"Hello, hello!" he said. "Meeting of the clans!" It was always a meeting of the clans, with Fulkerson, or a field day, or an extra session, or a regular conclave, whenever he saw people of any common interest together. "Hain't seen you here for a good while, Mr. Dryfoos. Did think some of running away with 'Every Other Week' one while, but couldn't seem to work March up to the point."
He gave Dryfoos his hand, and pushed aside the papers on the corner of March's desk, and sat down there, and went on briskly with the nonsense he could always talk while he was waiting for another to develop any matter of business; he told March afterward that he scented business in the air as soon as he came into the room where he and Dryfoos were sitting.
Dryfoos seemed determined to leave the word to March, who said, after an inquiring look at him, "Mr. Dryfoos has been proposing to let us have 'Every Other Week,' Fulkerson."
"Well, that's good; that suits yours truly; March & Fulkerson, publishers and proprietors, won't pretend it don't, if the terms are all right."
"The terms," said the old man, "are whatever you want 'em. I haven't got any more use for the concern—" He gulped, and stopped; they knew what he was thinking of, and they looked down in pity. He went on: "I won't put any more money in it; but what I've put in a'ready can stay; and you can pay me four per cent."
He got upon his feet; and March and Fulkerson stood, too.
"Well, I call that pretty white," said Fulkerson. "It's a bargain as far as I'm concerned. I suppose you'll want to talk it over with your wife, March?"
"Yes; I shall," said March. "I can see that it's a great chance; but I want to talk it over with my wife."
"Well, that's right," said the old man. "Let me hear from you tomorrow."
He went out, and Fulkerson began to dance round the room. He caught March about his stalwart girth and tried to make him waltz; the office- boy came to the door and looked on with approval.
"Come, come, you idiot!" said March, rooting himself to the carpet.
"It's just throwing the thing into our mouths," said Fulkerson. "The wedding will be this day week. No cards! Teedle-lumpty-diddle! Teedle- lumpty-dee! What do you suppose he means by it, March ?" he asked, bringing himself soberly up, of a sudden. "What is his little game? Or is he crazy? It don't seem like the Dryfoos of my previous acquaintance."
"I suppose," March suggested, "that he's got money enough, so that he don't care for this—"
"Pshaw! You're a poet! Don't you know that the more money that kind of man has got, the more he cares for money? It's some fancy of his—like having Lindau's funeral at his house—By Jings, March, I believe you're his fancy!"
"Oh, now! Don't you be a poet, Fulkerson!"
"I do! He seemed to take a kind of shine to you from the day you wouldn't turn off old Lindau; he did, indeed. It kind of shook him up. It made him think you had something in you. He was deceived by appearances. Look here! I'm going round to see Mrs. March with you, and explain the thing to her. I know Mrs. March! She wouldn't believe you knew what you were going in for. She has a great respect for your mind, but she don't think you've got any sense. Heigh?"
"All right," said March, glad of the notion; and it was really a comfort to have Fulkerson with him to develop all the points; and it was delightful to see how clearly and quickly she seized them; it made March proud of her. She was only angry that they had lost any time in coming to submit so plain a case to her.
Mr. Dryfoos might change his mind in the night, and then everything would be lost. They must go to him instantly, and tell him that they accepted; they must telegraph him.
"Might as well send a district messenger; he'd get there next week," said Fulkerson. "No, no! It 'll all keep till to-morrow, and be the better for it. If he's got this fancy for March, as I say, he ain't agoing to change it in a single night. People don't change their fancies for March in a lifetime. Heigh?"
When Fulkerson turned up very early at the office next morning, as March did, he was less strenuous about Dryfoos's fancy for March. It was as if Miss Woodburn might have blown cold upon that theory, as something unjust to his own merit, for which she would naturally be more jealous than he.
March told him what he had forgotten to tell him the day before, though he had been trying, all through their excited talk, to get it in, that the Dryfooses were going abroad.
"Oh, ho!" cried Fulkerson. "That's the milk in the cocoanut, is it? Well, I thought there must be something."
But this fact had not changed Mrs. March at all in her conviction that it was Mr. Dryfoos's fancy for her husband which had moved him to make him this extraordinary offer, and she reminded him that it had first been made to him, without regard to Fulkerson. "And perhaps," she went on, "Mr. Dryfoos has been changed—-softened; and doesn't find money all in all any more. He's had enough to change him, poor old man!"
"Does anything from without change us?" her husband mused aloud. "We're brought up to think so by the novelists, who really have the charge of people's thinking, nowadays. But I doubt it, especially if the thing outside is some great event, something cataclysmal, like this tremendous sorrow of Dryfoos's."
"Then what is it that changes us?" demanded his wife, almost angry with him for his heresy.
"Well, it won't do to say, the Holy Spirit indwelling. That would sound like cant at this day. But the old fellows that used to say that had some glimpses of the truth. They knew that it is the still, small voice that the soul heeds, not the deafening blasts of doom. I suppose I should have to say that we didn't change at all. We develop. There's the making of several characters in each of us; we are each several characters, and sometimes this character has the lead in us, and sometimes that. From what Fulkerson has told me of Dryfoos, I should say he had always had the potentiality of better things in him than he has ever been yet; and perhaps the time has come for the good to have its chance. The growth in one direction has stopped; it's begun in another; that's all. The man hasn't been changed by his son's death; it stunned, it benumbed him; but it couldn't change him. It was an event, like any other, and it had to happen as much as his being born. It was forecast from the beginning of time, and was as entirely an effect of his coming into the world—"
"Basil! Basil!" cried his wife. "This is fatalism!"
"Then you think," he said, "that a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of God?" and he laughed provokingly. But he went on more soberly: "I don't know what it all means Isabel though I believe it means good. What did Christ himself say? That if one rose from the dead it would not avail. And yet we are always looking for the miraculous! I believe that unhappy old man truly grieves for his son, whom he treated cruelly without the final intention of cruelty, for he loved him and wished to be proud of him; but I don't think his death has changed him, any more than the smallest event in the chain of events remotely working through his nature from the beginning. But why do you think he's changed at all? Because he offers to sell me Every Other Week on easy terms? He says himself that he has no further use for the thing; and he knows perfectly well that he couldn't get his money out of it now, without an enormous shrinkage. He couldn't appear at this late day as the owner, and sell it to anybody but Fulkerson and me for a fifth of what it's cost him. He can sell it to us for all it's cost him; and four per cent. is no bad interest on his money till we can pay it back. It's a good thing for us; but we have to ask whether Dryfoos has done us the good, or whether it's the blessing of Heaven. If it's merely the blessing of Heaven, I don't propose being grateful for it."
March laughed again, and his wife said, "It's disgusting."
"It's business," he assented. "Business is business; but I don't say it isn't disgusting. Lindau had a low opinion of it."
"I think that with all his faults Mr. Dryfoos is a better man than Lindau," she proclaimed.
"Well, he's certainly able to offer us a better thing in 'Every Other Week,'" said March.
She knew he was enamoured of the literary finish of his cynicism, and that at heart he was as humbly and truly grateful as she was for the good-fortune opening to them.
Beaton was at his best when he parted for the last time with Alma Leighton, for he saw then that what had happened to him was the necessary consequence of what he had been, if not what he had done. Afterward he lost this clear vision; he began to deny the fact; he drew upon his knowledge of life, and in arguing himself into a different frame of mind he alleged the case of different people who had done and been much worse things than he, and yet no such disagreeable consequence had befallen them. Then he saw that it was all the work of blind chance, and he said to himself that it was this that made him desperate, and willing to call evil his good, and to take his own wherever he could find it. There was a great deal that was literary and factitious and tawdry in the mood in which he went to see Christine Dryfoos, the night when the Marches sat talking their prospects over; and nothing that was decided in his purpose. He knew what the drift of his mind was, but he had always preferred to let chance determine his events, and now since chance had played him such an ill turn with Alma, he left it the whole responsibility. Not in terms, but in effect, this was his thought as he walked on up-town to pay the first of the visits which Dryfoos had practically invited him to resume. He had an insolent satisfaction in having delayed it so long; if he was going back he was going back on his own conditions, and these were to be as hard and humiliating as he could make them. But this intention again was inchoate, floating, the stuff of an intention, rather than intention; an expression of temperament chiefly.
He had been expected before that. Christine had got out of Mela that her father had been at Beaton's studio; and then she had gone at the old man and got from him every smallest fact of the interview there. She had flung back in his teeth the good-will toward herself with which he had gone to Beaton. She was furious with shame and resentment; she told him he had made bad worse, that he had made a fool of himself to no end; she spared neither his age nor his grief-broken spirit, in which his will could not rise against hers. She filled the house with her rage, screaming it out upon him; but when her fury was once spent, she began to have some hopes from what her father had done. She no longer kept her bed; every evening she dressed herself in the dress Beaton admired the most, and sat up till a certain hour to receive him. She had fixed a day in her own mind before which, if he came, she would forgive him all he had made her suffer: the mortification, the suspense, the despair. Beyond this, she had the purpose of making her father go to Europe; she felt that she could no longer live in America, with the double disgrace that had been put upon her.
Beaton rang, and while the servant was coming the insolent caprice seized him to ask for the young ladies instead of the old man, as he had supposed of course he should do. The maid who answered the bell, in the place of the reluctant Irishman of other days, had all his hesitation in admitting that the young ladies were at home.
He found Mela in the drawing-room. At sight of him she looked scared; but she seemed to be reassured by his calm. He asked if he was not to have the pleasure of seeing Miss Dryfoos, too; and Mela said she reckoned the girl had gone up-stairs to tell her. Mela was in black, and Beaton noted how well the solid sable became her rich red-blonde beauty; he wondered what the effect would be with Christine.
But she, when she appeared, was not in mourning. He fancied that she wore the lustrous black silk, with the breadths of white Venetian lace about the neck which he had praised, because he praised it. Her cheeks burned with a Jacqueminot crimson; what should be white in her face was chalky white. She carried a plumed ostrich fan, black and soft, and after giving him her hand, sat down and waved it to and fro slowly, as he remembered her doing the night they first met. She had no ideas, except such as related intimately to herself, and she had no gabble, like Mela; and she let him talk. It was past the day when she promised herself she would forgive him; but as he talked on she felt all her passion for him revive, and the conflict of desires, the desire to hate, the desire to love, made a dizzying whirl in her brain. She looked at him, half doubting whether he was really there or not. He had never looked so handsome, with his dreamy eyes floating under his heavy overhanging hair, and his pointed brown beard defined against his lustrous shirtfront. His mellowly modulated, mysterious voice lulled her; when Mela made an errand out of the room, and Beaton crossed to her and sat down by her, she shivered.
"Are you cold?" he asked, and she felt the cruel mockery and exultant consciousness of power in his tone, as perhaps a wild thing feels captivity in the voice of its keeper. But now, she said she would still forgive him if he asked her.
Mela came back, and the talk fell again to the former level; but Beaton had not said anything that really meant what she wished, and she saw that he intended to say nothing. Her heart began to burn like a fire in her breast.
"You been tellun' him about our goun' to Europe?" Mela asked.
"No," said Christine, briefly, and looking at the fan spread out on her lap.
Beaton asked when; and then he rose, and said if it was so soon, he supposed he should not see them again, unless he saw them in Paris; he might very likely run over during the summer. He said to himself that he had given it a fair trial with Christine, and he could not make it go.
Christine rose, with a kind of gasp; and mechanically followed him to the door of the drawing-room; Mela came, too; and while he was putting on his overcoat, she gurgled and bubbled in good-humor with all the world. Christine stood looking at him, and thinking how still handsomer he was in his overcoat; and that fire burned fiercer in her. She felt him more than life to her and knew him lost, and the frenzy, that makes a woman kill the man she loves, or fling vitriol to destroy the beauty she cannot have for all hers, possessed her lawless soul. He gave his hand to Mela, and said, in his wind-harp stop, "Good-bye."
As he put out his hand to Christine, she pushed it aside with a scream of rage; she flashed at him, and with both hands made a feline pass at the face he bent toward her. He sprang back, and after an instant of stupefaction he pulled open the door behind him and ran out into the street.
"Well, Christine Dryfoos!" said Mela, "Sprang at him like a wild-cat!"
"I, don't care," Christine shrieked. "I'll tear his eyes out!" She flew up-stairs to her own room, and left the burden of the explanation to Mela, who did it justice.
Beaton found himself, he did not know how, in his studio, reeking with perspiration and breathless. He must almost have run. He struck a match with a shaking hand, and looked at his face in the glass. He expected to see the bleeding marks of her nails on his cheeks, but he could see nothing. He grovelled inwardly; it was all so low and coarse and vulgar; it was all so just and apt to his deserts.
There was a pistol among the dusty bric-a-brac on the mantel which he had kept loaded to fire at a cat in the area. He took it and sat looking into the muzzle, wishing it might go off by accident and kill him. It slipped through his hand and struck the floor, and there was a report; he sprang into the air, feeling that he had been shot. But he found himself still alive, with only a burning line along his cheek, such as one of Christine's finger-nails might have left.
He laughed with cynical recognition of the fact that he had got his punishment in the right way, and that his case was not to be dignified into tragedy.
The Marches, with Fulkerson, went to see the Dryfooses off on the French steamer. There was no longer any business obligation on them to be civil, and there was greater kindness for that reason in the attention they offered. 'Every Other Week' had been made over to the joint ownership of March and Fulkerson, and the details arranged with a hardness on Dryfoos's side which certainly left Mrs. March with a sense of his incomplete regeneration. Yet when she saw him there on the steamer, she pitied him; he looked wearied and bewildered; even his wife, with her twitching head, and her prophecies of evil, croaked hoarsely out, while she clung to Mrs. March's hand where they sat together till the leave-takers were ordered ashore, was less pathetic. Mela was looking after both of them, and trying to cheer them in a joyful excitement. "I tell 'em it's goun' to add ten years to both their lives," she said. "The voyage 'll do their healths good; and then, we're gittun' away from that miser'ble pack o' servants that was eatun' us up, there in New York. I hate the place!" she said, as if they had already left it. "Yes, Mrs. Mandel's goun', too," she added, following the direction of Mrs. March's eyes where they noted Mrs. Mandel, speaking to Christine on the other side of the cabin. "Her and Christine had a kind of a spat, and she was goun' to leave, but here only the other day, Christine offered to make it up with her, and now they're as thick as thieves. Well, I reckon we couldn't very well 'a' got along without her. She's about the only one that speaks French in this family."
Mrs. March's eyes still dwelt upon Christine's face; it was full of a furtive wildness. She seemed to be keeping a watch to prevent herself from looking as if she were looking for some one. "Do you know," Mrs. March said to her husband as they jingled along homeward in the Christopher Street bob-tail car, "I thought she was in love with that detestable Mr. Beaton of yours at one time; and that he was amusing himself with her."
"I can bear a good deal, Isabel," said March, "but I wish you wouldn't attribute Beaton to me. He's the invention of that Mr. Fulkerson of yours."
"Well, at any rate, I hope, now, you'll both get rid of him, in the reforms you're going to carry out."
These reforms were for a greater economy in the management of 'Every Other Week;' but in their very nature they could not include the suppression of Beaton. He had always shown himself capable and loyal to the interests of the magazine, and both the new owners were glad to keep him. He was glad to stay, though he made a gruff pretence of indifference, when they came to look over the new arrangement with him. In his heart he knew that he was a fraud; but at least he could say to himself with truth that he had not now the shame of taking Dryfoos's money.
March and Fulkerson retrenched at several points where it had seemed indispensable to spend, as long as they were not spending their own: that was only human. Fulkerson absorbed Conrad's department into his, and March found that he could dispense with Kendricks in the place of assistant which he had lately filled since Fulkerson had decided that March was overworked. They reduced the number of illustrated articles, and they systematized the payment of contributors strictly according to the sales of each number, on their original plan of co-operation: they had got to paying rather lavishly for material without reference to the sales.
Fulkerson took a little time to get married, and went on his wedding journey out to Niagara, and down the St. Lawrence to Quebec over the line of travel that the Marches had taken on their wedding journey. He had the pleasure of going from Montreal to Quebec on the same boat on which he first met March.
They have continued very good friends, and their wives are almost without the rivalry that usually embitters the wives of partners. At first Mrs. March did not like Mrs. Fulkerson's speaking of her husband as the Ownah, and March as the Edito'; but it appeared that this was only a convenient method of recognizing the predominant quality in each, and was meant neither to affirm nor to deny anything. Colonel Woodburn offered as his contribution to the celebration of the copartnership, which Fulkerson could not be prevented from dedicating with a little dinner, the story of Fulkerson's magnanimous behavior in regard to Dryfoos at that crucial moment when it was a question whether he should give up Dryfoos or give up March. Fulkerson winced at it; but Mrs. March told her husband that now, whatever happened, she should never have any misgivings of Fulkerson again; and she asked him if he did not think he ought to apologize to him for the doubts with which he had once inspired her. March said that he did not think so.
The Fulkersons spent the summer at a seaside hotel in easy reach of the city; but they returned early to Mrs. Leighton's, with whom they are to board till spring, when they are going to fit up Fulkerson's bachelor apartment for housekeeping. Mrs. March, with her Boston scruple, thinks it will be odd, living over the 'Every Other Week' offices; but there will be a separate street entrance to the apartment; and besides, in New York you may do anything.
The future of the Leightons promises no immediate change. Kendricks goes there a good deal to see the Fulkersons, and Mrs. Fulkerson says he comes to see Alma. He has seemed taken with her ever since he first met her at Dryfoos's, the day of Lindau's funeral, and though Fulkerson objects to dating a fancy of that kind from an occasion of that kind, he justly argues with March that there can be no harm in it, and that we are liable to be struck by lightning any time. In the mean while there is no proof that Alma returns Kendricks's interest, if he feels any. She has got a little bit of color into the fall exhibition; but the fall exhibition is never so good as the spring exhibition. Wetmore is rather sorry she has succeeded in this, though he promoted her success. He says her real hope is in black and white, and it is a pity for her to lose sight of her original aim of drawing for illustration.
News has come from Paris of the engagement of Christine Dryfoos. There the Dryfooses met with the success denied them in New York; many American plutocrats must await their apotheosis in Europe, where society has them, as it were, in a translation. Shortly after their arrival they were celebrated in the news papers as the first millionaire American family of natural-gas extraction who had arrived in the capital of civilization; and at a French watering-place Christine encountered her fate—a nobleman full of present debts and of duels in the past. Fulkerson says the old man can manage the debtor, and Christine can look out for the duellist. "They say those fellows generally whip their wives. He'd better not try it with Christine, I reckon, unless he's practised with a panther."
One day, shortly after their return to town in the autumn from the brief summer outing they permitted themselves, the Marches met Margaret Vance. At first they did not know her in the dress of the sisterhood which she wore; but she smiled joyfully, almost gayly, on seeing them, and though she hurried by with the sister who accompanied her, and did not stay to speak, they felt that the peace that passeth understanding had looked at them from her eyes.
"Well, she is at rest, there can't be any doubt of that," he said, as he glanced round at the drifting black robe which followed her free, nun- like walk.
"Yes, now she can do all the good she likes," sighed his wife. "I wonder—I wonder if she ever told his father about her talk with poor Conrad that day he was shot?"
"I don't know. I don't care. In any event, it would be right. She did nothing wrong. If she unwittingly sent him to his death, she sent him to die for God's sake, for man's sake."
"Yes—yes. But still—"
"Well, we must trust that look of hers."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Affected absence of mind Be good, sweet man, and let who will be clever Comfort of the critical attitude Conscience weakens to the need that isn't Death is an exile that no remorse and no love can reach Death is peace and pardon Did not idealize him, but in the highest effect she realized him Does any one deserve happiness Does anything from without change us? Europe, where society has them, as it were, in a translation Favorite stock of his go up and go down under the betting Hemmed round with this eternal darkness of death Indispensable Love of justice hurry them into sympathy with violence Married for no other purpose than to avoid being an old maid Nervous woes of comfortable people Novelists, who really have the charge of people's thinking People that have convictions are difficult Rejoice as much at a non-marriage as a marriage Respect for your mind, but she don't think you've got any sense Superstition of the romances that love is once for all Superstition that having and shining is the chief good To do whatever one likes is finally to do nothing that one likes Took the world as she found it, and made the best of it What we can be if we must When you look it—live it Would sacrifice his best friend to a phrase