Clarice took me apart the first day and began to cross-examine me: that is, she told me to go outside and wait for her, and by the time she came it was dusk. Why is it that the garish day seems to freeze our finer emotions, and reduce us to the monotonous level of a dull cold practicality? It is under the calm light of moon and stars that soul speaks to soul, and we gain those subtler experiences, those deeper views of our own nature and that of our nearest and dearest, which so far transcend the plodding sciences of the laboratory, the useless learning of the pedant, and the empty wisdom of the children of this world.
"Come, Robert, wake up; don't sit mooning there like a calf. Make your report."
"Report?" said I, thus rudely startled from a train of thought which might have borne rich fruit for coming generations. "What about?"
"What about? You forget yourself. Whose employ are you in?"
"Well, on Water Street I am supposed to be carrying on business for myself, and at home I am the envied husband and father of a happy and admiring family. Clarice, I was meditating on subjects of much moment; and the duties of hospitality claim my valuable time. Did you wish to speak to me particularly?"
"None of your nonsense, now. What did you talk about last night on the boat?"
"All sorts of things. My conversation is always improving. I explained to Jim that his reentrance on society could not be made under fairer auspices; that models of deportment and of all the virtues would be about him on every hand; that a pure atmosphere of love and peace pervaded this modest mansion; that joy was unconfined; that we could lay our weary heads on each other's bosoms in the repose of perfect trust, knowing that not a thought entered any one of them which the angels above might not look into with satisfaction, and—"
"You talk too much about bosoms, Robert: it is not in good taste. What did you say about me?"
"Divil a word, bedad. Wasn't that right? Didn't you tell me to keep dark, and not mention you?"
"Not unnecessarily. But didn't he ask?"
"He'd forgotten all about you. Now, Princess, don't be offended; there was next to nothing to forget, you know. It's not as if he had ever seen you, or really heard anything about you. O, I'll talk you up to him whenever you say so; to-night, if you like. But I thought his forgetting was what you wanted. Didn't I manage it well? Do own that now, please. Let those cerulean orbs shed one ray of gentle light upon the path of a weary wayfarer—yes, that's better. Have I merited your approval, Serene Highness?"
"You've done very well—for you. But was it necessary to tell so many lies, Bob?"
"Now that is not in good taste, if I am a judge—to put such ugly names upon the graceful fancies with which I decorate the plain, rude facts of everyday life. What are we without Imagination, that glorious gift which causes the desert to rejoice and blossom like your little flower-bed in the back yard at home? You know, Clarice, that my mind is a deep clear well of Truth, and my lips merely the bucket that draws it up. Where will you get candor and veracity, those priceless pearls, if not from me?"
"Robert, you have fallen into this way of practising your little tricks and deceptions on everybody. O, I know you mean no harm; it is merely for your own amusement. But Mabel and Jane don't quite understand it."
"Couldn't you explain it to them, Clarice? Some people have no sense of humor. I can't well go around saying, This is a joke; please take it in the spirit in which it is offered."
"O, it does no great harm: they are very seldom deceived, and perhaps they will learn to make allowances for you by and by. But you may be tempted to try your games on me: if I ever catch you at that—Remember, I am not to be trifled with."
"Perish the thought, and perish the caitiff base who would harbor it. Princess, you are sharper than I. Do you think I would be fool enough to try any tricks on you, when I should be found out at once?"
"People generally find you out at once, but that doesn't seem to stop you. How can I tell whether I can trust you? I don't believe you know yourself when you are serious—if you ever are."
"There is one subject on which I am serious—deeply so, and always. Clarice, when I die, if you will see that the autopsy is properly performed, you will find your initials, as the poet says, neatly engraven on my blighted heart."
"Robert, sometimes I fear you have incipient softening of the brain."
"And if I have, is not that a reason why I should be watched and guarded tenderly—why loving arms should enfold my tottering frame, and sweet smiles cheer my declining path, and a strong firm brain like yours support my failing intellect? Clarice, be gentle with me. I am an orphan like yourself; soon, if you read the future aright, to be laid beneath the cold clods of the valley. When I am sleeping under the daisies in the lonely churchyard, you will say to yourself, He was my friend, my more than brother: he loved me with a loyal and self-oblivious devotion. And then, in those sad hours of vain remembrance, every unkind word that you have spoken, all the coldness and cruelty which have pierced my patient breast, will return to torture yours. Be warned in time, Clarice, and make it easy for me while you have the chance."
"Robert, if you have a talent, it is for shirking a subject you are afraid of. When you go off like this, I know you are hiding something from me. What is it this time?"
I saw things were getting serious. She was bound to get it out of me, and I might as well give in. "Princess, I will confess, and throw myself on your mercy. Strike, but hear me. It won't pay you to be cross now, for you've got to be with me till you conclude to take Hartman up; we can't be quarrelling all the time, you know. He asked me about you this morning; Jane had spoken of you at breakfast. I put him off with general remarks about your being down south last winter, and the like of that; then suddenly my brain slipped—it is softening, you see—and I said you had come back when I was in the woods with him. That started him, and he recalled your notion of going up there."
"You are sure you didn't mention it yourself? What did he say?"
"Merely that he wished I had let you and Jane come. He likes Jane. Upon my honor now, he had no suspicion of anything."
"You goose, how often have I told you there was nothing to suspect? But men are so coarse. Well, is that all? What else are you trying to conceal?"
"On my soul, Princess, that's all. I explained it all right, and he was commencing to berate me for not preparing him to meet you as well as the others, when we suddenly came on you, and you struck him deaf and dumb and blind. He swore at me under his breath just before I introduced him." Here my feelings overcame me again.
"Well, there's no harm done. But you really must be more careful, Bob. Try and make your poor mind work better while it lasts; don't forget my instructions again, and when you have made a blunder, tell me at once. You are so light, so devoted to your frivolous amusements; you seem to be drifting into second childhood, thirty years too soon. If you had an object, now, a serious purpose in life: if you really cared for anything—even for me!"
She cuts me when she talks like that. "Clarice, my regard for you is so undemonstrative that you fail to appreciate its depth. If I were to make a fuss over it, now, and use a lot of endearing epithets and big professions, perhaps you would believe me. Some time you will know whether I care for you or not; whether I've got anything in me, and am capable of acting like a man. You wait and see. But I wish I knew what you are going to do with poor Jim."
"Some time you will know: you wait and see. You can go and comfort him now. Good night, poor Bob."
I went and comforted him. "Well, old man," I said with a cheerful air, "how do you get on?"
"Robert," said he, "do you suppose I would have come here if I had known what an atrocious humbug you are? Do you imagine for a moment that my relatives, if I had any, would have subjected my innocence to such insidious guardianship? Have you brought me here to destroy my faith, and pollute my morals, and poison my young life with the spectacle of your turpitude?"
"You're improving already, Jim. When I saw you last you hadn't any faith, nor much morals; your youth was away back in the past, and your strength was dried up like railroad doughnuts; you were ready to fall with the first leaves of autumn. Well, since you are here, you can stay till you see how you like us. What do you think of Clarice?"
"She has given me no basis on which to think of her, beyond her looks; they rather take one's breath away. You beast, what do you mean by springing a face like that on me without warning, after all your humbugging talk last night, pretending to post me on every one I was to meet? And I say, do you always stand guard over her when anybody comes near?"
"Well, you see, you were so overcome by the first sight of her this morning, that it seemed no more than fair to let you recover your breath, as you say, and get used to her by degrees. But, James, this is unseemly levity on your part. What have we to do with girls? Let us leave them to the baser spirits who have use for them. The world's a bubble, and the life of man of no account at all. We have tried it, and it is empty; hark, it sounds. Vain pomp and glory of it all, we hate ye. Ye tinsel gauds, ye base embroideries, ye female fripperies, have but our scorn. What are flashing eyes, and tossing ringlets, and rosy lips, and jewelled fingers, to minds like ours? Let us go off to the Nitrian desert, Jim, away from this eternal simper, this harrowing routine."
"You must have been reading up lately, my boy. I left all that in the woods, Bob, and came down here in good faith for a change of air, prepared to learn anything you might have to teach me. If you've got any more traps and masked batteries, let them loose on me; practice on me to your heart's content. You've undertaken to convert me, and I'm here to give you a chance: a fine old apostle you are. But I don't quite understand Miss Elliston's position here, Bob."
"Her position here, or anywhere else, is that she does about as she pleases, and makes everybody else do it too, as you will see before your hair is gray, my learned friend. As I may have told you, we are her nearest relatives: she is an orphan."
"Parents been dead long?"
"About seventeen years. What's that got to do with it?"
"O, not much; don't be so suspicious. Do you think I'm trying to play some trick on you, after your model? How should I, a helpless stranger in a strange land, betrayed by the friend in whom I trusted? I'm an orphan myself too. So that Miss Elliston is in a measure dependent on your kindness?"
"O, don't fancy that she's a poor relation, or anything of that sort. She's got more cash than she wants, and loads of friends: had twenty invitations for the summer. If you don't behave to suit her, she's liable to go off any day to Bar Harbor, or Saratoga, or the Yosemite, or Kamtchatka."
"Very good of her, to stay here with you, then."
"Well, Mabel is deeply attached to her; so is Jane, and the children of course. Her parents and mine were close friends in the country—where I came from, you know. She and I were brought up together; that is, she was—I was mostly brought up before her appearance on this mundane sphere. We used to play in the haymow, and fall from the apple trees together, and all that. O, Clarice is quite a sister to me—a pretty good sister too, all things considered."
"And you are quite a brother to her, as I see. Strange, that it never occurred to mention her, when you were describing the various members of your family. Does her mind match her personal attractions?"
"She's got as good a head as you have, old man, or any other male specimen I've struck. I myself meet her on almost equal terms. O, hang that; I don't either. This is no subject for profane jesting. Talk about the inferiority of women! If the moralists and stump-speakers had one like her at home, they'd change their tune. But there are no more like her."
"You speak warmly, Bob. To Clarice every virtue under heaven. Beautiful, brilliant, accomplished, amiable; you are a happy man to have such an annex to your household—even if she wasn't worth naming at the start."
"Amiable—who said she was amiable? Leave that to commonplace women and plain everyday fellows like me. You can't expect that of her sort, Jim. She can be very nice when she pleases. I suppose she has a heart; it has never waked up yet. When it does, it will be a big one. We don't expect the plebeian virtues of her."
"She has a conscience, I hope? If not, it might be better to go away, and stay away. You ought not to keep dangerous compounds about the house, Bob."
"She won't explode—though others may. A conscience? I think so. She couldn't do a mean thing. She keeps a promise: she has more sense of justice than most women. But you can't apply ordinary rules to her. She is of the blood royal: the Princess, we call her. Can't you see, Jim? You are man enough to take her measure, so far as any one can."
"I see her outside; it is worth coming here to see, if I were an artist or an aesthete. She has deigned to show me no more as yet."
"It is all of a piece: the rest matches that, as you will see in time. There is but one Clarice."
"Bob, you are different from last night. I believe you are telling the truth now."
"She sobers you. When you have been with her, when you think of her, it is as if you were in church—only a good deal more so."
"Very convenient and edifying, to have such a private chapel in one's house. Bob, in this mood I can trust you. Tell me one thing: why did you never mention her to me?"
"She doesn't wish me to talk of her to strangers."
"And now the prohibition is removed?"
"You are not a stranger now. She knows you, and you have seen her."
"Well, you are loyal. Does she appreciate such fidelity?"
"We are very good friends. From childhood we have been more together than most brothers and sisters. More or less, I have always been to her as I am now. She is used to me. I do not ask too much of her. Don't fancy that I am in her confidence, or any one: she has a royal reserve. See here, Jim; I am making you one of the family."
"I understand. I must ask you one thing: why did you bring me here, to expose me to all this?"
"You needed a change, Jim, as you half owned just now; almost any change would be for the better. I wanted you to see the world again: there is in it nothing fairer or richer than Clarice."
"You go on as if she were a saint; and yet you say she's not."
"You can answer that yourself, Jim. She's far from it: you and I are not saint-worshippers. But she has it in her to be a saint, if her attention and her latent force were turned that way. She can be anything, or do anything. She hasn't found her life yet. She bides her time, and I wait with her. Her wings will sprout some day. I like her well enough as she is."
"Evidently. Do you know, old man, that you are talking very freely?"
"Am I the first? or do you suppose I would say all this to any chance comer? You opened your soul to me in May, as far as you knew it: you are welcome to see into mine now."
"There is a difference. I cared for nothing, and believed in nothing; so my soul was worth little. Yours is that of a prosperous and happy man."
"Externals are not the measure of the soul, Jim, nor yet creeds. I know a gentleman when I see him, and so do you. Your soul will get its food yet, and assume its full stature; you've been trying to starve it partly, that's all."
"Do you talk this way to your Princess, Bob?"
"No. She is younger than we: why should I bore her? You and I are on equal terms: she and I are not."
"This humility is very chivalric, but I don't quite understand it in you, Bob."
"You can't: you've been so long unused to women, and you never knew one like her. If you had, it would have been too early; what does a boy of twenty know of himself, or of the girls he thinks he is in love with, or of the true relations that should exist between him and them? Call it quixotic if you like; I don't mind. Any gentleman, that is, any spiritual man, has it in him to be a Quixote. When you come to know Clarice, you will understand."
"Do you call yourself and me spiritual men, Bob?"
"Yes; why not? Spirituality does not depend on the opinions one chances to hold, but on the view he takes of his own part in Life, and on the inherent nature of his soul. We are not worshippers of mammon, or fashion, or any of the idols of the tribe. I live in the world, and you out of it; but that makes little difference. You were in danger of becoming a dogmatist, but you are too much of a man for that. We both live to learn, and we can spend ourselves on an adequate object when we find it."
"Bob, if you don't talk to her like this, she doesn't know you as I do."
"No human being knows another exactly as a third does. We strike fire at different points—when we do at all, which is seldom—and show different sides of ourselves to such few as can see at all. She does not care especially for me: why should she? But she has great penetration—more than you have, far more than I. She sees my follies and faults as you don't; she is a sort of a confessor. At present she is a Sunday-school teacher, and I am her class."
"What do you talk of, all the time?"
"It's not all the time, by any means. That is as she pleases; just now it may be a good deal. By and by it may be your turn: then you'll know some things you don't now. There is nothing I say to her which the world might not overhear, if the world could understand it; and nothing that I can repeat. Jim, I am done: we are up very late."
"Two things I must say yet, or ask, old man. You would stand by this girl against the world; and yet you have charged yourself with me. It may be idle to formulate remote and improbable contingencies, but it is in our line. Would you take her part against me, and be my enemy—you who are my only friend?"
"I would stand by her against the world, assuredly. I would stand by you against all the world but her, I think. You two might quarrel, but neither of you would be wrong: I know you both, and you don't know each other. So I take the risk; it is none. When that time comes, neither of you will find me wanting."
"I believe it. The other thing is this—forgive me if I go too far. Do you know what even intelligent and charitable people would say of all this? That it was very queer, very mixed, very dubious."
"They are not our judges, nor we theirs. What would they say of your theories, and your way of life? To be sure, these concern yourself alone. So is this inwardly my affair; it binds, it holds no other. Must a man live in the woods, to form his own ethical code? Here too one may keep clean hands and a pure heart, and do his own thinking. Life is very queer, very mixed, very dubious; I take it as it comes. O, I see truth here and there in your notions of it, though it has done well by me. If I find in it something unique and precious, shall I thrust that aside, because the statutes have not provided for such a case? But one thing I can reject, so that for me it is not: the baser element. Gross selfishness and vulgar passions are no more in my scheme than in yours: if their suggestions were to rise, it would be easy to disown them. The human beasts who let their lower nature rule, the animals who care for themselves and call it caring for another, are not of our society. O yes, in common things one must get and keep his own—the body must have its food; but one's private temple is kept for worship, and owns a different law. It is not always, nor often, that one can build his shrine on earth, and enter it every day: when a man has that exceptional privilege, he must and may keep his standards high enough to fit. You understand?"
"I do: I am learning. I knew all this in theory, but supposed it ended there. And your Princess, you think is of our society?"
"No root of nobleness is lacking in her; when the season comes, the plants will spring and the garden bloom. But we cannot expect to understand her fully; she is of finer clay than we."
"One thing more, and then I will let you go. There is more of you than I thought, my boy. In May I knew you had a heart; but one who heard you in the woods would have set you down just for a kindly, practical man of the world. Last night, and most of the time to-day, you were the trifler, the incorrigible jester. Why do you belie yourself so and hide your inmost self from all but me?"
"Because I've got to convert you, old man. It is a poor instrument that has but a single string; and David's harp of solemn sound would bore me as much as it would other folks, if I tried to play on it all the time. How many people would sit out this talk of ours, or read it if we put it in print? Taken all in all, the light fantastic measure suits me much better. To see all sides, we must take all tones. The varying moods within fit the varying facts without; to get at truth we must give each its turn. But in the main it is best to take Life lightly. Your error was that you were too serious about it: it's not worth that. Most things are chiefly fit to laugh at. The highgrand style will do once in a way: we've worked it too hard now. Let's come down to earth. I wanted to show you that I could do the legitimate drama as well as you, and yet wear a tall hat and dress for dinner. See?"
"That's all very well, Bob, but I can discriminate between your seriousness and your farce. Perhaps it is well to mix them, or to take them as they are mixed for us. You may be right in that; I'll think it over. Yes, I can see now that Heraclitus overdoes it, and that I used to. Well, my lad, you are a queer professor of ethics; but I'm not sure you've brought me to the wrong school."
The next day Clarice took me off as usual. "Well, have you made any more blunders?"
"Not one. You have nothing to reproach me with this time, Czarina."
"You kept Mr. Hartman up dreadfully late. What were you talking about so long?"
"O, he is prepared to find you wonderful, and to come to time whenever you want him. I told him your wings weren't grown yet: you were the Sleeping Beauty in the Enchanted Palace; the hour and the man hadn't arrived. You dwelt in maiden meditation, and the rest of it."
"You did not cheapen me, surely, Robert?"
"God forbid: do I hold you cheap, that I should rate you so to others? He may tell you every word I said, when you begin to turn him inside out; there was none of it that you or I need be ashamed of. He knows, both by his own observation and from my clear and impressive narrative, that you are remote and inaccessible—the edelweiss growing high up in its solitude, where only the daring and the elect can find its haunt."
"That is very neat. Did it take you three hours to tell him that? I heard you come in as it struck two."
"Too bad to disturb your slumbers, Princess: we will take our boots off outside, next time. Naturally you were the most important topic we could discuss; but I also explained his advantages in being thrown so much into my own society. O, he is getting on. He said—"
"I don't want to know what he said. The man is here, and I can see—and hear, when I choose—for myself. Do you think I would tempt you to violate what might be a confidence, Robert?"
"But if I repeat to you what I said, why not what he said?—except that his observations would not be so powerful and suggestive as mine, of course. Otherwise I don't see the difference."
"Now that is stupid, Bob. The difference is that you belong to me, and he doesn't—as yet."
I can't tell you how she says these things. If I could put on paper the tone, the toss of that lovely head, the smile, the sparkle of eyes and lips, that go with what you might call these little audacities, then you would know how they not only accent and punctuate the text, but supply whole commentaries on it. If you get a notion that the Princess is capable of boldness, or vulgar coquetry, or any of the faults of her sex or of ours, you are away off the track, and my engineering must have gone wrong. But I must stop this and get back to my report.
"One thing I must repeat, Princess. I got off a lot of wisdom for Jim's benefit. You wouldn't think how wise it was; deep principles of human nature, and rules for the conduct of life, and such. It did him no end of good: and then he said that if I didn't talk to you that way, you couldn't know me as well as he does."
"He must know you remarkably well then. Just like a man's conceit. Poor Bob, who should know you through and through if I don't?—Why don't you talk to me that way then, and improve me too?"
"As the Scotchwoman said when they asked her if she understood the sermon, Wad I hae the presumption? When you catch me taking on airs and trying to improve you, make a note of it. No, no, Princess dear; the lecturing and improving between us had better remain where they are."
"But, Robert, perhaps I would like to have you vary this continual incense-burning with snatches of something else."
"I dare say. Do you know, Clarice, sometimes I think I am an awful fool about you."
"That is what the doctors call a congenital infirmity, my dear. No use lamenting over what you can't help. Worship me as much as you like; it keeps you out of mischief. But you might change the tune now and then, and give me some of your alleged wisdom."
"Shall I becloud that pure and youthful brow with metaphysic fumes? Should I soil your dainty muslins with the antique dust of folios, and oil from the midnight lamp? You wait till you take up Hartman; perhaps you can stand it from him. But if I were to hold forth to you in the style he prefers, you would get sick of me in twenty minutes. Let it suffice that my lonely vigils are spent in severe studies and profound meditations, the fruit whereof, in a somewhat indirect and roundabout way, may make smooth and safe the path that is traversed by your fairy feet. In the expressive language of the poet, Be happy; tend thy flowers; be tended by my blessing."
"I know about your lonely vigils, Bob; they are spent on cigars, and making up jokes to use next morning. But you are not as bad as usual to-day. Do you know, I like you better when you are comparatively serious."
"Then let me be ever thus, my Queen! It is the solemnizing influence of being so much with you. If you keep it up for another week, you'll have to send me off to New York to get secularized. I say, Clarice, how long do you mean to go on in this way? It's all very nice for me, but how about Hartman? He's not frivolous; he takes Life in awful earnest. What do you propose to do with him after you've got him—I should say, after the fatal dart has transfixed his manly form, and he falls pierced and bleeding at your feet?"
"My dear child, let me tell you a pretty little tale. Once upon a time there was a friend of mine, who thought a good deal of me, and of whom I thought more than he knew, poor man—enough to make you jealous, Bob."—Now who the devil was that, confound him? I never heard of him before. It must have been that winter she spent in Boston, just after she came out. That's over five years ago; he's probably dead or married before this. Well, get on with your pretty little tale: not that I see much prettiness about it.—"And when I would tease him to tell me some secret, he would answer, in his own well-chosen language. Some day you will know: you wait and see. By-by, baby!"—and away she dashed.
My tongue went too fast last night. Her heart is waking; her wings are sprouting. She must be getting interested in Jim. The hour is at hand, and the man: the horn at the castle-gate will soon be sounded, and presto! the transformation scene. That will be a spectacle for gods and men, now; but no tickets will be sold at the doors—admittance only by private card, and that to a very select few. I don't want any change in you, Princess; but I suppose the angels would like to see the depths in you that you haven't sounded, the fairer and wider chambers of your soul opened to the light. God grant that light may need no darkness to come before it, no storm-tossed, doubtful daybreak. If the change is for your happiness, no matter about us. You are moving toward a land where I cannot follow you; a land of mystery and wonder and awakening, of new beauties and glories and perils, and possibilities unknown and infinite—a journey wherein you can have no guide but your own pure instincts, no adviser but your own untried heart. God be with you, for Jane and Mabel can do no more than I. We shall hear no word from you till all be over, and then the Clarice of old will return to us no more. Transfigured she may be and beatified, but not the one we knew and loved so long. Little sister, all these years I have been at your side or ready at your call, and now you will not call and I cannot come to help you; for in these matters the heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy. May it be joy and not the other! God be with them both, for it is a dangerous country where they are going; a region of mists and pitfalls and morasses, where closest friends may be rudely severed, and those whom Heaven hath joined be put asunder by their own most innocent errors—and the finest spirits run the heaviest risk. Ah well, if I were the Grand Duke of Gerolstein, maybe things would be better managed in my dominions.
Hartman has made a first-rate impression here. It would please you to see this stern ascetic, this despiser of Life and Humanity, with two toddlers on his lap, and Herbert at his knee, all listening open-mouthed to tales of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The boy thinks that one who lives in the woods must be a great hunter, and clamors for bears and wildcats: Jane, in her usual unfeeling way, insists that I put him up to this. But though I am a family man—and you could not easily find one more exemplary—I do not propose to drag the nursery into the cold glare of public comment, or favor you with a chapter on the Management of Children.
I would like to know why it is that women are so ready to take up with any chance stranger who comes along, when they cannot see the true greatness of their own nearest and dearest. Mabel pronounces Hartman a perfect gentleman and a safe companion for me; as if it were I, not he, that needed looking after. Jane seems to regard him as the rock which withstands the tempest, the oak round which the vine may safely cling, and that sort of thing. He is a good-looking fellow yet, and he has a stalwart kind of bearing, adapted to deceive persons who do not know him as well as I do. They would almost side with him against Clarice—but not quite: in their hearts, they think her perfect.
One evening we were all together in the parlor. The Princess had gone somewhere with one of her numerous adorers, whom she had failed to bluff off as she generally does: the young man was going to cast himself into the sea, I believe, and I told her she had better let him and be done with it, but she said he had a widowed mother and several sisters, and ought to live long enough to leave them comfortably provided for; so I let her go. I was trying to direct the conversation into improving channels, but the frivolous female mind is too much for me.
"Mr. Hartman," Jane began, "we rely on you to exercise a good influence upon Robert. He is so light-minded, and so deceitful."
"Yes," Mabel added; "no one can restrain him but Clarice, and she cannot spend her whole time upon him, she has so much else to do."
"See here," said I; "this is a put-up job: I will have you all indicted for conspiracy. Have you no proper respect for the head of the house?"
"We would like to," my spouse replied: "we make every effort: but it is so difficult! Mr. Hartman, he wants to manage every little matter, particularly those which pertain exclusively to women, and which he cannot understand at all."
"Yes," said Jane; "would you believe it, Mr. Hartman, he attempted to instruct us as to the proper manner of receiving you! But that is not the worst of it. He is utterly unable to keep a secret—not that any one would entrust him with secrets of the least importance, of course. And when he thinks he knows something that we do not know, he goes about looking so solemn that even Herbert can detect him at once. And in such cases he actually comes to us, and questions us about the matter, with a view to throwing us off the scent, and keeping dark, as he calls it. Did you ever hear of such absurdity?"
"Ladies and gentleman," I said with dignity, "would you mind excusing me for a few moments? I would like to retire to the rocks outside, and swear a bit."
"Robert!" my wife cried, "I am ashamed of you. What will Mr. Hartman think of your morals?" You see, they think Jim is a very correct young man.
"O, I know him of old," he said. "Never mind, Bob, I will stand by you. Really, you are a little hard on him. He has improved; I assure you he has. Why, he was quite a cub at college. Your softening influences have done a great deal for him; everything, in fact."
"It is very nice in you to say so, Mr. Hartman, and very polite, and very loyal; but I know Robert. Clarice does him a little good: she would do very much more, if he were not so stiff-necked. He thinks he is a man, and we are only women."
"Well," I asked, "are you going to dispute that proposition? If so, I will leave Hartman to argue it out with you."
"Mr. Hartman," said Jane, "he thinks he knows everything, and women are inferior creatures. O, such a superior being as he is!"
"This is getting monotonous," I remarked. "Suppose, for a change, we abuse Clarice, as she is not here; that will be pleasanter all round, and less unconventional. Now that girl does a great deal of harm, turning the heads of so many foolish young men. She spends more on her dress than you and I do together, Hartman. What an aim in life for a rational being! Simply to look pretty, and produce an occasional piece of perfectly idle and useless embroidery: tidies even, now and then—just think of it! Of all the—"
My wife stopped me here, and I was glad of it, for I really did not know what to say next.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Robert. To speak in that way of my cousin, and your own adopted sister! Don't believe a word of it, Mr. Hartman. She is sweet girl, though reserved with strangers: I am sorry you have seen so little of her. A high-minded, pure-hearted, dear, sweet, lovely girl; she is, and you know it, Robert." Well, perhaps I do; but there is no need of my saying so just now. Jane has to put in her oar again, of course.
"Yes, Mr. Hartman, and that is a sample of his hypocrisy. He thinks as highly of Clarice as we do, and is almost as fond of her; and yet he pretends to criticize her, just to draw away attention from his own shortcomings."
"Well, let's drop Clarice then, and go on discussing the present company, if you insist. We'll take them up one by one: I've had my turn, and my native modesty shrinks from further praise. You see Mrs. T., Hartman? She sits there looking so calm and placid, like a mother in Israel; you would think her a model spouse. Yet no one knows what I suffer. Mabel, I had not been with him ten minutes last May when he noticed my premature baldness, and general fagged-out and jaded look; and to hide the secrets of my prison-house, I had to pretend that I had been working too hard in Water Street. You all know how painful deception is to my candid nature; but I did it for your sake, Mabel. When did I ever return aught but good for evil? Yet O, the curtain lectures, the manifold ways in which the iron has entered into my soul! But we brought Hartman here to reconcile him to civilized and domestic life, and I will say no more. Now there is Jane. She naturally puts her best foot foremost in company; you think she is all she seems: but I could a tale unfold. Now mark my magnanimity: I won't do it. She is my sister, and with all her faults I love her still. Well, if you are tired you'd better go to bed: Hartman wants to smoke."
OVER TWO CIGARS.
When we got out under the pure breezes of heaven, Hartman turned to me and said, "So you call this reconciling me to domestic life, do you?"
"Well, I want you to see things as they are. They are not as bad as your fancy used to paint them, or as a duller man might suppose from recent appearances. Women haven't our sense of humor, Jim: their humble efforts at jocosity are apt to be exaggerated, or flat—generally both; but they mean no harm."
"Well, Bob, your preparations to instruct my ignorance are highly successful. All this is as good as a play. You see you are found out, old humbug; everybody sees through you. You can't delude any of us any more."
"I don't quite see what you're driving at, my christian friend; but I'm glad you like us, and I hope you'll like us better before you are done with us." When he talks like this, I am content to see the hand of Fate snatch at his scalp, as it will before long. Gibe on, ungrateful mocker: retribution will soon overtake you in your mad career. Where then will be your gibes, your quips, your quiddities? You'll want my sympathy by and by, and I'll see about giving it.
"You needn't be so much cast down, Bob. Perhaps you are building me up better than you know. Your struggles with your womankind give a flavor to what I used to suppose must be insipid. You are pretty well satisfied with each other, or you wouldn't pretend to quarrel so. What I saw of you before did something toward reconciling me to human nature at large, and your quaint efforts at shrewdness and finesse set off your real character. You might take in outsiders, but not me."
"This is too much, my friend—a blanked sight too much. Crushed to earth by such unmerited compliments, I can only repeat my gratification that we meet with your approval. You settle down, and you'll see how insipid it is: then you'll be making some quaint efforts at shrewdness and finesse yourself. Invite me then, and I'll get even with you, old man. But I say, what did you mean about my being a cub at college?"
"Well, you were, you know. Barmaids and ballet-dancers, and that sort of thing."
"Confound you, Hartman, what do you go bringing them up for? There was only one of each, or thereabouts, and they were generally old enough to be my mothers. I was but a child, Jim—a guileless, merry, high-hearted boy, and innocent as the lamb unshorn."
"You were that, and the shearing did you a lot of good. O, you can be easy; I'll not bring up the sins of your youth."
"They were no sins, only follies. I had my early Pendennis stage, of course, and invested every woman I met with the hues of imagination. But Mabel and the girls might not understand that."
"I don't think they would. Happily, it is not necessary they should try to, since you have returned to the path of rectitude. Do you think you belonged to Our Society in those days, Bob?"
"Yes, sir: I did, in embryo. I had it in me to develop into the ornament of our species you behold at present. That's all a boy is good for, anyway. He thinks he's somebody, but he isn't. He doesn't amount to anything, except in the fond hopes of his anxious parents. He knows nothing, and he can do nothing, except learn by his blunders; and some of 'em can't do that. But if he has any stuff in him, he grows and ripens with time, as you and I did. What bosh, to put the prime of life at twenty-five. They ought to move it on a bit; about our age, now, a man ought to be at his best."
"I don't know, Bob. I was an egregious ass at twenty-five, and I'm not sure I'm any better now."
"Then there's hope of you, my boy. But one must go on getting experience. You shut the door too soon and too tight, Jim."
"When I had it open, such an infernal stench and dust came in, that it seemed best to close it. But it's open again now, partly, and this seems a healthier and cleaner atmosphere."
"You'll come out all right, Jim; and when you do, you won't seem to have been altogether wrong all these years. You've kept yourself unspotted from the world, more than most of us; and when you come to know a girl like Clarice, you'll want the most and best of you, to be fit for her society. If only one could get the general ripening without some of the dashed details of the process! She makes you wish you could have been brought up in a bandbox, if only you could have come out of it a man and not a mollycoddle."
"Only 'men-maidens in their purity' are worthy to approach her, no doubt. Apparently I am not. I'll have to be content with your account of Miss Elliston's perfections, Robert. She seems to have no more use for me than the Texans for the Sheriff. But I am doing very nicely, thanks to your sister. I doubt if you appreciate Miss Jane, Bob. She sees further into things than you do. She impresses me as a sound-hearted woman, wise, kind, and gracious."
"Yes, and so sisterly and appreciative. O yes, such a superior person as she is! But see here, Jim; that's not what you're here for. Jane is all very well in her way, but——"
He turned on me suddenly. "What the deuce do you mean now?"
By Jove, now I've done it: he's got me in a corner.—You just wait and see me get out of it. "O well, Jim, I speak only by general analogy, of course. I am not in the Princess's confidence, as I told you. I might be if any one were, but nobody can see into her mind further than she chooses to let them, and that is but a very little way. It would be a fine sight, no doubt; but she has the reticence of a—well, of an angel probably; exceptionally delicate and sensitive nature, and all that, you know. It's not her way to let a good thing go by unnoticed, and she is quite able to appreciate you. Your time is not up yet: you're likely to see more of her before you go—at least, I should suppose so."
"Well, I am here to see things, as you say, and I may as well see whatever is to be shown me. I am in your hands, old man; make as good a job of it as you can before you send me back to the woods."
It is all very well for him to talk lightly on solemn subjects; he'll change his tone by and by. I have prepared his mind now, as I prepared the others before he came. Perhaps I ought to have done it sooner; perhaps the Princess has been waiting for that. She'll know, without my telling her; she'll see it in his eye.—Nonsense, Robert T.; your zeal outruns your discretion. What does she want of your help in a thing like this? Anyway, he's ready to be operated on, and it seems about time she began to put in her work.
This miscellaneous entertainment, as I have remarked, lasted for about a week: then suddenly the situation changed. I can't tell you how it was done, though I was looking on all the time; but one evening I found myself with Jane, and Hartman had gone off with the Princess. We were all ready to play to her lead, no doubt; but it would have made no difference if it had been otherwise: when she ordains a thing, that thing is done, and without her taking any pains about it either, so far as you can see. I think the predestined victim was pleased and flattered to have the sacrificial chapter placed upon his head, so to speak; he ought to have been, at any rate.
"Jane," I said, "what do you suppose Clarice is up to now?"
"Robert," said she, "I thought I had given you a lesson about practising your absurd hypocrisies on me. Who should know what her plans are, if not you? If you really are not in her confidence—and it would not be far, certainly—surely you know Clarice well enough not to interfere. Let them alone, and keep quiet." That is the way they always talk to me: I wish they would find something new to say.
Things went on in this fashion for another week or more. It was all very quiet: there was really nothing to see. What they talked about I don't know; when the rest of us were by, their conversation was not notable. I can make more original and forcible remarks myself; in fact, I do, every day. But I have no doubt she catechized and cross-examined him in private. It is not Hartman's way to air his theories before ladies, or to obtrude himself as a topic of discussion; but the Princess, when she condescends to notice a man at all, likes to see a good deal further into his soul than he ever gets to see into hers. That is all right in this case; the doctor has to be acquainted with the symptoms before he can cure the patient. When Hartman and I were together at the end of the evenings and at odd hours, he had very little to say: he seemed rather preoccupied and introspective. He is another of your plaguedly reserved people, who when they have anything on hand wrap it up in Egyptian darkness and Cimmerian gloom. That is the correct thing in a woman—in Clarice at least: in a man I don't like it. My soul, now, is as open as the day, and when I have struck any new ideas or discoveries, I would willingly stand on a house-top—if it were flat—and proclaim them for the benefit of the world. Even my uncompleted processes of thought are at the service of any one who can appreciate them; but you can't expect everybody to be like me. Most men are selfish, narrowly engrossed in their small private concerns—no generous public spirit about them. But then Hartman is not used to this kind of thing, and I suppose it knocks the wind out of him.
One evening I was by myself in the shrubbery; it was just dark, but there was a tidy young moon. I wanted to smoke a pipe for a change, and so had gone to the most secluded place I could find, for if Mabel were to hear of this, Hartman might not get reconciled to domestic life. I sat there, meditating on the uncertainty of human affairs: it would do you more good than a little to know what thoughts passed through my mind, but there is no time to go into that. Suddenly two forms came in sight. One was of manly dignity, the other of willowy grace. His frame towered like the noble oak on the hilltop, while hers—but we have had the oak and the vine before, and worked them for all they are worth. Perhaps I ought to have given you a more particular account of the appearance of these two young persons: but you don't care to know their exact height and fighting weight, the color of their hair and eyes, and so forth; what you want is the stature and complexion of their souls. They were a handsome pair, and whene'er they took their walks and drives abroad like Dr. Watts, they attracted much attention. Just now there was nobody but myself to admire them, and I was in ambush. They strolled about in what there was of the moonlight, seeming much absorbed, and I sat still in the shade, and put down my pipe: I couldn't hear their talk, and didn't want to disturb them. Suddenly he raised his voice: matters between them must have come to an interesting stage. "But, Clarice, if you care for me—"
He was too quick. The madness which urged him on can easily be understood and—except by the one concerned—pardoned; but what devil possessed her, who shall say? She drew herself up with superb scorn. "You are beginning at the wrong end, Sir. 'If I care for you!' Why should I?"
"Very good," he said at once. "I was mistaken. I beg your pardon most humbly."
There was as little humility as possible in his look and tone. He stood like a gladiator—and not a wounded one either—with his head thrown back and his chest out. I could fancy, rather than see, the flashing of his eyes.
The flashes were all on his side now; Clarice's brief exhibition of fireworks seemed to be over, and she was drooping. "Mr. Hartman," she began, and could get no further.
In the act to go, he turned and faced her again.
"Miss Elliston, my presumption was doubtless unpardonable; I shall not know how to forgive myself. Do me the undeserved honor, if you can, to forget it—and me. I can only renew my apologies, and relieve you of my presence."
He bowed, and was gone. The proper thing for Clarice to do next was to swoon or shriek; but I knew her too well to expect anything of that sort. Nor did she tear her hair, or beat her breast, or offer to the solitary spectator any performance worth noting. I thought it best to keep remarkably quiet in my corner till she too had gone. In fact, I staid there for an hour or two after, though I did not enjoy that pipe at all; the tobacco was not right, or something. You see, after all the lectures I had had, I did not want to spoil things by mixing myself up with them; the situation looked picturesque enough without me in it.
When I went back to the house I found that Jim had caught the boat and gone. "He came to me," said Mabel, "and told me that he had overstaid his time and found it best to go to-night. He was very friendly, but his tone did not encourage questioning or remonstrance. His parting with Jane was almost affectionate, and he left kind regards for you. But not a word for Clarice."
"Great Jackson! what is the matter with them?" I often use what my wife considers profane language when I have something to hide.
It had its effect this time. "Robert, be quiet. It is all right. When there is anything for you to know, you shall know it."
She sometimes appears to mistake me for our eldest boy. But I was glad to get off with the secret. Yes, there is something to know, my lady, and I know it, though you don't. But I fear it is a long way from all right.
After this there was general gloom about the place, and I preferred to spend much of the time in New York. But whenever I got there, this confounded business would drive me back: Clarice might want me. Nobody dared question her, till one day at lunch Herbert spoke up. "Mamma, why doesn't Mr. Hartman come back? Cousin Clarice, what have you done to him?" He was promptly suppressed, and the Princess froze his infant veins with a stony stare, while Jane and I looked hard at our plates. But later that day I came upon Clarice and the child together: he was locked in her arms, and begging her not to cry. They did not see me, and I retired in good order.
Within a week came a short note from Jim: apologies for leaving without saying good-bye to me, appreciation of our kindness, regards to my wife and sister—and not a word of Clarice. I took it to Mabel, of course.
"Be very careful how you answer this now, Robert."
"How will this do? 'Dear Jim, sorry you went off in such a hurry; but after my performance in May I have no right to find fault. We all miss you, I think: the house has grown dull. Herbert continues to fall over the banisters, and at intervals over the rocks: at all hours, but especially when laid up for repairs, he howls for you and bear-stories. Our kindest regards. Keep us posted.' That's about it, eh?"
"Ye-es: you can't ask him to come back, and you can't mention Clarice; so you can say no more, and I don't like you to say any less. That is very well—for you, Robert; though you need not be so unfeeling about your own son."
It is well occasionally to consult your womankind in such cases, because, though they may not know as much of the facts as you do, still they can sometimes give you an inner light on points you would not have thought of. Besides, it compliments and encourages them; whereas, if you appeared to pay no regard to their opinions, they would naturally feel neglected. A little judicious indirect flattery is of great use in managing one's household. So I put on my best air of injured innocence.
"Mabel, I wish you could tell me what is the matter. Here my guest leaves my house suddenly, without a word of explanation. Herbert must be right: what has Clarice done to him?"
"Robert, I told you that all was well; at least I trust it will be, though it may not seem so now. The leaven is working; leave it to Time. Above all, don't meddle; ask no questions; leave the matter to those who understand it."
Now does she mean herself and Jane by that, or only Clarice and Hartman? I wonder if she thinks that I think that she knows anything about it. If she did, I should catch some sign of it. I tried my sister.
"Jane, don't fly at me now, please. I am in trouble."
"So are we all, brother. Trouble not of our own making—most of us."
"Well then, what does all this secrecy mean? Has Clarice spoken to you? What does Mabel know?"
"She knows no more than you and I, brother. Something has happened: any one may suspect what it is, but Clarice will not tell. I love and respect her too much to ask: so does Mabel; and so, I hope, do you."
"Well, it's confounded hard lines, Jane, to have these things happening in your own house, and such a mystery made of it." I had to grumble to somebody, you see, if only to keep up appearances and help hide my guilty secret; and then I was bored, and worse, with the way things had gone.
"You took that risk, Robert, when you brought them together here. Did you expect that two such persons as they would agree easily and at once? I think they love each other, or were in a way to it when this occurred, whatever it was."
"Well, I am awfully sorry. Clarice can take care of herself, I suppose; but as for Hartman, he had load enough to carry before. I love that man, Jane."
"So do I, Robert."
"Eh? O, the devil you do!" This came out before I could stop it. It did not please her.
"Brother, you are simply scandalous. Will you never learn a decent respect for women—you with a wife of your own, and boys growing up? Where have you been to acquire such ideas and such manners? You might have lived in the woods instead of Mr. Hartman, and he might have been bred in courts, compared with you.—I mean, of course, that I am interested in him, and sorry for him, as we all are. He is your friend, and he has excellent qualities."
I was somewhat cast down by all this browbeating. Where shall a man go for gentle sympathy and that sort of thing, if not to his own sister? I suppose she thought of this, for she went on more kindly. "I would say nothing to Clarice if I were you. When she is ready, she will speak—to you."
"To me, eh? What would she do that for?" I put this in as part of the narrative, but I am not proud of it. I had not quite recovered yet from the effect of Jane's previous violence; and then my intellect is not equal to all these feminine convolutions.
"Brother, your head is not as good as your heart. Don't you understand that in some cases a woman goes to a man, if there is one of the right kind at hand, much as a man goes to a woman? You are a man, and Mr. Hartman's nearest friend. After all her recent confidences with you, or intimacy at any rate—of course I don't know what she talked with you about, so many hours—is it surprising that Clarice should turn to you in her trouble, when she can bring herself to break silence at all? When she is ready, she will speak to you, and to no one else. Till she is ready, not all of us together, nor all the world, could draw a word from her. Must I explain all this to you, as if you were Herbert? And when she does speak, brother, I do hope that you will listen with due respect and sympathy, and not disgust and repel her by any more coarse ideas and base interpretations."
I paid no attention to these last remarks, which seemed to me wholly unworthy of Jane. Strange, that one who at times displays so much intelligence and even, as Hartman calls it, discernment, can in other things be so unappreciative and almost low-minded. Coarse ideas, indeed! Well, never mind that now: let me meditate on this prospect which she has opened to my view. So Clarice is coming to me: she knows I am her best friend after all. Little Clarice, how often have I dandled her on my knee in the years that have gone by! Dear little Clarice——BOSH! What an infernal fool a man can make of himself over a pretty woman in trouble! I am sometimes almost tempted to think that, as she delicately hinted, there must be an uncommon soft spot in my upper story. It is bad enough to show it when the girl is by; let me preserve my balance till then. When she wants to talk to me, I will hear what she has to say.
Sure enough about a week after this Clarice came to me as I was smoking a surreptitious cigar on the rocks, away from the house, after sundown. She came and sat down close by me, but I pretended not to notice. "Robert," said she. "Well," said I. There is no use in meeting them half way when they are willing to come the whole distance: mostly you have to do it all yourself, and turn about is fair play.
"Robert, are you angry with me?"
I couldn't help looking at her now, and she shot one of her great glances into my face. I melted right down, and so would you have done. "Clarice, you know I never could be angry with you five minutes together—nor five seconds, if you chose to stop it. What have I got to be angry about now?"
"Well, Bob, it wasn't your fault this time."
"No, I trust not. Whose fault was it?"
"Mine, mine. Bob, will you be my friend?" And she put her hand in mine.
"What have I ever been but your friend? Don't you do as you like with me—and with all of us? Clarice, you know it hurts me to see you like this. And there's poor Hartman."
She pulled away from me. "What has Mr. Hartman to do with it? Who was talking of him?"
"Miss Elliston," I said with dignity, "the First of April is past some time ago. What do you want to be playing these games on me for?"
"O, don't 'Miss Elliston' me, Bob. Don't you understand women yet?"
"No, I'll be shot if I do; and I never expect to. That will do for young beginners, who think they know everything. I've seen too much of you to pretend to understand you. Why don't you speak out and come straight to the point?"
"Why, you goose, that's not our nature. Speaking out and going straight to the point will do for great clumsy things like you and Mr. Hartman."
"Well, I am a great clumsy thing, as you justly observe. It's very pleasant to have you come to me like this, Princess, and I wish you would do it oftener; it's mighty little I've seen of you of late. But though it would meet my views to prolong this session indefinitely, I suppose you want something of me, or you wouldn't be so sweet. It may seem an improbable statement, but I would rather help you out of this scrape than enjoy your society even—that's saying a good deal, but it's true. Yes, I'm fool enough for that."
"I know you are, dear," she said, very low and sweetly. Now what was it she knew? You can take that two ways. All the compliments I get are so ambiguous. But this did not occur to me till afterwards. So I went on with my usual manly simplicity.
"Then you know there's no need of circumlocution and feminine wiles when you want anything of me, Princess. You have but to speak, and, as the Frenchman said, 'If it is possible, it shall be done: if it is impossible, I can only regret that I can't do it.' What do you want me to do now?"
"Nothing, Bob; nothing but to listen to me and be good."
"I am listening, Clarice: I've been listening all this time." This was not quite true, for I had done most of the talking; but then what I said was not of much account. When I am with her I often talk just to fill the gaps.
"You can listen when I am ready to talk, and keep quiet till then. I only want your sympathy."
"You have it, Clarice; you have it most fully. Come rest on this bosom, my own stricken dear—"
"I don't want to rest on your bosom, Bob; your shoulder is big enough. Have you got your best coat on?"
"Well, no; this is not the one I wore at dinner. But I will go to the house and get my clawhammer if you wish."
"No, no. I only want to cry a little."
"You would be perfectly welcome to cry on my best coat every day of the week, Princess, and I would get a new one as often as it might be needed. I don't wish to make capital out of your grief, my dear; I would rather never get a kind word from you than have you suffer. But often it seems as if you didn't care for anybody, you are so high and mighty and offish; and O doth not an hour like this make amends—"
"Drop that, Bob. Don't try to be sentimental: you always get the lines wrong. I've not been here an hour. O, were you joking? You are no more in the humor for jokes than I am, and you know it. Do keep quiet."
I did: I 'dropped it.' Clarice will use slang at times, it is one of her few faults. Where she learns it, I cannot conceive. It is unfeminine, and out of keeping with her whole character; in any one else I should call it vulgar. But I saw she did not wish to be disturbed just then, so I said no more. Instead, I thought of my guilty secret—her secret. It weighs on me heavily; but I can't tell her what I saw and heard. I don't know how she would take it; and I don't care to be exploding any dynamite bombs about my own premises. The situation is bad enough as it is; I'll not make it worse. Poor Clarice! poor Hartman! And yet you can't meddle with such high-strung folks. By and by she spoke.
"Bob, do you know why I come to you, instead of to Jane or Mabel?"
I was on the point of quoting Jane's valuable idea about my being a man, but refrained.
"I could not ask any woman for what you give me. And you are half a woman, Bob; you are so patient and loyal. Nobody else would be that."
"But Mabel and Jane love you too, dear. They would do anything for you."
"Yes, but that is more on equal terms. I am so exacting; I want so much, and give so little. I suppose I was born so; and you have spoiled me—all of you. O, I know I have treated you badly, Robert, often; generally, in fact. I am proud and hateful, and you never resent it. Only a man can be like that—to a woman: and very few men would be so. You are not like other men, Bob: there is nobody like you. You are such a useful domestic animal."
Perhaps I was getting unduly exalted when she let me down thus. I wish Clarice at least would be less mixed—more continuous and consistent, so to speak—when she sets forth my virtues. But one must take the Princess as he finds her, and be content with any crumbs of approval she may drop. Sometimes I think I am a fool about her; but when she talks as she does to-night, I know I am not. There may be more amiable women, and plenty more even-tempered; but there is only one Clarice. I may have made that remark before, but it will bear repeating. It is not of me she is thinking all this time: how should it be? O Hartman, Hartman, if you could know what I know, and see what is before you!
Presently she spoke again. "Robert, why don't you ask me what I have done? I know you are dying of curiosity."
"I can restrain my curiosity, rather than pry into your affairs, dear. When you see fit, you will tell me. But if you wish it, I will ask you."
"No, it would be of no use. I can't tell you now; perhaps never. Robert, where did you learn to respect a woman so?"
"Jane says I will never learn it. But I do respect you, Princess."
"That must have been when you had vexed her with some of your blunders: you do make blunders, you know? But, Bob, do you know why I love you?"
This moved me so that I had to put myself on guard. She never said so much as that before: it is not her way to talk about feelings or profess much affection for anybody.
"I suppose because we were brought up together, and you are used to me. And, as you say, I am a useful domestic animal. If I can be useful to you, I am proud and thankful. I think more of you than I could easily say: it is very good of you to give me some small return."
"It is because you have a heart, Robert. They may say what they please of your head, but you have a great big heart."
Now was ever the superior male intellect thus disparaged? She must have got this notion from Jane; but I can't quarrel with her now.
"Men are great clumsy things, as you said, dear: we have not your tact, nor your delicate roundabout methods. You are right, I do make blunders; I feel my deficiencies when I am with you. But if my head, such as it is, or my heart, or my hand, can ever serve you, they will be ready."
"Suppose I were to leave you, and go out of your life?"
"You could not go out of my life, though you might go far away. I should be sorry, but I have no right to hold you. But if you ever wanted me, I should always be here."
"Suppose I did something wrong and foolish?"
"I don't want to suppose that, but if I must—it would not be for me to judge you, as you told me once. You might do something that did not accurately represent your mind and character: since I know them, the action would be merely a mistake, a transient incongruity. I don't change easily: I have known you from your cradle. And if it was ever possible for me to fail you, it is not possible after to-night."
"You are very fond of Mr. Hartman, Robert. What if I quarreled with him? Would you take my part against him?"
"I would take your part against the world, Clarice. But he is not of the world. A sad and lonely man, burdened with an inverted conscience and quixotic fancies that turn the waters into blood, who has come for once out of his hermitage to catch a glimpse of the light that never was on sea or land, and then to see it turn into darkness for him. I fear he is sadder and lonelier now than when I brought him from the woods: but I would stake my soul on his honor, as I would on yours. You cannot force me into such a dilemma."
A heavenly glow was on her face now, as she looked long at the stars, and then at me. "Why are you eloquent only when you speak of him, brother?"
"You say I have a heart, Clarice: it is eloquent when I think of you. Shall a stranger be more sacred to me than my sister?—and I don't mean Jane. You would be sacred to a better man than I, dear, if he knew you as I do: you may be so already, for what I can tell. He could not mean to sin against you, Princess. If he seemed to fail in respect, or courtesy, or anything that was your due, forgive him, and don't banish him forever. I trusted that you would have enlightened and converted and consoled him: he is worth it."
I longed to say more, but this was as far as I dared go. She sighed.
"Perhaps I need to be converted and consoled myself. But that is ungrateful; with such a comforter at hand I ought not to be miserable. We never knew each other like this before, Robert. Why is it?"
"I don't know, Clarice—or rather I do, of course. It takes the moon, and stars, and a common trouble, to bring people together, even when they see each other every day; and then concurring moods must help. One stands in awe of you, Princess; I always shall. You only tolerated me when you were happy: I was rough, and careless, and stupid, and made bad jokes in the wrong places. I will try to do better after this, so that you need not be repelled when you want me. Hartman, now, is of finer mould than I: if you would let him come back—"
"No more of that now, dear. Let us go in. The moon is going down: it is getting cold and dark." So it was; and damp too—on my shoulder at least. "I am glad you had your old coat on," she said.
Mabel was alone in the parlor. "Well," she began; then she saw our faces, and modified her tone. "The moonlight was very fine, I suppose?"
"You know you never will go out in the evening," said Clarice. "It is later than I thought. Don't scold Robert; he has been a dear good boy." She kissed her, and went upstairs.
"Mabel," said I, "Clarice is in trouble." I had to say something, and this was perfectly safe. You see, she had told me nothing, and so I could say if asked. But I wasn't.
"I know that, of course, Robert: I have seen it all along. She is a dear girl, for all her flightiness. She will say nothing to me. I hope it will come right. If you can help or comfort her, I shall be glad." Then she too went to bed.
It is unusual for Mabel to be surprised into such candor. I got a cigar, and went out on the porch to meditate. Jane thought that Clarice would tell me things. Yes, I have got a lot of information. Let me see, I am a useful domestic animal, and I have a big heart: that's about the size of it. At this rate, I can soon write a Cyclopaedia. Well, cold facts are not all there is in life: there are some things the Cyclopaedias fail to tell us about. I don't regard the last few hours as altogether wasted.
After this the Princess and I did not talk much: there seemed to be no need of it. But she was a new and revised edition of the old Clarice, wonderfully sweet, and gracious, and equable; and her look when we met was like the benediction in answer to prayer, as Longfellow says. I went about with a solemn feeling, as if I had just joined the Church. What does a fellow want with slang, and pipes, and beer, and cheating other fellows on the street, when he has such entertainments at home? And yet it cuts me to the soul to look at her: I must do something to bring them together. Pretty soon we went back to New York.
Jane, and even Mabel, have the idea that I am of light and shallow nature; and sometimes I think they are right. It must be so; for your profound and serious characters have a weakness for sorrow, and luxuriate in woe—whereas I object to trouble of any kind, and cannot get used to it. The house has been like a rural cemetery for near two months, and it simply bores me. Hartman now prefers to dwell among the tombs: he has lived these ten years in a graveyard, so to speak, under a canopy of funereal gloom, and he thrives on it. He and Clarice are the most superior persons I know; and they have gone and got themselves into a peck, or rather several bushels, of trouble, about nothing at all. They must like it, or why should they do it? I doubt if I can ever be educated up to that point. I have the rude and simple tastes of a child: sunshine seems to me better than shade (except during the heated term), and pleasure more desirable than pain. I like to be comfortable myself, and to have every one else so. Imagine Mabel getting miffed at me, or I at her, over some little two-penny affair of unadvised expressions! She often says unkind things to me: if I took an earnest view of life, and were full of deep thought and fine feeling, probably I should have to take her criticisms to heart, and go away in a hurry and never come back. I sometimes make blunders worse than that one of Hartman's, and no harm worth mentioning ever comes of them—though I do have to be careful with the Princess. No doubt I am frivolous and superficial; but people of my sort appear to get along more easily, and to make less trouble for themselves and others, than those whose standards are so much higher. If I had the managing of this business, I could set it right inside a week—or in two days, if Jim were not so far away. It is merely to say to him, "Your language was unparliamentary. It is not etiquette to assume that a lady cares for you when you have not asked her to. You have no right to resent her resenting such unconventional behavior. You owe her an apology: go and make it like a man, and withdraw the offensive epithet, term, phrase, clause, or sentence, which ever it might be." Then I would say to her, "He meant no harm. How do you expect a member from Wayback to be posted on all the usages of metropolitan society? You ought not to have come down on him so hard. Let the man say he is sorry, and forgive him. You were mainly to blame yourself; but seeing it is you, we'll pass that." Then I would stand over them like the heavy father in the plays, and say, "You love each other. Take her, Jim: take him, Clarice. Bless you, my children." That is the way it ought to be done, and that is the way I would fix it if it concerned common every-day people like myself, with no pretence to qualities higher than practicability and common sense—supposing such people could have got into such a mess, which I own is improbable. A method that would answer for them is not so easily applied to these superfine specimens, who have taken such pains to build themselves a private Purgatory, and keep it going on a limited supply of fuel. They might resent intrusion on their agreeable demesne, and put up a board with 'No Trespassing' on it; but then they ought to keep the place fenced in better: as it is, the smoke and heat spread too much. They might say, 'If we enjoy our misery, what right have the rest of you to interfere?' Yes, but what right have they to rope in the rest of us, who are not so addicted to the luxury of grief, and make us miserable too? That's what it comes to. 'Each man's life is all men's lesson,' and each woman's too. Now if our high-toned friends had kept this particular part of their lives in manuscript, and not supplied us with copies, but reserved it for spelling out in secret at their own leisure, the case would be different. As it stands, this embroglio is a lesson which I have got by heart and am tired of: I would like to set it aside and turn to something more cheerful. Moreover, as the head of a family I have duties in the matter, for it affects us all. I don't mind so much about Jane: she thinks this is a XX. romance, which the parties chiefly concerned are conducting in the most approved manner; if she had one of her own, I suppose this would be her style—her idea of how the thing should be done. It is not mine, however; far from it. Shall I sit passive, and see the clouds of care growing heavier about the wife of my bosom, and the furrows deepening in that once marble brow? She looks two years older than she did two months ago, and she owns it. I have three lovely children: how brief a space it is since they played in the abandonment of infant glee! And now their young existence, too, is darkened. Herbert no longer slides down the banisters, with his former recklessness, but sits and looks wistfully at Cousin Clarice. The change involves a saving in lint and arnica, but a loss of muscular development. You see, we are all of the sympathetic—which is the expensive—temperament: we have not sense enough to be content each with his or her own personal affairs, and let the others arrange their private funerals at their own charge. There is more truth than I thought in part of what I told Hartman, that night on the boat.
This thing must stop. I will have to ask the Princess if she wants our humble abode to be a house of mourning much longer. We might accommodate her in that respect for another month or two, but not permanently. Lovers are so selfish: they don't care if they upset all your domestic arrangements, and spoil your harmonies with the discord of their sweet bells jangled. It ought not to be encouraged, nor yet allowed.
[Footnote 1: I was wholly mistaken in this, as will appear by the next chapter. R. T.]
The summer has not done for any of us what it ought; quite the reverse. Even I am not in my usual form, if Mabel and Jane are right. They had let me alone for some time: last night they attacked me together—a preconcerted movement, obviously.
"Robert, you are pale, almost haggard. You need a change."
"Why," said I, "I've just had a change—or rather several of them. We've been back only three weeks."
"You need mountain air: the sea does not agree with you. And Newport is not what it used to be."
"It's a good deal more so, if you mean that; but I don't know that its increased muchness has damaged my health to any great extent."
"You prefer small, remote places, and their way of life; you know you do. They are more of a change from town. You bought the house at Newport for our sakes. I have often feared you were sacrificing yourself to us—with your usual disinterestedness, dear."
"Well, my usual disinterestedness is ready to be worked again, to any reasonable extent, if you will say what you're after. But how can I leave the business now?"
"O, the business!" (It was Jane this time.) "That is all very fine, when you don't want to leave town. But I notice that the business never interferes with any of your junketings. What are your clerks paid for? Can't they attend to the business?"
"A fine idea you women have of business, and a fine success you'd make of it. Jane, suppose you take charge in Water Street while I am away."
"I don't doubt I could do it quite as well as you, after a little practice. Why, brother, Mr. Pipeline understands it a great deal better than you do. Our father, in his later years, trusted him entirely."
"Yes, Robert," said Mabel, "and how often you have assured me that Mr. Pipeline was absolutely competent and reliable. When we were married, and a hundred times since, you explained your carelessness and indifference about the business by saying that all was right while old Mr. Pipeline was there: he knew everything, and kept the whole force to their work. It was that, you said, which enabled you to be so much more about the house than most men could be, and so attentive and satisfactory as a husband and father."
She had me there: who would expect a woman to remember things and bring them up in this way, so long after? So I tried to turn it off.
"O, well, he hasn't gone to Canada yet: the books seem straight, and the returns are pretty fair. But it is well for the head of the firm to look in occasionally, all the same."
"You do look in occasionally, Robert: no one can accuse you of neglecting that duty. Would I have married a man who neglected duty, and allowed his business to go to ruin, and his family to come to want? Your conscience may rest perfectly easy on that score, dear."
"O, thank you: it does. I've not often allowed the state of the oil market to interfere with sleep or appetite, or with my appreciation of you and the children. Family duties first, my dear; what so sacred, so primary, as the ties of Home? But such virtue is not always duly prized there. I'm glad you do me justice."
"I always have, Robert; always. Whatever Jane and others might say about your levity and your untimely jests and so forth, I have steadily maintained that you had a good heart."
"There, Jane, do you hear that? Mabel knows, for she is in a position to know."
"Of course, brother, we are all aware of that. If you had not that one redeeming trait, I should have left you long ago, even if I had had to get married. You admire Artemus Ward: he had a giant mind, you recollect, but not always about him. So with your good heart at times. But we are wandering from the point. Mabel, you were showing him how he could go away for a week or two without neglecting his important duties down town."
"Why yes, Robert. You have been here three weeks now, and I am sure you have been at the store nearly every day. Indeed, when you were not at home, or at the club, or somewhere about town, I doubt not you might be found in Water Street a good part of the time."
"Yes," I said with an air of virtuous complacency, "I believe you are right. I can't deny it, though it may help your side of the argument."
"Well then, you can surely be spared during a brief absence. And when you return, you can continue to look in occasionally, as you say."
"Perhaps I could, though it is not well to be too positive. Where do you think I ought to go?"
"Well, you are fond of fishing and hunting. You might go up and spend a week with Mr. Hartman. You found good sport there, you said."
"O yes, there are trout enough, and deer not far off, he told me. But I was there in May. And it is not very comfortable at Hodge's, if you remember."
"But of course this time you would stay with Mr. Hartman. You refused his invitation before, and it was hardly civil to such an old friend."
"He has a mere bachelor box, my dear, and I hardly like to thrust myself on him."
"Why, Robert, I am surprised at you. After Mr. Hartman spent a fortnight with us at Newport—and when he has written you twice, urging you to come. Can't you see that the poor man is lonely, and really wants you?"
"Mabel, it would be all very well if it were like last May—only he and I to be considered. But here is that blessed entanglement of his with Clarice—quarrel, or love-making nipped in the bud, or whatever it was—that complicates matters. After all the lectures I've had from you two, I don't want to complicate them any more, nor to meddle in her affairs, nor appear to. Suppose I go up there, and he wants news of her, and anything goes wrong, or it simply doesn't come right as you expect; I'd have your reproaches to bear ever after, and perhaps those of my own conscience. You're not sending me off simply for my health, or for a little fishing. If I go to Hartman, the sport will not be the main item on the programme; and that every one of us knows perfectly well. So I don't move till I see my way straight."
Finding me thus unexpectedly firm, Jane looked at Mabel, and Mabel looked at Jane, and there was a pause. You see, in this last deliverance I had uttered my real mind—or part of it—and it naturally impressed them.
My sister's share in the discussion had thus far been confined to the few efforts at sarcasm duly credited to her above—let no one say that I am unjust to Jane. She had been watching me pretty closely, but I hardly think she saw anything she was not meant to see. Now she came to the front, looking very serious—as we all did, in fact.
"Well, brother, some things are better understood than spoken—from our point of view. But if you insist on having all in plain words, and playing, as you call it, with cards on the table—"
"Just so," said I. "You use your feminine tools: I use mine, which are a man's. If I have to do this piece of work, it must be on my own conditions and after my own fashion, with the least risk of misunderstanding."
"Robert, if this is affectation, you are a better actor than I thought. But if you really know no more than we do—"
This was too much for Mabel. "Now, Jane, you go too far. Robert likes his little joke, but he knows when to be serious. Why do you suspect him so?"
Jane went on. "Of course it is possible he may be no deeper in Clarice's confidence than we: she is very reticent. You mean, brother, that you will do nothing till she authorizes you?"
"Well, as I said, this is her affair. For you, or me, or anybody else, to meddle in it without her direction, or permission—unless in case of obvious extremity—would seem, by all rules alike ethical and prudential, a delicate and doubtful proceeding, to say the least."
"I suppose you are right there. Mabel, you may as well tell him. Robert, don't think, from all this preamble, that it is of more importance than it would otherwise seem. Perhaps we might as well have told you at once; but we are only women, you know. Now at last we are using your tools—the tools you always use with such manly consistency—candor and open speech. Tell him, Mabel."
"Robert dear, Clarice told me to-day that you were looking badly; she thought you needed a change. 'Is he not going off for his fall fishing?' she said."
"Is that all?"
"It is a good deal for her," said Jane. "If you want more, ask her. Are you less concerned for her happiness than we are? Must we arrange all the preliminaries? Brother, if I could do anything, no fear of consequences or reproaches should tie my hands: I would do what is right, and take the chances. If I stood where you do, I would have this matter settled, or know why it could not be. I would never sit idle, and see two such lives spoiled—and all our hearts broken. O, I know you love them both. But you are so cautious—unnecessarily and absurdly so at times, and wedded to useless diplomacy, when only the plain speech you talk about is needed. You stand in awe of Clarice too much: you may wait too long. Forgive me, Robert; but whatever she may say, you must see Mr. Hartman before winter."
I could have embraced Jane, besides forgiving her slurs on me, which may contain an element of truth. There is more in her than I have supposed; and of course what she insists on is exactly what I have all along meant to do. But it did not come in handy to say so at this point. "I'll think it over. You two had better go to bed: I must go out and smoke."
"Robert," said Mabel, "don't go out to-night. You can smoke in the dining-room."
"No; I'll not take a base advantage of your present amiable mood. But I tell you what it is; if you want to get Hartman here in cold weather you must let us have a snuggery. He can't do without his tobacco."
It was a fine night, and I wanted a walk as well as a smoke. I felt gratified, for this thing had gone just as I desired. I am not quite so impulsive as Jane, and I understand the difficulties as she does not; but my plan has merely waited for events to give it definite shape and make it feasible. Certainly I must see Hartman, and as he can't come here, I must go there. But I wanted the women to suggest my going; that divides the responsibility, and gives them a hand in the game. I would have had to propose it myself within a week or so, if they had not spoken. But the Princess knows what she is about, and what is fit and proper. It may seem strange that she should speak to Mabel instead of to me; but she will say what she has to say to me before I start. In fact, I'll not start till she does—how could I? It is her business I am going on, with just enough of my own to give it a color. I'll write to Jim at once, to ask when he wants me: the mails are slow up there, and it may be a week before his answer comes. That will give me time to get my instructions, and not be in any unseemly haste to seek them either. So far, so good; but there is more to be done, and delicate work too, such as will bear no scamping. It is the biggest contract you ever undertook, R. T., and you must make a neat job of it.
APOLOGY FOR LYING.
If you do not understand my waiting for Mabel and the girls to prompt this move, and allowing them to urge it against my apparent reluctance, I ascribe this failure on your part to lack of experience, rather than to any deeper deficiency. Some men like to make a parade of independence, and to do—or pretend to do—everything of themselves, without consulting or considering their womankind. But such are not the sort I choose my friends from; for I have been accustomed to regard both brain and heart as desirable appurtenances to a man. There is little Bruteling, at the club, who would like to be considered a man of the world—but I can't waste space or time on him. And I have met family men even—but I don't meet them more than once if I can help it—who regard their wives and sisters as playthings, dolls, upper-class servants, not to be trusted, taken into their confidence, or treated with any real respect. Such heresies have no place under a Christian civilization, which has exalted Woman to her true rank as the equal and helpmeet of Man, the object of his tenderest affections and most loyal services. It is in his domestic life that one's true character is shown; and Home is not only the dearest place on earth to me and to every one whose head is level, but the stage on which his talents and qualities are best brought out.
You think that I don't practice what I preach; that I introduce within those sacred precincts too much of play-acting and small diplomacy, as Jane says; that even at this moment my thoughts and intentions in a matter which concerns us all are imperfectly revealed to my nearest and dearest? Ah, that is owing to the difference between the sexes, and to the singular lines on which the Sex was constructed, mentally speaking. I don't wish to criticize the Architect's plans, but it seems to me I could suggest improvements which might have simplified relations, and avoided much embarrassment. The difficulty is that women, as a rule, can neither use nor appreciate Frankness. Just after I was married, I thought it was only the fair thing to tell Mabel about several girls I had been sweet on before I knew her. Would you believe it, she burst into tears, and upbraided me with my brutality; and she brings up that ill-advised disclosure against me to this day. I know several ladies who will not lie, under ordinary circumstances—not for the mere pleasure of it, at least; Clarice, for instance, and Jane, I believe; but not one who will tell the whole truth, or forgive you for telling it. Well, well, we have to take them as they are, and make the best of them: they have other redeeming traits, as Jane says of me. In heaven these inequalities will be done away, and one can afford to speak out—at least I hope so. But meantime you can see how these feminine peculiarities hamper a man, and check his natural candor, and impose on him a wholly new, or at least a hugely modified, ethical code. If I were to follow my original bent, which was uncommonly direct and guileless, I should be in hot water all the time. It is this struggle between nature and—well, I can hardly call it grace; let us say necessity, or environment—which is making me bald, and fat, and aging me so fast. You have seen, in the course of this narrative, what scrapes I have gotten into by speaking before I stopped to think, and blurting out the simple truth. I was once as honest as they are ever made—and for practical and domestic uses nearly an idiot. I have been obliged, actually forced, to deny myself the indulgence of a virtue, and diligently to cultivate the opposite vice. The preachers don't know everything: I could give them points. I don't say I have succeeded remarkably, and the exercise has been deeply painful to me; but it was absolutely essential, if I was to be fit for the family circle, and able to do or get any good in this imperfect world. There is no escape, unless you live in a hermitage like Hartman. You may have noticed that my loved ones sometimes appear to treat me with less than absolute respect and confidence: it is the result of this life-conflict, which has left me with a character mixed, and in one respect wrecked. But they would think much worse of me than they do if I told them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, on all occasions. Thus I might—and then again I might not—go to our poor Princess, and say, "Clarice, Mabel and Jane think I ought to see Hartman. I think so too, and they report you as concurring in the verdict. This is delicately put under cover of my health and the fall fishing; but we all know that you and Jim want looking after more than I do, and that bigger game than trout is to be caught. Tell me what you want me to say to him and do with him, and I will start at once." Some women might stand that, possibly, but not the ones I am used to: such would be eminently the way not to attain my benevolent end. No, no; you can do nothing in such cases without finesse, as Jim calls it, and strategy, and tact, and management; and if you have not these gifts by nature, you must acquire them, whatever they may cost. I still hold to my principles; but I don't propose to run them into the ground. In morality, as elsewhere, a little too much is apt to be worse than much too little; and theory and practice are very different things, not to be rashly confounded. You want to hold the right theories, and then to live as near them as depraved mundane conditions will allow. The manly weapons of which Jane spoke so scornfully last night are the right ones—when you can use them. In the case in hand, to tell all I know would have been at any time, and would still be, impossible and ruinous. Hartman is not so far out on some points: as he says, we did not arrange the present scheme of things, and could not be proud of it if we had.
You may say, and I could not deny, that my diplomacy, such as it is, is not always employed for the benefit of women only. Hartman is a luminous and transparent soul—too much so for his own good: why did I practise occasionally on him? I can explain that best on general principles.
In a world a majority of whose inhabitants are female, demoralization has naturally extended far and wide, till strict veracity has become unpractical. The first falsehood (after the serpent's) must have been humiliating to him who uttered it, and a fatal example to those who heard; but mankind soon grew used to the new fashion. I pass over the rude barbarian ages, whose gross and inartistic lying offers no claim to respectful and sympathetic interest, and no excuse but the lame one of selfish depravity, common to the race. But with the inroads of civilization Life became complex, and Truth was found too simple and rigid to fit with all its varied intricacies. That is, when Truth is simple. "Don't you think my baby beautiful?" demands a fond parent. "No, I don't: far from it." That is the truth; but its naked and repulsive brutality demands to be clothed with the garb of humane and graceful fiction. "Prisoner at the bar, are you guilty or not guilty?" He is guilty, of course; but if he says so, it is a dead give-away. In this case indeed the interests of Truth are one with those of Society, though not of the prisoner; but often it is different. The basis of ethics, our moralists say, is as largely utilitarian as it is ideal. If so, is there any special sacredness about cold facts, that they should get up on end and demand to be published everywhere continually? Truth ought to be modest, and not claim all the observances and honors, seeing there are so many other deities whom we poor mortals are no less bound to worship. When Grotius' wife lied to the policeman about her husband's whereabouts, the lie was an act of piety, whereas truthtelling would have been murderous infidelity. If the minions of the law were after me, would I thank Mabel and Jane and Herbert for telling them which way I had gone? There is no more aggravated nuisance than he who insists on exposing all he knows at all times and places—as I used to do before I learned these tricks. Look at poor Hartman, ejecting his honest backwoods thought without asking whether it was a wise and decent offering to his small but highly select audience; and see what trouble he has brought on himself and all of us thereby.
This outspokenness is often mere self-indulgence. Take me, for instance: to this day, in spite of all the lessons I have had, it is far easier and pleasanter for me to tell the truth than not. People of this temperament must learn to put a check on nature. Self-indulgence is bad, all agree, and self-denial useful and necessary. This is the way virtues clash and collide. I say, confound such a world. What is a plain man to do in it? As the poet sings, the Summum Bonum belongs in heaven, and you can't expect to get at it here, but must simply do the best you can, which is generally not very good. And then, as another poet puts it, very likely nobody will appreciate your efforts, but you will get cuffed for them: we are punished for our purest deeds, and so forth.—But this is trenching on Hartman's province. It is well that I should think all this out now: I can talk it over with him before we get to business. He will want sympathy with his notions about the depravity of things in general, and that will smooth the way, and make him willing to open up on the specific woe that lies nearest.
To return to our muttons. The guilt of duplicity has lain heavy on my conscience for two months, but how can I help it? I don't so much mind keeping what I know from Mabel and Jane, for it is not their affair. But it is Clarice's affair—most eminently so—and I had promised solemnly to tell her at once when I knew or thought of anything that concerned her. It was obviously impossible to keep my promise in this case—not on my account, but on hers. It will not be easy to tell even Jim that I overheard their last colloquy, and witnessed the tragical parting scene: I'll have to watch my opportunities, and spring that on him just at the right moment, when it will have the best effect. Now any one who knows Clarice must see that to tell her this would be to take the most awful risks, and probably to destroy all chance of reconciling them; that is level to the meanest apprehension, I judge. No sir: it can't be done till I have seen Jim, and got things in train. Properly handled, the secret—that is, my possession of it, which is a second secret, almost as weighty as the original one—may be a tool to manage both these intractable subjects with, and bring them to terms: in a fool's hands, and thrown about promiscuously, it would be an infernal machine to blow us up. No: I'll take whatever guilt there is, rather than hurt Clarice now and hereafter. Do you want to know my opinion of a man who is always and only thinking about keeping his hands clean and his conscience at peace, so that he can't do a little lying—or it might be other sinning—on adequate occasion, to serve his friends or a good cause? I think he is a cad, sir—a low-minded cad; and of such is not the kingdom of heaven. It may not occur every day: it might not do to insert in the text-books as a rule; but once in a while there may be better businesses than saving one's soul and keeping one's conscience void of offense.