The Law-Breakers and Other Stories
The American Short Story Series
The Law-Breakers Against His Judgment St. George and the Dragon The Romance of a Soul An Exchange of Courtesies Across the Way A Surrender
George Colfax was in an outraged frame of mind, and properly so. Politically speaking, George was what might be called, for lack of a better term, a passive reformer. That is, he read religiously the New York Nation, was totally opposed to the spoils system of party rewards, and was ostensibly as right-minded a citizen as one would expect to find in a Sabbath day's journey. He subscribed one dollar a year to the civil-service reform journal, and invariably voted on Election Day for the best men, cutting out in advance the names of the candidates favored by the Law and Order League of his native city, and carrying them to the polls in order to jog his memory. He could talk knowingly, too, by the card, of the degeneracy of the public men of the nation, and had at his finger-ends inside information as to the manner in which President This or Congressman That had sacrificed the ideals of a vigorous manhood to the brass idol known as a second term. In fact, there was scarcely a prominent political personage in the country for whom George had a good word in every-day conversation. And when the talk was of municipal politics he shook his head with a profundity of gloom which argued an utterly hopeless condition of affairs—a sort of social bottomless pit.
And yet George was practically passive. He voted right, but, beyond his yearly contribution of one dollar, he did nothing else but cavil and deplore. He inveighed against the low standards of the masses, and went on his way sadly, making all the money he could at his private calling, and keeping his hands clean from the slime of the political slough. He was a censor and a gentleman; a well-set-up, agreeable, quick-witted fellow, whom his men companions liked, whom women termed interesting. He was apt to impress the latter as earnest and at the same time fascinating—an alluring combination to the sex which always likes a moral frame for its fancies.
It was to a woman that George was unbosoming his distress on this particular occasion, and, as has been already indicated, his indignation and disgust were entirely justified. Her name was Miss Mary Wellington, and she was the girl whom he wished with all his heart to marry. It was no hasty conclusion on his part. He knew her, as he might have said, like a book, from the first page to the last, for he had met her constantly at dances and dinners ever since she "came out" seven years before, and he was well aware that her physical charms were supplemented by a sympathetic, lively, and independent spirit. One mark of her independence—the least satisfactory to him—was that she had refused him a week before; or, more accurately speaking, the matter had been left in this way: she had rejected him for the time being in order to think his offer over. Meanwhile he had decided to go abroad for sixty days—a shrewd device on his part to cause her to miss him—and here he was come to pay his adieus, but bubbling over at the same time with what he called the latest piece of disregard for public decency on the part of the free-born voter.
"Just think of it. The fellow impersonated one of his heelers, took the civil-service examination in the heeler's name, and got the position for him. He was spotted, tried before a jury who found him guilty, and was sentenced to six months in jail. The day he was discharged, an admiring crowd of his constituents escorted him from prison with a brass band and tendered him a banquet. Yesterday he was chosen an alderman by the ballots of the people of this city. A self-convicted falsifier and cheat! A man who snaps his fingers in the face of the laws of the country! Isn't that a commentary on the workings of universal suffrage?" This was a caustic summing up on George's part of the story he had already told Miss Wellington piecemeal, and he looked at her as much as to ask if his dejection were not amply justified.
"It's a humiliating performance certainly," she said. "I don't wonder you are exercised about it. Are there no extenuating circumstances?" Miss Wellington appeared duly shocked; yet, being a woman of an alert and cheery disposition, she reached out instinctively for some palliative before accepting the affair in all its stark offensiveness.
"None which count—none which should weigh for a moment with any one with patriotic impulses," he answered. "The plea is that the people down there—Jim Daly's constituents—have no sympathy with the civil-service examination for public office, and so they think it was rather smart of him than otherwise to get the better of the law. In other words, that it's all right to break a law if one doesn't happen to fancy it. A nation which nurses that point of view is certain to come to grief."
Mary nodded gravely. "It's a dangerous creed—dangerous, and a little specious, too. And can nothing be done about it? About Daly, I mean?"
"No. He's an alderman-elect, and the hero of his district. A wide-awake, square-dealing young man with no vices, as I heard one of his admirers declare. By the time I return from my trip to the Mediterranean I expect they will be booming him for Congress."
Looking at the matter soberly, Mary Wellington perceived that Jim Daly's performance was a disreputable piece of business, which merited the censure of all decent citizens. Having reached this conclusion, she dismissed George Colfax on his travels with a sense of satisfaction that he viewed the affair with such abhorrence. For, much as she liked George, her hesitation to become his wife and renounce the bachelor-girl career to which, since her last birthday—her twenty-fifth—she had felt herself committed, was a sort of indefinable suspicion as to the real integrity of his standards. He was an excellent talker, of course; his ideals of public life and private ethics, as expressed in drawing-rooms, or during pleasant dialogues when they were alone together, were exemplary. But every now and then, while he discoursed picturesquely of the evils of the age and the obligations of citizenship, it would occur to her to wonder how consistent he would be in case his principles should happen to clash with his predilections. How would he behave in a tight place? He was a fashionable young man with the tastes of his class, and she thought she had detected in him once or twice a touch of that complacent egotism which is liable to make fish of one foible and flesh of another, as the saying is, to suit convention. In short, were his moral perceptions genuinely delicate?
However, she liked him so well that she was anxious to believe her questionings groundless. Accordingly, his protestations of repugnance at Jim Daly's conduct were reassuring. For though they were merely words, his denunciation appeared heartfelt and to savor of clean and nice appreciation of the distinction between truth and falsehood. Indeed, she was half-inclined to call him back to tell him that she had changed her mind and was ready to take him for better or for worse. But she let him go, saying to herself that she could live without him perfectly well for the next sixty days, and that the voyage would do him good. Were she to become his wife, it would be necessary to give up the Settlement work in which she had become deeply interested as the result of her activities as a bachelor-girl. She must be certain that he was all she believed him to be before she admitted that she loved him and burned her philanthropical bridges.
Returning to her quarters in the heart of the city, Mary Wellington became so absorbed in her work of bringing cheer and relief to the ignorant and needy that she almost forgot George Colfax. Yet once in a while it would occur to her that it would be very pleasant if he should drop in for a cup of tea, and she would wonder what he was doing. Did she, perchance, at the same time exert herself with an ardor born of an acknowledged inkling that these might be the last months of her service? However that may have been, she certainly was very busy, and responded eagerly to every call upon her sympathy.
Among the cases of distress brought to her attention which interested her most was that of two children whose mother had just died. Their father was a drinking man—a reeling sot who had neglected his family for years. His wife, proud in her destitution, had worked her fingers to the bone to maintain a tenement-roof over the heads of their two little boys and to send them neat and properly nourished to school. This labor of love had been too much for her strength, and finally she had fallen a victim to consumption. This was shortly after her necessities had become known to the Settlement to which Mary Wellington belonged. The dying mother besought her visitor to keep watch over her boys, which Mary promised faithfully to do.
The waifs, Joe and Frank, were two bright-eyed youngsters of eleven and nine. They stood so well in their classes at school that Mary resolved that their attendance should not be interrupted during the interval while a new home was being found for them. She accompanied them to the school-house, on the morning after the funeral, in order to explain the situation to their teacher and evince her personal interest. Miss Burke was a pretty girl two or three years younger than herself. She looked capable and attractive; a little coquettish, too, for her smile was arch, and her pompadour had that fluffy fulness which girls who like to be admired nowadays are too apt to affect. She was just the sort of girl whom a man might fall desperately in love with, and it occurred to Mary, as they conversed, that it was not likely she would remain a public-school teacher long.
Miss Burke evidently knew the art of ingratiating herself with her pupils. Joe and Frank smiled bashfully, but contentedly, under her sympathetic, sunny welcome. The two young women exchanged a few words, the sequel of which was that Mary Wellington accepted the invitation to remain and observe how the youthful mind was inoculated with the rudiments of knowledge by the honeyed processes of the modern school system. While the teacher stepped to the blackboard to write some examples before the bell should ring, Joe, the elder of the two orphans, utilized the occasion to remark in a low voice intended for Mary's ear:
"She's Jim Daly's mash."
Mary, who failed on the instant to grasp the meaning of this piece of eloquent information, invited the urchin to repeat it, which he did with the sly unction of one proud of his secret. Mary laughed to herself. Some girls would have repressed the youthful gossip, but she was human. Somehow, too, the name sounded familiar.
"Who's Jim Daly, Joe?"
"He's the boss of the Ninth Ward."
"The Daly who has just been elected alderman?"
Then Mary understood. "Really, Joe!" she said in the stage whisper necessary to the situation.
"Maybe she's going to be married after Easter," the guileless prattler continued, to make his confidence complete.
"Then you and Frank would lose her." This was the answer which rose to Mary's lips, partly prompted, doubtless, by her own instinctive aversion to the match.
The suggestion of another loss worked upon Joe's susceptible feelings. Evidently he had not taken this side of the matter into consideration, and he put up one of his hands to his eyes. Fortunately the bell for the opening of the session broke in upon the conversation, and not only diverted him, but relegated the whole subject to the background for the time being. Nevertheless, the thought of it continued in Mary's mind as she sat listening to the exercises. How could an attractive girl like this take a fancy to such a trickster? It seemed totally incompatible with the teacher's other qualities, for in her attitude toward her pupils she appeared discerning and conscientious.
When the time came to go, Mary referred to her connection with the Settlement work in the course of the few minutes' further conversation which they had together. Miss Burke expressed so lively an interest in this that it was agreed before they parted that the schoolmistress should pay Mary a visit some day later in the week, with the twofold object of taking tea with the two orphans and of being shown the workings of the establishment.
At this subsequent interview, the two young women chatted briskly in a cosey corner. Each found the other sympathetic, despite Mary's secret prejudice; and it happened presently that Miss Burke, whose countenance now and again had seemed a little pensive, as though she had something on her mind, said after a pause:
"I'd like to ask your advice about something, Miss Wellington, if you don't object."
Mary thought she knew what was coming, surprising as it was to be consulted. She smiled encouragingly.
"It's about a gentleman friend of mine," continued Miss Burke, with rising color, "who wishes me to marry him. Perhaps you have heard of him," she added with a suggestion of furtive pride. "His name is Jim Daly."
"I know all about him."
Miss Burke was evidently not prepared for such a sweeping answer. "You know what he did, then?" she asserted after a moment's hesitation.
"He pretended to be some one else, and passed a civil-service examination, wasn't it?"
"Yes. I can tell by your tone that you think it was disreputable. So do I, Miss Wellington; though some of my friends say that it was Jim's desire to help a friend which led him to do it. But he had to serve his time in jail, didn't he?" She looked as though she were going to cry. Then she said awkwardly: "What I wished to ask was whether you would marry him if you were I."
Mary frowned. The responsibility was disconcerting. "Do you love him?" she asked plumply.
"I did love him; I suppose I do still; yes, I do." She jerked out her answers in quick succession. "But our engagement is broken."
"Because of this?"
"Because he has been in jail. None of my family has ever been in jail." Miss Burke set in place the loose hairs of her pompadour with a gesture of severe dignity as she spoke.
"And he knows, of course, that his dishonesty is the reason why you feel that you cannot trust him?" inquired Mary, who, being a logical person, regarded the last answer as not altogether categorical.
"It wasn't like stealing," said the girl, by way of resenting the phrase.
"It was dishonorable and untrue."
"The people down my way don't think much of the civil-service laws. They call them frills, something to get round if you can. That's how they excuse him." She spoke with nervous rapidity and a little warmth.
"But they are our country's laws just the same. And a good man—a patriotic man—ought not to break them." Mary was conscious of voicing George Colfax's sentiments as well as her own. The responsibility of the burden imposed on her was trying, and she disliked her part of mentor. Nevertheless, she felt that she must not abstain from stating the vital point clearly; so she continued:
"Is not the real difficulty, my dear, that the man who could be false in one thing might be false in another when the occasion arose?"
Miss Burke flushed at the words, and suddenly covered her face with her hands.
"That's it, of course. That's what haunts me. I could forgive him the other—the having been in jail and all that; but it's the possibility that he might do something worse after we were married—when it was too late—which frightens me. 'False in one thing, false in everything,' that's what the proverb is. Do you believe that is true, Miss Wellington?"
Her unmasked conscience revealed clearly the distress caused by its own sensitiveness; but she spoke beseechingly, as though to invite comfort from her companion on the score of this adage.
"Tell me what sort of a man Mr. Daly is in other respects," said Mary.
"Oh, he's kind!" she answered with enthusiasm. "He has been a good son and brother; he is always helping people, and has more friends than any one in the district. I don't see why he cared for me," she added with seeming irrelevance.
"It's a great point in his favor that he does care for you, my dear. Is he steady at his work?"
"When he isn't too busy with politics. He says that he will give them up, if I insist; but my doing so might prevent his being chosen to Congress." There was again rueful pride in her plaint.
Mary sat silent for a moment. "He stands convicted of falsehood." She seemed to be speaking to herself.
"Yes," gasped the girl, as her mentor paused to let the fell substantive be weighed.
"That seems terrible to me. But you know him better than I do."
Miss Burke's face lighted at the qualification. Yet her quick intelligence refused to be thus cajoled. "But what would you do in my place? That's what I wish to know."
Mary winced. She perceived the proud delicacy of the challenge, and recognized that she had condescendingly shirked the real inquiry.
"It is so hard to put oneself in another's place. The excuses you have given for his conduct seem to me inadequate. That is, if a man gave those reasons to me—I believe I could never trust him again." Mary spoke with conviction, but she realized that she felt like a grandmother.
"Thank you," said Miss Burke. "That's what I wished to know." She looked at the floor for an instant. "Suppose you felt that you could trust him?"
Mary smiled and reflected. "If I loved him enough for that, I dare say I should forgive him."
"You really would?" Then Miss Burke perceived that in her elation she had failed to observe the logical inconsistency which the counsel contained. "I don't know that I understand exactly," she added.
Mary smiled again, then shook her head. "I doubt if I can make it any plainer than that. I mean that—if I were you—I should have to feel absolutely sure that I loved him; and even then—" She paused without completing the ellipsis. "As to that, dear, no one can enlighten you but yourself.'
"Of course," said poor Miss Burke. Yet she was already beginning to suspect that the sphinx-like utterance might contain both the kernel of eternal feminine truth and the real answer to her own doubts.
Some two months later the Meteoric, one of the fast ocean greyhounds, was approaching the port of New York. At sight of land the cabin passengers, who had been killing time resignedly in one another's society, became possessed with a rampant desire to leave the vessel as soon as possible. When it was definitely announced that the Meteoric would reach her dock early enough in the afternoon to enable them to have their baggage examined and get away before dark, they gave vent to their pent-up spirits in mutual congratulations and adieus.
Among those on board thus chafing to escape from the limitations of an ocean voyage was George Colfax, whose eagerness to land was enhanced by the hope that his absence had made the heart of his lady-love fonder. His travels had been restful and stimulating; but there is nothing like one's own country, after all. So he reflected as, cigar in mouth, he perused the newspapers which the pilot had brought, and watched the coast-line gradually change to the familiar monuments of Manhattan.
Yet apparently there was a subconsciousness to his thought, for as he folded his last newspaper and stretched himself with the languor of a man no longer harried by lack of knowledge as to what has happened during the last seven days, he muttered under his breath:
"Confound the customs anyway!"
A flutter of garments and a breezy voice brought him politely to his feet.
"That's over with, thank Heaven!" The speaker was a charming woman from Boston, whose society he had found engrossing during the voyage—a woman of the polite world, voluble and well informed.
"I just signed and swore to the paper they gave me without reading it," she added, with a gay shrug of her shoulders, as though she were well content with this summary treatment of a distasteful matter. "Have you made your declaration yet?" she asked indifferently.
"What I don't understand is why they should make you take oath to a thing and then rummage through your trunks as though they didn't believe you."
"It's an outrage—an infernal outrage," said George. "Every time the Government does it the spirit of American institutions is insulted."
"I haven't much with me this time, anyway; they can hardly expect that a person will go to Europe for six months and not bring back more than one hundred dollars' worth of things," continued Miss Golightly artlessly. "One might almost as well stay at home. It isn't as if I bought them to sell. They are my own ownty donty effects, and I've no intention of paying the Government one cent on them if I can help it. And they charge one for presents. Of course, I won't pay on presents I have bought to give other people. That would simply make them cost so much more."
"The whole thing is a wretched and humiliating farce," was George's not altogether illuminating comment on this naive revelation of the workings of the female mind. He spoke doggedly, and then hummed the refrain of a song as though to keep up his courage.
"Well, I'll go and take my turn," he said, with the air of aristocratic urbanity which made him a favorite in social circles.
Miss Golightly detained him to add: "If you find any better method, I wish you'd let me know. It seemed the simplest way not to declare anything, and to trust to luck."
So great was the bustle and confusion that George was not conscious of the presence of his lively companion again until he heard her voice in his ear two hours later on the pier or platform where the baggage from the Meteoric was being inspected.
"Well," she said under her breath, "I'm all through. They gave me a jewel of a man. And you?"
"I've had no trouble." George spoke with nonchalance as if to imply that he had expected none. Out of the corner of his eye he was following the actions of the custom-house official allotted to him who was chalking his examined trunks with the hieroglyphics which signified that the Government had released its grip on them.
This done, George beckoned to an attendant porter, after which he turned again to Miss Golightly.
"If you'll wait a moment until I see these things of mine safely in the hands of the transfer express, I'll put you into your carriage and take a fond farewell."
"You needn't hurry," was her answer.
"My friend, Miss Pilgrim, has declared thirty-four articles, and she doesn't know in which of her eight trunks any of them are. She and the citizen in glasses meted out to her, who insists on finding every one, are now engaged in ransacking her entire wardrobe. I intend to keep at a safe distance from the scene of worry. That's what comes of being conscientious."
George and the inspector, preceded by the porter wheeling the traveller's three trunks, hat-box, and small bags, set out for the other end of the shed.
George returned ten minutes later; he stepped briskly and was beaming.
"Still waiting, I see," he said jocularly.
"And in your eyes I read the purple light of love, young man. I wish you success." Her words were the rallying outcome of confidences on shipboard after five days at sea.
George blushed, but looked pleased. "You may see her first," he said, "for she is constantly at her cousin's, or was before she took up Settlement life."
"How much did you give him?" asked Miss Golightly.
The reversion to their previous topic was so abrupt and barefaced that the lover stared for a moment, then tried not to appear confused.
"Oh, a mere trifle!" he said with offhand dignity.
"I gave mine twenty-five dollars," she whispered. "Wasn't that enough?"
"Abundant, I should say. But I am not well posted on such matters." It was evident he wished to avoid the subject, and was also impatient to get away, for he took out his watch. "If Miss Pilgrim is really likely to be detained—" he began.
Miss Golightly rose to the occasion and dismissed him. "I understand," she exclaimed amiably. "Every minute is precious."
Nevertheless, it was not until two days later that he succeeded in finding Mary Wellington at home. He called that evening, but was told by the person in charge that she had taken a brief respite from work and would not return for another twenty-four hours. On the second occasion, as the first, he brought with him under his arm a good-sized package, neatly done up.
"I am back again," he said, and he pressed her hand with unmistakable zeal.
Her greeting was friendly; not emotional like his, or unreserved; but he flattered himself that she seemed very glad to see him. He reflected: "I don't believe that it did my cause a particle of harm to let her go without the constant visits she had grown accustomed to expect."
He said aloud: "I came across this on the other side and took the liberty of bringing it to you."
Mary undid the parcel, disclosing a beautiful bit of jade; not too costly a gift for a friend to accept, yet really a defiance of the convention which forbids marriageable maidens to receive from their male admirers presents less perishable than flowers or sweetmeats.
"It is lovely, and it was very kind of you to remember me."
"Remember you? You were in my thoughts day and night."
She smiled to dispel the tension. "I shall enjoy hearing about your travels. A friend of yours has told me something of them."
"Ah! Miss Golightly. You have seen her, then, at your cousin's? A companionable woman; and she knows her Europe. Yes, we compared notes regarding our travels."
He colored slightly, but only at the remembrance of having confided to this comparative stranger his bosom's secret under the spell of an ocean intimacy.
"You brought home other things, I dare say?" Mary asked after a pause, glancing up at him.
"Oh, yes!" The trend of the question was not clear to him, but he was impelled to add: "For one thing, I ordered clothes enough to last me three years at least. I bought gloves galore for myself and for my sister. As I belong to the working class, and there is no knowing how soon I may be able to get away again, I laid in a stock of everything which I needed, or which took my fancy. Men's things as well as women's are so much cheaper over there if one knows where to go."
"With the duties?"
The words, gently spoken, were like a bolt from the blue. George betrayed his distaste for the inquiry only by a sudden gravity. "Yes, with the duties." He hastened to add: "But enough of myself and my travels. They were merely to pass the time." He bent forward from his chair and interrogated her meaningly with his glance.
"But I am interested in duties."
He frowned at her insistence.
"Miss Golightly," continued Mary, "explained to us yesterday how she got all her things through the custom-house by giving the inspector twenty-five dollars. She gloried in it and in the fact that, though her trunks were full of new dresses, she made oath that she had nothing dutiable."
He suspected now her trend, yet he was not certain that he was included in its scope. But he felt her eyes resting on him searchingly.
"Did she?" he exclaimed, with an effort at airy lightness which seemed to afford the only hope of escape.
"How did you manage?"
"I?" He spoke after a moment's pause with the calm of one who slightly resents an invasion of his privacy.
"Did you pay the duties on your things?"
George realized now that he was face to face with a question which, as lawyers say, required that the answer should be either "yes" or "no." Still, he made one more attempt to avert the crucial inquiry.
"Does this really interest you?"
"Immensely. My whole future may be influenced by it."
"I see." There was no room left for doubt as to her meaning. Nor did he choose to lie. "No, I paid no duties."
"I feared as much."
There was a painful silence. George rose, and walking to the mantel-piece, looked down at the hearth and tapped the ironwork with his foot. He would fain have made the best of what he ruefully recognized to be a shabby situation by treating it jocosely; but her grave, grieved demeanor forbade. Yet he ventured to remark:
"Why do you take this so seriously?"
"I expected better things of you."
He felt of his mustache and essayed extenuation. "It was—er—unworthy of me, of course; foolish—pig-headed—tricky, I suppose. I got mad. I'd nothing to sell, and the declaration is a farce when they examine after it. So I left them to find what they chose. I'm terribly sorry, for you seem to hate it so. But it's an idiotic and impertinent law, anyway."
"In other words, you think it all right to break a law if you don't happen to fancy it."
George started visibly and colored. He recognized the aphorism as his, but for the moment did not recall the occasion of its use. He chose to evade it by an attempt at banter. "You can't make a tragedy, my dear girl, out of the failure to pay duties on a few things bought for one's personal use, and not for sale. Why, nearly every woman in the world smuggles when she gets the chance—on her clothes and finery. You must know that. Your sex as a class doesn't regard it as disreputable in the least. At the worst, it is a peccadillo, not a crime. The law was passed to enable our native tailors to shear the well-to-do public."
Mary ignored the plausible indictment against the unscrupulousness of her sex. "Can such an argument weigh for a moment with any one with patriotic impulses?"
Again the parrot-like reminder caused him to wince, and this time he recognized the application.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, with sorry yet protesting confusion.
"It's the inconsistency," she answered without flinching, perceiving that he understood.
George flushed to the roots of his hair. "You compare me with that—er—blatherskite?" he asked, conscious as he spoke that her logic was irrefutable. Yet his self-respect cried out to try to save itself.
"Why not? The civil-service law seemed a frill to Jim Daly; the customs law an impertinence to you."
He looked down at the hearth again. There was an air of finality in her words which was disconcerting.
"I've been an ass," he ejaculated. "I'll give the things up; pay the duties; go to prison, if you like. The punishment is fine or imprisonment." He intended to be sincere in his offer of self-humiliation, though his speech savored of extravagance.
Mary shrugged her shoulders. "If you did, I dare say a bevy of society women would tender you a banquet when you were released from jail."
He bit his lip and stared at her. "You are taking this seriously with a vengeance!"
He crossed the room and, bending beside her, sought to take her hand. "Do you mean that but for this—? Mary, are you going to let a little thing like this separate us?"
He had captured her fingers, but they lay limp and unresponsive in his.
"It is not a little thing; from my standpoint it is everything."
"But you will give me another chance?"
"You have had your chance. That was it. I was trying to find out whether I loved you, and now I know that I do not. I could never marry a man I could not—er—trust."
"Trust?" I swear to you that I am worthy of trust."
She smiled sadly and drew away her hand. "Maybe. But I shall never know, you see, because I do not love you."
Her feminine inversion of logic increased his dismay. "I shall never give up," he exclaimed, rising and buttoning his coat. "When you think this over you will realize that you have exaggerated what I did."
She shook her head. His obduracy made no impression on her, for she was free from doubts.
"We will be friends, if you like; but we can never be anything closer."
An inspiration seized him. "What would the girl whom Jim Daly loves, if there is one, say? She has never given him up, I wager."
Mary blushed at his unconscious divination. "I do not know," she said. "But you are one person, Jim Daly is another. You have had every advantage; he is a—er—blatherskite. Yet you condescend to put yourself on a par with him, and condone the offence on the ground that your little world winks at it. Remember
"'Spirits are not finely touched But to fine issues.'
How shall society progress, unless my sex insists on at least that patent of nobility in the men who woo us? I am reading you a lecture, but you insisted on it."
George stood for a moment silent. "You are right, I suppose." He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he turned and left the room.
As he passed out, Mary heard the voices of the orphans, Joe and Frank, in the entry. The former in greeting her held out a letter which had just been delivered by the postman.
"You've come back, Miss Wellington," cried the little boy rapturously.
"Yes, Joe dear."
Mechanically she opened the envelope. As she read the contents she smiled faintly and nodded her head as much as to say that the news was not unexpected.
"But noblesse oblige," she murmured to herself proudly, not realizing that she had spoken aloud.
"What did you say, Miss Wellington?"
Mary recalled her musing wits. "I've something interesting to tell you, boys. Miss Burke is going to be married to Jim Daly. That is bad for you, dears, but partly to make up for it, I wish to let you know that there is no danger of my leaving you any more."
AGAINST HIS JUDGMENT
Three days had passed, and the excitement in the neighborhood was nearly at an end. The apothecary's shop at the corner into which John Baker's body and the living four-year-old child had been carried together immediately after the catastrophe had lost most of its interest for the curious, although the noses of a few idlers were still pressed against the large pane in apparent search of something beyond the brilliant colored bottles or the soda-water fountains. Now that the funeral was over, the womenkind, whose windows commanded a view of the house where the dead man had been lying, had taken their heads in and resumed their sweeping and washing, and knots of their husbands and fathers no longer stood in gaping conclave close to the very doorsill, rehearsing again and again the details of the distressing incident. Even the little child who had been so miraculously saved from the jaws of death, although still decked in the dirty finery which its mother deemed appropriate to its having suddenly become a public character, had ceased to be the recipient of the dimes of the tender-hearted. Such is the capriciousness of the human temperament at times of emotional excitement, the plan of a subscription for the victim's family had not been mooted until what was to its parents a small fortune had been bestowed on the rescued child; but the scale of justice had gradually righted itself. Contributions were now pouring in, especially since it was reported that the mayor and several other well-known persons had headed the list with fifty dollars each; and there was reason to believe that a lump sum of from fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars would be collected for the benefit of the widow and seven children before public generosity was exhausted.
Local interest was on the wane; but, thanks to the telegraph and the press, the facts were being disseminated through the country, and every leading newspaper in the land was chronicling, with more or less prominence according to the character of its readers, the item that John Baker, the gate-keeper at a railroad crossing in a Pennsylvania city, had snatched a toddling child from the pathway of a swiftly moving locomotive and been crushed to death.
A few days later a dinner-company of eight was gathered at a country house several hundred miles distant from the scene of the calamity. The host and hostess were people of wealth and leisure, who enjoyed inviting congenial parties from their social acquaintance in the neighboring city to share with them for two or three days at a time the charms of nature. The dinner was appetizing, the wine good, and conversation turned lightly from one subject to another.
They had talked on a variety of topics: of tarpon fishing in Florida; of amateur photography, in which the hostess was proficient, and of gardens; of the latest novels and some current inelegancies of speech. Some one spoke of the growing habit of feeing employs to do their duty. Another referred to certain breaches of trust by bank officers and treasurers, which occurring within a short time of one another had startled the community. This last subject begot a somewhat doleful train of commentary and gave the lugubrious their cue. Complaints were made of our easygoing standards of morality, and our disposition not to be severe on anybody; of the decay of ideal considerations and the lack of enthusiasm for all but money-spinning.
"The gist is here," reiterated one of the speakers: "we insist on tangible proof of everything, of being able to see and feel it—to get our dollar's worth, in short. We weigh and measure and scrutinize, and discard as fusty and outworn, conduct and guides to conduct that do not promise six per cent per annum in full sight."
"What have you to say to John Baker?" said the host, breaking the pause which followed these remarks. "I take for granted that you are all familiar with his story: the newspapers have been full of it. There was a man who did not stop to measure or scrutinize."
A murmur of approbation followed, which was interrupted by Mrs. Caspar Green, a stout and rather languid lady, inquiring to whom he referred. "You know I never read the newspapers," she added, with a decidedly superior air, putting up her eye-glass.
"Except the deaths and marriages," exclaimed her husband, a lynx-eyed little stockbroker, who was perpetually poking what he called fun at his more ponderous half.
"Well, this was a death: so there was no excuse for her not seeing it," said Henry Lawford, the host. "No, seriously, Mrs. Green, it was a splendid instance of personal heroism: a gate-keeper at a railway crossing in Pennsylvania, perceiving a child of four on the track just in front of the fast express, rushed forward and managed to snatch up the little creature and threw it to one side before—poor fellow!—he was struck and killed. There was no suggestion of counting upon six per cent there, was there?"
"Unless in another sphere," interjected Caspar Green.
"Don't be sacrilegious, Caspar," pleaded his wife, though she added her mite to the ripple of laughter that greeted the sally.
"It was superb!—superb!" exclaimed Miss Ann Newbury, a young woman not far from thirty, with a long neck and a high-bred, pale, intellectual face. "He is one of the men who make us proud of being men and women." She spoke with sententious earnestness and looked across the table appealingly at George Gorham.
"He left seven children, I believe?" said he, with precision.
"Yes, seven, Mr. Gorham—the eldest eleven," answered Mrs. Lawford, who was herself the mother of five. "Poor little things!"
"I think he made a great mistake," remarked George, laconically.
For an instant there was complete silence. The company was evidently making sure that it had understood his speech correctly. Then Miss Newbury gave a gasp, and Henry Lawford, with a certain stern dignity that he knew how to assume, said——
"A mistake? How so, pray?"
"In doing what he did—sacrificing his life to save the child."
"Why, Mr. Gorham!" exclaimed the hostess, while everybody turned toward him. He was a young man between thirty and thirty-five, a lawyer beginning to be well thought of in his profession, with a thoughtful, pleasant expression and a vigorous physique.
"It seems to me," he continued, slowly, seeking his words, "if John Baker had stopped to think, he would have acted differently. To be sure, he saved the life of an innocent child; but, on the other hand, he robbed of their sole means of support seven other no less innocent children and their mother. He was a brave man, I agree; but I, for one, should have admired him more if he had stopped to think."
"And let the child be killed?" exclaimed Mr. Carter, the gentleman who had deplored so earnestly the decay of ideal considerations. He was a young mill-treasurer, with aristocratic tendencies, and a strong interest in church affairs.
"Yes, if need be. It was in danger through no fault of his. Its natural guardians had neglected it."
"What a frightful view to take!" murmured Mrs. Green; and, although she was very well acquainted with George Gorham's physiognomy, she examined him disapprovingly through her glass, as if there must be something compromising about it which had hitherto escaped detection.
"Well, I don't agree with you at all," said the host, emphatically.
"Nor I," said Mr. Carter.
"Nor I, Mr. Gorham," said Mrs. Lawford, plaintively conveying the impression that if a woman so ready as she to accept new points of view abandoned him there could be no chance of his being right.
"No, you're all wrong, my dear fellow," said Caspar Green. "Such ideas may go down among your long-haired artistic and literary friends at the Argonaut Club, but you can't expect civilized Christians to accept them. Why, man, it's monstrous—monstrous, by Jove!—to depreciate that noble fellow's action—a man we all ought to be proud of, as Miss Newbury says. If we don't encourage such people, how can we expect them to be willing to risk their lives?" Thereupon the little broker, as a relief to his outraged feelings, emptied his champagne-glass at a draught and scowled irascibly. His jesting equanimity was rarely disturbed; consequently, everybody felt the importance of his testimony.
"I'm sorry to be so completely in the minority," said Gorham, "but that's the way the matter strikes me. I don't think you quite catch my point, though, Caspar," he added, glancing at Mr. Green. At a less heated moment the company, with the possible exception of Mrs. Green, might have tacitly agreed that this was extremely probable; but now Miss Newbury, who had hitherto refrained from comment, in order to digest the problem thoroughly before speaking, came to the broker's aid.
"It seems to me, Mr. Gorham," she said, "that your proposition is a very plain one: you claim simply that John Baker had better not have saved the child if, in order to do so, it was necessary to lose his own life."
"Precisely," exclaimed Mr. Green, in a tone of some contempt.
"Was not Mr. Gorham's meaning that, though it required very great courage to do what Baker did, a man who stopped to think of his own wife and children would have shown even greater courage?" asked Miss Emily Vincent. She was the youngest of the party, a beautiful girl, of fine presence, with a round face, dark eyes, and brilliant pink-and-white coloring. She had been invited to stay by the Lawfords because George Gorham was attentive to her; or, more properly speaking, George Gorham had been asked because he was attentive to her.
"Thank you, Miss Vincent: you have expressed my meaning perfectly," said Gorham; and his face gladdened. He was dead in love with her, and this was the first civil word, so to speak, she had said to him during the visit.
"Do you agree with him?" inquired Miss Newbury, with intellectual sternness.
"And do you agree with Mr. Gorham?" asked Mrs. Lawford, at the same moment, caressingly.
All eyes were turned on Emily Vincent, and she let hers fall. She felt that she would give worlds not to have spoken. Why had she spoken?
"I understand what he means; but I don't believe a man in John Baker's place could help himself," she said quietly.
"Of course he couldn't!" cried Mrs. Lawford. "There, Mr. Gorham, you have lost your champion. What have you to say now?" A murmur of approval went round the table.
"I appreciate my loss, but I fear I have nothing to add to what has been said already," he replied, with smiling firmness. "Although in a pitiful minority, I shall have to stand or fall by that."
"Ah, but when it came to action we know that under all circumstances Mr. Gorham would be his father's son!" said Mrs. Lawford, with less than her usual tact, though she intended to be very ingratiating. Gorham's father, who was conspicuous for gallantry, had been killed in the Civil War.
Gorham bowed a little stiffly, feeling that there was nothing for him to say. There was a pause, which showed that the topic was getting threadbare. This prompted the host to call his wife's attention to the fact that one of the candles was flaring. So the current of conversation was turned, and the subject was not alluded to again, thereby anticipating Mr. Carter, who, having caught Miss Newbury's eye, was about to philosophize further on the same lines.
During the twelve months following his visit at the Lawfords' the attentions of George Gorham to Emily Vincent became noticeable. He had loved her for three years in secret; but the consciousness that he was not able to support a wife had hindered him from devoting himself to her. He knew that she, or rather her father, had considerable property; but Gorham was not willing to take this into consideration; he would never offer himself until his own income was sufficient for both their needs. But, on the other hand, his ideas of a sufficient income were not extravagant. He looked forward to building a comfortable little house in the suburbs in the midst of an acre or two of garden and lawn, so that his neighbors' windows need not overlook his domesticity. He would have a horse and buggy wherewith to drive his wife through the country on summer afternoons, and later, if his bank-account warranted it, a saddle-horse for Emily and one for himself. He would keep open house in the sense of encouraging his friends to visit him; and, that they might like to come, he would have a thoroughly good plain cook—thereby eschewing French kickashaws—and his library should contain the best new books, and etchings and sketches luring to the eye, done by men who were rising, rather than men who had risen. There should be no formality; his guests should do what they pleased, and wear what they pleased, and, above all, they should become intimate with his wife, instead of merely tolerating her after the manner of the bachelor friends of so many other men.
Thus he had been in the habit of depicting to himself the future, and at last, by dint of undeviating attention to his business, he had got to the point where he could afford to realize his project if his lady-love were willing. His practice was increasing steadily, and he had laid by a few thousand dollars to meet any unexpected emergency. His life was insured for fifty thousand dollars, and the policies were now ten years old. He had every reason to expect that in course of time as the older lawyers died off he would either succeed to the lucrative conduct of large suits or be made a judge of one of the higher tribunals. In this manner his ambition would be amply satisfied. His aim was to progress slowly but solidly, without splurge or notoriety, so that every one might regard him as a man of sound dispassionate judgment, and solid, keen understanding. His especial antipathy was for so-called cranks—people who went off at half-cock, who thought nothing out, but were governed by the impulse of the moment, shilly-shally and controlled by sentimentality.
It was with hope and yet with his heart in his mouth that he set out one afternoon determined to ask Emily Vincent to become his wife. She lived in the suburbs, within fifteen minutes by the train, or an hour's walk from town. Gorham took the cars. It was a beautiful day, almost the counterpart of that which they had passed together at the Lawfords' just a year before. As he sat in the train he analyzed the situation once more for the hundredth time, taking care not to give himself the advantage of any ambiguous symptoms. Certainly she was not indifferent to him; she accepted his attentions without demur, and seemed interested in his interests. But was that love? Was it any more than esteem or cordial liking, which would turn to pity at the first hint of affection on his part? But surely she could not plead ignorance of his intentions; she must long ere this have realized that he was seriously attentive to her. Still, girls were strange creatures. He could not help feeling nervous, because so very much was involved for him in the result. Should she refuse him, he would be and remain for a long time excessively unhappy. He obliged himself to regard this alternative, and his heart sank before the possibility. Not that the idea of dying or doing anything desperate presented itself to him. Such extravagance would have seemed out of keeping with respect either for her or for himself. Doubtless he might recover some day, but the interim would be terribly hard to endure. Rejection meant a dark, dreary bachelorhood; success, the crowning of his dearest hopes.
He found his sweetheart at home, and she came down to greet him with roses that he had sent her in her bosom. It was not easy for him to do or say anything extravagant, and Emily Vincent, while she might have pardoned unseemly effusiveness to his exceeding love for her, was well content with the deeply earnest though unriotous expression of his passion. When finally he had folded her in his arms she felt that the greatest happiness existence can give was hers, and he knew himself to be an utterly blissful lover. He had won the prize for which he had striven with a pertinacity like Jacob's, and life looked very roseate.
The news was broken to her family that evening, and received delightedly, though without the surprise which the lovers expected. They were left alone for a little while before the hour of parting, and in the sweet kisses given and taken Gorham redeemed himself in his mistress's estimation for any lack of folly he had been guilty of when he had asked her to be his wife. There was riot now in his eyes and in his embraces, revealing that he had needed only to be sure of her encouragement to become as ridiculous as she could desire. He stood disclosed to himself in a new light; and when he had kissed her once more for the last time he went tripping down the lawn radiantly happy, turning now and again to throw back with his fingers a message from his lips to the one being in all the world for him, who stood on the threshold, adding poetry and grace to the beautiful June evening.
When out of sight of the house, Gorham sped fleetly along the road. He intended to walk to town, for he felt like glorying in his happiness under the full moon which was shedding her silver light from a clear heaven. The air was not oppressive, and it was scented with the perfume of the lilacs and apple-blossoms, so that Gorham was fain every now and then to draw a deep breath in order to inhale their fragrance. There was no dust, and nature looked spruce and trig, without a taint of the frowziness which is observable in the foliage a month later.
Gorham took very little notice of the details; his eyes were busy rather with mind-problems than with the particular beauties of the night; yet his rapt gaze swept the brilliant heavens as though he felt their lustre to be in harmony with the radiance in his own soul. He was imagining the future—his hearth forever blessed by her sweet presence, their mutual joys and sorrows sweetened and alleviated through being shared. His efforts to live worthily would be fortified by her example and counsel. How the pleasures of walking and riding and reading and travelling—of everything in life—would be a hundredfold enhanced by being able to interchange impressions with each other! He pictured to himself the cosey evenings they would pass at home when the day's work was done, and the jolly trips they would take together when vacation-time arrived. How he would watch over her, and how he would guard her and tend her and comfort her if misfortune came or ill health assailed her! There would be little ones, perhaps, to claim their joint devotion, and bid him redouble his energies; he smiled at the thought of baby fingers about his neck, and there arose to his mind's eye a sweet vision of Emily sitting, pale but triumphant, rocking her new-born child upon her breast.
He walked swiftly on the wings of transport. It was almost as light as day, yet he met but few travellers along the country road. An occasional vehicle passed him, breaking the silvery stillness with its rumble which subsided at last into the distance. A pair of whispering lovers, arm in arm, who slunk into the shadow as he came abreast of them, won from him a glance of sympathy. Just after he had left them behind the shrill whistle of a locomotive jarring upon the silence seemed to bring him a message from the woman he adored. Had he not preferred to walk, this was the train he would have taken, and it must have stopped not many hundred yards from her door. As he listened to it thundering past almost parallel to him in the cut below he breathed a prayer of blessing on her rest.
A little beyond this point the road curved and ran at a gradual incline so as to cross the railroad track at grade about half a mile farther on. This stretch was lined on each side by horse-chestnut trees set near to one another, the spreading foliage of which darkened the gravelled foot-path, so that Gorham, who was enjoying the moonlight, preferred to keep in the middle of the road, which, by way of contrast, gleamed almost like a river. He was pursuing his way with elastic steps, when of a sudden his attention was arrested about a hundred and fifty yards from the crossing by something lying at the foot of one of the trees on the right-hand side. At a second glance he saw that it was a woman's figure. Probably she was asleep: but she might be ill or injured. It was a lonely spot, so it occurred to him that it was proper for him to investigate. Accordingly, he stepped to her side and bent over her. From her calico dress, which was her only covering, she evidently belonged to the laboring class. She was a large, coarse-looking woman, and was lying, in what appeared to Gorham to be drunken slumber, on her bonnet, the draggled strings of which caught his eye. He hesitated a moment, and then shook her by the arm. She groaned boozily, but after he had shaken her again two or three times she rolled over and raised herself on her elbow, rubbing her eyes and staring at him glassily.
"Are you hurt, woman?" he asked.
She made a guttural response which might have meant anything, but she proved that she was uninjured by getting on her feet. She stared at her disturber bewilderedly, then, perceiving her bonnet, stooped to pick it up, and stood for a moment trying sleepily to poke it into shape and readjust its tawdry plumage. But all of a sudden she gave a start and began looking around her with recovered energy. She missed something, evidently. Gorham followed the direction of her gaze as it shifted, and as his glance met the line of the road he perceived a little figure standing in the middle of the railway crossing. It was a child—her child, without doubt—and as he said so to himself the roar of an approaching train, coupled with the sound of the whistle, made him start with horror. The late express from town was due. Gorham remembered that there was a considerable curve in the railroad at this point. The woman had not perceived the situation—she was too far in the shade—but Gorham from where he stood commanded a clear view of the track.
Without an instant's hesitation, he sprang forward and ran at full speed. His first thought was that the train was very near. He ran with all his might and main, his eyes fixed on the little white figure, and shouting to warn it of its danger. Suddenly there flashed before his mind with vividness the remembrance of John Baker, and he recalled his argument at the Lawfords'. But he did not abate his speed. The child had plumped itself down on one of the sleepers, and was apparently playing with some pebbles. It was on the farther track, and, startled by his cries and by the clang of the approaching train, looked up at him. He saw a pale, besmeared little countenance; he heard behind him the agonizing screams of the mother, who had realized her baby's peril; in his ears rang the shrill warning of the engineer as the engine rounded the curve. Would he be in time?
As he reached the edge of the tracks, thought of Emily and a terrible consciousness of the sorrow she would feel if anything were to happen to him compressed his heart. But he did not falter. He was aware of the jangle of a fiercely rung bell, the hiss of steam, and a blinding glare; he could feel on his cheek the breath of the iron monster. With set teeth he threw himself forward, stooped, and reached out over the rail: in another instant he had tossed the child from the pathway of danger, and he himself had been mangled to death by the powerful engine.
ST. GEORGE AND THE DRAGON
Paul Harrington, the reporter, shifted his eagle glance from one feature to another of the obsequies with the comprehensive yet swift perception of an artist. An experience of three years on the staff had made him an expert on ceremonies, and, captious as he could be when the occasion merited his scorn, his predilection was for praise, as he was an optimist by instinct. This time he could praise unreservedly, and he was impatient to transfer to the pages of his note-book his seething impressions of the solemn beauty and simplicity of the last rites in the painful tragedy. In the rustic church into which he had wormed his way he had already found time to scribble a brief paragraph to the effect that the melancholy event had "shrouded the picturesque little town of Carver in gloom," and now as he stood on the greensward near, though not too near, he hastily jotted down the points of interest with keen anticipation of working out some telling description on the way home.
Out from the little church where the families of the pair of lovers had worshipped in summer time for a generation, the two coffins, piled high with flowers (Harrington knew them reportorially as caskets), were borne by the band of pall-bearers, stalwart young intimate friends, and lifted by the same hands tenderly into the hearse. The long blackness of their frock-coats and the sable accompaniment of their silk hats, gloves, and ties appealed to the observant faculties of Harrington as in harmony both with the high social position of the parties and the peculiar sadness of the occasion. That a young man and woman, on the eve of matrimony, and with everything to live for, should be hurled into eternity (a Harringtonian figure of speech) by a railroad train at a rustic crossing, while driving, was certainly an affair heartrending enough to invite every habiliment of woe. As he thus reasoned Harrington became aware that one of the stalwart young men was looking at him with an expression which seemed to ask only too plainly, "What the devil are you doing here?"
As a newspaper man of some years' standing Harrington was hardened. Such an expression of countenance was an almost daily experience and slipped off the armor of his self-respecting hardihood like water off the traditional duck's back. When people looked at him like this he simply took refuge in his consciousness of the necessities of the case and the honesty of his own artistic purpose. The press must be served faithfully and indefatigably—boldly, moreover, and at times officiously, in order to attain legitimate results; yet he flattered himself that no one could ever say of him that he had "butted in" where others of his craft would have paused, or was lacking in reportorial delicacy. Was he not simply doing his professional duty for hire, like any respectable lawyer or doctor or architect, in order to support his family? Were he to trouble his head because impetuous people frowned, his wife, Amelia, and infant son, Tesla, would be the sufferers—a thought which was a constant stimulus to enterprise. His "job" required "cheek" perhaps, but nine people out of ten were not sensible enough to realize that he was a modern necessity, and to ask themselves, "Is this man doing his work creditably?" There was the essence of the situation for Harrington, and from the world's lack of nice perception he had made for himself a grievance which rendered him indifferent to ill-considered scowls.
But, however indifferent his attitude, nothing ever escaped Harrington, and he noticed that the young man whose eyes met his with the expression of annoyance was well set up and manly in appearance—a "dude," in Harrington's parlance, but a pleasant-looking dude, with an open and rather strong countenance. Such was Harrington's deduction, in spite of the obvious hostility to himself, and in confirmation of this view he had the satisfaction of perceiving the tension of the young man's face relax, as though he had come to the conclusion, on second thoughts, that interference was, on the whole, not worth while.
"He realizes," said the reporter to himself approvingly, "that there's no sense in being peevish. A swell funeral must be written up like any other society function."
While he thus soliloquized, the nearest relatives of the deceased victims issued from the church, seeking the carriages in waiting for them. Among those who came next was a handsome, spirited-looking girl of twenty-five, who, though not of the family group, was a sincere mourner. As she stepped forward with the elasticity of youth, glad of the fresh air on her tear-stained cheeks, it happened that she also observed the presence of the reporter, and she paused, plainly appalled. Her nostrils quivered with horrified distress, and she turned her head as though seeking some one. It proved to be the young man who had misjudged Harrington a few moments before. At least, he sprang to her side with an agility which suggested that his eyes had been following her every movement, thereby prompting Harrington, who was ever on the alert for a touch of romance amid the prose of every-day business, to remark shrewdly:
"That's plain as the nose on your face; he's her 'steady.'"
He realized at the same time that he was being pointed out in no flattering terms by the young lady in question, who cast a single haughty glance in his direction by way of identification. He saw her eyes flash, and, though the brief dialogue which ensued was necessarily inarticulate to him, it was plain that she was laying her outraged feelings at the feet of her admirer, with a command for something summary and substantial by way of relief.
At any rate, Harrington jumped at once to this conclusion, for he murmured: "She's telling him I'm the scum of the earth, and that it's up to him to get rid of me." He added, sententiously: "She'll find, I guess, that this is about the most difficult billet a fair lady ever intrusted to a gallant knight." Whereupon, inspired by his metaphor, he proceeded to hum under his breath, by way of outlet to his amused sensibilities, the dulcet refrain which runs:
In days of old, when knights were bold And barons held their sway, A warrior bold, with spurs of gold. Sang merrily his lay, Sang merrily his lay: "My love is young and fair, My love hath golden hair, And eyes so blue and heart so true That none with her compare. So what care I, though death be nigh? I'll live for love or die! So what care I, though death be nigh, I'll live for love or die!"
What was going to happen? How would Sir Knight set to work to slay or expel the obnoxious dragon? Harrington felt mildly curious despite his sardonic emotions, and while he took mental note of what was taking place around him he contrived to keep an eye on his censors. He had observed that the young man's face while she talked to him had worn a worried expression, as though he were already meditating whether the situation was not hopeless unless he had recourse to personal violence; but, having put his Dulcinea into her carriage, he appeared to be in no haste to begin hostilities. Indeed, without further ado, or even a glance in Harrington's direction, he took his place in the line of mourners which was moving toward the neighboring cemetery.
Harrington was for a moment divided in his own mind between the claims of reportorial delicacy and proper self-respect. It had been his intention to absent himself from the services at the grave, out of consideration for the immediate family. It occurred to him now that it was almost his duty to show himself there, in order not to avoid a meeting. But the finer instinct prevailed. Why allow what was, after all, nothing save ignorant disapproval to alter his arrangements? He had just time to walk leisurely to the station without overheating himself, and delay would oblige him to take a later train, as there was no vehicle at his disposal.
Consequently, after his brief hesitation, he followed a high-road at right angles to that taken by the funeral procession, and gave himself up to the beguilement of his own thoughts. They were concerned with the preparation of his special article, and he indulged in the reflection that if it were read by the couple who had looked at him askance they would be put to shame by its accuracy and good taste.
Before Harrington had finished three-quarters of the distance which lay between the church and his destination, the carriages of those returning from the cemetery began to pass him. When the dust raised by their wheels had subsided he looked for an undisturbed landscape during the remainder of his walk, and had just given rein again to contemplation when a sound which revealed unmistakably the approach of an automobile caused him to turn his head. A touring car of large dimensions and occupied by two persons was approaching at a moderate rate of speed, which the driver, who was obviously the owner, reduced to a minimum as he ran alongside him.
"May I give you a lift?" asked a strong, friendly voice.
Before the question was put Harrington had recognized in the speaker the young man whose mission it had become, according to his shrewd guess, to call him to account for his presence at the funeral. He had exchanged his silk hat for a cap, and drawn on a white dust-coat over his other sable garments, but his identity was unmistakable. Viewing him close at hand Harrington perceived that he had large, clear eyes, a smooth-shaven, humorous, determined mouth, and full ruddy cheeks, the immobility of which suggested the habit of deliberation. Physically and temperamentally he appeared to be the antipodes of the reporter, who was thin, nervous, and wiry, with quick, snappy ways and electric mental processes. It occurred to him now at once that the offer concealed a trap, and he recalled, knowingly, the warning contained in the classical adage concerning Greeks who bear gifts. But, on the other hand, what had he to fear or to apologize for? Besides, there was his boy Tesla to consider. How delighted the little fellow, who already doted on electricity, would be to hear that his father had ridden in a huge touring car! He would be glad, too, of the experience himself, in order to compare the sensation with that of travelling in the little puffing machines with which he was tolerably familiar. Therefore he answered civilly, yet without enthusiasm:
"I don't mind if you do, as far as the station."
At his words the chauffeur at a sign made place for him, and he stepped in beside his pseudo-enemy, who, as he turned on the power, met Harrington's limitation as to distance with the remark:
"I'm going all the way to New York, if you care to go with me."
Harrington was tempted again. Apart from the peculiar circumstances of the case he would like nothing better. Then, why not? What had he or his self-respect to dread from a trip with this accommodating dude? He would hardly sandbag him, and were he—Harrington grinned inwardly at the cunning thought—intending to have the machine break down in an inaccessible spot, and leave him stranded, what difference would it make? His article was too late already for the evening papers, and he would take excellent care to see that nothing should interfere with its appearance the following morning, for at a pinch he was within walking distance of the city. The thought of such an attempt to muzzle the liberty of the press was rather an incentive than otherwise, for it savored of real adventure and indicated that a moral issue was involved.
While he thus reflected he appeared not to have heard the observation. Meanwhile the automobile was running swiftly and smoothly, as though its owner were not averse to have his guest perceive what a superb machine it was.
"What make?" asked the reporter, wishing to show himself affable, yet a man of the world. He had come to the conclusion that if the invitation were repeated he would accept it.
His companion told him, and as though he divined that the inquiry had been intended to convey admiration, added, "She's going now only at about half her speed."
Harrington grinned inwardly again. "Springes to catch woodcock!" he said to himself, quoting Shakespeare, then went on to reflect in his own vernacular: "The chap is trying to bribe me, confound him! Well, here goes!" Thereupon he said aloud, for they were approaching the station: "If you really would like my company on the way to town I'd be glad to see how fast she can go." As he spoke he drew out his watch and added with suppressed humorous intention: "I suppose you'll guarantee to get me there in a couple of hours or so?"
"If we don't break down or are not arrested." The voice was gay and without a touch of sinister suggestion.
"Here's a deep one, maybe," thought Harrington.
Already the kidnapper—if he were one—was steering the car into a country way which diverged at a sharp curve from that in which they had been travelling. It was a smooth, level stretch, running at first almost parallel with the railroad, and in another moment they were spinning along at a hair-lifting rate of speed, yet with so little friction that the reporter's enthusiasm betrayed itself in a grunt of satisfaction, though he was reflecting that his companion knew the way and did not intend to allow him to change his mind. But Harrington was quite content with the situation, and gave himself up unreservedly to the pleasant thrill of skimming along the surface of the earth at such a pace that the summer breeze buffeted his face so that his eyes watered. There was nothing in sight but a clear, straight road flanked by hedges and ditches, save the railroad bed, along which after a while the train came whizzing. A pretty race ensued until it crossed their path at almost a right angle.
"Now he thinks he has me," thought Harrington.
It almost seemed so, for in another moment he of the humorous, determined mouth diminished the power, and after they were on the other side of the railroad track he proceeded at a much less strenuous pace and opened conversation.
"You're a reporter, I judge?"
Harrington, who was enjoying himself, would have preferred to avoid business for a little longer and to talk as one gentleman to another on a pleasure trip. So, in response to this direct challenge, he answered with dry dignity:
"Yes. I have the honor of representing the Associated Press."
"One of the great institutions of the country."
This was reasonable—so reasonable, indeed, that Harrington pondered it to detect some sophistry.
"It must be in many respects an interesting calling."
"Yes, sir; a man has to keep pretty well up to date."
"Married or single, if I may be so bold?"
"I have a wife and a son nine years old."
"That is as it should be. Lucky dog!"
Harrington laughed in approval of the sentiment. "Then I must assume that you are a bachelor, Mr. —— ?"
"Dryden. Walter Dryden is my name. Yes, that's the trouble."
"She won't have you?" hazarded the reporter, wishing to be social in his turn.
"Mrs. Harrington would not the first time I asked her."
"I have offered myself to her six separate times, and she has thus far declined."
Harrington paused a moment. The temptation to reveal his own astuteness, and at the same time enhance the personal flavor which the dialogue had acquired, was not to be resisted. "May I venture to ask if she is the lady with whom you exchanged a few words this forenoon at the door of the church?"
The young man turned his glance from the road toward his questioner by way of tribute to such acumen. "I see that nothing escapes your observation."
"It is my business to notice everything and to draw my own conclusions," said the reporter modestly.
"They are shrewdly correct in this case. Would you be surprised," continued Dryden in a confidential tone, "if I were to inform you that I believe it lies in your power to procure me a home and happiness?"
Harrington chuckled in his secret soul. He would dissemble. "How could that possibly be?"
"I don't mind telling you that the last time I offered myself the young lady appeared a trifle less obdurate. She shook her head, but I thought I observed signs of wavering—faint, yet appreciable. If now I could only put her under an obligation and thus convince her of my effectiveness, I am confident I could win her."
"Your effectiveness?" queried Harrington, to whom the interview was becoming more psychologically interesting every moment.
"Yes, she considers me an unpractical person—not serious, you know. I know what you consider me," he added with startling divergence—"a dude."
Harrington found this searchlight on his own previous thought disconcerting. "Well, aren't you one?" he essayed boldly.
Dryden pondered a moment. "I suppose so. I don't wear reversible cuffs and I am disgustingly rich. I've shot tigers in India, lived in the Latin quarter, owned a steam yacht, climbed San Juan Hill—but I have not found a permanent niche. There are not places enough to go round for men with millions, and she calls me a rolling stone. Come, now, I'll swap places with you. You shall own this motor and—and I'll write the press notice on the Ward-Upton funeral."
Harrington stiffened instinctively. He did not believe that the amazing, splendid offer was genuine. But had he felt complete faith that the young man beside him was in earnest, he would have been proof against the lure of even a touring car, for he had been touched at his most sensitive point. His artistic capacity was assailed, and his was just the nature to take proper umbrage at the imputation. More; over, though this was a minor consideration, he resented slightly the allusion to reversible cuffs. Hence the answer sprang to his lips:
"Can you not trust me to write the notice, Mr. Dryden?"
"She would like me to write it."
"Ah, I see! Was that what she whispered to you this morning?"
Dryden hesitated. "Certainly words to that effect. Let me ask you in turn, can you not trust me? If so, the automobile is yours and——"
Harrington laughed coldly. "I'm sorry not to oblige you, Mr. Dryden. If you understood my point of view you would see that what you propose is out of the question. I was commissioned to write up the Ward-Upton obsequies, and I alone must do so."
As he spoke they were passing at a lively gait through the picturesquely shaded main street of a small country town and were almost abreast of the only tavern of the place, which wore the appearance of having been recently remodelled and repainted to meet the demands of modern road travel.
"Your point of view? What is your point of view?"
Before Harrington had time to begin to put into speech the statement of his principles there was a sudden loud explosion beneath them like the discharge of a huge pistol, and the machine came abruptly to a stop. So unexpected and startling was the shock that the reporter sprang from the car and in his nervous annoyance at once vented the hasty conclusion at which he arrived in the words: "I see; this is a trap, and you are a modern highwayman whose stunt will make good Sunday reading in cold print." He wore a sarcastic smile, and his sharp eyes gleamed like a ferret's.
Dryden regarded him humorously with his steady gaze. "Gently there; it's only a tire gone. Do you suspect me of trying to trifle with the sacred liberties of the press?"
"I certainly did, sir. It looks very much like it."
"Then you agree that I chose a very inappropriate place for my purpose. 'The Old Homestead' there is furnished with a telephone, a livery-stable, and all the modern protections against highway robbery. Besides, there is a cold chicken and a bottle of choice claret in the basket with which to supplement the larder of our host of the inn. We will take luncheon while my chauffeur is placing us on an even keel again, and no time will be lost. You will even have ten minutes in which to put pen to paper while the table is being laid."
Harrington as a nervous man was no less promptly generous in his impulses when convinced of error than he was quick to scent out a hostile plot. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Dryden. I see I was mistaken." He thrust out a lean hand by way of amity. "Can't I help?"
"Oh, no, thank you. My man will attend to everything."
"You see I got the idea to begin with and then the explosion following so close upon your offer——"
"Quite so," exclaimed Dryden. "A suspicious coincidence, I admit." He shook the proffered fingers without a shadow of resentment. "I dare say my dust-coat and goggles give me quite the highwayman effect," he continued jollily.
"They sort of got on my nerves, I guess." Under the spell of his generous impulse various bits of local color flattering to his companion began to suggest themselves to Harrington for his article, and he added: "I'll take advantage of that suggestion of yours and get to work until luncheon is ready."
Some fifteen minutes later they were seated opposite to each other at an appetizing meal. As Dryden finished his first glass of claret, he asked:
"Did you know Richard Upton?"
"The man who was killed? Not personally. But I have read about him in the society papers."
"Ah!" There was a deep melancholy in the intonation which caused the reporter to look at his companion a little sharply. For a moment Dryden stirred in his chair as though about to make some comment, and twisted the morsel of bread at his fingers' ends into a small pellet. But he poured out another glass of claret for each of them and said:
"He was the salt of the earth."
"Tell me about him. I should be glad to know. I might——"
"There's so little to tell—it was principally charm. He was one of the most unostentatious, unselfish, high-minded, consistent men I ever knew. Completely a gentleman in the finest sense of that overworked word."
"That's very interesting. I should be glad——"
Dryden shook his head. "You didn't know him well enough. It was like the delicacy of the rose—finger it and it falls to pieces. No offence to you, of course. I doubt my own ability to do him justice, well as I knew him. But you put a stopper on that—and you were right. My kind regards," he said, draining his second glass of claret. "The laborer is worthy of his hire, the artist must not be interfered with. It was an impertinence of me to ask to do your work."
Harrington's eyes gleamed. "It's pleasant to be appreciated—to have one's point of view comprehended. It isn't pleasant to butt in where you're not wanted, but there's something bigger than that involved, the——"
"Quite so; it was a cruel bribe; and many men in your shoes would not have been proof against it."
"And you were in dead earnest, too, though for a moment I couldn't believe it. But the point is—and that's what I mean—that the public—gentlemen like you and ladies like the handsome one who looked daggers at me this morning—don't realize that the world is bound to have the news on its breakfast-table and supper-table, and that when a man is in the business and knows his business and is trying to do the decent thing and the acceptable artistic thing, too, if I do say it, he is entitled to be taken seriously and—and trusted. There are incompetent men—rascals even—in my calling. What I contend is that you'd no right to assume that I wouldn't do the inevitable thing decently merely because you saw me there. For, if you only knew it, I was saying to myself at that very moment that for a funeral it was the most tastefully handled I ever attended."
"It is the inevitable thing; that's just it. My manners were bad to begin to with, and later—" Dryden leaned forward with his elbows on the table and his head between his hands, scanning his eager companion.
"Don't mention it. You see, it was a matter of pride with me. And now it's up to me to state that if there's anything in particular you'd like me to mention about the deceased gentleman or lady——"
Dryden sighed at the reminder, "One of the loveliest and most pure-hearted of women."
"That shall go down," said the reporter, mistaking the apostrophe for an answer, and he drew a note-book from his side pocket.
Dryden raised his hand by way of protest. "I was merely thinking aloud. No, we must trust you."
Harrington bowed. He hesitated, then by way of noticing the plural allusion in the speech added: "It was your young lady's look which wounded me the most. And she said something. I don't suppose you'd care to tell me what she said? It wasn't flattering, I'm sure of that, but it was on the tip of her tongue. I admit I'm mildly curious as to what it was."
Dryden reflected a moment. "You've written your article?" he asked, indicating the note-book.
"It's all mapped out in my mind, and I've finished the introduction."
"I won't ask to see it because we trust you. But I'll make a compact with you." Dryden held out a cigar to his adversary and proceeded to light one for himself. "Supposing what the lady said referred to something which you have written there, would you agree to cut it out?"
Harrington looked gravely knowing. "You think you can tell what I have written?" he asked, tapping his note-book.
Dryden took a puff. "Very possibly not. I am merely supposing. But in case the substance of her criticism—for she did criticise—should prove to be almost word for word identical with something in your handwriting—would you agree?"
Harrington shrugged his shoulders. "Against the automobile as a stake, if it proves not to be?" he inquired by way of expressing his incredulity.
"Let it be rather against another luncheon with you as agreeable as this."
"Done. I will write her exact language here on this piece of paper and then we will exchange copy."
Harrington sat pleasantly amused, yet puzzled, while Dryden wrote and folded the paper. Then he proffered his note-book with nervous alacrity. "Read aloud until you come to the place," he said jauntily.
Dryden scanned for a moment the memoranda, then looked up. "It is all here at the beginning, just as she prophesied," he said, with a promptness which was almost radiant, and he read as follows: "The dual funeral of Miss Josephine Ward, the leading society girl, and Richard Upton, the well-known club man, took place this morning at—" He paused and said: "Read now what you have there."
Harrington flushed, then scowled, but from perplexity. He was seeking enlightenment before he proceeded further, so he unfolded the paper with a deliberation unusual to him, which afforded time to Dryden to remark with clear precision:
"Those were her very words."
Harrington read aloud: "'Look at that man; he is taking notes. Oh, he will describe them in his newspaper as a leading society girl and a well-known club man, and they will turn in their graves. If you love me, stop it.'"
There was a brief pause. The reporter pondered, visibly chagrined and disappointed. The silence was broken by Dryden. "Do you not understand?" he inquired.
"Frankly, I do not altogether. I—I thought they'd like it."
"Of course you did, my dear fellow; there's the ghastly humor of it; the dire tragedy, rather." As he spoke he struck his closed hand gently but firmly on the table, and regarded the reporter with the compressed lips of one who is about to vent a long pent-up grievance.
"He was in four clubs; I looked him up," Harrington still protested in dazed condition.
"And they seemed to you his chief title to distinction? You thought they did him honor? He would have writhed in his grave, as Miss Mayberry said. Like it? When the cheap jack or the social climber dies, he may like it, but not the gentleman or lady. Leading society girl? Why, every shop-girl who commits suicide is immortalized in the daily press as 'a leading society girl,' and every deceased Tom, Dick, or Harry has become a 'well-known club man.' It has added a new terror to death. Thank God, my friends will be spared!"
Harrington felt of his chin. "You object to the promiscuity of it, so to speak. It's because everybody is included?"
"No, man, to the fundamental indignity of it. To the baseness of the metal which the press glories in using for a social crown."
Harrington drew himself up a little. "If the press does it, it's because most people like it and regard it as a tribute."
"Ah! But my friends do not. You spoke just now of your point of view. This is ours. Think it over, Mr. Harrington, and you will realize that there is something in it." He sat back in his chair with the air of a man who has pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat and is well content.
Harrington meditated a moment. "However that be, one thing is certain—it has got to come out. It will come out. You may rest assured of that, Mr. Dryden." So saying he reached for his note-book and proceeded to run a pencil through the abnoxious paragraph.
"You have won your bet and—and the young lady, too, Sir Knight, I trust. You seem to have found your niche." Which goes to prove that the reporter was a magnanimous fellow at heart.
Dryden forbore to commit himself as to the condition of his hopes as he thanked his late adversary for this expression of good-will. Ten minutes later they were sitting in the rehabilitated motor-car and speeding rapidly toward New York. When they reached the city Dryden insisted on leaving the reporter at his doorsteps, a courtesy which went straight to Harrington's heart, for, as he expected would be the case, his wife and son Tesla were looking out of the window at the moment of his arrival and saw him dash up to the curbstone. His sturdy urchin ran out forthwith to inspect the mysteries of the huge machine. As it vanished down the street Harrington put an arm round Tesla and went to meet the wife of his bosom.
"Who is your new friend, Paul?" she asked.
It rose to Harrington's lips to say—an hour before he would have said confidently—"a well-known club man"; but he swallowed the phrase before it was uttered and answered thoughtfully:
"It was one of the funeral guests, who gave me a lift in his motor, and has taught me a thing or two about modern journalism on the way up. I got stung."
"I thought you knew everything there is to know about that," remarked Mrs. Harrington with the fidelity of a true spouse.
To this her husband at the moment made no response. When, six months later, however, he received an invitation to the wedding of Walter Dryden and Miss Florence Mayberry, he remarked in her presence, as he sharpened his pencil for the occasion: "Those swells have trusted me to write it up after all."
THE ROMANCE OF A SOUL
When Marion Willis became a schoolmistress in the Glendale public school at twenty-two she regarded her employment as a transient occupation, to be terminated presently by marriage. She possessed an imaginative temperament, and one of her favorite and most satisfying habits was to evoke from the realm of the future a proper hero, shining with zeal and virtue like Sir Galahad, in whose arms she would picture herself living happily ever after a sweet courtship, punctuated by due maidenly hesitation. This fondness for letting her fancy run riot and evolve visions splendid with happenings for her own advancement and gladness was not confined to matrimonial day-dreams. On the morning when she entered the school-house door for the first time the eyes of her mind saw the curtain which veils the years divide, and she beheld herself a famous educator, still young, but long since graduated from primary teaching. She forgot the vision of her Sir Galahad there. Nor were the circumstances of her several day-dreams necessarily consistent in other respects. It sufficed for her spiritual exaltation that they should be merely a fairy-like manifestation in her own favor. But though she loved to give her imagination rein, the fairy-like quality of these visions was patent to Miss Willis, for she possessed a quiet sense of humor as a sort of east-wind supplementary to the sentimental and poetic properties of her nature. She had a way of poking fun at herself, which, when exercised, sent the elfin figures scattering with a celerity suggestive of the departure of her own pupils at the tinkle of the bell for dismissal. Then she was left alone with her humor and her New England conscience, that stern adjuster of real values and enemy of spiritual dissipation. This same conscience was a vigilant monitor in the matter of her school-teaching, despite Miss Willis's reasonable hope that Sir Galahad would claim her soon. The hope would have been reasonable in the case of any one of her sex, for every woman is said to be given at least one opportunity to become a wife; but in the case of Miss Willis nature had been more than commonly bounteous. She was not a beauty, but she was sweet and fresh-looking, with clear, honest eyes, and a cheery, gracious manner such as is apt to captivate discerning men. She was one of those wholesome spirits, earnest and refined, yet prone to laughter, which do not remain long unmated in the ordinary course of human experience. But her conscience did not permit her to dwell on this advantage to the detriment of her scholars.