He was full of the glow of its prosperity when he met Margaret Vance at the reception.
The house was one where people might chat a long time together without publicly committing themselves to an interest in each other except such a grew out of each other's ideas. Miss Vance was there because she united in her catholic sympathies or ambitions the objects of the fashionable people and of the aesthetic people who met there on common ground. It was almost the only house in New York where this happened often, and it did not happen very often there. It was a literary house, primarily, with artistic qualifications, and the frequenters of it were mostly authors and artists; Wetmore, who was always trying to fit everything with a phrase, said it was the unfrequenters who were fashionable. There was great ease there, and simplicity; and if there was not distinction, it was not for want of distinguished people, but because there seems to be some solvent in New York life that reduces all men to a common level, that touches everybody with its potent magic and brings to the surface the deeply underlying nobody. The effect for some temperaments, for consciousness, for egotism, is admirable; for curiosity, for hero worship, it is rather baffling. It is the spirit of the street transferred to the drawing-room; indiscriminating, levelling, but doubtless finally wholesome, and witnessing the immensity of the place, if not consenting to the grandeur of reputations or presences.
Beaton now denied that this house represented a salon at all, in the old sense; and he held that the salon was impossible, even undesirable, with us, when Miss Vance sighed for it. At any rate, he said that this turmoil of coming and going, this bubble and babble, this cackling and hissing of conversation was not the expression of any such civilization as had created the salon. Here, he owned, were the elements of intellectual delightfulness, but he said their assemblage in such quantity alone denied the salon; there was too much of a good thing. The French word implied a long evening of general talk among the guests, crowned with a little chicken at supper, ending at cock-crow. Here was tea, with milk or with lemon-baths of it and claret-cup for the hardier spirits throughout the evening. It was very nice, very pleasant, but it was not the little chicken—not the salon. In fact, he affirmed, the salon descended from above, out of the great world, and included the aesthetic world in it. But our great world—the rich people, were stupid, with no wish to be otherwise; they were not even curious about authors and artists. Beaton fancied himself speaking impartially, and so he allowed himself to speak bitterly; he said that in no other city in the world, except Vienna, perhaps, were such people so little a part of society.
"It isn't altogether the rich people's fault," said Margaret; and she spoke impartially, too. "I don't believe that the literary men and the artists would like a salon that descended to them. Madame Geoffrin, you know, was very plebeian; her husband was a business man of some sort."
"He would have been a howling swell in New York," said Beaton, still impartially.
Wetmore came up to their corner, with a scroll of bread and butter in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. Large and fat, and clean-shaven, he looked like a monk in evening dress.
"We were talking about salons," said Margaret.
"Why don't you open a salon yourself?" asked Wetmore, breathing thickly from the anxiety of getting through the crowd without spilling his tea.
"Like poor Lady Barberina Lemon?" said the girl, with a laugh. "What a good story! That idea of a woman who couldn't be interested in any of the arts because she was socially and traditionally the material of them! We can, never reach that height of nonchalance in this country."
"Not if we tried seriously?" suggested the painter. "I've an idea that if the Americans ever gave their minds to that sort of thing, they could take the palm—or the cake, as Beaton here would say—just as they do in everything else. When we do have an aristocracy, it will be an aristocracy that will go ahead of anything the world has ever seen. Why don't somebody make a beginning, and go in openly for an ancestry, and a lower middle class, and an hereditary legislature, and all the rest? We've got liveries, and crests, and palaces, and caste feeling. We're all right as far as we've gone, and we've got the money to go any length."
"Like your natural-gas man, Mr. Beaton," said the girl, with a smiling glance round at him.
"Ah!" said Wetmore, stirring his tea, "has Beaton got a natural-gas man?"
"My natural-gas man," said Beaton, ignoring Wetmore's question, "doesn't know how to live in his palace yet, and I doubt if he has any caste feeling. I fancy his family believe themselves victims of it. They say —one of the young ladies does—that she never saw such an unsociable place as New York; nobody calls."
"That's good!" said Wetmore. "I suppose they're all ready for company, too: good cook, furniture, servants, carriages?"
"Galore," said Beaton.
"Well, that's too bad. There's a chance for you, Miss Vance. Doesn't your philanthropy embrace the socially destitute as well as the financially? Just think of a family like that, without a friend, in a great city! I should think common charity had a duty there—not to mention the uncommon."
He distinguished that kind as Margaret's by a glance of ironical deference. She had a repute for good works which was out of proportion to the works, as it always is, but she was really active in that way, under the vague obligation, which we now all feel, to be helpful. She was of the church which seems to have found a reversion to the imposing ritual of the past the way back to the early ideals of Christian brotherhood.
"Oh, they seem to have Mr. Beaton," Margaret answered, and Beaton felt obscurely flattered by her reference to his patronage of the Dryfooses.
He explained to Wetmore: "They have me because they partly own me. Dryfoos is Fulkerson's financial backer in 'Every Other Week'."
"Is that so? Well, that's interesting, too. Aren't you rather astonished, Miss Vance, to see what a petty thing Beaton is making of that magazine of his?"
"Oh," said Margaret, "it's so very nice, every way; it makes you feel as if you did have a country, after all. It's as chic—that detestable little word!—as those new French books."
"Beaton modelled it on them. But you mustn't suppose he does everything about 'Every Other Week'; he'd like you to. Beaton, you haven't come up to that cover of your first number, since. That was the design of one of my pupils, Miss Vance—a little girl that Beaton discovered down in New Hampshire last summer."
"Oh yes. And have you great hopes of her, Mr. Wetmore?"
"She seems to have more love of it and knack for it than any one of her sex I've seen yet. It really looks like a case of art for art's sake, at times. But you can't tell. They're liable to get married at any moment, you know. Look here, Beaton, when your natural-gas man gets to the picture-buying stage in his development, just remember your old friends, will you? You know, Miss Vance, those new fellows have their regular stages. They never know what to do with their money, but they find out that people buy pictures, at one point. They shut your things up in their houses where nobody comes, and after a while they overeat themselves—they don't know what, else to do—and die of apoplexy, and leave your pictures to a gallery, and then they see the light. It's slow, but it's pretty sure. Well, I see Beaton isn't going to move on, as he ought to do; and so I must. He always was an unconventional creature."
Wetmore went away, but Beaton remained, and he outstayed several other people who came up to speak to Miss Vance. She was interested in everybody, and she liked the talk of these clever literary, artistic, clerical, even theatrical people, and she liked the sort of court with which they recognized her fashion as well as her cleverness; it was very pleasant to be treated intellectually as if she were one of themselves, and socially as if she was not habitually the same, but a sort of guest in Bohemia, a distinguished stranger. If it was Arcadia rather than Bohemia, still she felt her quality of distinguished stranger. The flattery of it touched her fancy, and not her vanity; she had very little vanity. Beaton's devotion made the same sort of appeal; it was not so much that she liked him as she liked being the object of his admiration. She was a girl of genuine sympathies, intellectual rather than sentimental. In fact, she was an intellectual person, whom qualities of the heart saved from being disagreeable, as they saved her on the other hand from being worldly or cruel in her fashionableness. She had read a great many books, and had ideas about them, quite courageous and original ideas; she knew about pictures—she had been in Wetmore's class; she was fond of music; she was willing to understand even politics; in Boston she might have been agnostic, but in New York she was sincerely religious; she was very accomplished; and perhaps it was her goodness that prevented her feeling what was not best in Beaton.
"Do you think," she said, after the retreat of one of the comers and goers left her alone with him again, "that those young ladies would like me to call on them?"
"Those young ladies?" Beaton echoed. "Miss Leighton and—"
"No; I have been there with my aunt's cards already."
"Oh yes," said Beaton, as if he had known of it; he admired the pluck and pride with which Alma had refrained from ever mentioning the fact to him, and had kept her mother from mentioning it, which must have been difficult.
"I mean the Miss Dryfooses. It seems really barbarous, if nobody goes near them. We do all kinds of things, and help all kinds of people in some ways, but we let strangers remain strangers unless they know how to make their way among us."
"The Dryfooses certainly wouldn't know how to make their way among you," said Beaton, with a sort of dreamy absence in his tone.
Miss Vance went on, speaking out the process of reasoning in her mind, rather than any conclusions she had reached. "We defend ourselves by trying to believe that they must have friends of their own, or that they would think us patronizing, and wouldn't like being made the objects of social charity; but they needn't really suppose anything of the kind."
"I don't imagine they would," said Beaton. "I think they'd be only too happy to have you come. But you wouldn't know what to do with each other, indeed, Miss Vance."
"Perhaps we shall like each other," said the girl, bravely, "and then we shall know. What Church are they of?"
"I don't believe they're of any," said Beaton. "The mother was brought up a Dunkard."
Beaton told what he knew of the primitive sect, with its early Christian polity, its literal interpretation of Christ's ethics, and its quaint ceremonial of foot-washing; he made something picturesque of that. "The father is a Mammon-worshipper, pure and simple. I suppose the young ladies go to church, but I don't know where. They haven't tried to convert me."
"I'll tell them not to despair—after I've converted them," said Miss Vance. "Will you let me use you as a 'point d'appui', Mr. Beaton?"
"Any way you like. If you're really going to see them, perhaps I'd better make a confession. I left your banjo with them, after I got it put in order."
"How very nice! Then we have a common interest already."
"Do you mean the banjo, or—"
"The banjo, decidedly. Which of them plays?"
"Neither. But the eldest heard that the banjo was 'all the rage,' as the youngest says. Perhaps you can persuade them that good works are the rage, too."
Beaton had no very lively belief that Margaret would go to see the Dryfooses; he did so few of the things he proposed that he went upon the theory that others must be as faithless. Still, he had a cruel amusement in figuring the possible encounter between Margaret Vance, with her intellectual elegance, her eager sympathies and generous ideals, and those girls with their rude past, their false and distorted perspective, their sordid and hungry selfishness, and their faith in the omnipotence of their father's wealth wounded by their experience of its present social impotence. At the bottom of his heart he sympathized with them rather than with her; he was more like them.
People had ceased coming, and some of them were going. Miss Vance said she must go, too, and she was about to rise, when the host came up with March; Beaton turned away.
"Miss Vance, I want to introduce Mr. March, the editor of 'Every Other Week.' You oughtn't to be restricted to the art department. We literary fellows think that arm of the service gets too much of the glory nowadays." His banter was for Beaton, but he was already beyond ear- shot, and the host went on:
Mr. March can talk with you about your favorite Boston. He's just turned his back on it."
"Oh, I hope not!" said Miss Vance. "I can't imagine anybody voluntarily leaving Boston."
"I don't say he's so bad as that," said the host, committing March to her. "He came to New York because he couldn't help it—like the rest of us. I never know whether that's a compliment to New York or not."
They talked Boston a little while, without finding that they had common acquaintance there; Miss Vance must have concluded that society was much larger in Boston than she had supposed from her visits there, or else that March did not know many people in it. But she was not a girl to care much for the inferences that might be drawn from such conclusions; she rather prided herself upon despising them; and she gave herself to the pleasure of being talked to as if she were of March's own age. In the glow of her sympathetic beauty and elegance he talked his best, and tried to amuse her with his jokes, which he had the art of tingeing with a little seriousness on one side. He made her laugh; and he flattered her by making her think; in her turn she charmed him so much by enjoying what he said that he began to brag of his wife, as a good husband always does when another woman charms him; and she asked, Oh was Mrs. March there; and would he introduce her?
She asked Mrs. March for her address, and whether she had a day; and she said she would come to see her, if she would let her. Mrs. March could not be so enthusiastic about her as March was, but as they walked home together they talked the girl over, and agreed about her beauty and her amiability. Mrs. March said she seemed very unspoiled for a person who must have been so much spoiled. They tried to analyze her charm, and they succeeded in formulating it as a combination of intellectual fashionableness and worldly innocence. "I think," said Mrs. March, "that city girls, brought up as she must have been, are often the most innocent of all. They never imagine the wickedness of the world, and if they marry happily they go through life as innocent as children. Everything combines to keep them so; the very hollowness of society shields them. They are the loveliest of the human race. But perhaps the rest have to pay too much for them."
"For such an exquisite creature as Miss Vance," said March, "we couldn't pay too much."
A wild laughing cry suddenly broke upon the air at the street-crossing in front of them. A girl's voice called out: "Run, run, Jen! The copper is after you." A woman's figure rushed stumbling across the way and into the shadow of the houses, pursued by a burly policeman.
"Ah, but if that's part of the price?"
They went along fallen from the gay spirit of their talk into a silence which he broke with a sigh. "Can that poor wretch and the radiant girl we left yonder really belong to the same system of things? How impossible each makes the other seem!"
Mrs. Horn believed in the world and in society and its unwritten constitution devoutly, and she tolerated her niece's benevolent activities as she tolerated her aesthetic sympathies because these things, however oddly, were tolerated—even encouraged—by society; and they gave Margaret a charm. They made her originality interesting. Mrs. Horn did not intend that they should ever go so far as to make her troublesome; and it was with a sense of this abeyant authority of her aunt's that the girl asked her approval of her proposed call upon the Dryfooses. She explained as well as she could the social destitution of these opulent people, and she had of course to name Beaton as the source of her knowledge concerning them.
"Did Mr. Beaton suggest your calling on them?"
"No; he rather discouraged it."
"And why do you think you ought to go in this particular instance? New York is full of people who don't know anybody."
Margaret laughed. "I suppose it's like any other charity: you reach the cases you know of. The others you say you can't help, and you try to ignore them."
"It's very romantic," said Mrs. Horn. "I hope you've counted the cost; all the possible consequences."
Margaret knew that her aunt had in mind their common experience with the Leightons, whom, to give their common conscience peace, she had called upon with her aunt's cards and excuses, and an invitation for her Thursdays, somewhat too late to make the visit seem a welcome to New York. She was so coldly received, not so much for herself as in her quality of envoy, that her aunt experienced all the comfort which vicarious penance brings. She did not perhaps consider sufficiently her niece's guiltlessness in the expiation. Margaret was not with her at St. Barnaby in the fatal fortnight she passed there, and never saw the Leightons till she went to call upon them. She never complained: the strain of asceticism, which mysteriously exists in us all, and makes us put peas, boiled or unboiled, in our shoes, gave her patience with the snub which the Leightons presented her for her aunt. But now she said, with this in mind: "Nothing seems simpler than to get rid of people if you don't want them. You merely have to let them alone."
"It isn't so pleasant, letting them alone," said Mrs. Horn.
"Or having them let you alone," said Margaret; for neither Mrs. Leighton nor Alma had ever come to enjoy the belated hospitality of Mrs. Horn's Thursdays.
"Yes, or having them let you alone," Mrs. Horn courageously consented. "And all that I ask you, Margaret, is to be sure that you really want to know these people."
"I don't," said the girl, seriously, "in the usual way."
"Then the question is whether you do in the un usual way. They will build a great deal upon you," said Mrs. Horn, realizing how much the Leightons must have built upon her, and how much out of proportion to her desert they must now dislike her; for she seemed to have had them on her mind from the time they came, and had always meant to recognize any reasonable claim they had upon her.
"It seems very odd, very sad," Margaret returned, "that you never could act unselfishly in society affairs. If I wished to go and see those girls just to do them a pleasure, and perhaps because if they're strange and lonely, I might do them good, even—it would be impossible."
"Quite," said her aunt. "Such a thing would be quixotic. Society doesn't rest upon any such basis. It can't; it would go to pieces, if people acted from unselfish motives."
"Then it's a painted savage!" said the girl. "All its favors are really bargains. It's gifts are for gifts back again."
"Yes, that is true," said Mrs. Horn, with no more sense of wrong in the fact than the political economist has in the fact that wages are the measure of necessity and not of merit. "You get what you pay for. It's a matter of business." She satisfied herself with this formula, which she did not invent, as fully as if it were a reason; but she did not dislike her niece's revolt against it. That was part of Margaret's originality, which pleased her aunt in proportion to her own conventionality; she was really a timid person, and she liked the show of courage which Margaret's magnanimity often reflected upon her. She had through her a repute, with people who did not know her well, for intellectual and moral qualities; she was supposed to be literary and charitable; she almost had opinions and ideals, but really fell short of their possession. She thought that she set bounds to the girl's originality because she recognized them. Margaret understood this better than her aunt, and knew that she had consulted her about going to see the Dryfooses out of deference, and with no expectation of luminous instruction. She was used to being a law to herself, but she knew what she might and might not do, so that she was rather a by-law. She was the kind of girl that might have fancies for artists and poets, but might end by marrying a prosperous broker, and leavening a vast lump of moneyed and fashionable life with her culture, generosity, and good-will. The intellectual interests were first with her, but she might be equal to sacrificing them; she had the best heart, but she might know how to harden it; if she was eccentric, her social orbit was defined; comets themselves traverse space on fixed lines. She was like every one else, a congeries of contradictions and inconsistencies, but obedient to the general expectation of what a girl of her position must and must not finally be. Provisionally, she was very much what she liked to be.
Margaret Vance tried to give herself some reason for going to call upon the Dryfooses, but she could find none better than the wish to do a kind thing. This seemed queerer and less and less sufficient as she examined it, and she even admitted a little curiosity as a harmless element in her motive, without being very well satisfied with it. She tried to add a slight sense of social duty, and then she decided to have no motive at all, but simply to pay her visit as she would to any other eligible strangers she saw fit to call upon. She perceived that she must be very careful not to let them see that any other impulse had governed her; she determined, if possible, to let them patronize her; to be very modest and sincere and diffident, and, above all, not to play a part. This was easy, compared with the choice of a manner that should convey to them the fact that she was not playing a part. When the hesitating Irish serving- man had acknowledged that the ladies were at home, and had taken her card to them, she sat waiting for them in the drawing-room. Her study of its appointments, with their impersonal costliness, gave her no suggestion how to proceed; the two sisters were upon her before she had really decided, and she rose to meet them with the conviction that she was going to play a part for want of some chosen means of not doing so. She found herself, before she knew it, making her banjo a property in the little comedy, and professing so much pleasure in the fact that Miss Dryfoos was taking it up; she had herself been so much interested by it. Anything, she said, was a relief from the piano; and then, between the guitar and the banjo, one must really choose the banjo, unless one wanted to devote one's whole natural life to the violin. Of course, there was the mandolin; but Margaret asked if they did not feel that the bit of shell you struck it with interposed a distance between you and the real soul of the instrument; and then it did have such a faint, mosquitoy little tone! She made much of the question, which they left her to debate alone while they gazed solemnly at her till she characterized the tone of the mandolin, when Mela broke into a large, coarse laugh.
"Well, that's just what it does sound like," she explained defiantly to her sister. "I always feel like it was going to settle somewhere, and I want to hit myself a slap before it begins to bite. I don't see what ever brought such a thing into fashion."
Margaret had not expected to be so powerfully seconded, and she asked, after gathering herself together, "And you are both learning the banjo?" "My, no!" said Mela, "I've gone through enough with the piano. Christine is learnun' it."
"I'm so glad you are making my banjo useful at the outset, Miss Dryfoos." Both girls stared at her, but found it hard to cope with the fact that this was the lady friend whose banjo Beaton had lent them. "Mr. Beaton mentioned that he had left it here. I hope you'll keep it as long as you find it useful."
At this amiable speech even Christine could not help thanking her. "Of course," she said, "I expect to get another, right off. Mr. Beaton is going to choose it for me."
"You are very fortunate. If you haven't a teacher yet I should so like to recommend mine."
Mela broke out in her laugh again. "Oh, I guess Christine's pretty well suited with the one she's got," she said, with insinuation. Her sister gave her a frowning glance, and Margaret did not tempt her to explain.
"Then that's much better," she said. "I have a kind of superstition in such matters; I don't like to make a second choice. In a shop I like to take the first thing of the kind I'm looking for, and even if I choose further I come back to the original."
"How funny!" said Mela. "Well, now, I'm just the other way. I always take the last thing, after I've picked over all the rest. My luck always seems to be at the bottom of the heap. Now, Christine, she's more like you. I believe she could walk right up blindfolded and put her hand on the thing she wants every time."
"I'm like father," said Christine, softened a little by the celebration of her peculiarity. "He says the reason so many people don't get what they want is that they don't want it bad enough. Now, when I want a thing, it seems to me that I want it all through."
"Well, that's just like father, too," said Mela. "That's the way he done when he got that eighty-acre piece next to Moffitt that he kept when he sold the farm, and that's got some of the best gas-wells on it now that there is anywhere." She addressed the explanation to her sister, to the exclusion of Margaret, who, nevertheless, listened with a smiling face and a resolutely polite air of being a party to the conversation. Mela rewarded her amiability by saying to her, finally, "You've never been in the natural-gas country, have you?"
"Oh no! And I should so much like to see it!" said Margaret, with a fervor that was partly, voluntary.
"Would you? Well, we're kind of sick of it, but I suppose it would strike a stranger."
"I never got tired of looking at the big wells when they lit them up," said Christine. "It seems as if the world was on fire."
"Yes, and when you see the surface-gas burnun' down in the woods, like it used to by our spring-house-so still, and never spreadun' any, just like a bed of some kind of wild flowers when you ketch sight of it a piece off."
They began to tell of the wonders of their strange land in an antiphony of reminiscences and descriptions; they unconsciously imputed a merit to themselves from the number and violence of the wells on their father's property; they bragged of the high civilization of Moffitt, which they compared to its advantage with that of New York. They became excited by Margaret's interest in natural gas, and forgot to be suspicious and envious.
She said, as she rose, "Oh, how much I should like to see it all!" Then she made a little pause, and added:
"I'm so sorry my aunt's Thursdays are over; she never has them after Lent, but we're to have some people Tuesday evening at a little concert which a musical friend is going to give with some other artists. There won't be any banjos, I'm afraid, but there'll be some very good singing, and my aunt would be so glad if you could come with your mother."
She put down her aunt's card on the table near her, while Mela gurgled, as if it were the best joke: "Oh, my! Mother never goes anywhere; you couldn't get her out for love or money." But she was herself overwhelmed with a simple joy at Margaret's politeness, and showed it in a sensuous way, like a child, as if she had been tickled. She came closer to Margaret and seemed about to fawn physically upon her.
"Ain't she just as lovely as she can live?" she demanded of her sister when Margaret was gone.
"I don't know," said Christine. "I guess she wanted to know who Mr. Beaton had been lending her banjo to."
"Pshaw! Do you suppose she's in love with him?" asked Mela, and then she broke into her hoarse laugh at the look her sister gave her. "Well, don't eat me, Christine! I wonder who she is, anyway? I'm goun' to git it out of Mr. Beaton the next time he calls. I guess she's somebody. Mrs. Mandel can tell. I wish that old friend of hers would hurry up and git well—or something. But I guess we appeared about as well as she did. I could see she was afraid of you, Christine. I reckon it's gittun' around a little about father; and when it does I don't believe we shall want for callers. Say, are you goun'? To that concert of theirs?"
"I don't know. Not till I know who they are first."
"Well, we've got to hump ourselves if we're goun' to find out before Tuesday."
As she went home Margaret felt wrought in her that most incredible of the miracles, which, nevertheless, any one may make his experience. She felt kindly to these girls because she had tried to make them happy, and she hoped that in the interest she had shown there had been none of the poison of flattery. She was aware that this was a risk she ran in such an attempt to do good. If she had escaped this effect she was willing to leave the rest with Providence.
The notion that a girl of Margaret Vance's traditions would naturally form of girls like Christine and Mela Dryfoos would be that they were abashed in the presence of the new conditions of their lives, and that they must receive the advance she had made them with a certain grateful humility. However they received it, she had made it upon principle, from a romantic conception of duty; but this was the way she imagined they would receive it, because she thought that she would have done so if she had been as ignorant and unbred as they. Her error was in arguing their attitude from her own temperament, and endowing them, for the purposes of argument, with her perspective. They had not the means, intellectual or moral, of feeling as she fancied. If they had remained at home on the farm where they were born, Christine would have grown up that embodiment of impassioned suspicion which we find oftenest in the narrowest spheres, and Mela would always have been a good-natured simpleton; but they would never have doubted their equality with the wisest and the finest. As it was, they had not learned enough at school to doubt it, and the splendor of their father's success in making money had blinded them forever to any possible difference against them. They had no question of themselves in the social abeyance to which they had been left in New York. They had been surprised, mystified; it was not what they had expected; there must be some mistake.
They were the victims of an accident, which would be repaired as soon as the fact of their father's wealth had got around. They had been steadfast in their faith, through all their disappointment, that they were not only better than most people by virtue of his money, but as good as any; and they took Margaret's visit, so far as they, investigated its motive, for a sign that at last it was beginning to get around; of course, a thing could not get around in New York so quick as it could in a small place. They were confirmed in their belief by the sensation of Mrs. Mandel when she returned to duty that afternoon, and they consulted her about going to Mrs. Horn's musicale. If she had felt any doubt at the name for there were Horns and Horns—the address on the card put the matter beyond question; and she tried to make her charges understand what a precious chance had befallen them. She did not succeed; they had not the premises, the experience, for a sufficient impression; and she undid her work in part by the effort to explain that Mrs. Horn's standing was independent of money; that though she was positively rich, she was comparatively poor. Christine inferred that Miss Vance had called because she wished to be the first to get in with them since it had begun to get around. This view commended itself to Mela, too, but without warping her from her opinion that Miss Vance was all the same too sweet for anything. She had not so vivid a consciousness of her father's money as Christine had; but she reposed perhaps all the more confidently upon its power. She was far from thinking meanly of any one who thought highly of her for it; that seemed so natural a result as to be amiable, even admirable; she was willing that any such person should get all the good there was in such an attitude toward her.
They discussed the matter that night at dinner before their father and mother, who mostly sat silent at their meals; the father frowning absently over his plate, with his head close to it, and making play into his mouth with the back of his knife (he had got so far toward the use of his fork as to despise those who still ate from the edge of their knives), and the mother partly missing hers at times in the nervous tremor that shook her face from side to side.
After a while the subject of Mela's hoarse babble and of Christine's high-pitched, thin, sharp forays of assertion and denial in the field which her sister's voice seemed to cover, made its way into the old man's consciousness, and he perceived that they were talking with Mrs. Mandel about it, and that his wife was from time to time offering an irrelevant and mistaken comment. He agreed with Christine, and silently took her view of the affair some time before he made any sign of having listened. There had been a time in his life when other things besides his money seemed admirable to him. He had once respected himself for the hard- headed, practical common sense which first gave him standing among his country neighbors; which made him supervisor, school trustee, justice of the peace, county commissioner, secretary of the Moffitt County Agricultural Society. In those days he had served the public with disinterested zeal and proud ability; he used to write to the Lake Shore Farmer on agricultural topics; he took part in opposing, through the Moffitt papers, the legislative waste of the people's money; on the question of selling a local canal to the railroad company, which killed that fine old State work, and let the dry ditch grow up to grass, he might have gone to the Legislature, but he contented himself with defeating the Moffitt member who had voted for the job. If he opposed some measures for the general good, like high schools and school libraries, it was because he lacked perspective, in his intense individualism, and suspected all expense of being spendthrift. He believed in good district schools, and he had a fondness, crude but genuine, for some kinds of reading—history, and forensics of an elementary sort.
With his good head for figures he doubted doctors and despised preachers; he thought lawyers were all rascals, but he respected them for their ability; he was not himself litigious, but he enjoyed the intellectual encounters of a difficult lawsuit, and he often attended a sitting of the fall term of court, when he went to town, for the pleasure of hearing the speeches. He was a good citizen, and a good husband. As a good father, he was rather severe with his children, and used to whip them, especially the gentle Conrad, who somehow crossed him most, till the twins died. After that he never struck any of them; and from the sight of a blow dealt a horse he turned as if sick. It was a long time before he lifted himself up from his sorrow, and then the will of the man seemed to have been breached through his affections. He let the girls do as they pleased—the twins had been girls; he let them go away to school, and got them a piano. It was they who made him sell the farm. If Conrad had only had their spirit he could have made him keep it, he felt; and he resented the want of support he might have found in a less yielding spirit than his son's.
His moral decay began with his perception of the opportunity of making money quickly and abundantly, which offered itself to him after he sold his farm. He awoke to it slowly, from a desolation in which he tasted the last bitter of homesickness, the utter misery of idleness and listlessness. When he broke down and cried for the hard-working, wholesome life he had lost, he was near the end of this season of despair, but he was also near the end of what was best in himself. He devolved upon a meaner ideal than that of conservative good citizenship, which had been his chief moral experience: the money he had already made without effort and without merit bred its unholy self-love in him; he began to honor money, especially money that had been won suddenly and in large sums; for money that had been earned painfully, slowly, and in little amounts, he had only pity and contempt. The poison of that ambition to go somewhere and be somebody which the local speculators had instilled into him began to work in the vanity which had succeeded his somewhat scornful self-respect; he rejected Europe as the proper field for his expansion; he rejected Washington; he preferred New York, whither the men who have made money and do not yet know that money has made them, all instinctively turn. He came where he could watch his money breed more money, and bring greater increase of its kind in an hour of luck than the toil of hundreds of men could earn in a year. He called it speculation, stocks, the Street; and his pride, his faith in himself, mounted with his luck. He expected, when he had sated his greed, to begin to spend, and he had formulated an intention to build a great house, to add another to the palaces of the country-bred millionaires who have come to adorn the great city. In the mean time he made little account of the things that occupied his children, except to fret at the ungrateful indifference of his son to the interests that could alone make a man of him. He did not know whether his daughters were in society or not; with people coming and going in the house he would have supposed they must be so, no matter who the people were; in some vague way he felt that he had hired society in Mrs. Mandel, at so much a year. He never met a superior himself except now and then a man of twenty or thirty millions to his one or two, and then he felt his soul creep within him, without a sense of social inferiority; it was a question of financial inferiority; and though Dryfoos's soul bowed itself and crawled, it was with a gambler's admiration of wonderful luck. Other men said these many-millioned millionaires were smart, and got their money by sharp practices to which lesser men could not attain; but Dryfoos believed that he could compass the same ends, by the same means, with the same chances; he respected their money, not them.
When he now heard Mrs. Mandel and his daughters talking of that person, whoever she was, that Mrs. Mandel seemed to think had honored his girls by coming to see them, his curiosity was pricked as much as his pride was galled.
"Well, anyway," said Mela, "I don't care whether Christine's goon' or not; I am. And you got to go with me, Mrs. Mandel."
"Well, there's a little difficulty," said Mrs. Mandel, with her unfailing dignity and politeness. "I haven't been asked, you know."
"Then what are we goun' to do?" demanded Mela, almost crossly. She was physically too amiable, she felt too well corporeally, ever to be quite cross. "She might 'a' knowed—well known—we couldn't 'a' come alone, in New York. I don't see why, we couldn't. I don't call it much of an invitation."
"I suppose she thought you could come with your mother," Mrs. Mandel suggested.
"She didn't say anything about mother: Did she, Christine? Or, yes, she did, too. And I told her she couldn't git mother out. Don't you remember?"
"I didn't pay much attention," said Christine. "I wasn't certain we wanted to go."
"I reckon you wasn't goun' to let her see that we cared much," said Mela, half reproachful, half proud of this attitude of Christine. "Well, I don't see but what we got to stay at home." She laughed at this lame conclusion of the matter.
"Perhaps Mr. Conrad—you could very properly take him without an express invitation—" Mrs. Mandel began.
Conrad looked up in alarm and protest. "I—I don't think I could go that evening—"
"What's the reason?" his father broke in, harshly. "You're not such a sheep that you're afraid to go into company with your sisters? Or are you too good to go with them?"
"If it's to be anything like that night when them hussies come out and danced that way," said Mrs. Dryfoos, "I don't blame Coonrod for not wantun' to go. I never saw the beat of it."
Mela sent a yelling laugh across the table to her mother. "Well, I wish Miss Vance could 'a' heard that! Why, mother, did you think it like the ballet?"
"Well, I didn't know, Mely, child," said the old woman. "I didn't know what it was like. I hain't never been to one, and you can't be too keerful where you go, in a place like New York."
"What's the reason you can't go?" Dryfoos ignored the passage between his wife and daughter in making this demand of his son, with a sour face.
"I have an engagement that night—it's one of our meetings."
"I reckon you can let your meeting go for one night," said Dryfoos. "It can't be so important as all that, that you must disappoint your sisters."
"I don't like to disappoint those poor creatures. They depend so much upon the meetings—"
"I reckon they can stand it for one night," said the old man. He added, "The poor ye have with you always."
"That's so, Coonrod," said his mother. "It's the Saviour's own words."
"Yes, mother. But they're not meant just as father used them."
"How do you know how they were meant? Or how I used them?" cried the father. "Now you just make your plans to go with the girls, Tuesday night. They can't go alone, and Mrs. Mandel can't go with them."
"Pshaw!" said Mela. "We don't want to take Conrad away from his meetun', do we, Chris?"
"I don't know," said Christine, in her high, fine voice. "They could get along without him for one night, as father says."
"Well, I'm not a-goun' to take him," said Mela. "Now, Mrs. Mandel, just think out some other way. Say! What's the reason we couldn't get somebody else to take us just as well? Ain't that rulable?"
"It would be allowable—"
"Allowable, I mean," Mela corrected herself.
"But it might look a little significant, unless it was some old family friend."
"Well, let's get Mr. Fulkerson to take us. He's the oldest family friend we got."
"I won't go with Mr. Fulkerson," said Christine, serenely.
"Why, I'm sure, Christine," her mother pleaded, "Mr. Fulkerson is a very good young man, and very nice appearun'."
Mela shouted, "He's ten times as pleasant as that old Mr. Beaton of Christine's!"
Christine made no effort to break the constraint that fell upon the table at this sally, but her father said: "Christine is right, Mela. It wouldn't do for you to go with any other young man. Conrad will go with you."
"I'm not certain I want to go, yet," said Christine.
"Well, settle that among yourselves. But if you want to go, your brother will go with you."
"Of course, Coonrod 'll go, if his sisters wants him to," the old woman pleaded. "I reckon it ain't agoun' to be anything very bad; and if it is, Coonrod, why you can just git right up and come out."
"It will be all right, mother. And I will go, of course."
"There, now, I knowed you would, Coonrod. Now, fawther!" This appeal was to make the old man say something in recognition of Conrad's sacrifice.
"You'll always find," he said, "that it's those of your own household that have the first claim on you."
"That's so, Coonrod," urged his mother. "It's Bible truth. Your fawther ain't a perfesser, but he always did read his Bible. Search the Scriptures. That's what it means."
"Laws!" cried Mely, "a body can see, easy enough from mother, where Conrad's wantun' to be a preacher comes from. I should 'a' thought she'd 'a' wanted to been one herself."
"Let your women keep silence in the churches," said the old woman, solemnly.
"There you go again, mother! I guess if you was to say that to some of the lady ministers nowadays, you'd git yourself into trouble." Mela looked round for approval, and gurgled out a hoarse laugh.
The Dryfooses went late to Mrs. Horn's musicale, in spite of Mrs. Mandel's advice. Christine made the delay, both because she wished to show Miss Vance that she was (not) anxious, and because she had some vague notion of the distinction of arriving late at any sort of entertainment. Mrs. Mandel insisted upon the difference between this musicale and an ordinary reception; but Christine rather fancied disturbing a company that had got seated, and perhaps making people rise and stand, while she found her way to her place, as she had seen them. do for a tardy comer at the theatre.
Mela, whom she did not admit to her reasons or feelings always, followed her with the servile admiration she had for all that Christine did; and she took on trust as somehow successful the result of Christine's obstinacy, when they were allowed to stand against the wall at the back of the room through the whole of the long piece begun just before they came in. There had been no one to receive them; a few people, in the rear rows of chairs near them, turned their heads to glance at them, and then looked away again. Mela had her misgivings; but at the end of the piece Miss Vance came up to them at once, and then Mela knew that she had her eyes on them all the time, and that Christine must have been right. Christine said nothing about their coming late, and so Mela did not make any excuse, and Miss Vance seemed to expect none. She glanced with a sort of surprise at Conrad, when Christine introduced him; Mela did not know whether she liked their bringing him, till she shook hands with him, and said: "Oh, I am very glad indeed! Mr. Dryfoos and I have met before." Without explaining where or when, she led them to her aunt and presented them, and then said, "I'm going to put you with some friends of yours," and quickly seated them next the Marches. Mela liked that well enough; she thought she might have some joking with Mr. March, for all his wife was so stiff; but the look which Christine wore seemed to forbid, provisionally at least, any such recreation. On her part, Christine was cool with the Marches. It went through her mind that they must have told Miss Vance they knew her; and perhaps they had boasted of her intimacy. She relaxed a little toward them when she saw Beaton leaning against the wall at the end of the row next Mrs. March. Then she conjectured that he might have told Miss Vance of her acquaintance with the Marches, and she bent forward and nodded to Mrs. March across Conrad, Mela, and Mr. March. She conceived of him as a sort of hand of her father's, but she was willing to take them at their apparent social valuation for the time. She leaned back in her chair, and did not look up at Beaton after the first furtive glance, though she felt his eyes on her.
The music began again almost at once, before Mela had time to make Conrad tell her where Miss Vance had met him before. She would not have minded interrupting the music; but every one else seemed so attentive, even Christine, that she had not the courage. The concert went onto an end without realizing for her the ideal of pleasure which one ought to find. in society. She was not exacting, but it seemed to her there were very few young men, and when the music was over, and their opportunity came to be sociable, they were not very sociable. They were not introduced, for one thing; but it appeared to Mela that they might have got introduced, if they had any sense; she saw them looking at her, and she was glad she had dressed so much; she was dressed more than any other lady there, and either because she was the most dressed of any person there, or because it had got around who her father was, she felt that she had made an impression on the young men. In her satisfaction with this, and from her good nature, she was contented to be served with her refreshments after the concert by Mr. March, and to remain joking with him. She was at her ease; she let her hoarse voice out in her largest laugh; she accused him, to the admiration of those near, of getting her into a perfect gale. It appeared to her, in her own pleasure, her mission to illustrate to the rather subdued people about her what a good time really was, so that they could have it if they wanted it. Her joy was crowned when March modestly professed himself unworthy to monopolize her, and explained how selfish he felt in talking to a young lady when there were so many young men dying to do so.
"Oh, pshaw, dyun', yes!" cried Mela, tasting the irony. "I guess I see them!"
He asked if he might really introduce a friend of his to her, and she said, Well, yes, if be thought he could live to get to her; and March brought up a man whom he thought very young and Mela thought very old. He was a contributor to 'Every Other Week,' and so March knew him; he believed himself a student of human nature in behalf of literature, and he now set about studying Mela. He tempted her to express her opinion on all points, and he laughed so amiably at the boldness and humorous vigor of her ideas that she was delighted with him. She asked him if he was a New-Yorker by birth; and she told him she pitied him, when he said he had never been West. She professed herself perfectly sick of New York, and urged him to go to Moffitt if he wanted to see a real live town. He wondered if it would do to put her into literature just as she was, with all her slang and brag, but he decided that he would have to subdue her a great deal: he did not see how he could reconcile the facts of her conversation with the facts of her appearance: her beauty, her splendor of dress, her apparent right to be where she was. These things perplexed him; he was afraid the great American novel, if true, must be incredible. Mela said he ought to hear her sister go on about New York when they first came; but she reckoned that Christine was getting so she could put up with it a little better, now. She looked significantly across the room to the place where Christine was now talking with Beaton; and the student of human nature asked, Was she here? and, Would she introduce him? Mela said she would, the first chance she got; and she added, They would be much pleased to have him call. She felt herself to be having a beautiful time, and she got directly upon such intimate terms with the student of human nature that she laughed with him about some peculiarities of his, such as his going so far about to ask things he wanted to know from her; she said she never did believe in beating about the bush much. She had noticed the same thing in Miss Vance when she came to call that day; and when the young man owned that he came rather a good deal to Mrs. Horn's house, she asked him, Well, what sort of a girl was Miss Vance, anyway, and where did he suppose she had met her brother? The student of human nature could not say as to this, and as to Miss Vance he judged it safest to treat of the non- society side of her character, her activity in charity, her special devotion to the work among the poor on the East Side, which she personally engaged in.
"Oh, that's where Conrad goes, too!" Mela interrupted. "I'll bet anything that's where she met him. I wisht I could tell Christine! But I suppose she would want to kill me, if I was to speak to her now."
The student of human nature said, politely, "Oh, shall I take you to her?"
Mela answered, "I guess you better not!" with a laugh so significant that he could not help his inferences concerning both Christine's absorption in the person she was talking with and the habitual violence of her temper. He made note of how Mela helplessly spoke of all her family by their names, as if he were already intimate with them; he fancied that if he could get that in skillfully, it would be a valuable color in his study; the English lord whom she should astonish with it began to form himself out of the dramatic nebulosity in his mind, and to whirl on a definite orbit in American society. But he was puzzled to decide whether Mela's willingness to take him into her confidence on short notice was typical or personal: the trait of a daughter of the natural-gas millionaire, or a foible of her own.
Beaton talked with Christine the greater part of the evening that was left after the concert. He was very grave, and took the tone of a fatherly friend; he spoke guardedly of the people present, and moderated the severity of some of Christine's judgments of their looks and costumes. He did this out of a sort of unreasoned allegiance to Margaret, whom he was in the mood of wishing to please by being very kind and good, as she always was. He had the sense also of atoning by this behavior for some reckless things he had said before that to Christine; he put on a sad, reproving air with her, and gave her the feeling of being held in check.
She chafed at it, and said, glancing at Margaret in talk with her brother, "I don't think Miss Vance is so very pretty, do you?"
"I never think whether she's pretty or not," said Becton, with dreamy, affectation. "She is merely perfect. Does she know your brother?"
"So she says. I didn't suppose Conrad ever went anywhere, except to tenement-houses."
"It might have been there," Becton suggested. "She goes among friendless people everywhere."
"Maybe that's the reason she came to see us!" said Christine.
Becton looked at her with his smouldering eyes, and felt the wish to say, "Yes, it was exactly that," but he only allowed himself to deny the possibility of any such motive in that case. He added: "I am so glad you know her, Miss Dryfoos. I never met Miss Vance without feeling myself better and truer, somehow; or the wish to be so."
"And you think we might be improved, too?" Christine retorted. "Well, I must say you're not very flattering, Mr. Becton, anyway."
Becton would have liked to answer her according to her cattishness, with a good clawing sarcasm that would leave its smart in her pride; but he was being good, and he could not change all at once. Besides, the girl's attitude under the social honor done her interested him. He was sure she had never been in such good company before, but he could see that she was not in the least affected by the experience. He had told her who this person and that was; and he saw she had understood that the names were of consequence; but she seemed to feel her equality with them all. Her serenity was not obviously akin to the savage stoicism in which Beaton hid his own consciousness of social inferiority; but having won his way in the world so far by his talent, his personal quality, he did not conceive the simple fact in her case. Christine was self-possessed because she felt that a knowledge of her father's fortune had got around, and she had the peace which money gives to ignorance; but Beaton attributed her poise to indifference to social values. This, while he inwardly sneered at it, avenged him upon his own too keen sense of them, and, together with his temporary allegiance to Margaret's goodness, kept him from retaliating Christine's vulgarity. He said, "I don't see how that could be," and left the question of flattery to settle itself.
The people began to go away, following each other up to take leave of Mrs. Horn. Christine watched them with unconcern, and either because she would not be governed by the general movement, or because she liked being with Beaton, gave no sign of going. Mela was still talking to the student of human nature, sending out her laugh in deep gurgles amid the unimaginable confidences she was making him about herself, her family, the staff of 'Every Other Week,' Mrs. Mandel, and the kind of life they had all led before she came to them. He was not a blind devotee of art for art's sake, and though he felt that if one could portray Mela just as she was she would be the richest possible material, he was rather ashamed to know some of the things she told him; and he kept looking anxiously about for a chance of escape. The company had reduced itself to the Dryfoos groups and some friends of Mrs. Horn's who had the right to linger, when Margaret crossed the room with Conrad to Christine and Beaton.
"I'm so glad, Miss Dryfoos, to find that I was not quite a stranger to you all when I ventured to call, the other day. Your brother and I are rather old acquaintances, though I never knew who he was before. I don't know just how to say we met where he is valued so much. I suppose I mustn't try to say how much," she added, with a look of deep regard at him.
Conrad blushed and stood folding his arms tight over his breast, while his sister received Margaret's confession with the suspicion which was her first feeling in regard to any new thing. What she concluded was that this girl was trying to get in with them, for reasons of her own. She said: "Yes; it's the first I ever heard of his knowing you. He's so much taken up with his meetings, he didn't want to come to-night."
Margaret drew in her lip before she answered, without apparent resentment of the awkwardness or ungraciousness, whichever she found it: "I don't wonder! You become so absorbed in such work that you think nothing else is worth while. But I'm glad Mr. Dryfoos could come with you; I'm so glad you could all come; I knew you would enjoy the music. Do sit down—"
"No," said Christine, bluntly; "we must be going. Mela!" she called out, "come!"
The last group about Mrs. Horn looked round, but Christine advanced upon them undismayed, and took the hand Mrs. Horn promptly gave her. "Well, I must bid you good-night."
"Oh, good-night," murmured the elder lady. "So very kind of you to come."
"I've had the best kind of a time," said Mela, cordially. "I hain't laughed so much, I don't know when."
"Oh, I'm glad you enjoyed it," said Mrs. Horn, in the same polite murmur she had used with Christine; but she said nothing to either sister about any future meeting.
They were apparently not troubled. Mela said over her shoulder to the student of human nature, "The next time I see you I'll give it to you for what you said about Moffitt."
Margaret made some entreating paces after them, but she did not succeed in covering the retreat of the sisters against critical conjecture. She could only say to Conrad, as if recurring to the subject, "I hope we can get our friends to play for us some night. I know it isn't any real help, but such things take the poor creatures out of themselves for the time being, don't you think?"
"Oh yes," he answered. "They're good in that way." He turned back hesitatingly to Mrs. Horn, and said, with a blush, "I thank you for a happy evening."
"Oh, I am very glad," she replied, in her murmur.
One of the old friends of the house arched her eyebrows in saying good- night, and offered the two young men remaining seats home in her carriage. Beaton gloomily refused, and she kept herself from asking the student of human nature, till she had got him into her carriage, "What is Moffitt, and what did you say about it?"
"Now you see, Margaret," said Mrs. Horn, with bated triumph, when the people were all gone.
"Yes, I see," the girl consented. "From one point of view, of course it's been a failure. I don't think we've given Miss Dryfoos a pleasure, but perhaps nobody could. And at least we've given her the opportunity of enjoying herself."
"Such people," said Mrs. Horn, philosophically, "people with their money, must of course be received sooner or later. You can't keep them out. Only, I believe I would rather let some one else begin with them. The Leightons didn't come?"
"I sent them cards. I couldn't call again."
Mrs. Horn sighed a little. "I suppose Mr. Dryfoos is one of your fellow- philanthropists?"
"He's one of the workers," said Margaret. "I met him several times at the Hall, but I only knew his first name. I think he's a great friend of Father Benedict; he seems devoted to the work. Don't you think he looks good?"
"Very," said Mrs. Horn, with a color of censure in her assent. "The younger girl seemed more amiable than her sister. But what manners!"
"Dreadful!" said Margaret, with knit brows, and a pursed mouth of humorous suffering. "But she appeared to feel very much at home."
"Oh, as to that, neither of them was much abashed. Do you suppose Mr. Beaton gave the other one some hints for that quaint dress of hers? I don't imagine that black and lace is her own invention. She seems to have some sort of strange fascination for him."
"She's very picturesque," Margaret explained. "And artists see points in people that the rest of us don't."
"Could it be her money?" Mrs. Horn insinuated. "He must be very poor."
"But he isn't base," retorted the girl, with a generous indignation that made her aunt smile.
"Oh no; but if he fancies her so picturesque, it doesn't follow that he would object to her being rich."
"It would with a man like Mr. Beaton!"
"You are an idealist, Margaret. I suppose your Mr. March has some disinterested motive in paying court to Miss Mela—Pamela, I suppose, is her name. He talked to her longer than her literature would have lasted."
"He seems a very kind person," said Margaret.
"And Mr. Dryfoos pays his salary?"
"I don't know anything about that. But that wouldn't make any difference with him."
Mrs. Horn laughed out at this security; but she was not displeased by the nobleness which it came from. She liked Margaret to be high-minded, and was really not distressed by any good that was in her.
The Marches walked home, both because it was not far, and because they must spare in carriage hire at any rate. As soon as they were out of the house, she applied a point of conscience to him.
"I don't see how you could talk to that girl so long, Basil, and make her laugh so."
"Why, there seemed no one else to do it, till I thought of Kendricks."
"Yes, but I kept thinking, Now he's pleasant to her because he thinks it's to his interest. If she had no relation to 'Every Other Week,' he wouldn't waste his time on her."
"Isabel," March complained, "I wish you wouldn't think of me in he, him, and his; I never personalize you in my thoughts: you remain always a vague unindividualized essence, not quite without form and void, but nounless and pronounless. I call that a much more beautiful mental attitude toward the object of one's affections. But if you must he and him and his me in your thoughts, I wish you'd have more kindly thoughts of me."
"Do you deny that it's true, Basil?"
"Do you believe that it's true, Isabel?"
"No matter. But could you excuse it if it were?"
"Ah, I see you'd have been capable of it in my, place, and you're ashamed."
"Yes," sighed the wife, "I'm afraid that I should. But tell me that you wouldn't, Basil!"
"I can tell you that I wasn't. But I suppose that in a real exigency, I could truckle to the proprietary Dryfooses as well as you."
"Oh no; you mustn't, dear! I'm a woman, and I'm dreadfully afraid. But you must always be a man, especially with that horrid old Mr. Dryfoos. Promise me that you'll never yield the least point to him in a matter of right and wrong!"
"Not if he's right and I'm wrong?"
"Don't trifle, dear! You know what I mean. Will you promise?"
"I'll promise to submit the point to you, and let you do the yielding. As for me, I shall be adamant. Nothing I like better."
"They're dreadful, even that poor, good young fellow, who's so different from all the rest; he's awful, too, because you feel that he's a martyr to them."
"And I never did like martyrs a great deal," March interposed.
"I wonder how they came to be there," Mrs. March pursued, unmindful of his joke.
"That is exactly what seemed to be puzzling Miss Mela about us. She asked, and I explained as well as I could; and then she told me that Miss Vance had come to call on them and invited them; and first they didn't know how they could come till they thought of making Conrad bring them. But she didn't say why Miss Vance called on them. Mr. Dryfoos doesn't employ her on 'Every Other Week.' But I suppose she has her own vile little motive."
"It can't be their money; it can't be!" sighed Mrs. March.
"Well, I don't know. We all respect money."
"Yes, but Miss Vance's position is so secure. She needn't pay court to those stupid, vulgar people."
"Well, let's console ourselves with the belief that she would, if she needed. Such people as the Dryfooses are the raw material of good society. It isn't made up of refined or meritorious people—professors and litterateurs, ministers and musicians, and their families. All the fashionable people there to-night were like the Dryfooses a generation or two ago. I dare say the material works up faster now, and in a season or two you won't know the Dryfooses from the other plutocrats. THEY will— a little better than they do now; they'll see a difference, but nothing radical, nothing painful. People who get up in the world by service to others—through letters, or art, or science—may have their modest little misgivings as to their social value, but people that rise by money— especially if their gains are sudden—never have. And that's the kind of people that form our nobility; there's no use pretending that we haven't a nobility; we might as well pretend we haven't first-class cars in the presence of a vestibuled Pullman. Those girls had no more doubt of their right to be there than if they had been duchesses: we thought it was very nice of Miss Vance to come and ask us, but they didn't; they weren't afraid, or the least embarrassed; they were perfectly natural—like born aristocrats. And you may be sure that if the plutocracy that now owns the country ever sees fit to take on the outward signs of an aristocracy —titles, and arms, and ancestors—it won't falter from any inherent question of its worth. Money prizes and honors itself, and if there is anything it hasn't got, it believes it can buy it."
Well, Basil," said his wife, "I hope you won't get infected with Lindau's ideas of rich people. Some of them are very good and kind."
"Who denies that? Not even Lindau himself. It's all right. And the great thing is that the evening's enjoyment is over. I've got my society smile off, and I'm radiantly happy. Go on with your little pessimistic diatribes, Isabel; you can't spoil my pleasure."
"I could see," said Mela, as she and Christine drove home together, "that she was as jealous as she could be, all the time you was talkun' to Mr. Beaton. She pretended to be talkun' to Conrad, but she kep' her eye on you pretty close, I can tell you. I bet she just got us there to see how him and you would act together. And I reckon she was satisfied. He's dead gone on you, Chris."
Christine listened with a dreamy pleasure to the flatteries with which Mela plied her in the hope of some return in kind, and not at all because she felt spitefully toward Miss Vance, or in anywise wished her ill. "Who was that fellow with you so long?" asked Christine. "I suppose you turned yourself inside out to him, like you always do."
Mela was transported by the cruel ingratitude. "It's a lie! I didn't tell him a single thing."
Conrad walked home, choosing to do so because he did not wish to hear his sisters' talk of the evening, and because there was a tumult in his spirit which he wished to let have its way. In his life with its single purpose, defeated by stronger wills than his own, and now struggling partially to fulfil itself in acts of devotion to others, the thought of women had entered scarcely more than in that of a child. His ideals were of a virginal vagueness; faces, voices, gestures had filled his fancy at times, but almost passionately; and the sensation that he now indulged was a kind of worship, ardent, but reverent and exalted. The brutal experiences of the world make us forget that there are such natures in it, and that they seem to come up out of the lowly earth as well as down from the high heaven. In the heart of this man well on toward thirty there had never been left the stain of a base thought; not that suggestion and conjecture had not visited him, but that he had not entertained them, or in any-wise made them his. In a Catholic age and country, he would have been one of those monks who are sainted after death for the angelic purity of their lives, and whose names are invoked by believers in moments of trial, like San Luigi Gonzaga. As he now walked along thinking, with a lover's beatified smile on his face, of how Margaret Vance had spoken and looked, he dramatized scenes in which be approved himself to her by acts of goodness and unselfishness, and died to please her for the sake of others. He made her praise him for them, to his face, when he disclaimed their merit, and after his death, when he could not. All the time he was poignantly sensible of her grace, her elegance, her style; they seemed to intoxicate him; some tones of her voice thrilled through his nerves, and some looks turned his brain with a delicious, swooning sense of her beauty; her refinement bewildered him. But all this did not admit the idea of possession, even of aspiration. At the most his worship only set her beyond the love of other men as far as beyond his own.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Affectional habit Brag of his wife, as a good husband always does But when we make that money here, no one loses it Courage hadn't been put to the test Family buryin' grounds Homage which those who have not pay to those who have Hurry up and git well—or something Made money and do not yet know that money has made them Society: All its favors are really bargains Wages are the measure of necessity and not of merit Without realizing his cruelty, treated as a child
A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES
By William Dean Howells
Not long after Lent, Fulkerson set before Dryfoos one day his scheme for a dinner in celebration of the success of 'Every Other Week.' Dryfoos had never meddled in any manner with the conduct of the periodical; but Fulkerson easily saw that he was proud of his relation to it, and he proceeded upon the theory that he would be willing to have this relation known: On the days when he had been lucky in stocks, he was apt to drop in at the office on Eleventh Street, on his way up-town, and listen to Fulkerson's talk. He was on good enough terms with March, who revised his first impressions of the man, but they had not much to say to each other, and it seemed to March that Dryfoos was even a little afraid of him, as of a piece of mechanism he had acquired, but did not quite understand; he left the working of it to Fulkerson, who no doubt bragged of it sufficiently. The old man seemed to have as little to say to his son; he shut himself up with Fulkerson, where the others could hear the manager begin and go on with an unstinted flow of talk about 'Every Other Week;' for Fulkerson never talked of anything else if he could help it, and was always bringing the conversation back to it if it strayed:
The day he spoke of the dinner he rose and called from his door: "March, I say, come down here a minute, will you? Conrad, I want you, too."
The editor and the publisher found the manager and the proprietor seated on opposite sides of the table. "It's about those funeral baked meats, you know," Fulkerson explained, "and I was trying to give Mr. Dryfoos some idea of what we wanted to do. That is, what I wanted to do," he continued, turning from March to Dryfoos. "March, here, is opposed to it, of course. He'd like to publish 'Every Other Week' on the sly; keep it out of the papers, and off the newsstands; he's a modest Boston petunia, and he shrinks from publicity; but I am not that kind of herb myself, and I want all the publicity we can get—beg, borrow, or steal— for this thing. I say that you can't work the sacred rites of hospitality in a better cause, and what I propose is a little dinner for the purpose of recognizing the hit we've made with this thing. My idea was to strike you for the necessary funds, and do the thing on a handsome scale. The term little dinner is a mere figure of speech. A little dinner wouldn't make a big talk, and what we want is the big talk, at present, if we don't lay up a cent. My notion was that pretty soon after Lent, now, when everybody is feeling just right, we should begin to send out our paragraphs, affirmative, negative, and explanatory, and along about the first of May we should sit down about a hundred strong, the most distinguished people in the country, and solemnize our triumph. There it is in a nutshell. I might expand and I might expound, but that's the sum and substance of it."
Fulkerson stopped, and ran his eyes eagerly over the faces of his three listeners, one after the other. March was a little surprised when Dryfoos turned to him, but that reference of the question seemed to give Fulkerson particular pleasure: "What do you think, Mr. March?"
The editor leaned back in his chair. "I don't pretend to have Mr. Fulkerson's genius for advertising; but it seems to me a little early yet. We might celebrate later when we've got more to celebrate. At present we're a pleasing novelty, rather than a fixed fact."
"Ah, you don't get the idea!" said Fulkerson. "What we want to do with this dinner is to fix the fact."
"Am I going to come in anywhere?" the old man interrupted.
"You're going to come in at the head of the procession! We are going to strike everything that is imaginative and romantic in the newspaper soul with you and your history and your fancy for going in for this thing. I can start you in a paragraph that will travel through all the newspapers, from Maine to Texas and from Alaska to Florida. We have had all sorts of rich men backing up literary enterprises, but the natural- gas man in literature is a new thing, and the combination of your picturesque past and your aesthetic present is something that will knock out the sympathies of the American public the first round. I feel," said Fulkerson, with a tremor of pathos in his voice, "that 'Every Other Week' is at a disadvantage before the public as long as it's supposed to be my enterprise, my idea. As far as I'm known at all, I'm known simply as a syndicate man, and nobody in the press believes that I've got the money to run the thing on a grand scale; a suspicion of insolvency must attach to it sooner or later, and the fellows on the press will work up that impression, sooner or later, if we don't give them something else to work up. Now, as soon as I begin to give it away to the correspondents that you're in it, with your untold millions—that, in fact, it was your idea from the start, that you originated it to give full play to the humanitarian tendencies of Conrad here, who's always had these theories of co-operation, and longed to realize them for the benefit of our struggling young writers and artists—"
March had listened with growing amusement to the mingled burlesque and earnest of Fulkerson's self-sacrificing impudence, and with wonder as to how far Dryfoos was consenting to his preposterous proposition, when Conrad broke out: "Mr. Fulkerson, I could not allow you to do that. It would not be true; I did not wish to be here; and—and what I think—what I wish to do—that is something I will not let any one put me in a false position about. No!" The blood rushed into the young man's gentle face, and he met his father's glance with defiance.
Dryfoos turned from him to Fulkerson without speaking, and Fulkerson said, caressingly: "Why, of course, Coonrod! I know how you feel, and I shouldn't let anything of that sort go out uncontradicted afterward. But there isn't anything in these times that would give us better standing with the public than some hint of the way you feel about such things. The publics expects to be interested, and nothing would interest it more than to be told that the success of 'Every Other Week' sprang from the first application of the principle of Live and let Live to a literary enterprise. It would look particularly well, coming from you and your father, but if you object, we can leave that part out; though if you approve of the principle I don't see why you need object. The main thing is to let the public know that it owes this thing to the liberal and enlightened spirit of one of the foremost capitalists of the country; and that his purposes are not likely to be betrayed in the hands of his son, I should get a little cut made from a photograph of your father, and supply it gratis with the paragraphs."
"I guess," said the old man, "we will get along without the cut."
Fulkerson laughed. "Well, well! Have it your own way, But the sight of your face in the patent outsides of the country press would be worth half a dozen subscribers in every school district throughout the length and breadth of this fair land."
"There was a fellow," Dryfoos explained, in an aside to March, "that was getting up a history of Moffitt, and he asked me to let him put a steel engraving of me in. He said a good many prominent citizens were going to have theirs in, and his price was a hundred and fifty dollars. I told him I couldn't let mine go for less than two hundred, and when he said he could give me a splendid plate for that money, I said I should want it cash, You never saw a fellow more astonished when he got it through him. that I expected him to pay the two hundred."
Fulkerson laughed in keen appreciation of the joke. "Well, sir, I guess 'Every Other Week' will pay you that much. But if you won't sell at any price, all right; we must try to worry along without the light of your countenance on, the posters, but we got to have it for the banquet."
"I don't seem to feel very hungry, yet," said they old man, dryly.
"Oh, 'l'appeit vient en mangeant', as our French friends say. You'll be hungry enough when you see the preliminary Little Neck clam. It's too late for oysters."
"Doesn't that fact seem to point to a postponement till they get back, sometime in October," March suggested,
"No, no!" said Fulkerson, "you don't catch on to the business end of this thing, my friends. You're proceeding on something like the old exploded idea that the demand creates the supply, when everybody knows, if he's watched the course of modern events, that it's just as apt to be the other way. I contend that we've got a real substantial success to celebrate now; but even if we hadn't, the celebration would do more than anything else to create the success, if we got it properly before the public. People will say: Those fellows are not fools; they wouldn't go and rejoice over their magazine unless they had got a big thing in it. And the state of feeling we should produce in the public mind would make a boom of perfectly unprecedented grandeur for E. O. W. Heigh?"
He looked sunnily from one to the other in succession. The elder Dryfoos said, with his chin on the top of his stick, "I reckon those Little Neck clams will keep."
"Well, just as you say," Fulkerson cheerfully assented. "I understand you to agree to the general principle of a little dinner?"
"The smaller the better," said the old man.
"Well, I say a little dinner because the idea of that seems to cover the case, even if we vary the plan a little. I had thought of a reception, maybe, that would include the lady contributors and artists, and the wives and daughters of the other contributors. That would give us the chance to ring in a lot of society correspondents and get the thing written up in first-class shape. By-the-way!" cried Fulkerson, slapping himself on the leg, "why not have the dinner and the reception both?"
"I don't understand," said Dryfoos.
"Why, have a select little dinner for ten or twenty choice spirits of the male persuasion, and then, about ten o'clock, throw open your palatial drawing-rooms and admit the females to champagne, salads, and ices. It is the very thing! Come!"
"What do you think of it, Mr. March?" asked Dryfoos, on whose social inexperience Fulkerson's words projected no very intelligible image, and who perhaps hoped for some more light.
"It's a beautiful vision," said March, "and if it will take more time to realize it I think I approve. I approve of anything that will delay Mr. Fulkerson's advertising orgie."
"Then," Fulkerson pursued, "we could have the pleasure of Miss Christine and Miss Mela's company; and maybe Mrs. Dryfoos would look in on us in the course of the evening. There's no hurry, as Mr. March suggests, if we can give the thing this shape. I will cheerfully adopt the idea of my honorable colleague."
March laughed at his impudence, but at heart he was ashamed of Fulkerson for proposing to make use of Dryfoos and his house in that way. He fancied something appealing in the look that the old man turned on him, and something indignant in Conrad's flush; but probably this was only his fancy. He reflected that neither of them could feel it as people of more worldly knowledge would, and he consoled himself with the fact that Fulkerson was really not such a charlatan as he seemed. But it went through his mind that this was a strange end for all Dryfoos's money-making to come to; and he philosophically accepted the fact of his own humble fortunes when he reflected how little his money could buy for such a man. It was an honorable use that Fulkerson was putting it to in 'Every Other Week;' it might be far more creditably spent on such an enterprise than on horses, or wines, or women, the usual resources of the brute rich; and if it were to be lost, it might better be lost that way than in stocks. He kept a smiling face turned to Dryfoos while these irreverent considerations occupied him, and hardened his heart against father and son and their possible emotions.
The old man rose to put an end to the interview. He only repeated, "I guess those clams will keep till fall."
But Fulkerson was apparently satisfied with the progress he had made; and when he joined March for the stroll homeward after office hours, he was able to detach his mind from the subject, as if content to leave it.
"This is about the best part of the year in New York," he said; In some of the areas the grass had sprouted, and the tender young foliage had loosened itself froze the buds on a sidewalk tree here and there; the soft air was full of spring, and the delicate sky, far aloof, had the look it never wears at any other season. "It ain't a time of year to complain much of, anywhere; but I don't want anything better than the month of May in New York. Farther South it's too hot, and I've been in Boston in May when that east wind of yours made every nerve in my body get up and howl. I reckon the weather has a good deal to do with the local temperament. The reason a New York man takes life so easily with all his rush is that his climate don't worry him. But a Boston man must be rasped the whole while by the edge in his air. That accounts for his sharpness; and when he's lived through twenty-five or thirty Boston Mays, he gets to thinking that Providence has some particular use for him, or he wouldn't have survived, and that makes him conceited. See?"
"I see," said March. "But I don't know how you're going to work that idea into an advertisement, exactly."
"Oh, pahaw, now, March! You don't think I've got that on the brain all the time?"
"You were gradually leading up to 'Every Other Week', somehow."
"No, sir; I wasn't. I was just thinking what a different creature a Massachusetts man is from a Virginian, And yet I suppose they're both as pure English stock as you'll get anywhere in America. Marsh, I think Colonel Woodburn's paper is going to make a hit."
"You've got there! When it knocks down the sale about one-half, I shall know it's made a hit."
"I'm not afraid," said Fulkerson. "That thing is going to attract attention. It's well written—you can take the pomposity out of it, here and there and it's novel. Our people like a bold strike, and it's going to shake them up tremendously to have serfdom advocated on high moral grounds as the only solution of the labor problem. You see, in the first place, he goes for their sympathies by the way he portrays the actual relations of capital and labor; he shows how things have got to go from bad to worse, and then he trots out his little old hobby, and proves that if slavery had not been interfered with, it would have perfected itself in the interest of humanity. He makes a pretty strong plea for it."
March threw back his head and laughed. "He's converted you! I swear, Fulkerson, if we had accepted and paid for an article advocating cannibalism as the only resource for getting rid of the superfluous poor, you'd begin to believe in it."
Fulkerson smiled in approval of the joke, and only said: "I wish you could meet the colonel in the privacy of the domestic circle, March. You'd like him. He's a splendid old fellow; regular type. Talk about spring!
"You ought to see the widow's little back yard these days. You know that glass gallery just beyond the dining-room? Those girls have got the pot- plants out of that, and a lot more, and they've turned the edges of that back yard, along the fence, into a regular bower; they've got sweet peas planted, and nasturtiums, and we shall be in a blaze of glory about the beginning of June. Fun to see 'em work in the garden, and the bird bossing the job in his cage under the cherry-tree. Have to keep the middle of the yard for the clothesline, but six days in the week it's a lawn, and I go over it with a mower myself. March, there ain't anything like a home, is there? Dear little cot of your own, heigh? I tell you, March, when I get to pushing that mower round, and the colonel is smoking his cigar in the gallery, and those girls are pottering over the flowers, one of these soft evenings after dinner, I feel like a human being. Yes, I do. I struck it rich when I concluded to take my meals at the widow's. For eight dollars a week I get good board, refined society, and all the advantages of a Christian home. By-the-way, you've never had much talk with Miss Woodburn, have you, March?"
"Not so much as with Miss Woodburn's father."
"Well, he is rather apt to scoop the conversation. I must draw his fire, sometime, when you and Mrs. March are around, and get you a chance with Miss Woodburn."
"I should like that better, I believe," said March.
"Well, I shouldn't wonder if you did. Curious, but Miss Woodburn isn't at all your idea of a Southern girl. She's got lots of go; she's never idle a minute; she keeps the old gentleman in first-class shape, and she don't believe a bit in the slavery solution of the labor problem; says she's glad it's gone, and if it's anything like the effects of it, she's glad it went before her time. No, sir, she's as full of snap as the liveliest kind of a Northern girl. None of that sunny Southern languor you read about."
"I suppose the typical Southerner, like the typical anything else, is pretty difficult to find," said March. "But perhaps Miss Woodburn represents the new South. The modern conditions must be producing a modern type."