Doubtless Mrs. Gaylord saw that her husband wished to talk about Marcia, and must be helped to do so by a little perverseness. "I don't know but what most of folks would say 't she'd made out pretty well. I guess she's got a good provider."
"She didn't need any provider," said the Squire haughtily.
"No; but so long as she would have something, it's well enough that she should have a provider." Mrs. Gaylord felt that this was reasoning, and she smoothed out so much of the bib as she had crocheted across her knees with an air of self-content. "You can't have everything in a husband," she added, "and Marcia ought to know that, by this time."
"I've no doubt she knows it," said the Squire.
"Why, what makes you think she's disappointed any?" Mrs. Gaylord came plump to the question at last.
"Nothing she ever said," returned her husband promptly. "She'd die, first. When I was up there I thought she talked about him too much to be feeling just right about him. It was Bartley this and Bartley that, the whole while. She was always wanting me to say that I thought she had done right to marry him. I did sort of say it, at last,—to please her. But I kept thinking that, if she felt sure of it, she wouldn't want to talk it into me so. Now, she never mentions him at all, if she can help it. She writes to him every day, and she hears from him often enough,—postals, mostly; but she don't talk about Bartley, Bartley!" The Squire stretched his lips back from his teeth, and inhaled a long breath, as he rubbed his chin.
"You don't suppose anything's happened since you was up there," said Mrs. Gaylord.
"Nothing but what's happened from the start. He's happened. He keeps happening right along, I guess."
Mrs. Gaylord found herself upon the point of experiencing a painful emotion of sympathy, but she saved herself by saying: "Well, Mr. Gaylord, I don't know as you've got anybody but yourself to thank for it all. You got him here, in the first place." She took one of the kerosene lamps from the table, and went upstairs, leaving him to follow at his will.
Marcia sometimes went out to the Squire's office in the morning, carrying her baby with her, and propping her with law-books on a newspaper in the middle of the floor, while she dusted the shelves, or sat down for one of the desultory talks in the satisfactory silences which she had with her father.
He usually found her there when he came up from the post-office, with the morning mail in the top of his hat: the last evening's Events,—which Bartley had said must pass for a letter from him when he did not write,—and a letter or a postal card from him. She read these, and gave her lather any news or message that Bartley sent; and then she sat down at his table to answer them. But one morning, after she had been at home nearly a month, she received a letter for which she postponed Bartley's postal. "It's from Olive Halleck!" she said, with a glance at the handwriting on the envelope; and she tore it open, and ran it through. "Yes, and they'll come here, any time I let them know. They've been at Niagara, and they've come down the St. Lawrence to Quebec, and they will be at North Conway the last of next week. Now, father, I want to do something for them!" she cried, feeling an American daughter's right to dispose of her father, and all his possessions, for the behoof of her friends at any time. "I want they should come to the house."
"Well, I guess there won't be any trouble about that, if you think they can put up with our way of living.' He smiled at her over his spectacles.
"Our way of living! Put up with it! I should hope as much! They're just the kind of people that will put up with anything, because they've had everything. And because they're all as sweet and good as they can be. You don't know them, father, you don't half know them! Now, just get right away,"—she pushed him out of the chair he had taken at the table,—"and let me write to Bartley this instant. He's got to come when they're here, and I'll invite them to come over at once, before they get settled at North Conway."
He gave his dry chuckle to see her so fired with pleasure, and he enjoyed the ardor with which she drove him up out of his chair, and dashed off her letters. This was her old way; he would have liked the prospect of the Hallecks coming, because it made his girl so happy, if for nothing else.
"Father, I will tell you about Ben Halleck," she said, pounding her letter to Olive with the thick of her hand to make the envelope stick. "You know that lameness of his?"
"Well, it came from his being thrown down by another boy when he was at school. He knew the boy that did it; and the boy must have known that Mr. Halleck knew it, but he never said a word to show that he was sorry, or did anything to make up for it He's a man now, and lives there in Boston, and Ben Halleck often meets him. He says that if the man can stand it he can. Don't you think that's grand? When I heard that, I made up my mind that I wanted Flavia to belong to Ben Halleck's church,—or the church he did belong to; he doesn't belong to any now!"
"He couldn't have got any damages for such a thing anyway," the Squire said.
Marcia paid no heed to this legal opinion of the case. She took off her father's hat to put the letters into it, and, replacing it on his head, "Now don't you forget them, father," she cried.
She gathered up her baby and hurried into the house, where she began her preparations for her guests.
The elder Miss Hallecks had announced with much love, through Olive, that they should not be able to come to Equity, and Ben was to bring Olive alone. Marcia decided that Ben should have the guest-chamber, and Olive should have her room; she and Bartley could take the little room in the L while their guests remained.
But when the Hallecks came, it appeared that Ben had engaged quarters for himself at the hotel, and no expostulation would prevail with him to come to Squire Gaylord's house.
"We have to humor him in such things, Mrs. Hubbard," Olive explained, to Marcia's distress. "And most people get on very well without him."
This explanation was of course given in Halleck's presence. His sister added, behind his back: "Ben has a perfectly morbid dread of giving trouble in a house. He won't let us do anything to make him comfortable at home, and the idea that you should attempt it drove him distracted. You mustn't mind it. I don't believe he'd have come if his bachelor freedom couldn't have been respected; and we both wanted to come Very much."
The Hallecks arrived in the forenoon, and Bartley was due in the evening. But during the afternoon Marcia had a telegram saying that he could not come till two days later, and asking her to postpone the picnic she had planned. The Hallecks were only going to stay three days, and the suspicion that Bartley had delayed in order to leave himself as little time as possible with them rankled in her heart so that she could not keep it to herself when they met.
"Was that what made you give me such a cool reception?" he asked, with cynical good-nature. "Well, you're mistaken; I don't suppose I mind the Hallecks any more than they do me. I'll tell you why I stayed. Some people dropped down on Witherby, who were a little out of his line,—fashionable people that he had asked to let him know if they ever came to Boston; and when they did come and let him know, he didn't know what to do about it, and he called on me to help him out. I've been almost boarding with Witherby for the last three days; and I've been barouching round all over the moral vineyard with his friends: out to Mount Auburn and the Washington Elm, and Bunker Hill, and Brookline, and the Art Museum, and Lexington; we've been down the harbor, and we haven't left a monumental stone unturned. They were going north, and they came down here with me; and I got them to stop over a day for the picnic."
"You got them to stop over for the picnic? Why, I don't want anybody but ourselves, Bartley! This spoils everything."
"The Hallecks are not ourselves," said Bartley. "And these are jolly people; they'll help to make it go off."
"Who are they?" asked Marcia, with provisional self-control.
"Oh, some people that Witherby met in Portland at Willett's, who used to have the logging-camp out here."
"That Montreal woman!" cried Marcia, with fatal divination.
Bartley laughed. "Yes, Mrs. Macallister and her husband. She's a regular case. She'll amuse you."
Marcia's passionate eyes blazed. "She shall never come to my picnic in the world!"
"No?" Bartley looked at her in a certain way. "She shall come to mine, then. There will be two picnics. The more the merrier."
Marcia gasped, as if she felt the clutch in which her husband had her tightening on her heart. She said that she could only carry her point against him at the cost of disgraceful division before the Hallecks, for which he would not care in the least. She moved her head a little from side to side, like one that breathes a stifling air. "Oh, let her come," she said quietly, at last.
"Now you're talking business," said Bartley. "I haven't forgotten the little snub Mrs. Macallister gave me, and you'll see me pay her off."
Marcia made no answer, but went downstairs to put what face she could upon the matter to Olive, whom she had left alone in the parlor, while she ran up with Bartley immediately upon his arrival to demand an explanation of him. In her wrathful haste she had forgotten to kiss him, and she now remembered that he had not looked at the baby, which she had all the time had in her arms.
The picnic was to be in a pretty glen three or four miles north of the village, where there was shade on a bit of level green, and a spring bubbling out of a fern-hung bluff: from which you looked down the glen over a stretch of the river. Marcia had planned that they were to drive thither in a four-seated carryall, but the addition of Bartley's guests disarranged this.
"There's only one way," said Mrs. Macallister, who had driven up with her husband from the hotel to the Squire's house in a buggy. "Mr. Halleck tells me he doesn't know how to drive, and my husband doesn't know the way. Mr. Hubbard must get in here with me, and you must take Mr. Macallister in your party." She looked authoritatively at the others.
"First rate!" cried Bartley, climbing to the seat which Mr. Macallister left vacant. "We'll lead the way."
Those who followed had difficulty in keeping their buggy in sight. Sometimes Bartley stopped long enough for them to come up, and then, after a word or two of gay banter, was off again.
They had taken possession of the picnic grounds, and Mrs. Macallister was disposing shawls for rugs and drapery, while Bartley, who had got the horse out, and tethered where he could graze, was pushing the buggy out of the way by the shafts, when the carryall came up.
"Don't we look quite domestic?" she asked of the arriving company, in her neat English tone, and her rising English inflection. "You know I like this," she added, singling Halleck out for her remark, and making it as if it were brilliant. "I like being out of doors, don't you know. But there's one thing I don't like: we weren't able to get a drop of champagne at that ridiculous hotel. They told us they were not allowed to keep 'intoxicating liquors.' Now I call that jolly stupid, you know. I don't know whatever we shall do if you haven't brought something."
"I believe this is a famous spring," said Halleck.
"How droll you are! Spring, indeed!" cried Mrs. Macallister. "Is that the way you let your brother make game of people, Miss Halleck?" She directed a good deal of her rattle at Olive; she scarcely spoke to Marcia, but she was nevertheless furtively observant of her. Mr. Macallister had his rattle too, which, after trying it unsatisfactorily upon Marcia, he plied almost exclusively for Olive. He made puns; he asked conundrums; he had all the accomplishments which keep people going in a lively, mirthful, colonial society; and he had the idea that he must pay attentions and promote repartee. His wife and he played into each other's hands in their jeux d'esprit; and kept Olive's inquiring Boston mind at work in the vain endeavor to account for and to place them socially. Bartley hung about Mrs. Macallister, and was nearly as obedient as her husband. He felt that the Hallecks disapproved his behavior, and that made him enjoy it; he was almost rudely negligent of Olive.
The composition of the party left Marcia and Halleck necessarily to each other, and she accepted this arrangement in a sort of passive seriousness; but Halleck saw that her thoughts wandered from her talk with him, and that her eyes were always turning with painful anxiety to Bartley. After their lunch, which left them with the whole afternoon before them, Marcia said, in a timid effort to resume her best leadership of the affair, "Bartley, don't you think they would like to see the view from the Devil's Backbone?"
"Would you like to see the view from the Devil's Backbone?" he asked in turn of Mrs. Macallister.
"And what is the Devil's Backbone?" she inquired.
"It's a ridge of rocks on the bluff above here," said Bartley, nodding his head vaguely towards the bank.
"And how do you get to it?" asked Mrs. Macallister, pointing her pretty chin at him in lifting her head to look.
"Thanks, then; I shall try to be satisfied with me own backbone," said Mrs. Macallister, who had that freedom in alluding to her anatomy which marks the superior civilization of Great Britain and its colonial dependencies.
"Carry you," suggested Bartley.
"I dare say you'd be very sure-footed; but I'd quite enough of donkeys in the hills at home."
Bartley roared with the resolution of a man who will enjoy a joke at his own expense.
Marcia turned away, and referred her invitation, with a glance, to Olive.
"I don't believe Miss Halleck wants to go," said Mr. Macallister.
"I couldn't," said Olive, regretfully. "I've neither the feet nor the head for climbing over high rocky places."
Marcia was about to sink down on the grass again, from which she had risen, in the hopes that her proposition would succeed, when Bartley called out: "Why don't you show Ben the Devil's Backbone? The view is worth seeing, Halleck."
"Would you like to go?" asked Marcia, listlessly.
"Yes, I should, very much," said Halleck, scrambling to his feet, "if it won't tire you too much?"
"Oh, no," said Marcia, gently, and led the way. She kept ahead of him in the climb, as she easily could, and she answered briefly to all he said. When they arrived at the top, "There is the view," she said coldly. She waved her hand toward the valley; she made a sound in her throat as if she would speak again, but her voice died in one broken sob.
Halleck stood with downcast eyes, and trembled. He durst not look at her, not for what he should see in her face, but for what she should see in his: the anguish of intelligence, the helpless pity. He beat the rock at his feet with the ferule of his stick, and could not lift his head again. When he did, she stood turned from him and drying her eyes on her handkerchief. Their looks met, and she trusted her self-betrayal to him without any attempt at excuse or explanation.
"I will send Hubbard up to help you down," said Halleck.
"Well," she answered, sadly.
He clambered down the side of the bluff, and Bartley started to his feet in guilty alarm when he saw him approach. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing. But I think you had better help Mrs. Hubbard down the bluff."
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Macallister. "A panic! how interesting!"
Halleck did not respond. He threw himself on the grass, and left her to change or pursue the subject as she liked. Bartley showed more savoir-faire when he came back with Marcia, after an absence long enough to let her remove the traces of her tears.
"Pretty rough on your game foot, Halleck. But Marcia had got it into her head that it wasn't safe to trust you to help her down, even after you had helped her up."
"Ben," said Olive, when they were seated in the train the next day, "why did you send Marcia's husband up there to her?" She had the effect of not having rested till she could ask him.
"She was crying," he answered.
"What do you suppose could have been the matter?"
"What you do: she was miserable about his coquetting with that woman."
"Yes. I could see that she hated terribly to have her come; and that she felt put down by her all the time. What kind of person is Mrs. Macallister?"
"Oh, a fool," replied Halleck. "All flirts are fools."
"I think she's more wicked than foolish."
"Oh, no, flirts are better than they seem,—perhaps because men are better than flirts think. But they make misery just the same."
"Yes," sighed Olive. "Poor Marcia, poor Marcia! But I suppose that, if it were not Mrs. Macallister, it would be some one else."
"Given Bartley Hubbard,—yes."
"And given Marcia. Well,—I don't like being mixed up with other people's unhappiness, Ben. It's dangerous."
"I don't like it either. But you can't very well keep out of people's unhappiness in this world."
"No," assented Olive, ruefully.
The talk fell, and Halleck attempted to read a newspaper, while Olive looked out of the window. She presently turned to him. "Did you ever fancy any resemblance between Mrs. Hubbard and the photograph of that girl we used to joke about,—your lost love?"
"Yes," said Halleck.
"What's become of it,—the photograph? I can't find it any more; I wanted to show it to her one day."
"I destroyed it. I burnt it the first evening after I had met Mrs. Hubbard. It seemed to me that it wasn't right to keep it."
"Why, you don't think it was her photograph!"
"I think it was," said Halleck. He took up his paper again, and read on till they left the cars.
That evening, when Halleck came to his sister's room to bid her good night, she threw her arms round his neck, and kissed his plain, common face, in which she saw a heavenly beauty.
"Ben, dear," she said, "if you don't turn out the happiest man in the world, I shall say there's no use in being good!"
"Perhaps you'd better say that after all I wasn't good," he suggested, with a melancholy smile.
"I shall know better," she retorted.
"Why, what's the matter, now?"
"Nothing. I was only thinking. Good night!"
"Good night," said Halleck. "You seem to think my room is better than my company, good as I am."
"Yes," she said, laughing in that breathless way which means weeping next, with women. Her eyes glistened.
"Well," said Halleck, limping out of the room, "you're quite good-looking with your hair down, Olive."
"All girls are," she answered. She leaned out of her doorway to watch him as he limped down the corridor to his own room. There was something pathetic, something disappointed and weary in the movement of his figure, and when she shut her door, and ran back to her mirror, she could not see the good-looking girl there for her tears.
"Hello!" said Bartley, one day after the autumn had brought back all the summer wanderers to the city, "I haven't seen you for a month of Sundays." He had Ricker by the hand, and he pulled him into a doorway to be a little out of the rush on the crowded pavement, while they chatted.
"That's because I can't afford to go to the White Mountains, and swell round at the aristocratic summer resorts like some people," returned Ricker. "I'm a horny-handed son of toil, myself."
"Pshaw!" said Bartley. "Who isn't? I've been here hard at it, except for three days at one time and live at another."
"Well, all I can say is that I saw in the Record personals, that Mr. Hubbard, of the Events, was spending the summer months with his father-in-law, Judge Gaylord, among the spurs of the White Mountains. I supposed you wrote it yourself. You're full of ideas about journalism."
"Oh, come! I wouldn't work that joke any more. Look here, Ricker, I'll tell you what I want. I want you to dine with me."
"Dines people!" said Ricker, in an awestricken aside.
"No,—I mean business! You Ve never seen my kid yet: and you've never seen my house. I want you to come. We've all got back, and we're in nice running order. What day are you disengaged?"
"Let me see," said Ricker, thoughtfully. "So many engagements! Wait! I could squeeze your dinner in some time next month, Hubbard."
"All right. But suppose we say next Sunday. Six is the hour."
"Six? Oh, I can't dine in the middle of the forenoon that way! Make it later!"
"Well, we'll say one P.M., then. I know your dinner hour. We shall expect you."
"Better not, till I come." Bartley knew that this was Ricker's way of accepting, and he said nothing, but he answered his next question with easy joviality. "How are you making it with old Witherby?"
"Oh, hand over hand! Witherby and I were formed for each other. By, by!"
"No, hold on! Why don't you come to the club any more?"
"We-e-ll! The club isn't what it used to be," said Bartley, confidentially.
"Why, of course! It isn't just the thing for a gentleman moving in the select circles of Clover Street, as you do; but why not come, sometimes, in the character of distinguished guest, and encourage your humble friends? I was talking with a lot of the fellows about you the other night."
"Were they abusing me?"
"They were speaking the truth about you, and I stopped them. I told them that sort of thing wouldn't do. Why, you're getting fat!"
"You're behind the times, Kicker," said Bartley. "I began to get fat six months ago. I don't wonder the Chronicle Abstract is running down on your hands. Come round and try my tivoli on Sunday. That's what gives a man girth, my boy." He tapped Ricker lightly on his hollow waistcoat, and left him with a wave of his hand.
Ricker leaned out of the doorway and followed him down the street with a troubled eye. He had taken stock in Bartley, as the saying is, and his heart misgave him that he should lose on the investment; he could not have sold out to any of their friends for twenty cents on the dollar. Nothing that any one could lay his finger on had happened, and yet there had been a general loss of confidence in that particular stock. Ricker himself had lost confidence in it, and when he lightly mentioned that talk at the club, with a lot of the fellows, he had a serious wish to get at Bartley some time, and see what it was that was beginning to make people mistrust him. The fellows who liked him at first and wished him well, and believed in his talent, had mostly dropped him. Bartley's associates were now the most raffish set on the press, or the green hands; and something had brought this to pass in less than two years. Ricker had believed that it was Witherby; at the club he had contended that it was Bartley's association with Witherby that made people doubtful of him. As for those ideas that Bartley had advanced in their discussion of journalism, he had considered it all mere young man's nonsense that Bartley would outgrow. But now, as he looked at Bartley's back, he had his misgivings; it struck him as the back of a degenerate man, and that increasing bulk seemed not to represent an increase of wholesome substance, but a corky, buoyant tissue, materially responsive to some sort of moral dry-rot.
Bartley pushed on to the Events office in a blithe humor. Witherby had recently advanced his salary; he was giving him fifty dollars a week now; and Bartley had made himself necessary in more ways than one. He was not only readily serviceable, but since he had volunteered to write those advertising articles for an advance of pay, he was in possession of business facts that could be made very uncomfortable to Witherby in the event of a disagreement. Witherby not only paid him well, but treated him well; he even suffered Bartley to bully him a little, and let him foresee the day when he must be recognized as the real editor of the Events.
At home everything went on smoothly. The baby was well and growing fast; she was beginning to explode airy bubbles on her pretty lips that a fond superstition might interpret as papa and mamma. She had passed that stage in which a man regards his child with despair; she had passed out of slippery and evasive doughiness into a firm tangibility that made it some pleasure to hold her.
Bartley liked to take her on his lap, to feel the spring of her little legs, as she tried to rise on her feet; he liked to have her stretch out her arms to him from her mother's embrace. The innocent tenderness which he experienced at these moments was satisfactory proof to him that he was a very good fellow, if not a good man. When he spent an evening at home, with Flavia in his lap for half an hour after dinner, he felt so domestic that he seemed to himself to be spending all his evenings at home now. Once or twice it had happened, when the housemaid was out, that he went to the door with the baby on his arm, and answered the ring of Olive and Ben Halleck, or of Olive and one or both of the intermediary sisters.
The Hallecks were the only people at all apt to call in the evening, and Bartley ran so little chance of meeting any one else, when he opened the door with Flavia on his arm, that probably he would not have thought it worth while to put her down, even if he had not rather enjoyed meeting them in that domestic phase. He had not only long felt how intensely Olive disliked him, but he had observed that somehow it embarrassed Ben Halleck to see him in his character of devoted young father. At those times he used to rally his old friend upon getting married, and laughed at the confusion to which the joke put him. He said more than once afterwards, that he did not see what fun Ben Halleck got out of coming there; it must bore even such a dull fellow as he was to sit a whole evening like that and not say twenty words. "Perhaps he's livelier when I'm not here, though," he suggested. "I always did seem to throw a wet blanket on Ben Halleck." He did not at all begrudge Halleck's having a better time in his absence if he could.
One night when the bell rung Bartley rose, and saying, "I wonder which of the tribe it is this time," went to the door. But when he opened it, instead of hearing the well-known voices, Marcia listened through a hesitating silence, which ended in a loud laugh from without, and a cry from her husband of "Well, I swear! Why, you infamous old scoundrel, come in out of the wet!" There ensued, amidst Bartley's voluble greetings, a noise of shy shuffling about in the hall, as of a man not perfectly master of his footing under social pressure, a sound of husky, embarrassed whispering, a dispute about doffing an overcoat, and question as to the disposition of a hat, and then Bartley reappeared, driving before him the lank, long figure of a man who blinked in the flash of gaslight, as Bartley turned it all up in the chandelier overhead, and rubbed his immense hands in cruel embarrassment at the beauty of Marcia, set like a jewel in the pretty comfort of the little parlor.
"Mr. Kinney, Mrs. Hubbard," said Bartley; and having accomplished the introduction, he hit Kinney a thwack between the shoulders with the flat of his hand that drove him stumbling across Marcia's footstool into the seat on the sofa to which she had pointed him. "You old fool, where did you come from?"
The refined warmth of Bartley's welcome seemed to make Kinney feel at home, in spite of his trepidations at Marcia's presence. He bobbed his head forward, and stretched his mouth wide, in one of his vast, silent laughs. "Better ask where I'm goin' to."
"Well, I'll ask that, if it'll be any accommodation. Where you going?"
"For a divorce?"
"To get married?"
"Maybe, after I've made my pile." Kinney's eyes wandered about the room, and took in its evidences of prosperity, with simple, unenvious admiration; he ended with a furtive glimpse of Marcia, who seemed to be a climax of good luck, too dazzling for contemplation; he withdrew his glance from her as if hurt by her splendor, and became serious.
"Well, you're the last man I ever expected to see again," said Bartley, sitting down with the baby in his lap, and contemplating Kinney with deliberation. Kinney was dressed in a long frock-coat of cheap diagonals, black cassimere pantaloons, a blue necktie, and a celluloid collar. He had evidently had one of his encounters with a cheap clothier, in which the Jew had triumphed; but he had not yet visited a barber, and his hair and beard were as shaggy as they were in the logging-camp; his hands and face were as brown as leather. "But I'm as glad," Bartley added, "as if you had telegraphed you were coming. Of course, you're going to put up with us." He had observed Kinney's awe of Marcia, and he added this touch to let Kinney see that he was master in his house, and lord even of that radiant presence.
Kinney started in real distress. 'Oh, no! I couldn't do it! I've got all my things round at the Quincy House."
"Trunk or bag?" asked Bartley.
"Well, it's a bag; but—"
"All right. We'll step round and get it together. I generally take a little stroll out, after dinner," said Bartley, tranquilly.
Kinney was beginning again, when Marcia, who had been stealing some covert looks at him under her eye lashes, while she put together the sewing she was at work on, preparatory to going upstairs with the baby, joined Bartley in his invitation.
"You wont make us the least trouble, Mr. Kinney," she said. "The guest-chamber is all ready, and we shall be glad to have you stay."
Kinney must have felt the note of sincerity in her words. He hesitated, and Bartley clinched his tacit assent with a quotation: "'The chief ornament of a house is the guests who frequent it.' Who says that?"
Kinney's little blue eyes twinkled. "Old Emerson."
"Well, I agree with him. We don't care anything about your company, Kinney; but we want you for decorative purposes."
Kinney opened his mouth for another noiseless laugh, and said, "Well, fix it to suit yourselves."
"I'll carry her up for you," said Bartley to Marcia, who was stooping forward to take the baby from him, "if Mr. Kinney will excuse us a moment."
"All right," said Kinney.
Bartley ventured upon this bold move, because he had found that it was always best to have things out with Marcia at once, and, if she was going to take his hospitality to Kinney in bad part, he wanted to get through the trouble. "That was very nice of you, Marcia," he said, when they were in their own room. "My invitation rather slipped out, and I didn't know how you would like it."
"Oh, I'm very glad to have him stay. I never forget about his wanting to lend you money that time," said Marcia, opening the baby's crib.
"You're a mighty good fellow, Marcia!" cried Bartley, kissing her over the top of the baby's head as she took it from him. "And I'm not half good enough for you. You never forget a benefit. Nor an injury either," he added, with a laugh. "And I'm afraid that I forget one about as easily as the other."
Marcia's eyes suffused themselves at this touch of self-analysis which, coming from Bartley, had its sadness; but she said nothing, and he was eager to escape and get back to their guest. He told her he should go out with Kinney, and that she was not to sit up, for they might be out late.
In his pride, he took Kinney down to the Events office, and unlocked it, and lit the gas, so as to show him the editorial rooms; and then he passed him into one of the theatres, where they saw part of an Offenbach opera; after that they went to the Parker House, and had a New York stew. Kinney said he must be off by the Sunday-night train, and Bartley thought it well to concentrate as many dazzling effects upon him as he could in the single evening at his disposal. He only regretted that it was not the club night, for he would have liked to take Kinney round, and show him some of the fellows.
"But never mind," he said. "I'm going to have one of them dine with us to-morrow, and you'll see about the best of the lot."
"Well, sir," observed Kinney, when they had got back into Bartley's parlor, and he was again drinking in its prettiness in the subdued light of the shaded argand burner, "I hain't seen anything yet that suits me much better than this."
"It isn't bad," said Bartley. He had got up a plate of crackers and two bottles of tivoli, and was opening the first. He offered the beaded goblet to Kinney.
"Thank you," said Kinney. "Not any. I never do."
Bartley quaffed half of it in tolerant content. "I always do. Find it takes my nerves down at the end of a hard week's work. Well, now, tell me some thing about yourself. What are you going to do in Illinois?"
"Well, sir, I've got a friend out there that's got a coal mine, and he thinks he can work me in somehow. I guess he can: I've tried pretty much everything. Why don't you come out there and start a newspaper? We've got a town that's bound to grow."
It amused Bartley to hear Kinney bragging already of a town that he had never seen. He winked a good-natured disdain over the rim of the goblet which he tilted on his lips. "And give up my chances here?" he said, as he set the goblet down.
"Well, that's so!" said Kinney, responding to the sense of the wink. "I'll tell you what, Bartley, I didn't know as you'd speak to me when I rung your bell to-night. But thinks I to myself, 'Dumn it! look here! He can't more'n slam the door in your face, anyway. And you've hankered after him so long,—go and take your chances, you old buzzard!' And so I got your address at the Events office pretty early this morning; and I went round all day screwing my courage up, as old Macbeth says,—or Ritchloo, I don't know which it was,—and at last I did get myself so that I toed the mark like a little man."
Bartley laughed so that he could hardly get the cork out of the second bottle.
"You see," said Kinney, leaning forward, and taking Bartley's plump, soft knee between his thumb and forefinger, "I felt awfully about the way we parted that night. I felt bad. I hadn't acted well, just to my own mind, and it cut me to have you refuse my money; it cut me all the worse because I saw that you was partly right; I hadn't been quite fair with you. But I always did admire you, and you know it. Some them little things you used to get off in the old Free Press—well, I could see 't you was smart. And I liked you; and it kind o' hurt me when I thought you'd been makin' fun o' me to that woman. Well, I could see 't I was a dumned old fool, afterwards. And I always wanted to tell you so. And I always did hope that I should be able to offer you that money again, twice over, and get you to take it just to show that you didn't bear malice." Bartley looked up, with quickened interest. "But I can't do it now, sir," added Kinney.
"Why, what's happened?" asked Bartley, in a disappointed tone, pouring out his second glass from his second bottle.
"Well, sir," said Kinney, with a certain reluctance, "I undertook to provision the camp on spec, last winter, and—well, you know, I always run a little on food for the brain,"—Bartley broke into a reminiscent cackle, and Kinney smiled forlornly,—"and thinks I, 'Dumn it, I'll give 'em the real thing, every time.' And I got hold of a health-food circular; and I sent on for a half a dozen barrels of their crackers and half a dozen of their flour, and a lot of cracked cocoa, and I put the camp on a health-food basis. I calculated to bring those fellows out in the spring physically vigorous and mentally enlightened. But my goodness! After the first bakin' o' that flour and the first round o' them crackers, it was all up! Fellows got so mad that I suppose if I hadn't gone back to doughnuts, and sody biscuits, and Japan tea, they'd 'a' burnt the camp down. Of course I yielded. But it ruined me, Bartley; it bu'st me."
Bartley dropped his arms upon the table, and, hiding his face upon them, laughed and laughed again.
"Well, sir," said Kinney, with sad satisfaction, "I'm glad to see that you don't need any money from me." He had been taking another survey of the parlor and the dining-room beyond. "I don't know as I ever saw anybody much better fixed. I should say that you was a success; and you deserve it. You're a smart fellow, Bart, and you're a good fellow. You're a generous fellow." Kinney's voice shook with emotion.
Bartley, having lifted his wet and flushed face, managed to say: "Oh, there's nothing mean about me, Kinney," as he felt blindly for the beer bottles, which he shook in succession with an evident surprise at finding them empty.
"You've acted like a brother to me, Bartley Hubbard," continued Kinney, "and I sha'n't forget it in a hurry. I guess it would about broke my heart, if you hadn't taken it just the way you did to-night. I should like to see the man that didn't use you well, or the woman, either!" said Kinney, with vague defiance. "Though they don't seem to have done so bad by you," he added, in recognition of Marcia's merit. "I should say that was the biggest part of your luck She's a lady, sir, every inch of her. Mighty different stripe from that Montreal woman that cut up so that night."
"Oh, Mrs. Macallister wasn't such a scamp, after all," said Bartley, with magnanimity.
"Well, sir, you can say so. I ain't going to be too strict with a girl; but I like to see a married woman act like a married woman. Now, I don't think you'd catch Mrs. Hubbard flirting with a young fellow the way that woman went on with you that night?" Bartley grinned. "Well, sir, you're getting along and you're happy."
"Perfect clam," said Bartley.
"Such a position as you've got,—such a house, such a wife, and such a baby! Well," said Kinney, rising, "it's a little too much for me."
"Want to go to bed?" asked Bartley.
"Yes, I guess I better turn in," returned Kinney, despairingly.
"Show you the way."
Bartley tripped up stairs with Kinney's bag, which they had left standing in the hall, while Kinney creaked carefully after him; and so led the way to the guest-chamber, and turned up the gaslight, which had been left burning low.
Kinney stood erect, dwarfing the room, and looked round on the pink chintzing, and soft carpet, and white coverleted bed, and lace-hooded dressing-mirror, with meek veneration. "Well, I swear!" He said no more, but sat hopelessly down, and began to pull off his boots.
He was in the same humble mood the next morning, when, having got up inordinately early, he was found trying to fix his mind on a newspaper by Bartley, who came down late to the Sunday breakfast, and led his guest into the dining-room. Marcia, in a bewitching morning-gown, was already there, having put the daintier touches to the meal herself; and the baby, in a fresh white dress, was there tied into its arm-chair with a napkin, and beating on the table with a spoon. Bartley's nonchalance amidst all this impressed Kinney with a yet more poignant sense of his superiority, and almost deprived him of the powers of speech. When after breakfast Bartley took him out to Cambridge on the horse-cars, and showed him the College buildings, and Memorial Hall, and the Washington Elm, and Mount Auburn, Kinney fell into such a cowed and broken condition, that something had to be specially done to put him in repair against Ricker's coming to dinner. Marcia luckily thought of asking him if he would like to see her kitchen. In this region Kinney found himself at home, and praised its neat perfection with professional intelligence. Bartley followed them round with Flavia on his arm, and put in a jocose word here and there, when he saw Kinney about to fall a prey to his respect for Marcia, and so kept him going till Ricker rang. He contrived to give Ricker a hint of the sort of man he had on his hands, and by their joint effort they had Kinney talking about himself at dinner before he knew what he was about. He could not help talking well upon this theme, and he had them so vividly interested, as he poured out adventure after adventure in his strange career, that Bartley began to be proud of him.
"Well, sir," said Ricker, when he came to a pause, "you've lived a romance."
"Yes," replied Kinney, looking at Bartley for his approval, "and I've always thought that, if I ever got run clean ashore, high and dry, I'd make a stagger to write it out and do something with it. Do you suppose I could?"
"I promise to take it for the Sunday edition of the Chronicle Abstract, whenever you get it ready," said Ricker.
Bartley laid his hand on his friend's arm. "It's bought up, old fellow. That narrative—'Confessions of an Average American'—belongs to the Events."
They had their laugh at this, and then Ricker said to Kinney: "But look here, my friend! What's to prevent our interviewing you on this little personal history of yours, and using your material any way we like? It seems to me that you've put your head in the lion's mouth."
"Oh, I'm amongst gentlemen," said Kinney, with an innocent swagger. "I understand that."
"Well, I don't know about it," said Ricker. "Hubbard, here, is used to all sorts of hard names; but I've never had that epithet applied to me before."
Kinney doubled himself up over the side of his chair in recognition of Ricker's joke; and when Bartley rose and asked him if he would come into the parlor and have a cigar, he said, with a wink, no, he guessed he would stay with the ladies. He waited with great mystery till the folding-doors were closed, and Bartley had stopped peeping through the crevice between them, and then he began to disengage from his watch-chain the golden nugget, shaped to a rude sphere, which hung there. This done, he asked if he might put it on the little necklace—a christening gift from Mrs. Halleck—which the baby had on, to see how it looked. It looked very well, like an old Roman bolla, though neither Kinney nor Marcia knew it. "Guess we'll let it stay there," he suggested, timidly.
"Mr. Kinney!" cried Marcia, in amaze, "I can't let you!"
"Oh, do now, ma'am!" pleaded the big fellow, simply. "If you knew how much good it does me, you would. Why, it's been like heaven to me to get into such a home as this for a day,—it has indeed."
"Like heaven?" said Marcia, turning pale. "Oh, my!"
"Well, I don't mean any harm. What I mean is, I've knocked about the world so much, and never had any home of my own, that to see folks as happy as you be makes me happier than I've been since I don't know when. Now, you let it stay. It was the first piece of gold I picked up in Californy when I went out there in '50, and it's about the last; I didn't have very good luck. Well, of course! I know I ain't fit to give it; but I want to do it. I think Bartley's about the greatest fellow and he's the best fellow this world can show. That's the way I feel about him. And I want to do it. Sho! the thing wa'n't no use to me!"
Marcia always gave her maid off all work Sunday afternoon, and she would not trespass upon her rule because she had guests that day. Except for the confusion to which Kinney's unexpected gift had put her, she would have waited for him to join the others before she began to clear away the dinner; but now she mechanically began, and Kinney, to whom these domestic occupations were a second nature, joined her in the work, equally absent-minded in the fervor of his petition.
Bartley suddenly flung open the doors. "My dear, Mr. Ricker says he must be go—" He discovered Marcia with the dish of potatoes in her hand, and Kinney in the act of carrying off the platter of turkey. "Look here, Ricker!"
Kinney came to himself, and, opening his mouth above the platter wide enough to swallow the remains of the turkey, slapped his leg with the hand that he released for the purpose, and shouted, "The ruling passion, Bartley, the ruling passion!"
The men roared; but Marcia, even while she took in the situation, did not see anything so ridiculous in it as they. She smiled a little in sympathy with their mirth, and then said, with a look and tone which he had not seen or heard in her since the day of their picnic at Equity, "Come, see what Mr. Kinney has given baby, Bartley."
They sat up talking Kinney over after he was gone; but even at ten o'clock Bartley said he should not go to bed; he felt like writing.
Bartley lived well now. He felt that he could afford it, on fifty dollars a week; and yet somehow he had always a sheaf of unpaid bills on hand. Rent was so much, the butcher so much, the grocer so much; these were the great outlays, and he knew just what they were; but the sum total was always much larger than he expected. At a pinch, he borrowed; but he did not let Marcia know of this, for she would have starved herself to pay the debt; what was worse, she would have wished him to starve with her. He kept the purse, and he kept the accounts; he was master in his house, and he meant to be so.
The pinch always seemed to come in the matter of clothes, and then Marcia gave up whatever she wanted, and said she must make the old things do. Bartley hated this; in his position he must dress well, and, as there was nothing mean about him, he wished Marcia to dress well to. Just at this time he had set his heart on her having a certain sacque which they had noticed in a certain window one day when they were on Washington Street together. He surprised her a week later by bringing the sacque home to her, and he surprised himself with a seal-skin cap which he had long coveted: it was coming winter, now, and for half a dozen days of the season he would really need the cap. There would be many days when it would be comfortable, and many others when it would be tolerable, and he looked so handsome in it that Marcia herself could not quite feel that it was an extravagance. She asked him how they could afford both of the things at once, but he answered with easy mystery that he had provided the funds; and she went gayly round with him to call on the Hallecks that evening and show off her sacque. It was so stylish and pretty that it won her a compliment from Ben Halleck, which she noticed because it was the first compliment, or anything like it, that he had ever paid her. She repeated it to Bartley. "He said that I looked like a Hungarian princess that he saw in Vienna."
"Well, I suppose it has a hussar kind of look with that fur trimming and that broad braid. Did anybody say anything about my cap?" asked Bartley with burlesque eagerness.
"Oh, poor Bartley!" she cried in laughing triumph. "I don't believe any of them noticed it; and you kept twirling it round in your hands all the time to make them look."
"Yes, I did my level best," said Bartley.
They had a jolly time about that. Marcia was proud of her sacque; when she took it off and held it up by the loop in the neck, so as to realize its prettiness, she said she should make it last three winters at least; and she leaned over and gave Bartley a sweet kiss of gratitude and affection, and told him not to try to make up for it by extra work, but to help her scrimp for it.
"I'd rather do the extra work," he protested. In fact he already had the extra work done. It was something that he felt he had the right to sell outside of the Events, and he carried his manuscript to Ricker and offered it to him for his Sunday edition.
Ricker read the title and ran his eye down the first slip, and then glanced quickly at Hubbard. "You don't mean it?"
"Yes I do," said Bartley. "Why not?"
"I thought he was going to use the material himself some time."
Bartley laughed. "He use the material! Why, he can't write, any more than a hen; he can make tracks on paper, but nobody would print 'em, much less buy 'em. I know him, he's all right. It wouldn't hurt the material for his purpose, any way; and he'll be tickled to death when he sees it. If he ever does. Look here, Ricker!" added Bartley, with a touch of anger at the hesitation in his friend's face, "if you're going to spring any conscientious scruples on me, I prefer to offer my manuscript elsewhere. I give you the first chance at it; but it needn't go begging. Do you suppose I'd do this if I didn't understand the man, and know just how he'd take it?"
"Why, of course, Hubbard! I beg your pardon. If you say it's all right, I am bound to be satisfied. What do you want for it?"
"That's a good deal, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. But I can't afford to do a dishonorable thing for less money," said Bartley, with a wink.
The next Sunday, when Marcia came home from church, she went into the parlor a moment to speak to Bartley before she ran upstairs to the baby. He was writing, and she put her left hand on his back while with her right she held her sacque slung over her shoulder by the loop, and leaned forward with a wandering eye on the papers that strewed the table. In that attitude he felt her pause and grow absorbed, and then rigid; her light caress tightened into a grip. "Why, how base! How shameful! That man shall never enter my doors again! Why, it's stealing!"
"What's the matter? What are you talking about?" Bartley looked up with a frown of preparation.
"This!" cried Marcia, snatching up the Chronicle-Abstract, at which she had been looking. "Haven't you seen it? Here's Mr. Kinney's life all written out! And when he said that he was going to keep it and write it out himself. That thief has stolen it!"
"Look out how you talk," said Bartley. "Kinney's an old fool, and he never could have written it out in the world—"
"That makes no difference. He said that he told the things because he knew he was among gentlemen. A great gentleman Mr. Ricker is! And I thought he was so nice!" The tears sprang to her eyes, which flashed again. "I want you to break off with him. Bartley; I don't want you to have anything to do with such a thief! And I shall be proud to tell everybody that you've broken off with him because he was a thief. Oh, Bartley—"
"Hold your tongue!" shouted her husband.
"I won't hold my tongue! And if you defend—"
"Don't you say a word against Ricker. It's all right, I tell you. You don't understand such things. You don't know what you're talking about. I—I—I wrote the thing myself."
He could face her, but she could not face him. There was a subsidence in her proud attitude, as if her physical strength had snapped with her breaking spirit.
"There's no theft about it." Bartley went on. "Kinney would never write it out, and if he did, I've put the material in better shape for him here than he could ever have given it. Six weeks from now nobody will remember a word of it; and he could tell the same things right over again, and they would be just as good as new." He went on to argue the point.
She seemed not to have listened to him. When he stopped, she said, in a quiet, passionless voice, "I suppose you wrote it to get money for this sacque."
"Yes; I did," replied Bartley.
She dropped it on the floor at his feet. "I shall never wear it again," she said in the same tone, and a little sigh escaped her.
"Use your pleasure about that," said Bartley, sitting down to his writing again, as she turned and left the room.
She went upstairs and came down immediately, with the gold nugget, which she had wrenched from the baby's necklace, and laid it on the paper before him. "Perhaps you would like to spend it for tivoli beer," she suggested. "Flavia shall not wear it."
"I'll get it fitted on to my watch-chain." Bartley slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.
The sacque still lay on the floor at his feet; he pulled his chair a little forward and put his feet on it. He feigned to write awhile longer, and then he folded up his papers, and went out, leaving Marcia to make her Sunday dinner alone. When he came home late at night, he found the sacque where she had dropped it, and with a curse he picked it up and hung it on the hat-rack in the hall.
He slept in the guest-chamber, and at times during the night the child cried in Marcia's room and waked him; and then he thought he heard a sound of sobbing which was not the child's. In the morning, when he came down to breakfast, Marcia met him with swollen eyes.
"Bartley," she said tremulously, "I wish you would tell me how you felt justified in writing out Mr. Kinney's life in that way."
"My dear," said Bartley, with perfect amiability, for he had slept off his anger, and he really felt sorry to see her so unhappy, "I would tell you almost anything you want on any other subject; but I think we had better remand that one to the safety of silence, and go upon the general supposition that I know what I'm about."
"I can't, Bartley!"
"Can't you? Well, that's a pity." He pulled his chair to the breakfast-table. "It seems to me that girl's imagination always fails her on Mondays. Can she never give us anything but hash and corn-bread when she's going to wash? However, the coffee's good. I suppose you made it?"
"Bartley!" persisted Marcia, "I want to believe in everything you do,—I want to be proud of it—"
"That will be difficult," suggested Bartley, with an air of thoughtful impartiality, "for the wife of a newspaper man."
"No, no! It needn't be! It mustn't be! If you will only tell me—" She stopped, as if she feared to repeat her offence.
Bartley leaned back in his chair and looked at her intense face with a smile. "Tell you that in some way I had Kinney's authority to use his facts? Well, I should have done that yesterday if you had let me. In the first place, Kinney's the most helpless ass in the world. He could never have used his own facts. In the second place, there was hardly anything in his rigmarole the other day that he hadn't told me down there in the lumber camp, with full authority to use it in any way I liked; and I don't see how he could revoke that authority. That's the way I reasoned about it."
"I see,—I see!" said Marcia, with humble eagerness.
"Well, that's all there is about it. What I've done can't hurt Kinney. If he ever does want to write his old facts out, he'll be glad to take my report of them, and—spoil it," said Bartley, ending with a laugh.
"And if—if there had been anything wrong about it," said Marcia, anxious to justify him to herself, "Mr. Ricker would have told you so when you offered him the article."
"I don't think Mr. Ricker would have ventured on any impertinence with me," said Bartley, with grandeur. But he lapsed into his wonted, easy way of taking everything. "What are you driving at, Marsh? I don't care particularly for what happened yesterday. We've had rows enough before, and I dare say we shall have them again. You gave me a bad quarter of an hour, and you gave yourself"—he looked at her tear-stained eyes—"a bad night, apparently. That's all there is about it."
"Oh, no, that isn't all! It isn't like the other quarrels we've had. When I think how I've felt toward you ever since, it scares me. There can't be anything sacred in our marriage unless we trust each other in everything."
"Well, I haven't done any of the mistrusting," said Bartley, with humorous lightness. "But isn't sacred rather a strong word to use in regard to our marriage, anyway?"
"Why—why—what do you mean, Bartley? We were married by a minister."
"Well, yes, by what was left of one," said Bartley. "He couldn't seem to shake himself together sufficiently to ask for the proof that we had declared our intention to get married."
Marcia looked mystified. "Don't you remember his saying there was something else, and my suggesting to him that it was the fee?"
Marcia turned white. "Father said the certificate was all right—"
"Oh, he asked to see it, did he? He is a prudent old gentleman. Well, it is all right."
"And what difference did it make about our not proving that we had declared our intention?" asked Marcia, as if only partly reassured.
"No difference to us; and only a difference of sixty dollars fine to him, if it was ever found out."
"And you let the poor old man run that risk?"
"Well, you see, it couldn't be helped. We hadn't declared our intention, and the lady seemed very anxious to be married. You needn't be troubled. We are married, right and tight enough; but I don't know that there's anything sacred about it."
"No," Marcia wailed out, "its tainted with fraud from the beginning."
"If you like to say so," Bartley assented, putting his napkin into its ring.
Marcia hid her face in her arms on the table; the baby left off drumming with its spoon, and began to cry.
Witherby was reading the Sunday edition of the Chronicle-Abstract, when Bartley got down to the Events office; and he cleared his throat with a premonitory cough as his assistant swung easily into the room. "Good morning, Mr. Hubbard," he said. "There is quite an interesting article in yesterday's Chronicle-Abstract. Have you seen it?"
"Yes," said Bartley. "What article?"
"This Confessions of an Average American." Witherby held out the paper, where Bartley's article, vividly head-lined and sub-headed, filled half a page. "What is the reason we cannot have something of this kind?"
"Well, I don't know," Bartley began.
"Have you any idea who wrote this?"
"Oh, yes, I wrote it."
Witherby had the task before him of transmuting an expression of rather low cunning into one of wounded confidence, mingled with high-minded surprise. "I thought it had your ear-marks, Mr. Hubbard: but I preferred not to believe it till I heard the fact from your own lips. I supposed that our contract covered such contributions as this."
"I wrote it out of time, and on Sunday night. You pay me by the week, and all that I do throughout the week belongs to you. The next day after that Sunday I did a full day's work on the Events. I don't see what you have to complain of. You told me when I began that you would not expect more than a certain amount of work from me. Have I ever done less?"
"Haven't I always done more?"
"Yes, I have never complained of the amount of work. But upon this theory of yours, what you did in your summer vacation would not belong to the Events, or what you did on legal holidays."
"I never have any summer vacation or holidays, legal or illegal. Even when I was down at Equity last summer I sent you something for the paper every day."
This was true, and Witherby could not gainsay it. "Very well, sir. If this is to be your interpretation of our understanding for the future, I shall wish to revise our contract," he said pompously.
"You can tear it up if you like," returned Bartley. "I dare say Ricker would jump at a little study of the true inwardness of counting-room journalism. Unless you insist upon having it for the Events." Bartley gave a chuckle of enjoyment as he sat down at his desk; Witherby rose and stalked away.
He returned in half an hour and said, with an air of frank concession, touched with personal grief: "Mr. Hubbard, I can see how, from your point of view, you were perfectly justifiable in selling your article to the Chronicle-Abstract. My point of view is different, but I shall not insist upon it; and I wish to withdraw—and—and apologize for—any hasty expressions I may have used."
"All right," said Bartley, with a wicked grin. He had triumphed; but his triumph was one to leave some men with an uneasy feeling, and there was not altogether a pleasant taste in Bartley's mouth. After that his position in the Events office was whatever he chose to make it, but he did not abuse his ascendency, and he even made a point of increased deference towards Witherby. Many courtesies passed between them; each took some trouble to show the other that he had no ill feeling.
Three or four weeks later Bartley received a letter with an Illinois postmark which gave him a disagreeable sensation, at first, for he knew it must be from Kinney. But the letter was so amusingly characteristic, so helplessly ill-spelled and ill-constructed, that he could not help laughing. Kinney gave an account of his travels to the mining town, and of his present situation and future prospects; he was full of affectionate messages and inquiries for Bartley's family, and he said he should never forget that Sunday he had passed with them. In a postscript he added: "They copied that String of lies into our paper, here, out of the Chron.-Ab. It was pretty well done, but if your friend Mr. Ricker done it, I'me not goen to Insult him soon again by calling him a gentleman."
This laconic reference to the matter in a postscript was delicious to Bartley; he seemed to hear Kinney saying the words, and imagined his air of ineffective sarcasm. He carried the letter about with him, and the first time he saw Ricker he showed it to him. Ricker read it without appearing greatly diverted; when he came to the postscript he flushed, and demanded, "What have you done about it?"
"Oh, I haven't done anything. It wasn't necessary. You see, now, what Kinney could have done with his facts if we had left them to him. It would have been a wicked waste of material I thought the sight of some of his literature would help you wash up your uncleanly scruples on that point."
"How long have you had this letter?" pursued Ricker.
"I don't know. A week or ten days."
Ricker folded it up and returned it to him. "Mr. Hubbard," he said, "the next time we meet, will you do me the favor to cut my acquaintance?"
Bartley stared at him; he thought he must be joking. "Why, Ricker, what's the matter? I didn't suppose you'd care anything about old Kinney. I thought it would amuse you. Why, confound it! I'd just as soon write out and tell him that I did the thing." He began to be angry. "But I can cut your acquaintance fast enough, or any man's, if you're really on your ear!"
"I'm on my ear," said Ricker. He left Bartley standing where they had met.
It was peculiarly unfortunate, for Bartley had occasion within that week to ask Ricker's advice, and he was debarred from doing so by this absurd displeasure. Since their recent perfect understanding, Witherby had slighted no opportunity to cement their friendship, and to attach Bartley more and more firmly to the Events. He now offered him some of the Events stock on extremely advantageous terms, with the avowed purpose of attaching him to the paper. There seemed nothing covert in this, and Bartley had never heard any doubts of the prosperity of the Events, but he would have especially liked to have Ricker's mind upon this offer of stock. Witherby had urged him not to pay for the whole outright, but to accept a somewhat lower salary, and trust to his dividends to make up the difference. The shares had paid fifteen per cent the year before, and Bartley could judge for himself of the present chances from that showing. Witherby advised him to borrow only fifteen hundred dollars on the three thousand of stock which he offered him, and to pay up the balance in three years by dropping five hundred a year from his salary. It was certainly a flattering proposal; and under his breath, where Bartley still did most of his blaspheming, he cursed Ricker for an old fool; and resolved to close with Witherby on his own responsibility. After he had done so he told Marcia of the step he had taken.
Since their last quarrel there had been an alienation in her behavior toward him, different from any former resentment. She was submissive and quiescent; she looked carefully after his comfort, and was perfect in her housekeeping; but she held aloof from him somehow, and left him to a solitude in her presence in which he fancied, if he did not divine, her contempt. But in this matter of common interest, something of their community of feeling revived; they met on a lower level, but they met, for the moment, and Marcia joined eagerly in the discussion of ways and means.
The notion of dropping five hundred from his salary delighted her, because they must now cut down their expenses as much; and she had long grieved over their expenses without being able to make Bartley agree to their reduction. She went upstairs at once and gave the little nurse-maid a week's warning; she told the maid of all work that she must take three dollars a week hereafter instead of four, or else find another place; she mentally forewent new spring dresses for herself and the baby, and arranged to do herself all of the wash she had been putting out; she put a note in the mouth of the can at the back door, telling the milkman to leave only two quarts in future; and she came radiantly back to tell Bartley that she had saved half of the lost five hundred a year already. But her countenance fell. "Why, where are you to get the other fifteen hundred dollars, Bartley?"
"Oh, I Ve thought of that," said Bartley, laughing at her swift alternations of triumph and despair. "You trust to me for that."
"You're not—not going to ask father for it?" she faltered.
"Not very much," said Bartley, as he took his hat to go out.
He meant to make a raise out of Ben Halleck, as he phrased it to himself. He knew that Halleck had plenty of money; he could make the stock itself over to him as security; he did not see why Halleck should hesitate. But when he entered Halleck's room, having asked Cyrus to show him directly there, Halleck gave a start which seemed ominous to Bartley. He had scarcely the heart to open his business, and Halleck listened with changing color, and something only too like the embarrassment of a man who intends a refusal. He would not look Bartley in the face, and when Bartley had made an end he sat for a time without speaking. At last he said with a quick sigh, as if at the close of an internal conflict, "I will lend you the money!"
Bartley's heart gave a bound, and he broke out into an immense laugh of relief, and clapped Halleck on the shoulder. "You looked deucedly as it' you wouldn't, old man! By George, you had on such a dismal, hang-dog expression that I didn't know but you'd come to borrow money of me, and I'd made up my mind not to let you have it! But I'm everlastingly obliged to you, Halleck, and I promise you that you won't regret it."
"I shall have to speak to my father about this," said Halleck, responding coldly to Bartley's robust pressure of his hand.
"Of course,—of course."
"How soon shall you want the money?"
"Well, the sooner the better, now. Bring the check round—can't you?—to-morrow night,—and take dinner with us, you and Olive; and we'll celebrate a little. I know it will please Marcia when she finds out who my hard-hearted creditor is!"
"Well," assented Halleck with a smile so ghastly that Bartley noticed it even in his joy.
"Curse me," he said to himself, "if ever I saw a man so ashamed of doing a good action!"
The Presidential canvas of the summer—which, followed upon these events in Bartley's career was not very active. Sometimes, in fact, it languished so much that people almost forgot it, and a good field was afforded the Events for the practice of independent journalism. To hold a course of strict impartiality, and yet come out on the winning side was a theory of independent journalism which Bartley illustrated with cynical enjoyment. He developed into something rather artistic the gift which he had always shown in his newspaper work for ironical persiflage. Witherby was not a man to feel this burlesque himself; but when it was pointed out to him by others, he came to Bartley in some alarm from its effect upon the fortunes of the paper. "We can't afford, Mr. Hubbard," he said, with virtuous trepidation, "we can't afford to make fun of our friends!"
Bartley laughed at Witherby's anxiety. "They're no more our friends than the other fellows are. We are independent journalists; and this way of treating the thing leaves us perfectly free hereafter to claim, just as we choose, that we were in fun or in earnest on any particular question if we're ever attacked. See?"
"I see," said Witherby, with not wholly subdued misgiving. But after due time for conviction no man enjoyed Bartley's irony more than Witherby when once he had mastered an instance of it. Sometimes it happened that Bartley found him chuckling over a perfectly serious paragraph, but he did not mind that; he enjoyed Witherby's mistake even more than his appreciation.
In these days Bartley was in almost uninterrupted good humor, as he had always expected to be when he became fairly prosperous. He was at no time an unamiable fellow, as he saw it; he had his sulks, he had his moments of anger; but generally he felt good, and he had always believed, and he had promised Marcia, that when he got squarely on his legs he should feel good perpetually. This sensation he now agreeably realized; and he was also now in that position in which he had proposed to himself some little moral reforms. He was not much in the habit of taking stock; but no man wholly escapes the contingencies in which he is confronted with himself, and sees certain habits, traits, tendencies, which he would like to change for the sake of his peace of mind hereafter. To some souls these contingencies are full of anguish, of remorse for the past, of despair; but Bartley had never yet seen the time when he did not feel himself perfectly able to turn over a new leaf and blot the old one. There were not many things in his life which he really cared to have very different; but there were two or three shady little corners which he always intended to clean up. He had meant some time or other to have a religious belief of some sort, he did not much care what; since Marcia had taken to the Hallecks' church, he did not see why he should not go with her, though he had never yet done so. He was not quite sure whether he was always as candid with her as he might be, or as kind; though he maintained against this question that in all their quarrels it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. He had never been tipsy but once in his life, and he considered that he had repented and atoned for that enough, especially as nothing had ever come of it; but sometimes he thought he might be over-doing the beer; yes, he thought he must cut down on the tivoli; he was getting ridiculously fat. If ever he met Kinney again he should tell him that it was he and not Ricker who had appropriated his facts and he intended to make it up with Ricker somehow.
He had not found just the opportunity yet; but in the mean time he did not mind telling the real cause of their alienation to good fellows who could enjoy a joke. He had his following, though so many of his brother journalists had cooled toward him, and those of his following considered him as smart as chain-lightning and bound to rise. These young men and not very wise elders roared over Bartley's frank declaration of the situation Between himself and Ricker, and they contended that, if Ricker had taken the article for the Chronicle-Abstract, he ought to take the consequences. Bartley told them that, of course, he should explain the facts to Kinney; but that he meant to let Ricker enjoy his virtuous indignation awhile. Once, after a confidence of this kind at the club, where Ricker had refused to speak to him, he came away with a curious sense of moral decay. It did not pain him a great deal, but it certainly surprised him that now, with all these prosperous conditions, so favorable for cleaning up, he had so little disposition to clean up. He found himself quite willing to let the affair with Ricker go, and he suspected that he had been needlessly virtuous in his intentions concerning church-going and beer. As to Marcia, it appeared to him that he could not treat a woman of her disposition otherwise than as he did. At any rate, if he had not done everything he could to make her happy, she seemed to be getting along well enough, and was probably quite as happy as she deserved to be. They were getting on very quietly now; there had been no violent outbreak between them since the trouble about Kinney, and then she had practically confessed herself in the wrong, as Bartley looked at it. She had appeared contented with his explanation; there was what might be called a perfect business amity between them. If her life with him was no longer an expression of that intense devotion which she used to show him, it was more like what married life generally comes to, and he accepted her tractability and what seemed her common-sense view of their relations as greatly preferable. With his growth in flesh, Bartley liked peace more and more.
Marcia had consented to go down to Equity alone, that summer, for he had convinced her that during a heated political contest it would not do for him to be away from the paper. He promised to go down for her when she wished to come home; and it was easily arranged for her to travel as far as the Junction under Halleck's escort, when he went to join his sisters in the White Mountains. Bartley missed her and the baby at first. But he soon began to adjust himself with resignation to his solitude. They had determined to keep their maid over this summer, for they had so much trouble in replacing her the last time after their return; and Bartley said he should live very economically. It was quiet, and the woman kept the house cool and clean; she was a good cook, and when Bartley brought a man home to dinner she took an interest in serving it well. Bartley let her order the things from the grocer and butcher, for she knew what they were used to getting, and he had heard so much talk from Marcia about bills since he bought that Events stock that he was sick of the prices of things. There was no extravagance, and vet he seemed to live very much better after Marcia went. There is no doubt but he lived very much more at his ease. One little restriction after another fell away from him; he went and came with absolute freedom, not only without having to account for his movements, but without having a pang for not doing so. He had the sensation of stretching himself after a cramping posture; and he wrote Marcia the cheerfulest letters, charging her not to cut short her visit from anxiety on his account. He said that he was working hard, but hard work evidently agreed with him, for he was never better in his life. In this high content he maintained a feeling of loyalty by going to the Hallecks, where Mrs. Halleck often had him to tea in pity of his loneliness. They were dull company, certainly; but Marcia liked them, and the cooking was always good. Other evenings he went to the theatres, where there were amusing variety bills; and sometimes he passed the night at Nantasket, or took a run for a day to Newport; he always reported these excursions to Marcia, with expressions of regret that Equity was too far away to run down to for a day.
Marcia's letters were longer and more regular than his; but he could have forgiven some want of constancy for the sake of a less searching anxiety on her part. She was anxious not only for his welfare, which was natural and proper, but she was anxious about the housekeeping and the expenses, things Bartley could not afford to let trouble him, though he did what he could in a general way to quiet her mind. She wrote fully of the visit which Olive Halleck had paid her, but said that they had not gone about much, for Ben Halleck had only been able to come for a day. She was very well, and so was Flavia.
Bartley realized Flavia's existence with an effort, and for the rest this letter bored him. What could he care about Olive Halleck's coming, or Ben Halleck's staying away? All that he asked of Ben Halleck was a little extension of time when his interest fell due. The whole thing was disagreeable; and he resented what he considered Marcia's endeavor to clap the domestic harness on him again. His thoughts wandered to conditions, to contingencies, of which a man does not permit himself even to think without a degree of moral disintegration. In these ill-advised reveries he mused upon his life as it might have been if he had never met her, or if they had never met after her dismissal of him. As he recalled the facts, he was at that time in an angry and embittered mood, but he was in a mood of entire acquiescence; and the reconciliation had been of her own seeking. He could not blame her for it; she was very much in love with him, and he had been fond of her. In fact, he was still very fond of her; when he thought of little ways of hers, it filled him with tenderness. He did justice to her fine qualities, too: her generosity, her truthfulness, her entire loyalty to his best interests; he smiled to realize that he himself preferred his second-best interests, and in her absence he remembered that her virtues were tedious, and even painful at times. He had his doubts whether there was sufficient compensation in them. He sometimes questioned whether he had not made a great mistake to get married; he expected now to stick it through; but this doubt occurred to him. A moment came in which he asked himself, What if he had never come back to Marcia that night when she locked him out of her room? Might it not have been better for both of them? She would soon have reconciled herself to the irreparable; he even thought of her happy in a second marriage; and the thought did not enrage him; he generously wished Marcia well. He wished—he hardly knew what he wished. He wished nothing at all but to have his wife and child back again as soon as possible; and he put aside with a laugh the fancies which really found no such distinct formulation as I have given them; which were mere vague impulses, arrested mental tendencies, scraps of undirected revery. Their recurrence had nothing to do with what he felt to be his sane and waking state. But they recurred, and he even amused himself in turning them over.
One morning in September, not long before Marcia returned, Bartley found Witherby at the office waiting for him. Witherby wore a pensive face, which had the effect of being studied. "Good morning, Mr. Hubbard," he said, and when Bartley answered, "Good morning," cheerfully ignoring his mood, he added, "What is this I hear, Mr. Hubbard, about a personal misunderstanding between you and Mr. Ricker?"
"I'm sure I don't know," said Bartley; "but I suppose that if you have heard anything you know."
"I have heard," proceeded Witherby, a little dashed by Bartley's coolness, "that Mr. Ricker accuses you of having used material in that article you sold him which had been intrusted to you under the seal of confidence, and that you had left it to be inferred by the party concerned—that Mr. Ricker had written the article himself."
"All right," said Bartley.
"But, Mr. Hubbard," said Witherby, struggling to rise into virtuous supremacy, "what am I to think of such a report?"
"I can't say; unless you should think that it wasn't your affair. That would be the easiest thing."
"But I can't think that, Mr. Hubbard! Such a report reflects through you upon the Events; it reflects upon me!" Bartley laughed. "I can't approve of such a thing. If you admit the report, it appears to me that you have—a—done a—a—wrong action, Mr. Hubbard."
Bartley turned upon him with a curious look; at the same time he felt a pang, and there was a touch of real anguish in the sarcasm of his demand, "Have I fallen so low as to be rebuked by you?"
"I—I don't know what you mean by such an expression as that, Mr. Hubbard," said Witherby. "I don't know what I've done to forfeit your esteem,—to justify you in using such language to me."
"I don't suppose you really do," said Bartley. "Go on."
"I have nothing more to say, Mr. Hubbard, except—except to add that this has given me a great blow,—a great blow. I had begun to have my doubts before as to whether we were quite adapted to each other, and this has—increased them. I pass no judgment upon what you have done, but I will say that it has made me anxious and—a—unrestful. It has made me ask myself whether upon the whole we should not be happier apart. I don't say that we should; but I only feel that nine out of ten business men would consider you, in the position you occupy on the Events,—a—a—dangerous person."
Bartley got up from his desk, and walked toward Witherby, with his hands in his pockets; he halted a few paces from him, and looked down on him with a sinister smile. "I don't think they'd consider you a dangerous person in any position."
"May be not, may be not," said Witherby, striving to be easy and dignified. In the effort he took up an open paper from the desk before him, and, lifting it between Bartley and himself, feigned to be reading it.
Bartley struck it out of his trembling hands. "You impudent old scoundrel! Do you pretend to be reading when I speak to you? For half a cent—"
Witherby, slipping and sliding in his swivel chair, contrived to get to his feet "No violence, Mr. Hubbard, no violence here!"
"Violence!" laughed Bartley. "I should have to touch you! Come! Don't be afraid! But don't you put on airs of any sort! I understand your game. You want, for some reason, to get rid of me, and you have seized the opportunity with a sharpness that does credit to your cunning. I don't condescend to deny this report,"—speaking in this lofty strain, Bartley had a momentary sensation of its being a despicable slander,—"but I see that as far as you are concerned it answers all the purposes of truth. You think that with the chance of having this thing exploited against me I won't expose your nefarious practices, and you can get rid of me more safely now than ever you could again. Well, you're right. I dare say you heard of this report a good while ago, and you've waited till you could fill my place without inconvenience to yourself. So I can go at once. Draw your check for all you owe me, and pay me back the money I put into your stock, and I'll clear out at once." He went about putting together a few personal effects on his desk.
"I must protest against any allusion to nefarious practices, Mr. Hubbard," said Witherby, "and I wish you to understand that I part from you without the slightest ill-feeling. I shall always have a high regard for your ability, and—and—your social qualities." While he made these expressions he hastened to write two checks.
Bartley, who had paid no attention to what Witherby was saying, came up and took the checks. "This is all right," he said of one. But looking at the other, he added, "Fifteen hundred dollars? Where is the dividend?"
"That is not due till the end of the month," said Witherby. "If you withdraw your money now, you lose it."
Bartley looked at the face to which Witherby did his best to give a high judicial expression. "You old thief!" he said good-humoredly, almost affectionately. "I have a mind to tweak your nose!" But he went out of the room without saying or doing anything more. He wondered a little at his own amiability; but with the decay of whatever was right-principled in him, he was aware of growing more and more incapable of indignation. Now, his flash of rage over, he was not at all discontented. With these checks in his pocket, with his youth, his health, and his practised hand, he could have faced the world, with a light heart, if he had not also had to face his wife. But when he thought of the inconvenience of explaining to her, of pacifying her anxiety, of clearing up her doubts on a thousand points, and of getting her simply to eat or sleep till he found something else to do, it dismayed him. "Good Lord!" he said to himself, "I wish I was dead—or some one." That conclusion made him smile again.
He decided not to write to Marcia of the change in his affairs, but to take the chance of finding something better before she returned. There was very little time for him to turn round, and he was still without a place or any prospect when she came home. It had sufficed with his acquaintance when he said that he had left the Events because he could not get on with Witherby; but he was very much astonished when it seemed to suffice with her.
"Oh, well," she said, "I am glad of it. You will do better by yourself; and I know you can earn just as much by writing on the different papers."
Bartley knew better than this, but he said, "Yes, I shall not be in a hurry to take another engagement just yet. But, Marsh," he added, "I was afraid you would blame me,—think I had been reckless, or at fault—"
"No," she answered after a little pause, "I shall not do that any more. I have been thinking all these things over, while I was away from you, and I'm going to do differently, after this. I shall believe that you've acted for the best,—that you've not meant to do wrong in anything,—and I shall never question you or doubt you any more."
"Isn't that giving me rather too much rope?" asked Bartley, with lightness that masked a vague alarm lest the old times of exaction should be coming back with the old times of devotion.
"No; I see where my mistake has always been. I've always asked too much, and expected too much, even when I didn't ask it. Now, I shall be satisfied with what you don't do, as well as what you do."
"I shall try to live up to my privileges," said Bartley, with a sigh of relief. He gave her a kiss, and then he unclasped Kinney's nugget from his watch-chain, and fastened it on the baby's necklace, which lay in a box Marcia had just taken from her trunk. She did not speak; but Bartley felt better to have the thing off him; Marcia's gentleness, the tinge of sadness in her tone, made him long to confess himself wrong in the whole matter, and justly punished by Ricker's contempt and Witherby's dismissal. But he did not believe that he could trust her to forgive him, and he felt himself unable to go through all that without the certainty of her forgiveness.
As she took the things out of her trunk, and laid them away in this drawer and that, she spoke of events in the village, and told who was dead, who was married, and who had gone away. "I stayed longer than I expected, a little, because father seemed to want me to. I don't think mother's so well as she used to be, I—I'm afraid she seems to be failing, somehow."
Her voice dropped to a lower key, and Bartley said, "I'm sorry to hear that. I guess she isn't failing. But of course she's getting on, and every year makes a difference."
"Yes, that must be it," she answered, looking at a bundle of collars she had in her hand, as if absorbed in the question as to where she should put them.
Before they slept that night she asked, "Bartley, did you hear about Hannah Morrison?"
"No. What about her?"
"She's gone—gone away. The last time she was seen was in Portland. They don't know what's become of her. They say that Henry Bird is about heart-broken; but everybody knows she never cared for him. I hated to write to you about it."
Bartley experienced so disagreeable a sensation that he was silent for a time. Then he gave a short, bitter laugh. "Well, that's what it was bound to come to, sooner or later, I suppose. It's a piece of good luck for Bird."
Bartley went about picking up work from one paper and another, but not securing a basis on any. In that curious and unwholesome leniency which corrupt natures manifest, he and Witherby met at their next encounter on quite amicable terms. Bartley reported some meetings for the Events, and experienced no resentment when Witherby at the office introduced him to the gentleman with whom he had replaced him. Of course Bartley expected that Witherby would insinuate things to his disadvantage, but he did not mind that. He heard of something of the sort being done in Ricker's presence, and of Ricker's saying that in any question of honor and veracity between Witherby and Hubbard he should decide for Hubbard. Bartley was not very grateful for this generous defence; he thought that if Ricker had not been such an ass in the first place there would have been no trouble between them, and Witherby would not have had that handle against him.
He was enjoying himself very well, and he felt entitled to the comparative rest which had not been of his seeking. He wished that Halleck would come back, for he would like to ask his leave to put that money into some other enterprise. His credit was good, and he had not touched the money to pay any of his accumulated bills; he would have considered it dishonorable to do so. But it annoyed him to have the money lying idle. In his leisure he studied the stock market, and he believed that he had several points which were infallible. He put a few hundreds—two or three—of Halleck's money into a mining stock which was so low that it must rise. In the mean time he tried a new kind of beer,—Norwegian beer, which he found a little lighter even than tivoli. It was more expensive, but it was very light, and it was essential to Bartley to drink the lightest beer he could find.
He stayed a good deal at home, now, for he had leisure, and it was a much more comfortable place since Marcia had ceased to question or reproach him. She did not interfere with some bachelor habits he had formed, in her absence, of sleeping far into the forenoon; he now occasionally did night-work on some of the morning papers, and the rest was necessary; he had his breakfast whenever he got up, as if he had been at a hotel. He wondered upon what new theory she was really treating him; but he had always been apt to accept what was comfortable in life without much question, and he did not wonder long. He was immensely good-natured now. In his frequent leisure he went out to walk with Marcia and Flavia, and sometimes he took the little girl alone. He even went to church with them one Sunday, and called at the Hallecks as often as Marcia liked. The young ladies had returned, but Ben Halleck was still away. It made Bartley smile to hear his wife talking of Halleck with his mother and sisters, and falling quite into the family way of regarding him as if he were somehow a saint and martyr.
Bartley was still dabbling in stocks with Halleck's money; some of it had lately gone to pay an assessment which had unexpectedly occurred in place of a dividend. He told Marcia that he was holding the money ready to return to Halleck when he came back, or to put it into some other enterprise where it would help to secure Bartley a new basis. They were now together more than they had been since the first days of their married life in Boston; but the perfect intimacy of those days was gone; he had his reserves, and she her preoccupations,—with the house, with the little girl, with her anxiety about her mother. Sometimes they sat a whole evening together, with almost nothing to say to each other, he reading and she sewing. After an evening of this sort, Bartley felt himself worse bored than if Marcia had spent it in taking him to task as she used to do. Once he looked at her over the top of his paper, and distinctly experienced that he was tired of the whole thing.
But the political canvass was growing more interesting now. It was almost the end of October, and the speech-making had become very lively. The Democrats were hopeful and the Republicans resolute, and both parties were active in getting out their whole strength, as the saying is, at such times. This was done not only by speech-making, but by long nocturnal processions of torch-lights; by day, as well as by night, drums throbbed and horns brayed, and the feverish excitement spread its contagion through the whole population. But it did not affect Bartley. He had cared nothing about the canvass from the beginning, having an equal contempt for the bloody shirt of the Republicans and the reform pretensions of the Democrats. The only thing that he took an interest in was the betting; he laid his wagers with so much apparent science and sagacity that he had a certain following of young men who bet as Hubbard did. Hubbard, they believed, had a long head; he disdained bets of hats, and of barrels of apples, and ordeals by wheelbarrow; he would bet only with people who could put up their money, and his followers honored him for it; when asked where he got his money, being out of place, and no longer instant to do work that fell in his way, they answered from a ready faith that he had made a good thing in mining stocks.
In her heart, Marcia probably did not share this faith. But she faithfully forbore to harass Bartley with her doubts, and on those evenings when he found her such dull company she was silent because if she spoke she must express the trouble in her mind. Women are more apt to theorize their husbands than men in their stupid self-absorption ever realize. When a man is married, his wife almost ceases to be exterior to his consciousness; she afflicts or consoles him like a condition of health or sickness; she is literally part of him in a spiritual sense, even when he is rather indifferent to her; but the most devoted wife has always a corner of her soul in which she thinks of her husband as him; in which she philosophizes him wholly aloof from herself. In such an obscure fastness of her being, Marcia had meditated a great deal upon Bartley during her absence at Equity,—meditated painfully, and in her sort prayerfully, upon him. She perceived that he was not her young dream of him; and since it appeared to her that she could not forego that dream and live, she could but accuse herself of having somehow had a perverse influence upon him. She knew that she had never reproached him except for his good, but she saw too that she had always made him worse, and not better. She recurred to what he said the first night they arrived in Boston: "I believe that, if you have faith in me, I shall get along; and when you don't, I shall go to the bad." She could reason to no other effect, than that hereafter, no matter what happened, she must show perfect faith in him by perfect patience. It was hard, far harder than she had thought. But she did forbear; she did use patience.
The election day came and went. Bartley remained out till the news of Tilden's success could no longer be doubted, and then came home jubilant. Marcia seemed not to understand. "I didn't know you cared so much for Tilden," she said, quietly. "Mr. Halleck is for Hayes; and Ben Halleck was coming home to vote."
"That's all right: a vote in Massachusetts makes no difference. I'm for Tilden, because I have the most money up on him. The success of that noble old reformer is worth seven hundred dollars to me in bets." Bartley laughed, rubbed her cheeks with his chilly hands, and went down into the cellar for some beer. He could not have slept without that, in his excitement; but he was out very early the next morning, and in the raw damp of the rainy November day he received a more penetrating chill when he saw the bulletins at the newspaper offices intimating that a fair count might give the Republicans enough Southern States to elect Hayes. This appeared to Bartley the most impudent piece of political effrontery in the whole history of the country, and among those who went about denouncing Republican chicanery at the Democratic club-rooms, no one took a loftier tone of moral indignation than he. The thought that he might lose so much of Halleck's money through the machinations of a parcel of carpet-bagging tricksters filled him with a virtue at which he afterwards smiled when he found that people were declaring their bets off. "I laid a wager on the popular result, not on the decision of the Returning Boards," he said in reclaiming his money from the referees. He had some difficulty in getting it back, but he had got it when he walked homeward at night, after having been out all day; and there now ensued in his soul a struggle as to what he should do with this money. He had it all except the three hundred he had ventured on the mining stock, which would eventually he worth everything he had paid for it. After his frightful escape from losing half of it on those bets, he had an intense longing to be rid of it, to give it back to Halleck, who never would ask him for it, and then to go home and tell Marcia everything, and throw himself on her mercy. Better poverty, better disgrace before Halleck and her, better her condemnation, than this life of temptation that he had been leading. He saw how hideous it was in the retrospect, and he shuddered; his good instincts awoke, and put forth their strength, such as it was; tears came into his eyes; he resolved to write to Kinney and exonerate Ricker, he resolved humbly to beg Ricker's pardon. He must leave Boston; but if Marcia would forgive him, he would go back with her to Equity, and take up the study of the law in her father's office again, and fulfil all her wishes. He would have a hard time to overcome the old man's prejudices, but he deserved a hard time, and he knew he should finally succeed. It would be bitter, returning to that stupid little town, and he imagined the intrusive conjecture and sarcastic comment that would attend his return; but he believed that he could live this down, and he trusted himself to laugh it down. He already saw himself there, settled in the Squire's office, reinstated in public opinion, a leading lawyer of the place, with Congress open before him whenever he chose to turn his face that way.
He had thought of going first to Halleck, and returning the money, but he was willing to give himself the encouragement of Marcia's pleasure, of her forgiveness and her praise in an affair that had its difficulties and would require all his manfulness. The maid met him at the door with little Flavia, and told him that Marcia had gone out to the Hallecks', but had left word that she would soon return, and that then they would have supper together. Her absence dashed his warm impulse, but he recovered himself, and took the little one from the maid. He lighted the gas in the parlor, and had a frolic with Flavia in kindling a fire in the grate, and making the room bright and cheerful. He played with the child and made her laugh; he already felt the pleasure of a good conscience, though with a faint nether ache in his heart which was perhaps only his wish to have the disagreeable preliminaries to his better life over as soon as possible. He drew two easy-chairs up at opposite corners of the hearth, and sat down in one, leaving the other for Marcia; he had Flavia standing on his knees, and clinging fast to his fingers, laughing and crowing while he danced her up and down, when he heard the front door open, and Marcia burst into the room.
She ran to him and plucked the child from him, and then went back as far as she could from him in the room, crying, "Give me the child!" and facing him with the look he knew. Her eyes were dilated, and her visage white with the transport that had whirled her far beyond the reach of reason. The frail structure of his good resolutions dropped to ruin at the sight, but he mechanically rose and advanced upon her till she forbade him with a muffled shriek of "Don't touch me! So!" she went on, gasping and catching her breath, "it was you! I might have known it! I might have guessed it from the first! You! Was that the reason why you didn't care to have me hurry home this summer? Was that—was that—" She choked, and convulsively pressed her face into the neck of the child, which began to cry.