HENRY B. FULLER
Introduction by Mark Harris
When old Mr. Marshall finally took to his bed, the household viewed this action with more surprise than sympathy, and with more impatience than surprise. It seemed like the breaking down of a machine whose trustworthiness had been hitherto infallible; his family were almost forced to the acknowledgement that he was but a mere human being after all. They had enjoyed a certain intimacy with him, in lengths varying with their respective ages, but they had never made a full avowal that his being rested on any tangible physical basis. Rather had they fallen into the way of considering him as a disembodied intelligence, whose sole function was to direct the transmutation of values and credits and resources and opportunities into the creature comforts demanded by the state of life unto which it had please Providence to call them; and their dismay was now such as might occur at the Mint if the great stamp were suddenly and of its own accord to cease its coinage of double-eagles and to sink into a silence of supine idleness. His wife and children acknowledged, indeed, his head and his hands—those it were impossible to overlook; but his head stopped with the rim of his collar, while his hands—those long, lean hands, freckled, tufted goldishly between joints and knuckles—they never followed beyond the plain gilt sleeve-buttons (marked with a Roman M) which secured the overlapping of his cuffs. No, poor old David Marshall was like one of the early Tuscan archangels, whose scattered members are connected by draperies merely, with no acknowledged organism within; nor were his shining qualities fully recognized until the resolutions passed by the Association of Wholesale Grocers reached the hands of his bereaved—-
But this is no way to begin.
* * * * *
The grimy lattice-work of the drawbridge swung to slowly, the steam-tug blackened the dull air and roiled the turbid water as it dragged its schooner on towards the lumber-yards of the South Branch, and a long line of waiting vehicles took up their interrupted course through the smoke and the stench as they filed across the stream into the thick of business beyond: first a yellow street-car; then a robust truck laden with rattling sheet-iron, or piled high with fresh wooden pails and willow baskets; then a junk-cart bearing a pair of dwarfed and bearded Poles, who bumped in unison with the jars of its clattering springs; then, perhaps, a bespattered buggy, with reins jerked by a pair of sinewy and impatient hands. Then more street-cars; then a butcher's cart loaded with the carcasses of calves—red, black, piebald—or an express wagon with a yellow cur yelping from its rear; then, it may be, an insolently venturesome landau, with crested panel and top-booted coachman. Then drays and omnibuses and more street-cars; then, presently, somewhere in the line, between the tail end of one truck and the menacing tongue of another, a family carry-all—a carry-all loaded with its family, driven by a man of all work, drawn by a slight and amiable old mare, and encumbered with luggage which shows the labels of half the hotels of Europe.
It is a very capable and comprehensive vehicle, as conveyances of that kind go. It is not new, it is not precisely in the mode; but it shows material and workmanship of the best grade, and it is washed, oiled, polished with scrupulous care. It advances with some deliberation, and one might fancy hearing in the rattle of its tires, or in the suppressed flapping of its rear curtain, a word of plaintive protest. "I am not of the great world," it seems to say; "I make no pretence to fashion. We are steady and solid, but we are not precisely in society, and we are far, very far indeed, from any attempt to cut a great figure. However, do not misunderstand our position; it is not that we are under, nor that we are exactly aside; perhaps we have been left just a little behind. Yes, that might express it—just a little behind."
How are they to catch up again—how rejoin the great caravan whose fast and furious pace never ceases, never slackens? Not, assuredly, by the help of the little sorrel mare, whose white mane swings so mildly, and whose pale eyelashes droop so diffidently when some official hand at a crowded crossing brings her to a temporary stand-still. Not by the help of the coachman, who wears a sack-coat and a derby hat, and whose frank, good-natured face turns about occasionally for a friendly participation in the talk that is going on behind. Can it be, then, that any hopes for an accelerated movement are packed away in the bulging portmanteau which rests squeezed in between the coachman's legs? Two stout straps keep it from bursting, and the crinkled brown leather of its sides is completely pasted over with the mementoes used by the hosts of the Old World to speed the parting guest. "London" and "Paris" shine in the lustre of the last fortnight; "Tangier" is distinctly visible; "Buda-Pest" may be readily inferred despite the overlapping labels of "Wien" and "Bale"; while away off to one corner a crumpled and lingering shred points back, though uncertainly, to the Parthenon and the Acropolis. And in the midst of this flowery field is planted a large M after the best style of the White Star Line.
Who has come home bearing all these sheaves?
Is it, to begin with, the young girl who shares the front seat with the driver, and who faces with an innocent unconcern all the clamor and evil of a great city? There is a half-smile on her red lips, and her black eyes sparkle with a girlish gayety—for she does not know how bad the world is. At the same time her chin advances confidently, and her dark eyebrows contract with a certain soft imperiousness—for she does not know how hard the world is nor how unyielding. Sometimes she withdraws her glance from the jostling throng to study the untidy and overlapping labels on the big portmanteau; she betrays a certain curiosity, but she shows at the same time a full determination not to seem over-impressed. No, the returned traveller is not Rosy Marshall; all that she knows of life she has learned from the broadcast cheapness of English story-tellers and from a short year's schooling in New York.
Is it, then, the older girl who fills half of the rear seat and who, as the cruel phrase goes, will never see thirty again? She seems to be tall and lean, and one divines, somehow, that her back is narrow and of a slab-like flatness. Her forehead is high and full, and its bulging outlines are but slightly softened by a thin and dishevelled bang. Her eyes are of a light and faded blue, and have the peculiar stare which results from over-full eyeballs when completely bordered by white. Her long fingers show knotted joints and nails that seem hopelessly plebeian; sometimes she draws on open-work lace mitts, and then her hands appear to be embroiling each other in a mutual tragedy. No, poor Jane is thoroughly, incorruptibly indigenous; she is the best and dearest girl in half the world, as you shall see; but all her experiences have lain between Sandusky and Omaha.
Perhaps, then, the returned traveller is the elderly woman seated by her side. Perhaps—and perhaps not. For she seems a bit too dry and sapless and self-contained—as little susceptible, in fact, to the gentle dews of travel as an umbrella in a waterproof case. Moreover, it is doubtful if her bonnet would pass current beyond the national confines. One surmises that she became years ago the victim of arrested development; that she is a kind of antiquated villager—a geologic survival from an earlier age; that she is a house-keeper cumbered and encompassed by minute cares largely of her own making. It is an easy guess that, for Eliza Marshall, London is in another world, that Tangier is but a remote and impracticable abstraction, and that all her strength and fortitude might be necessary merely to make the trip to Peoria.
There is but one other occupant of the carriage remaining—the only one, after all, who can or could be the owner of the baggage. He is a young man of twenty-three, and he sits with his back to the horse on a little seat which has been let down for the occasion between the usual two; his knees crowd one of the girls and his elbows the other. He seems uncommonly alert and genial; he focusses brilliantly the entire attention of the party. His little black mustache flaunts with a picturesque upward flourish, and it is supplemented by a small tuft at the edge of his underlip—an embellishment which overlays any slight trace of lingering juvenility with an effect which is most knowing, experienced, caprine, if you like, and which makes fair amends for the blanched cheeks, wrinkled brows and haggard eyes that the years have yet to accomplish for him. A navy-blue tie sprinkled with white interlacing circles spreads loosely and carelessly over the lapels of his coat; and while his clever eyes dart intelligently from one side to the other of the crowded thoroughfare, his admiring family make their own shy observations upon his altered physiognomy and his novel apparel—upon his shoes and his hat particularly; they become acquainted thus with the Florentine ideal of foot-wear, and the latest thing evolved by Paris in the way of head-gear.
This young man has passed back through London quite unscathed. Deduce from his costume the independence of his character and the precise slant of his propensities.
The carriage moves on, with a halt here, a spurt there, and many a jar and jolt between; and Truesdale Marshall throws over the shifting and resounding panorama an eye freshened by a four years' absence and informed by the contemplation of many strange and diverse spectacles. Presently a hundred yards of unimpeded travel ends in a blockade of trucks and street-cars and a smart fusillade of invective. During this enforced stoppage the young man becomes conscious of a vast unfinished structure that towers gauntly overhead through the darkening and thickening air, and for which a litter of iron beams in the roadway itself seems to promise an indefinite continuation skyward.
"Two, three, four—six, seven—nine," he says, craning his neck and casting up his eye. Then, turning with a jocular air to the elder lady opposite, "I don't suppose that Marshall & Belden, for instance, have got up to nine stories yet!"
"Marshall & Belden!" she repeated. Her enunciation was strikingly ejaculatory, and she laid an impatient and unforgiving emphasis upon the latter name. "I don't know what will happen if your father doesn't assert himself pretty soon."
"I should think as much!" observed the elder girl, explosively; "or they will never get up even to seven. The idea of Mr. Belden's proposing to enlarge by taking that ground adjoining! But of course poor pa didn't put up the building himself, nor anything; oh no! So he doesn't know whether the walls will stand a couple of extra stories or not. Upon my word," she went on with increased warmth, "I don't feel quite sure whether pa was the one to start the business in the first place and to keep it going along ever since, or whether he's just a new errand-boy, who began there a week ago! August, are we stuck here to stay forever?"
The little sorrel mare started up again and entered upon another stage of her journey. The first lights began to appear in the store-fronts; the newsboys were shrieking the last editions of the evening papers; the frenzied comedy of belated shopping commenced to manifest itself upon the pavements.
The throng of jostling women was especially thick and eager before a vast and vulgar front whose base was heaped with cheap truck cheaply ticketed, and whose long row of third-story windows was obscured by a great reach of cotton cloth tacked to a flimsy wooden frame. Unprecedented bargains were offered in gigantic letters by the new proprietors, "Eisendrath & Heide..."—the rest of the name flapped loosely in the wind.
"Alas, poor Wethersby, I knew him well," observed Marshall, absently. He cast a pensive eye upon the still-remaining name of the former proprietor, and took off his hat to weigh it in his hands with a pretence of deep speculation. "Well, the Philistines haven't got hold of us yet, have they?" he remarked, genially; he had not spent six months in Vienna for nothing. "I suppose we are still worth twenty sous in the franc, eh?"
"I suppose," replied his mother, with a grim brevity. She rather groped for his meaning, but she was perfectly certain of her own.
"I guess pa's all right," declared his sister, "as long as he is left alone and not interfered with."
The evening lights doubled and trebled—long rows of them appeared overhead at incalculable altitudes. The gongs of the cable cars clanged more and more imperiously as the crowds surged in great numbers round grip and trailer. The night life of the town began to bestir itself, and little Rosy, from her conspicuous place, beamed with a bright intentness upon its motley spectacle, careless of where her smiles might fall. For her the immodest theatrical poster drooped in the windows of saloons, or caught a transient hold upon the hoardings of uncompleted buildings; brazen blare and gaudy placards (disgusting rather than indecent) invited the passer-by into cheap museums and music-halls; all the unclassifiable riff-raff that is spawned by a great city leered from corners, or slouched along the edge of the gutters, or stood in dark doorways, or sold impossible rubbish in impossible dialects wherever the public indulgence permitted a foothold.
To Rosy's mother all this involved no impropriety. Eliza Marshall's Chicago was the Chicago of 1860, an Arcadia which, in some dim and inexplicable way, had remained for her an Arcadia still—bigger, noisier, richer, yet different only in degree, and not essentially in kind. She herself had traversed these same streets in the days when they were the streets of a mere town, Fane, accompanying her mother's courses as a child, had seen the town develop into a city. And now Rosy followed in her turn, though the urbs in horto of the earlier time existed only in the memory of "old settlers" and in the device of the municipal seal, while the great Black City stood out as a threatening and evil actuality. Mild old Mabel had drawn them all in turn or together, and had philosophized upon the facts as little as any of them; but Rosy's brother (who had been about, and who knew more than he was ever likely to tell) looked round at her now and then with a vague discomfort.
"There!" called their mother, suddenly; "did you see that?" A big lumpish figure on the crossing had loomed up at the mare's head, a rough hand had seized her bridle, and a raw voice with a rawer brogue had vented a piece of impassioned profanity on both beast and driver. "Well, I don't thank that policeman for hitting Mabel on the nose, I can tell him. August, did you get his number?"
"No'm," answered the coachman. He turned round familiarly. "I got his breath."
"I should think so," said Truesdale. "And such shoes as they have, and such hands, and such linen! Didn't that fellow see what we were? Couldn't he realize that we pay for the buttons on his coat? Mightn't he have tried to apprehend that we were people of position here long before he had scraped his wretched steerage-money together? And what was it he had working in his cheek?"
"I think I know," responded August mumbling.
"Like enough," rejoined Truesdale, with his eye upon the coachman's own jaw.
His mother's sputter of indignation died rapidly away. It was, indeed, her notion that the guardians of the public peace should show some degree of sobriety, respect, neatness, and self-control, as well as a reasonable familiarity with the accents of the country; but her Arcadia was full of painful discrepancies, and she did not add to her own pain by too serious an attempt to reconcile them. Besides, what is a policeman compared with a detective?
Mabel, released from the arm of the law, jarred over another line of car tracks, whereon a long row of monsters glared at one another's slow advances with a single great red eye, and then she struck a freer gait on the succeeding stretch of Belgian blocks. Presently she passed a lofty building which rose in colonnades one above another, but whose walls were stained with smoke, whose windows were half full of shattered panes, and whose fraudulent metallic cornice curled over limply and jarred and jangled in the evening breeze—one more of the vicissitudes of mercantile life.
"Well, I'm glad the fire-fiend hasn't got Marshall & Co. yet," said the young man, restored to good-humor by the sight of another's misfortune. He used unconsciously the old firm name.
"But he'd get us fast enough if the insurance was taken off," declared Jane. "Do you know, Dicky," she went on, "how much that item costs us a year? Or have you any idea how much it has amounted to in the last twenty, without our ever getting one cent back? Well, there's ten thousand in the Hartford and eight in the Monongahela and eleven in—"
"Dear me, Jane!" exclaimed her brother, in some surprise; "where do you pick up all this?"
Rosy turned her head half round. "Mr. Brower tells her," she said, with a disdainful brevity.
Her face was indistinct in the twilight, but if its expression corresponded with the inflection of her voice, her nostrils were inflated and her lips were curled in disparagement. To Jane, in her dark corner of the carriage, this was patent enough. Indeed, it was sufficiently obvious to all that Jane's years availed little to save her from the searching criticism of her younger sister, and that Miss Rosamund Marshall bestowed but slight esteem—or, at least, but slight approval—upon Mr. Theodore Brower.
"Supposing he does tell me!" called Jane, absurdly allowing herself to be put on the defensive. "It's a mighty good thing, I take it. If there's anybody else in the family but me who knows or cares anything about poor pa's business, I should like to be told who it is!"
"That will do, Jane," sounded her mother's voice in cold correction. "There's no need for you to talk so. Your father has run his own business now for thirty-five years, with every year better than the year before, and I imagine he knows how to look out for himself. Thank goodness, we are on a respectable pavement once more."
Mabel, turning a sudden corner, had given them a quick transition from the rattle and jar of granite to the gentle palpitation that is possible on well-packed macadam. The carriage passed in review a series of towering and glittering hotels, told off a score or more of residences of the elder day, and presently drew up before the gate of an antiquated homestead in the neighborhood of the Panoramas.
"Just the same old place," murmured Truesdale, as he writhed out of his cramped quarters and stood on the carriage-block in the dusk to stretch his legs. "Wonderful how we contrive to stand stock-still in the midst of all this stir and change!"
It was at Vevey, one morning late in August, that Truesdale Marshall received the letter which turned his face homeward—the summons which made it seem obligatory for him to report at headquarters, as he phrased it, without too great a delay. He was pacing along the terrace which bounded the pension garden lakeward, and his eye wandered back and forth between the superscription of the envelope and the distant mountain-shore of Savoy, as it appeared through the tantalizing line of clipped acacias which bordered the roadway that ran below him.
"'Richard T. Marshall, Esq.,'" he read, slowly, with his eye on the accumulation of post-marks and renewed addresses. "They keep it up right along, don't they? I can't make them feel that initials on an envelope are not the best form. I can't bring them to see that 'Esq.' on foreign letters is worse than a superfluity." He referred once more to the mountains of Savoy; they seemed to offer no loophole of escape. "Well, I've got to do it, I suppose."
He made some brief calculations, and found that he could put himself in marching order within a month or so. There was the trunk stored at Geneva; there was that roomful of furniture at Freiburg—Freiburg-im- Breisgau; there was that brace of paintings boxed up in Florence; and there were the frayed and loosely flying ends of many miscellaneous friendships.
"I should think the end of October might do for them," he droned, reflectively. "They can't mean to cut me off any shorter than that."
He saw the steamer taking on passengers between the two rotund chestnut-trees that adorned the end of the stubby little stone pier. Voices of shrieking gladness came across from the coffee-tables on the terrace of the Three Crowns, his nearest neighbor to the right.
"Well, America is meeting me half way," he said; "I don't want to seem reluctant myself. Suppose we make it Southampton, about October 15th?"
Truesdale Marshall had been away from home and friends for about the length of time ordinarily required by a course through college, but it was not at college that most of this period had been passed. He had left Yale at the end of his sophomore year, and had taken passage, not for Chicago, but for Liverpool, compromising thus his full claims on nurture from an alma mater for the more alluring prospect of culture and adventure on the Continent. This supplementary course of self-improvement and self-entertainment had now continued for three years.
He had written back to his family at discreet intervals, his communications not being altogether untinctured, it is true, by considerations of a financial nature; and his sister Jane, who charged herself with the preservation of this correspondence, would have undertaken to reconstruct his route and to make a full report of his movements up to date on ten minutes' notice. She kept his letters in a large box-file that she had teased from her father at the store; and two or three times a year she overhauled her previous entries, so to speak, and added whatever new ones were necessary to bring her books down to the present day.
She pleased herself, on the occasion of such reviews, with the thought that her brother's long absence was so largely and so laboriously educational. There, for example, was his winter and spring at Heidelberg, which she figured as given over to Kant and Hegel. This sojourn was attested by a photograph which showed her brother in a preposterous little round cap, as well as with a bar of sticking-plaster (not markedly philosophical, it must be confessed) upon one cheek.
Again, there was his six months' stay in Paris, during which time he had dabbled in pigments at one of the studios affected by Americans. Her vouchers for this period consisted of several water-colors; they were done in a violent and slap-dash fashion, and had been inspired, apparently, by scenes in the environs of the capital. They were marked "Meudon" and "St. Cloud" and "Suresnes," with the dates; both names and dates were put where they showed up very prominently. Jane was rather overcome by these sketches on a first view, and after she had pinned them up on the walls of her bedroom (she had made no scruple over an immediate individual appropriation) she was obliged to acknowledge that you had to step back some little distance in order to "get them."
Then there was his year at Milan, during which he was engaged in the cultivation of his voice at the Conservatory. "A whole year," said innocent Jane to herself; "think of Dick's staying in one place as long as that!" She made no account of the easily accessible joys of Monte Carlo, but figured him, instead, as running interminable scales at all hours of day and night, and as participating, now and then, in the chorus at the Scala, for which purpose, as he wrote her, he had had a pair of tights made to order. In another letter he sent her a pen-and-ink sketch of himself as he appeared while studying the last act of "Favorita." He explained that the large looking-glasses surrounding him were designed to give the disillusioned Fernando opportunity to see whether his facial expression was corresponding to the nature of the music he was interpreting.
All this completely overpowered poor Jane; it enveloped her brother's head in a roseate halo; it wrapped him in the sweet and voluminous folds of a never-failing incense; it imparted a warm glow to his coolish summer in the Engadine, and it illumined his archaeological prowlings through the Peloponnesus; it opened up a dozen diverging vistas to the enthusiastic girl herself, and advanced her rapidly in long courses of expansion and improvement. Above all, it filled her with a raging impatience for his return. "Between him and me," she would say to herself, "something may be done. Pa'll never do anything to get us out of this rut; nor ma. Neither will Roger nor Alice. And Rosy—well, Rosy's too young to count on, yet. But Richard Truesdale Marshall, the younger son of the well-known David Marshall, of Lake Street, recently returned from a long course of travel and study abroad"—she seemed to be quoting from the printed column—"can. Especially when assisted by his sister, the clever and intellectual Miss Jane Marshall, who—"
"Oh, bother this bang!" exclaimed Miss Jane Marshall, pettishly. She threw her comb down between pin-cushion and cologne bottle, and flattened a frowning and protesting glance against her mirror. "I guess I'll give up trying to be beautiful, and just be quaint."
David Marshall received his son with less exaltation. He had a vivid recollection of the liberal letter of credit which had started the young man on his way, and this recollection had subsequently been touched up and heightened by the payment of many drafts for varying but considerable amounts; and he was now concerning himself with the practical question, What have I got for my money? He felt his own share in the evolution of this brilliant and cultured youth, whose corona of accomplishments might well dazzle and even abash a plain business person; and he awaited with interest a response to the reasonable interrogation, to what end shall all these means be turned? He received his son with a dry and cautious kindness, determined not to be too precipitate in ascertaining the young man's ideas as to the future—a week more or less could make no great difference now.
David Marshall was a tall, spare man whose slow composure of carriage invested him with a sort of homely dignity. He wore a reddish beard, now largely touched with white—a mixture whose effect prompted the suggestion that his grandfather might have been a Scotchman; and the look from his blue eyes (though now no longer at their brightest) convinced you that his sight was competent to cover the field of vision to which he had elected to restrict himself. He seemed completely serious, to have been so always, to have been born half grown up, to have been dowered at the start with too keen a consciousness of the burdens and responsibilities of life. Coltishness, even by a retrospect of fifty years, it was impossible to attribute to him. You imagined him as having been caught early, broken to harness at once, and kept between the shafts ever since. It was easy to figure him as backing into position with a sweet and reasonable docility—a docility which saw no other course or career for a properly minded young horse, and which looked upon the juvenile antics of others in the herd as an unintelligible and rather reprehensible procedure. He knew what he was for, and his way was before him.
He had acted on his knowledge, and now, at sixty, he seemed still to be travelling over the same long straight road, blinders at his eyes, a high wall on either side, no particular goal in the dusty distance, and an air of patient, self-approving resignation all about him. His burden, too, had increased with the years—just as his rut had grown deeper. Counting his family and his poor relations, and his employes and their families and poor relations, five or six hundred people were dependent on him. Many of these, of course, had seats so low that they were almost choked by the dust of the roadway; but others, more pleasantly situated, were able to overlook the enclosing walls and to enjoy the prospect beyond. Among these last was his younger son, who sat in the highest place of all, and thence surveyed the universe.
The Marshall house had been built at the time of the opening of the War, and as far "out" as seemed advisable for a residence of the better sort. In those days no definite building-line had been established, so that it was quite a walk from the front gate to the foot of the front steps. Neither, at that time, was ground too valuable to make a good bit of yard impracticable—so that the house had plenty of space on all sides. It was a low, plain, roomy building with a sort of belvedere and a porch or two. The belvedere was lingeringly reminiscent of the vanishing classic, and the decorative woodwork of the porches showed some faint traces of the romantico-lackadaisical style which filled up the years between the ebb of the Greek and the vulgar flood-tide of Second-empire renaissance. Taken altogether, a sedate, stable, decorous old homestead, fit for the family within it.
In the back yard, behind a latticed screen-work, some shrubs and bushes survived from a garden once luxuriant, but now almost vanished. There had been a cherry-tree, too—a valiant little grower, which put forth a cloud of white blossoms late in every May, and filled a small pail with fruit early in every July. It was thus that Jane was enabled to celebrate her birthday (which fell about this time of year) with a fair-sized cherry pie; and in especially favorable seasons enough cherries were left over to make a small tart for Rosy.
But the atmosphere had years ago become too urban for the poor cherry-tree, which had long since disappeared from mortal ken; and the last of the currant-bushes, too, were holding their own but poorly against the smoke and cinders of metropolitan life. One of Jane's earliest recollections was that of putting on her flat and taking her tin pan and accompanying her mother out to pick currants for the annual jelly-making. Her mother wore a flat, too, and carried a tin pan—both of proportionate size. The flats had long since been cast aside, and the pans had become less necessary with the dwindling of the currant-bushes; but the jelly-making returned with every recurring July. A great many quarts of alien currants and a great many pounds of white sugar were fused in that hot and sticky kitchen, and then the red-stained cloths were hung to dry upon the last remaining bushes. Jane would sometimes reproach her parent with such a proceeding—which seemed to her hardly less reprehensible than the seething of a kid in its mother's milk; but Eliza Marshall had scant receptivity for any such poetical analogies. The cloths, as seen through the lattice-work, had a somewhat sensational aspect; they spoke of battle and murder and sudden death, and sometimes the policeman passing by, if he was a new one, thought for a second that he had stumbled on a "clew."
Eliza Marshall took this risk quite willingly; the idea of buying her jelly ready-made never crossed her mind. No; she made her own year after year, and poured it out into her little glass tumblers, and sealed each tumbler with a half-sheet of notepaper, and marked each sheet according to the sort of jelly it protected—sometimes she made grape or crab-apple, too. She doled out her products very economically during the winter and spring. Then she would discover, about the first of June, that she had a three months' supply still on hand. Then, during the summer, the family would live on jelly and little else.
But she remained, year after year, the same firm, determined, peremptory person in her kitchen; she never spared herself there, and she never spared anybody else.
She gave no more quarter at the front of the house than at the back. To get fresh air into her dim and time-worn parlor and to keep sun and dust and smoke out—this was her one besetting problem. There were those windy days at the end of autumn, after the sprinkling-carts had been withdrawn from the boulevard; there were the days (about three hundred and sixty-five in the year) when the smoke and cinders from the suburban trains made her house as untidy as a switch-yard; and there was her husband's unconquerable propensity for smoking—a pleasure which she compelled him to take outside on the foot pavement. Here, on pleasant evenings, he would walk up and down alone, in a slow, meditative fashion—having little to say and nobody to say it to—until bedtime came.
This came early—from a habit early formed. The Chicago of his young married life had given him little reason for being abroad after half-past nine at night, and he appeared to find little more reason now than then. It would not, indeed, have been impossible to make him see that, in the interval, balls, concerts, spectacles, and such-like urban doings had come on with increasing number and brilliancy, and that there were now more interests to justify a man in remaining up until half-past ten, or even until eleven. But you could not have convinced him that all these opportunities were his.
Yet the consciousness of festivities sometimes obtruded upon his indifference. Now and then on summer evenings, when the wind was from the west, certain brazen discords originating a street or two behind the house would come to advise him that the Circassian girl was on view, or that a convention of lady snake-charmers was in session. Then there would be weeks of winter nights when the frozen macadam in front of the house would ring with a thousand prancing hoofs and rumble for an hour with a steady flow of carriages, and the walls of the great temple of music a few hundred yards to the north would throw back all this clamor, with the added notes of slamming doors and shouted numbers and epic struggles between angry drivers and determined policemen; sometimes he would extend his smoking stroll far enough to skirt the edge of all this Babel. Then, towards midnight, long after all staid and sensible people were abed, the flood would roll back, faster yet under the quiet moon, louder yet through the frosty air. But he never met the Circassian beauty, and he would have found "l'Africaine," for example, both tedious and unreasonable. To him each of these publics was new, and no less new than alien. Besides, it would have seemed an uncanny thing to be abroad and stirring at midnight.
Why did he go to bed at half-past nine? In order that he might be at the store by half-past seven. Why must he be at the store by half-past seven? Because a very large area to the west and northwest of the town looked to him for supplies of teas, coffees, spices, flour, sugar, baking-powder; because he had always been accustomed to furnish these supplies; because it was the only thing he wanted to do; because it was the only thing he could do; because it was the only thing he was pleased and proud to do; because it was the sole thing which enabled him to look upon himself as a useful, stable, honored member of society.
But it need not be supposed that the Marshalls in their young married days had lived totally bereft of social diversion. Quite the contrary. They had had tea-parties and card-parties now and then, and more than once they had thrown their house open for a church sociable. But the day came when the church jumped from its old site three blocks away to a new site three miles away. And by that time most of their old neighbors and fellow church-members had gone too—some southward, some northward, some heavenward. Then business, in the guise of big hotels, began marching down the street upon them, and business in all manner of guise ran up towering walls behind them that shut off the summer sun hours before it was due to sink; and traffic rang incessant gongs at their back door, and drew lengthening lines of freight-cars across the lake view from their front one; and Sunday crowds strolled and sprawled over the wide green between the roadway and the waterway, and tramps and beggars and peddlers advanced daily in a steady and disconcerting phalanx, and bolts and bars and chains and gratings and eternal vigilance were all required to keep mine from becoming thine; until, in the year of grace 1893, the Marshalls had almost come to realize that they were living solitary and in a state of siege. But they had never yet thought of capitulation nor of retreat; they were the Old Guard; they were not going to surrender, nor to die either.
As the advance guard of all, old David Marshall frequently occupied the most advanced bastion of all, the parlor bay-window. Here, in the half-dark, he was accustomed to sit and think; and his family let him sit and think, unconscious that it would sometimes be a kindness to break in upon the habit. He pondered on the markets and on the movements of trade; he kept one eye for the shabby wayfarers who threw a longing look upon his basement gratings, and another for the showers of sparks and black plumes of smoke which came to remind him of corporate encroachments upon municipal rights. And here one evening he sat, some few days after his son's return, while a hubbub of female voices came to him from the next room. His sister-in-law from three miles down the street, and his married daughter from ten miles out in the suburbs, had come to show some civility to the returned traveller, and the conjunction of two such stars was not to be effected in silence. Nor was silence to be secured even by a retreat from one room to another.
"Well, pa, you are here, sure enough." A hand pulled aside the curtain and made the bay-window a part of the parlor again. "Poking off by yourself, and thinking—I know. When I've told you so many times not to."
It was Jane. It was her office to keep the family from disintegration. None of them realized it—hardly she herself.
She perched on the arm of his big chair, placed her hand on his forehead, and looked in his face with a quizzical pretence of impatience. These little passages sometimes occurred in the bay-window—hardly anywhere else.
"Well, what is it this time?" she asked. Her intention was tender, but her voice issued with a kind of explosive grate—the natural product of vocal cords racked by the lake winds of thirty springs and wrecked by a thousand sudden and violent transitions from heat to cold and back again. "Not Mr. Belden, I hope?"
"No, Jennie. That will come out all right, I expect. We had a talk with the builder about it today."
He looked at her with a kind of wan and patient smile. His own voice was dry, husky, sibilant—sixty years of Lake Michigan.
She smiled back at his "Jennie"; that was always her name on such occasions. "It isn't about Oolong?" she asked, in burlesque anxiety.
"Well, then, is it the—Sisters?"
"Not the Sisters. They were in last week."
"Guess again, then," said Jane, perseveringly. "Is it—is it the Benevolent Policemen?"
"No, not the Policemen. They won't be around for a month yet."
Her hand dropped to his shoulder and her eyes searched his. To another they might have seemed staring; to him they were only intent. "Poor pa; he's like a ten-pin standing at the end of the alley, isn't he? They all take a turn at him, don't they?"
"I'm afraid that's about it, Jennie." He smiled rather wanly again and smoothed her hand with his own.
"Well, what else is there?" pondered Jane. "Is it the Afro-American bishop raising the mortgage on their chapel?"
"No. I guess the Afro-Americans have about paid things off by this time."
"How lonesome they must leave you? H'm! is it the Michigan Avenue Property Owners assessing you again to fight the choo-choo cars?"
Her father shook his head and almost laughed.
"Is it The Wives of the Presidents'? Is it 'The Mothers of Great Men'?"
"What a girl!" he said, and laughed aloud. It seemed as if he wanted to laugh.
She eyed him narrowly. "There's only one thing more I can think of," she declared, screwing up her mouth and her eyes. "But I sha'n't ask you that—it's too silly. If I imagined for a moment that you could be thinking about old Mother Van Horn—"
She paused. Her father cast down his eyes half guiltily.
"Don't say you are, pa. That would be too absurd. You, with all the important things you have to carry in your head, to waste a minute on that frowzy old hag! It isn't worth it; it's nonsense."
"I don't know whether it is or not," responded her father, slowly. He passed a careful hand through the fringe of the chair. "That's what I'd like to find out."
"Oh, fiddlesticks!" rejoined Jane. "You sha'n't sit poking here in the dark and thinking of any such thing as that—not another minute. Come in and hear Dick tell how those students in Paris tied him to the wall and daubed him all red and green, and what he did to get even. That's worth while. And you haven't seen Aunt Lyddy yet, have you? So is that—isn't it? Then come along, do."
"'When I was a student at Cadiz I played on the Spanish guitar; I used to make love to the ladies'—"
This brief snatch of song ended with the obvious and, indeed, inevitable rhyme for "Cadiz," and the singer completed the stanza by throwing an arch and rather insinuating glance at the young man who was lounging negligently on the chair beside her own. She herself leaned back rather negligently too, with her feet crossed; her elbows were crooked at varying angles, her fingers pressed imaginary frets or plucked at imaginary strings, and the spectator was supposed to be viewing an Andalusian grace and passion abandoned to the soft yet compelling power of music.
It was thus that Truesdale Marshall was welcomed home by his aunt Lydia.
His aunt Lydia—Mrs. Lydia Rhodes—was a plump and vivacious little brunette of forty, with a gloss on her black hair and a sparkle in her black eyes. She still retained a good deal of the superabundant vitality of youth; in her own house, when the curtains were down and the company not too miscellaneous, she was sometimes equal to a break-down or a cake-walk. She was impelled by social aspirations of the highest nature, and was always lamenting, therefore, that she possessed so little dignity. She was a warm-hearted, impulsive creature, who believed in living while on earth, and she was willing enough to believe that others would live too, so far as opportunity offered. It seemed to Truesdale, just now, as if she might be engaged in a mental review of his probable experiences abroad—there, certainly, was an opportunity offered.
"But now that you are back again we expect you to settle down and be good—a useful member of society, you know." She threw a coquettish smile on the young man and banished the imaginary guitar.
"Oh, really—" began Truesdale, with a flush and a frown. He glanced over his shoulder; his mother and sisters were in animated converse on the other side of the room.
"Yes," his aunt proceeded; "you are old enough to think about marrying. You don't know how pleasant it would be to have a nice little home of your own, and your own little wifey to meet you every evening with a kiss!"
"Dear, dear!" thought Truesdale to himself; "and now she's singing that song to me!" He remembered these familiar strains; they had been directed many a time and oft to the ear of his brother Roger. Year by year their plaintive poignancy had grown more acute, along with Roger's strengthening determination to remain a bachelor.
Truesdale found himself wondering whether his aunt's intense allegiance to the idea of married life was the sincere expression of a nature overflowingly affectionate, or a species of sensitive dissimulation cloaking a disappointment which, by this time, might well have come to be numbered among the bygones. For it was now six years since Alfred Rhodes, the gay, the genial, had died. He had cost his wife many anxious moments and a few sleepless nights. He had left her a moderate fortune, an ample freedom, and a boy of eight. She had increased her freedom by sending the boy off to an Eastern school. He visited Eastern relatives during vacation time, and was doomed to a longer course of knickerbockers than it would have pleased him to forecast. His mother's heart still palpitated youthfully; she showed herself in no haste to take her stand in the ranks of the elder generation.
"Yes," Mrs. Rhodes proceeded, "you must get into business, and then we shall have to find some nice girl for you."
"The same thoughtful Aunt Lydia," he observed, ironically. He gave his mustache an upward screw, then dropped his eyes to his knees and his fingers to the rungs of his chair. His design seemed to be to figure a slave shrinking on the auction-block. "Do you mean to say you haven't got one for me already?" He ignored the business side of her proposal.
"Well, you needn't put it that way," she rejoined. "You know perfectly well that I am not a match-maker, nor anything like it. And it wouldn't please me at all to have anybody say so of me or to think of me in that way." She was quite sincere in all this.
Truesdale, however, held the opposite view, and, considering all the circumstances, liked his aunt none the less. She was a match-maker—a very keen and persistent one; but he felt that her excesses in this direction were to be viewed simply as an acknowledgement to fortune for having guided her own courses to such advantage. She had come out from Trenton some eighteen years before with a pretty face, a light wardrobe, a limited purse, and an invitation (extended by a benevolent aunt) to remain as long as she liked. She had never gone back. She met Alfred Rhodes, Eliza Marshall's younger brother; and from the slight foothold offered by her kindly relative she had advanced to an ample fortune and a complete freedom. She was grateful for all this, and gratitude took the form of her extending, in turn, unlimited invitations to other girls with pretty faces, light purses, and limited wardrobes. She almost always had some comely niece or younger cousin in the house. She drove with them, she shopped with them, she gave teas and receptions for them. She summoned young men in numbers; she had her billiard-table re-covered; she could always produce sherry and cigars when really put to it; she almost transformed her home into a club-house. "For," said she, "I can never forget how kind Aunt Marcia was to me!"
Such wide-spread beneficence as this had not, of course, excluded her sister-in-law's daughters. It was really to her aunt Lydia that Rosamund Marshall was indebted for her year at the New York school; her mother had unquestioningly accepted Mrs. Rhodes's declaration that the institution was eminently fashionable and desirable, and her father had committed her with the greatest confidence and good-will to the conductor of the east-bound Lake Shore express. And it was to her aunt that the girl was now looking, after an obscure and wistful fashion, for an introduction into society, in which, according to the belief of the family, Mrs. Rhodes occupied a secure and brilliant position. Rosamund had been revolving matters in her pretty and self-willed little head, and in her proud and self-willed little heart she had decided upon a formal debut.
Her mother was completely nonplussed; she would as soon have wrestled with the differential calculus. "Why, dear me," she stammered, "there's Alice; she never came out, and I don't see but what she's got along all right: good home, nice husband, and everything she wants. And Jane, now—"
"Oh, Jane!" said Rosy, in disdain.
Then she sulked, and reproached her mother with the flat and unprofitable summer that had followed her return from school, and asked pointedly if the coming winter was to be like it. "Ha!" exclaimed the poor woman to herself; "Lyddy is to blame for this; I wish she had never mentioned New York!" But the year at school was only a remoter cause; the more immediate one was a pink tea which Rosamund had attended (casually, as it were, and quite informally) a month back. This was the tigress's first taste of blood—a pale, diluted fluid, it is true, but it worked all the effect of a fuller and richer draught.
It developed in Rosamund a sixth sense—one which was to lead her to lengths that none of her kin could have anticipated. And to the rest of the family, clucking and scratching in their own retired and restricted barn-yard, there came the day when they discovered that their little flock contained at least one bird of a different feather—a bird that could paddle about the social pond with the liveliest, and could quack, if need be, with the loudest.
Jane—who had even yet no adequate sense of the strength and pungency of her younger sister's spirit, but who would not in any event have hesitated to rush on an individual martyrdom that might secure some consideration for the collective family—threw herself into the discussion at once.
"No, don't let's have any party or dance or reception or anything at all. Not even a two-by-four tea. Don't let's try to be anybody or know anybody, or give anything or be considered anything. Let's go right on rusting and vegetating; let's just dry up and shake apart and blow away, with nobody the wiser for our having been here or the sorrier for our having gone!"
Her mother heard this outburst with some surprise and not a little resentment. "Well, Jane, you're quite surpassing yourself to-night. What do you mean by all this?"
Jane exploded again.
"I mean that I'm simply tired of being a nothing and a nobody in a family of nothings and nobodies. That's what it comes to. I'm tired of being a bump on a log. I'm tired of sitting on the fence and seeing the procession go by. Why can't we go by? Why can't we know people? Why can't we make ourselves felt? Other folks do."
Mrs. Rhodes passed over in silence this imputation of nullity; she was not so closely related, after all, that she need allow herself to be disturbed by it. But sister Alice took up the cudgel with all the ardor of an immediate connection and all the sensitiveness of a suburban resident. She even forgot the real, essential object of her visit: to intimate to her father that if he would give her a carriage, her husband could pay for the keep of a horse.
She was a contentious blonde, with a thin, aquiline nose and a pair of flashing steel-blue eyes. Several wisps of straw-colored hair blew about her temples.
"Thank you, Jane," she said, hotly; "I don't know that I feel myself a nobody, and I don't feel that I'm exactly a social outcast—even if I do live beyond the city limits." She turned back a floating lock with a hasty wave. "It might be to your advantage if you moved somewhere or other yourselves. I don't see how you can expect to see anybody or know anybody as long as you are buried in such a sepulchre as this."
Alice was the radical, the innovator of the family. She often brought her conservative mother to the verge of horror. Hers was the hardy, daring, and unconventional strain of the pioneer. She liked the edge; if the edge was a little ragged, so much the better.
"Ho!" cried Jane, sarcastically. "To see anybody or to know anybody we ought to be out at Riverdale Park, perhaps. Riverdale Park!" she repeated, with scornful emphasis. "There isn't any river; there isn't any dale; there isn't any park. Nothing but a lot of wooden houses scattered over a flat prairie, and a few trees no bigger than a broomstick, and no more leaves on them either. In the morning the men all rush for the train, and the rest of the day the nurse-girls trundle the babies along the plank walks, while 'society' amuses itself. Society consists of Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Jones, and Mrs. Alice Robinson. On Wednesday, Mrs. Smith gives a lunch to Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Jones, and Mrs. Robinson. On Thursday, Mrs. Brown gives a tea to Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones, and Mrs. Robinson. On Friday, Mrs. Rob—(no, Mrs. Jones—I'm losing the place) gives a card-party to Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. Robinson—in the daytime, too, mind you. And on Saturday, Mrs. Robinson designs giving a breakfast to Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. Jones, but finds that the cook is packing up her things to leave. Quiet in the suburb for a week. Then Mrs. Smith's sister comes out from town to spend a fortnight. Well, everybody is anxious to see Mrs. Smith's sister—a new face, you know. So, after Mrs. Smith has started the second round with another lunch, Mrs. Brown follows with a tea, as before, for Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Robinson—and Mrs. Smith's sister. Then Mrs. Jones—but you've all played the game: for breakfast I had this and that and the other. That is society in Riverdale Park. It would be too rich for me!"
Alice flushed with vexation. Truesdale (who had not come home to treat local society with too great a degree of seriousness, and who, indeed, was like enough to take his pleasures beyond any bounds that society might set) looked on and listened with a kind of indulgent curiosity—like an explorer listening to the excited pow-wow of some flock of natives in some remote African jungle.
"Yes," retorted Alice, "according to your own confession more happens with us in a week than happens with you in a year. And you might as well acknowledge, at the same time, that there are a few houses in the Park where the carpets are a little less than fifteen years old, and where they don't have hideous old what-nots loaded down with all the stuff accumulated since the year one."
She lifted the corner of a rug with her toe, so as to disclose the threadbare breadth that it concealed, and she threw an ironical eye upon a sort of massive and convoluted buffet which displayed a number of antique Dresden figurines and a pair of old candelabra compounded of tarnished gilt and broken prisms. "And in the Park," she added, "we always have new wall-paper at the beginning of every century—it's a local ordinance!"
"Alice," called her mother, tartly, "take your foot away from that rug. And don't annoy me about that worn breadth; you know very well I've tried everywhere to match it. And don't imagine, either, that I'm going to bundle my wedding presents out of sight for you or anybody else."
"Match it!" cried Alice, unabashed. "Match it? They used the last to carpet the ark." She trod down the corner of the rug with a firm step. Then, with her scornful nostrils and sharply critical eyes, she seemed to be lifting it again.
"Well, then," said her mother. "And now leave it alone." The old lady had not the slightest idea of replacing her time-accustomed patterns by anything more current. Nor was her husband, apparently, of a different mind as concerned the wallpaper. He had followed Jane in from the other room, and he now sat there, sending a careful eye slowly along the old-fashioned border, and finding it impossible to believe that any one could seriously judge it to be grotesquely out of date.
"The carpet's all right, as far as I can see," declared Jane. "What if it is fifteen years old? Have you got one at Riverdale that is even fifteen months old? You know you haven't; if you had you'd start a museum of antiques with it. And as for our budging from this dear old place, don't you look for it; we're attached to it, even if you're not. Besides, to move would be to throw away the one advantage that we really have. Why, think of it!" she continued with a gesticulating and wide-eyed eloquence. "We have lived right here in this one house over thirty years. How many families in this town have lived in one house thirty years? Or twenty? Or even ten? We've always had the same door-plate on the same door. We've always had the same number in the directory. We started in a good neighborhood, and we've always stayed here—the only one in all the town that has anything like an old-time flavor and an atmosphere of its own—the only one where nice people have always lived and do live yet. Isn't that better than a course of flats up one street and down another? Isn't that better than a grand chain through a lot of shingle-shangled cottages in the suburbs? I should say so. What are they doing in the East now? They're going back to their old neighborhoods, and the people who haven't left them at all are the ones who are right on the top of the pile. We might have some new furniture or something of the sort, perhaps; but that's different from asking the moving-wagons to come and cart us out on to the prairie."
David Marshall followed his daughter's harangue with an indulgent interest and a sympathy by no means scant. He had no profound apprehension of social values, and no clear-cut conception of a social career; but he appreciated her loyalty to her lifelong home and to all its belongings and surroundings. He had reason for supposing that this loyalty would extend to himself; but Jane was wound up to go, and had no idea of allowing anything to stand in the way of her disposal of the question in all its bearings.
"I suppose," she went on, inexorably, "that we imagine ourselves to be 'prominent citizens.' Well, we make a mistake if we do. We may have been ten years ago, but not now. We've just been falling, falling, falling behind—that's the amount of it. Now, honest, pa, dear, do the papers ever come to you nowadays to know what you think about political prospects or to ask your opinion on the last new street-car route proposed? Or do they send men around for trade statistics who jubilate in the issue of Jan. one because we sold five thousand more barrels of flour this year than last? Now, do they?"
Marshall could not escape the justness of this pointed presentation of new conditions. "We have enough to bother us," he said, with a slow reluctance, "without reporters coming round."
"There it is," continued Jane. "Yes, and who cares nowadays about the volume of the lumber trade or the mortality at the stock-yards? Why, just those people themselves. The fact is, the town has moved to a higher plane, and we've got to move with it, or else get left. Why, dear me, if it wasn't for an intellectual daughter who had the gift of language and who wrote papers and read them at the club, this family would have scarcely a connection with latter-day society."
"Good for you, Jane," called her brother. "Give me some of them to read."
"They're pretty good," said their father, unruffledly judicial. Jane was in the habit of reading him passages that she considered particularly effective. In listening to her perorations he sometimes felt himself as assisting at the liquidation of the universe.
"Now, here we are," proceeded Jane, with unabated exegetical energy, "an old family, with position and plenty of means and everything to make an impression. Why can't we do it? Why can't we manage to assert ourselves? I'm not speaking for myself, of course; I'm a back number"—this half hysterically, between a gulp and a giggle—"I'm 'gone beyond recall,' and nobody knows that better than I myself. No; I'm speaking for all of us. Besides, here's Rosy, just coming up, and—"
"Thank you, Jane," remarked Rosamund, with some acerbity. "You needn't mind me. I can look after myself."
"—and it seems to me," went on Jane, ardently, "that people who have succeeded might just as well give some outer token of it. I declare, when I called on Mrs. Bates and went over the place and compared their house and their way of living with ours—"
Her aunt looked up suddenly. "Mrs. Bates? What Mrs. Bates? Mrs. Granger Bates?"
"Yes. When I saw what magnificent style she lived in, and how she had about everything that—"
"So you know Mrs. Bates, too," her aunt again interrupted. "Pleasant woman, isn't she? Have I ever told you how she and I used to play backgammon together at St. Augustine?"
"Have you?" muttered Jane. "I should think you had—a dozen times over!"
"And what were you doing at her house, may I ask?" her aunt queried further. The geniality of this interrogation hardly concealed its crudity; Jane felt herself accused of an incongruous and inexplicable intrusion into a region of unaccustomed splendor and distinction.
"Oh, she was collecting money for her working-girls' lunchroom," volunteered Rosy, with a cruel bluntness.
Jane threw an air of outraged dignity upon her younger sister. "So I was. And I spent a very pleasant hour with her," she said, with some stateliness. "And I am going there next Wednesday to lunch," she added.
Her aunt looked at her with increasing consideration. She herself had never been honored with an invitation to the house of Mrs. Granger Bates—though rather than fail to respond to such an invitation she would have crawled there (a trifle of some fourteen squares) on her hands and knees. "Have you known her long?"
"Since ten this morning," contributed Rosy.
"Always," corrected Jane, with a whimsical brevity.
"And how do you find her?" persisted Mrs. Rhodes, with a curious intentness. "Dear me!" she laughed, self-consciously, "how she did hate to be beaten! How vexed she always was when I began throwing off first! How she would bang her dice-box! How she would—"
"She's perfectly grand!" declared Jane, with the loud enthusiasm of a new and fervent loyalty. "She's the finest woman I ever met. She's the best woman in the world!" The poor girl attested her earnestness by a tremble in her voice and a tear in each eye. "And she spoke so nicely of you, poppy," Jane went on, turning to her father.
"Did she?" said her father, in return. And a quiet smile of reminiscence played round his lips for full five minutes.
"And she inquired about all of us," Jane proceeded. "She wants to renew the acquaintance, I think. And she asked about Rosy, too—whether she was pretty and bright; and I said she was. I expect she's inclined to take an interest in you," said Jane, in conclusion, turning towards her sister and dropping these few coals of fire upon her head.
Rosamund caught the proper tone from her aunt and bowed in unaccustomed meekness to this shower. Alice, however, as a confirmed and condemned suburbanite, had no idea of exhibiting any great interest in one of the acknowledged leaders of urban society—an interest which, from the very nature of things, could have been but futile and unproductive. She accordingly toyed carelessly and absently with the evening paper, as it lay on the centre-table.
"H'm," she observed, presently, "those game-dinners at the Pacific are still going on, aren't they? To-night's the thirty-eighth. Nice things, too, as I remember them. That's the way I learned to like venison. Here are some of the people to be there—your Mrs. Bates among them." She looked across to her father. "Why didn't you go?"
"Give me that paper, Alice," her mother called, with a sharp and sudden cry. She ran her eye down its column and then turned to her husband. "Why, David, how did you happen to forget? You know I wouldn't have missed this for anything."
Marshall checked his lingering smile. He looked at his wife with an embarrassed pain, and then dropped his eyes to the carpet. "There must have been some misunderstanding," he stammered. "The invitation was delayed—or it miscarried. Perhaps it went to the store and got mixed up with the mail there," he ventured; any improbability would do to soften the shock.
"Delayed! Miscarried!" cried Jane, in an acute access of anger and indignation. "Don't believe it! We're dropped, that's all! Well, what else can we expect? How are we going to hold our own against all these thousands and thousands of newcomers if we don't do anything? That's what I've been telling you all along. We've got to wake up and make an effort. Give me that paper." She snatched it from her mother. "Yes, they'll all be there—the Hubbards, the Gages, and the whole crowd of Parmelees, and Kittie Corwith and her father, and all the rest, and—and the Beldens! The Beldens—there!" She turned fiercely on her mother. "What do you think of that?"
Eliza Marshall was cut to the quick. For twenty years and more she had attended this annual dinner; she had attached herself there to former friends and neighbors, who listened indulgently to her narrow little dribble of reminiscent gossip—the gossip and reminiscences of the smaller town and the earlier day. This dinner was her sole remaining connection (little as she had realized it) with the great and complex city of the present day, just as it was the sole reason for her plum-colored silk and for her husband's dress-coat; and the cutting of this last cable set her completely adrift on the wide and forlorn sea of utter social neglect. And the Beldens!—that was the last straw of all. She seemed to see her husband crowded from his seat at that cheery board by a man whom he himself had taken up and made—a man who was trying to push him from the social world, just as he was trying to push him out of the control of the business which he had founded and developed. It was all more than she could bear.
Jane rushed headlong into another mood. "Oh, well, the end of the world hasn't come if we are frozen out. And perhaps we're not, anyway; the invite may get round to-morrow—who knows? So don't let's order our sackcloth and ashes quite yet awhile. Life is still worth living, and we have got several other strings to our bow.
"This one, for instance," nodding in the direction of Rosy, towards whom she seemed inexhaustibly forgiving. "I have the honor to present to the waiting world Miss Rosamund Marshall, the bud of the season and the success of the century. Also her brother, Mr. Truesdale Marshall, who has come home stuffed full of accomplishments, and who will now proceed to show them. He sings—"
She stepped across to her brother, slipped her arm through his, and drew him towards the rug in the middle of the room.
Her height was within an inch of his own. She bowed him over the edge of the rug as over a row of footlights, crooked his other arm so that his hand was placed over his heart, put her own hand sprawlingly in a like position, threw back her head, and abandoned herself to a shrill succession of scales and roulades.
"Why don't you begin?" she presently broke off to inquire.
"What a girl you are!" he said. He looked a bit sheepishly in the direction of his father; then he stepped behind his sister, laid a hand on each of her imperceptible biceps, and turned her face round to the wall.
But Jane faced about at once. "Well, then, he paints—"
She dragged him toward the centre-table, grasped his wrist, and forced him to make several dabs and passes at the fatal newspaper, which still lay there with a bland impassivity between drop-light and book-rack. "That's how we dash off our little sketches," she declared.
"Goodness, Jane!" cried Alice, "you've almost upset the whole inkstand!"
"And what else is there?" cried Jane, whose mood was mounting higher. She clamped her hand on her disordered bang. "Why, of course! He fences!—aha!"
To this address Truesdale allowed himself to respond. He had no wish to obtrude his musical and artistic doings upon his father until a more definite modus vivendi had been brought about; but he could no longer lend himself passively to being made an absurdity by the over-enthusiasm of his sister. Fencing, now, was a manly art of which his father might not disapprove.
"On guard!" he cried. With his right hand he snatched up a paper-cutter from the table, curled up his left arm behind him, threw one of his long legs out in front and landed it with a flump! on the floor five feet ahead of his initial stand-point.
"Hurray!" cried Jane, shrilly. "What other girls do you know who've got a brother like this?" She snatched up a brass-edged ruler that had lain alongside the paper-cutter. Mrs. Rhodes started back; Alice's husband, who had come in to lead the homeward march to Riverside Park, paused astonished on the threshold.
"On guard!" echoed Jane in turn. With a flump! of her own she threw herself into an imitation of the angular crouch that her brother had assumed. "Go it!" she called, and began to hack at the paper-cutter with her ruler.
Save for the clash of weapons there was a complete silence. Suddenly Truesdale reversed his position. Jane did the same, bringing a sudden and unaccustomed weight upon her other foot. Her knee cracked loudly. Everybody heard it. Rosy snickered.
Jane crossed the room and sat down in a shady corner. In that ten seconds she felt ten years older.
"Where's pa?" she asked her mother in a sour tone, after Alice and her aunt had left the house. "I do hope"—crossly—"that the next time you let any of those wretched old women take anything away you'll have them pay for it in advance."
"I guess your father isn't bothering much about a bedstead and a few old chairs," retorted her mother. "If you want to know what he's thinking about, it's that Belden again."
"Yes. He has decided finally to let your father put on those two extra stories, and what do you think he wants in exchange? He wants to make the firm over into a stock company. He's fixing a place for that boy of his—that's what."
"Well, haven't we got a boy, too?" retorted Jane, severely. She went out, and gave the door a loud slam behind her.
But David Marshall, back again in the bay-window, was thinking neither of the sinuosities of Mother Van Horn, nor of the aggressions of his junior partner, nor even of the just-concluding courses of the annual game-dinner. His thoughts had slipped back into the early times; he and Sue Lathrop (the Mrs. Granger Bates of to-day) were sitting together in the old, long-vanished Metropolitan Hall listening to the "Nightingale Serenaders," and the year was 'fifty-seven.
"Well, here goes!" said Jane, half aloud, with her foot on the lowest of the glistening granite steps. The steps led up to the ponderous pillared arches of a grandiose and massive porch; above the porch a sturdy and rugged balustrade half intercepted the rough faced glitter of a vast and variegated facade; and higher still the morning sun shattered its beams over a tumult of angular roofs and towering chimneys.
"It is swell, I declare!" said Jane, with her eye on the wrought-iron work of the outer doors and the jewels and bevels of the inner-ones.
"Where is the thing-a-ma-jig, anyway?" she inquired of herself. She was searching for the doorbell, and she fell back on her own rustic lingo in order to ward off the incipient panic caused by this overwhelming splendor. "Oh, here it is! There!" She gave a push. "And now I'm in for it." She had decided to take the richest and best-known and most fashionable woman on her list so start with; the worst over at the beginning, she thought, the rest would follow easily enough.
"I suppose the 'maid' will wear a cap and a silver tray," she observed further. "Or will it be a gold one, with diamonds around the edge?"
The door-knob turned from within. "Is Mrs. Bates—" she began.
The door opened half way. A grave, smooth-shaven man appeared; his chin and upper lip had the mottled smudge that shows in so many of those conscientious portraits of the olden time.
"Gracious me!" said the startled Jane to herself. She dropped her disconcerted vision to the door-mat. Then she saw that the man wore knee-breeches and black silk stockings.
"Heaven be merciful!" was her inward cry. "It's a footman, as I live. I've been reading about them all my life, and now I've met one. But I never suspected that there was really anything of the kind in this town!"
She left the contemplation of the servant's pumps and stockings, and began to grapple fiercely with the catch of her hand-bag.
The man, in the meanwhile, studied her with a searching gravity, and, as it seemed, with some disapproval. The splendor of the front that his master presented to the world had indeed intimidated poor Jane; but there were many others upon whom it had no deterring effect at all. Some of these brought art-books in monthly parts; others brought polish for the piano legs. Many of them were quite as prepossessing in appearance as Jane was; some of them were much less plain and dowdy; few of them were so recklessly indiscreet as to betray themselves at the threshold by exhibiting a black leather bag.
"There!" remarked Jane to the footman, "I knew I should get at it eventually." She smiled at him with a friendly good-will; she acknowledged him as a human being, and she hoped to propitiate him into the concession that she herself was nothing less.
The man took her card, which was fortunately as correct as the most discreet and contemporaneous stationer could fashion. He decided that he was running no risk with his mistress, and "Miss Jane Marshall" was permitted to pass the gate.
She was ushered into a small reception-room. The hard-wood floor was partly covered by a meagre Persian rug. There was a plain sofa full of forbidding angles, and a scantily upholstered chair which insisted upon nobody's remaining longer than necessary. But through the narrow door Jane caught branching vistas of room after room heaped up with the pillage of a sacked and ravaged globe, and of a stairway which led with a wide sweep to regions of unimaginable glories above.
"Did you ever!" exclaimed Jane. It was of the footman that she was speaking; he, in fact, loomed up to the practical eclipse of all this luxury and display. "Only eighty years from the Massacre, and hardly eight hundred feet from the Monument!"
Presently she heard a tapping and a rustling without. She thought that she might lean a few inches to one side with no risk of being detected in an impropriety, and she was rewarded by seeing the splendid vacuity of the grand stairway finally filled—filled more completely, more amply, than she could have imagined possible through the passage of one person merely. A woman of fifty or more was descending with a slow and somewhat ponderous stateliness. She wore an elaborate morning gown with a broad plait down the back, and an immensity of superfluous material in the sleeves. Her person was broad, her bosom ample, and her voluminous gray hair was tossed and fretted about the temples after the fashion of a marquise of the old regime. Jane set her jaw and clamped her knotty fingers to the two edges of her inhospitable chair.
"I don't care if she is so rich," she muttered, "and so famous and so fashionable and so terribly handsome; she can't bear me down."
The woman reached the bottom step, and took a turn that for a moment carried her out of sight. At the same time the sound of her footsteps was silenced by one of the big rugs that covered the floor of the wide and roomy hall. But Jane had had a glimpse, and she knew with whom she was to deal—with one of the big, the broad, the great, the triumphant; with one of a Roman amplitude and vigor, an Indian keenness and sagacity, an American ambition and determination; with one who baffles circumstance and almost masters fate—with one of the conquerors, in short.
"I don't hear her," thought the expectant girl, in some trepidation; "but, all the same, she's got to cross that bare space just outside the door before—yes, there's her step! And here she is herself!"
Mrs. Bates appeared in the doorway. She had a strong nose of the lofty Roman type; her bosom heaved with breaths deep, but quiet and regular. She had a pair of large, full blue eyes, and these she now fixed on Jane with an expression of rather cold questioning.
"Miss Marshall?" Her voice was firm, smooth, even, rich, deep. She advanced a foot or two within the room and remained standing there.
"Yes," responded Jane, in unnecessary corroboration. She rose mechanically from her meagre chair. "I have come to see you," she began, awkwardly, "about a charity that I am interested in—no, not exactly a charity, but—"
At the ominous word "charity" Mrs. Bates's eyes took on a still colder gleam. She faced poor Jane with the broad, even, pitiless glare of a chilled-steel mirror.
"Really," she began, "I have a great many demands of this kind made on me; a great many—more than might generally be imagined." She showed none of the embarrassed evasion peculiar to the woman on whom such requisitions are made but at infrequent intervals; she employed the decisive, business-like tone of a woman of whom such requests are made daily. Jane seemed to see negation coldly crystallizing before her eyes, and she gave a mortified groan to find herself drawn so near to the brink of humiliation. She had never begged before, and she registered an inward vow never to beg again.
"You don't know me from Adam," she blurted out, at her bluntest and crudest, "but you must know my aunt, Mrs. Rhodes. I have heard her speak of you very often. She met you at St. Augustine, last winter."
"Mrs. Rhodes?" the other repeated, doubtfully. She made her eyebrows take their part in an inquiring glance, and bestowed the result upon her caller.
"Yes," insisted Jane; "Mrs. A. L. Rhodes. She lives on Michigan—near Thirtieth."
"Mrs. Rhodes?"—again thoughtfully repeated. She seemed to move her head in doubt. "I do go to Florida every winter, and sometimes, on the way to our place, I stop for a day or two at St. Augustine—yes."
She looked at Jane again, as if to say, "That is really the best I can do for you."
"She played backgammon with you there," Jane still persisted—"on the hotel veranda. I've heard her say so twenty times."
Mrs. Bates did not change her expression. "Backgammon? Yes, I am very fond of backgammon; I play it a great deal. Mr. Bates keeps a board in the car especially for me. I'm always glad to meet anybody who cares to play; and it's pleasant, I'm sure, to be on easy terms with one's fellow-travellers."
She laid one hand in the other and gave an imperceptible sigh; she wore a great many rings. "What more can I say for you than that?"—such seemed to be the meaning of the expression now on her face.
"My father"—began Jane; she was loud, slow, deliberate, emphatic. What could the woman mean by receiving her in such a fashion? Were the Marshalls mere upstarts, nobodies, newcomers, that they must be snubbed and turned aside in any such way as this? Jane's eyes blinked and her nostrils quivered. "My father," she began again, in the same tone, "is David Marshall. He is very well known, I believe, in Chicago. We have lived here a great many years. It seems to me that there ought to—"
"David Marshall?" repeated Mrs. Bates, gently. "Ah, I do know David Marshall—yes," she said; "or did—a good many years ago." She looked up into Jane's face now with a completely altered expression. Her glance was curious and searching, but it was very kindly. "And you are David Marshall's daughter?" She smiled indulgently at Jane's outburst of spunk. "Really—David Marshall's daughter?"
"Yes," answered Jane, with a gruff brevity. She was far from ready to be placated yet.
"David Marshall's daughter! Then, my dear child, why not have said so in the first place, without lugging in everybody and everything else you could think of? Hasn't your father ever spoken of me? And how is he, anyway? I haven't seen him—to really speak to him—for fifteen years. It may be even more."
She seemed to have laid hands on a heavy bar, to have wrenched it from its holds, to have flung it aside from the footpath, and to be inviting Jane to advance without let or hindrance.
But Jane stood there with pique in her breast, and her long thin arms laid rigid against her sides. "Let her 'dear child' me, if she wants to; she sha'n't bring me around in any such way as that."
All this, however, availed little against Mrs. Bates's new manner. The citadel so closely sealed to charity was throwing itself wide open to memory. The drawbridge was lowered, and the late enemy was invited to advance as a friend.
Nay, urged. Mrs. Bates presently seized Jane's unwilling hands. She gathered those poor, stiff, knotted fingers into two crackling bundles within her own plump and warm palms, squeezed them forcibly, and looked into Jane's face with all imaginable kindness. "I had just that temper once myself," she said.
The sluice-gates of caution and reserve were opening wide; the streams of tenderness and sympathy were bubbling and fretting to take their course.
"And your father is well? And you are living in the same old place? Oh, this terrible town! You can't keep your old friends; you can hardly know your new ones. We are only a mile or two apart, and yet it is the same as if it were a hundred."
Jane yielded up her hands half unwillingly. She could not, in spite of herself, remain completely unrelenting, but she was determined not to permit herself to be patronized. "Yes, we live in the same old place. And in the same old way," she added—in the spirit of concession.
Mrs. Bates studied her face intently. "Do you look like him—like your father?"
"No," answered Jane. "Not so very much. Nor like any of the rest of the family." The statue was beginning to melt. "I'm unique." And another drop fell.
"Don't slander yourself," She tapped Jane lightly on the shoulder.
Jane looked at her with a protesting, or at least a questioning, seriousness. It had the usual effect of a wild stare. "I wasn't meaning to," she said, shortly, and began to congeal again. She also shrugged her shoulder; she was not quite ready yet to be tapped and patted.
"But don't remain standing, child," Mrs. Bates proceeded, genially. She motioned Jane back to her chair, and herself advanced to the roomier sofa. "Or, no; this little pen is like a refrigerator to-day; it's so hard, every fall, to get the steam heat running as it should. Come; it ought to be warmer in the music-room.
"The fact is," she proceeded, as they passed through the hall, "that I have a spare hour on my hands this morning—the first in a month. My music-teacher has just sent word that she is down with a cold. You shall have as much of that hour as you wish. So tell me all about your plans; I dare say I can scrape together a few pennies for Jane Marshall."
"Her music-teacher!" thought Jane. She was not yet so far appeased nor so far forgetful of her own initial awkwardness as to refrain from searching out the joints in the other's armor. "What does a woman of fifty-five want to be taking music-lessons for?"
The music-room was a lofty and spacious apartment done completely in hard-woods; its panelled walls and ceiling rang with a magnificent sonority as the two pairs of feet moved across the mirror-like marquetry of the floor.
To one side stood a concert-grand; its case was so unique and so luxurious that even Jane was conscious of its having been made by special order and from a special design. Close at hand stood a tall music-stand in style to correspond. It was laden with handsomely bound scores of all the German classics and the usual operas of the French and Italian schools. These were all ranged in precise order; nothing there seemed to have been disturbed for a year past. "My! isn't it grand!" sighed Jane. She already felt herself succumbing beneath these accumulated splendors.
Mrs. Bates carelessly seated herself on the piano-stool, with her back to the instrument. "I don't suppose," she observed, casually, "that I have sat down here for a month."
"What!" cried Jane, with a stare. "If I had such a lovely room as this I should play in it every day."
"Dear me," rejoined Mrs. Bates, "what pleasure could I get from practising in this great barn of a place, that isn't half full until you've got seventy or eighty people in it? Or on this big sprawling thing?"—thrusting out her elbow backward towards the shimmering cover of the key-board.
"So then," said Jane to herself, "it's all for show. I knew it was. I don't believe she can play a single note."
"What do you suppose happened to me last winter?" Mrs. Bates went on. "I had the greatest setback of my life. I asked to join the Amateur Musical Club. They wouldn't let me in."
"Well, I played before their committee, and then the secretary wrote me a note. It was a nice enough note, of course, but I knew what it meant. I see now well enough that my fingers were rather stiffer than I realized, and that my 'Twinkling Sprays' and 'Fluttering Zephyrs' were not quite up to date. They wanted Grieg and Lassen and Chopin. 'Very well,' said I, 'just wait.' Now, I never knuckle under. I never give up. So I sent right out for a teacher. I practised scales an hour a day for weeks and months. Granger thought I was going crazy. I tackled Grieg and Lassen and Chopin—yes, and Tschaikowsky, too. I'm going to play for that committee next month. Let me see if they'll dare to vote me out again!"
"Oh, that's it!" thought Jane. She was beginning to feel desirous of meting out exact and even handed justice. She found it impossible to withhold respect from so much grit and determination.
"But your father liked those old-time things, and so did all the other young men." Mrs. Bates creased and folded the end of one of her long sleeves, and seemed lapsing into a retrospective mood. "Why, some evenings they used to sit two deep around the room to hear me do the 'Battle of Prague.' Do you know the 'Java March'?" she asked, suddenly.
"I'm afraid not," Jane was obliged to confess.
"You father always had a great fondness for that. I don't know," she went on, after a short pause, "whether you understand that your father was one of my old beaux—at least, I always counted him with the rest. I was a gay girl in my day, and I wanted to make the list as long as I could; so I counted in the quiet ones as well as the noisy ones. Your father was one of the quiet ones."