lady's stern eyes gleamed delight.
"But," Margaret hastened to add, "you mustn't interfere. He doesn't like you. He's afraid of you. If you give the slightest sign, he'll sheer off. You must let me handle him."
"The insolent puppy," muttered Madam Bowker. "I've always detested him."
"You don't want me to marry him?"
"On the contrary," the old lady replied. "He would make the best possible husband for you." She smiled like a grand inquisitor at prospect of a pleasant day with rack and screw. "He needs a firm hand," said she.
Margaret burst out laughing at this implied compliment to herself; then she colored as with shame and turned away. "What frauds we women are!" she exclaimed. "If I had any sense of decency left, I'd be ashamed to do it!"
"There you go again!" cried her grandmother. "You can't be practical five minutes in succession. Why should a woman be ashamed to do a man a service in spite of himself? Men are fools where women are concerned. I never knew one that was not. And the more sensible they are in other respects, the bigger fools they are about us! Left to themselves, they always make a mess of marriage. They think they know what they want, but they don't. We have to teach them. A man needs a firm hand during courtship, and a firmer hand after marriage. So many wives forget their duty and relax. If you don't take hold of that young Arkwright, he'll no doubt fall a victim to some unscrupulous hussy."
Unscrupulous hussy! Margaret looked at herself in the mirror, met her own eyes with a cynical laugh. "Well, I'm no worse than the others," she added, half to herself. Presently she said, "Grant is coming this afternoon. I look a fright. I must take a headache powder and get some sleep." Her grandmother rose instantly. "Yes, you do look badly—for you. And Arkwright has very keen eyes— thanks to those silly women of your set who teach men things they have no business to know." She advanced and kissed her granddaughter graciously on top of the head. "I am glad to see my confidence in you was not misplaced, Margaret," said she. "I could not believe I was so utterly mistaken in judgment of character. I'll go to your mother and take her for a drive."
"HE ISN'T LIKE US"
Margaret continued to sit there, her elbows on the dressing-table, her knuckles pressing into her cheeks, the hazel eyes gazing at their reflection in the mirror. "What is it in me," she said to her image, "that makes me less successful at drawing men to the point than so many girls who are no better looking than I?" And she made an inventory of her charms that was creditably free from vanity. "And men certainly like to talk to me," she pursued. "The fish bite, but the hook doesn't hold. Perhaps—probably—I'm not sentimental enough. I don't simper and pretend innocence and talk tommy rot—and listen to it as if I were eating honey."
This explanation was not altogether satisfactory, however. She felt that, if she had a certain physical something, which she must lack, nothing else would matter—nothing she said or did. It was baffling; for, there, before her eyes were precisely the charms of feature and figure that in other women, in far less degree, had set men, many men, quite beside themselves. Her lip curled, and her eyes laughed satirically as she thought of the follies of those men—how they had let women lead them up and down in public places, drooling and sighing and seeming to enjoy their own pitiful plight. If that expression of satire had not disappeared so quickly, she might have got at the secret of her "miserable failure." For, it was her habit of facing men with only lightly veiled amusement, or often frank ridicule, in her eyes, in the curve of her lips, that frightened them off, that gave them the uneasy sense that their assumptions of superiority to the female were being judged and derided.
But time was flying. It was after three; the headache was still pounding in her temples, and her eyes did look almost as haggard and her skin almost as sallow as her grandmother had said. She took an anti-pyrene powder from a box in her dressing-table, threw off all her clothes, swathed herself in a long robe of pale-blue silk. She locked the door into the hall, and went into her bedroom, closed the door between. She put the powder in water, drank it, dropped down upon a lounge at the foot of her bed and covered herself. The satin pillow against her cheek, the coolness and softness of the silk all along and around her body, were deliciously soothing. Her blood beat less fiercely, and somber thoughts drew slowly away into a vague cloud at the horizon of her mind. Lying there, with senses soothed by luxury and deadened to pain by the drug, she felt so safe, so shut-in against all intrusion. In a few hours the struggle, the bitterness would begin again; but at least here was this interval of repose, of freedom. Only when she was thus alone did she ever get that most voluptuous of all sensations—freedom. Freedom and luxury! "I'm afraid I can't eat my cake and have it, too," she mused drowsily. "Well— whether or not I can have freedom, at least I MUST have luxury. I'm afraid Grant can't give me nearly all I want—who could? ... If I had the courage—Craig could make more than Grant has, if he were put to it. I'm sure he could. I'm sure he could do almost anything—but be attractive to a woman. No, Craig is too strong a dose—besides, there's the risk. Grant is safest. Better a small loaf than—than no Paris dresses."
Arkwright, entering Mrs. Severence's drawing-room with Craig at half-past five, found a dozen people there. Most of them were of that young married set which Margaret preferred, to the anger and disgust of her grandmother and against the entreaties of her own common sense. "The last place in the world to look for a husband," Madam Bowker had said again and again, to both her daughter and her granddaughter. "Their talk is all in ridicule of marriage, and of every sacred thing. And if there are any bachelors, they have come—well, certainly not in search of honorable wedlock."
The room was noisily gay; but Margaret, at the tea-table in a rather somber brown dress with a big brown hat, whose great plumes shadowed her pale, somewhat haggard face, was evidently not in one of her sparkling moods. The headache powder and the nap had not been successful. She greeted Arkwright with a slight, absent smile, seemed hardly to note Craig, as Arkwright presented him.
"Sit down here beside Miss Severence," Grant said.
"Yes, do," acquiesced Margaret; and Joshua thought her cold and haughty, an aristocrat of the unapproachable type, never natural and never permitting others to be natural.
"And tell her all about yourself," continued Grant.
"My friend Josh, here," he explained to Margaret, "is one of those serious, absorbed men who concentrate entirely upon themselves. It isn't egotism; it's genius."
Craig was ruffled and showed it. He did not like persiflage; it seemed an assault upon dignity, and in those early days in Washington he was full of dignity and of determination to create a dignified impression. He reared haughtily and looked about with arrogant, disdainful eyes.
"Will you have tea?" said Miss Severence, as Arkwright moved away.
"No, thanks," replied Craig. "Tea's for the women and the children."
Miss Severence's expression made him still more uncomfortable. "Well," said she, "if you should feel dry as you tell me about yourself, there's whiskey over on that other table. A cigarette? No? I'm afraid I can't ask you to have a cigar—"
"And take off my coat, and put my feet up, and be at home!" said Craig. "I see you think I'm a boor."
"Don't you want people to think you a boor?" inquired she with ironic seriousness.
He looked at her sharply. "You're laughing at me," he said, calmly. "Now, wouldn't it be more ladylike for you to try to put me at my ease? I'm in your house, you know."
Miss Severence flushed. "I beg your pardon," she said. "I did not mean to offend."
"No," replied Craig. "You simply meant to amuse yourself with me. And because I don't know what to do with my hands and because my coat fits badly, you thought I wouldn't realize what you were doing. You are very narrow—you fashionable people. You don't even know that everybody ought to be judged on his own ground. To size up a race-horse, you don't take him into a drawing room. And it wouldn't be quite fair, would it, for me to judge these drawing- room dolls by what they could do out among real men and women? You—for instance. How would you show up, if you had to face life with no husband and no money and five small children, as my mother did? Well, SHE won out."
Miss Severence was not attracted; but she was interested. She saw beyond the ill-fitting frock-coat, and the absurd manner, thoroughly ill at ease, trying to assume easy, nonchalant man-of- the-world airs. "I'd never have thought of judging you except on your own ground," said she, "if you hadn't invited the comparison."
"You mean, by getting myself up in these clothes and coming here?"
"You're right, young lady," said Craig, clapping her on the arm, and waving an energetic forefinger almost in her face. "And as soon as I can decently get away, I'll go. I told Arkwright I had no business to come here."
Miss Severance colored, drew her arm away, froze. She detested all forms of familiarity; physical familiarity she abhorred. "You have known Grant Arkwright long?" she said, icily.
"NOW, what have I done?" demanded Joshua.
She eyed him with a lady's insolent tranquillity. "Nothing," replied she. "We are all so glad Grant has come back."
Craig bit his lip and his tawny, weather-beaten skin reddened. He stared with angry envy at Arkwright, so evidently at ease and at home in the midst of a group on the other side of the room. In company, practically all human beings are acutely self-conscious. But self-consciousness is of two kinds. Arkwright, assured that his manners were correct and engaging, that his dress was all it should be, or could be, that his position was secure and admired, had the self-consciousness of self-complacence. Joshua's consciousness of himself was the extreme of the other kind—like a rat's in a trap.
"You met Mr. Arkwright out West—out where you live?"
"Yes," said Craig curtly, almost surlily.
"I was out there once," pursued the young woman, feeling that in her own house she must do her best with the unfortunate young man. "And, curiously enough, I heard you speak. We all admired you very much."
Craig cheered up instantly; he was on his own ground now. "How long ago?" he asked.
"Three years; two years last September."
"Oh, I was a mere boy then. You ought to hear me now."
And Joshua launched forth into a description of his oratory, then related how he had won over juries in several important cases. His arms, his hands were going, his eyes were glistening, his voice had that rich, sympathetic tone which characterizes the egotist when the subject is himself. Miss Severence listened without comment; indeed, he was not sure that she was listening, so conventional was her expression. But, though she was careful to keep her face a blank, her mind was busy. Surely not since the gay women of Barras's court laughed at the megalomaniac ravings of a noisy, badly dressed, dirty young lieutenant named Buonaparte, had there been a vanity so candid, so voluble, so obstreperous. Nor did he talk of himself in a detached way, as if he were relating the performances and predicting the glory of a human being who happened to have the same name as himself. No, he thrust upon her in every sentence that he, he himself and none other, had said and done all these splendid startling things, would do more, and more splendid. She listened, astounded; she wondered why she did not burst out laughing in his very face, why, on the contrary, she seemed to accept to a surprising extent his own estimate of himself.
"He's a fool," thought she, "one of the most tedious fools I ever met. But I was right; he's evidently very much of a somebody. However does he get time to DO anything, when he's so busy admiring himself? How does he ever contrive to take his mind off himself long enough to think of anything else?"
Nearly an hour later Arkwright came for him, cut him off in the middle of an enthusiastic description of how he had enchained and enthralled a vast audience in the biggest hall in St. Paul. "We must go, this instant," said Arkwright. "I had no idea it was so late."
"I'll see you soon again, no doubt, Mr. Craig," said Miss Severence, polite but not cordial, as she extended her hand.
"Yes," replied Craig, holding the hand, and rudely not looking at her but at Arkwright. "You've interrupted us in a very interesting talk, Grant."
Grant and Margaret exchanged smiles, Margaret disengaged her hand, and the two men went. As they were strolling down the drive, Grant said: "Well, what did you think of her?"
"A nobody—a nothing," was Craig's wholly unexpected response. "Homely—at least insignificant. Bad color. Dull eyes. Bad manners. A poor specimen, even of this poor fashionable society of yours. An empty-head."
"Well—well—WELL!" exclaimed Arkwright in derision. "Yet you and she seemed to be getting on beautifully together."
"I did all the talking."
"You always do."
"But it was the way she listened. I felt as if I were rehearsing in a vacant room."
"Humph," grunted Arkwright.
He changed the subject. The situation was one that required thought, plan. "She's just the girl for Josh," said he to himself. "And he must take her. Of course, he's not the man for her. She couldn't care for him, not in a thousand years. What woman with a sense of humor could? But she's got to marry somebody that can give her what she must have. ... It's very important whom a man marries, but it's not at all important whom a woman marries. The world wasn't made for them, but for US!"
At Vanderman's that night he took Mrs. Tate in to dinner, but Margaret was on his left. "When does your Craig make his speech before the Supreme Court?" asked she.
He inspected her with some surprise. "Tuesday, I think. Why?"
"I promised him I'd go."
"And will you?"
"Certainly. Why not?"
This would never do. Josh would get the impression she was running after him, and would be more contemptuous than ever. "I shouldn't, if I were you."
"Well, he's very vain, as you perhaps discovered. He might misunderstand."
"And why should that disturb me?" asked she, tranquilly. "I do as I please. I don't concern myself about what others think. Your friend interests me. I've a curiosity to see whether he has improved in the last two or three years as much as he says he has."
"He told you all about himself?"
"That's just it!" exclaimed Arkwright, misunderstanding her. "After he has talked me into a state of collapse, every word about himself and his career, I think it all over, and wonder whether there's anything to the man or not. Sometimes I think there's a real person beneath that flow of vanity. Then, again, I think not."
"Whether he's an accident or a plan," mused the young woman; but she saw that Arkwright did not appreciate the cleverness and the penetration of her remark. Indeed, she knew in advance that he would not, for she knew his limitations. "Now," thought she, "Craig would have appreciated it—and clapped me on the arm—or knee."
"Did you like Josh?" Grant was inquiring.
"Very much, indeed."
"Of course," said Arkwright satirically.
"He has ability to do things. He has strength. ... He isn't like us."
Arkwright winced. "I'm afraid you exaggerate him, merely because he's different."
"He makes me feel an added contempt for myself, somehow. Doesn't he you?"
"I can't say he does," replied Arkwright, irritated. "I appreciate his good qualities, but I can't help being offended and disturbed for him by his crudities. He has an idea that to be polite and well-dressed is to be weak and worthless. And I can't get it out of his head."
Margaret's smile irritated him still further. "All great men are more or less rude and crude, aren't they?" said she. "They are impatient of the trifles we lay so much stress on."
"So, you think Josh is a great man?"
"I don't know," replied Margaret, with exasperating deliberateness. "I want to find out."
"And if you decide that he is, you'll marry him?"
"Perhaps. You suggested it the other day."
"In jest," said Arkwright, unaccountably angry with her, with himself, with Joshua. "As soon as I saw him in your presence, I knew it wouldn't do. It'd be giving a piece of rare, delicate porcelain to a grizzly as a plaything."
He was surprised at himself. Now that he was face to face with a possibility of her adopting his own proposition, he disliked it intensely. He looked at her; never had she seemed so alluring, so representative of what he called distinction. At the very idea of such refinement at the mercy of the coarse and boisterous Craig, his blood boiled. "Josh is a fine, splendid chap, as a man among men," said he to himself." But to marry this dainty aristocrat to him—it'd be a damned disgraceful outrage. He's not fit to marry among OUR women.... What a pity such a stunning girl shouldn't have the accessories to make her eligible." And he hastily turned his longing eyes away, lest she should see and attach too much importance to a mere longing—for, he felt it would be a pitiful weakness, a betrayal of opportunity, for him to marry, in a mood of passion that passes, a woman who was merely well born, when he had the right to demand both birth and wealth in his wife.
"I've often thought," pursued Margaret, "that to be loved by a man of the Craig sort would be—interesting."
"While being loved by one of your own sort would be dull?" suggested Arkwright with a strained smile.
Margaret shrugged her bare white shoulders in an inflammatory assent. "Will you go with me to the Supreme Court on Tuesday?"
"Delighted," said Arkwright. And he did not realize that the deep- hidden source of his enthusiasm was a belief that Josh Craig would make an ass of himself.
In human affairs, great and small, there are always many reasons for every action; then, snugly tucked away underneath all these reasons that might be and ought to be and pretend to be but aren't, hides the real reason, the real moving cause of action. By tacit agreement among human beings there is an unwritten law against the exposing of this real reason, whose naked and ugly face would put in sorry countenance professions of patriotism or philanthropy or altruism or virtue of whatever kind. Stillwater, the Attorney-General and Craig's chief, had a dozen reasons for letting him appear alone for the Administration—that is, for the people—in that important case. Each of these reasons—except one —shed a pure, white light upon Stillwater's public spirit and private generosity. That one was the reason supposed by Mrs. Stillwater to be real. "Since you don't seem able to get rid of Josh Craig, Pa," said she, in the seclusion of the marital couch, "we might as well marry him to Jessie"—Jessie being their homeliest daughter.
"Very well," said "Pa" Stillwater. "I'll give him a chance."
Still, we have not got the real reason for Josh's getting what Stillwater had publicly called "the opportunity of a lifetime." The really real reason was that Stillwater wished, and calculated, to kill a whole flock of birds with one stone.
Whenever the people begin to clamor for justice upon their exploiters, the politicians, who make themselves valuable to the exploiters by cozening the people into giving them office, begin by denying that the people want anything; when the clamor grows so loud that this pretense is no longer tenable, they hasten to say, "The people are right, and something must be done. Unfortunately, there is no way of legally doing anything at present, and we must be patient until a way is discovered." Way after way is suggested, only to be dismissed as "dangerous" or "impractical" or "unconstitutional." The years pass; the clamor persists, becomes imperious. The politicians pass a law that has been carefully made unconstitutional. This gives the exploiters several years more of license. Finally, public sentiment compels the right kind of law; it is passed. Then come the obstacles to enforcement. More years of delay; louder clamor. A Stillwater is put in charge of the enforcement of the law; a case is made, a trial is had, and the evidence is so incomplete or the people's lawyers so poorly matched against the lawyers of the exploiters that the case fails, and the administration is able to say, "You see, WE'VE done our best, but the rascals have escaped!" The case against certain Western railway thieves had reached the stage at which the only way the exploiters could be protected from justice was by having a mock trial; and Stillwater had put Craig forward as the conductor of this furious sham battle, had armed him with a poor gun, loaded with blanks. "We'll lose the case," calculated Stillwater; "we'll save our friends, and get rid of Craig, whom everybody will blame —the damned, bumptious, sophomoric blow-hard!"
What excuse did Stillwater make to himself for himself in this course of seeming treachery and assassination? For, being a man of the highest principles, he would not deliberately plan an assassination as an assassination. Why, his excuse was that the popular clamor against the men "who had built up the Western country" was wicked, that he was serving his country in denying the mob "the blood of our best citizens," that Josh Craig was a demagogue who richly deserved to be hoist by his own petar. He laughed with patriotic glee as he thought how "Josh, the joke" would make a fool of himself with silly, sophomoric arguments, would with his rude tactlessness get upon the nerves of the finicky old Justices of the Supreme Court!
As Craig had boasted right and left of the "tear" he was going to make, and had urged everybody he talked with to come and hear him, the small courtroom was uncomfortably full, and not a few of the smiling, whispering spectators confidently expected that they were about to enjoy that rare, delicious treat—a conceited braggart publicly exposed and overwhelmed by himself. Among these spectators was Josh's best friend, Arkwright, seated beside Margaret Severence, and masking his satisfaction over the impending catastrophe with an expression of funereal somberness. He could not quite conceal from himself all these hopes that had such an uncomfortable aspect of ungenerousness. So he reasoned with himself that they really sprang from a sincere desire for his friend's ultimate good. "Josh needs to have his comb cut," thought he. "It's sure to be done, and he can bear it better now than later. The lesson will teach him a few things he must learn. I only hope he'll be able to profit by it."
When Josh appeared, Grant and the others with firmly-fixed opinions of the character of the impending entertainment were not a little disquieted. Joshua Craig, who stepped into the arena, looked absolutely different from the Josh they knew. How had he divested himself of that familiar swaggering, bustling braggadocio? Where had he got this look of the strong man about to run a race, this handsome face on which sat real dignity and real power? Never was there a better court manner; the Justices, who had been anticipating an opportunity to demonstrate, at his expense, the exceeding dignity of the Supreme Court, could only admire and approve. As for his speech, it was a straightway argument; not a superfluous or a sophomoric word, not an attempt at rhetoric. His argument—There is the logic that is potent but answerable; there is the logic that is unanswerable, that gives no opportunity to any sane mind, however prejudiced by association with dispensers of luxurious hospitality, of vintage wines and dollar cigars, however enamored of fog-fighting and hair- splitting, to refuse the unqualified assent of conviction absolute. That was the kind of argument Josh Craig made. And the faces of the opposing lawyers, the questions the Justices asked him plainly showed that he had won.
After the first ten minutes, when the idea that Craig could be or ever had been laughable became itself absurd, Arkwright glanced uneasily, jealously at Margaret. The face beneath the brim of her beautiful white and pale pink hat was cold, conventional, was the face of a mere listener. Grant, reassured, resumed his absorbed attention, was soon completely swept away by his friend's exhibition of power, could hardly wait until he and Margaret were out of the courtroom before exploding in enthusiasm. "Isn't he a wonder?" he cried. "Why, I shouldn't have believed it possible for a man of his age to make such a speech. He's a great lawyer as well as a great orator. It was a dull subject, yet I was fascinated. Weren't you?"
"It was interesting—at times," said Margaret.
"At times! Oh, you women!"
At this scorn Margaret eyed his elegant attire, his face with its expression of an intelligence concentrated upon the petty and the paltry. Her eyes suggested a secret amusement so genuine that she could not venture to reveal it in a gibe. She merely said: "I confess I was more interested in him than in what he said."
"Of course! Of course!" said Grant, all unconscious of her derision. "Women have no interest in serious things and no mind for logic."
She decided that it not only was prudent but also was more enjoyable to keep to herself her amusement at his airs of masculine superiority. Said she, her manner ingenuous: "It doesn't strike me as astonishing that a man should make a sensible speech."
Grant laughed as if she had said something much cleverer than she could possibly realize. "That's a fact," admitted he. "It was simply supreme common-sense. What a world for twaddle it is when common-sense makes us sit up and stare.... But it's none the less true that you're prejudiced against him."
"Why do you say that?"
"If you appreciated him you'd be as enthusiastic as I." There was in his tone a faint hint of his unconscious satisfaction in her failure to appreciate Craig.
"You can go very far astray," said she, "you, with your masculine logic."
But Grant had guessed aright. Margaret had not listened attentively to the speech because it interested her less than the man himself. She had concentrated wholly upon him. Thus, alone of all the audience, she had seen that Craig was playing a carefully- rehearsed part, and, himself quite unmoved, was watching and profiting by every hint in the countenance of his audience, the old Justices. It was an admirable piece of acting; it was the performance of a genius at the mummer's art. But the power of the mummer lies in the illusion he creates; if he does not create illusion, as Craig did not for Margaret, he becomes mere pantomimist and mouther. She had never given a moment's thought to public life as a career; she made no allowances for the fact that a man's public appearances, no matter how sincere he is, must always be carefully rehearsed if he is to use his powers with unerring effect; she was simply like a child for the first time at the theater, and, chancing to get a glimpse behind the scenes, disgusted and angry with the players because their performance is not spontaneous. If she had stopped to reason about the matter she would have been less uncompromising. But in the shock of disillusionment she felt only that the man was working upon his audience like a sleight-of-hand performer; and the longer she observed, and the stronger his spell over the others, the deeper became her contempt for the "charlatan." He seemed to her like one telling a lie—as that one seems, while telling it, to the hearer who is not deceived. "I've been thinking him rough but genuine," said she to herself. "He's merely rough." She had forgiven, had disregarded his rude almost coarse manners, setting them down to indifference, the impatience of the large with the little, a revolt from the (on the whole preferable) extreme opposite of the mincing, patterned manners of which Margaret herself was a-weary. "But he isn't indifferent at all," she now felt. "He's simply posing. His rudenesses are deliberate where they are not sheer ignorance. His manner in court showed that he knows how, in the main."
A rather superior specimen of the professional politician, but distinctly of that hypocritical, slippery class. And Margaret's conviction was strengthened later in the day when she came upon him at tea at Mrs. Houghton's. He was holding forth noisily against "society," was denouncing it as a debaucher of manhood and womanhood, a waster of precious time, and on and on in that trite and tedious strain. Margaret's lip curled as she listened. What did this fakir know about manhood and womanhood? And could there be any more pitiful, more paltry wasting of time than in studying out and performing such insincerities as his life was made up of? True, Mrs. Houghton, of those funny, fashionable New Yorkers who act as if they had only just arrived at the estate of servants and carriages, and are always trying to impress even passing strangers with their money and their grandeur—true, Mrs. Houghton was most provocative to anger or amused disdain at the fashionable life. But not even Mrs. Houghton seemed to Margaret so cheap and pitiful as this badly-dressed, mussy politician, as much an actor as Mrs. Houghton and as poor at the trade, but choosing low comedy for his unworthy attempts where Mrs. Houghton was at least trying to be something refined.
With that instinct for hostility which is part of the equipment of every sensitively-nerved man of action, Craig soon turned toward her, addressed himself to her; and the others, glad to be free, fell away. Margaret was looking her best. White was extremely becoming to her; pink—pale pink—being next in order. Her dress was of white, with facings of delicate pale pink, and the white plumes in her hat were based in pale pink, which also lined the inside of the brim. She watched him, and, now that it was once more his personality pitted directly and wholly against hers, she, in spite of herself, began to yield to him again her respect—the respect every intelligent person must feel for an individuality that is erect and strong. But as she was watching, her expression was that of simply listening, without comment or intention to reply—an expression of which she was perfect mistress. Her hazel eyes, set in dark lashes, her sensuous mouth, her pallid skin, smooth and healthy, seemed the climax of allurement to which all the lines of her delightful figure pointed. To another woman it would have been obvious that she was amusing herself by trying to draw him under the spell of physical attraction; a man would have thought her a mere passive listener, perhaps one concealing boredom, would have thought her movements to bring now this charm and now that to his attention were simply movements of restlessness, indications of an impatience difficult to control. He broke off abruptly. "What are you thinking?" he demanded.
She gave no sign of triumph at having accomplished her purpose—at having forced his thoughts to leave his pet subject, himself, and center upon her. "I was thinking," said she reflectively, "what a brave whistler you are."
"Whistling to keep up your courage. No, rather, whistling FOR courage. You are on your knees before wealth and social position, and you wish to convince yourself—and the world—that you despise them."
"I? Wealth? Social position?" Craig exclaimed, or rather, blustered. And, red and confused, he was at a loss for words.
"Yes—you," asserted she, in her quiet, tranquil way. "Don't bluster at me. You didn't bluster at the Court this morning." She laughed softly, eyeing him with friendly sarcasm. "You see, I'm 'on to' you, Mr. Craig."
Their eyes met—a resolute encounter. He frowned fiercely, and as his eyes were keen and blue-green, and, backed by a tremendous will, the odds seemed in his favor. But soon his frown relaxed; a smile replaced it—a handsome acknowledgment of defeat, a humorous confession that she was indeed "on to" him. "I like you," he said graciously.
"I don't know that I can say the same of you," replied she, no answering smile in her eyes or upon her lips, but a seriousness far more flattering.
"That's right!" exclaimed he. "Frankness—absolute frankness. You are the only intelligent woman I have met here who seems to have any sweetness left in her."
"Sweetness? This is a strange place to look for sweetness. One might as well expect to find it in a crowd of boys scrapping for pennies, or in a pack of hounds chasing a fox."
"But that isn't all of life," protested Craig.
"It's all of life among our sort of people—the ambitious socially and otherwise."
Josh beamed upon her admiringly. "You'll do," approved he. "We shall be friends. We ARE friends."
The gently satiric smile her face had borne as she was talking became personal to him. "You are confident," said she.
He nodded emphatically. "I am. I always get what I want."
"I'm sorry to say I don't. But I can say that at least I never take what I don't want."
"That means," said he, "you may not want my friendship."
"Obviously," replied she. And she rose and put out her hand.
"Don't go yet," cried he. "We are just beginning to get acquainted. The other day I misjudged you. I thought you insignificant, not worth while."
She slid her hand into her ermine muff. She gave him an icy look, not contemptuous but oblivious, and turned away. He stared after her. "By Jove!" thought he, "THERE'S the real thing. There's a true aristocrat." And he frankly paid aristocracy in thought the tribute he would with any amount of fuming and spluttering have denied it in word. "Aristocracy does mean something," reflected he. "There must be substance to what can make ME feel quite put down."