"Oh, I guess whoever takes the magazine will be glad enough to keep you!"
"Do you think so? Well, perhaps. But I don't believe Fulkerson would let me stand long between him and an Angel of the right description."
"Well, then, I believe he would. And you've never seen anything, Basil, to make you really think that Mr. Fulkerson didn't appreciate you to the utmost."
"I think I came pretty near an undervaluation in that Lindau trouble. I shall always wonder what put a backbone into Fulkerson just at that crisis. Fulkerson doesn't strike me as the stuff of a moral hero."
"At any rate, he was one," said Mrs. March, "and that's quite enough for me."
March did not answer. "What a noble thing life is, anyway! Here I am, well on the way to fifty, after twenty-five years of hard work, looking forward to the potential poor-house as confidently as I did in youth. We might have saved a little more than we have saved; but the little more wouldn't avail if I were turned out of my place now; and we should have lived sordidly to no purpose. Some one always has you by the throat, unless you have some one else in your grip. I wonder if that's the attitude the Almighty intended His respectable creatures to take toward one another! I wonder if He meant our civilization, the battle we fight in, the game we trick in! I wonder if He considers it final, and if the kingdom of heaven on earth, which we pray for—"
"Have you seen Lindau to-day?" Mrs. March asked.
"You inferred it from the quality of my piety?" March laughed, and then suddenly sobered. "Yes, I saw him. It's going rather hard with him, I'm afraid. The amputation doesn't heal very well; the shock was very great, and he's old. It 'll take time. There's so much pain that they have to keep him under opiates, and I don't think he fully knew me. At any rate, I didn't get my piety from him to-day."
"It's horrible! Horrible!" said Mrs. March. "I can't get over it! After losing his hand in the war, to lose his whole arm now in this way! It does seem too cruel! Of course he oughtn't to have been there; we can say that. But you oughtn't to have been there, either, Basil."
"Well, I wasn't exactly advising the police to go and club the railroad presidents."
"Neither was poor Conrad Dryfoos."
"I don't deny it. All that was distinctly the chance of life and death. That belonged to God; and no doubt it was law, though it seems chance. But what I object to is this economic chance-world in which we live, and which we men seem to have created. It ought to be law as inflexible in human affairs as the order of day and night in the physical world that if a man will work he shall both rest and eat, and shall not be harassed with any question as to how his repose and his provision shall come. Nothing less ideal than this satisfies the reason. But in our state of things no one is secure of this. No one is sure of finding work; no one is sure of not losing it. I may have my work taken away from me at any moment by the caprice, the mood, the indigestion of a man who has not the qualification for knowing whether I do it well, or ill. At my time of life—at every time of life—a man ought to feel that if he will keep on doing his duty he shall not suffer in himself or in those who are dear to him, except through natural causes. But no man can feel this as things are now; and so we go on, pushing and pulling, climbing and crawling, thrusting aside and trampling underfoot; lying, cheating, stealing; and then we get to the end, covered with blood and dirt and sin and shame, and look back over the way we've come to a palace of our own, or the poor-house, which is about the only possession we can claim in common with our brother-men, I don't think the retrospect can be pleasing."
"I know, I know!" said his wife. "I think of those things, too, Basil. Life isn't what it seems when you look forward to it. But I think people would suffer less, and wouldn't have to work so hard, and could make all reasonable provision for the future, if they were not so greedy and so foolish."
"Oh, without doubt! We can't put it all on the conditions; we must put some of the blame on character. But conditions make character; and people are greedy and foolish, and wish to have and to shine, because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good of life. We all know they are not the chief good, perhaps not good at all; but if some one ventures to say so, all the rest of us call him a fraud and a crank, and go moiling and toiling on to the palace or the poor-house. We can't help it. If one were less greedy or less foolish, some one else would have and would shine at his expense. We don't moil and toil to ourselves alone; the palace or the poor-house is not merely for ourselves, but for our children, whom we've brought up in the superstition that having and shining is the chief good. We dare not teach them otherwise, for fear they may falter in the fight when it comes their turn, and the children of others will crowd them out of the palace into the poor-house. If we felt sure that honest work shared by all would bring them honest food shared by all, some heroic few of us, who did not wish our children to rise above their fellows—though we could not bear to have them fall below—might trust them with the truth. But we have no such assurance, and so we go on trembling before Dryfooses and living in gimcrackeries."
"Basil, Basil! I was always willing to live more simply than you. You know I was!"
"I know you always said so, my dear. But how many bell-ratchets and speaking-tubes would you be willing to have at the street door below? I remember that when we were looking for a flat you rejected every building that had a bell-ratchet or a speaking-tube, and would have nothing to do with any that had more than an electric button; you wanted a hall-boy, with electric buttons all over him. I don't blame you. I find such things quite as necessary as you do."
"And do you mean to say, Basil," she asked, abandoning this unprofitable branch of the inquiry, "that you are really uneasy about your place? that you are afraid Mr. Dryfoos may give up being an Angel, and Mr. Fulkerson may play you false?"
"Play me false? Oh, it wouldn't be playing me false. It would be merely looking out for himself, if the new Angel had editorial tastes and wanted my place. It's what any one would do."
"You wouldn't do it, Basil!"
"Wouldn't I? Well, if any one offered me more salary than 'Every Other Week' pays—say, twice as much—what do you think my duty to my suffering family would be? It's give and take in the business world, Isabel; especially take. But as to being uneasy, I'm not, in the least. I've the spirit of a lion, when it comes to such a chance as that. When I see how readily the sensibilities of the passing stranger can be worked in New York, I think of taking up the role of that desperate man on Third Avenue who went along looking for garbage in the gutter to eat. I think I could pick up at least twenty or thirty cents a day by that little game, and maintain my family in the affluence it's been accustomed to."
"Basil!" cried his wife. "You don't mean to say that man was an impostor! And I've gone about, ever since, feeling that one such case in a million, the bare possibility of it, was enough to justify all that Lindau said about the rich and the poor!"
March laughed teasingly. "Oh, I don't say he was an impostor. Perhaps he really was hungry; but, if he wasn't, what do you think of a civilization that makes the opportunity of such a fraud? that gives us all such a bad conscience for the need which is that we weaken to the need that isn't? Suppose that poor fellow wasn't personally founded on fact: nevertheless, he represented the truth; he was the ideal of the suffering which would be less effective if realistically treated. That man is a great comfort to me. He probably rioted for days on that quarter I gave him; made a dinner very likely, or a champagne supper; and if 'Every Other Week' wants to get rid of me, I intend to work that racket. You can hang round the corner with Bella, and Tom can come up to me in tears, at stated intervals, and ask me if I've found anything yet. To be sure, we might be arrested and sent up somewhere. But even in that extreme case we should be provided for. Oh no, I'm not afraid of losing my place! I've merely a sort of psychological curiosity to know how men like Dryfoos and Fulkerson will work out the problem before them."
It was a curiosity which Fulkerson himself shared, at least concerning Dryfoos. "I don't know what the old man's going to do," he said to March the day after the Marches had talked their future over. "Said anything to you yet?"
"No, not a word."
"You're anxious, I suppose, same as I am. Fact is," said Fulkerson, blushing a little, "I can't ask to have a day named till I know where I am in connection with the old man. I can't tell whether I've got to look out for something else or somebody else. Of course, it's full soon yet."
"Yes," March said, "much sooner than it seems to us. We're so anxious about the future that we don't remember how very recent the past is."
"That's something so. The old man's hardly had time yet to pull himself together. Well, I'm glad you feel that way about it, March. I guess it's more of a blow to him than we realize. He was a good deal bound up in Coonrod, though he didn't always use him very well. Well, I reckon it's apt to happen so oftentimes; curious how cruel love can be. Heigh? We're an awful mixture, March!"
"Yes, that's the marvel and the curse, as Browning says."
"Why, that poor boy himself," pursued Fulkerson, had streaks of the mule in him that could give odds to Beaton, and he must have tried the old man by the way he would give in to his will and hold out against his judgment. I don't believe he ever budged a hairs-breadth from his original position about wanting to be a preacher and not wanting to be a business man. Well, of course! I don't think business is all in all; but it must have made the old man mad to find that without saying anything, or doing anything to show it, and after seeming to come over to his ground, and really coming, practically, Coonrod was just exactly where he first planted himself, every time."
"Yes, people that have convictions are difficult. Fortunately, they're rare."
"Do you think so? It seems to me that everybody's got convictions. Beaton himself, who hasn't a principle to throw at a dog, has got convictions the size of a barn. They ain't always the same ones, I know, but they're always to the same effect, as far as Beaton's being Number One is concerned. The old man's got convictions or did have, unless this thing lately has shaken him all up—and he believes that money will do everything. Colonel Woodburn's got convictions that he wouldn't part with for untold millions. Why, March, you got convictions yourself!"
"Have I?" said March. "I don't know what they are."
"Well, neither do I; but I know you were ready to kick the trough over for them when the old man wanted us to bounce Lindau that time."
"Oh yes," said March; he remembered the fact; but he was still uncertain just what the convictions were that he had been so stanch for.
"I suppose we could have got along without you," Fulkerson mused aloud. "It's astonishing how you always can get along in this world without the man that is simply indispensable. Makes a fellow realize that he could take a day off now and then without deranging the solar system a great deal. Now here's Coonrod—or, rather, he isn't. But that boy managed his part of the schooner so well that I used to tremble when I thought of his getting the better of the old man and going into a convent or something of that kind; and now here he is, snuffed out in half a second, and I don't believe but what we shall be sailing along just as chipper as usual inside of thirty days. I reckon it will bring the old man to the point when I come to talk with him about who's to be put in Coonrod's place. I don't like very well to start the subject with him; but it's got to be done some time."
"Yes," March admitted. "It's terrible to think how unnecessary even the best and wisest of us is to the purposes of Providence. When I looked at that poor young fellow's face sometimes—so gentle and true and pure— I used to think the world was appreciably richer for his being in it. But are we appreciably poorer for his being out of it now?"
"No, I don't reckon we are," said Fulkerson. "And what a lot of the raw material of all kinds the Almighty must have, to waste us the way He seems to do. Think of throwing away a precious creature like Coonrod Dryfoos on one chance in a thousand of getting that old fool of a Lindau out of the way of being clubbed! For I suppose that was what Coonrod was up to. Say! Have you been round to see Lindau to-day?"
Something in the tone or the manner of Fulkerson startled March. "No! I haven't seen him since yesterday."
"Well, I don't know," said Fulkerson. "I guess I saw him a little while after you did, and that young doctor there seemed to feel kind of worried about him.
"Or not worried, exactly; they can't afford to let such things worry them, I suppose; but—"
"He's worse?" asked March.
"Oh, he didn't say so. But I just wondered if you'd seen him to-day."
"I think I'll go now," said March, with a pang at heart. He had gone every day to see Lindau, but this day he had thought he would not go, and that was why his heart smote him. He knew that if he were in Lindau's place Lindau would never have left his side if he could have helped it. March tried to believe that the case was the same, as it stood now; it seemed to him that he was always going to or from the hospital; he said to himself that it must do Lindau harm to be visited so much. But be knew that this was not true when he was met at the door of the ward where Lindau lay by the young doctor, who had come to feel a personal interest in March's interest in Lindau.
He smiled without gayety, and said, "He's just going."
"Oh no. He has been failing very fast since you saw him yesterday, and now—" They had been walking softly and talking softly down the aisle between the long rows of beds. "Would you care to see him?"
The doctor made a slight gesture toward the white canvas screen which in such places forms the death-chamber of the poor and friendless. "Come round this way—he won't know you! I've got rather fond of the poor old fellow. He wouldn't have a clergyman—sort of agnostic, isn't he? A good many of these Germans are—but the young lady who's been coming to see him—"
They both stopped. Lindau's grand, patriarchal head, foreshortened to their view, lay white upon the pillow, and his broad, white beard flowed upon the sheet, which heaved with those long last breaths. Beside his bed Margaret Vance was kneeling; her veil was thrown back, and her face was lifted; she held clasped between her hands the hand of the dying man; she moved her lips inaudibly.
In spite of the experience of the whole race from time immemorial, when death comes to any one we know we helplessly regard it as an incident of life, which will presently go on as before. Perhaps this is an instinctive perception of the truth that it does go on somewhere; but we have a sense of death as absolutely the end even for earth only if it relates to some one remote or indifferent to us. March tried to project Lindau to the necessary distance from himself in order to realize the fact in his case, but he could not, though the man with whom his youth had been associated in a poetic friendship had not actually reentered the region of his affection to the same degree, or in any like degree. The changed conditions forbade that. He had a soreness of heart concerning him; but he could not make sure whether this soreness was grief for his death, or remorse for his own uncandor with him about Dryfoos, or a foreboding of that accounting with his conscience which he knew his wife would now exact of him down to the last minutest particular of their joint and several behavior toward Lindau ever since they had met him in New York.
He felt something knock against his shoulder, and he looked up to have his hat struck from his head by a horse's nose. He saw the horse put his foot on the hat, and he reflected, "Now it will always look like an accordion," and he heard the horse's driver address him some sarcasms before he could fully awaken to the situation. He was standing bareheaded in the middle of Fifth Avenue and blocking the tide of carriages flowing in either direction. Among the faces put out of the carriage windows he saw that of Dryfoos looking from a coupe. The old man knew him, and said, "Jump in here, Mr. March"; and March, who had mechanically picked up his hat, and was thinking, "Now I shall have to tell Isabel about this at once, and she will never trust me on the street again without her," mechanically obeyed. Her confidence in him had been undermined by his being so near Conrad when he was shot; and it went through his mind that he would get Dryfoos to drive him to a hatter's, where he could buy a new hat, and not be obliged to confess his narrow escape to his wife till the incident was some days old and she could bear it better. It quite drove Lindau's death out of his mind for the moment; and when Dryfoos said if he was going home he would drive up to the first cross-street and turn back with him, March said he would be glad if he would take him to a hat-store. The old man put his head out again and told the driver to take them to the Fifth Avenue Hotel. "There's a hat- store around there somewhere, seems to me," he said; and they talked of March's accident as well as they could in the rattle and clatter of the street till they reached the place. March got his hat, passing a joke with the hatter about the impossibility of pressing his old hat over again, and came out to thank Dryfoos and take leave of him.
"If you ain't in any great hurry," the old man said, "I wish you'd get in here a minute. I'd like to have a little talk with you."
"Oh, certainly," said March, and he thought: "It's coming now about what he intends to do with 'Every Other Week.' Well, I might as well have all the misery at once and have it over."
Dryfoos called up to his driver, who bent his head down sidewise to listen: "Go over there on Madison Avenue, onto that asphalt, and keep drivin' up and down till I stop you. I can't hear myself think on these pavements," he said to March. But after they got upon the asphalt, and began smoothly rolling over it, he seemed in no haste to begin. At last he said, "I wanted to talk with you about that—that Dutchman that was at my dinner—Lindau," and March's heart gave a jump with wonder whether he could already have heard of Lindau's death; but in an instant he perceived that this was impossible. "I been talkin' with Fulkerson about him, and he says they had to take the balance of his arm off."
March nodded; it seemed to him he could not speak. He could not make out from the close face of the old man anything of his motive. It was set, but set as a piece of broken mechanism is when it has lost the power to relax itself. There was no other history in it of what the man had passed through in his son's death.
"I don't know," Dryfoos resumed, looking aside at the cloth window-strap, which he kept fingering, "as you quite understood what made me the maddest. I didn't tell him I could talk Dutch, because I can't keep it up with a regular German; but my father was Pennsylvany Dutch, and I could understand what he was saying to you about me. I know I had no business to understood it, after I let him think I couldn't but I did, and I didn't like very well to have a man callin' me a traitor and a tyrant at my own table. Well, I look at it differently now, and I reckon I had better have tried to put up with it; and I would, if I could have known—" He stopped with a quivering lip, and then went on: "Then, again, I didn't like his talkin' that paternalism of his. I always heard it was the worst kind of thing for the country; I was brought up to think the best government was the one that governs the least; and I didn't want to hear that kind of talk from a man that was livin' on my money. I couldn't bear it from him. Or I thought I couldn't before—before—" He stopped again, and gulped. "I reckon now there ain't anything I couldn't bear." March was moved by the blunt words and the mute stare forward with which they ended. "Mr. Dryfoos, I didn't know that you understood Lindau's German, or I shouldn't have allowed him he wouldn't have allowed himself—to go on. He wouldn't have knowingly abused his position of guest to censure you, no matter how much he condemned you." "I don't care for it now," said Dryfoos. "It's all past and gone, as far as I'm concerned; but I wanted you to see that I wasn't tryin' to punish him for his opinions, as you said."
"No; I see now," March assented, though he thought, his position still justified. "I wish—"
"I don't know as I understand much about his opinions, anyway; but I ain't ready to say I want the men dependent on me to manage my business for me. I always tried to do the square thing by my hands; and in that particular case out there I took on all the old hands just as fast as they left their Union. As for the game I came on them, it was dog eat dog, anyway."
March could have laughed to think how far this old man was from even conceiving of Lindau's point'of view, and how he was saying the worst of himself that Lindau could have said of him. No one could have characterized the kind of thing he had done more severely than he when he called it dog eat dog.
"There's a great deal to be said on both sides," March began, hoping to lead up through this generality to the fact of Lindau's death; but the old man went on:
"Well, all I wanted him to know is that I wasn't trying to punish him for what he said about things in general. You naturally got that idea, I reckon; but I always went in for lettin' people say what they please and think what they please; it's the only way in a free country."
"I'm afraid, Mr. Dryfoos, that it would make little difference to Lindau now—"
"I don't suppose he bears malice for it," said Dryfoos, "but what I want to do is to have him told so. He could understand just why I didn't want to be called hard names, and yet I didn't object to his thinkin' whatever he pleased. I'd like him to know—"
"No one can speak to him, no one can tell him," March began again, but again Dryfoos prevented him from going on.
"I understand it's a delicate thing; and I'm not askin' you to do it. What I would really like to do—if you think he could be prepared for it, some way, and could stand it—would be to go to him myself, and tell him just what the trouble was. I'm in hopes, if I done that, he could see how I felt about it."
A picture of Dryfoos going to the dead Lindau with his vain regrets presented itself to March, and he tried once more to make the old man understand. "Mr. Dryfoos," he said, "Lindau is past all that forever," and he felt the ghastly comedy of it when Dryfoos continued, without heeding him
"I got a particular reason why I want him to believe it wasn't his ideas I objected to—them ideas of his about the government carryin' everything on and givin' work. I don't understand 'em exactly, but I found a writin'—among—my son's-things" (he seemed to force the words through his teeth), "and I reckon he—thought—that way. Kind of a diary—where he—put down—his thoughts. My son and me—we differed about a good- many things." His chin shook, and from time to time he stopped. "I wasn't very good to him, I reckon; I crossed him where I guess I got no business to cross him; but I thought everything of—Coonrod. He was the best boy, from a baby, that ever was; just so patient and mild, and done whatever he was told. I ought to 'a' let him been a preacher! Oh, my son! my son!" The sobs could not be kept back any longer; they shook the old man with a violence that made March afraid for him; but he controlled himself at last with a series of hoarse sounds like barks. "Well, it's all past and gone! But as I understand you from what you saw, when Coonrod was—killed, he was tryin' to save that old man from trouble?"
Yes, yes! It seemed so to me."
"That 'll do, then! I want you to have him come back and write for the book when he gets well. I want you to find out and let me know if there's anything I can do for him. I'll feel as if I done it—for my— son. I'll take him into my own house, and do for him there, if you say so, when he gets so he can be moved. I'll wait on him myself. It's what Coonrod 'd do, if he was here. I don't feel any hardness to him because it was him that got Coonrod killed, as you might say, in one sense of the term; but I've tried to think it out, and I feel like I was all the more beholden to him because my son died tryin' to save him. Whatever I do, I'll be doin' it for Coonrod, and that's enough for me." He seemed to have finished, and he turned to March as if to hear what he had to say.
March hesitated. "I'm afraid, Mr. Dryfoos—Didn't Fulkerson tell you that Lindau was very sick?"
"Yes, of course. But he's all right, he said."
Now it had to come, though the fact had been latterly playing fast and loose with March's consciousness. Something almost made him smile; the willingness he had once felt to give this old man pain; then he consoled himself by thinking that at least he was not obliged to meet Dryfoos's wish to make atonement with the fact that Lindau had renounced him, and would on no terms work for such a man as he, or suffer any kindness from him. In this light Lindau seemed the harder of the two, and March had the momentary force to say
"Mr. Dryfoos—it can't be. Lindau—I have just come from him—is dead."
"How did he take it? How could he bear it? Oh, Basil! I wonder you could have the heart to say it to him. It was cruel!"
"Yes, cruel enough, my dear," March owned to his wife, when they talked the matter over on his return home. He could not wait till the children were out of the way, and afterward neither he nor his wife was sorry that he had spoken of it before them. The girl cried plentifully for her old friend who was dead, and said she hated Mr. Dryfoos, and then was sorry for him, too; and the boy listened to all, and spoke with a serious sense that pleased his father. "But as to how he took it," March went on to answer his wife's question about Dryfoos—"how do any of us take a thing that hurts? Some of us cry out, and some of us don't. Dryfoos drew a kind of long, quivering breath, as a child does when it grieves—there's something curiously simple and primitive about him—and didn't say anything. After a while he asked me how he could see the people at the hospital about the remains; I gave him my card to the young doctor there that had charge of Lindau. I suppose he was still carrying forward his plan of reparation in his mind—to the dead for the dead. But how useless! If he could have taken the living Lindau home with him, and cared for him all his days, what would it have profited the gentle creature whose life his worldly ambition vexed and thwarted here? He might as well offer a sacrifice at Conrad's grave. Children," said March, turning to them, "death is an exile that no remorse and no love can reach. Remember that, and be good to every one here on earth, for your longing to retrieve any harshness or unkindness to the dead will be the very ecstasy of anguish to you. I wonder," he mused, "if one of the reasons why we're shut up to our ignorance of what is to be hereafter isn't because if we were sure of another world we might be still more brutal to one another here, in the hope of making reparation somewhere else. Perhaps, if we ever come to obey the law of love on earth, the mystery of death will be taken away."
"Well"—the ancestral Puritanism spoke in Mrs. March—" these two old men have been terribly punished. They have both been violent and wilful, and they have both been punished. No one need ever tell me there is not a moral government of the universe!"
March always disliked to hear her talk in this way, which did both her head and heart injustice. "And Conrad," he said, "what was he punished for?"
"He?" she answered, in an exaltation—" he suffered for the sins of others."
"Ah, well, if you put it in that way, yes. That goes on continually. That's another mystery."
He fell to brooding on it, and presently he heard his son saying, "I suppose, papa, that Mr. Lindau died in a bad cause?"
March was startled. He had always been so sorry for Lindau, and admired his courage and generosity so much, that he had never fairly considered this question. "Why, yes," he answered; "he died in the cause of disorder; he was trying to obstruct the law. No doubt there was a wrong there, an inconsistency and an injustice that he felt keenly; but it could not be reached in his way without greater wrong."
"Yes; that's what I thought," said the boy. "And what's the use of our ever fighting about anything in America? I always thought we could vote anything we wanted."
"We can, if we're honest, and don't buy and sell one another's votes," said his father. "And men like Lindau, who renounce the American means as hopeless, and let their love of justice hurry them into sympathy with violence—yes, they are wrong; and poor Lindau did die in a bad cause, as you say, Tom."
"I think Conrad had no business there, or you, either, Basil," said his wife.
"Oh, I don't defend myself," said March. "I was there in the cause of literary curiosity and of conjugal disobedience. But Conrad—yes, he had some business there: it was his business to suffer there for the sins of others. Isabel, we can't throw aside that old doctrine of the Atonement yet. The life of Christ, it wasn't only in healing the sick and going about to do good; it was suffering for the sins of others. That's as great a mystery as the mystery of death. Why should there be such a principle in the world? But it's been felt, and more or less dumbly, blindly recognized ever since Calvary. If we love mankind, pity them, we even wish to suffer for them. That's what has created the religious orders in all times—the brotherhoods and sisterhoods that belong to our day as much as to the mediaeval past. That's what is driving a girl like Margaret Vance, who has everything that the world can offer her young beauty, on to the work of a Sister of Charity among the poor and the dying."
"Yes, yes!" cried Mrs. March. "How—how did she look there, Basil?" She had her feminine misgivings; she was not sure but the girl was something of a poseuse, and enjoyed the picturesqueness, as well as the pain; and she wished to be convinced that it was not so.
"Well," she said, when March had told again the little there was to tell, "I suppose it must be a great trial to a woman like Mrs. Horn to have her niece going that way."
"The way of Christ?" asked March, with a smile.
"Oh, Christ came into the world to teach us how to live rightly in it, too. If we were all to spend our time in hospitals, it would be rather dismal for the homes. But perhaps you don't think the homes are worth minding?" she suggested, with a certain note in her voice that he knew.
He got up and kissed her. "I think the gimcrackeries are." He took the hat he had set down on the parlor table on coming in, and started to put it in the hall, and that made her notice it.
"You've been getting a new hat!"
"Yes," he hesitated; "the old one had got—was decidedly shabby."
"Well, that's right. I don't like you to wear them too long. Did you leave the old one to be pressed?"
"Well, the hatter seemed to think it was hardly worth pressing," said March. He decided that for the present his wife's nerves had quite all they could bear.
It was in a manner grotesque, but to March it was all the more natural for that reason, that Dryfoos should have Lindau's funeral from his house. He knew the old man to be darkly groping, through the payment of these vain honors to the dead, for some atonement to his son, and he imagined him finding in them such comfort as comes from doing all one can, even when all is useless.
No one knew what Lindau's religion was, and in default they had had the Anglican burial service read over him; it seems so often the refuge of the homeless dead. Mrs. Dryfoos came down for the ceremony. She understood that it was for Coonrod's sake that his father wished the funeral to be there; and she confided to Mrs. March that she believed Coonrod would have been pleased. "Coonrod was a member of the 'Piscopal Church; and fawther's doin' the whole thing for Coonrod as much as for anybody. He thought the world of Coonrod, fawther did. Mela, she kind of thought it would look queer to have two funerals from the same house, hand-runnin', as you might call it, and one of 'em no relation, either; but when she saw how fawther was bent on it, she give in. Seems as if she was tryin' to make up to fawther for Coonrod as much as she could. Mela always was a good child, but nobody can ever come up to Coonrod."
March felt all the grotesqueness, the hopeless absurdity of Dryfoos's endeavor at atonement in these vain obsequies to the man for whom he believed his son to have died; but the effort had its magnanimity, its pathos, and there was a poetry that appealed to him in the reconciliation through death of men, of ideas, of conditions, that could only have gone warring on in life. He thought, as the priest went on with the solemn liturgy, how all the world must come together in that peace which, struggle and strive as we may, shall claim us at last. He looked at Dryfoos, and wondered whether he would consider these rites a sufficient tribute, or whether there was enough in him to make him realize their futility, except as a mere sign of his wish to retrieve the past. He thought how we never can atone for the wrong we do; the heart we have grieved and wounded cannot kindle with pity for us when once it is stilled; and yet we can put our evil from us with penitence, and somehow, somewhere, the order of loving kindness, which our passion or our wilfulness has disturbed, will be restored.
Dryfoos, through Fulkerson, had asked all the more intimate contributors of 'Every Other Week' to come. Beaton was absent, but Fulkerson had brought Miss Woodburn, with her father, and Mrs. Leighton and Alma, to fill up, as he said. Mela was much present, and was official with the arrangement of the flowers and the welcome of the guests. She imparted this impersonality to her reception of Kendricks, whom Fulkerson met in the outer hall with his party, and whom he presented in whisper to them all. Kendricks smiled under his breath, as it were, and was then mutely and seriously polite to the Leightons. Alma brought a little bunch of flowers, which were lost in those which Dryfoos had ordered to be unsparingly provided.
It was a kind of satisfaction to Mela to have Miss Vance come, and reassuring as to how it would look to have the funeral there; Miss Vance would certainly not have come unless it had been all right; she had come, and had sent some Easter lilies.
"Ain't Christine coming down?" Fulkerson asked Mela.
"No, she ain't a bit well, and she ain't been, ever since Coonrod died. I don't know, what's got over her," said Mela. She added, "Well, I should 'a' thought Mr. Beaton would 'a' made out to 'a' come!"
"Beaton's peculiar," said Fulkerson. "If he thinks you want him he takes a pleasure in not letting you have him."
"Well, goodness knows, I don't want him," said the girl.
Christine kept her room, and for the most part kept her bed; but there seemed nothing definitely the matter with her, and she would not let them call a doctor. Her mother said she reckoned she was beginning to feel the spring weather, that always perfectly pulled a body down in New York; and Mela said if being as cross as two sticks was any sign of spring- fever, Christine had it bad. She was faithfully kind to her, and submitted to all her humors, but she recompensed herself by the freest criticism of Christine when not in actual attendance on her. Christine would not suffer Mrs. Mandel to approach her, and she had with her father a sullen submission which was not resignation. For her, apparently, Conrad had not died, or had died in vain.
"Pshaw!" said Mela, one morning when she came to breakfast, "I reckon if we was to send up an old card of Mr. Beaton's she'd rattle down-stairs fast enough. If she's sick, she's love-sick. It makes me sick to see her."
Mela was talking to Mrs. Mandel, but her father looked up from his plate and listened. Mela went on: "I don't know what's made the fellow quit comun'. But he was an aggravatun' thing, and no more dependable than water. It's just like Air. Fulkerson said, if he thinks you want him he'll take a pleasure in not lettun' you have him. I reckon that's what's the matter with Christine. I believe in my heart the girl 'll die if she don't git him."
Mela went on to eat her breakfast with her own good appetite. She now always came down to keep her father company, as she said, and she did her best to cheer and comfort him. At least she kept the talk going, and she had it nearly all to herself, for Mrs. Mandel was now merely staying on provisionally, and, in the absence of any regrets or excuses from Christine, was looking ruefully forward to the moment when she must leave even this ungentle home for the chances of the ruder world outside.
The old man said nothing at table, but, when Mela went up to see if she could do anything for Christine, he asked Mrs. Mandel again about all the facts of her last interview with Beaton.
She gave them as fully as she could remember them, and the old man made no comment on them. But he went out directly after, and at the 'Every Other Week' office he climbed the stairs to Fulkerson's room and asked for Beaton's address. No one yet had taken charge of Conrad's work, and Fulkerson was running the thing himself, as he said, till he could talk with Dryfoos about it. The old man would not look into the empty room where he had last seen his son alive; he turned his face away and hurried by the door.
The course of public events carried Beaton's private affairs beyond the reach of his simple first intention to renounce his connection with 'Every Other Week.' In fact, this was not perhaps so simple as it seemed, and long before it could be put in effect it appeared still simpler to do nothing about the matter—to remain passive and leave the initiative to Dryfoos, to maintain the dignity of unconsciousness and let recognition of any change in the situation come from those who had caused the change. After all, it was rather absurd to propose making a purely personal question the pivot on which his relations with 'Every Other Week' turned. He took a hint from March's position and decided that he did not know Dryfoos in these relations; he knew only Fulkerson, who had certainly had nothing to do with Mrs. Mandel's asking his intentions. As he reflected upon this he became less eager to look Fulkerson up and make the magazine a partner of his own sufferings. This was the soberer mood to which Beaton trusted that night even before he slept, and he awoke fully confirmed in it. As he examined the offence done him in the cold light of day, he perceived that it had not come either from Mrs. Mandel, who was visibly the faltering and unwilling instrument of it, or from Christine, who was altogether ignorant of it, but from Dryfoos, whom he could not hurt by giving up his place. He could only punish Fulkerson by that, and Fulkerson was innocent. Justice and interest alike dictated the passive course to which Beaton inclined; and he reflected that he might safely leave the punishment of Dryfoos to Christine, who would find out what had happened, and would be able to take care of herself in any encounter of tempers with her father.
Beaton did not go to the office during the week that followed upon this conclusion; but they were used there to these sudden absences of his, and, as his work for the time was in train, nothing was made of his staying away, except the sarcastic comment which the thought of him was apt to excite in the literary department. He no longer came so much to the Leightons, and Fulkerson was in no state of mind to miss any one there except Miss Woodburn, whom he never missed. Beaton was left, then, unmolestedly awaiting the course of destiny, when he read in the morning paper, over his coffee at Maroni's, the deeply scare-headed story of Conrad's death and the clubbing of Lindau. He probably cared as little for either of them as any man that ever saw them; but he felt a shock, if not a pang, at Conrad's fate, so out of keeping with his life and character. He did not know what to do; and he did nothing. He was not asked to the funeral, but he had not expected that, and, when Fulkerson brought him notice that Lindau was also to be buried from Dryfoos's house, it was without his usual sullen vindictiveness that he kept away. In his sort, and as much as a man could who was necessarily so much taken up with himself, he was sorry for Conrad's father; Beaton had a peculiar tenderness for his own father, and he imagined how his father would feel if it were he who had been killed in Conrad's place, as it might very well have been; he sympathized with himself in view of the possibility; and for once they were mistaken who thought him indifferent and merely brutal in his failure to appear at Lindau's obsequies.
He would really have gone if he had known how to reconcile his presence in that house with the terms of his effective banishment from it; and he was rather forgivingly finding himself wronged in the situation, when Dryfoos knocked at the studio door the morning after Lindau's funeral. Beaton roared out, "Come in!" as he always did to a knock if he had not a model; if he had a model he set the door slightly ajar, and with his palette on his thumb frowned at his visitor and told him he could not come in. Dryfoos fumbled about for the knob in the dim passageway outside, and Beaton, who had experience of people's difficulties with it, suddenly jerked the door open. The two men stood confronted, and at first sight of each other their quiescent dislike revived. Each would have been willing to turn away from the other, but that was not possible. Beaton snorted some sort of inarticulate salutation, which Dryfoos did not try to return; he asked if he could see him alone for a minute or two, and Beaton bade him come in, and swept some paint-blotched rags from the chair which he told him to take. He noticed, as the old man sank tremulously into it, that his movement was like that of his own father, and also that he looked very much like Christine. Dryfoos folded his hands tremulously on the top of his horn-handled stick, and he was rather finely haggard, with the dark hollows round his black eyes and the fall of the muscles on either side of his chin. He had forgotten to take his soft, wide-brimmed hat off; and Beaton felt a desire to sketch him just as he sat.
Dryfoos suddenly pulled himself together from the dreary absence into which he fell at first. "Young man," he began, "maybe I've come here on a fool's errand," and Beaton rather fancied that beginning.
But it embarrassed him a little, and he said, with a shy glance aside, "I don't know what you mean." "I reckon," Dryfoos answered, quietly, "you got your notion, though. I set that woman on to speak to you the way she done. But if there was anything wrong in the way she spoke, or if you didn't feel like she had any right to question you up as if we suspected you of anything mean, I want you to say so."
Beaton said nothing, and the old man went on.
"I ain't very well up in the ways of the world, and I don't pretend to be. All I want is to be fair and square with everybody. I've made mistakes, though, in my time—" He stopped, and Beaton was not proof against the misery of his face, which was twisted as with some strong physical ache. "I don't know as I want to make any more, if I can help it. I don't know but what you had a right to keep on comin', and if you had I want you to say so. Don't you be afraid but what I'll take it in the right way. I don't want to take advantage of anybody, and I don't ask you to say any more than that."
Beaton did not find the humiliation of the man who had humiliated him so sweet as he could have fancied it might be. He knew how it had come about, and that it was an effect of love for his child; it did not matter by what ungracious means she had brought him to know that he loved her better than his own will, that his wish for her happiness was stronger than his pride; it was enough that he was now somehow brought to give proof of it. Beaton could not be aware of all that dark coil of circumstance through which Dryfoos's present action evolved itself; the worst of this was buried in the secret of the old man's heart, a worm of perpetual torment. What was apparent to another was that he was broken by the sorrow that had fallen upon him, and it was this that Beaton respected and pitied in his impulse to be frank and kind in his answer.
"No, I had no right to keep coming to your house in the way I did, unless—unless I meant more than I ever said." Beaton added: "I don't say that what you did was usual—in this country, at any rate; but I can't say you were wrong. Since you speak to me about the matter, it's only fair to myself to say that a good deal goes on in life without much thinking of consequences. That's the way I excuse myself."
"And you say Mrs. Mandel done right?" asked Dryfoos, as if he wished simply to be assured of a point of etiquette.
"Yes, she did right. I've nothing to complain of."
"That's all I wanted to know," said Dryfoos; but apparently he had not finished, and he did not go, though the silence that Beaton now kept gave him a chance to do so. He began a series of questions which had no relation to the matter in hand, though they were strictly personal to Beaton. "What countryman are you?" he asked, after a moment.
"What countryman?" Beaton frowned back at him.
"Yes, are you an American by birth?"
"Yes; I was born in Syracuse."
"My father is a Scotch Seceder."
"What business is your father in?"
Beaton faltered and blushed; then he answered:
"He's in the monument business, as he calls it. He's a tombstone cutter." Now that he was launched, Beaton saw no reason for not declaring, "My father's always been a poor man, and worked with his own hands for his living." He had too slight esteem socially for Dryfoos to conceal a fact from him that he might have wished to blink with others.
"Well, that's right," said Dryfoos. "I used to farm it myself. I've got a good pile of money together, now. At first it didn't come easy; but now it's got started it pours in and pours in; it seems like there was no end to it. I've got well on to three million; but it couldn't keep me from losin' my son. It can't buy me back a minute of his life; not all the money in the world can do it!"
He grieved this out as if to himself rather than to Beaton, who, scarcely ventured to say, "I know—I am very sorry—"
"How did you come," Dryfoos interrupted, "to take up paintin'?"
"Well, I don't know," said Beaton, a little scornfully. "You don't. take a thing of that kind up, I fancy. I always wanted to paint."
"Father try to stop you?"
"No. It wouldn't have been of any use. Why—"
"My son, he wanted to be a preacher, and I did stop him or I thought I did. But I reckon he was a preacher, all the same, every minute of his life. As you say, it ain't any use to try to stop a thing like that. I reckon if a child has got any particular bent, it was given to it; and it's goin' against the grain, it's goin' against the law, to try to bend it some other way. There's lots of good business men, Mr. Beaton, twenty of 'em to every good preacher?"
"I imagine more than twenty," said Beaton, amused and touched through his curiosity as to what the old man was driving at by the quaint simplicity of his speculations.
"Father ever come to the city?"
"No; he never has the time; and my mother's an invalid."
"Oh! Brothers and sisters?"
"Yes; we're a large family."
"I lost two little fellers—twins," said Dryfoos, sadly. "But we hain't ever had but just the five. Ever take portraits?"
"Yes," said Beaton, meeting this zigzag in the queries as seriously as the rest. "I don't think I am good at it."
Dryfoos got to his feet. "I wish you'd paint a likeness of my son. You've seen him plenty of times. We won't fight about the price, don't you be afraid of that."
Beaton was astonished, and in a mistaken way he was disgusted. He saw that Dryfoos was trying to undo Mrs. Mandel's work practically, and get him to come again to his house; that he now conceived of the offence given him as condoned, and wished to restore the former situation. He knew that he was attempting this for Christine's sake, but he was not the man to imagine that Dryfoos was trying not only to tolerate him, but to like him; and, in fact, Dryfoos was not wholly conscious himself of this end. What they both understood was that Dryfoos was endeavoring to get at Beaton through Conrad's memory; but with one this was its dedication to a purpose of self sacrifice, and with the other a vulgar and shameless use of it.
"I couldn't do it," said Beaton. "I couldn't think of attempting it."
"Why not?" Dryfoos persisted. "We got some photographs of him; he didn't like to sit very well; but his mother got him to; and you know how he looked."
"I couldn't do it—I couldn't. I can't even consider it. I'm very sorry. I would, if it were possible. But it isn't possible."
"I reckon if you see the photographs once"
"It isn't that, Mr. Dryfoos. But I'm not in the way of that kind of thing any more."
"I'd give any price you've a mind to name—"
"Oh, it isn't the money!" cried Beaton, beginning to lose control of himself.
The old man did not notice him. He sat with his head fallen forward, and his chin resting on his folded hands. Thinking of the portrait, he saw Conrad's face before him, reproachful, astonished, but all gentle as it looked when Conrad caught his hand that day after he struck him; he heard him say, "Father!" and the sweat gathered on his forehead. "Oh, my God!" he groaned. "No; there ain't anything I can do now."
Beaton did not know whether Dryfoos was speaking to him or not. He started toward him. "Are you ill?"
"No, there ain't anything the matter," said the old man. "But I guess I'll lay down on your settee a minute." He tottered with Beaton's help to the aesthetic couch covered with a tiger-skin, on which Beaton had once thought of painting a Cleopatra; but he could never get the right model. As the old man stretched himself out on it, pale and suffering, he did not look much like a Cleopatra, but Beaton was struck with his effectiveness, and the likeness between him and his daughter; she would make a very good Cleopatra in some ways. All the time, while these thoughts passed through his mind, he was afraid Dryfoos would die. The old man fetched his breath in gasps, which presently smoothed and lengthened into his normal breathing. Beaton got him a glass of wine, and after tasting it he sat up.
"You've got to excuse me," he said, getting back to his characteristic grimness with surprising suddenness, when once he began to recover himself. "I've been through a good deal lately; and sometimes it ketches me round the heart like a pain."
In his life of selfish immunity from grief, Beaton could not understand this experience that poignant sorrow brings; he said to himself that Dryfoos was going the way of angina pectoris; as he began shuffling off the tiger-skin he said: "Had you better get up? Wouldn't you like me to call a doctor?"
"I'm all right, young man." Dryfoos took his hat and stick from him, but he made for the door so uncertainly that Beaton put his hand under his elbow and helped him out, and down the stairs, to his coupe.
"Hadn't you better let me drive home with you?" he asked.
"What?" said Dryfoos, suspiciously.
Beaton repeated his question.
"I guess I'm able to go home alone," said Dryfoos, in a surly tone, and he put his head out of the window and called up "Home!" to the driver, who immediately started off and left Beaton standing beside the curbstone.
Beaton wasted the rest of the day in the emotions and speculations which Dryfoos's call inspired. It was not that they continuously occupied him, but they broke up the train of other thoughts, and spoiled him for work; a very little spoiled Beaton for work; he required just the right mood for work. He comprehended perfectly well that Dryfoos had made him that extraordinary embassy because he wished him to renew his visits, and he easily imagined the means that had brought him to this pass. From what he knew of that girl he did not envy her father his meeting with her when he must tell her his mission had failed. But had it failed? When Beaton came to ask himself this question, he could only perceive that he and Dryfoos had failed to find any ground of sympathy, and had parted in the same dislike with which they had met. But as to any other failure, it was certainly tacit, and it still rested with him to give it effect. He could go back to Dryfoos's house, as freely as before, and it was clear that he was very much desired to come back. But if he went back it was also clear that he must go back with intentions more explicit than before, and now he had to ask himself just how much or how little he had meant by going there. His liking for Christine had certainly not increased, but the charm, on the other hand, of holding a leopardess in leash had not yet palled upon him. In his life of inconstancies, it was a pleasure to rest upon something fixed, and the man who had no control over himself liked logically enough to feel his control of some one else. The fact cannot other wise be put in terms, and the attraction which Christine Dryfoos had for him, apart from this, escapes from all terms, as anything purely and merely passional must. He had seen from the first that she was a cat, and so far as youth forecasts such things, he felt that she would be a shrew. But he had a perverse sense of her beauty, and he knew a sort of life in which her power to molest him with her temper could be reduced to the smallest proportions, and even broken to pieces. Then the consciousness of her money entered. It was evident that the old man had mentioned his millions in the way of a hint to him of what he might reasonably expect if he would turn and be his son-in- law. Beaton did not put it to himself in those words; and in fact his cogitations were not in words at all. It was the play of cognitions, of sensations, formlessly tending to the effect which can only be very clumsily interpreted in language. But when he got to this point in them, Beaton rose to magnanimity and in a flash of dramatic reverie disposed of a part of Dryfoos's riches in placing his father and mother, and his brothers and sisters, beyond all pecuniary anxiety forever. He had no shame, no scruple in this, for he had been a pensioner upon others ever since a Syracusan amateur of the arts had detected his talent and given him the money to go and study abroad. Beaton had always considered the money a loan, to be repaid out of his future success; but he now never dreamt of repaying it; as the man was rich, he had even a contempt for the notion of repaying him; but this did not prevent him from feeling very keenly the hardships he put his father to in borrowing money from him, though he never repaid his father, either. In this reverie he saw himself sacrificed in marriage with Christine Dryfoos, in a kind of admiring self-pity, and he was melted by the spectacle of the dignity with which he suffered all the lifelong trials ensuing from his unselfishness. The fancy that Alma Leighton came bitterly to regret him, contributed to soothe and flatter him, and he was not sure that Margaret. Vance did not suffer a like loss in him.
There had been times when, as he believed, that beautiful girl's high thoughts had tended toward him; there had been looks, gestures, even words, that had this effect to him, or that seemed to have had it; and Beaton saw that he might easily construe Mrs. Horn's confidential appeal to him to get Margaret interested in art again as something by no means necessarily offensive, even though it had been made to him as to a master of illusion. If Mrs. Horn had to choose between him and the life of good works to which her niece was visibly abandoning herself, Beaton could not doubt which she would choose; the only question was how real the danger of a life of good works was.
As he thought of these two girls, one so charming and the other so divine, it became indefinitely difficult to renounce them for Christine Dryfoos, with her sultry temper and her earthbound ideals. Life had been so flattering to Beaton hitherto that he could not believe them both finally indifferent; and if they were not indifferent, perhaps he did not wish either of them to be very definite. What he really longed for was their sympathy; for a man who is able to walk round quite ruthlessly on the feelings of others often has very tender feelings of his own, easily lacerated, and eagerly responsive to the caresses of compassion. In this frame Beaton determined to go that afternoon, though it was not Mrs. Horn's day, and call upon her in the hope of possibly seeing Miss Vance alone. As he continued in it, he took this for a sign and actually went. It did not fall out at once as he wished, but he got Mrs. Horn to talking again about her niece, and Mrs. Horn again regretted that nothing could be done by the fine arts to reclaim Margaret from good works.
"Is she at home? Will you let me see her?" asked Beacon, with something of the scientific interest of a physician inquiring for a patient whose symptoms have been rehearsed to him. He had not asked for her before.
"Yes, certainly," said Mrs. Horn, and she went herself to call Margaret, and she did not return with her. The girl entered with the gentle grace peculiar to her; and Beaton, bent as he was on his own consolation, could not help being struck with the spiritual exaltation of her look. At sight of her, the vague hope he had never quite relinquished, that they might be something more than aesthetic friends, died in his heart. She wore black, as she often did; but in spite of its fashion her dress received a nun-like effect from the pensive absence of her face. "Decidedly," thought Beaton, "she is far gone in good works."
But he rose, all the same, to meet her on the old level, and he began at once to talk to her of the subject he had been discussing with her aunt. He said frankly that they both felt she had unjustifiably turned her back upon possibilities which she ought not to neglect.
"You know very well," she answered, "that I couldn't do anything in that way worth the time I should waste on it. Don't talk of it, please. I suppose my aunt has been asking you to say this, but it's no use. I'm sorry it's no use, she wishes it so much; but I'm not sorry otherwise. You can find the pleasure at least of doing good work in it; but I couldn't find anything in it but a barren amusement. Mr. Wetmore is right; for me, it's like enjoying an opera, or a ball."
"That's one of Wetmore's phrases. He'd sacrifice anything to them."
She put aside the whole subject with a look. "You were not at Mr. Dryfoos's the other day. Have you seen them, any of them, lately?"
"I haven't been there for some time, no," said Beaton, evasively. But he thought if he was to get on to anything, he had better be candid. "Mr. Dryfoos was at my studio this morning. He's got a queer notion. He wants me to paint his son's portrait."
She started. "And will you—"
"No, I couldn't do such a thing. It isn't in my way. I told him so. His son had a beautiful face an antique profile; a sort of early Christian type; but I'm too much of a pagan for that sort of thing."
"Yes," Beaton continued, not quite liking her assent after he had invited it. He had his pride in being a pagan, a Greek, but it failed him in her presence, now; and he wished that she had protested he was none. "He was a singular creature; a kind of survival; an exile in our time and place. I don't know: we don't quite expect a saint to be rustic; but with all his goodness Conrad Dryfoos was a country person. If he were not dying for a cause you could imagine him milking." Beaton intended a contempt that came from the bitterness of having himself once milked the family cow.
His contempt did not reach Miss Vance. "He died for a cause," she said. "The holiest."
"Of peace. He was there to persuade the strikers to be quiet and go home."
"I haven't been quite sure," said Beaton. "But in any case he had no business there. The police were on hand to do the persuading."
"I can't let you talk so!" cried the girl. "It's shocking! Oh, I know it's the way people talk, and the worst is that in the sight of the world it's the right way. But the blessing on the peacemakers is not for the policemen with their clubs."
Beaton saw that she was nervous; he made his reflection that she was altogether too far gone in good works for the fine arts to reach her; he began to think how he could turn her primitive Christianity to the account of his modern heathenism. He had no deeper design than to get flattered back into his own favor far enough to find courage for some sort of decisive step. In his heart he was trying to will whether he should or should not go back to Dryfoos's house. It could not be from the caprice that had formerly taken him; it must be from a definite purpose; again he realized this. "Of course; you are right," he said. "I wish I could have answered that old man differently. I fancy he was bound up in his son, though he quarrelled with him, and crossed him. But I couldn't do it; it wasn't possible." He said to himself that if she said "No," now, he would be ruled by her agreement with him; and if she disagreed with him, he would be ruled still by the chance, and would go no more to the Dryfooses'. He found himself embarrassed to the point of blushing when she said nothing, and left him, as it were, on his own hands. "I should like to have given him that comfort; I fancy he hasn't much comfort in life; but there seems no comfort in me."
He dropped his head in a fit attitude for compassion; but she poured no pity upon it.
"There is no comfort for us in ourselves," she said. "It's hard to get outside; but there's only despair within. When we think we have done something for others, by some great effort, we find it's all for our own vanity."
"Yes," said Beaton. "If I could paint pictures for righteousness' sake, I should have been glad to do Conrad Dryfoos for his father. I felt sorry for him. Did the rest seem very much broken up? You saw them all?"
"Not all. Miss Dryfoos was ill, her sister said. It's hard to tell how much people suffer. His mother seemed bewildered. The younger sister is a simple creature; she looks like him; I think she must have something of his spirit."
"Not much spirit of any kind, I imagine," said Beaton. "But she's amiably material. Did they say Miss Dryfoos was seriously ill?"
"No. I supposed she might be prostrated by her brother's death."
"Does she seem that kind of person to you, Miss Vance?" asked Beaton.
"I don't know. I haven't tried to see so much of them as I might, the past winter. I was not sure about her when I met her; I've never seen much of people, except in my own set, and the—very poor. I have been afraid I didn't understand her. She may have a kind of pride that would not let her do herself justice."
Beaton felt the unconscious dislike in the endeavor of praise. "Then she seems to you like a person whose life—its trials, its chances—would make more of than she is now?"
"I didn't say that. I can't judge of her at all; but where we don't know, don't you think we ought to imagine the best?"
"Oh yes," said Beaton. "I didn't know but what I once said of them might have prejudiced you against them. I have accused myself of it." He always took a tone of conscientiousness, of self-censure, in talking with Miss Vance; he could not help it.
"Oh no. And I never allowed myself to form any judgment of her. She is very pretty, don't you think, in a kind of way?"
"She has a beautiful brunette coloring: that floury white and the delicate pink in it. Her eyes are beautiful."
"She's graceful, too," said Beaton. "I've tried her in color; but I didn't make it out."
"I've wondered sometimes," said Miss Vance, "whether that elusive quality you find in some people you try to paint doesn't characterize them all through. Miss Dryfoos might be ever so much finer and better than we would find out in the society way that seems the only way."
"Perhaps," said Beaton, gloomily; and he went away profoundly discouraged by this last analysis of Christine's character. The angelic imperviousness of Miss Vance to properties of which his own wickedness was so keenly aware in Christine might have made him laugh, if it had not been such a serious affair with him. As it was, he smiled to think how very differently Alma Leighton would have judged her from Miss Vance's premises. He liked that clear vision of Alma's even when it pierced his own disguises. Yes, that was the light he had let die out, and it might have shone upon his path through life. Beaton never felt so poignantly the disadvantage of having on any given occasion been wanting to his own interests through his self-love as in this. He had no one to blame but himself for what had happened, but he blamed Alma for what might happen in the future because she shut out the way of retrieval and return. When be thought of the attitude she had taken toward him, it seemed incredible, and he was always longing to give her a final chance to reverse her final judgment. It appeared to him that the time had come for this now, if ever.
While we are still young we feel a kind of pride, a sort of fierce pleasure, in any important experience, such as we have read of or heard of in the lives of others, no matter how painful. It was this pride, this pleasure, which Beaton now felt in realizing that the toils of fate were about him, that between him and a future of which Christine Dryfoos must be the genius there was nothing but the will, the mood, the fancy of a girl who had not given him the hope that either could ever again be in his favor. He had nothing to trust to, in fact, but his knowledge that he had once had them all; she did not deny that; but neither did she conceal that he had flung away his power over them, and she had told him that they never could be his again. A man knows that he can love and wholly cease to love, not once merely, but several times; he recognizes the fact in regard to himself, both theoretically and practically; but in regard to women he cherishes the superstition of the romances that love is once for all, and forever. It was because Beaton would not believe that Alma Leighton, being a woman, could put him out of her heart after suffering him to steal into it, that he now hoped anything from her, and she had been so explicit when they last spoke of that affair that he did not hope much. He said to himself that he was going to cast himself on her mercy, to take whatever chance of life, love, and work there was in her having the smallest pity on him. If she would have none, then there was but one thing he could do: marry Christine and go abroad. He did not see how he could bring this alternative to bear upon Alma; even if she knew what he would do in case of a final rejection, he had grounds for fearing she would not care; but he brought it to bear upon himself, and it nerved him to a desperate courage. He could hardly wait for evening to come, before he went to see her; when it came, it seemed to have come too soon. He had wrought himself thoroughly into the conviction that he was in earnest, and that everything depended upon her answer to him, but it was not till he found himself in her presence, and alone with her, that he realized the truth of his conviction. Then the influences of her grace, her gayety, her arch beauty, above all, her good sense, penetrated his soul like a subtle intoxication, and he said to himself that he was right; he could not live without her; these attributes of hers were what he needed to win him, to cheer him, to charm him, to guide him. He longed so to please her, to ingratiate himself with her, that he attempted to be light like her in his talk, but lapsed into abysmal absences and gloomy recesses of introspection.
"What are you laughing at?" he asked, suddenly starting from one of these.
"What you are thinking of."
"It's nothing to laugh at. Do you know what I'm thinking of?"
"Don't tell, if it's dreadful."
"Oh, I dare say you wouldn't think it's dreadful," he said, with bitterness. "It's simply the case of a man who has made a fool of himself and sees no help of retrieval in himself."
"Can any one else help a man unmake a fool of himself?" she asked, with a smile.
"Yes. In a case like this."
"Dear me! This is very interesting."
She did not ask him what the case was, but he was launched now, and he pressed on. "I am the man who has made a fool of himself—"
"And you can help me out if you will. Alma, I wish you could see me as I really am."
"Do you, Mr. Beacon? Perhaps I do."
"No; you don't. You formulated me in a certain way, and you won't allow for the change that takes place in every one. You have changed; why shouldn't I?"
"Has this to do with your having made a fool of yourself?"
"Oh! Then I don't see how you have changed."
She laughed, and he too, ruefully. "You're cruel. Not but what I deserve your mockery. But the change was not from the capacity of making a fool of myself. I suppose I shall always do that more or less—unless you help me. Alma! Why can't you have a little compassion? You know that I must always love you."
"Nothing makes me doubt that like your saying it, Mr. Beaton. But now you've broken your word—"
"You are to blame for that. You knew I couldn't keep it!"
"Yes, I'm to blame. I was wrong to let you come—after that. And so I forgive you for speaking to me in that way again. But it's perfectly impossible and perfectly useless for me to hear you any more on that subject; and so-good-bye!"
She rose, and he perforce with her. "And do you mean it?" he asked. "Forever?"
"Forever. This is truly the last time I will ever see you if I can help it. Oh, I feel sorry enough for you!" she said, with a glance at his face. "I do believe you are in earnest. But it's too late now. Don't let us talk about it any more! But we shall, if we meet, and so,—"
"And so good-bye! Well, I've nothing more to say, and I might as well say that. I think you've been very good to me. It seems to me as if you had been—shall I say it?—trying to give me a chance. Is that so?" She dropped her eyes and did not answer.
"You found it was no use! Well, I thank you for trying. It's curious to think that I once had your trust, your regard, and now I haven't it. You don't mind my remembering that I had? It'll be some little consolation, and I believe it will be some help. I know I can't retrieve the past now. It is too late. It seems too preposterous—perfectly lurid—that I could have been going to tell you what a tangle I'd got myself in, and to ask you to help untangle me. I must choke in the infernal coil, but I'd like to have the sweetness of your pity in it—whatever it is."
She put out her hand. "Whatever it is, I do pity you; I said that."
"Thank you." He kissed the band she gave him and went.
He had gone on some such terms before; was it now for the last time? She believed it was. She felt in herself a satiety, a fatigue, in which his good looks, his invented airs and poses, his real trouble, were all alike repulsive. She did not acquit herself of the wrong of having let him think she might yet have liked him as she once did; but she had been honestly willing to see whether she could. It had mystified her to find that when they first met in New York, after their summer in St. Barnaby, she cared nothing for him; she had expected to punish him for his neglect, and then fancy him as before, but she did not. More and more she saw him selfish and mean, weak-willed, narrow-minded, and hard- hearted; and aimless, with all his talent. She admired his talent in proportion as she learned more of artists, and perceived how uncommon it was; but she said to herself that if she were going to devote herself to art, she would do it at first-hand. She was perfectly serene and happy in her final rejection of Beaton; he had worn out not only her fancy, but her sympathy, too.
This was what her mother would not believe when Alma reported the interview to her; she would not believe it was the last time they should meet; death itself can hardly convince us that it is the last time of anything, of everything between ourselves and the dead. "Well, Alma," she said, "I hope you'll never regret what you've done."
"You may be sure I shall not regret it. If ever I'm low-spirited about anything, I'll think of giving Mr. Beaton his freedom, and that will cheer me up."
"And don't you expect to get married? Do you intend to be an old maid?" demanded her mother, in the bonds of the superstition women have so long been under to the effect that every woman must wish to get married, if for no other purpose than to avoid being an old maid.
"Well, mamma," said Alma, "I intend being a young one for a few years yet; and then I'll see. If I meet the right person, all well and good; if not, not. But I shall pick and choose, as a man does; I won't merely be picked and chosen."
"You can't help yourself; you may be very glad if you are picked and chosen."
"What nonsense, mamma! A girl can get any man she wants, if she goes about. it the right way. And when my 'fated fairy prince' comes along, I shall just simply make furious love to him and grab him. Of course, I shall make a decent pretence of talking in my sleep. I believe it's done that way more than half the time. The fated fairy prince wouldn't see the princess in nine cases out of ten if she didn't say something; he would go mooning along after the maids of honor."
Mrs. Leighton tried to look unspeakable horror; but she broke down and laughed. "Well, you are a strange girl, Alma."
"I don't know about that. But one thing I do know, mamma, and that is that Prince Beaton isn't the F. F. P. for me. How strange you are, mamma! Don't you think it would be perfectly disgusting to accept a person you didn't care for, and let him go on and love you and marry you? It's sickening."
"Why, certainly, Alma. It's only because I know you did care for him once—"
"And now I don't. And he didn't care for me once, and now he does. And so we're quits."
"If I could believe—"
"You had better brace up and try, mamma; for as Mr. Fulkerson says, it's as sure as guns. From the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, he's loathsome to me; and he keeps getting loathsomer. Ugh! Goodnight!"
"Well, I guess she's given him the grand bounce at last," said Fulkerson to March in one of their moments of confidence at the office. "That's Mad's inference from appearances—and disappearances; and some little hints from Alma Leighton."
"Well, I don't know that I have any criticisms to offer," said March. "It may be bad for Beaton, but it's a very good thing for Miss Leighton. Upon the whole, I believe I congratulate her."
"Well, I don't know. I always kind of hoped it would turn out the other way. You know I always had a sneaking fondness for the fellow."
"Miss Leighton seems not to have had."
"It's a pity she hadn't. I tell you, March, it ain't so easy for a girl to get married, here in the East, that she can afford to despise any chance."
"Isn't that rather a low view of it?"
"It's a common-sense view. Beaton has the making of a first-rate fellow in him. He's the raw material of a great artist and a good citizen. All he wants is somebody to take him in hand and keep him from makin' an ass of himself and kickin' over the traces generally, and ridin' two or three horses bareback at once."
"It seems a simple problem, though the metaphor is rather complicated," said March. "But talk to Miss Leighton about it. I haven't given Beaton the grand bounce."
He began to turn over the manuscripts on his table, and Fulkerson went away. But March found himself thinking of the matter from time to time during the day, and he spoke to his wife about it when he went home. She surprised him by taking Fulkerson's view of it.
"Yes, it's a pity she couldn't have made up her mind to have him. It's better for a woman to be married."
"I thought Paul only went so far as to say it was well. But what would become of Miss Leighton's artistic career if she married?"
"Oh, her artistic career!" said Mrs. March, with matronly contempt of it.
"But look here!" cried her husband. "Suppose she doesn't like him?"
"How can a girl of that age tell whether she likes any one or not?"
"It seems to me you were able to tell at. that age, Isabel. But let's examine this thing. (This thing! I believe Fulkerson is characterizing my whole parlance, as well as your morals.) Why shouldn't we rejoice as much at a non-marriage as a marriage? When we consider the enormous risks people take in linking their lives together, after not half so much thought as goes to an ordinary horse trade, I think we ought to be glad whenever they don't do it. I believe that this popular demand for the matrimony of others comes from our novel-reading. We get to thinking that there is no other happiness or good-fortune in life except marriage; and it's offered in fiction as the highest premium for virtue, courage, beauty, learning, and saving human life. We all know it isn't. We know that in reality marriage is dog cheap, and anybody can have it for the asking—if he keeps asking enough people. By-and-by some fellow will wake up and see that a first-class story can be written from the anti- marriage point of view; and he'll begin with an engaged couple, and devote his novel to disengaging them and rendering them separately happy ever after in the denouement. It will make his everlasting fortune."
"Why don't you write it, Basil?" she asked. "It's a delightful idea. You could do it splendidly."
He became fascinated with the notion. He developed it in detail; but at the end he sighed and said: "With this 'Every Other Week' work on my hands, of course I can't attempt a novel. But perhaps I sha'n't have it long."
She was instantly anxious to know what he meant, and the novel and Miss Leighton's affair were both dropped out of their thoughts. "What do you mean? Has Mr. Fulkerson said anything yet?"
"Not a word. He knows no more about it than I do. Dryfoos hasn't spoken, and we're both afraid to ask him. Of course, I couldn't ask him."
"But it's pretty uncomfortable, to be kept hanging by the gills so, as Fulkerson says."
"Yes, we don't know what to do."
March and Fulkerson said the same to each other; and Fulkerson said that if the old man pulled out, he did not know what would happen. He had no capital to carry the thing on, and the very fact that the old man had pulled out would damage it so that it would be hard to get anybody else to put it. In the mean time Fulkerson was running Conrad's office-work, when he ought to be looking after the outside interests of the thing; and he could not see the day when he could get married.
"I don't know which it's worse for, March: you or me. I don't know, under the circumstances, whether it's worse to have a family or to want to have one. Of course—of course! We can't hurry the old man up. It wouldn't be decent, and it would be dangerous. We got to wait."
He almost decided to draw upon Dryfoos for some money; he did not need any, but, he said maybe the demand would act as a hint upon him. One day, about a week after Alma's final rejection of Beaton, Dryfoos came into March's office. Fulkerson was out, but the old man seemed not to have tried to see him.
He put his hat on the floor by his chair, after he sat down, and looked at March awhile with his old eyes, which had the vitreous glitter of old. eyes stimulated to sleeplessness. Then he said, abruptly, "Mr. March, how would you like to take this thing off my hands?"
"I don't understand, exactly," March began; but of course he understood that Dryfoos was offering to let him have 'Every Other Week' on some terms or other, and his heart leaped with hope.
The old man knew he understood, and so he did not explain. He said: "I am going to Europe, to take my family there. The doctor thinks it might do my wife some good; and I ain't very well myself, and my girls both want to go; and so we're goin'. If you want to take this thing off my hands, I reckon I can let you have it in 'most any shape you say. You're all settled here in New York, and I don't suppose you want to break up, much, at your time of life, and I've been thinkin' whether you wouldn't like to take the thing."
The word, which Dryfoos had now used three times, made March at last think of Fulkerson; he had been filled too full of himself to think of any one else till he had mastered the notion of such wonderful good fortune as seemed about falling to him. But now he did think of Fulkerson, and with some shame and confusion; for he remembered how, when Dryfoos had last approached him there on the business of his connection with 'Every Other Week,' he had been very haughty with him, and told him that he did not know him in this connection. He blushed to find how far his thoughts had now run without encountering this obstacle of etiquette.
"Have you spoken to Mr. Fulkerson?" he asked.
"No, I hain't. It ain't a question of management. It's a question of buying and selling. I offer the thing to you first. I reckon Fulkerson couldn't get on very well without you."
March saw the real difference in the two cases, and he was glad to see it, because he could act more decisively if not hampered by an obligation to consistency. "I am gratified, of course, Mr. Dryfoos; extremely gratified; and it's no use pretending that I shouldn't be happy beyond bounds to get possession of 'Every Other Week.' But I don't feel quite free to talk about it apart from Mr. Fulkerson."
"Oh, all right!" said the old man, with quick offence.
March hastened to say: "I feel bound to Mr. Fulkerson in every way. He got me to come here, and I couldn't even seem to act without him."
He put it questioningly, and the old man answered:
"Yes, I can see that. When 'll he be in? I can wait." But he looked impatient.
"Very soon, now," said March, looking at his watch. "He was only to be gone a moment," and while he went on to talk with Dryfoos, he wondered why the old man should have come first to speak with him, and whether it was from some obscure wish to make him reparation for displeasures in the past, or from a distrust or dislike of Fulkerson. Whichever light he looked at it in, it was flattering.
"Do you think of going abroad soon?" he asked.
"What? Yes—I don't know—I reckon. We got our passage engaged. It's on one of them French boats. We're goin' to Paris."
"Oh! That will be interesting to the young ladies."
"Yes. I reckon we're goin' for them. 'Tain't likely my wife and me would want to pull up stakes at our age," said the old man, sorrowfully.
"But you may find it do you good, Mr. Dryfoos," said March, with a kindness that was real, mixed as it was with the selfish interest he now had in the intended voyage.
"Well, maybe, maybe," sighed the old man; and he dropped his head forward. "It don't make a great deal of difference what we do or we don't do, for the few years left."
"I hope Mrs. Dryfoos is as well as usual," said March, finding the ground delicate and difficult.
"Middlin', middlin'," said the old man. "My daughter Christine, she ain't very well."
"Oh," said March. It was quite impossible for him to affect a more explicit interest in the fact. He and Dryfoos sat silent for a few moments, and he was vainly casting about in his thought for something else which would tide them over the interval till Fulkerson came, when he heard his step on the stairs.