"Then you can say nothing at all?" he asked sadly. "Shall I be uncertain whether at the end of my term in purgatory I am to be raised to a state of bliss or dashed into the Inferno?"
She laughed; a delicious little laugh.
"You are getting hyperbolical," she answered. "There are ten thousand better women than I."
"But I don't want them," pleaded the young man. "Did you ever read the lines of Jean Ingelow:
"'Oh so many, many, many Maids and yet my heart undone. What to me are all or any? I have lost—my—one.'"
Daisy replied that the sentiment was very sweet, and added that when a lover could quote such admirable poetry with accuracy, there was hope for him. Do what he would, Roseleaf could not make her see that everything in his future life depended on "one little word" from her. She persisted that he was misled by the violence of his first affection, and that if he would only let a month or two pass he would discover that his pulse would fall off a number of beats to the minute.
"And is that what you want?" he asked, reproachfully. "Would you like to have me come back two months later, and tell you my love had ceased?"
"Yes, if it was the truth. How much better than to learn it after my vows had been pledged and I was bound to you for the rest of my days!"
He rose and went with quick steps to her side, catching up her hand and covering it with kisses. She did her best to stop him, whispering, with a glance toward the door, that they might be interrupted at any minute.
"By whom!" he retorted, stung at her coldness. "Your sister has gone up stairs, and there is no one else in the house."
"Hannibal might come in," she said, in a low tone. "He has no way of knowing that I do not wish to be interrupted."
He grew angry at the mention of that name. But the warning had its effect and he sat down, nearer to her than before, his heart beating rapidly.
"I hate the fellow!" he exclaimed bitterly. "It is a good thing I am going away, or I should strike him some day for his insolence!"
Daisy paled at the vehemence of her companion.
"Has he been insolent to you?" she murmured.
"To me? He would not dare! What angers me is the way he speaks to the rest of you. He came with your cloak that night, acting as if he was your master, instead of your servant. I have heard him speak to Mr. Fern in a way that made me want to kick him! Why does your father bear it? Why do you? Has Hannibal some mysterious hold on his situation?"
The girl heard him patiently, though the roses did not come at once to her white cheek.
"I am afraid," she said, when he had finished his tirade, "that you despise him for his color. It is a prejudice that seems to me—and to my father—unchristian and uncharitable. Perhaps, in the anxiety to make Hannibal forget that God gave him a darker skin than ours, we may have gone to the other extreme, and treated him with too great consideration. But I think you overstate the case."
Her gentle words smote upon the ears that heard them, and in a moment Roseleaf was affected by the most lively contrition. Without attempting to excuse himself he begged her pardon, which she readily granted.
"When do you leave us?" she asked.
"But you will call—occasionally?"
"If I may."
His tone was so sad that Daisy assured him he ought to have no doubt of that.
"I understand," she added, "that you have probably helped Millie to a reputation that she craves above everything, and she ought not to prove entirely ungrateful. We have enjoyed your stay here, and shall be most sorry to have you go. I should be glad to think you would honor us with your company to dinner not less often than once each week."
For the first time a ray of light came into his face.
"Oh, may I?" he cried. "Then I shall not be shut off entirely from seeing you?"
"No, indeed," she answered. "Father likes you and Mr. Weil too well—you will bring him, of course. Once a week, at least—if it were twice it wouldn't do any harm; and if it were three times—"
His face was now one bright beam of light.
"Daisy," he cried. "I believe you do not hate me after all!"
"I hope you never thought I did," she responded. "Why is it that a man can see no middle ground between positive dislike and marriage? I expect to like a good many men in the course of my life, but I can only marry a very few of them."
He was obliged to laugh at this, and to say that she would only marry one, if he had his way. Before they had finished with this subject Roseleaf was in a state of high good nature, though he had little apparently upon which to base the rise in his spirits.
"Can't I say something—just a hint, if no more, to your father?" he asked, getting down again to business.
"Pretty risky!" she answered, sententiously. "He wouldn't give you much encouragement I fear."
The young man caught eagerly at the word.
"You fear!" he echoed. "God bless you, Daisy!"
Bearing in mind what she had previously said about the unlocked doors, he did not attempt to suit the action to the phrase. But his happy face spoke volumes.
"You had best say very little to father at present," said Daisy, soberly. "He is most unhappy."
"I wish I knew what troubled him!" he exclaimed.
"I wish so, too, if you could aid him," she answered, earnestly.
"Who knows but I may?" he asked, with a smile that she hoped would prove prophetic.
ARCHIE PAYS ATTENTION.
Roseleaf took rooms at his old lodgings in the city, and set in earnest about the work of beginning his great novel. He had interviews with Mr. Gouger, at which he detailed the slight thread of plot which he already had in mind, profiting by the critic's shrewd suggestions. It was decided that he should portray, at the beginning, a youth much like himself, who was to fall in love with an angelically pure maiden. The outline of their respective characters were to be sketched with care, and sundry obstacles to their union were to be developed as the story progressed. Gouger warned his young friend not to write too fast, and to content himself for the present with delineating the phase of love with which he had become familiar.
"Later on," he said, "when your hero finds that this girl is not all his bright fancy painted her—when it is proved beyond a doubt that she has played him false, that she has another lover—"
Roseleaf turned pale.
"But that will never be!" he interrupted.
"It will, of course—in the story," corrected Gouger. "She will lead him a race that will make him an enemy to the entire sex, if she is used for all the dramatic effect possible. People expect to find immaculate purity in the earlier chapters of a story, as they do in small children. With the progress of the action they look for something more exciting. To sketch a seraph who remains one would only be to repeat the failure you made in your other effort—the one you brought to me the day I met you first. It is not the glory of heaven that attracts audiences to our churches, but the dramatic quality of hell. A sermon without a large spice of the devil in it would be much worse than a rendition of Hamlet minus the Prince. Put your heroine in the clouds, if you will, at the beginning. The higher she goes, the greater will be her fall, and the greater, consequently, your triumph."
The young novelist shivered as he listened to these expressions. How could he build a heroine on the model of Daisy Fern, and conceive the possibility that she would ever allow her white robes to touch the earth? He might have constructed such a plot with Millicent as the central figure, though that would be by no means easy; but Daisy! Impossible! He asked the critic if it would not do to send the hero of the tale to perdition, while leaving his sweetheart immaculate to the close.
"No," said Gouger, decidedly. "A man's fall is not much of a fall, any way you put it. The public is not interested in such matters. It demands a female sacrifice, like some of the ancient gods, and it will not be appeased with less. I expect you to be new and original in your treatment of the theme, but the subject itself is as old as fiction. You have too little imagination, as I have told you before. You must cultivate that talent. Having conceived your paragon, imagine her placed under temptations she cannot resist; surround her with an environment from which she cannot break; place her in situations that leave her no escape."
Roseleaf shook his head.
"I am afraid I never shall be able to do it," he said.
"Pshaw! Don't talk of failure at this stage of the game. All you have to do is to introduce upon the scene a thoroughly unprincipled man of good address, who is fertile in expedients. You will find your model for that among a dozen of your acquaintances. Why, take Archie Weil, and hold him in your mind till you are saturated with him."
What did Mr. Gouger mean? That Mr. Weil would actually do these dreadful things, would in his own person perpetrate the outrage of winning a pure girl to shame. It seemed childish to ask such a question, and yet such a meaning could easily be taken from what the critic had said. No, no! All he could have meant was that Mr. Weil might serve as a figure on which to lay these sins—that he could be carried in the writer's mind, as a costumer uses a stuffed frame to hang garments on while in the process of manufacture.
"Then there is Boggs," added Gouger, with a laugh. "You ought to find some place for a fellow like him, if only for the comic parts of your novel, and there must be a little humor in a book that is to suit the mass. A writer for a magazine said recently with much truth, 'He who would hit the popular taste must aim low.' I think Boggs could furnish the cheap fun for an ordinary novel, without too great a wear on the writer. Go ahead, my boy. Write a half dozen chapters in your own idyllic way, and then get Archie to take you to a few places where your mind will be turned to opposite scenes. It takes all sorts of edibles to suit the modern palate."
So Roseleaf wrote, slowly, patiently, with devotion to his art, until he had completed five chapters of his story. And Gouger read it and went into ecstacies, declaring it the best foundation he had ever seen for a most entrancing romance.
"He has wrought his people up to such a superlative height," said the critic to Mr. Weil, "that the chute will be simply tremendous! How simply, how elegantly his sentences flow! If he can handle the necessary wickedness that must follow, the sale of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' or 'Thou Shalt Not,' will be eclipsed without the least doubt. But, the question still is, can he?"
"There's no such question," was the response. "He must, that's the way to put it. Confound it, he shall! And the next thing for him to do is to take a few visits with me to the underground regions, where he can get such slight shocks to his literary system as will enable him to take up the vein he must work."
During this time Roseleaf did not forget the invitation he had received to dine with the Ferns. It did him good to see Daisy, although he could not now get her for a moment to himself. He sighed to her over the table, and across the parlor, after the party had retired to that part of the house, and she answered him with little bright smiles that acted like an emollient on his hurt spirit. He had never found the courage to beard her father in his den—of wool—and was not even sure that the affair had reached a stage where anything could be gained by taking such a step. What he wanted was a word of assurance from Daisy that she would wait for him till he had made a Name in literature, or proved his ability in some definite manner. There was no indication that any one else was in the way; everything pointed to a contrary probability. But there is nothing so desolate as the heart of a lover whose fair one is just beyond his reach.
Mr. Weil accompanied Shirley on most of these visits, and knew very well what was going on. None of the glances exchanged between the young people were so much their exclusive property as they believed. Had Archie possessed eyes in the back and sides of his head, he could have seen little more than he did. While appearing to devote his entire attention to Mr. Fern and Millicent—principally the former, he found time to watch Roseleaf and Daisy, and even the negro Hannibal.
He noticed that the servant was no less devoted than formerly to the youngest member of the household. He saw him hover around her at the table like a protecting spirit, letting her want for nothing that thoughtfulness could procure. And he noticed that Daisy seemed as oblivious of this as she had always been. She accepted these extraordinary attentions quite as if Hannibal were some automaton, acting with a set of concealed springs—a mechanism in which there was nothing of human life or intelligence.
Mr. Fern was the same gentlemanly host as of yore, with the same dark cloud hanging over him, whatever might be its cause. Courteous by nature to an exceptional degree he could not assume a gayety he did not feel. There was some terrible weight bearing him down, some awful incubus of which he was unable to rid himself. The only person who did not notice it was Millicent, and the one it troubled most was Daisy, on whose sweet young face the share she had in her parent's griefs had already begun to leave its impressions.
Millicent's novel was soon placed in Mr. Gouger's hands, completed. The original theme was unaltered, but in its new garb of perfect English no one would have recognized the rejected work. The combination of the girl's strength of mind and the man's elegance of diction was successful. The critic recommended its acceptance without a word of dissent, and Cutt & Slashem even consented, on his suggestion, to forego the guarantee against loss which they had of late demanded from all authors whose names were unknown to the reading public.
"I have fixed it for you, Archie," he said, when that gentleman next made his appearance at the sanctum. "No deposit or guarantee, and ten per cent. of the retail price for royalty. So take a train to your inamorata's house and tell her the news."
Mr. Weil did not seem to wholly relish the announcement.
"In the first place," he remarked, "you have no business to speak of Miss Fern as my inamorata; and in the second you will pay her more than ten per cent. or you won't get the book to print."
At this, Mr. Gouger, after the manner of all publishers and their agents, proceeded to show to Mr. Weil that it was perfectly impossible to pay another cent more than the figure he had named; and before he had finished he agreed to see the firm and get the amount raised considerably, provided the sales should exceed five thousand copies. In short, Mr. Weil secured a very respectable contract for a new author, and one that was sure to please Miss Fern, if she was in the least degree reasonable.
"I wish you would hurry up Roseleaf," remarked Gouger, when this matter was disposed of. "When will you take him down into the depths and let him see that side of life?"
"I have arranged a journey for to-morrow night," said Weil. "We shall go to Isaac Leveson's and make an evening of it. Unless things are different there from usual, he will lay the foundation for all the wickedness he needs to put into his story."
The critic nodded approval.
"He will probably have a Jew in it, then—a modernized Fagan."
"Yes," said Weil. "And a negro. A tall, well-built negro, who has a white man for his slave!"
DINING AT ISAAC'S.
On the following day, when Shirley Roseleaf presented himself at the Hoffman House, he found Mr. Weil awaiting him in a state of great good nature.
"Go home and make yourself ready for a dive into the infernal regions," he said, merrily. "I am going to take you to a place where the devil spends his vacation, and show you a set of women as different from those you have lately met as chalk is from indigo. Be here at nine o'clock this evening, prepared for the descent."
A vision of subterranean passages crossed the mind of the listener, and he thought of tall boots and a tarpaulin.
"How shall I dress—roughly, I suppose?" he inquired.
"Certainly not. Put on your swallow tail, and white tie. Vice in these days wears its best garments. You cannot tell a gambler from a clergyman by his attire. Dress exactly as if you were going to the swellest party on Fifth Avenue. The only addition to your toilet will be a revolver, if you happen to have one handy. If you do not, I have several and will lend you one."
If he expected to startle the young man he was in error. Roseleaf merely nodded and said he would take one of the weapons owned by Mr. Weil.
"We shall not use them—there are a thousand chances to one," said Archie. "New York is like Montana. You remember what the resident said to the tenderfoot, 'You may be a long time without wantin' a we'p'n in these parts, but when you do you'll want it d—d sudden.'"
When Roseleaf returned, the hands of his watch indicated the time at which he had been asked to make his appearance, but Mr. Weil did not take him immediately to the point of destination. Instead he walked over to a variety theatre that was then in operation on Twenty-third street, and after spending a short time in the auditorium guided the young man into the "wineroom." Here the ladies of the ballet were in the habit of going when off the stage, for the sake of entertaining the patrons with their light and frivolous conversation, and inducing them if possible, to invest in champagne at five dollars the bottle.
Archie was, it appeared, not unknown to the throng that filled this place, for his name was spoken by several of both sexes as soon as he entered. He nodded coolly to those who addressed him, and took a seat at a table with his companion. With a shake of his head he declined the offers of two or three fairies of the ballet to share the table, and ordered a bottle of Mumm with the evident intention of drinking it alone with his friend.
Roseleaf slowly sipped the sparkling beverage. He was cautioned in a whisper to drink but one glass, as it was necessary that he should keep a perfectly clear head. Weil remarked in an undertone that he had only ordered the wine as an excuse for remaining a few minutes.
"I call this 'the slaughter house,'" he added, in a voice still lower. "Girls are brought here to be murdered. Not to have their throats cut," he explained, "but to be killed just as surely, if more slowly. I have seen them come here for the first time, with good health shining out of their rosy cheeks, delighted at the unwonted excitement and the amount of attention the frequenters of the place bestowed. I have watched them growing steadily paler, having recourse to rouge, the eyes getting dimmer, the voice growing harsher, the temper becoming more variable. And then—other fresh faces came in their stead. There are killed, on an average, twenty girls a year here, I should say; killed to satisfy the appetites of men, as beeves are killed in Chicago, but not so mercifully."
The novelist looked into the faces that were nearest to him and thought he could discern the various grades of which his friend spoke—the new, the older, the ones whose turn to give way to others would soon come. All of them were drinking. Most had on the stage dresses they had just worn or were about to wear in the performance. Some had finished their parts and were enveloped in street clothes, ready to take their departure with the first male who asked them. And they were drinking, drinking, either in little sips or in feverish gulps, as they would at a later day, when the five-dollar wine would be replaced by five cent beer or perhaps the drainings of a keg on the sidewalk.
Mr. Walker Boggs soon came into the wine-room and joined the pair at Mr. Weil's table. He called for a whiskey straight, pushing the champagne aside with an impatient movement.
"I won't punish my stomach with such stuff, even if it has gone back on me," he exclaimed. "That will knock out any man who drinks it between meals."
Mr. Weil assented to this proposition, and to show his full belief in it filled his own glass again and tossed its contents down his throat.
"What brings you here?" he asked, quizzically.
"Those creatures," replied Boggs, with a motion of his hand toward the members of the ballet. "They're all that's left me now. They don't mind the size of my waist. My hold on them is as strong as ever. But you ought not to be here," he broke in, turning to Roseleaf. "It will be years before you get to this stage, I hope."
Mr. Weil hastened to explain.
"Shirley is merely observing," said he. "He came at my request. We are going next to Isaac Leveson's."
Mr. Boggs grew interested.
"So, so! You intend to show him Isaac's to-night?"
"Yes. Isn't it a good idea?"
The stout man shrugged his shoulders as if he had nothing to say on that point. The movement was essentially a Frenchy one and might have meant anything.
"Perhaps you would like to go with us," said Archie.
"What do you intend to do there?"
"Tell Mr. Roseleaf all the secrets."
Mr. Boggs stared at the speaker.
"Isaac won't let you," he answered, grimly.
"Won't he? He'll have to. Why, what's the odds? The boy won't give him away. And if he should—" His voice sank to a whisper.
Mr. Weil then proceeded to explain to his young friend that "Isaac's" was a peculiar affair, even for Gotham. It had entrances on two streets. Into one door went the most respectable of people, intent on getting an exceptionably good dinner, which was always to be had there, cooked in the French style and elegantly served. At that end of the house there were several dining-rooms that would hold forty or fifty guests, and several others made to accommodate family parties of six to twelve. If a couple happened to stray in and inquire for a room to themselves the head waiter informed them that it was against the rule of the house to serve a private dinner to less than four people.
It was evident that the establishment was conducted on the most moral principles, and in a way to prevent the possibility of scandal. For though a great many couples undoubtedly take dinners in private rooms with the utmost propriety, it must be admitted that such a course is open to suspicion and might be used as a basis for unpleasant rumors. Mr. Leveson, who kept this hotel, took great pride in saying that nothing in all New York bore a better name, and no amount of bribery would have induced one of his employes—on that side of the house—to vary the rules laid down.
But on the other side of the building—at the entrance on the other street—ah, that was different!
If only the most respectable customers entered the first door it was almost equally true that none but those who lacked that quality used the second. Mr. Leveson sometimes remarked with glee, at twelve o'clock at night, that he would give a hundred dollar bill for an honest man or woman in any of the rooms up-stairs. The waiters had instructions to "size up" all comers with care, and to admit no accidental parties who might apply for entrance under a misapprehension as to the character of the place.
"We are all full, sorry to say," was the established formula. "There is a very good restaurant just around the corner, on ——th street." And in this manner the shrewd restaurateur got all the custom he wanted, while preserving the natural atmosphere in each part of his dominions.
The meals served in these two places were prepared by one chef, and served from one kitchen. Thus the virtuous and vicious patrons were supplied with exactly the same dishes. But on what may be called the Good side nothing stronger than wines were found on the bill of fare. On the Wicked side every decoction known to the modern drinker was to be had for the asking. Then, again, the doors of the Good side were closed at eleven o'clock, while it was often daylight before the last patron of the Sinful side reeled into his carriage.
After a little more talk Mr. Boggs seemed satisfied and consented to join the party.
Mr. Leveson was notified of the presence of the newcomers and met them at the door. Isaac was of a decidedly Jewish cast of countenance, slightly gray, not very tall, and quite round shouldered. He put out a lank hand toward Roseleaf, when that young gentleman was named as a matter of introduction, but put it down again when Mr. Weil curtly said handshaking was out of date. Archie had seen a disinclination in the eye of his friend to touch the fingers of the Hebrew, and with his usual quickness had solved the difficulty. The party entered a private office at the left of the entrance, where Mr. Leveson inquired what he should order for them to drink.
"You will order nothing, at present," said Weil, in a contemptuous way that excited the astonishment of Mr. Roseleaf. "When I wish for anything I will ring. Who is there in the house?"
The manager of the establishment bowed humbly, and proceeded to run over the list of his customers.
"There is Major Waters and his wife—"
"Together!" exclaimed the questioner.
"Oh, no! The Major has the little blonde that he has brought for the last month; his wife has Mr. Nikles of the Planet. Then—"
But Mr. Weil interrupted him again.
"You'll let them run into each other some day and there'll be a nice time."
"Never fear that. The boys understand thoroughly. He comes earlier and stays later than she. Besides, we never let anybody meet on the stairs. The waiters cry out, 'You must go back; it is bad luck!' if any of them seem in danger of running into each other. They are as safe from discovery here as if they were in places a mile apart."
Some one descended the stairs at this moment and Leveson tiptoed to the door and opened it half an inch to peer at them.
"You know I have no object in saying these things," said Weil, "except to save your precious self from trouble. Who is that going out?"
"Some new people; it is the third time they have been here."
"Well," asked Weil, impatiently, "who are they?"
Leveson held up both his hands as if to beg a moment to answer.
"They come from Brooklyn. I don't know their names. I think neither is married."
"I have a curiosity about things," explained Weil to his friends, "that I cannot account for. You remember how Silas Wegg used to talk about 'Aunt Jane' and 'Uncle Parker.' Well, I have the same way of studying the men that wander in here of an evening, with other people's wives and daughters. There is so little really entertaining in this confounded world that I seize upon anything promising a change with avidity. Isaac tells me all the secrets of his queer ranch, and they prove wonderfully interesting, sometimes. You see," he added, addressing himself particularly to Roseleaf, "not a couple comes into this place that would like to have it known."
Roseleaf bowed constrainedly.
"And how does Mr. Leveson know them?" he inquired. "They surely do not register, or if they do their names must be fictitious."
Mr. Weil laughed.
"He has ways of finding out," said he. "There are little birds that fly in at the window and tell him."
"I should not think he would wish to know," commented Roseleaf. "Especially when it is evident they would not like to have him."
Archie laughed again.
"Let me explain, then," he said. "I need not mind Boggs here, who is discretion itself. Leveson's reason—of course, I can rely on your silence?"
The young face reddened at the insinuation that he might betray a secret.
"I was sure of it," said Archie, so quickly that Roseleaf felt at ease again. "Well, the reason why Isaac wants to know what is going on is, he is connected with the police."
Roseleaf said "Ah!" and opened his eyes wider.
"People who go to places like this," continued Mr. Weil, "are of great interest to the guardians of the peace. And by the police I do not mean the members of the regular force so much as the special service. It is to the latter that we go when a confidential clerk has robbed us or we become suspicious that our wives are unfaithful. Nine times out of ten the chief of the private detective office knows in advance all we wish him to ferret out. When he has told us that we will set investigations on foot, and that he hopes to learn something of the matter within a few days, he bows us out of his bureau with an air that implies that we have not come to the wrong party. And as soon as we are gone he turns to a ledger, and in a few minutes has found an abstract that tells him everything.
"Let us suppose," said Mr. Weil, "that a jeweler misses twenty valuable pieces of bijouterie from his stock. The circumstances prove that they were taken by some one in his employ. He thinks of his clerks, and cannot find the heart to accuse any of them of such a grave crime. He goes to the detective office and states his case. When he is gone the chief turns to the book and finds this:
"'L. M. Jenkins, clerk at Abram Cohen's, Sixth Avenue; about twenty-three, medium height, dark, dresses well. Rooms at No. — Twenty-Ninth street. Has been giving expensive suppers as well as valuable jewelry to Mamie Sanders, No. so-and-so, Such-a-street. They dined together at Isaac Leveson's on such-and-such dates.' Etc., etc., etc.
"Now, he can recover the jewelry and get that clerk into quod in three hours, if he likes. Naturally he won't expedite things in that way, because he wants some excuse for running up a large bill, unless it be a bank case, where he prefers to make a great impression and get himself solid with the directors. But he will collar the fellow and recover the stuff, and all because he knew about it long before any one in the store had a suspicion."
Mr. Leveson returned. Mr. Weil asked that one of the private rooms on the second floor be put in order at once, for himself and friends. He then inquired what ladies were in the house unoccupied by escorts.
"Miss Pelham has been waiting an hour for the Judge," replied Isaac, "but I don't think he'll come. He disappoints her half the time now. And Mrs. Delavan, who has just come in, found a note from Col. Lamorest, asking her to excuse him to-night."
Archie looked pleased.
"They'll do," he said. "Tell them to come and dine with us. But," he paused, and looked at Roseleaf, "we need still another."
The color mounted to the cheeks of the young novelist, as he understood the thought that prompted this statement.
"Not on my account—I would much rather not," he stammered.
"You will kindly leave that to my judgment," replied Archie, impressively. "Remember, you are not the instructor here, but the pupil. There must be some one else, Isaac."
Mr. Leveson hesitated. He was mentally going over the rooms upstairs and taking stock of what was in them.
"There are two girls," he said, at last, "who used to work in one of the dry goods stores, but you wouldn't want them. They are very strict, and they dress plainly,—and I am afraid the other ladies wouldn't like to associate with them."
Mr. Weil grew vastly irritated by this statement. He brought his hand down on the table with a bang.
"The other ladies!" he echoed, angrily. "When you tell Mrs. Delavan and Jenny Pelham that you want them to dine with us, you know that ends it! As to these shop girls, what do you mean by calling them strict? What would a strict girl be doing in this house?"
Mr. Leveson cringed before his interrogator and made the old, imploring movement with his hands.
"Let me explain," he said. "These girls came here a few weeks ago with some traveling men. They took dinner, but Adolf says neither drank a drop of wine. A few days later they came again, with other escorts, and the same thing occurred."
"Why did you let them in?" demanded Weil.
"Because I knew the gentlemen."
Archie started to say something, but checked himself.
"And after that they came alone and asked to see me," pursued Isaac, humbly. "They said they had been thrown out of work, and thought there might be an opportunity to do something here, like waiting on the guests. And while we were talking, two old customers of the house called to dine, alone, and asked me if they could get some one to share the meal with them. And, it seemed quite providential—"
Archie stopped the voluble speech by striking his hands sharply together.
"Enough!" he said. "When the dinner is ready send one of them in. That will make the three we need."
In half an hour the dinner was ready to be served. Then Isaac came with the information that the girls refused to be separated.
"What a nuisance!" exclaimed Weil. "Well, send both of them, then. We'll take care of them, somehow."
A QUESTION OF COLOR.
The next morning, when Roseleaf awoke, he was for some time in a sort of stupor. Through the bright sunlight that filled his room he seemed to scent the fumes of tobacco and of liquor. The place was filled, he imagined, with that indefinable aroma that proceeds from a convivial company made up of both sexes. He half believed that Jennie Pelham and Mrs. Delavan were sitting by his bed, more brazen than the bell which, from a neighboring steeple, told him the hour was ten. And surely, by those curtains there, hiding the flame that filled their cheeks, were the two "shop-girls," their pinched faces denoting slow starvation. Boggs, and Isaac Leveson, and Archie Weil were there, all of them; and the young man tossed uneasily on his pillow, struggling with the remnant of nightmare that remained to cloud his brain.
When he was able to think and see clearly he sat up and rang for a pitcher of ice water. He was consumed by thirst, and his forehead ached blindly. When he had bathed his head and throat he turned, by a sudden impulse, to his table, and took out the MSS. of the story he had begun. Slowly he read over the pages, to the last one. Then, seizing his pen, he devoted himself to the next chapter, without dressing, without breakfasting.
It was four o'clock when he ceased work. He realized all at once that he was feeling ill. The fact dawned upon him that he needed food, and donning his garments, he took his way listlessly to a restaurant and ordered something to eat. As he swallowed the morsels, he fell to wondering how much temptation he would be able to bear, with hunger as a background.
He passed a good part of the evening in walking the streets, selecting, instinctively, sections where he was least likely to meet any one he knew. When he returned to his room he read over the MSS. he had written that day, and into his troubled brain there came a sense of pleasure. Gouger was right. To tell of such matters in a novel, one should know them himself. Roseleaf could never have written of vice before he saw Leveson's. Now, it was as plain to him as print, almost as easy to use in fiction as virtue. What was to follow? He pondered over the plot he had mapped out, and it grew clearer.
Daisy had given him no further encouragement—at least in words—since that day she had said it was "risky" to ask her father, but he felt certain that she regarded him with favor, and that if Mr. Fern put no obstacles in the way she would not refuse to wed him when the right time came. He thought it would be wise to obtain one more brief interview with her, before proceeding to extremities, and determined to do his best to draw her aside, when he made his next visit to her house. This settled, he went to bed again and slept soundly.
When the day to go to Midlands arrived Shirley's courage began to ooze a little. So much depended upon the attitude of his dear one's mind, which, for all he knew, had changed since he talked with her, that he fairly trembled with apprehension. He avoided Mr. Weil, with whom he usually took the train, and went out early. Alighting at a station a mile or two away from the right one, he walked through the woods, trying to think how to act in case matters did not turn out as he hoped. Under the branches he strolled along, until he came within sight of the roofs of Midlands; and then he threw himself at the foot of a tree close to Mr. Fern's grounds, and gave himself up to reverie.
When he laid down here it was only five o'clock, and he was not expected at the house for a full hour. It pleased him to be so near the one he loved, and to lie where he could dream of her sweet face and see the outlines of the house that sheltered her, while she had no knowledge of his presence. Just over there was the arbor, where he had first had the supreme bliss of touching her lips with his own. If he could get her to come there with him again—to-night—when the others were occupied with their talk of earthly things, and if she would only tell him frankly that he might go to her father, and that her prayers would go with him! A soft languor came over his body at the deliciousness of these reflections, but it was dissipated by the sound of voices which presently came to him from the other side of the hedge.
"I can't exactly understand, Miss Daisy," said one of the voices, which he had no difficulty in recognizing as that of Hannibal, "why you wish me to go away?"
There was an assurance in the tone that Roseleaf did not like. He had noticed it before in the intercourse of this negro with his employers. There was something which intimated that he was on the most complete level with them.
"I want you to go," said Daisy, in her quiet way, "because education is the only thing that will make you what you ought to be. There are a hundred chances open to you, in the professions, if you can take a college course. Unless you do, you can hope for nothing better than such employment as you have now."
It made the listener's blood boil to think that these people should be consulting in that way, like friends. Daisy ought to have a better sense of her position.
"I will not refuse your offer, at least not yet," replied Hannibal, after a slight pause. "It may be as you say—if I graduate as a doctor or a lawyer. But I know that I live in a country where my color is despised—and all that could possibly come to me here as a professional man is work among my own race. I should be a black lawyer with black clients; or a black physician, with black patients. To really succeed I should go across the ocean to some land where the shade of my skin would not be counted a crime."
Daisy's face could not be seen by the listener, but he was sure it was a kindly one, and this made him fume. The situation was atrocious.
"It should not be considered so anywhere," said the girl, gently.
"It is an outrage!" responded the black. "Having stolen our ancestors and brought them here from their native country, the Americans hate us for the injury they have done. In France, they tell me, it is not so. Oh, if I could gain an education, and become what God meant to make me—a man!" He paused as if the thought was too great to be conceived in its fullness, and then said, abruptly: "Where can you get this money?"
Roseleaf's suspicions were now keenly aroused and he dreaded lest she should bring his name into the conversation.
"Your father would not give it to you—without an explanation," pursued the negro. "And you have no fortune of your own."
"I will get it—let that suffice," interrupted the girl. "I can give you $1000 a year for two years, at least, and I hope for two or three more, if you will go to Paris and put yourself under instruction. Can you hesitate to accept a proposal of that kind? I thought you would seize it with avidity."
As Daisy said this she arose, and started slowly toward the house. Hannibal walked by her side talking in a tone so low that nothing more was intelligible to the eavesdropper she little suspected was so near. But suddenly the girl stopped, and Roseleaf heard her cry with startling distinctness:
"How dare you!"
The voice that uttered these words was filled with rage, and the girl's attitude, as Roseleaf could see—for he had risen hastily to his feet—was one of intense excitement. Then she added:
"If you ever speak of that again, they will be the last words I will ever exchange with you. My offer is still open—you can have the money if you wish it—but never another syllable like this! Understand me, Hannibal, never!"
Miss Daisy passed on toward the house, alone. The negro stood where she had left him, his head bowed on his breast, as if completely cowed by the rebuke. Roseleaf's heart beat rapidly. What gave this fellow such power over these people? How could he say things to call out such an exclamation as that of Daisy's, and yet hold her promise to pay him a large sum of money, instead of getting the prompt discharge he merited?
And this was what the girl wanted to do with the $1,000, she had asked him to lend her! Should he still give it to her? Yes, if it would rid the country of that insolent knave who, from whatever cause, occupied a position that must be growing unendurable to those who had to bear with him.
What had Hannibal said, that made her turn as if grossly insulted, and speak with a vehemence so foreign to her nature? Roseleaf would have enjoyed following the negro and giving him a severe trouncing. Though Hannibal was twenty pounds heavier and considerably taller than he, the novelist had not the least doubt of his ability to master him. He believed the courage of an African would give way when confronted by one of the superior race; and at any rate, righteous indignation would count for something in so just a contest.
There were no traces of excitement on Daisy's pretty face as she welcomed the guests of the family. Weil arrived at about the same time as Roseleaf, coming directly from the station, and Mr. Fern arrived a little later. Millicent looked her best, which is saying no less than that she was a beauty, and Archie told her politely that she ought to sit for a painting. When the dinner was served, Hannibal took charge as usual. Shirley watched him with an interest he had never felt before, and nodded assent when Weil whispered behind his napkin, "Good material for a novel in that fellow, eh?"
The opportunity for a word alone with Daisy came earlier than Roseleaf expected. In fact she herself proposed it, while passing out of the dining room. She said she had something particular to tell him.
"It is about that money you were so kind as to say I could have," she explained, when they were far down the lawn, and out of hearing of the others. "I want it very much and very soon. It—it will be all right, I hope, and—and not cause you any inconvenience."
"I will bring it, or send it to-morrow," he replied, instantly. "But I still wonder what you intend to do with it."
She smiled archly.
"A good act, I assure you," she replied. "Something of which you would certainly approve, if you knew all the circumstances. You are very kind, and if it was darker here I should be—almost—tempted to kiss you."
He replied that it was growing darker rapidly, and that the requisite shadow could be obtained if they stayed out long enough; but she said she could remain but a few moments, and turned in the direction of the house.
"But, Daisy!" he cried, and then paused. "You—you know there is something of very great importance that I want to talk about. I get so little chance, and I want so much to tell you things. I have been trying to go to your father's office, and I can't find courage."
"I didn't know you were thinking of buying wool," she said, mischievously.
"I want one little lamb, to be my own," he answered, "to love and cherish all my life long. Am I never to have it?"
She sobered before the earnestness of his sad face.
"You are a dear boy," she said, "and I love you. There! Don't say anything more to me to-night. I have made a foolish confession, for which I may yet repent. We must go in. They will be looking for us."
She looked at his countenance and saw that it was radiant.
"I can endure anything now," he said. "You love me, Daisy—can it be true? I will go in with you—and I will wait. But not too long, my sweetheart; do not make me wait too long. Repent your confession, indeed! If you do, it will be from no fault of mine. Daisy!"
As he said these things they were gradually nearing the piazza, where the negro was taking in the chairs.
"I have something pleasant to tell you," whispered Daisy. "You don't like Hannibal. Well, he is going away soon."
Roseleaf assumed surprise.
"Has your father discharged him?" he asked.
"No, he intends to leave of his own accord. He believes himself fitted for better work. Hush! He may hear you."
As they passed the servant, Daisy said, "Good-evening, Hannibal." It was her invariable custom, and she spoke with the greatest courtesy. But in this case the negro did not raise his eyes, nor turn his head toward her, nor make the slightest sign to show that he heard.
It was too much for Roseleaf, and he stopped.
"Did you hear Miss Daisy address you?" he demanded, sharply.
Hannibal looked up, with a curious mixture of amusement, contempt and hate in his dark face.
"I did," he answered.
"Why did you not answer?"
"Because I did not choose."
Daisy threw herself in front of Roseleaf, just in time to prevent Hannibal's receiving a blow.
"Oh, stop!" she exclaimed, "I beg you!"
The noise and the sound of raised voices brought Mr. Fern and his other daughter, with Archie Weil, to the door. Mr. Fern took in the situation at a glance, and his troubled face grew more distressed.
"Mr. Roseleaf," he said, speaking as if the words choked him, "I am surprised—that you should—hold an altercation like this—in my daughter's presence."
Roseleaf did not know what to do or say. Daisy's pleading eyes decided him, much against his judgment, to drop the matter where it was, galling to his pride though it might be. He escorted his sweetheart into the parlor, where the entire party followed, in a most uncomfortable state of mind.
"How can you permit that negro to insult your guests?" demanded Millicent, as soon as the door was closed. "It is beyond belief. If he is master of this house it is time the rest of us left it. I am certain Mr. Roseleaf did not act without great provocation."
Before Mr. Fern could answer, Daisy had spoken.
"It is over now, and there is nothing to be said. Hannibal is going away in a few days, and that will end your trouble."
The father turned such an incredulous look toward his daughter that it was evident he had heard nothing of this.
"Going?" he echoed, faintly. "Going?"
"Yes," said Daisy. "He told me to-day. He is going to some country where his color will not be counted a misdemeanor."
Roseleaf had difficulty in maintaining the silence with which he had determined to encase himself. But Daisy did not wish him to speak, and her will was law.
"Well, I am glad of that!" exclaimed Millicent. "In a country where they consider such people their equals, he will not meet the pity and consideration he has so abused here. Still, I do think, father, that you ought to apologize to Mr. Roseleaf for the way in which you have addressed him."
This freed the young man's tongue.
"By no means," he said. "Very likely I was wrong to say anything."
"You were not wrong!" retorted Millicent. "You were entirely right. You would have been justified in punishing the fellow as he deserved. It is others who are wrong. If he were not going, I would never stay to see repeated what I have witnessed in the last six months."
Mr. Fern seemed to have lost all ambition for controversy. His elder daughter's cutting words evidently hurt, but he would not reply.
Mr. Weil came to the rescue by introducing a new topic of conversation, that of a European tenor that was soon expected to startle New York. Daisy went to the piano, and played softly, talking in whispers to Roseleaf, who leaned feverishly over her shoulder. But she made no allusion to Hannibal, and he did his best to forget him.
"What do you make of that?" asked Mr. Weil, when he was in a railway car, on the way back to the city with his young friend. "A glorious chance for a novelist to find the reason that black Adonis is allowed such latitude."
But Roseleaf was not listening. He was thinking of a sweet voice that had said: "You are a dear boy and I love you!"
"LET US HAVE A BETRAYAL."
Mr. Archie Weil had become quite intimate with Mr. Wilton Fern; so much so that he called at his office every few days, took walks with him on business errands, went with him to lunch (to the annoyance of Lawrence Gouger, who did not like to eat alone) and sometimes took the train home with him at night, on evenings when Shirley Roseleaf was not of the party. Everybody in the Fern family liked Archie. Even Hannibal, who had conceived a veritable hatred for Roseleaf, brightened at the entrance of Mr. Weil either at the house or office, the negro seeming to alternate between the two places very much as he pleased. Millicent liked him because he was so "facile," as she expressed it; a man with whom one could talk without feeling it necessary to pick each step. Daisy liked him because her father did, and because Roseleaf did, and because he treated her with marked politeness that had apparently no double meaning.
And they all got confidential with him, which was exactly what he wanted them to do; only the one he most wanted to give him confidence gave him the least. This was Mr. Fern, himself.
Try as he might, Archie could not discover what clouded the brow of the wool merchant, what made him act like a person who fears each knock at the door, each sound of a human voice in the hallway of his office. He could find no reason for Mr. Fern's attitude toward Hannibal, whose manners were as far removed as possible from those supposed to belong to a personal servant. There must be a cause of no ordinary character when this polished gentleman permitted a negro to insult him and his daughter, in a way to excite comment. What it was Mr. Weil was bent on discovering, but as yet he had made little progress.
It was on account of this plan that Mr. Weil affected to like Hannibal so well. He used to spend hours in devising ways for securing the truth from that source. Hannibal, however, gave no signs of intending to reveal his secret, and if he was going abroad to study, it seemed unlikely that the investigator would get at many facts in that quarter.
One day, Mr. Weil happened to call at the office of the merchant at an hour when the latter was out, and found Hannibal in possession. As this was an opportunity seldom available, Archie entered into a lively conversation with the fellow.
"They tell me you are soon going to leave us," he said, as a beginning. "I hear that you are going to Europe."
"Yes," said Hannibal, with a certain wariness.
"If I can tell you anything about the country I shall be glad," said Weil, affably. "I have spent considerable time there. You don't understand the language, I believe?"
The negro simply shook his head.
"It's easy enough to acquire. Get right into a hotel with a lot of students, and pitch in. Though they do say," added the speaker, archly, "that the best method is to engage a pretty grisette. The poet was right:
"'Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue By female eyes and lips; that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young—
"You know the rest."
The answering smile that he expected, did not come into the negro's face. If possible, it grew still more reserved and earnest.
"There's one good thing, if you'll excuse my mentioning it," pursued Archie, "and that is, the French have no prejudice whatever against color. Indeed, a colored student gets a little better attention in Paris than a white one."
Then the silent lips were unlocked.
"Could a black man—marry—a white woman, of the upper or middle classes?" asked Hannibal, slowly.
"To be sure. There was the elder Dumas, and a dozen others. I tell you there's absolutely no color line there. They judge a man by what he is, not by the accident of race or skin. You'll see such a difference you'll be sorry you didn't go years before."
Hannibal sat as if lost in thought.
"Mr. Fern will miss you, though," continued Archie. "Yes, and the family. You seem almost indispensable."
A suspicious glance was shot at the speaker, but his face bore such an ingenuous look that the suggestion was dismissed. What could he know?
"They will get some one else," said the negro, quietly.
"Yes, but in these days it is not easy to get people one can trust. Mr. Fern will not find any one to take your place in a moment. And just now, when he evidently has a great deal of trouble on his mind, it will be unpleasant to make a change."
Hannibal was completely deceived by the apparently honest character of these observations. He could not resist the temptation to boast a little, that peculiar trait of a menial.
"I know all about Mr. Fern's affairs," he agreed. "Both here and at the house. He would not trust the next man as he has me."
Mr. Weil nodded wisely.
"I see, I see," he answered. "You know then what has annoyed him of late—that which has puzzled all the rest of us so much. You know, but having the knowledge in a sort of confidential capacity, you would, of course, have no right to reveal it."
Hannibal straightened himself up in an exasperating way.
"You will not find what troubles Mr. Fern," he said, loftily. "And now, may I ask you something. Do you expect to marry his eldest daughter?"
An inclination to kick the fellow for his impudence came so strong upon Mr. Weil that it required all of his powers to suppress the sentiment. But through his indignation there struggled his old admiration for this elegant physical specimen. He wished he could get a statue modeled from him, before the original left the country.
"That is a delicate question," he managed to say.
"I know it," replied Hannibal. "But I have observed some things which may have escaped you. Shall I tell you what I mean?"
Not at all easy under this strain, the curiosity of Mr. Weil was so great that he could only reply in the affirmative.
"Miss Millicent," explained Hannibal, slowly, "is in love—very much in love—with another person."
A stare that could not be concealed answered him.
"You have not seen anything to indicate it?" asked the negro. "I thought as much. She has done her best to cover it, and yet I can swear it is true. She likes you, as a friend. But she loves him, passionately."
He was in for it now and might as well follow this strange matter to the end.
"Do I know this individual?" asked Archie.
"Yes. You brought him to the house and introduced him to her."
The man gave a slight cry, in spite of himself.
Hannibal bowed impressively; and at the moment Mr. Fern's footsteps were heard in the entry.
Mr. Weil did not know, when he tried to think about it afterwards, whether the wool merchant noticed particularly that he and Hannibal had been talking together, or suspected that they might have confidences. His head was too full of the startling statement he had heard, and when he was again upon the street he wandered aimlessly for an hour trying to reconcile this view with the facts as they had presented themselves to his mind previously.
Millicent in love with Roseleaf! She had said very little to the young man, so far as he had observed. Her younger sister—sweet little Daisy—had monopolized his attention. If it were true, what an instance it was of the odd qualities in the feminine mind, that leave men to wonder more and more of what material it is constructed. But was it true? Was Hannibal a better judge, a closer student, than the rest of them? He did not like Millicent, any better than she liked him. Was he trying a game of mischief, with some ulterior purpose that was not apparent on the surface?
Out of it all, Archie Weil emerged, sure of but one thing. He must use his eyes. If Millicent loved Roseleaf, she could not hide it successfully from him, now that he had this clue.
The girl's novel was selling fairly well. Weil had made a bargain with Cutt & Slashem that was very favorable. It gave him an excuse to talk with the authoress as much as he pleased, and he used his advantage. He brought her the comments of the press—not that they amounted to anything, for it was evident that most of the critics had merely skimmed through the pages. He came to tell her the latest things that Gouger had said, what proportion of cloth and paper covers were being ordered, and the other gossip of the printing house. And now he talked about the work that Shirley was engaged on, and grew enthusiastic, declaring that the young man would yet make a place for himself beside the Stevensons and Weymans.
Millicent struck him as caring much more for news of her own production than that of the young man who had been represented as the object of her adoration. If she was half as fond of Roseleaf as Hannibal intimated, she was certainly successful in concealing her sentiments from the shrewd observer. The result of a fortnight's investigation convinced Weil that the negro had made a complete mistake, and all the hypotheses that had arisen were allowed to dissipate into thin air and fly away.
Another two weeks passed and Hannibal still remained with the Ferns. An inquiry of Daisy produced the answer that he thought of remaining in America till spring. The girl tried to act as if it made not the slightest consequence to her whether he went or stayed, but she did not succeed. Mr. Weil knew that she wished most heartily for the time when the negro would take his departure. She was bound up in her father, and Hannibal was worrying him to death—from whatever cause. She wanted the tie between him and this black man broken, and hated every day that stood between them and his hour of sailing.
Roseleaf was almost as uneasy as Daisy over the delay. He had given her the money she asked for, though no allusion to its purpose had been made.
She still had it, somewhere, unless she had given it to the one for whom it was intended. When she took the package from his hand she rose on her tiptoes and kissed him with the most affectionate of gestures. It was the second occasion on which he had been permitted to touch her lips, and he appreciated it fully. He realized from her action how deeply she felt his kindness in providing her with the funds that were to relieve her father of an incubus that was sapping his very life.
"You don't find much use for our black Adonis yet, I see," said Weil, as he laid down the latest page of the slowly building novel. "I had hoped you would penetrate the secret of his power over your heroine's father, by this time."
"No, I cannot understand it at all," replied Roseleaf. "And if you, with your superior quickness of perception, have found nothing, I don't see how you could expect me to."
"You have greater opportunities," said Weil, with a smile that was not quite natural. "You have the ear of the fair Miss Daisy, remember," he explained, in reply to the inquiring look that was raised to him.
"Ah, but she knows nothing, either," exclaimed Roseleaf. "I am sure of that."
Mr. Weil was silent for some moments.
"Well, if you cannot find the true cause," he said, "you will have to invent a hypothetical one. Your novel cannot stand still forever. Imagine something—a crime, for instance, of which this black fellow is cognizant. A murder—that he peeped in at a keyhole and saw. How would that do?"
Roseleaf turned pale.
"You know," he said, "that you are talking of impossibilities."
"On the contrary, nothing is impossible," responded the other, impatiently. "College professors, delicate ladies, children not yet in their teens, have committed homicide, why not this handsome gentleman in the wool business? Or if you won't have murder—and I agree that blood is rather tiresome, it has been overdone so much—bring a woman into the case. Let us have a betrayal, a wronged virgin, and that sort of thing."
The color did not return to the young man's cheek.
"Which is still more incredible in the present case," he said. "Do you think Wilton Fern could do evil to a woman? Look in his face once and dismiss that libel within the second."
A desperate expression crossed the countenance of the elder man.
"You must agree that he has done something!" he cried. "He wouldn't allow a darkey to annoy him like this for fun, would he? He wouldn't wear that deathly look, and let his child grow thin with worriment, just as a matter of amusement!"
To this Roseleaf could not formulate a suitable answer. He felt the force of the suggestions, but he would not associate crime with the sedate gentleman who was the object of these suspicions. He simply could not think of anything disreputable in connection with Daisy's father, and it seemed almost as bad to invent an offense for the character in his novel whose photograph he had thus far taken from Mr. Fern.
Daisy was surprised, a month after this, to have Mr. Weil stop her in the hallway, and speak with a new abruptness.
"Why don't that cursed nigger start for Europe?" he asked.
She glanced around her with a frightened look. She feared ears that should not might hear them. But she rallied as she reflected that Hannibal was miles away, in fact in the city with her father.
"He is going soon," she replied. "But why do you allude to him by that harsh term? I thought you rather liked him."
"I do," he answered. "I like him so well that if he continues to talk to—to your father—as I heard him the other day, I will throw him into the Hudson: I can't stand by and see him insult an—an old man—much longer."
The girl looked at him with sad eyes.
"I thought I had succeeded in silencing that kind of talk," she said. "Mr. Roseleaf used to speak very violently of Hannibal, but he has listened to reason of late. Let me beg you to see nothing and hear nothing, if you are the friend of this family you have given us reason to believe."
She extended her hand, as if to ask a promise of him, but he affected not to see it.
"When does he intend to go?" he demanded.
"Before the 1st of April."
"I will give him till that date," he answered, "but not an hour beyond. He will sail out of this country for some port or other, or there will be a collision. You must not, you shall not defend him!" he added, as she was about to speak. "I know the harm he is doing, and it must have an end!"
Turning from her suddenly he went out of doors. Far down the road he stopped to look around, pressing his hand to his forehead, like one who would make sure he is awake, and not the victim of some fearful dream.
THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER.
Before the first of April came, Hannibal sailed. During the winter he had taken lessons in French of a city teacher, until he believed he could get along after a fashion with that language. He announced to Daisy that he would go on the third of March, then he changed it to the tenth, and again to the seventeenth. Each time, when the date approached, he seemed to have a weakening of purpose, a dread of actually plunging into the tide that set toward foreign shores. The girl had interviews with him on each of these occasions, at which what passed was known only to themselves. And each time, when she had reached her own room, she threw herself on her bed and wept bitterly.
But, at last, on the twenty-fourth, he went. With his overcoat on his arm, his satchel and umbrella in his hands, he said "Good-by" to the little party that gathered at the door. He had been treated with great consideration in that home. Perhaps he realized this to some extent as he was about to turn his back upon it. Certain it is that he could not hide the choking in his throat, as he said the words of farewell. Archie Weil, who stood there with the rest, thought he saw a strange look in those black orbs as they dwelt a moment on the younger daughter; but it passed so quickly he could not be sure.
Mr. Fern was there, and Roseleaf. Millicent had responded, when a servant went to inform her that Hannibal was going, that she was very glad. Did she wish to go down? By no means. She hoped she was not such a fool.
Weil, who watched everybody, saw an unmistakable relief in the careworn countenance of Mr. Fern, when the tall form of his late servant disappeared at the gate.
"I hope you will do well," had been the last words of the merchant, and Daisy had added, "So do we all, I am sure." Roseleaf had not spoken. He had stood a little apart from the others, his mind filled with varying emotions. It was he who had furnished the money to carry out this plan, and if it made one hour of Daisy's life happier he would be content.
Within an hour it was evident that a cloud had been lifted from the entire household. Everybody felt brighter and better. Roseleaf eyed Mr. Fern with surprise, and had half a mind to go to his office the next day and tell him how dearly he loved his daughter. It was the first time anything like a smile had been upon that face since he had known its lineaments.
Archie Weil devoted his attention, as usual, to Millicent. He did not talk to her about Hannibal, knowing how distasteful was the subject. He discussed her novel, of which she never seemed to tire, and asked her about another, which she had begun to map out. She told him she was sure she could do better the next time, and spoke of the assistance Mr. Roseleaf would furnish if needed, quite as if that was a matter already arranged between her and the young novelist.
Archie wondered if Millicent knew the extent of the attachment that had grown up between Shirley and her sister. She seemed to feel sure that he would be at hand when wanted. Could it be that she believed he would ultimately become her brother-in-law? The negro's guess had almost been blotted out of his mind. There had been absolutely nothing in his observation to confirm it.
A day or two after the departure of Hannibal, Mr. Fern had a conversation with Daisy, in which he dwelt with more stress than she could account for on a special theme. He was talking of Walter Boggs and Archie Weil, and he cautioned her earnestly to treat both gentlemen with the greatest consideration. The girl detected something strange in his voice, and she stole apprehensive glances at him, hoping to read the cause in his eyes.
"Why, papa, I never see Mr. Boggs," she said. "It is weeks and weeks since he came here. As for Mr. Weil, we all treat him nicely, I am sure, and are glad to have him come."
"Yes," he admitted. "You use him quite right, my child. I am not complaining; only, if you could show him particular attention, something more than the ordinary—" He paused, trying to finish what he wished to say. "There may be a time when he will be of great value to me—and—I want him to feel—you observe things so cleverly—do you think Millicent cares for him?"
Daisy looked up astonished.
Her father nodded.
"He has been here several times a week for months, and most of his time here has been spent with her. I thought—I hoped that she cared for him."
He thought! He hoped! Daisy had never had such an idea in her head until that moment. She had a dim idea that her father would give up either of his daughters with great regret, although she could not help knowing that the relations between him and Millicent were not as cordial as those between him and herself. And he "hoped" that Millie would marry, and that she would marry Mr. Weil! Her mind dwelt upon this strange thought. She tried to find a reason for it. Was there any stronger incentive in her father's mind than a desire to see Millie well settled in life, with a good husband?
Had he a fear that the time might soon come when he could not provide for her?
Or was there a worse fear—the kind of fear that had haunted him in relation to Hannibal?
Every time Mr. Weil came to the house after that the young girl watched him as closely as he had ever watched her. He did not exchange a word with her father that did not engage her attention. And the conclusion she came to was that, whatever the object of Mr. Fern in this matter, Mr. Weil was honor itself.
Daisy had never made much of a confidant of Millicent, and the latter had the habit of keeping her affairs pretty closely to herself. It was no easy task, then, that the young sister had in view when she came to a decision to talk with Millie about Mr. Weil.
Her father had expressed a hope that Millie and Weil would marry. Mr. Fern had some strong reason for his wish. Whatever it was, Daisy, with her strong filial love, wanted it gratified.
"Millie, what do you think of marriage?" she asked, one day, when the opportunity presented itself.
"I suppose it's the manifest destiny of a woman," replied her sister, quietly.
Much encouraged, Daisy proceeded to allude to Mr. Weil, praising him in the highest terms, and saying that any girl might be proud to be honored with his addresses. Millie answered with confirmatory nods of the head, as if she fully agreed with all she uttered. But when her sister spoke, the words struck Daisy like a blow.
"I am glad to hear this," she said, in a voice more tender than usual. "I think Mr. Weil would have proposed to you long ago, but that he feared the result."
Daisy gasped for breath.
"Millie!" she cried. "Do you mean that Mr. Weil—that—why, I do not understand! He has hardly spoken to me, while he has spent nearly every minute he has been here, with you!"
"Of course he has," responded the other. "What could be more like a case of true love? If ever a man lost his head over a woman he has lost his over you, Daisy. And, at any rate, you must know that I care nothing for him. You certainly could see where my affections were engaged."
Daisy pressed her hand dreamily to her forehead. She had never known her sister to show the least partiality to any other man.
"I understand you less than ever," she faltered.
"Are you so blind?" exclaimed Millicent, with superior wisdom. "Did you think Mr. Roseleaf had been so closely engaged all this time in my literary work without learning to care for me? I presume you will think I ought to blush, but that is not my way. The strangest thing is that I should have to explain what I thought every one knew."
Poor little Daisy! She was so crushed by these statements that she did not know what reply to make, which way to turn for consolation.
"He has told you that he loves you?" she managed to articulate.
"He has shown it, at least," was the answer. "He had not been here a week before he tried to put his arms around me. I had to let him hold my hand to avoid an absolute quarrel. He is not an ordinary man, Daisy, and does not act like others, but we understand each other. He is waiting for something better in his business prospects, and as I am so busy on my new book I am glad to be left to myself for the present."
It was the old story. Daisy could not doubt her sister's version of her relations with Mr. Roseleaf. When he called the next time there was a red spot in both her cheeks. He told her with happy eyes that he had at last secured something which made it possible to speak to her father. He had been offered a position on the Pacific Quarterly, at a good salary, and another periodical had engaged him to write a series of articles.
"They tell me I have no imagination," he explained, "but that I do very good work on anything that contains matters of fact. I have some money of my own, but I did not want to tell your father I was an idle fellow, without brains enough to make myself useful in the world. The novel on which I base such great hopes might not seem to him worth considering seriously, you know. So I can go with a better account of myself, and I am going this very week."
The bright light that shone from the face at which she looked made her waver for a moment, but she found strength to answer that he must not speak to Mr. Fern about her—now, or at any other time. She did not want to marry, or to be engaged. She wanted to live with her father, and take care of him, and she wanted nothing else.
"Millie will marry," she added, as a parting thrust, meant to be very direct and bitter. "One of us ought to stay with papa."
For a while he was too overwhelmed by her changed attitude to make a sensible reply. When it dawned on him that she meant what she said, he appealed to her to take it back. He could not bear the thought of giving her up, or even of waiting much longer for the fulfillment of his hopes. He spoke in the most passionate tone, and his whole being seemed wrought up by his earnestness. The girl was constantly thinking, however, that this was the same way he had addressed Millicent, and that there was no trust to be placed in him.
"Calm yourself," she said, when he grew violent. "I have tried to be honest with you. I have thought of this matter a great deal. You will admit that it is of some importance to me."
"To you!" he echoed. "Yes, and to me! I do not care whether I live or die, if I am to lose you!"
She wanted to ask him if he had told Millie the same thing, but she could not without making an explanation she did not like to give.
"There are others," was all she said. "Others, who will make you happier, and be better fitted for you—in your career as a writer."
He never thought her allusion had reference to any particular person, and he answered that there was no one, there never could be any one, for him, but her. He had never loved before, he never should love again. And she listened, thinking what a capacity for falsehood and tragic acting he had developed.
After two hours of this most disagreeable scene, Roseleaf left the house, moody and despondent. It would have taken little at that moment to make him throw himself into the bosom of the Hudson, or send a bullet through his brain.
On the way to the station he met Mr. Weil, who could not help asking what was the matter.
"Oh, it's all up!" he answered. "She has refused me, and I am going to the devil as quick as I can."
"What are you talking about?" exclaimed the other, staring at him. "You don't mean—Daisy!"
"That's just what I mean. I went there to tell her of my good luck, and to say I was going to ask her father's consent; and she met me as cold as an iceberg, and said she had decided not to marry. So I'm going back to town without a single reason left for living."
Mr. Weil stood silent and nonplussed for a few seconds. Then a bright idea came into his head.
"Look here, Mr. Impetuousness," said he. "I know this can be arranged, and I'm going to see that it's done. My God, the same thing happens in half the love affairs the universe over! Give me a few days to straighten it out. Go home and go to work, and I'll fix this, I promise you."
It took some time to persuade Roseleaf to follow this advice, but he yielded at last. Weil pleaded his warm friendship, begged the young man to do what he asked if only to please him, and finally succeeded. A few minutes later Archie had secured an audience with Daisy.
Too shrewd to risk the danger of plunging directly into the subject he had in mind, Mr. Weil talked on almost everything else. It happened that Millicent was away, which enabled him to devote his attention to the younger sister without appearing unduly to seek her. But Daisy, only half listening to what he said, was pondering the strange revelation her sister had made, and thinking at each moment that a declaration of love might be forthcoming.
She remembered her father's injunction to treat this man with particular courtesy, and was in a quandary what to do in case he came to the crucial point. But to her surprise, instead of pressing his own suit, Mr. Weil began to support in a mild manner the cause of Mr. Roseleaf.
"I met Shirley leaving here," he said, in a sober tone, "and he was in a dreadful state. You didn't say anything cross to him, I hope."
With these words there seemed to come to Daisy a new revelation of the true character of this man. Loving her himself, he was yet loyal to his friend, who he believed had a prior claim. As this thought took root it raised and glorified its object, until admiration became paramount to all other feelings.
"Why should I be cross to him?" she asked, evading the point. "There are no relations between us that would justify me in acting as his monitor or mentor."
Mr. Weil shook his head.
"He loves you," he said. "You cannot afford, my child, to trifle with a heart as noble as his."
The expression, "my child," touched the girl deeply. It had a protective sound, mingled with a tinge of personal affection.
"I hope you do not think I would trifle with the feelings of any person," she said. "Still, I cannot marry every man who may happen to ask me. You know so much about this matter that I feel justified in saying this; and I earnestly beg that you will ask no more."
But this Mr. Weil said gently he could not promise. He said further that Roseleaf was one of his dearest friends, and that he could not without emotion see him in such distress as he had recently witnessed.
"You don't know how fond I am of that boy," he added. "I would do anything in my power to make him happy. He loves you. He will make you a good husband. You must give me some message that will console him."
He could not get it, try as he might; and he said, with a forced smile, that he should renew the attack at an early date, for the cause was a righteous one, that he could not give over unsatisfied. He took her arm and strolled up and down the veranda, in such a way that any visitor might have taken them to be lovers, if not already married. She liked him better and better. The touch of his sleeve was pleasant. His low tones soothed the ache in her bosom, severe enough, God knows! When her father came from the city he smiled brightly to see them together, and after hearing that Millicent was away, came to the dinner table with the gayest air he had worn for months.
Another week passed, during which Mr. Weil went nearly every day to Midlands, and communicated to Roseleaf on each return the result of his labors, coloring them with the roseate hues of hope, though there was little that could legitimately be drawn from the words or actions of Miss Daisy. The critic for Cutt & Slashem had also been given more than an inkling of the state of affairs, and had perused with delight the chapters last written on the famous romance. He saw that the next experience needed by the author was a severe attack of jealousy, and as there was no one else to play the part of Iago he himself undertook the role.
"Archie Weil is pretty popular with the Fern family, isn't he?" was the way he began, when he called on Roseleaf. "I met the old gentleman the other day and he seemed absolutely 'gone on' him, as the saying is. They tell me he's out at Midlands every day. Got his eye on the younger daughter, too, they intimate."
It takes but little to unnerve a mind already driven to the verge of distraction. The next time that Weil saw Roseleaf, the latter received him with a coolness that could not be ignored. When he pressed for a reason, the young man broke out into invective.
"Don't pretend!" he cried. "You've heard of the case of John Alden. What's been worked once may go again. I'm not entirely blind."
Mr. Weil, with pained eyes, begged his friend to explain.
"Tell me this," shouted Roseleaf. "Do you love that girl, yourself?"
Unprepared for the question, Archie shrank as from a flash of lightning, and could not reply.
"I know you do!" came the next sentence, sharply. "And I know that it is owing to the inroads you have made—not only with her but with her father—that I have been pushed out. Well, go ahead. I've no objection. Only don't come here every day, with your cock and bull stories of pleading my cause, for I've had enough of them!"
The novelist turned aside, and Mr. Weil, too hurt to say a word, arose and silently left the room. His brain whirled so that he was actually giddy. Not knowing where else to turn he went to see Mr. Gouger, to whom he unbosomed the result of his call.
"Don't be too serious about it," said Gouger, soothingly. "It's a good thing for the lad to get his sluggish blood stirred a little. In a day or two he'll be all right. That novel of his is coming on grandly!"
Weil was in no mood to talk about novels, and finding that he could get no consolation of the kind he craved, he soon left the office. The critic laughed silently to himself at the idea of the biter having at last been bitten, and then took his way to Roseleaf's rooms.
No answer being returned to his knock, he opened the door and entered. At first he thought the place was vacant, but presently he espied a still form on the bed. The novelist was stretched out in an attitude which at first suggested death rather than sleep, and alarmed the visitor not a little. Investigation, however, showed that he was simply in a tired sleep, worn out with worry and restless nights.
"What a beauty!" whispered Gouger. "A very dramatic scene could be worked up if that sweetheart of his were brought here and made to stand beside the couch when he awakes. Yes, it would be grand, but it would need his own pen to trace the words!"
The hardly dry pages of the great manuscript that lay on an adjacent desk caught the eyes of the critic, and he sat down to scan them closer. As he turned the leaves he grew so delighted as to become almost uncontrollable.
"He's a genius, nothing less!" he said, rapturously, and then tiptoed softly from the chamber.
"I'VE HAD SUCH LUCK!"
One day Mr. Fern came home in a state of great excitement. He had not acted naturally for a long time and Daisy, who met him at the door, wondered what could be the cause of his strange manner. He caught his daughter in his arms and kissed her like a lover. Tears came to his eyes, but they were tears of joy. He laughed hysterically as he wiped them away and told her not to mind him, for he was the happiest man in New York.
"I've had such luck!" he exclaimed, when she stared at him. "Oh, Daisy, I've had such grand luck!"
She led him to a seat on a sofa and waited for him to tell her more.
"You can't imagine the relief I feel," he continued, when he had caught sufficient breath. "I've had an awful time in business for years, but to-day everything is all cleared up. The house over our heads was mortgaged; the notes I owed Boggs were almost due; I had given out paper that I could see no way of meeting. And now it is all provided for, I am out of financial danger, and I have enough to quit business and live in ease and comfort with my family the rest of my days!"
Daisy could only look her surprise. She could not understand such a transformation. But she loved her father dearly, and seeing that he was happy made her happy, too; though she had had her own sorrows of late.