"No, sir," said the young man, with a flush of embarrassment that seemed habitual with him. "She has no day. She's at home almost every day. She hardly ever goes out."
"Might we come some evening?" March asked. "We should be very glad to do that, if she would excuse the informality. Then I could come with Mrs. March."
"Mother isn't very formal," said the young man. "She would be very glad to see you."
"Then we'll come some night this week, if you will let us. When do you expect your father back?"
"Not much before Christmas. He's trying to settle up some things at Moffitt."
"And what do you think of our art editor?" asked March, with a smile, for the change of subject.
"Oh, I don't know much about such things," said the young man, with another of his embarrassed flushes. "Mr. Fulkerson seems to feel sure that he is the one for us."
"Mr. Fulkerson seemed to think that I was the one for you, too," said March; and he laughed. "That's what makes me doubt his infallibility. But he couldn't do worse with Mr. Beaton."
Mr. Dryfoos reddened and looked down, as if unable or unwilling to cope with the difficulty of making a polite protest against March's self- depreciation. He said, after a moment: "It's new business to all of us except Mr. Fulkerson. But I think it will succeed. I think we can do some good in it."
March asked rather absently, "Some good?" Then he added: "Oh yes; I think we can. What do you mean by good? Improve the public taste? Elevate the standard of literature? Give young authors and artists a chance?"
This was the only good that had ever been in March's mind, except the good that was to come in a material way from his success, to himself and to his family.
"I don't know," said the young man; and he looked down in a shamefaced fashion. He lifted his head and looked into March's face. "I suppose I was thinking that some time we might help along. If we were to have those sketches of yours about life in every part of New York—"
March's authorial vanity was tickled. "Fulkerson has been talking to you about them? He seemed to think they would be a card. He believes that there's no subject so fascinating to the general average of people throughout the country as life in New York City; and he liked my notion of doing these things." March hoped that Dryfoos would answer that Fulkerson was perfectly enthusiastic about his notion; but he did not need this stimulus, and, at any rate, he went on without it. "The fact is, it's something that struck my fancy the moment I came here; I found myself intensely interested in the place, and I began to make notes, consciously and unconsciously, at once. Yes, I believe I can get something quite attractive out of it. I don't in the least know what it will be yet, except that it will be very desultory; and I couldn't at all say when I can get at it. If we postpone the first number till February I might get a little paper into that. Yes, I think it might be a good thing for us," March said, with modest self-appreciation.
"If you can make the comfortable people understand how the uncomfortable people live, it will be a very good thing, Mr. March. Sometimes it seems to me that the only trouble is that we don't know one another well enough; and that the first thing is to do this." The young fellow spoke with the seriousness in which the beauty of his face resided. Whenever he laughed his face looked weak, even silly. It seemed to be a sense of this that made him hang his head or turn it away at such times.
"That's true," said March, from the surface only. "And then, those phases of low life are immensely picturesque. Of course, we must try to get the contrasts of luxury for the sake of the full effect. That won't be so easy. You can't penetrate to the dinner-party of a millionaire under the wing of a detective as you could to a carouse in Mulberry Street, or to his children's nursery with a philanthropist as you can to a street-boy's lodging-house." March laughed, and again the young man turned his head away. "Still, something can be done in that way by tact and patience."
That evening March went with his wife to return the call of the Dryfoos ladies. On their way up-town in the Elevated he told her of his talk with young Dryfoos. "I confess I was a little ashamed before him afterward for having looked at the matter so entirely from the aesthetic point of view. But of course, you know, if I went to work at those things with an ethical intention explicitly in mind, I should spoil them."
"Of course," said his wife. She had always heard him say something of this kind about such things.
He went on: "But I suppose that's just the point that such a nature as young Dryfoos's can't get hold of, or keep hold of. We're a queer lot, down there, Isabel—perfect menagerie. If it hadn't been that Fulkerson got us together, and really seems to know what he did it for, I should say he was the oddest stick among us. But when I think of myself and my own crankiness for the literary department; and young Dryfoos, who ought really to be in the pulpit, or a monastery, or something, for publisher; and that young Beaton, who probably hasn't a moral fibre in his composition, for the art man, I don't know but we could give Fulkerson odds and still beat him in oddity."
His wife heaved a deep sigh of apprehension, of renunciation, of monition. "Well, I'm glad you can feel so light about it, Basil."
"Light? I feel gay! With Fulkerson at the helm, I tell you the rocks and the lee shore had better keep out of the way." He laughed with pleasure in his metaphor. "Just when you think Fulkerson has taken leave of his senses he says or does something that shows he is on the most intimate and inalienable terms with them all the time. You know how I've been worrying over those foreign periodicals, and trying to get some translations from them for the first number? Well, Fulkerson has brought his centipedal mind to bear on the subject, and he's suggested that old German friend of mine I was telling you of—the one I met in the restaurant—the friend of my youth."
"Do you think he could do it?" asked Mrs. March, sceptically.
"He's a perfect Babel of strange tongues; and he's the very man for the work, and I was ashamed I hadn't thought of him myself, for I suspect he needs the work."
"Well, be careful how you get mixed up with him, then, Basil," said his wife, who had the natural misgiving concerning the friends of her husband's youth that all wives have. "You know the Germans are so unscrupulously dependent. You don't know anything about him now."
"I'm not afraid of Lindau," said March. "He was the best and kindest man I ever saw, the most high-minded, the most generous. He lost a hand in the war that helped to save us and keep us possible, and that stump of his is character enough for me."
"Oh, you don't think I could have meant anything against him!" said Mrs. March, with the tender fervor that every woman who lived in the time of the war must feel for those who suffered in it. "All that I meant was that I hoped you would not get mixed up with him too much. You're so apt to be carried away by your impulses."
"They didn't carry me very far away in the direction of poor old Lindau, I'm ashamed to think," said March. "I meant all sorts of fine things by him after I met him; and then I forgot him, and I had to be reminded of him by Fulkerson."
She did not answer him, and he fell into a remorseful reverie, in which he rehabilitated Lindau anew, and provided handsomely for his old age. He got him buried with military honors, and had a shaft raised over him, with a medallion likeness by Beaton and an epitaph by himself, by the time they reached Forty-second Street; there was no time to write Lindau's life, however briefly, before the train stopped.
They had to walk up four blocks and then half a block across before they came to the indistinctive brownstone house where the Dryfooses lived. It was larger than some in the same block, but the next neighborhood of a huge apartment-house dwarfed it again. March thought he recognized the very flat in which he had disciplined the surly janitor, but he did not tell his wife; he made her notice the transition character of the street, which had been mostly built up in apartment-houses, with here and there a single dwelling dropped far down beneath and beside them, to that jag- toothed effect on the sky-line so often observable in such New York streets. "I don't know exactly what the old gentleman bought here for," he said, as they waited on the steps after ringing, "unless he expects to turn it into flats by-and-by. Otherwise, I don't believe he'll get his money back."
An Irish serving-man, with a certain surprise that delayed him, said the ladies were at home, and let the Marches in, and then carried their cards up-stairs. The drawing-room, where he said they could sit down while he went on this errand, was delicately, decorated in white and gold, and furnished with a sort of extravagant good taste; there was nothing to object to in the satin furniture, the pale, soft, rich carpet, the pictures, and the bronze and china bric-a-brac, except that their costliness was too evident; everything in the room meant money too plainly, and too much of it. The Marches recognized this in the hoarse whispers which people cannot get their voices above when they try to talk away the interval of waiting in such circumstances; they conjectured from what they had heard of the Dryfooses that this tasteful luxury in no wise expressed their civilization. "Though when you come to that," said March, "I don't know that Mrs. Green's gimcrackery expresses ours."
"Well, Basil, I didn't take the gimcrackery. That was your—"
The rustle of skirts on the stairs without arrested Mrs. March in the well-merited punishment which she never failed to inflict upon her husband when the question of the gimcrackery—they always called it that- -came up. She rose at the entrance of a bright-looking, pretty-looking, mature, youngish lady, in black silk of a neutral implication, who put out her hand to her, and said, with a very cheery, very ladylike accent, "Mrs. March?" and then added to both of them, while she shook hands with March, and before they could get the name out of their months: "No, not Miss Dryfoos! Neither of them; nor Mrs. Dryfoos. Mrs. Mandel. The ladies will be down in a moment. Won't you throw off your sacque, Mrs. March? I'm afraid it's rather warm here, coming from the outside."
"I will throw it back, if you'll allow me," said Mrs. March, with a sort of provisionality, as if, pending some uncertainty as to Mrs. Mandel's quality and authority, she did not feel herself justified in going further.
But if she did not know about Mrs. Mandel, Mrs. Mandel seemed to know about her. "Oh, well, do!" she said, with a sort of recognition of the propriety of her caution. "I hope you are feeling a little at home in New York. We heard so much of your trouble in getting a flat, from Mr. Fulkerson."
"Well, a true Bostonian doesn't give up quite so soon," said Mrs. March.
"But I will say New York doesn't seem so far away, now we're here."
"I'm sure you'll like it. Every one does." Mrs. Mandel added to March, "It's very sharp out, isn't it?"
"Rather sharp. But after our Boston winters I don't know but I ought to repudiate the word."
"Ah, wait till you have been here through March!" said Mrs. Mandel. She began with him, but skillfully transferred the close of her remark, and the little smile of menace that went with it, to his wife.
"Yes," said Mrs. March, "or April, either: Talk about our east winds!"
"Oh, I'm sure they can't be worse than our winds," Mrs. Mandel returned, caressingly.
"If we escape New York pneumonia," March laughed, "it will only be to fall a prey to New York malaria as soon as the frost is out of the ground."
"Oh, but you know," said Mrs. Mandel, "I think our malaria has really been slandered a little. It's more a matter of drainage—of plumbing. I don't believe it would be possible for malaria to get into this house, we've had it gone over so thoroughly."
Mrs. March said, while she tried to divine Mrs. Mandel's position from this statement, "It's certainly the first duty."
"If Mrs. March could have had her way, we should have had the drainage of our whole ward put in order," said her husband, "before we ventured to take a furnished apartment for the winter."
Mrs. Mandel looked discreetly at Mrs. March for permission to laugh at this, but at the same moment both ladies became preoccupied with a second rustling on the stairs.
Two tall, well-dressed young girls came in, and Mrs. Mandel introduced, "Miss Dryfoos, Mrs. March; and Miss Mela Dryfoos, Mr. March," she added, and the girls shook hands in their several ways with the Marches.
Miss Dryfoos had keen black eyes, and her hair was intensely black. Her face, but for the slight inward curve of the nose, was regular, and the smallness of her nose and of her mouth did not weaken her face, but gave it a curious effect of fierceness, of challenge. She had a large black fan in her hand, which she waved in talking, with a slow, watchful nervousness. Her sister was blonde, and had a profile like her brother's; but her chin was not so salient, and the weak look of the mouth was not corrected by the spirituality or the fervor of his eyes, though hers were of the same mottled blue. She dropped into the low seat beside Mrs. Mandel, and intertwined her fingers with those of the hand which Mrs. Mandel let her have. She smiled upon the Marches, while Miss Dryfoos watched them intensely, with her eyes first on one and then on the other, as if she did not mean to let any expression of theirs escape her.
"My mother will be down in a minute," she said to Mrs. March.
"I hope we're not disturbing her. It is so good of you to let us come in the evening," Mrs. March replied.
"Oh, not at all," said the girl. "We receive in the evening."
"When we do receive," Miss Mela put in. "We don't always get the chance to." She began a laugh, which she checked at a smile from Mrs. Mandel, which no one could have seen to be reproving.
Miss Dryfoos looked down at her fan, and looked up defiantly at Mrs. March. "I suppose you have hardly got settled. We were afraid we would disturb you when we called."
"Oh no! We were very sorry to miss your visit. We are quite settled in our new quarters. Of course, it's all very different from Boston."
"I hope it's more of a sociable place there," Miss Mela broke in again. "I never saw such an unsociable place as New York. We've been in this house three months, and I don't believe that if we stayed three years any of the neighbors would call."
"I fancy proximity doesn't count for much in New York," March suggested.
Mrs. Mandel said: "That's what I tell Miss Mela. But she is a very social nature, and can't reconcile herself to the fact."
"No, I can't," the girl pouted. "I think it was twice as much fun in Moffitt. I wish I was there now."
"Yes," said March, "I think there's a great deal more enjoyment in those smaller places. There's not so much going on in the way of public amusements, and so people make more of one another. There are not so many concerts, theatres, operas—"
"Oh, they've got a splendid opera-house in Moffitt. It's just grand," said Miss Mela.
"Have you been to the opera here, this winter?" Mrs. March asked of the elder girl.
She was glaring with a frown at her sister, and detached her eyes from her with an effort. "What did you say?" she demanded, with an absent bluntness. "Oh yes. Yes! We went once. Father took a box at the Metropolitan."
"Then you got a good dose of Wagner, I suppose?" said March.
"What?" asked the girl.
"I don't think Miss Dryfoos is very fond of Wagner's music," Mrs. Mandel said. "I believe you are all great Wagnerites in Boston?"
"I'm a very bad Bostonian, Mrs. Mandel. I suspect myself of preferring Verdi," March answered.
Miss Dryfoos looked down at her fan again, and said, "I like 'Trovatore' the best."
"It's an opera I never get tired of," said March, and Mrs. March and Mrs: Mandel exchanged a smile of compassion for his simplicity. He detected it, and added: "But I dare say I shall come down with the Wagner fever in time. I've been exposed to some malignant cases of it."
"That night we were there," said Miss Mela, "they had to turn the gas down all through one part of it, and the papers said the ladies were awful mad because they couldn't show their diamonds. I don't wonder, if they all had to pay as much for their boxes as we did. We had to pay sixty dollars." She looked at the Marches for their sensation at this expense.
March said: "Well, I think I shall take my box by the month, then. It must come cheaper, wholesale."
"Oh no, it don't," said the girl, glad to inform him. "The people that own their boxes, and that had to give fifteen or twenty thousand dollars apiece for them, have to pay sixty dollars a night whenever there's a performance, whether they go or not."
"Then I should go every night," March said.
"Most of the ladies were low neck—"
March interposed, "Well, I shouldn't go low-neck."
The girl broke into a fondly approving laugh at his drolling. "Oh, I guess you love to train! Us girls wanted to go low neck, too; but father said we shouldn't, and mother said if we did she wouldn't come to the front of the box once. Well, she didn't, anyway. We might just as well 'a' gone low neck. She stayed back the whole time, and when they had that dance—the ballet, you know—she just shut her eyes. Well, Conrad didn't like that part much, either; but us girls and Mrs. Mandel, we brazened it out right in the front of the box. We were about the only ones there that went high neck. Conrad had to wear a swallow-tail; but father hadn't any, and he had to patch out with a white cravat. You couldn't see what he had on in the back o' the box, anyway."
Mrs. March looked at Miss Dryfoos, who was waving her fan more and more slowly up and down, and who, when she felt herself looked at, returned Mrs. March's smile, which she meant to be ingratiating and perhaps sympathetic, with a flash that made her start, and then ran her fierce eyes over March's face. "Here comes mother," she said, with a sort of breathlessness, as if speaking her thought aloud, and through the open door the Marches could see the old lady on the stairs.
She paused half-way down, and turning, called up: "Coonrod! Coonrod! You bring my shawl down with you."
Her daughter Mela called out to her, "Now, mother, Christine 'll give it to you for not sending Mike."
"Well, I don't know where he is, Mely, child," the mother answered back. "He ain't never around when he's wanted, and when he ain't, it seems like a body couldn't git shet of him, nohow."
"Well, you ought to ring for him!" cried Miss Mela, enjoying the joke.
Her mother came in with a slow step; her head shook slightly as she looked about the room, perhaps from nervousness, perhaps from a touch of palsy. In either case the fact had a pathos which Mrs. March confessed in the affection with which she took her hard, dry, large, old hand when she was introduced to her, and in the sincerity which she put into the hope that she was well.
"I'm just middlin'," Mrs. Dryfoos replied. "I ain't never so well, nowadays. I tell fawther I don't believe it agrees with me very well here, but he says I'll git used to it. He's away now, out at Moffitt," she said to March, and wavered on foot a moment before she sank into a chair. She was a tall woman, who had been a beautiful girl, and her gray hair had a memory of blondeness in it like Lindau's, March noticed. She wore a simple silk gown, of a Quakerly gray, and she held a handkerchief folded square, as it had come from the laundress. Something like the Sabbath quiet of a little wooden meeting-house in thick Western woods expressed itself to him from her presence.
"Laws, mother!" said Miss Mela; "what you got that old thing on for? If I'd 'a' known you'd 'a' come down in that!"
"Coonrod said it was all right, Mely," said her mother.
Miss Mela explained to the Marches: "Mother was raised among the Dunkards, and she thinks it's wicked to wear anything but a gray silk even for dress-up."
"You hain't never heared o' the Dunkards, I reckon," the old woman said to Mrs. March. "Some folks calls 'em the Beardy Men, because they don't never shave; and they wash feet like they do in the Testament. My uncle was one. He raised me."
"I guess pretty much everybody's a Beardy Man nowadays, if he ain't a Dunkard!"
Miss Mela looked round for applause of her sally, but March was saying to his wife: "It's a Pennsylvania German sect, I believe—something like the Quakers. I used to see them when I was a boy."
"Aren't they something like the Mennists?" asked Mrs. Mandel.
"They're good people," said the old woman, "and the world 'd be a heap better off if there was more like 'em."
Her son came in and laid a soft shawl over her shoulders before he shook hands with the visitors. "I am glad you found your way here," he said to them.
Christine, who had been bending forward over her fan, now lifted herself up with a sigh and leaned back in her chair.
"I'm sorry my father isn't here," said the young man to Mrs. March. "He's never met you yet?"
"No; and I should like to see him. We hear a great deal about your father, you know, from Mr. Fulkerson."
"Oh, I hope you don't believe everything Mr. Fulkerson says about people," Mela cried. "He's the greatest person for carrying on when he gets going I ever saw. It makes Christine just as mad when him and mother gets to talking about religion; she says she knows he don't care anything more about it than the man in the moon. I reckon he don't try it on much with father."
"Your fawther ain't ever been a perfessor," her mother interposed; "but he's always been a good church-goin' man."
"Not since we come to New York," retorted the girl.
"He's been all broke up since he come to New York," said the old woman, with an aggrieved look.
Mrs. Mandel attempted a diversion. "Have you heard any of our great New York preachers yet, Mrs. March?"
"No, I haven't," Mrs. March admitted; and she tried to imply by her candid tone that she intended to begin hearing them the very next Sunday.
"There are a great many things here," said Conrad, "to take your thoughts off the preaching that you hear in most of the churches. I think the city itself is preaching the best sermon all the time."
"I don't know that I understand you," said March.
Mela answered for him. "Oh, Conrad has got a lot of notions that nobody can understand. You ought to see the church he goes to when he does go. I'd about as lief go to a Catholic church myself; I don't see a bit o' difference. He's the greatest crony with one of their preachers; he dresses just like a priest, and he says he is a priest." She laughed for enjoyment of the fact, and her brother cast down his eyes.
Mrs. March, in her turn, tried to take from it the personal tone which the talk was always assuming. "Have you been to the fall exhibition?" she asked Christine; and the girl drew herself up out of the abstraction she seemed sunk in.
"The exhibition?" She looked at Mrs. Mandel.
"The pictures of the Academy, you know," Mrs. Mandel explained. "Where I wanted you to go the day you had your dress tried on,"
"No; we haven't been yet. Is it good?" She had turned to Mrs. March again.
"I believe the fall exhibitions are never so good as the spring ones. But there are some good pictures."
"I don't believe I care much about pictures," said Christine. "I don't understand them."
"Ah, that's no excuse for not caring about them," said March, lightly. "The painters themselves don't, half the time."
The girl looked at him with that glance at once defiant and appealing, insolent and anxious, which he had noticed before, especially when she stole it toward himself and his wife during her sister's babble. In the light of Fulkerson's history of the family, its origin and its ambition, he interpreted it to mean a sense of her sister's folly and an ignorant will to override his opinion of anything incongruous in themselves and their surroundings. He said to himself that she was deathly proud—too proud to try to palliate anything, but capable of anything that would put others under her feet. Her eyes seemed hopelessly to question his wife's social quality, and he fancied, with not unkindly interest, the inexperienced girl's doubt whether to treat them with much or little respect. He lost himself in fancies about her and her ideals, necessarily sordid, of her possibilities of suffering, of the triumphs and disappointments before her. Her sister would accept both with a lightness that would keep no trace of either; but in her they would sink lastingly deep. He came out of his reverie to find Mrs. Dryfoos saying to him, in her hoarse voice:
"I think it's a shame, some of the pictur's a body sees in the winders. They say there's a law ag'inst them things; and if there is, I don't understand why the police don't take up them that paints 'em. I hear 182 tell, since I been here, that there's women that goes to have pictur's took from them that way by men painters." The point seemed aimed at March, as if he were personally responsible for the scandal, and it fell with a silencing effect for the moment. Nobody seemed willing to take it up, and Mrs. Dryfoos went on, with an old woman's severity: "I say they ought to be all tarred and feathered and rode on a rail. They'd be drummed out of town in Moffitt."
Miss Mela said, with a crowing laugh: "I should think they would! And they wouldn't anybody go low neck to the opera-house there, either—not low neck the way they do here, anyway."
"And that pack of worthless hussies," her mother resumed, "that come out on the stage, and begun to kick"
"Laws, mother!" the girl shouted, "I thought you said you had your eyes shut!"
All but these two simpler creatures were abashed at the indecorum of suggesting in words the commonplaces of the theatre and of art.
"Well, I did, Mely, as soon as I could believe my eyes. I don't know what they're doin' in all their churches, to let such things go on," said the old woman. "It's a sin and a shame, I think. Don't you, Coonrod?"
A ring at the door cut short whatever answer he was about to deliver.
"If it's going to be company, Coonrod," said his mother, making an effort to rise, "I reckon I better go up-stairs."
"It's Mr. Fulkerson, I guess," said Conrad. "He thought he might come"; and at the mention of this light spirit Mrs. Dryfoos sank contentedly back in her chair, and a relaxation of their painful tension seemed to pass through the whole company. Conrad went to the door himself (the serving-man tentatively, appeared some minutes later) and let in Fulkerson's cheerful voice before his cheerful person.
"Ah, how dye do, Conrad? Brought our friend, Mr. Beaton, with me," those within heard him say; and then, after a sound of putting off overcoats, they saw him fill the doorway, with his feet set square and his arms akimbo.
"Ah! hello! hello !" Fulkerson said, in recognition of the Marches. "Regular gathering of the clans. How are you, Mrs. Dryfoos? How do you do, Mrs. Mandel, Miss Christine, Mela, Aunt Hitty, and all the folks? How you wuz?" He shook hands gayly all round, and took a chair next the old lady, whose hand he kept in his own, and left Conrad to introduce Beaton. But he would not let the shadow of Beaton's solemnity fall upon the company. He began to joke with Mrs. Dryfoos, and to match rheumatisms with her, and he included all the ladies in the range of appropriate pleasantries. "I've brought Mr. Beaton along to-night, and I want you to make him feel at home, like you do me, Mrs. Dryfoos. He hasn't got any rheumatism to speak of; but his parents live in Syracuse, and he's a kind of an orphan, and we've just adopted him down at the office. When you going to bring the young ladies down there, Mrs. Mandel, for a champagne lunch? I will have some hydro-Mela, and Christine it, heigh? How's that for a little starter? We dropped in at your place a moment, Mrs. March, and gave the young folks a few pointers about their studies. My goodness! it does me good to see a boy like that of yours; business, from the word go; and your girl just scoops my youthful affections. She's a beauty, and I guess she's good, too. Well, well, what a world it is! Miss Christine, won't you show Mr. Beaton that seal ring of yours? He knows about such things, and I brought him here to see it as much as anything. It's an intaglio I brought from the other side," he explained to Mrs. March, "and I guess you'll like to look at it. Tried to give it to the Dryfoos family, and when I couldn't, I sold it to 'em. Bound to see it on Miss Christine's hand somehow! Hold on! Let him see it where it belongs, first!"
He arrested the girl in the motion she made to take off the ring, and let her have the pleasure of showing her hand to the company with the ring on it. Then he left her to hear the painter's words about it, which he continued to deliver dissyllabically as he stood with her under a gas- jet, twisting his elastic figure and bending his head over the ring.
"Well, Mely, child," Fulkerson went on, with an open travesty of her mother's habitual address, "and how are you getting along? Mrs. Mandel hold you up to the proprieties pretty strictly? Well, that's right. You know you'd be roaming all over the pasture if she didn't."
The girl gurgled out her pleasure in his funning, and everybody took him. on his own ground of privileged character. He brought them all together in their friendliness for himself, and before the evening was over he had inspired Mrs. Mandel to have them served with coffee, and had made both the girls feel that they had figured brilliantly in society, and that two young men had been devoted to them.
"Oh, I think he's just as lovely as he can live!" said Mela, as she stood a moment with her sister on the scene of her triumph, where the others had left them after the departure of their guests.
"Who?" asked Christine, deeply. As she glanced down at her ring, her eyes burned with a softened fire.
She had allowed Beaton to change it himself from the finger where she had worn it to the finger on which he said she ought to wear it. She did not know whether it was right to let him, but she was glad she had done it.
"Who? Mr. Fulkerson, goosie-poosie! Not that old stuckup Mr. Beaton of yours!"
"He is proud," assented Christine, with a throb of exultation.
Beaton and Fulkerson went to the Elevated station with the Marches; but the painter said he was going to walk home, and Fulkerson let him go alone.
"One way is enough for me," he explained. "When I walk up, I don't. walk down. Bye-bye, my son!" He began talking about Beaton to the Marches as they climbed the station stairs together. "That fellow puzzles me. I don't know anybody that I have such a desire to kick, and at the same time that I want to flatter up so much. Affect you that way?" he asked of March.
"Well, as far as the kicking goes, yes."
"And how is it with you, Mrs. March?"
"Oh, I want to flatter him up."
"No; really? Why? Hold on! I've got the change."
Fulkerson pushed March away from the ticket-office window; and made them his guests, with the inexorable American hospitality, for the ride down- town. "Three!" he said to the ticket-seller; and, when he had walked them before him out on the platform and dropped his tickets into the urn, he persisted in his inquiry, "Why?"
"Why, because you always want to flatter conceited people, don't you?" Mrs. March answered, with a laugh.
"Do you? Yes, I guess you do. You think Beaton is conceited?"
"Well, slightly, Mr. Fulkerson."
"I guess you're partly right," said Fulkerson, with a sigh, so unaccountable in its connection that they all laughed.
"An ideal 'busted'?" March suggested.
"No, not that, exactly," said Fulkerson. "But I had a notion maybe Beaton wasn't conceited all the time."
"Oh!" Mrs. March exulted, "nobody could be so conceited all the time as Mr. Beaton is most of the time. He must have moments of the direst modesty, when he'd be quite flattery-proof."
"Yes, that's what I mean. I guess that's what makes me want to kick him. He's left compliments on my hands that no decent man would."
"Oh! that's tragical," said March.
"Mr. Fulkerson," Mrs. March began, with change of subject in her voice, "who is Mrs. Mandel?"
"Who? What do you think of her?" he rejoined. "I'll tell you about her when we get in the cars. Look at that thing! Ain't it beautiful?"
They leaned over the track and looked up at the next station, where the train, just starting, throbbed out the flame-shot steam into the white moonlight.
"The most beautiful thing in New York—the one always and certainly beautiful thing here," said March; and his wife sighed, "Yes, yes." She clung to him, and remained rapt by the sight till the train drew near, and then pulled him back in a panic.
"Well, there ain't really much to tell about her," Fulkerson resumed when they were seated in the car. "She's an invention of mine."
"Of yours?" cried Mrs. March.
"Of course!" exclaimed her husband.
"Yes—at least in her present capacity. She sent me a story for the syndicate, back in July some time, along about the time I first met old Dryfoos here. It was a little too long for my purpose, and I thought I could explain better how I wanted it cut in a call than I could in a letter. She gave a Brooklyn address, and I went to see her. I found her," said Fulkerson, with a vague defiance, "a perfect lady. She was living with an aunt over there; and she had seen better days, when she was a girl, and worse ones afterward. I don't mean to say her husband was a bad fellow; I guess he was pretty good; he was her music-teacher; she met him in Germany, and they got married there, and got through her property before they came over here. Well, she didn't strike me like a person that could make much headway in literature. Her story was well enough, but it hadn't much sand in it; kind of-well, academic, you know. I told her so, and she understood, and cried a little; but she did the best she could with the thing, and I took it and syndicated it. She kind of stuck in my mind, and the first time I went to see the Dryfooses they were stopping at a sort of family hotel then till they could find a house—"Fulkerson broke off altogether, and said, "I don't know as I know just how the Dryfooses struck you, Mrs. March?"
"Can't you imagine?" she answered, with a kindly, smile.
"Yes; but I don't believe I could guess how they would have struck you last summer when I first saw them. My! oh my! there was the native earth for you. Mely is a pretty wild colt now, but you ought to have seen her before she was broken to harness.
"And Christine? Ever see that black leopard they got up there in the Central Park? That was Christine. Well, I saw what they wanted. They all saw it—nobody is a fool in all directions, and the Dryfooses are in their right senses a good deal of the time. Well, to cut a long story short, I got Mrs. Mandel to take 'em in hand—the old lady as well as the girls. She was a born lady, and always lived like one till she saw Mandel; and that something academic that killed her for a writer was just the very thing for them. She knows the world well enough to know just how much polish they can take on, and she don't try to put on a bit more. See?"
"Yes, I can see," said Mrs. March.
"Well, she took hold at once, as ready as a hospital-trained nurse; and there ain't anything readier on this planet. She runs the whole concern, socially and economically, takes all the care of housekeeping off the old lady's hands, and goes round with the girls. By-the-bye, I'm going to take my meals at your widow's, March, and Conrad's going to have his lunch there. I'm sick of browsing about."
"Mr. March's widow?" said his wife, looking at him with provisional severity.
"I have no widow, Isabel," he said, "and never expect to have, till I leave you in the enjoyment of my life-insurance. I suppose Fulkerson means the lady with the daughter who wanted to take us to board."
"Oh yes. How are they getting on, I do wonder?" Mrs. March asked of Fulkerson.
"Well, they've got one family to board; but it's a small one. I guess they'll pull through. They didn't want to take any day boarders at first, the widow said; I guess they have had to come to it."
"Poor things!" sighed Mrs. March. "I hope they'll go back to the country."
"Well, I don't know. When you've once tasted New York—You wouldn't go back to Boston, would you?"
Fulkerson laughed out a tolerant incredulity.
Beaton lit his pipe when he found himself in his room, and sat down before the dull fire in his grate to think. It struck him there was a dull fire in his heart a great deal like it; and he worked out a fanciful analogy with the coals, still alive, and the ashes creeping over them, and the dead clay and cinders. He felt sick of himself, sick of his life and of all his works. He was angry with Fulkerson for having got him into that art department of his, for having bought him up; and he was bitter at fate because he had been obliged to use the money to pay some pressing debts, and had not been able to return the check his father had sent him. He pitied his poor old father; he ached with compassion for him; and he set his teeth and snarled with contempt through them for his own baseness. This was the kind of world it was; but he washed his hands of it. The fault was in human nature, and he reflected with pride that he had at least not invented human nature; he had not sunk so low as that yet. The notion amused him; he thought he might get a Satanic epigram out of it some way. But in the mean time that girl, that wild animal, she kept visibly, tangibly before him; if he put out his hand he might touch hers, he might pass his arm round her waist. In Paris, in a set he knew there, what an effect she would be with that look of hers, and that beauty, all out of drawing! They would recognize the flame quality in her. He imagined a joke about her being a fiery spirit, or nymph, naiad, whatever, from one of her native gas-wells. He began to sketch on a bit of paper from the table at his elbow vague lines that veiled and revealed a level, dismal landscape, and a vast flame against an empty sky, and a shape out of the flame that took on a likeness and floated detached from it. The sketch ran up the left side of the sheet and stretched across it. Beaton laughed out. Pretty good to let Fulkerson have that for the cover of his first number! In black and red it would be effective; it would catch the eye from the news-stands. He made a motion to throw it on the fire, but held it back and slid it into the table-drawer, and smoked on. He saw the dummy with the other sketch in the open drawer which he had brought away from Fulkerson's in the morning and slipped in there, and he took it out and looked at it. He made some criticisms in line with his pencil on it, correcting the drawing here and there, and then he respected it a little more, though he still smiled at the feminine quality—a young lady quality.
In spite of his experience the night he called upon the Leightons, Beaton could not believe that Alma no longer cared for him. She played at having forgotten him admirably, but he knew that a few months before she had been very mindful of him. He knew he had neglected them since they came to New York, where he had led them to expect interest, if not attention; but he was used to neglecting people, and he was somewhat less used to being punished for it—punished and forgiven. He felt that Alma had punished him so thoroughly that she ought to have been satisfied with her work and to have forgiven him in her heart afterward. He bore no resentment after the first tingling moments were-past; he rather admired her for it; and he would have been ready to go back half an hour later and accept pardon and be on the footing of last summer again. Even now he debated with himself whether it was too late to call; but, decidedly, a quarter to ten seemed late. The next day he determined never to call upon the Leightons again; but he had no reason for this; it merely came into a transitory scheme of conduct, of retirement from the society of women altogether; and after dinner he went round to see them.
He asked for the ladies, and they all three received him, Alma not without a surprise that intimated itself to him, and her mother with no appreciable relenting; Miss Woodburn, with the needlework which she found easier to be voluble over than a book, expressed in her welcome a neutrality both cordial to Beaton and loyal to Alma.
"Is it snowing outdo's?" she asked, briskly, after the greetings were transacted. "Mah goodness!" she said, in answer to his apparent surprise at the question. "Ah mahght as well have stayed in the Soath, for all the winter Ah have seen in New York yet."
"We don't often have snow much before New-Year's," said Beaton.
"Miss Woodburn is wild for a real Northern winter," Mrs. Leighton explained.
"The othah naght Ah woke up and looked oat of the window and saw all the roofs covered with snow, and it turned oat to be nothing but moonlaght. Ah was never so disappointed in mah lahfe," said Miss Woodburn.
"If you'll come to St. Barnaby next summer, you shall have all the winter you want," said Alma.
"I can't let you slander St. Barnaby in that way," said Beaton, with the air of wishing to be understood as meaning more than he said.
"Yes?" returned Alma, coolly. "I didn't know you were so fond of the climate."
"I never think of it as a climate. It's a landscape. It doesn't matter whether it's hot or cold."
"With the thermometer twenty below, you'd find that it mattered," Alma persisted.
"Is that the way you feel about St. Barnaby, too, Mrs. Leighton?" Beaton asked, with affected desolation.
"I shall be glad enough to go back in the summer," Mrs. Leighton conceded.
"And I should be glad to go now," said Beaton, looking at Alma. He had the dummy of 'Every Other Week' in his hand, and he saw Alma's eyes wandering toward it whenever he glanced at her. "I should be glad to go anywhere to get out of a job I've undertaken," he continued, to Mrs. Leighton. "They're going to start some sort of a new illustrated magazine, and they've got me in for their art department. I'm not fit for it; I'd like to run away. Don't you want to advise me a little, Mrs. Leighton? You know how much I value your taste, and I'd like to have you look at the design for the cover of the first number: they're going to have a different one for every number. I don't know whether you'll agree with me, but I think this is rather nice."
He faced the dummy round, and then laid it on the table before Mrs. Leighton, pushing some of her work aside to make room for it and standing over her while she bent forward to look at it.
Alma kept her place, away from the table.
"Mah goodness! Ho' exciting!" said Miss Woodburn. "May anybody look?"
"Everybody," said Beaton.
"Well, isn't it perfectly choming!" Miss Woodburn exclaimed. "Come and look at this, Miss Leighton," she called to Alma, who reluctantly approached.
What lines are these?" Mrs. Leighton asked, pointing to Beaton's pencil scratches.
"They're suggestions of modifications," he replied.
"I don't think they improve it much. What do you think, Alma?"
"Oh, I don't know," said the girl, constraining her voice to an effect of indifference and glancing carelessly down at the sketch. "The design might be improved; but I don't think those suggestions would do it."
"They're mine," said Beaton, fixing his eyes upon her with a beautiful sad dreaminess that he knew he could put into them; he spoke with a dreamy remoteness of tone—his wind-harp stop, Wetmore called it.
"I supposed so," said Alma, calmly.
"Oh, mah goodness!" cried Miss Woodburn. "Is that the way you awtusts talk to each othah? Well, Ah'm glad Ah'm not an awtust—unless I could do all the talking."
"Artists cannot tell a fib," Alma said, "or even act one," and she laughed in Beaton's upturned face.
He did not unbend his dreamy gaze. "You're quite right. The suggestions are stupid."
Alma turned to Miss Woodburn: "You hear? Even when we speak of our own work."
"Ah nevah hoad anything lahke it!"
"And the design itself ?" Beaton persisted.
"Oh, I'm not an art editor," Alma answered, with a laugh of exultant evasion.
A tall, dark, grave-looking man of fifty, with a swarthy face and iron- gray mustache and imperial and goatee, entered the room. Beaton knew the type; he had been through Virginia sketching for one of the illustrated papers, and he had seen such men in Richmond. Miss Woodburn hardly needed to say, "May Ah introduce you to mah fathaw, Co'nel Woodburn, Mr. Beaton?"
The men shook hands, and Colonel Woodburn said, in that soft, gentle, slow Southern voice without our Northern contractions: "I am very glad to meet you, sir; happy to make yo' acquaintance. Do not move, madam," he said to Mrs. Leighton, who made a deprecatory motion to let him pass to the chair beyond her; "I can find my way." He bowed a bulk that did not lend itself readily to the devotion, and picked up the ball of yarn she had let drop out of her lap in half rising. "Yo' worsteds, madam."
"Yarn, yarn, Colonel Woodburn!" Alma shouted. "You're quite incorrigible. A spade is a spade!"
"But sometimes it is a trump, my dear young lady," said the Colonel, with unabated gallantry; "and when yo' mothah uses yarn, it is worsteds. But I respect worsteds even under the name of yarn: our ladies—my own mothah and sistahs—had to knit the socks we wore—all we could get in the woe."
"Yes, and aftah the woe," his daughter put in. "The knitting has not stopped yet in some places. Have you been much in the Soath, Mr. Beaton?"
Beaton explained just how much.
"Well, sir," said the Colonel, "then you have seen a country making gigantic struggles to retrieve its losses, sir. The South is advancing with enormous strides, sir."
"Too fast for some of us to keep up," said Miss Woodburn, in an audible aside. "The pace in Charlottesboag is pofectly killing, and we had to drop oat into a slow place like New York."
"The progress in the South is material now," said the Colonel; "and those of us whose interests are in another direction find ourselves—isolated —isolated, sir. The intellectual centres are still in the No'th, sir; the great cities draw the mental activity of the country to them, sir. Necessarily New York is the metropolis."
"Oh, everything comes here," said Beaton, impatient of the elder's ponderosity. Another sort of man would have sympathized with the Southerner's willingness to talk of himself, and led him on to speak of his plans and ideals. But the sort of man that Beaton was could not do this; he put up the dummy into the wrapper he had let drop on the floor beside him, and tied it round with string while Colonel Woodburn was talking. He got to his feet with the words he spoke and offered Mrs. Leighton his hand.
"Must you go?" she asked, in surprise.
"I am on my way to a reception," he said. She had noticed that he was in evening dress; and now she felt the vague hurt that people invited nowhere feel in the presence of those who are going somewhere. She did not feel it for herself, but for her daughter; and she knew Alma would not have let her feel it if she could have prevented it. But Alma had left the room for a moment, and she tacitly indulged this sense of injury in her behalf.
"Please say good-night to Miss Leighton for me," Beaton continued. He bowed to Miss Woodburn, "Goodnight, Miss Woodburn," and to her father, bluntly, "Goodnight."
"Good-night, sir," said the Colonel, with a sort of severe suavity.
"Oh, isn't he choming!" Miss Woodburn whispered to Mrs. Leighton when Beaton left the room.
Alma spoke to him in the hall without. "You knew that was my design, Mr. Beaton. Why did you bring it?"
"Why?" He looked at her in gloomy hesitation.
Then he said: "You know why. I wished to talk it over with you, to serve you, please you, get back your good opinion. But I've done neither the one nor the other; I've made a mess of the whole thing."
Alma interrupted him. "Has it been accepted?"
"It will be accepted, if you will let it."
"Let it?" she laughed. "I shall be delighted." She saw him swayed a little toward her. "It's a matter of business, isn't it?"
When Alma returned to the room, Colonel Woodburn was saying to Mrs. Leighton: "I do not contend that it is impossible, madam, but it is very difficult in a thoroughly commercialized society, like yours, to have the feelings of a gentleman. How can a business man, whose prosperity, whose earthly salvation, necessarily lies in the adversity of some one else, be delicate and chivalrous, or even honest? If we could have had time to perfect our system at the South, to eliminate what was evil and develop what was good in it, we should have had a perfect system. But the virus of commercialism was in us, too; it forbade us to make the best of a divine institution, and tempted us to make the worst. Now the curse is on the whole country; the dollar is the measure of every value, the stamp of every success. What does not sell is a failure; and what sells succeeds."
"The hobby is oat, mah deah," said Miss Woodburn, in an audible aside to Alma.
"Were you speaking of me, Colonel Woodburn?" Alma asked.
"Surely not, my dear young lady."
"But he's been saying that awtusts are just as greedy aboat money as anybody," said his daughter.
"The law of commercialism is on everything in a commercial society," the Colonel explained, softening the tone in which his convictions were presented. "The final reward of art is money, and not the pleasure of creating."
"Perhaps they would be willing to take it all oat in that if othah people would let them pay their bills in the pleasure of creating," his daughter teased.
"They are helpless, like all the rest," said her father, with the same deference to her as to other women. "I do not blame them."
"Oh, mah goodness! Didn't you say, sir, that Mr. Beaton had bad manners?"
Alma relieved a confusion which he seemed to feel in reference to her. "Bad manners? He has no manners! That is, when he's himself. He has pretty good ones when he's somebody else."
Miss Woodburn began, "Oh, mah-" and then stopped herself. Alma's mother looked at her with distressed question, but the girl seemed perfectly cool and contented; and she gave her mind provisionally to a point suggested by Colonel Woodburn's talk.
"Still, I can't believe it was right to hold people in slavery, to whip them and sell them. It never did seem right to me," she added, in apology for her extreme sentiments to the gentleness of her adversary.
"I quite agree with you, madam," said the Colonel. "Those were the abuses of the institution. But if we had not been vitiated on the one hand and threatened on the other by the spirit of commercialism from the North—and from Europe, too—those abuses could have been eliminated, and the institution developed in the direction of the mild patriarchalism of the divine intention." The Colonel hitched his chair, which figured a hobby careering upon its hind legs, a little toward Mrs. Leighton and the girls approached their heads and began to whisper; they fell deferentially silent when the Colonel paused in his argument, and went on again when he went on.
At last they heard Mrs. Leighton saying, "And have you heard from the publishers about your book yet?"
Then Miss Woodburn cut in, before her father could answer: "The coase of commercialism is on that, too. They are trahing to fahnd oat whethah it will pay."
"And they are right-quite right," said the Colonel. "There is no longer any other criterion; and even a work that attacks the system must be submitted to the tests of the system."
"The system won't accept destruction on any othah tomes," said Miss Woodburn, demurely.
At the reception, where two men in livery stood aside to let him pass up the outside steps of the house, and two more helped him off with his overcoat indoors, and a fifth miscalled his name into the drawing-room, the Syracuse stone-cutter's son met the niece of Mrs. Horn, and began at once to tell her about his evening at the Dryfooses'. He was in very good spirits, for so far as he could have been elated or depressed by his parting with Alma Leighton he had been elated; she had not treated his impudence with the contempt that he felt it deserved; she must still be fond of him; and the warm sense of this, by operation of an obscure but well-recognized law of the masculine being, disposed him to be rather fond of Miss Vance. She was a slender girl, whose semi-aesthetic dress flowed about her with an accentuation of her long forms, and redeemed them from censure by the very frankness with which it confessed them; nobody could have said that Margaret Vance was too tall. Her pretty little head, which she had an effect of choosing to have little in the same spirit of judicious defiance, had a good deal of reading in it; she was proud to know literary and artistic fashions as well as society fashions. She liked being singled out by an exterior distinction so obvious as Beaton's, and she listened with sympathetic interest to his account of those people. He gave their natural history reality by drawing upon his own; he reconstructed their plebeian past from the experiences of his childhood and his youth of the pre-Parisian period; and he had a pang of suicidal joy in insulting their ignorance of the world.
"What different kinds of people you meet!" said the girl at last, with an envious sigh. Her reading had enlarged the bounds of her imagination, if not her knowledge; the novels nowadays dealt so much with very common people, and made them seem so very much more worth while than the people one met.
She said something like this to Beaton. He answered: "You can meet the people I'm talking of very easily, if you want to take the trouble. It's what they came to New York for. I fancy it's the great ambition of their lives to be met."
"Oh yes," said Miss Vance, fashionably, and looked down; then she looked up and said, intellectually: "Don't you think it's a great pity? How much better for them to have stayed where they were and what they were!"
"Then you could never have had any chance of meeting them," said Beaton. "I don't suppose you intend to go out to the gas country?"
"No," said Miss Vance, amused. "Not that I shouldn't like to go."
"What a daring spirit! You ought to be on the staff of 'Every Other Week,'" said Beaton.
"The staff-Every Other Week? What is it?"
"The missing link; the long-felt want of a tie between the Arts and the Dollars." Beaton gave her a very picturesque, a very dramatic sketch of the theory, the purpose, and the personnel of the new enterprise.
Miss Vance understood too little about business of any kind to know how it differed from other enterprises of its sort. She thought it was delightful; she thought Beaton must be glad to be part of it, though he had represented himself so bored, so injured, by Fulkerson's insisting upon having him. "And is it a secret? Is it a thing not to be spoken of?"
"'Tutt' altro'! Fulkerson will be enraptured to have it spoken of in society. He would pay any reasonable bill for the advertisement."
"What a delightful creature! Tell him it shall all be spent in charity."
"He would like that. He would get two paragraphs out of the fact, and your name would go into the 'Literary Notes' of all the newspapers."
"Oh, but I shouldn't want my name used!" cried the girl, half horrified into fancying the situation real.
"Then you'd better not say anything about 'Every Other Week'. Fulkerson is preternaturally unscrupulous."
March began to think so too, at times. He was perpetually suggesting changes in the make-up of the first number, with a view to its greater vividness of effect. One day he came and said: "This thing isn't going to have any sort of get up and howl about it, unless you have a paper in the first number going for Bevans's novels. Better get Maxwell to do it."
"Why, I thought you liked Bevans's novels?"
"So I did; but where the good of 'Every Other Week' is concerned I am a Roman father. The popular gag is to abuse Bevans, and Maxwell is the man to do it. There hasn't been a new magazine started for the last three years that hasn't had an article from Maxwell in its first number cutting Bevans all to pieces. If people don't see it, they'll think 'Every Other Week' is some old thing."
March did not know whether Fulkerson was joking or not. He suggested, "Perhaps they'll think it's an old thing if they do see it."
"Well, get somebody else, then; or else get Maxwell to write under an assumed name. Or—I forgot! He'll be anonymous under our system, anyway. Now there ain't a more popular racket for us to work in that first number than a good, swinging attack on Bevans. People read his books and quarrel over 'em, and the critics are all against him, and a regular flaying, with salt and vinegar rubbed in afterward, will tell more with people who like good old-fashioned fiction than anything else. I like Bevans's things, but, dad burn it! when it comes to that first number, I'd offer up anybody."
"What an immoral little wretch you are, Fulkerson!" said March, with a laugh.
Fulkerson appeared not to be very strenuous about the attack on the novelist. "Say!" he called out, gayly, "what should you think of a paper defending the late lamented system of slavery'?"
"What do you mean, Fulkerson?" asked March, with a puzzled smile.
Fulkerson braced his knees against his desk, and pushed himself back, but kept his balance to the eye by canting his hat sharply forward." There's an old cock over there at the widow's that's written a book to prove that slavery was and is the only solution of the labor problem. He's a Southerner."
"I should imagine," March assented.
"He's got it on the brain that if the South could have been let alone by the commercial spirit and the pseudophilanthropy of the North, it would have worked out slavery into a perfectly ideal condition for the laborer, in which he would have been insured against want, and protected in all his personal rights by the state. He read the introduction to me last night. I didn't catch on to all the points—his daughter's an awfully pretty girl, and I was carrying that fact in my mind all the time, too, you know—but that's about the gist of it."
"Seems to regard it as a lost opportunity?" said March.
"Exactly! What a mighty catchy title, Neigh? Look well on the title- page."
"I reckon so; I don't know. The Colonel read it mighty eloquently."
"It mightn't be such bad business," said March, in a muse. "Could you get me a sight of it without committing yourself?"
"If the Colonel hasn't sent it off to another publisher this morning. He just got it back with thanks yesterday. He likes to keep it travelling."
"Well, try it. I've a notion it might be a curious thing."
"Look here, March," said Fulkerson, with the effect of taking a fresh hold; "I wish you could let me have one of those New York things of yours for the first number. After all, that's going to be the great card."
"I couldn't, Fulkerson; I couldn't, really. I want to philosophize the material, and I'm too new to it all yet. I don't want to do merely superficial sketches."
"Of course! Of course! I understand that. Well, I don't want to hurry you. Seen that old fellow of yours yet? I think we ought to have that translation in the first number; don't you? We want to give 'em a notion of what we're going to do in that line."
"Yes," said March; "and I was going out to look up Lindau this morning. I've inquired at Maroni's, and he hasn't been there for several days. I've some idea perhaps he's sick. But they gave me his address, and I'm going to see."
"Well, that's right. We want the first number to be the keynote in every way."
March shook his head. "You can't make it so. The first number is bound to be a failure always, as far as the representative character goes. It's invariably the case. Look at the first numbers of all the things you've seen started. They're experimental, almost amateurish, and necessarily so, not only because the men that are making them up are comparatively inexperienced like ourselves, but because the material sent them to deal with is more or less consciously tentative. People send their adventurous things to a new periodical because the whole thing is an adventure. I've noticed that quality in all the volunteer contributions; it's in the articles that have been done to order even. No; I've about made up my mind that if we can get one good striking paper into the first number that will take people's minds off the others, we shall be doing all we can possible hope for. I should like," March added, less seriously, "to make up three numbers ahead, and publish the third one first."
Fulkerson dropped forward and struck his fist on the desk. "It's a first-rate idea. Why not do it?"
March laughed. "Fulkerson, I don't believe there's any quackish thing you wouldn't do in this cause. From time to time I'm thoroughly ashamed of being connected with such a charlatan."
Fulkerson struck his hat sharply backward. "Ah, dad burn it! To give that thing the right kind of start I'd walk up and down Broadway between two boards, with the title-page of Every Other Week facsimiled on one and my name and address on the—"
He jumped to his feet and shouted, "March, I'll do it!"
"I'll hire a lot of fellows to make mud-turtles of themselves, and I'll have a lot of big facsimiles of the title-page, and I'll paint the town red!"
March looked aghast at him. "Oh, come, now, Fulkerson!"
"I mean it. I was in London when a new man had taken hold of the old Cornhill, and they were trying to boom it, and they had a procession of these mudturtles that reached from Charing Cross to Temple Bar. Cornhill Magazine. Sixpence. Not a dull page in it.' I said to myself then that it was the livest thing I ever saw. I respected the man that did that thing from the bottom of my heart. I wonder I ever forgot it. But it shows what a shaky thing the human mind is at its best."
"You infamous mountebank!", said March, with great amusement at Fulkerson's access; "you call that congeries of advertising instinct of yours the human mind at its best? Come, don't be so diffident, Fulkerson. Well, I'm off to find Lindau, and when I come back I hope Mr. Dryfoos will have you under control. I don't suppose you'll be quite sane again till after the first number is out. Perhaps public opinion will sober you then."
"Confound it, March! How do you think they will take it? I swear I'm getting so nervous I don't know half the time which end of me is up. I believe if we don't get that thing out by the first of February it 'll be the death of me."
"Couldn't wait till Washington's Birthday? I was thinking it would give the day a kind of distinction, and strike the public imagination, if—"
"No, I'll be dogged if I could!" Fulkerson lapsed more and more into the parlance of his early life in this season of strong excitement. "I believe if Beaton lags any on the art leg I'll kill him."
"Well, I shouldn't mind your killing Beaton," said March, tranquilly, as he went out.
He went over to Third Avenue and took the Elevated down to Chatham Square. He found the variety of people in the car as unfailingly entertaining as ever. He rather preferred the East Side to the West Side lines, because they offered more nationalities, conditions, and characters to his inspection. They draw not only from the up-town American region, but from all the vast hive of populations swarming between them and the East River. He had found that, according to the hour, American husbands going to and from business, and American wives going to and from shopping, prevailed on the Sixth Avenue road, and that the most picturesque admixture to these familiar aspects of human nature were the brilliant eyes and complexions of the American Hebrews, who otherwise contributed to the effect of well-clad comfort and citizen- self-satisfaction of the crowd. Now and then he had found himself in a car mostly filled with Neapolitans from the constructions far up the line, where he had read how they are worked and fed and housed like beasts; and listening to the jargon of their unintelligible dialect, he had occasion for pensive question within himself as to what notion these poor animals formed of a free republic from their experience of life under its conditions; and whether they found them practically very different from those of the immemorial brigandage and enforced complicity with rapine under which they had been born. But, after all, this was an infrequent effect, however massive, of travel on the West Side, whereas the East offered him continual entertainment in like sort. The sort was never quite so squalid. For short distances the lowest poverty, the hardest pressed labor, must walk; but March never entered a car without encountering some interesting shape of shabby adversity, which was almost always adversity of foreign birth. New York is still popularly supposed to be in the control of the Irish, but March noticed in these East Side travels of his what must strike every observer returning to the city after a prolonged absence: the numerical subordination of the dominant race. If they do not outvote them, the people of Germanic, of Slavonic, of Pelasgic, of Mongolian stock outnumber the prepotent Celts; and March seldom found his speculation centred upon one of these. The small eyes, the high cheeks, the broad noses, the puff lips, the bare, cue-filleted skulls, of Russians, Poles, Czechs, Chinese; the furtive glitter of Italians; the blonde dulness of Germans; the cold quiet of Scandinavians —fire under ice—were aspects that he identified, and that gave him abundant suggestion for the personal histories he constructed, and for the more public-spirited reveries in which he dealt with the future economy of our heterogeneous commonwealth. It must be owned that he did not take much trouble about this; what these poor people were thinking, hoping, fearing, enjoying, suffering; just where and how they lived; who and what they individually were—these were the matters of his waking dreams as he stared hard at them, while the train raced farther into the gay ugliness—the shapeless, graceful, reckless picturesqueness of the Bowery.
There were certain signs, certain facades, certain audacities of the prevailing hideousness that always amused him in that uproar to the eye which the strident forms and colors made. He was interested in the insolence with which the railway had drawn its erasing line across the Corinthian front of an old theatre, almost grazing its fluted pillars, and flouting its dishonored pediment. The colossal effigies of the fat women and the tuft-headed Circassian girls of cheap museums; the vistas of shabby cross streets; the survival of an old hip-roofed house here and there at their angles; the Swiss chalet, histrionic decorativeness of the stations in prospect or retrospect; the vagaries of the lines that narrowed together or stretched apart according to the width of the avenue, but always in wanton disregard of the life that dwelt, and bought and sold, and rejoiced or sorrowed, and clattered or crawled, around, below, above—were features of the frantic panorama that perpetually touched his sense of humor and moved his sympathy. Accident and then exigency seemed the forces at work to this extraordinary effect; the play of energies as free and planless as those that force the forest from the soil to the sky; and then the fierce struggle for survival, with the stronger life persisting over the deformity, the mutilation, the destruction, the decay of the weaker. The whole at moments seemed to him lawless, godless; the absence of intelligent, comprehensive purpose in the huge disorder, and the violent struggle to subordinate the result to the greater good, penetrated with its dumb appeal the consciousness of a man who had always been too self-enwrapped to perceive the chaos to which the individual selfishness must always lead.
But there was still nothing definite, nothing better than a vague discomfort, however poignant, in his half recognition of such facts; and he descended the station stairs at Chatham Square with a sense of the neglected opportunities of painters in that locality. He said to himself that if one of those fellows were to see in Naples that turmoil of cars, trucks, and teams of every sort, intershot with foot-passengers going and coming to and from the crowded pavements, under the web of the railroad tracks overhead, and amid the spectacular approach of the streets that open into the square, he would have it down in his sketch-book at once. He decided simultaneously that his own local studies must be illustrated, and that be must come with the artist and show him just which bits to do, not knowing that the two arts can never approach the same material from the same point. He thought he would particularly like his illustrator to render the Dickensy, cockneyish quality of the, shabby-genteel ballad- seller of whom he stopped to ask his way to the street where Lindau lived, and whom he instantly perceived to be, with his stock in trade, the sufficient object of an entire study by himself. He had his ballads strung singly upon a cord against the house wall, and held down in piles on the pavement with stones and blocks of wood. Their control in this way intimated a volatility which was not perceptible in their sentiment. They were mostly tragical or doleful: some of them dealt with the wrongs of the working-man; others appealed to a gay experience of the high seas; but vastly the greater part to memories and associations of an Irish origin; some still uttered the poetry of plantation life in the artless accents of the end—man. Where they trusted themselves, with syntax that yielded promptly to any exigency of rhythmic art, to the ordinary American speech, it was to strike directly for the affections, to celebrate the domestic ties, and, above all, to embalm the memories of angel and martyr mothers whose dissipated sons deplored their sufferings too late. March thought this not at all a bad thing in them; he smiled in patronage of their simple pathos; he paid the tribute of a laugh when the poet turned, as he sometimes did, from his conception of angel and martyr motherhood, and portrayed the mother in her more familiar phases of virtue and duty, with the retributive shingle or slipper in her hand. He bought a pocketful of this literature, popular in a sense which the most successful book can never be, and enlisted the ballad vendor so deeply in the effort to direct him to Lindau's dwelling by the best way that he neglected another customer, till a sarcasm on his absent- mindedness stung hint to retort, "I'm a-trying to answer a gentleman a civil question; that's where the absent-minded comes in."
It seemed for some reason to be a day of leisure with the Chinese dwellers in Mott Street, which March had been advised to take first. They stood about the tops of basement stairs, and walked two and two along the dirty pavement, with their little hands tucked into their sleeves across their breasts, aloof in immaculate cleanliness from the filth around them, and scrutinizing the scene with that cynical sneer of faint surprise to which all aspects of our civilization seem to move their superiority. Their numbers gave character to the street, and rendered not them, but what was foreign to them, strange there; so that March had a sense of missionary quality in the old Catholic church, built long before their incursion was dreamed of. It seemed to have come to them there, and he fancied in the statued saint that looked down from its facade something not so much tolerant as tolerated, something propitiatory, almost deprecatory. It was a fancy, of course; the street was sufficiently peopled with Christian children, at any rate, swarming and shrieking at their games; and presently a Christian mother appeared, pushed along by two policemen on a handcart, with a gelatinous tremor over the paving and a gelatinous jouncing at the curbstones. She lay with her face to the sky, sending up an inarticulate lamentation; but the indifference of the officers forbade the notion of tragedy in her case. She was perhaps a local celebrity; the children left off their games, and ran gayly trooping after her; even the young fellow and young girl exchanging playful blows in a robust flirtation at the corner of a liquor store suspended their scuffle with a pleased interest as she passed. March understood the unwillingness of the poor to leave the worst conditions in the city for comfort and plenty in the country when he reflected upon this dramatic incident, one of many no doubt which daily occur to entertain them in such streets. A small town could rarely offer anything comparable to it, and the country never. He said that if life appeared so hopeless to him as it must to the dwellers in that neighborhood he should not himself be willing to quit its distractions, its alleviations, for the vague promise of unknown good in the distance somewhere.
But what charm could such a man as Lindau find in such a place? It could not be that he lived there because he was too poor to live elsewhere: with a shutting of the heart, March refused to believe this as he looked round on the abounding evidences of misery, and guiltily remembered his neglect of his old friend. Lindau could probably find as cheap a lodging in some decenter part of the town; and, in fact, there was some amelioration of the prevailing squalor in the quieter street which he turned into from Mott.
A woman with a tied-up face of toothache opened the door for him when he pulled, with a shiver of foreboding, the bell-knob, from which a yard of rusty crape dangled. But it was not Lindau who was dead, for the woman said he was at home, and sent March stumbling up the four or five dark flights of stairs that led to his tenement. It was quite at the top of the house, and when March obeyed the German-English "Komm!" that followed his knock, he found himself in a kitchen where a meagre breakfast was scattered in stale fragments on the table before the stove. The place was bare and cold; a half-empty beer bottle scarcely gave it a convivial air. On the left from this kitchen was a room with a bed in it, which seemed also to be a cobbler's shop: on the right, through a door that stood ajar, came the German-English voice again, saying this time, "Hier!"
March pushed the door open into a room like that on the left, but with a writing-desk instead of a cobbler's bench, and a bed, where Lindau sat propped up; with a coat over his shoulders and a skull-cap on his head, reading a book, from which he lifted his eyes to stare blankly over his spectacles at March. His hairy old breast showed through the night- shirt, which gaped apart; the stump of his left arm lay upon the book to keep it open.
"Ah, my tear yo'ng friendt! Passil! Marge! Iss it you?" he called out, joyously, the next moment.
"Why, are you sick, Lindau?" March anxiously scanned his face in taking his hand.
Lindau laughed. "No; I'm all righdt. Only a lidtle lazy, and a lidtle eggonomigal. Idt's jeaper to stay in pedt sometimes as to geep a fire a- goin' all the time. Don't wandt to gome too hardt on the 'brafer Mann', you know:
"Braver Mann, er schafft mir zu essen."
You remember? Heine? You readt Heine still? Who is your favorite boet now, Passil? You write some boetry yourself yet? No? Well, I am gladt to zee you. Brush those baperss off of that jair. Well, idt is goodt for zore eyess. How didt you findt where I lif?
"They told me at Maroni's," said March. He tried to keep his eyes on Lindau's face, and not see the discomfort of the room, but he was aware of the shabby and frowsy bedding, the odor of stale smoke, and the pipes and tobacco shreds mixed with the books and manuscripts strewn over the leaf of the writing-desk. He laid down on the mass the pile of foreign magazines he had brought under his arm. "They gave me another address first."
"Yes. I have chust gome here," said Lindau. "Idt is not very coy, Neigh?"
"It might be gayer," March admitted, with a smile. "Still," he added, soberly, "a good many people seem to live in this part of the town. Apparently they die here, too, Lindau. There is crape on your outside door. I didn't know but it was for you."
"Nodt this time," said Lindau, in the same humor. "Berhaps some other time. We geep the ondertakers bratty puzy down here."
"Well," said March, "undertakers must live, even if the rest of us have to die to let them." Lindau laughed, and March went on: "But I'm glad it isn't your funeral, Lindau. And you say you're not sick, and so I don't see why we shouldn't come to business."
"Pusiness?" Lindau lifted his eyebrows. "You gome on pusiness?"
"And pleasure combined," said March, and he went on to explain the service he desired at Lindau's hands.
The old man listened with serious attention, and with assenting nods that culminated in a spoken expression of his willingness to undertake the translations. March waited with a sort of mechanical expectation of his gratitude for the work put in his way, but nothing of the kind came from Lindau, and March was left to say, "Well, everything is understood, then; and I don't know that I need add that if you ever want any little advance on the work—"
"I will ask you," said Lindau, quietly, "and I thank you for that. But I can wait; I ton't needt any money just at bresent." As if he saw some appeal for greater frankness in, March's eye, he went on: "I tidn't gome here begause I was too boor to lif anywhere else, and I ton't stay in pedt begause I couldn't haf a fire to geep warm if I wanted it. I'm nodt zo padt off as Marmontel when he went to Paris. I'm a lidtle loaxurious, that is all. If I stay in pedt it's zo I can fling money away on somethings else. Heigh?"
"But what are you living here for, Lindau ?" March smiled at the irony lurking in Lindau's words.
"Well, you zee, I foundt I was begoming a lidtle too moch of an aristograt. I hadt a room oap in Creenvidge Willage, among dose pig pugs over on the West Side, and I foundt"—Liudau's voice lost its jesting quality, and his face darkened—"that I was beginning to forget the boor!"
"I should have thought," said March, with impartial interest, "that you might have seen poverty enough, now and then, in Greenwich Village to remind you of its existence."
"Nodt like here," said Lindau. "Andt you must zee it all the dtime—zee it, hear it, smell it, dtaste it—or you forget it. That is what I gome here for. I was begoming a ploated aristograt. I thought I was nodt like these beople down here, when I gome down once to look aroundt; I thought I must be somethings else, and zo I zaid I better take myself in time, and I gome here among my brothers—the becears and the thiefs!" A noise made itself heard in the next room, as if the door were furtively opened, and a faint sound of tiptoeing and of hands clawing on a table.
"Thiefs!" Lindau repeated, with a shout. "Lidtle thiefs, that gabture your breakfast. Ah! ha! ha!" A wild scurrying of feet, joyous cries and tittering, and a slamming door followed upon his explosion, and he resumed in the silence: "Idt is the children cot pack from school. They gome and steal what I leaf there on my daple. Idt's one of our lidtle chokes; we onderstand one another; that's all righdt. Once the gobbler in the other room there he used to chase 'em; he couldn't onderstand their lidtle tricks. Now dot goppler's teadt, and he ton't chase 'em any more. He was a Bohemian. Gindt of grazy, I cuess."
"Well, it's a sociable existence," March suggested. "But perhaps if you let them have the things without stealing—"
"Oh no, no! Most nodt mage them too gonceitedt. They mostn't go and feel themselfs petter than those boor millionairss that hadt to steal their money."
March smiled indulgently at his old friend's violence. "Oh, there are fagots and fagots, you know, Lindau; perhaps not all the millionaires are so guilty."
"Let us speak German!" cried Lindau, in his own tongue, pushing his book aside, and thrusting his skullcap back from his forehead. "How much money can a man honestly earn without wronging or oppressing some other man?"
"Well, if you'll let me answer in English," said March, "I should say about five thousand dollars a year. I name that figure because it's my experience that I never could earn more; but the experience of other men may be different, and if they tell me they can earn ten, or twenty, or fifty thousand a year, I'm not prepared to say they can't do it."
Lindau hardly waited for his answer. "Not the most gifted man that ever lived, in the practice of any art or science, and paid at the highest rate that exceptional genius could justly demand from those who have worked for their money, could ever earn a million dollars. It is the landlords and the merchant princes, the railroad kings and the coal barons (the oppressors to whom you instinctively give the titles of tyrants)—it is these that make the millions, but no man earns them. What artist, what physician, what scientist, what poet was ever a millionaire?"
"I can only think of the poet Rogers," said March, amused by Lindau's tirade. "But he was as exceptional as the other Rogers, the martyr, who died with warm feet." Lindau had apparently not understood his joke, and he went on, with the American ease of mind about everything: "But you must allow, Lindau, that some of those fellows don't do so badly with their guilty gains. Some of them give work to armies of poor people—"