"Mother!" Floyd Grandon is really shocked. His mother is nervous and ill at ease. All night she has been brooding over what she saw in the carriage. Floyd will follow madame to Newport in a week or two, and the matter will be settled. She has no objection to her as a daughter-in-law if Floyd must marry, but it is bitterly hard to be dethroned, to have nothing, to live on sufferance.
He turns away, remembering what he ought to tell her, and yet, how can he? After to-morrow, when Madame Lepelletier has really gone,—and yet has he any true right to freedom as long as that? He ought to marry Violet this very day. Since he has resolved, why not make the resolution an absolute pleasure to the dying man?
Grandon feels the position keenly. Never by word or look has he led madame to expect any warmer feeling than friendship; indeed, until last night he had not supposed any other state possible. He could not imagine himself a part of her fashionable life, and he had not the vanity to suppose she cared for him, but now he cannot shut his eyes. There is something in her tone, in her mien, as she comes to greet him, that brings the tint of embarrassment to his cheek. He ought to tell her that he belongs to another, but he cannot drag his sad-eyed Violet out for her inspection.
"Mr. St. Vincent?" she questions, delicately.
"He can hardly live through another night. There was a great deal of business to do this morning, and it has exhausted him completely. It is so unfortunate,—his having so few friends here."
"What is to become of his poor child?"
"He has been making arrangements for her. I wish he could have lived a month longer, then we would have been quite sure of the success or failure of his patent."
Floyd says this in a grave, measured tone.
"There is always a convent," says madame, with a sweet, serious smile. "I believe in this country, or at least among Protestants, there is no such refuge for young or old in times of trouble."
He does not wish to pursue the subject.
"I am so sorry Eugene is not at home. You go to-morrow?"
There is not the slightest inhospitable inflection to this, but if he had said, "Why do you go?" or "You had better wait," her heart would have throbbed with pleasure. One could announce a delay so easily by telegram.
"I meant to see you started on your journey," he begins, and there is a curious something in his tone. "Briggs had better go and see to your luggage, and if you will accept my mother's company——"
"You cannot go?" There is a soft pleading, a regret that touches him, and makes him feel that he is playing false, and yet he surely is not. There is no reason why he should tell her of the coming step when he has hardly decided himself.
"No," he answers, briefly. "I ought not leave St. Vincent an hour. My impression is that he will die at midnight or dawn. I have no one to whom I can depute any of the arrangements."
It does not enter her mind that a little girl who plays with dolls or dishes can have anything in common with him. Possibly he may be made her guardian. She wants to stay, and yet there is no real excuse.
He arranges everything for her journey, but will not bid her good by. A note can do that more easily, he thinks. Cecil cries and begs to go with him. Why not take her and Jane? He can send them home again if need be. Cecil is wild with delight, and madame really envies her.
Violet receives her guest with tears and tender kisses. She has been sitting with her father, and now he is asleep. Denise has insisted upon her taking a little walk, and she is so glad to have Cecil, though the child is awed by the sad face.
St. Vincent's breath is short and comes with difficulty. Whatever Grandon does must be done quickly. When the dying man stirs he asks him a question.
"If you would——" with a long, feeble sigh, but the eyes fill and overflow with a peaceful light.
"Violet," Grandon says, an hour later, "your father wishes for the marriage now. My child, are you—quite willing?"
She gives him her hand. For a moment he rebels at the sacrifice. She knows nothing of her own soul, of love. Then he recalls the miserable ending of more than one love marriage. Was Laura's love to be preferred to this ignorance?
"Come," he says; "Cecil, too."
"She must be dressed!" cries Denise. "Oh, my lamb, I hope it may not be ill fortune to have no wedding dress, but you must be fresh and clean." Cecil looks on in wide-eyed wonder.
"Is she going to be married as Aunt Laura was?" she asks, gravely.
Grandon wonders how she will take it. If it should give her sweet, childish love a wrench!
They assemble in the sick-room. The two stand close beside the bed, so near that St. Vincent can take his daughter's hand and give her away. The vows are uttered solemnly, the bond pronounced, "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder."
"Cecil," her father says, "I have married Miss Violet. She is to be your mamma and live with us. I hope you will love her."
Cecil studies her father with the utmost gravity, her eyes growing larger and more lustrous. Her breath comes with a sigh. "Papa," as if revolving something in her small mind, "madame cannot be my mamma now?"
"Grandmamma said when I was just a little naughty this morning that I could not do so when madame was my mamma, that I would have to obey her."
"No, she never would have been that," he returns, with a touch of anger.
"You will love me!" Violet kneels before her and clasps her arms about the child, gives her the first kisses of her bridehood; and Cecil, awed by emotions she does not understand, draws a long, sobbing breath, and cries, "I do love you! I do love you!" hiding her face on Violet's shoulder.
Floyd Grandon has given his child something else to love. A quick, sharp pang pierces him.
There is a little momentary confusion, then Violet goes to her own father and lies many moments with his feeble arms about her, until a slight spasm stirs the worn frame.
It is as the doctor has predicted. A terrible restlessness ensues, a pressure for breath, the precursors of the fatal struggle. He begs that Violet will go out in the air again, she is so pale, but he does not want her to witness this agony. They have had some brief, fond talks, and she is safe. All the rest he will meet bravely.
The hours pass on and night comes. Violet kisses him and then takes Cecil to her own little room, where they fall asleep in each other's arms. The child is so sweet. She can never be quite forlorn with her. So much of her life has been passed apart from her father that it seems now as if he was going on a journey and would come back presently.
But in the morning he goes on the last journey, holding Floyd Grandon's warm hand in his nerveless grasp. "My son," he sighs, and gives his fond, fond love to Violet.
They let her go in the room with Denise; she pleads to have it so. Floyd paces the hall with Cecil in his arms. He cannot explain the mystery to her and does not attempt it, but she is quite content in the promise that Miss Violet is to come and live with them.
Jane goes over with a note, and instructions to mention nothing beside the fact of the death, Mrs. Grandon and madame get off to New York, and Floyd fortifies himself for the evening's explanation.
Violet is not noisy in her grief. She would like to sit all day and hold the dead hand in hers, watch the countenance that looks no paler now, and much more tranquil than it has for days. She is utterly incredulous in the face of this great mystery. He is asleep. He will come back.
"Violet," Grandon says, at length. Is he going to love and cherish her as some irksome duty? He has never proffered love. In that old time all was demanded and given. Violet will demand nothing and be content. He draws her to him, the round, quivering chin rests in the palm of his hand, the eyes are tearful, entreating. He kisses the red, tremulous lips, not with a man's passionate fervor, but he feels them quiver beneath his, and he sees a pale pink tint creep up to the brow. She is very sweet, and she is his, not his ward, but his wife.
"I hope we shall be happy," he says. "I shall try to do everything——"
"You have been so good, so kind. Denise worships you," she says, simply.
He wonders if she will ever worship him? He thought he should not care about it, but some feeling stirs within him now that makes cold possession seem a mockery.
If they two could go away somewhere with Cecil, and live a quiet, comfortable life, with no thought of what any one will say. But explanations rise mountain high. It looks now as though he must give an account to everybody of what he has done.
A brief note announces it to Wilmarth. There was no friendship before, but he knows there will be bitter enmity now. As business is dull, he suggests that the factory be closed for the whole week. After Mr. Vincent's burial, he, Grandon would like to have a business interview at the office of Mr. Ralph Sherburne, who has all the important papers.
That is done. Cecil is quite willing to stay with Violet, and is really enchanted with Denise, so he goes home, where dinner is served in its usual lavish manner. His mother is tired, Gertrude ennuied, of course. The atmosphere is trying in the extreme.
"I have something to tell you," he says, cutting the Gordian knot at a clean stroke. "I could not make the proper explanation this morning, but now, you must pardon what has been done in haste." And he tells the story briefly, leaving out whatever he deems advisable.
"Married!" Mrs. Grandon almost shrieks.
Gertrude looks at him in amaze. In her secret heart she is glad that madame is not to reign here in all her state and beauty, shining every one down, but she wonders how he has escaped the fascination.
"Married!" his mother says again. "I did think, Floyd, you had more sense! A child like that,—a silly little thing who plays with dolls! If you wanted a wife," with withering contempt, "there was one of whom we should all have been proud! And you have behaved shamefully, after leading her to think——"
"I never gave Madame Lepelletier the slightest reason to think that I cared for her beyond mere friendliness," he says, his face flushing scarlet. "I doubt if she would wish to share the kind of life I shall elect when I get through with this business. She is an elegant society woman, and I shall always admire her, as I have done. I doubt if she would care for me," he adds, but his conscience gives a little twinge.
"When is this new mistress to come home?" asks his mother, in a bitter tone.
"I shall bring her in a few days, and I hope she will be made welcome. This——"
"I am aware this house is yours," she interrupts.
Floyd is shocked. "I was not going to say that: it was the furthest from my thoughts," he answers, indignantly. "Do not let us quarrel or have any words. You are all welcome to a home."
"It is so pleasant to be reminded of one's dependence." And Mrs. Grandon begins to weep.
"Mother," Floyd says, deliberately, "I am going to bend every energy to make the business the success that my father hoped it would be, and to provide an independence for you all, as he would have done had his life been spared. In this I shall have very little help from Eugene, and trouble with Wilmarth, but I shall do my whole duty."
"I wish your father had never taken up with that St. Vincent; there has been nothing but annoyance, there never will be."
"If there is trouble with my wife I hope I shall have the courage and manliness to endure it," he returns, resolutely. "But I trust no one will try to bring it about," he says, in a tone that implies it would not be a safe undertaking.
Mrs. Grandon rises and sails out of the room. Floyd goes on with his dessert, though he does not want a mouthful.
"Floyd," Gertrude says, timidly, "you must not mind mother. She will come around right after a while. I don't believe she would have been happy if you had married madame, and I am glad, yes, positively glad. Cecil cannot endure her. I will try to like your wife. Is she such a mere child?"
Floyd is really grateful. "She is seventeen," he answers, "and quite pretty, but small. She has been educated at a convent, and knows very little about the world, but Cecil loves her. I hope we shall all get along well," and he sighs. Life is so much harder than he could have imagined it three months ago. He is so weary, so troubled, that he feels like throwing up everything and going abroad, but, ah, he cannot. He is chained fast in the interest of others. "Talk to mother a little," he adds, "and try to make her comfortable. You see I couldn't have done any differently. I never could have endured all the talk beforehand."
When he returns to the eyrie he finds Denise holding Cecil and telling her some marvellous story. Violet is in the room with her father. "She would go," Denise says. "It is only such a little while that she can see him."
Cecil and Jane are sent home the following day. There is a very quiet funeral, but the few mourners are sincere. Violet begs to stay with Denise in the cottage, and Floyd cannot refuse. Lindmeyer returns to town and is shocked by the tidings. Grandon appoints a meeting with him the next morning at Sherburne's office. Briggs and the nurse are at the cottage, so Floyd goes home to arrange matters for the advent of Violet.
His mother has settled to a mood of sullen indignation. Why could not Floyd have become guardian for this girl, and between them all they might have brought about a marriage with Eugene, who needs the fortune? If the patent should prove a success, the interest of these two young people would become identical. Floyd has made himself his brother's greatest rival, instead of best friend. Through Violet he has a quarter-share of the business and control of the patent. She is sure this must have been the deciding weight in the scale, for he is not romantic, and not easily caught by woman's wiles. She understands self-interest, but a generous denial of self for another person is quite beyond her appreciation.
Yet she knows in her secret heart that if Floyd gave up, they would go to ruin, and Wilmarth would be possessor of all. She does not fly out in a temper now, but makes the interview unpleasant to her son, though she is really afraid to confess her true view of the matter, little imagining how soon he could have resolved her doubts. She hints at other steps which might have been taken, and he supposes it refers to his marriage with Madame Lepelletier. Tired at length of skirmishing about with no decisive result, Floyd boldly makes a proposal. It is best perhaps that he should be master in his own house, since of course he must provide for all expenses. The furniture he would like to keep as it is, if his mother chooses to sell it to him, and the money would be better for her. He would like her to remain and take charge, since Violet is so young, and he wants her to feel that her home is always here, that he considers her and his sisters a part of the heritage bequeathed by his father, and that independent of the business he shall have enough for all. "Do not forget," he cries, "that I am your son!"
He is her son, but she would like to be entirely independent. The most bitter thing, she tells herself, is to ask favors of children. And yet she cannot say that Floyd has taken the family substance; he has cost his father nothing since early boyhood. They have had his beautiful house, and since his return he has spent his own money freely. She wishes, or thinks she does, that she could pay back every penny of it, and yet she is not willing to give of that which costs her nothing,—tenderness, appreciation. She takes because she must, and nurses her defiant pride which has been aroused by no fault of his.
"I shall expect the girls to make their home with me until they are married," he continues. "I think that old English custom of having one home centre is right, and as I am the elder it is my place to provide it. I do not know as I shall be able to keep up the lavish scale of my father's day," and he sighs.
Mrs. Grandon remembers well that there was a great complaint of bills in her husband's time, and that Eugene has been frightfully extravagant since. He is off pleasuring, and the other is here planning and toiling. There is a small sense of injustice, but she salves her conscience with the idea that it is an executor's bounden duty, and that Floyd has had nothing but pleasure and idleness in his time.
It is late when he goes to his room to toss and tumble about restlessly, and feel dissatisfied with the result of his work. Has he been unfilial, unbrotherly? Surely every man has some rights in his own life, his own aims. But has he done the best with his? Was it wise to marry Violet? In a certain way she is dear to him; she has saved his child for him,—his whole heart swells in gratitude. As for the love, the love that is talked of and written about, or the overmastering passion a man might experience for Madame Lepelletier, neither tempts him. A quiet, friendly regard that will allow him to go his own way, choose his own pursuits, command his own time, if a man must have a wife; and he knows in his secret heart of hearts that he really does not care to have a wife, that it will not materially add to his happiness.
"I ought not to have married her," he admits to himself in a conscience-stricken way, "but there was nothing else to do. And I surely can make her happy, she is satisfied with such a little."
His conscience pricks him there. Is he to turn niggard and dole out to her a few crumbs of regard and tenderness? to let her take from the child what the husband ought to give? If there were no contrasting memory, no secret sense of weariness amid kisses and caresses and caprices pretty enough for occasional use, the dessert of love's feasts, but never really touching the man's deeper life.
"It must be that some important elements have been left out of my composition," he ruminates, grimly. Could even madame have moved him to a headlong passion? Would there not come satiety even with her? Certainly Cecil's welfare was to be considered in a second marriage, and he has done that. If he has blundered again for himself he will make the best of it in the certainty that there is now another and absorbing interest to his life.
I cannot argue, I can only feel.—GOETHE.
Grandon runs carelessly over his mail before the morning meeting at Mr. Sherburne's. Two letters interest him especially and he lays them aside. One is from Eugene. That improvident young man is out of money. He is tired of Lake George and desires to go to Newport. He is sorry that Floyd is getting himself into such a mess with the business, and is quite sure the best thing would be to sell out to Wilmarth. He has had a letter from him in which he, Wilmarth, confesses that matters are in a very serious strait unless Mr. Floyd Grandon is willing to risk his private fortune. "Don't do it," counsels the younger. "The new machinery is a confounded humbug, but if any one can make it work, Wilmarth is the man. If St. Vincent wants to get his daughter a husband, why does he not offer her to Wilmarth? If she is as pretty as you say, she ought not go begging for a mate, but when I marry for a fortune I want the money in hand, not locked up in a lot of useless trumpery."
A pang goes through Floyd's soul. If he never had offered her to Eugene! It seems almost as if he had stabbed her to the heart. He can see her soft, entreating, velvet eyes, and he covers his face with his hands to hide the blush of shame. He will make it all up to her a thousand times. Ah, can mere money ever take out such a sting?
The other letter is from a German professor and dear friend that he left behind in Egypt, who expects to reach America early in September, and find that Herr Grandon has improved his time and transcribed and arranged all the notes, as he has so many more. There will be little enough time, so the good comrade must not idle. They will have a good long vacation afterward, when they can climb mountains and shoot buffaloes, and explore the New World together, but now every day is of value!
Floyd Grandon gives a smile of dismay. The precious days are flying so rapidly. And everything has changed, the most important of all, his own life. How could he?
He is a little late at the lawyer's, and they are all assembled. He gives a quick glance toward Wilmarth. The impassible face has its usual half-sneer and the covert politeness so baffling. Lindmeyer has been explaining something, and stops short with an eager countenance.
The provisions of the will are gone over again. Floyd Grandon is now an interested party in behalf of his wife. There are the books with a very bad showing for the six months. They have not paid expenses, and there is no reserve capital to fall back upon. It looks wonderfully like a failure. Wilmarth watches Grandon closely. He is aware now that he has underrated the vigor of his opponent, who by a lucky turn of fate holds the trump cards. That Floyd Grandon could or would have married Miss St. Vincent passes him. He knows nothing, of course, of the episode with Cecil, and thinks the only motive is the chance to get back the money he has been advancing on every hand. If he only had signed a marriage contract there in Canada! He could almost subject himself to the tortures of the rack for his blunder.
"Gentlemen," says Lindmeyer, who is a frank, energetic man of about Grandon's age, with a keen eye and a resolute way of shutting his mouth, "I see no reason at present why this should not succeed. It has been badly handled, not understood. Mr. St. Vincent was not able to make the workmen see with his eyes, and in his state of health he was so excitable, confused, and worried that I don't wonder, indeed, I have this plan to propose. If either of you gentlemen," glancing at Wilmarth and Grandon, "will advance me sufficient means, and allow me to choose my own foreman, perhaps a head man in every department, I will prove to you in a month that the thing is a success, that there is a fortune in it."
The steady, confident ring in the man's voice inspires them all. He is no wild enthusiast. They glance at Wilmarth, as being in some sense head of the business.
He knows, no one better, of all the obstacles that have been placed in the way, so cunningly that no man could put a finger on the motive. It has been his persistent resolve to let everything run down, to bring the business to the very verge of bankruptcy. He did not count on Floyd Grandon being so ready to part with his money to save it, or of ever having any personal interest in it, and he did count on his being disgusted with his brother's selfishness, indolence, and lack of business capacity; all of which he has sedulously fostered, while attaching the young man to him by many indulgences. This part of the game is surely at an end.
Floyd sits silent. How much money will it take? What if he is swallowed down the throat of the great factory! His father's instructions were to the effect that if he could not save it without endangering his private fortune, to let it go. There is still ground that he can sell. There might be a new vein opened in the quarry. He must risk it.
"If Mr. Grandon," says Mr. Wilmarth, with a slow, irritating intonation that hardly conceals insolence, "feels able to advance for the three quarters, I can look after my share. I must confess that I am not an expert in mechanics, and may have been mistaken in some of my views. My late partner was very sanguine, while my temperament is of the doubting order. I am apt to go slowly, but I try to go surely. I am not a rich man," dryly.
"Let it be done, then," returns Grandon. He has no more faith in Wilmarth to-day than he had last week, but he will not work against his own interest, surely!
There are many points to discuss and settle. Lindmeyer will proceed to the factory and get everything in good running order for next week, and hunt up one man who understands this business, an Englishman who is looking around for a permanent position, whom he has known for some years.
"Our superintendent holds his engagement by the year," says Wilmarth, with provoking suavity. "What can we do with him?"
"It is distinctly understood that I am not to be hampered in any way!" protests Lindmeyer.
"Give your man a holiday," says Connery. "Two lords can never agree to rule one household."
"The best thing," decides Grandon.
Then they go to the factory, where an explanation is made to the men. Mr. Brent receives a check for a month's wages in advance, and a vacation. Mr. Wilmarth looks on with a sardonic suavity, saying little, and betraying surprise rather than ill-humor, but he hates Floyd Grandon to the last thread. The man has come between him and all his plans. No mere money can ever make up to him for being thus baffled.
Floyd Grandon takes his way along to the little eyrie. Down in the garden there is a glimpse of a white gown, and now he need pause for no propriety. Violet starts at the step, turns, and colors, but stands quite still. Denise has been giving her some instructions as to her new position and its duties, but has only succeeded in confusing her, in taking away her friend with whom she felt at ease, and giving her a tie that alarms and perplexes.
She is very pale and her deep eyes are filled with a curious, deprecating light. A broad black ribbon is fastened about her waist, and a knot at her throat. She looks so small, so lovely, that he gathers her in his arms.
"My little darling," he begins, in a voice of infinite tenderness, "I seem to neglect you sadly, but there are so many things."
"Do not mind," she answers, softly. "I am quite used to being alone. I missed Cecil very much, though," and her sweet lip quivers. "Oh, are you quite sure, quite satisfied that I can do my duty toward her? I never had a mother of my own to remember, but I will be very good and kind. I love children, and she is so sweet."
"My little girl, you are a child yourself. As the years go on you and Cecil will be more like sisters, companions; and I hope you will always be friends. I must take you home," he continues, abruptly. "My mother and one sister are there; all the rest are away."
She shivers a little. "Am I to live there?" she asks, timidly. She has been thinking how altogether lovely it would be to have him and Cecil here.
"Why, of course. You belong to me now."
He means it for a touch of pleasant intimacy, but she seems to shrink away. In that old time—the brief year—caresses and attention were continually demanded. This new wife does not even meet him half way, and he feels awkward. He can be fond enough of Cecil, and is never at a loss, but this ground is so new that he is inclined to pick his way carefully, with a feeling that she is not at all like any one he has ever known.
They are walking back to the house, and when Denise comes to greet them she sees that the husband has his arm around his young wife's waist. Her Old World idea is that the wife should respect the husband to a point of wholesome fear. They are certainly doing very well. She feels so proud of this great, grave man, with his broad shoulders, his flowing brown beard, his decisive eye, and general air of command.
"Have you had any dinner or lunch?" Violet says, suddenly, moved with a new sense of care.
"Yes. But I think we will have a glass of wine and—Have you eaten anything?"
She colors a little. "No," says Denise. "She doesn't eat enough to keep a cricket alive."
"Then we must have some dinner. Denise will get it. Would you like to come up-stairs with me?"
He has brought home a few papers to put in her father's desk. On the threshold he pauses. The room is in perfect order. The snowy bed, the spotless toilet-table, the clean towels on the rack, with their curious monogram in Denise's needle-work, the table, with an orderly litter of papers, arranged by a woman's hand, and a white saucer filled with purple heliotrope. The arm-chair is a trifle pushed aside, as if some one has just risen, and another chair, as if for a guest, stands there. He understands that she has been busy here. She gives a long sigh.
"My poor darling!"
She is weeping very softly in his arms.
"It is all so sad," she says, "and yet I know he is in heaven with mamma. He loved her very much. Denise told me so. He would not wish to come back even if he could, and it would be selfish to want him. He had to suffer so much, poor papa! But I would like to keep this room just so, and come now and then, if I might."
"You shall. I must talk to Denise." He wonders now how Lindmeyer would like to be here for a month. There are so many things to go over. "Yes," he continues, "this room shall be sacred. No one shall come here but Denise and you."
They go through to the study. He remembers the picture he saw here one day. Then they continue their walk past her plain little nun's room, with Denise's opening out of it. The house being built on a side-hill makes this just above the kitchen. Down-stairs there are four more rooms.
Never was man more at a loss for some of the kindly commonplaces of society. She seems sacred in her grief, and he cannot offer the stern comfort wherewith a man solaces himself; he is too new for the little nothings of love, and so they walk gravely on, down the stairs again, and out on the porch that hangs over the slope. But she likes him the better for his silence, and the air of strength seems to stir her languid pulses.
Denise summons them to their meal. He pours a trifle of wine for her in the daintiest, thinnest glass, she pours tea for him in a cup that would make a hunter of rare old china thrill to the finger-ends. He puts a bit of the cold chicken on her plate, and insists that she shall try the toast and the creamed potatoes. She has such a meek little habit of obedience that he almost smiles.
When the dessert has been eaten and they rise, Denise says, with kindly authority, "Go take a walk in the garden, Miss Violet, while I talk to Mr. Grandon. Pardon me; madame, I mean."
Grandon smiles, and Violet, looking at him, smiles also, but goes with her light movement, so full of grace.
"It is about the child's clothes, monsieur," Denise begins, her wrinkled face flushing. "She has no trousseau, there has been no time, and I am an old woman, but it is all mourning, and she does not like black. It is too gloomy for the child, but what is to be done?"
Floyd Grandon is much puzzled. If madame,—but no, he would not want madame's wisdom in this case, even if he could have it. There is his mother; well, he cannot ask her. Gertrude would not feel able to bother.
"She wore a dress to the funeral," he says, with the vaguest idea of what it was.
"Her father would have her buy some pretty light things when she was in the city, but her other dresses are what she had at school, gray and black. They are not suitable for madame. Some are still short——"
"You will have to go with her," Grandon says. "I can take you both into the city some day."
"But I do not know——"
"I will find out what is wanted. Yes, you will go with her; she would feel more at home with you," he says, in his authoritative manner.
Denise courtesies meekly.
"I am going to keep the house just as it is," announces Grandon. "She will like to come every day until she gets a little settled in her new home. I hope she will be happy."
"She could not fail to be happy with you and your little girl." Denise answers, with confident simplicity.
Floyd bethinks himself. Mrs. Grandon must be taken home in the carriage. He will begin by paying her all honor. There is no one to send, so he must e'en but go himself. He finds Violet in the garden and tells her to make herself ready against his coming.
She would like to go in her white dress, just as she is, but Denise overrules so great a blunder, and when Grandon returns he finds a pale little nun in black, with a close bonnet and long veil. Cecil has come with him, and is shocked at this strange metamorphosis. She draws back in dismay.
"Cecil!" The voice is so longingly, so entreatingly sweet that Floyd Grandon stands transfixed. "You have not forgotten that you loved me!"
"But—you are not pretty in that bonnet. It is just like grandmamma's, and the long veil——"
"Never mind, my dear," says her father, and inwardly he anathematizes fashion. Violet is not as pretty as she was an hour ago. The black makes her sunshiny hair look almost red, and her face is so very grave.
They have a nice long ride first. Cecil presently thaws into the mistress of ceremonies in a very amusing manner.
"My doll is not as large as yours," she confesses, "but I will let you play with it. Can't you bring yours, too, and then we will each have one. You are going to live always at papa's house, you know, and you can tell me stories. Jane said I would have to learn lessons, will I?"
"Oh, I should so like to teach you," says Violet, flushing.
"But you must not scold me! Papa never lets any one scold me," she announces, with a positive air.
"I never should," and Violet wipes away some tears. "I shall always love you."
"Oh, don't cry!" Cecil is deeply moved now, and her own lovely eyes fill. Grandon winks his hard and turns his face aside. They are two children comforting one another.
Violet is quite amazed as they drive around the wide sweep of gravelled way. Floyd hands her out. "This is your home henceforth," he says. "You and Cecil are the two treasures I have brought to it, and I hope neither of you will take wings and fly away. I shall look for you both to make me very happy."
He has touched the right chord. She glances up and smiles, and is transfigured in spite of the dismal mourning gear. If she can do anything for him! If the benefits will not always lie on his side!
He takes her straight through to the elegant drawing-room. She shall be paid the honors in her own proper sphere. While he is waiting he unties the ugly little bonnet and takes her out of her crape shroud, as it looks to him.
"Mrs. Grandon has gone out to drive," announces Mary, who has been instructed to say just this, without a bit of apology.
Gertrude stands in the doorway. She nearly always wears long white woollen wrappers that cling to her figure and trail on the ground, and intensify the appearance of attenuation. A pale lavender Shetland shawl is wrapped about her. She has had quite a discussion with her mother, in which she had evinced unwonted spirit. Floyd has been good to them, and it will be dreadfully ungenerous to begin by treating his wife badly.
Her brother's face is flashed with indignation. "I am glad you had the grace to come, Gertrude," he exclaims, pointedly, and takes her over to Violet, who looks up entreatingly at the tall figure.
"Oh," she says, confusedly, "what a little dot you are! And Violet is such a pretty name for you."
"I hope you will like me. I hope——"
"If you can put up with me," is the rejoinder. "I am in wretched health and scarcely stir from my sofa, but I am sure I shall like you"; and Gertrude resolves bravely that she will be on the side of the new wife, if it does not cost her too much exertion.
"What a lovely house!" and Violet draws a long, satisfied breath. "And the river is so near."
"You must never go without Jane," annotates Cecil; "must she, papa?"
They all smile at this. "I should not like to have her lost," says papa, gravely.
"Do you ever go out rowing or sailing?"
"I never do," and Gertrude shudders. "I cannot bear the heat of the sun or the chill of evening. But we have boats."
"And I am a crack oarsman," says Grandon. "I shall practise up for a match."
They begin to ramble about presently. It really is better than if Mrs. Grandon was at home. Out on the wide porches, through the library, up the tower, and Violet is in ecstasies with the view. Then they come down through the chambers, and the young wife feels as if she had been inspecting a palace. How very rich Mr. Grandon must be! If papa had lived he might have made the fortune he used to study over.
Violet is quite bright and flushed when the dinner-bell rings, and is introduced to her husband's mother at the head of the elegantly appointed table. She is in rich black silk, with crape folds, and very handsome jet ornaments, and Violet shrinks into herself as the sharp eyes glance her over. Why should they be so unfriendly? All conversation languishes, as Cecil is trained not to talk at the table.
Violet returns to the drawing-room and walks wistfully about the grand piano. Floyd opens it for her and begs her to amuse herself whenever she feels so inclined. "Is he quite certain no one will be annoyed?" "Quite." Then she seats herself. She has had no piano at the eyrie. This is delicious. She runs her fingers lightly over the keys and evokes the softest magic music, the sweetest, saddest strains. They stir Floyd's very soul as he sits with Cecil on his knee, who is large-eyed and wondering.
Mrs. Grandon saunters in presently. "How close it is," she exclaims, "and I have such an excruciating headache!"
"Ah," says Violet, sympathetically. "I had better not continue playing, it might distress you."
"Oh, no, you need not mind." The tone is that of a martyr, and Violet stops with a last tender strain. Floyd Grandon is so angry that he dare not trust his voice to speak. Violet stands for a moment undecided, then he stretches out his hand, and she is so glad of the warm clasp in that great lonely room.
"Let us go out to walk. It is not quite dark yet. Cecil, ask Jane to bring some shawls."
Cecil slips down. Floyd draws his wife nearer. He would like to hold the slight little thing, but his mother is opposite, and he must not make Violet seem a baby.
"I have put an end to that!" exclaims Mrs. Grandon, vindictively, going back to Gertrude. "That is Laura's piano, and it shall not be drummed on by school-girls. What Floyd could see in that silly little red-haired thing to bring her to a place like this, when he could have had a lady——"
"After all, if he is satisfied," begins Gertrude, deprecatingly.
"He wanted her fortune! He doesn't care a sixpence for her. It was to get the business in his hands, and now we can all tramp as soon as we please."
"Mother, you are unjust."
"And you are a poor, spiritless fool, who can never see anything beyond the page of a novel!" is the stinging retort.
She goes to her own room, and the morning's mail carries the news to Eugene and Laura.
Floyd has letters to write this evening, and when Cecil's bedtime comes, Violet goes up with her. They have a pretty romp that quite scandalizes Jane, who is not at all sure how much respect she owes this new mistress.
"O you sweet little darling!" Violet cries for the twentieth time. "You are the one thing I can have for mine."
"I am papa's first," says Cecil, with great dignity. "He loves me best of anything in the wide world,—he has told me so, oh, a hundred times! And I love him best, and then you. Oh, what makes you cry so often, because your papa is dead?"
No one but poor old Denise will ever love her "best of all." She has had her day of being first. Even in heaven papa has found the one he so long lost and is happy. She can never be first with him again. He hardly misses her, Violet; he has had her only at such long intervals, such brief whiles.
In the silence she cries herself to sleep the first night in her new home.
Men, like bullets, go farthest when they are smoothest.—JEAN PAUL.
Floyd Grandon begins the next morning by treating his wife as if she were a princess born. His fine breeding stands in stead of husbandly love. Briggs has orders to take her and Miss Cecil out in the carriage every day. Jane is to wait on her. Even Cecil is not allowed to tease, and instructed to call her mamma. He escorts her in to the table, and at a glance the servant pays her outward deference at least.
"Violet," he says, after breakfast, "will you drive over with me to see Denise on a little business? No, Cecil, my darling, you cannot go now, and I shall bring your mamma back very soon. Be a cheerful little girl, and you shall have her afterward."
Cecil knows that tone means obedience. She is not exactly cheerful, but neither is she cross. They drive in Marcia's pony phaeton.
"Nothing in the world is too good for us," Mrs. Grandon says, with a sneer. "There will be open war between her and Marcia."
"She will be likely to have a pony carriage of her own," observes Gertrude, who resolves to mention this project to Floyd.
"Oh, yes. I suppose the economy for others, means extravagance here. We can afford it."
Gertrude makes no further comment.
Violet glances timidly at her husband's face, and sees a determination that she is to misinterpret many times before she can read it aright. She is not exactly happy. All this state and attention render her nervous, it is so unlike her simple life.
"Violet," he begins, "Denise was speaking yesterday of—of——" How shall he get to it. "There was no time to provide you any clothes, any—You see I am not much of a lady's man. I have been out in India and Egypt, and where they keep women shut up in harems, and never had occasion to think much about it. I want to take you and Denise to the city; perhaps you would go to-day?" with a man's promptness.
Violet is puzzled, alarmed, and some notion of delicacy almost leads her to protest.
"I am too abrupt, I suppose," he says, ruefully, looking almost as distressed as she. "But you see it is necessary."
"Then if Denise——"
He is thinking the sooner they go the better. He will not have his mother saying she came destitute and penniless, or considering her attire out of the way. He went once to the city with Laura, and left her at a modiste's, and he can find it again, so he will take them there and order all that any lady in Violet's station will require. No one need know they have gone. It all flashes over him in an instant. He had meant merely to make arrangements, but now he plans the trip. They can go to Westbrook station, they can return without being seen of prying eyes. He feels a little more sensitive on the subject because he has so lately seen all of Laura's wedding paraphernalia. There will be Laura, and perhaps madame to inspect her, and she must stand the test well for her own sake. He would like to see her always in a white gown; even that gray one was pretty the day she saved his darling.
"Yes," he says, rousing suddenly. "Denise understands all about these matters. You are still so young." Laura he remembers was but a year older, but, oh, how much wiser in worldly lore! No, he would never care to have Violet wise in that way. "And if it had been otherwise,—my child, it was a sad bridal. Some time we will make amends for all that."
Her eyes fill with tears. She is still looking very grave when Denise takes her in the fond, motherly arms. While she is gone upstairs to papa's room, Grandon explains and convinces Denise that the journey is absolutely necessary, and that no one can serve her young mistress as well as she.
He sends a carriage for them while he takes Marcia's phaeton home, and explains to Cecil that her mamma has some important business with Denise, and tells his mother neither of them will be home to luncheon.
Denise looks the neat old serving-woman to perfection, and once started on their journey Violet's face brightens. They find the modiste, who inspects her new customers and is all suavity. Grandon makes a brief explanation, and questions if all toilets must be black.
"It is extremely sad," and Madame Vauban looks sympathetic. "And she is so young, so petite! Crapes seem to weigh her down, yet there must be some for street use. If madame was not purposing to wear it very long, it might be lightened the sooner. Just now there could be only black and white."
"Put plenty of white in it, then," orders Mr. Grandon, and samples are brought out for his inspection. He thinks after this sorrowful time is over she shall dress like a little queen. There are so many lovely gowns and laces, so much that is daintily pretty, appropriate for her. He can hardly refrain from buying her trinkets and nonsense, but he will not have her subjected to hostile criticisms, and he is not sure his judgment is to be trusted. He would doubtless flounder among the proprieties.
"And now," he says, when they are in the street again, "would you like to go anywhere? There is the park, and there must be pictures somewhere. I wish there was a matinee, only it might not be right to go"; and he secretly anathematizes his own ignorance of polite and well-bred circles. But he learns the whereabouts of two galleries, and they stumble over some bric-a-brac that is quite enchanting. Violet has been trained on correct principles. She knows the names and eras of china, and has discrimination. Her little bit of French is well pronounced. She is not so well posted in modern painters, but she has the o'd ones, with their virgins and saints and crucifixions, all by heart.
They are sitting on a sofa resting, and glancing at some pictures opposite. Denise is busy with a homely farm scene that recalls her girlhood, and no one is in their vicinity. One small, white, ungloved hand rests on Violet's lap. Her face is sweet and serious, without the sad gravity that shadows it so often. Indeed, she is very happy. She has not been so much at ease with Floyd Grandon since her marriage, neither has he devoted himself to her entertainment with such a cordial purpose as now. He certainly is a fascinating man to the most of womenkind, even when he is indifferent to them, but he is not indifferent at this juncture. There is a curious quality in Floyd Grandon's nature that is often despised by enthusiastic people. When it is his bounden duty to take certain steps in life, he resolutely bends his will and pleasure to them. He means honestly to love this wife that circumstances or his own sympathetic weakness has brought him. Just now it seems an easy matter. He has a horror of pronounced freedoms; they look silly and vulgar, yet he cannot resist clasping the little bare hand. The warm touch thrills her. She turns just enough to let him catch the shy, pleased, irresistible light in her eye; no finished coquette could have done it better, but with her it is such simple earnest.
"Are you happy?" he asks, not because he is ignorant, but he wants an admission.
"Oh!" It is just a soft, low sigh, and though her cheek flushes that delicious rose pink, her face is still. The light comes over it like a lustrous wave.
"Why, this is a bit of wedding journey," he says. "I did not think of it before. I wish I could take you away for a week or two, but there is so much on my mind that maybe I should not be an entertaining companion. It will come presently, and it will be ever so much better not to be shaded by grief."
She is quite glad that they are not away from all the old things. She knows so little about him, she feels so strange when she comes very near to him in any matter, as if she longed to run away to Denise or Cecil. Just sitting here is extremely sweet and safe, and does not alarm her.
There is a clock striking four. Can it be they have idled away nearly all day? He rises and draws the bare hand through his arm, he is even gallant enough to take her parasol, while she carries a pretty satin satchel-like box of bonbons for Cecil. Denise comes at his nod; she has two or three of her mistress's parcels, and they take up their homeward journey. He carries her parasol so high that the sun shines in her eyes; but the distance is short, and she says nothing.
Fortunately they reach home just in time for dinner. Cecil is out on the porch, in the last stages of desolation.
"Come up with me and get this pretty box," cries Violet, holding it out temptingly. "And to-morrow we will both spend with Denise, who will make us tarts and chocolate cream."
"You stayed such a long, long while," groans Cecil, not quite pacified.
"But I shall not do it again," she promises. She is so bright that the child feels unconsciously aggrieved.
Mrs. Grandon is very stately, and wears an air of injured dignity that really vexes her son, who cannot see how she has been hurt by his marriage, so long as he does not make Violet the real mistress of the house. He has proposed that she affix her own valuation on the furniture she is willing to part with; he will pay her income every six months, and she will be at liberty to go and come as she pleases. What more can he do?
He explains to Violet a day or two afterward, that between the factory and his own writing he will hardly have an hour to spare, and that she must not feel hurt at his absence. Lindmeyer has come, and with Joseph Rising they are going over all with the utmost exactness. There are sullen looks and short answers on the part of the workmen. It has been gently hinted to them that other vacations may be given without any advance wages. Wilmarth is quietly sympathetic. It is necessary, of course, that the best should be done for Mr. Grandon, who has managed to get everything in his own hands and entangle his private fortune. And though Wilmarth never has been a thorough favorite as old Mr. Grandon, and Mr. Eugene, with his bonhomie, yet now the men question him in a furtive way.
"I have very little voice in the matter," explains Jasper Wilmarth, with an affected cautiousness. "I have tried to understand Mr. St. Vincent's views about the working of his patent, but machinery is not my forte. I can only hope——"
"We did well enough before the humbugging thing was put in," says one of the workmen, sullenly. "Mr. Grandon made money. We had decent wages and decent wool, and we weren't stopping continually to get this thing changed and that thing altered. Now you're thrown out half a day here and half a day there, and the new men are nosing round as if they suspected you would make way with something and meant to catch you at it."
"We must have patience," says Wilmarth, in that extremely irritating, hopeless tone. "Mr. Grandon is interested in his wife's behalf, though it is said he has a fortune of his own, and the new method must be made to pay him, if every one else suffers. I am not a rich man, and should be sorry to lose what I thought was so sure in this concern."
Rising finds his position an extremely disagreeable one. The men are not only curt, but evince a distrust of him, are unwilling to follow his suggestions, and will keep on in their old ways. Lindmeyer finds himself curiously foiled everywhere. It seems as if some unknown agency was at work. What he puts in order to-day is not quite right to-morrow. All the nice adjustment he can theorize about will not work harmoniously, economically. So passes away a fortnight.
"Mr. Grandon," he says, honestly, "I seldom make a decided blunder about these matters, but I can't get down to the very soul of this. There is a little miss somewhere. I said I could tell you in a month, but I am afraid I shall have to ask a further fortnight's grace. I never was so puzzled in my life. It is making an expensive experiment for you, but I do think it best to go on. I don't say this to lengthen out the job. There is plenty of work for me to go at."
Grandon sighs. He finds it very expensive. It is money on the right hand and the left, and with a costly house and large family the income that was double his bachelor wants melts away like dew. He is not parsimonious, but his instincts and habits have been prudent. He is making inroads upon his capital, and if he should never get it back? His father, it is true, has advised against entangling his private fortune, but it cannot be helped now. To retreat with honor is impossible and would be extremely mortifying. He will not do that, he resolves. But how if he has to retreat with failure?
All these things trouble him greatly and distract his attention. He sits up far into the night poring over his own work that was such pleasure a few months ago, and he can hardly keep his mind on what so delighted him then. There is quite too much on every hand, and he must add to it family complications. His beautiful home is full of jarring elements. Even Cecil grows naughty with the superabundant vitality of childhood, and is inclined to tyrannize over Violet, who often submits for very lack of spirit, and desire of love.
They are always together, these two. They take long drives in the carriage, and Mrs. Grandon complains that everything must be given over to that silly, red-haired thing! Gertrude does battle for the hair one morning.
"I do not call it red," she says, with a decision good to hear from the languid woman. "It is a kind of bright brown, chestnut. Mrs. McLeod's is red."
"Auburn, my dear," retorts Mrs. Grandon mockingly. "If you are sensitively polite in the one instance, you might be so in the other. One is light red, the other dark red."
"One is an ugly bricky red," persists Gertrude, "and no one would call the other red at all."
"I call it red," very positively.
"Very well," says the daughter, angrily, "you cannot make it other than the very handsome tint it is, no matter what you call it."
"There has been a very foolish enthusiasm about red hair, I know, but that has mostly died out," replies the mother, contemptuously, and keeps the last word.
Gertrude actually allows herself to be persuaded into a drive with "the children" that afternoon. She and Violet happen to stumble upon a book they have both read, a lovely and touching German story, and they discuss it thoroughly. Violet is fond of German poems.
"Then you read German?" Gertrude says. "I did a little once, but it was such a bore. I haven't the strength for anything but the very lightest amusement."
"Oh," Violet exclaims, "it must be dreadful always to be ill and weak! Papa was ill a good deal, but he used to get well again, and he was nearly always going about!"
"I haven't the strength to go about much."
"I wonder," Violet says, "if you were to take a little drive every day; Cecil and I would be so glad."
Gertrude glances into the bright, eager face, with its velvety eyes and shining hair. It is beautiful hair, soft and fine as spun silk, and curling a little about the low, broad forehead, rippling on the top, and gathered into a careless coil at the back that seems almost too large for the head. Why are they all going to hate her? she wonders. She is more comfortable in the house than madame would be as a mistress, and she will never object to anything Floyd chooses to do for his mother and sisters. One couldn't feel dependent on Violet, but dependence on madame might be made a bitter draught. And if the business goes to ruin, there will be no one save Floyd.
Violet reaches over and takes Gertrude's hand. She feels as well as sees a certain delicate sympathy in the faded face.
"If you would let me do anything for you," she entreats, in that persuasive tone. "I seem of so little use. You know I was kept so busy at school."
Gertrude feels that, fascinating as Cecil is with her bright, enchanting ways, Violet may be capable of higher enjoyments. For a moment she wishes she had some strength and energy, that she might join hands with her in the coming struggle.
Indeed, now, the child and Denise are Violet's only companions. Floyd is away nearly all day, and writes, it would seem, pretty nearly all night. His mind is on other matters, she sees plainly. She has been used to her father's abstraction, and does not construe it into any slight. But in the great house, large as it is, Mrs. Grandon seems to trench everywhere, except in their own apartments. Floyd installed Violet in the elegant guest-chamber, but Mrs. Grandon always speaks of it as the spare room, or madame's room.
Violet's heart had thrilled at the thought of the exquisite-toned piano. She had tried it a day or two after her advent and found it locked.
"Do you know who keeps the key?" she had asked timidly of Jane.
"It is Miss Laura's piano," is the concise answer, and no more is said.
But one morning Mr. Grandon asks if Violet can go over to the cottage with him. Her lovely eyes are all alight.
"Get your hat, then," he says, as if he were speaking to the child.
Violet starts eagerly. Cecil rises and follows.
"Oh, she may go, too?" the pretty mamma asks.
Floyd nods over his paper. Mrs. Grandon bridles her head loftily.
"Denise has something for us, I know," cries Violet. "We were not there yesterday. Poor Denise, she must have missed us, but I did want to finish Maysie's dress." Maysie is Cecil's doll, and has had numerous accessions to her wardrobe of late.
Grandon has an odd little smile on his face as he looks up. Violet and he are friends again when they are not Mr. and Mrs. Grandon. The little episode of the wedding journey has faded, or at least has borne no further fruit. Yet as the days go on she feels more at home in the friendship.
"Oh," she begins, in joyous accents, "you have a surprise for us!" She has such a pretty way of bringing in Cecil.
"Perhaps it is Denise."
"It is cream, I know," announces Cecil. Denise's variety of creams is inexhaustible.
Grandon smiles again, a sort of good-humored, noncommittal smile.
It is something that pleases him very much, Violet decides, and a delicious interest brightens every feature.
Denise welcomes them gladly. Lindmeyer has taken up his lodgings at the cottage, but the upper rooms are kept just the same. Grandon leads the way and Violet stares at the boxes in the hall. Her room is in a lovely tumult of disorder. Bed and chairs are strewn with feminine belongings.
"Oh," she says, uttering a soft, grateful cry. "They have come! But—there is so much!" And she looks at him in amazement.
"It is not so bad, after all," he answers, touching the soft garments with his fingers, and studying her. There is a lovely dead silk, with only a very slight garniture of crape; there is the tenderest gray, that looks like a pathetic sigh, and two or three in black, that have the air of youth, an indescribable style that only an artist could give. But the white ones are marvels. One has deep heliotrope ribbons, and another crapy material seems almost alive. There are plain mulls, with wide hems, there are gloves and sashes and wraith-like plaitings of tulle; a pretty, dainty bonnet and a black chip hat, simple and graceful. Madame Vauban has certainly taken into account youth, bridehood, and the husband's wishes. Plain they are, perhaps their chief beauty lies in their not being overloaded with trimming and ornament.
"Oh," she says, "whenever am I to wear them all?" Her black dress has done mourning duty so far, but the summer heats have rendered white much more comfortable. "They are so very, very lovely!"
Her eyes glisten and her breath comes rapidly. He can see her very heart beat, and a faint scarlet flies up in her face, growing deeper and deeper, as the sweet red lips tremble.
"You bought them?" she falters, in an agony of shame.
"Should you hate to owe that much to me?" he questions.
"My dear girl—Tell her, Denise, that she is quite an heiress, and that if all goes well she will one day be very rich. It is your father's gift to you, Violet, not mine."
The troublesome scarlet dies away. She comes to him and takes his hand in her soft palms. "I would be willing to owe anything to you," she says, "but——"
"I owe you the greatest of all; a debt I never can repay, remember that, always." And drawing her to him he kisses her gently. "And now I have about fifteen minutes to spare; try on some of this white gear and let me see how you look."
She puts on the white and purple. It has a demi-train, and seems fashioned exactly for her figure. He is awaiting her in her father's room and looks her over with a critical eye. She is very pretty. She can stand comparison now with madame or Laura or any of them. She knows he is quite satisfied with her.
"Now," he continues, "Denise must pack them up again and I will send them down home. After a week or so there will be visitors. Some day you will find yourself Mrs. Grandon. I do not believe you at all realize it yet."
She colors vividly. In the great house she is seldom honored by any name. Even the servants are not quite determined what respect shall be paid her.
Grandon kisses them both and is off. What a pretty, dainty pride the girl has! Yet yesterday he sent the check without a thought of demur, though Madame Vauban has made the trousseau as costly as circumstances and her own reputation will permit. If she is never the heiress he hopes she will be, he must be more than thankful then that she is wife instead of ward.
Violet spends nearly all the morning arraying herself, to Cecil's intense delight. Denise looks on with glistening eyes. She is as anxious as Grandon that her young mistress shall hold up her head with the best of them.
"But you have a prince for a husband, ma'm'selle," she says.
The prince meanwhile finds matters not so pleasant at the factory. His bright mood is confronted with an evident cloud looming up much larger than a man's hand. The main hall is filled with workmen standing about in groups, with lowering brows and lips set in unflinching resolution, as if their wills were strongly centred upon some object to be fought for if not gained. Grandon glances at them in surprise, then walks firmly through them with no interruption, pauses at the entrance and faces them, assured that he is the one they desire to see.
One of the men, sturdy and dark-browed, steps forward, clears his throat, and with a half-surly inclination of the head begins, "Mr. Grandon," and then something intangible awes him a trifle. They may grumble among themselves, and lately they have found it easy to complain to Mr. Wilmarth, but the unconscious air of authority, the superior breeding, and fine, questioning eyes disconcert the man, who pulls himself together with the certainty that this gentleman, aristocrat as he is, has no right to set himself at the head of the business and tie every one's hands.
"Mr. Grandon," with a sort of rough, sullen courage, "me and my mates here are tired of the way things are going on. We can't work under the new man. We never had a day's trouble with Mr. Brent, who understood his business. We want to know if he is coming back at the end of the month; if not——"
"Well, if he is not, what then?" The words ring out clear and incisive.
"Then," angrily, "we'll quit! We've resolved not to work under the new one. Either he goes or we will."
"He will not go out until I am quite ready."
"Then, mates, we will knock off. We're willing to come to any reasonable terms, Mr. Grandon, and do our best, but we won't stand false accusations, and we're tired of this sort of thing."
Floyd Grandon would give a good deal for a glance into the face of Rising or Lindmeyer as inspiration for his next word. It is really a step in the dark, but he is bound to stand by them.
"Very well," he replies. "When two parties cannot get along amicably, it is best to separate."
The men seem rather nonplussed, not expecting so brief and decisive a result. They turn lingeringly, stare at each other, and march toward Wilmarth's office.
Grandon goes straight to the workroom. Half a dozen men are still at their looms.
"O Mr. Grandon!" begins Rising, with a face of the utmost anxiety, but Lindmeyer has a half-smile on his lips as he advances, which breaks into an unmirthful laugh.
"Quite a strike or an insurrection, with some muttered thunder! I hope you let them go; it will be a good day's work if you have."
"What was the trouble?" Grandon's spirits rise a trifle.
"The machinery and the new looms have been tampered with continually, just enough to keep everything out of gear. Nearly every improvement, you know, has to fight its way through opposition in the beginning. The men declare themselves innocent, and puzzled over it, but it certainly has been done. There are five excellent weavers left, Rising says."
"I would rather go on with just those a few days, until I am able to decide two or three points. And if you don't object, I should like to remain here at night."
"And we shall need a watchman. A little preventive, you know, is better than a great deal of cure."
Both men take the emeute in such good part that Grandon gains confidence. Back of this morning's dispute there has been dissatisfaction and covert insolence, and the two are thankful that the end of the trouble is reached.
Grandon returns to the office heavy hearted in spite of all. There are victories which ruin the conqueror, and even his may be too dearly bought.
A knock at the half-open door rouses him, but before he answers he knows it is Wilmarth.
"Mr. Grandon," begins that gentleman, with a kind of bitter suavity, "may I inquire into the causes that have led to this very unwise disturbance among our working forces?"
"I think the men are better able to tell their own story. They made an abrupt demand of me that Mr. Rising must be dismissed or they would go. Our agreement was for a month's trial, and the month is not ended. I stand by my men."
Grandon's voice is slow and undisturbed by any heat of passion.
"But you do not know, perhaps. They were unjustly accused."
That one word in the peculiar tone it is uttered checks Wilmarth curiously.
"Mr. Grandon," and he takes a few quick steps up and down the room, "do you assume that I have no rights, that you have all the power, judgment, and knowledge requisite for a large establishment like this, when it is quite foreign to any previous experience of yours? Is no one to be allowed a word of counsel or advice? or even to know what schemes or plans are going on?"
"Mr. Wilmarth, all that was settled at Mr. Sherburne's office. It was decided that, being the executor and trusted agent of my father, and also the husband of Miss St. Vincent, gave me the controlling voice, and you consented to the month's trial."
"And am I to stand idly by and let you drive the thing to ruin? discharge workmen, break contracts, shut up the place, and have no voice in the matter?"
"You had a voice then!"
"But you very wisely withheld the outcome of your plans. I should not have consented to my own ruin."
"Mr. Wilmarth, if you can decide upon any reasonable price for your share, I will purchase it. It cannot be a comfortable feeling to know yourself in a sinking ship, with no means of rescue. If you are doubtful of success, name your price."
He tries to study the face before him, but the sphinx is not more inscrutable. Yet he feels that from some cause Wilmarth hates him, and therein he is right. To be thwarted and outgeneralled is what this black-browed man can illy bear. To receive a certain sum of money and see his rival go on to success, with a comparatively smooth pathway, is what he will not do. Floyd Grandon shall purchase his victory at the highest, hardest rate.
"I may be doubtful," he begins, in a slow, careful tone, which Floyd knows is no index to his real state of mind, "but that does not say I am quite despairing. I had the pleasure of working most amicably with your father and receiving a fair return on my investment. I have had no dissensions with your brother, who is really my working partner. Your father was more sanguine of success than I, but I am well aware that if business men give up at the first shadow of unsuccess, a wreck is certain. I have no desire to leave the ship. The business suits me. At my time of life men are not fond of change. What I protest against is, that if I, with all my years of experience, find it best to go slowly and with care, you shall not precipitate ruin by your ill-judged haste."
How much does this man believe? What are his aims and purposes? What is under the half-concealed contempt and incredulity? If he has cherished the hope of getting the business into his hands he must feel assured of success. Floyd Grandon is not a lover of involved or intricate motives. He takes the shortest road to any point. Fairness, simplicity, and truth are his prevailing characteristics.
"Do you believe honestly that St. Vincent's idea has any of the elements of success?" he demands, incisively.
Wilmarth shrugs his shoulders and the useful sneer crosses his face.
"Mr. Grandon," he answers, imperturbably, "I have seen the elements of success fail from lack of skilful handling."
"You proposed for the hand of Miss St. Vincent," and then Grandon could bite out his tongue if it would recall the words.
"Yes," with half-contemptuous pity. "He had risked everything on the success of this, and the poor child would have been left in a sad plight. Marriage was rather out of my plans."
"And fate happily relieved you," says Grandon, throwing into his face all the enthusiasm and softness of which he is master. "She did for me the greatest service; but for her, my days would have been a blank and desolation. She saved the life of my child, my little girl," and now he has no need to assume gratitude. "I was a witness myself to the heroic act, but could not have reached her in time. She was the veriest stranger to me then, and aroused within my soul emotions of such deep and rare thankfulness that only the devotion of a lifetime can repay."
"Ah, yes," says Wilmarth, "you would naturally take an interest in her fortune."
"If you mean by that, wealth," and he feels as if he could throttle the man, "I shall care for her interest as I do for my mother, or my sisters. Whatever the result, it is all in her hands; I had no need to marry for money."
"We have digressed widely," suggests Wilmarth, and he hesitates, a little uncertain how to make the next move tell the most cuttingly.
"But you see, with all this in view, I am not likely to rush headlong to ruin. I have taken some of the best counsel I could find. My experience is that a man who firmly believes in the success of what he undertakes is much more likely to succeed, and this Lindmeyer does. Rising has had charge of a large factory in England. The least I can do is to give them every chance in my power to do their best, and that they shall have."
"And the men?"
"They have acted according to their best judgment," and now it is Grandon's turn to smile grimly. "They may be mistaken; if so, that is their misfortune. I hold steadfastly to my men until the month ends, and their success will decide the new arrangements."
Again Jasper Wilmarth has been worsted. When he started the disaffection among the men he did not count on its culmination quite so soon, and again he has unwittingly played into Floyd Grandon's hands; how fatally he knows best himself.
"Then the men are to consider themselves discharged."
"They are to consider that they discharged themselves," says the master of the situation.
If you observe us you will find us in our manners and way of living most like wasps.—ARISTOPHANES.
She sits on the wide, fragrant porch with her lovely stepdaughter, watching for the return of her husband and his German friend, with whom he has no end of business. Certainly Violet makes a most amiable wife. She finds no fault with the all-engrossing business, even in this honeymoon month, but contents herself with Cecil and Denise, with rides and walks, and days spent at the cottage. Denise instructs her in cookery, but she feels as if she should never need the knowledge, since Mrs. Grandon mere is at the head of the great house, with servants to do her bidding.
Violet is musing now over a talk had with Gertrude this afternoon. She was trying to persuade her to join them for a drive. It seems such a dreary life to lie here on the sofa when there is the wide, glowing out of doors.
"Our quiet times will soon come to an end," says Gertrude, complainingly. "Marcia returns presently, and Laura will no doubt come back for a visit, but we are rid of her as a permanency," and she flavors her speech with a bitter little laugh.
"What is Laura like? She is only a year older than I," rejoins Violet.
"But ten years wiser. She has achieved the great aim of a woman's life,—a rich husband."
Violet colors delicately. She has a rich husband, but it was no aim of her life.
"What is Marcia like?" she inquires, timidly.
"She will fret you to death in a week, a faded flirt with the air of sixteen, who sets up for a genius. Get her married if you can. It is fortunate that there is some dispensation of fate to take people out of your way."
"I never had a sister," Violet says, half regretfully.
"Well, you will have enough of us," is the rejoinder. "Though I shall try to make no trouble. A book and a sofa satisfy me."
"Were you always ill? And you must have been pretty! You would be pretty now if you had some color and clearness, such as exercise would give you."
Gertrude is comforted by the naive compliment. No one ever praises her now.
"I was pretty to some one a long while ago," she says, pathetically.
It suggests a lover. "Oh, do tell me!" cries Violet, kneeling by the sofa. Marriage is marriage, of course, and Denise has instructed her in its duties, but is not love something accidental, not always happening in the regular sequence?
"It is not much," confesses Gertrude, "but it once was a great deal to me. I was engaged, and we loved each other dearly. I was soon to be married, the very first of them all, but he went wrong and had to go away in disgrace. It broke my heart!"
"Oh!" and Violet kisses her, with tears on her cheek. No wonder she is so sad and spiritless.
"I don't mind now. Perhaps it would have been no end of a bother, and I'm not fond of children. Cecil is the least troublesome of any I ever saw, but I couldn't have her about all the time, as you do. Yes, it seemed at first as if I must die," she says, in a curious past-despairing tone.
"He may come back," suggests Violet.
"Oh, no! And then one couldn't be disgraced, you know! But it was mean for Laura always to be flaunting her good fortune in my face. I'm glad she is married, and I only wish Marcia was going off. We could settle to comfort the rest of our lives."
Violet is thinking of this brief, blurred story, and wondering how it would seem to love anyone very much beforehand. She has been trained to believe that love follows duty as an obedient handmaid. She likes Mr. Grandon very much. He is so good and tender, but of course he loves the child the best. Violet is not a whit jealous, for she does not know what love really is in its depth and strength. But it is a mystery, a sort of forbidden fruit to her, and yet she would like one taste of what
"Some have found so sweet."
The carriage-wheels crumble her revery to fine sand. She is not sure whether it is proper to come forward, and there are two more in the carriage, a bright, beautiful woman that she fancies is Madame Lepelletier.
Mrs. Grandon does not leave her in doubt as she hastens forward with a really glad exclamation.
"My dear Laura!"
"Wasn't it odd?" says dear Laura. "We really were not meaning to come up to-day, our hands were so full, but we met Floyd on Broadway, and here we are."
She steps out, stylish, graceful, with that unmistakable society air some people never acquire. She is dressed in a soft black and white checked silk, so fine that it is gray, her chip bonnet is of the same color, with its wreath of gray flowers, and her gloves are simply exquisite. All this seems to set off her fine eyes and brilliant complexion.
Violet catches her husband's eye and joins them, with Cecil by the hand. Floyd looks her over. He has allowed himself an uneasy misgiving for the last half-hour, for Violet's dress is usually so unconventional. But she is in one of her new toilets, a soft, clinging material, with the least touch of tulle at the throat and wrist, and a cluster of white roses at her belt; simple, yet refined, with a delicate grace that savors of Paris.
The introductions follow. There is Prof. Freilgrath, quite different from their old, round, bald German teacher. He is tall and martial-looking, with a fine head, and hair on the auburn tint, a little curling and thin at the edge of the high forehead. His eyes are light blue, keen, good-humored, and he wears glasses; his nose is large, his mouth rather wide, but his teeth are perfect. His English has a very slight accent, and he impresses one with scholarly ways at once. Arthur Delancy, a very good-looking young man, seems rather insignificant beside him. Violet experiences a thrill of negative preference; she is glad it was not her fate to become Mrs. Delancy.
Some one invites them within.
"Oh, no," responds the professor. "Mrs. Grandon knows what is delightful; let us follow her example and sit here on the porch. You Americans are indoors quite too much. And I want to see the child, Mr. Grandon's pretty daughter."
"I must be excused then," declares Laura. "They may entertain you, Arthur, but I must see mamma and take off my bonnet."
The others seat themselves in the bamboo veranda chairs. Cecil is seized with a fit of shyness, which proves coaxable, however. Violet feels compelled, as sole lady, to be entertaining, and acquits herself so well that in a few moments her husband forgets his recent anxiety about her.
Laura follows her mother up-stairs.
"What did possess Floyd to make such an utter fool of himself?" she asks. "When you wrote, I was struck dumb! That little—ninny!"
"You have just hit it. A girl who still plays with dolls, and who learned nothing in a convent but to count beads and embroider trumpery lace," says the mother, contemptuously.
"And he might have had Madame Lepelletier! She has been such a success at Newport, and she will be just the envy of New York this winter! She is going to take a furnished house,—the Ascotts'. They are to spend the winter in Paris, and Mrs. Latimer says the house is lovely as an Eastern dream. I never can forgive him. And he offered her to Eugene."
"Offered her to Eugene!" repeats the mother.
"Yes. He had hardly reached Lake George when the Grand Seigneur insisted upon his coming back and espousing Miss St. Vincent,—very Frenchy, was it not? But Eugene did not mean to be burdened with a dead weight all his life. We have had enough botherment with that miserable patent, not to have a beggarly girl thrust upon us!"
Mrs. Grandon is struck dumb now. Eugene has missed a fortune. Why does everything drop into Floyd's hands?
"I don't know about that," she answers. "It is a wretched choice for Floyd; she is a mere child compared to him, and she would have done better for Eugene. The patent is likely to prove a success; in that case the St. Vincent fortune is not to be despised."
"O mamma, Mr. Wilmarth assured Eugene that Floyd never could get back the money he was sinking in it. He must know. You do not suppose Floyd was counting on that chance, do you?"
"I don't know what he was counting on," says the mother, angrily; "only he seems to take the best of everything."
"But fancy Eugene marrying to order!" and Laura laughs lightly. "I believe it was a plan of Mr. St. Vincent's in the first place. Well, the silly little thing is not much to look at! Mamma, do you know this Prof. Freilgrath is a great German savant and traveller? He and Floyd have been writing a book together about Egypt or Africa or the Nile. Mr. Latimer's club is to give him an elegant reception. Mrs. Latimer met him while they were at Berlin three years ago, when he had just come from some wonderful explorations. Oh, if Madame Lepelletier were only here, she would make Floyd one of the lions of the day! What an awful pity he is tied to that child! And it was so mean of him not to come to Newport, as he promised! The whole thing is inscrutable!"
"It was a hurried, tangled-up mess! I don't pretend to understand it. I don't believe he cares for her, but the thing is done," the mother says, desperately.
"I was curious to see her, and when Floyd asked us so cordially to come I would have put off everything. We are to go back again to-morrow, and I am delighted to meet the professor, not that I care much for the Nile or the ruins of buried cities, unless some rare and beautiful jewelry comes to light," and she laughs. "My bracelets have been the envy of half Newport. I wonder—— But I suppose Floyd will save the rest of his 'trumpery' for her! You have not been deposed, ma mere!"
The set expression in Mrs. Grandon's face indicates that deposing her would be a rather difficult matter.
Laura meanwhile has washed her face and done her hair. She rummages in a drawer for some fresh laces she remembers to have left behind, and makes herself quite elegant. As they go down-stairs Mrs. Grandon slips the key in the piano, and then makes inquiries concerning the dinner.
The "foolish little thing" in her pretty willow rocker has made herself entertaining to the German professor, who is not long in finding that she is quite well read in orthodox German literature, except the poets, and there her teacher has allowed a wide range. She is yet too young for it to have touched her soul, but her eyes promise a good deal when the soul shall be really awakened. And he thinks of the story his friend has told, of her saving his little girl, and pays her a true, fervent admiration that puzzles Laura extremely. Violet does not get on so well with Mr. Delancy, for she knows nothing of society life.
But Laura can "shine her down," and does it speedily. Cecil is sitting on her papa's knee, and he is very content until he finds presently that Violet has lapsed into silence. Laura has the talk with both gentlemen, and is bringing them together in the clever way known to a society woman. Then they are summoned to dinner. Arthur takes Violet; the professor, Laura; and here Gertrude makes a sort of diversion and has the sympathy of both gentlemen.
The evening is very pleasant. Grandon will not have his shy Violet quite ignored, and yet he feels that she is not able to make much headway against the assumptions of society. He realizes that his place will be considerably in the world of letters, and that has come to be a world of fashion. Wealth and culture are being bridged over by so many things, artistic, aesthetic, and in a certain degree intellectual, one has to hold fast to one's footing not to be swept over. If there was some one to train Violet a little! He cannot understand why the family will not take to her cordially.
Laura is thinking of this handsome house and the really superior man at its head, for she has to admit that Floyd has dignity, ability, character, and if he is coming out as a genius he will be quite the style. There is one woman who could do the honors perfectly,—madame,—and she feels as if she could almost wring the life out of the small nonentity who has usurped her place, for of course Floyd would soon have cared for madame if she had not come between.
"It was brought about by a silly romance," she tells madame afterward. "The child had run away from her nurse and was scrambling down some rocks when she caught her, it seems, and Floyd, coming up just that moment, insisted she had saved Cecil's life. Very dramatic, wasn't it? And Cecil is quite idiotic over her. I think she would make an excellent nursery governess. She is just out of a convent, and has no manners, really, but is passable as to looks. Mamma insists that her hair is red, but it is just the color the Ascotts rave over. Mrs. Ascott would be wild to paint her, so I am glad they will be off to Paris without seeing her. She is in deep mourning and can't go into society. I shall make Floyd understand that. But to think of her having that splendid place in her hands!"
To do Madame Lepelletier justice, she thinks more of the master than of the place, and hates Violet without seeing her, because she has won Cecil's love.
In the morning Mr. and Mrs. Delancy are compelled to make their adieus. Laura goes off with an airiness that would do Marcia credit, and avoids any special farewell with her new sister-in-law. The professor remains, and spying out the piano asks leave to open it.
"It is locked, I believe," says Violet, hesitatingly.
Floyd lifts the cover and looks at his wife in astonishment.
"It was locked," she says, defending herself from the incredulous expression, "the morning after I came here,—and—I thought—the piano is Laura's," she concludes.
"Did you try it more than once?" he asks.
"Yes." She blushes pitifully, but her honesty will not allow her to screen herself to him. "You must never let him think a wrong thing about you," says Denise, in her code of instructions.
It is not at all as she imagines. He is amazed that any member of his family would do so small a thing as to exclude her from the use of the piano.
"Well," he says, "you shall have one of your own as soon as Laura can take hers away."
"Oh!" Her sweet face is suddenly illumined. How delightful it will be through the long days when papa is away! She can begin to give Cecil lessons.
"I suppose you are all for Beethoven," the professor is saying. "Young people find such melody in 'Songs without Words.' But I want you to listen to this nocturne of Chopin's, though it is not a morning song."
Violet listens entranced. Floyd watches her face, where the soft lights come and go. If she could always look like that!
But Freilgrath cannot spend the whole morning at the piano. They are to drive around, to see the place and the factory, to arrange some plans for work.
"Cannot the pretty mother and child go?" he asks.
"Why, yes," Floyd answers, pleased with the notion.
They stop at the cottage, which the German thinks a charming nook, then drive on to the factory. Violet and Cecil remain within while the two men make a tour of inspection. Floyd's spirits have risen many degrees in the past week. The machinery has worked to a charm, and demonstrated much that St. Vincent claimed for it. There seems no reasonable doubt of its success. Rising will be retained, and is empowered to hire any of the old hands who will come back and obey orders. Several have given in their allegiance, and some others are halting through a feeling of indignation at being falsely accused. But the fact is patent now that all along there has been a traitor or traitors in the camp.
Violet sits there in the carriage talking to Cecil, half wrapped in a fluffy white shawl. She is just in range of a window, and the man watching her feels that Floyd Grandon has more than his share of this world's favors. What has life done for him? asks Jasper Wilmarth with bitter scorn. Given him a crooked, unhandsome body, a lowering face, with its heavy brows and square, rugged features. No woman has ever cared for him, no woman would ever worship him, while dozens no doubt would allow Grandon to ride rough-shod over them if he only smiled afterward. He has come to hate the man so that if he could ordain any evil upon him he would gladly.
He has dreamed of being master here, and yet in the beginning it was not all treachery. Eugene Grandon was taking it rapidly to ruin, and he raised no hand to stay. From the first he has had a secret hope in St. Vincent's plans, but there was no one to carry them out. When the elder son came home the probability was, seeing the dubious state of affairs, he would wash his hands of the whole matter, and it would go, as many a man's life work had before, for a mere song. In this collapse he would take it with doubt and feigned unwillingness, and calling in the best talent to be had, would do his utmost to make it a success. But all this had been traversed by the vigilant brain of another.
If that were all! He had also dreamed of the fair girl sitting yonder. A mere child, trained to respect and belief in her elders, and obedience of the Old World order, secluded from society, from young men, her gratitude might be worked upon as well as her father's fears for her future. Once his wife, he would move heaven and earth for her love. She should be kept in luxury, surrounded by everything that could rouse tenderness and delight; she should be the star of his life, and he would be her very slave. There were instances of Proserpine loving her dark-browed Pluto, and sharing his world. Wilmarth had brooded over this until it seemed more than probable,—certain.
And here his antagonist has come with his inexorable "check!" A perfect stranger, with no hatred in his soul, only set upon by fate to play strange havoc with another's plans, to circumvent without even knowing what he did. If the place had to pass into other hands, as well his as a stranger's, he has reasoned.
He was as well off as if Mr. James Grandon were alive, and he had not railed at fate then. It was because he had seen possibilities, the awful temptations of human souls. It is when the weak place is touched as by a galvanic shock that in the glare of the light we see what might be done, and yield, fearing that another walking over the same road will pause and gather the price of some betrayal of honor, while we look back with envy, the envy of the tempted, not the unassailable.
And because Violet St. Vincent sits there in another man's carriage, this other man's wife, he feels that he has been defrauded of something he might have won with the better side of his nature, which will never be called out now. They will go on prospering; there is no further reason why he should bend a wire, slip a cog, or delay the hurrying wheels. Since Grandon has achieved all, then let them make money, money for which he has little use.
Cecil gets tired, and Violet tells her a story. They are almost to the end when the gentlemen come, but Cecil is exigeant, and the professor politely insists. He is fond of even the fag-end of a story, so that it turns out well; and then he will entertain the little miss. Violet finishes with blushes that make her more charming every moment; and Grandon finds a strange stirring in his soul as he watches this pretty girl. He is glad she is his. Some time, when the cares of life press less heavily, they two will take a holiday and learn to know each other better than mere surface friends.
Herr Freilgrath certainly makes an unwonted interest in the great house. He is so genial, he has that overflowing, tolerant nature belonging to an ample frame and good digestion, he has inexhaustible sympathy, and an unfailing love of nature. The two men settle themselves to work in the tower room, and for hours are left undisturbed, but the early evenings are devoted to social purposes. Even Gertrude is compelled to join the circle, and Violet, whose tender heart is brooding over the lost and slain love, is so glad to see her roused a little.
Freilgrath discovers one day that Violet is a really admirable German scholar. There are some translations to make, and she is so glad to be of service. Cecil objects and pouts a little in her pretty child's fashion. At this her father speaks sharply, and Violet turns, with the same look she wore on her face the day of the accident. It is almost as if she said, "You shall not scold her." Is he losing then the right in his own child? And yet she looks so seductively daring that he smiles, softens, and kisses Cecil in a passion of tenderness.
"You will spoil her," he says, in a low tone.
If they could go on this way forever! But one morning brings Marcia, and the same evening Eugene, who is jaunty, handsome, and with a careless fascination that seems his most liberal inheritance. It is a very warm September evening, and Violet has put on one of her pretty white gowns that has a train, and has a knot of purple pansies at her throat. The elbow sleeves show her pretty dimpled arm and slender wrist, and her hair is a little blown about as he comes up the steps and sees her leaning on the balcony rail. What a pretty vision! Have they guests at the house?