"You would make me hateful."
"I would make you charming."
"Well, do me, then!"
"Ah, you wouldn't like it."
"Because—I found it out in my newspaper work, when I had to interview people and write them up—people don't like to have the good points they have, recognized; they want you to celebrate the good points they haven't got. If a man is amiable and kind and has something about him that wins everybody's heart, he wants to be portrayed as a very dignified and commanding character, full of inflexible purpose and indomitable will."
"I don't see," said Louise, "why you think I'm weak, and low-minded, and undignified."
Maxwell laughed. "Did I say something of that kind?"
"You meant it."
"If ever I have to interview you, I shall say that under a mask of apparent incoherency and irrelevance, Miss Hilary conceals a profound knowledge of human nature and a gift of divination which explores the most unconscious opinions and motives of her interlocutor. How would you like that?"
"Pretty well, because I think it's true. But I shouldn't like to be interviewed."
"Well, you're safe from me. My interviewing days are over. I believe if I keep on getting better at the rate I've been going the last week, I shall be able to write a play this summer, besides doing my work for the Abstract. If I could do that, and it succeeded, the riddle would be read for me."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I should have a handsome income, and could give up newspaper work altogether."
"Could you? How glorious!" said Louise, with the sort of maternal sympathy she permitted herself to feel for the sick youth. "How much would you get for your play?"
"If it was only reasonably successful, it would be worth five or six thousand dollars a year."
"And is that a handsome income?" she asked, with mounting earnestness.
He pulled himself up in the hammock to get her face fully in view, and asked, "How much do you think I've been able to average up to this time?"
"I don't know. I'm afraid I don't know at all about such things. But I should like to."
Maxwell let himself drop back into the hammock. "I think I won't humiliate myself by giving the figures. I'd better leave it to your imagination. You'll be sure to make it enough."
"Why should you be ashamed of it, if it's ever so little?" she asked. "But I know. It's your pride. It's like Sue Northwick wanting to give up all her property because her father wrote that letter, and said he had used the company's money. And Matt says it isn't his property at all, and the company has no right to it. If she gives it up, she and her sister will have nothing to live on. And they won't let themselves be helped—any more than—than—you will!"
"No. We began with that; people who need help can't let you help them. Don't they know where their father is?"
"No. But of course they must, now, before long."
Maxwell said, after the silence that followed upon this. "I should like to have a peep into that man's soul."
"Horrors! Why should you?" asked Louise.
"It would be such splendid material. If he is fond of his children—"
"He and Sue dote upon each other. I don't see how she can endure him; he always made me feel creepy."
"Then he must have written that letter to conciliate public feeling, and to make his children easier about him and his future. And now if you could see him when he realizes that he's only brought more shame on them, and forced them to beggar themselves—it would be a tremendous situation."
"But I shouldn't like to see him at such a time. It seems to me, that's worse than interviewing, Mr. Maxwell."
There was a sort of recoil from him in her tone, which perhaps he felt. It seemed to interest, rather than offend him. "You don't get the artistic point of view."
"I don't want to get it, if that's it. And if your play is going to be about any such thing as that—"
"It isn't," said Maxwell. "I failed on that. I shall try a comic motive."
"Oh!" said Louise, in the concessive tone people use, when they do not know but they have wronged some one. She spiritually came back to him, but materially she rose to go away and leave him. She stooped for the letter he had dropped out of the hammock and gave it him. "Don't you want this?"
"Oh, thank you! I'd forgotten it." He glanced at the superscription, "It's from Pinney. You ought to know Pinney, Miss Hilary, if you want the true artistic point of view."
"Is he a literary man?"
"Pinney? Did you read the account of the defalcation in the Events—when it first came out? All illustrations?"
"That? I don't wonder you didn't care to read his letter! Or perhaps he's your friend—"
"Pinney's everybody's friend," said Maxwell, with an odd sort of relish. "He's delightful. I should like to do Pinney. He's a type." Louise stood frowning at the mere notion of Pinney. "He's not a bad fellow, Miss Hilary, though he is a remorseless interviewer. He would be very good material. He is a mixture of motives, like everybody else, but he has only one ambition: he wants to be the greatest newspaper man of his generation. The ladies nearly always like him. He never lets five minutes pass without speaking of his wife; he's so proud of her he can't keep still."
"I should think she would detest him."
"She doesn't. She's quite as proud of him as he is of her. It's affecting to witness their devotion—or it would be if it were not such a bore."
"I can't understand you," said Louise, leaving him to his letter.
Part of Matt Hilary's protest against the status in which he found himself a swell was to wash his face for dinner in a tin basin on the back porch, like the farm-hands. When he was alone at the farm he had the hands eat with him; when his mother and sister were visiting him he pretended that the table was too small for them all at dinner and tea, though he continued to breakfast with the hands, because the ladies were never up at his hour; the hands knew well enough what it meant, but they liked Matt.
Louise found him at the roller-towel, after his emblematic ablutions. "Oh, is it so near dinner?" she asked.
"Yes. Where is Maxwell?"
"I left him up at the camp." She walked a little way out into the ground-ivy that matted the back-yard under the scattering spruce trees.
Matt followed, and watched the homing and departing bees around the hives in the deep, red-clovered grass near the wall.
"Those fellows will be swarming before long," he said, with a measure of the good comradeship he felt for all living things.
"I don't see," said Louise, plucking a tender, green shoot from one of the fir boughs overhead, "why Mr. Maxwell is so hard."
"Is he hard?" asked Matt. "Well, perhaps he is."
"He is very sneering and bitter," said the girl. "I don't like it."
"Ah, he's to blame for that," Matt said. "But as for his hardness, that probably comes from his having had to make such a hard fight for what he wants to be in life. That hardens people, and brutalizes them, but somehow we mostly admire them and applaud them for their success against odds. If we had a true civilization a man wouldn't have to fight for the chance to do the thing he is fittest for, that is, to be himself. But I'm glad you don't like Maxwell's hardness; I don't myself."
"He seems to look upon the whole world as material, as he calls it; he doesn't seem to regard people as fellow beings, as you do, Matt, or even as servants or inferiors; he hasn't so much kindness for them as that."
"Well, that's the odious side of the artistic nature," said Matt, smiling tolerantly. "But he'll probably get over that; he's very young; he thinks he has to be relentlessly literary now."
"He's older than I am!" said Louise.
"He hasn't seen so much of the world."
"He thinks he's seen a great deal more. I don't think he's half so nice as we supposed. I should call him dangerous."
"Oh, I shouldn't say that, exactly," Matt returned. "But he certainly hasn't our traditions. I'll just step over and call him to dinner."
"Oh, no! Let me try if I can blow the horn." She ran to where the long tin tube hung on the porch, and coming out with it again, set it to her lips and evoked some stertorous and crumby notes from it. "Do you suppose he saw me?" she asked, running back with the horn.
Matt could not say; but Maxwell had seen her, and had thought of a poem which he imagined illustrated with the figure of a tall, beautiful girl lifting a long tin horn to her lips with outstretched arms. He did not know whether to name it simply The Dinner Horn, or grotesquely, Hebe Calling the Gods to Nectar. He debated the question as he came lagging over the grass with his cushion in one hand and Pinney's letter, still opened, in the other. He said to Matt, who came out to get the cushion of him, "Here's something I'd like to talk over with you, when you've the time."
"Well, after dinner," said Matt.
Pinney's letter was a long one, written in pencil on one side of long slips of paper, like printer's copy; the slips were each carefully folioed in the upper right hand corner; but the language was the language of Pinney's life, and not the decorative diction which he usually addressed to the public on such slips of paper.
"I guess," it began, "I've got onto the biggest thing yet, Maxwell. The Events is going to send me to do the Social Science Congress which meets in Quebec this year, and I'm going to take Mrs. Pinney along and have a good time. She's got so she can travel first-rate, now; and the change will do her and the baby both good. I shall interview the social science wiseacres, and do their proceedings, of course, but the thing that I'm onto is Northwick. I've always felt that Northwick kind of belonged to yours truly, anyway; I was the only man that worked him up in any sort of shape, at the time the defalcation came out, and I've got a little idea that I think will simply clean out all competition. That letter of his set me to thinking, as soon as I read it, and my wife and I both happened on the idea at the same time; clear case of telepathy. Our idea is that Northwick didn't go to Europe—of course he didn't!—but he's just holding out for terms with the company. I don't believe he's got off with much money; but if he was going into business with it in Canada, he would have laid low till he'd made his investments. So my theory is that he's got all the money he took with him except his living expenses. I believe I can find Northwick, and I am not going to come home without trying hard. I am going to have a detective's legal outfit, and I flatter myself I can get Northwick over the frontier somehow, and restore him to the arms of his anxious friends of the Ponkwasset Company. I don't know yet just how I shall do it, but I guess I shall do it. I shall have Mrs. Pinney's advice and counsel, and she's a team; but I shall have to leave her and the baby at Quebec, while I'm roaming round in Rimouski and the wilderness generally, and I shall need active help.
"Now, I liked some things in that Abstract article of yours; it was snappy and literary, and all that, and it showed grasp of the subject. It showed a humane and merciful spirit toward our honored friend that could be made to tell in my little game if I could get the use of it. So I've concluded to let you in on the ground floor, if you want to go into the enterprise with me; if you don't, don't give it away; that's all. My idea is that Northwick can be got at quicker by two than by one; but we have not only got to get at him, but we have got to get him; and get him on this side of Jordan. I guess we shall have to do that by moral suasion mostly, and that's where your massive and penetrating intellect will be right on deck. You won't have to play a part, either; if you believe that his only chance of happiness on earth is to come home and spend the rest of his life in State's prison, you can conscientiously work him from that point of view. Seriously, Maxwell, I think this is a great chance. If there's any of that money he speaks of we shall have our pickings: and then as a mere scoop, if we get at Northwick at all, whether we can coax him over the line or not, we will knock out the fellow that fired the Ephesian dome so that he'll never come to time in all eternity.
"I mean business, Maxwell; I haven't mentioned this to anybody but my wife, yet; and if you don't go in with me, nobody shall. I want you, old boy, and I'm willing to pay for you. If this thing goes through, I shall be in a position to name my own place and price on the Events. I expect to be managing editor before the year's out, and then I shall secure the best talent as leading writer, which his name is Brice E. Maxwell, and don't you forget it.
"Now, you think it over, Maxwell. There's no hurry. Take time. We've got to wait till the Soc. Sci. Congress meets, anyway, and we've got to let the professional pursuit die out. This letter of Northwick's will set a lot of detectives after him, and if they can't find him, or can't work him after they've found him, they'll get tired, and give him up for a bad job. Then will be the time for the gifted amateur to step in and show what a free and untrammelled press can do to punish vice and reward virtue."
Maxwell explained to Matt, as he had explained to Louise, that Pinney was the reporter who had written up the Northwick case for The Events. He said, after Matt had finished reading the letter, "I thought you would like to know about this. I don't regard Pinney's claim on my silence where you're concerned; in fact, I don't feel bound to him, anyway."
"Thank you," said Matt. "Then I suppose his proposal doesn't tempt you?"
"Why, yes it does. But not as he imagines. I should like such an adventure well enough, because it would give me a glimpse of life and character that I should like to know something about. But the reporter business and the detective business wouldn't attract me."
"No, I should suppose not," said Matt. "What sort of fellow, personally, is this—Pinney?"
"Oh, he isn't bad. He is a regular type," said Maxwell, with tacit enjoyment of the typicality of Pinney. "He hasn't the least chance in the world of working up into any controlling place in the paper. They don't know much in the Events office; but they do know Pinney. He's a great liar and a braggart, and he has no more notion of the immunities of private life than—Well, perhaps it's because he would as soon turn his life inside out as not, and in fact would rather. But he's very domestic, and very kind-hearted to his wife; it seems they have a baby now, and I've no doubt Pinney is a pattern to parents. He's always advising you to get married; but he's a born Bohemian. He's the most harmless creature in the world, so far as intentions go, and quite soft-hearted, but he wouldn't spare his dearest friend if he could make copy of him; it would be impossible. I should say he was first a newspaper man, and then a man. He's an awfully common nature, and hasn't the first literary instinct. If I had any mystery, or mere privacy that I wanted to guard; and I thought Pinney was on the scent of it, I shouldn't have any more scruple in setting my foot on him than I would on that snake."
A little reptile, allured by their immobility, had crept out of the stone wall which they were standing near, and lay flashing its keen eyes at them, and running out its tongue, a forked thread of tremulous scarlet. Maxwell brought his heel down upon its head as he spoke, and ground it into the earth.
Matt winced at the anguish of the twisting and writhing thing. "Ah, I don't think I should have killed it!"
"I should," said Maxwell.
"Then you think one couldn't trust him?"
"Yes. If you put your foot on him in some sort of agreement, and kept it there. Why, of course! Any man can be held. But don't let Pinney have room to wriggle."
They turned, and walked away, Matt keeping the image of the tormented snake in his mind; it somehow mixed there with the idea of Pinney, and unconsciously softened him toward the reporter.
"Would there be any harm," he asked, after a while, "in my acting on a knowledge of this letter in behalf of Mr. Northwick's family?"
"Not a bit," said Maxwell. "I make you perfectly free of it, as far as I'm concerned; and it can't hurt Pinney, even if he ought to be spared. He wouldn't spare you."
"I don't know," said Matt, "that I could justify myself in hurting him on that ground. I shall be careful about him. I don't at all know that I shall want to use it; but it has just struck me that perhaps—But I don't know! I should have to talk with their attorney—I will see about it! And I thank you very much, Mr. Maxwell."
"Look here, Mr. Hilary!" said Maxwell. "Use Pinney all you please, and all you can; but I warn you he is a dangerous tool. He doesn't mean any harm till he's tempted, and when it's done he doesn't think it's any harm. He isn't to be trusted an instant beyond his self-interest; and yet he has flashes of unselfishness that would deceive the very elect. Good heavens!" cried Maxwell, "if I could get such a character as Pinney's into a story or a play, I wouldn't take odds from any man living!"
His notion, whatever it was, grew upon Matt, so that he waited more and more impatiently for his mother's return, in order to act upon it. When she did get back to the farm she could only report from the Northwicks that she had said pretty much what she thought she would like to say to Suzette concerning her wilfulness and obstinacy in wishing to give up her property; but Matt inferred that she had at the same time been able to infuse so much motherly comfort into her scolding that it had left the girl consoled and encouraged. She had found out from Adeline that their great distress was not knowing yet where their father was. Apparently he thought that his published letter was sufficient reassurance for the time being. Perhaps he did not wish them to get at him in any way, or to have his purposes affected by any appeal from them. Perhaps, as Adeline firmly believed, his mind had been warped by his suffering—he must have suffered greatly—and he was not able to reason quite sanely about the situation. Mrs. Hilary spoke of the dignity and strength which both the sisters showed in their trial and present stress. She praised Suzette, especially; she said her trouble seemed to have softened and chastened her; she was really a noble girl, and she had sent her love to Louise; they had both wished to be remembered to every one. "Adeline, especially, wished to be remembered to you, Matt; she said they should never forget your kindness."
Matt got over to Hatboro' the next day, and went to see Putney, who received him with some ironical politeness, when Matt said he had come hoping to be useful to his clients, the Miss Northwicks.
"Well, we all hope something of that kind, Mr. Hilary. You were here on a mission of that kind before. But may I ask why you think I should believe you wish to be useful to them?"
"Yes. Your father is the president of the company Mr. Northwick had his little embarrassment with, and the natural presumption would be that you could not really be friendly toward his family."
"But we are friendly! All of us! My father would do them any service in his power, consistent with his duty to—to—his business associates."
"Ah, that's just the point. And you would all do anything you could for them, consistent with your duty to him. That's perfectly right—perfectly natural. But you must see that it doesn't form a ground of common interest for us. I talked with you about the Miss Northwicks' affairs the other day—too much, I think. But I can't to-day. I shall be glad to converse with you on any other topic—discuss the ways of God to man, or any little interest of that kind. But unless I can see my way clearer to confidence between us in regard to my clients' affairs than I do at present, I must avoid them."
It was absurd; but in his high good-will toward Adeline, and in his latent tenderness for Suzette, Matt was hurt by the lawyer's distrust, somewhat as you are hurt when the cashier of a strange bank turns over your check and says you must bring some one to recognize you. It cost Matt a pang; it took him a moment to own that Putney was right. Then he said, "Of course, I must offer you proof somehow that I've come to you in good faith. I don't know exactly how I shall be able to do it. Would the assurance of my friend, Mr. Wade, the rector of St. Michael's—"
The name seemed to affect Putney pleasantly; he smiled, and then he said, "Brother Wade is a good man, and his words usually carry conviction, but this is a serious subject, Mr. Hilary." He laughed, and concluded earnestly, "You must know that I can't talk with you on any such authority. I couldn't talk with Mr. Wade himself."
"No, no; of course not," Matt assented; and he took himself off crestfallen, ashamed of his own short-sightedness.
There was only one way out of the trouble, and now he blamed himself for not having tried to take that way at the outset. He had justified himself in shrinking from it by many plausible excuses, but he could justify himself no longer. He rejoiced in feeling compelled, as it were, to take it. At least, now, he should not be acting from any selfish impulse, and if there were anything unseemly in what he was going to do, he should have no regrets on that score, even in the shame of failure.
Matt Hilary gave himself time, on his way to the Northwick place, or at least as much time as would pass between walking and driving, but that was because he was impatient, and his own going seemed faster to his nerves than that of the swiftest horse could have seemed. At the crest of the upland which divides Hatboro' from South Hatboro', and just beyond the avenue leading to Dr. Morrell's house, he met Sue Northwick; she was walking quickly, too. She was in mourning, but she had put aside her long, crape veil, and she came towards him with her proud face framed in the black, and looking the paler for it; a little of her yellow hair showed under her bonnet. She moved imperiously, and Matt was afraid to think what he was thinking at sight of her. She seemed not to know him at first, or rather not to realize that it was he; when she did, a joyful light, which she did not try to hide from him, flashed over her visage; and "Mr. Hilary!" she said as simply and hospitably as if their last parting had not been on terms of enmity that nothing could clear up or explain away.
He ran forward and caught her hand. "Oh, I am so glad," he said. "I was going out to see you about something—very important; and I might have missed you."
"No. I was just coming to the doctor's, and then I was going back. My sister isn't at all well, and I thought she'd better see the doctor."
"It's nothing serious, I hope?"
"Oh, no. I think she's a little worn out."'
"I know!" said Matt, with intelligence, and nothing more was said between them as to the cause or nature of Adeline's sickness. Matt asked if he might go up the doctor's avenue with her, and they walked along together under the mingling elm and maple tops, but he deferred the matter he wished to speak of. They found a little girl playing in the road near the house, and Sue asked, "Is your father at home, Idella?"
"Mamma is at home," said the child. She ran forward, calling toward the open doors and windows, "Mamma! Mamma! Here's a lady!"
"It isn't their child," Sue explained. "It's the daughter of the minister who was killed on the railroad, here, a year or two ago—a very strange man, Mr. Peck."
"I have heard Wade speak of him," said Matt.
A handsome and very happy looking woman came to the door, and stilled the little one's boisterous proclamation to the hoarse whisper of, "A lady! A lady!" as she took her hand; but she did not rebuke or correct her.
"How do you do, Mrs. Morrell," said Suzette, with rather a haughty distance; but Matt felt that she kept aloof with the pride of a person who comes from an infected house, and will not put herself at the risk of avoidance. "I wished to see Dr. Morrell about my sister. She isn't well. Will you kindly ask him to call?"
"I will send him as soon as he comes," said Mrs. Morrell, giving Matt that glance of liking which no good woman could withhold. "Unless," she added, "you would like to come in and wait for him."
"Thank you, no," said Suzette. "I must go back to her. Good-by."
"Good-by!" said Mrs. Morrell.
Matt raised his hat and silently bowed; but as they turned away, he said to Suzette, "What a happy face! What a lovely face! What a good face!"
"She is a very good woman," said the girl. "She has been very kind to us. But so has everybody. I couldn't have believed it." In fact, it was only the kindness of their neighbors that had come near the defaulter's daughters; the harshness and the hate had kept away.
"Why shouldn't they be kind?" Matt demanded, with his heart instantly in his throat. "I can't imagine—at such a time—Don't you know that I love you?" he entreated, as if that exactly followed; there was, perhaps, a subtle spiritual sequence, transcending all order of logic in the expression of his passion.
She looked at him over her shoulder as he walked by her side, and said, with neither surprise nor joy, "How can you say such a thing to me?"
"Because it is true! Because I can't help it! Because I wish to be everything to you, and I have to begin by saying that. But don't answer me now; you need never answer me. I only wish you to use me as you would use some one who loved you beyond anything on earth,—as freely as that, and yet not be bound or hampered by me in the least. Can you do that? I mean, can you feel, 'This is my best friend, the truest friend that any one can have, and I will let him do anything and everything he wishes for me.' Can you do that,—say that?"
"But how could I do that? I don't understand you!" she said, faintly.
"Don't you? I am so glad you don't drive me from you—"
"I was afraid—But now we can speak reasonably about it; I don't see why people shouldn't. I know it's shocking to speak to you of such a thing at such a time. It's dreadful; and yet I can't feel wrong to have done it! No! If it's as sacred as it seems to me when I think of it, then it couldn't be wrong in the presence of death itself. I do love you; and I want you some day for my wife. Yes! But don't answer that now! If you never answer me, or if you deny me at last, still I want you to let me be your true lover, while I can, and to do everything that your accepted lover could, whether you ever look at me again or not. Couldn't you do that?"
"You know I couldn't," she answered, simply.
"Couldn't you?" he asked, and he fell into a forlorn silence, as if he could not say anything more. He forced her to take the word by asking, "Then you are offended with me?"
"How could I be?"
"It's what any girl might be glad of—"
"And I am not so silly as to think there can be a wrong time for it. If there were, you would make it right, if you chose it. You couldn't do anything I should think wrong. And I—I—love you, too—"
"Suzette! Suzette!" he called wildly, as if she were a great way off. It seemed to him his heart would burst. He got awkwardly before her, and tried to seize her hand.
She slipped by him, with a pathetic "Don't! But you know I never could be your wife. You know that."
"I don't know it. Why shouldn't you?"
"Because I couldn't bring my father's shame on my husband."
"It wouldn't touch me, any more than it touches you!"
"It would touch your father and mother—and Louise."
"They all admire you and honor you. They think you're everything that's true and grand."
"Yes, while I keep to myself. And I shall keep to myself. I know how; and I shall not give way. Don't think it!"
"You will do what is right. I shall think that."
"Don't praise me! I can't bear it."
"But I love you, and how can I help praising you? And if you love me—"
"I do. I do, with all my heart." She turned and gave him an impassioned look from the height of her inapproachability.
"Then I won't ask you to be my wife, Suzette! I know how you feel; I won't be such a liar as to pretend I don't. And I will respect your feeling, as the holiest thing on earth. And if you wish, we will be engaged as no other lovers ever were. You shall promise nothing but to let me help you all I can, for our love's sake, and I will promise never to speak to you of our love again. That shall be our secret—our engagement. Will you promise?"
"It will be hard for you," she said, with a pitying look, which perhaps tried him as sorely as anything could.
"Not if I can believe I am making it easy for you."
They walked along, and she said with averted eyes, that he knew had tears in them, "I promise."
"And I promise, too," he said.
She impulsively put out her left hand toward him, and he held its slim fingers in his right a moment, and then let it drop. They both honestly thought they had got the better of that which laughs from its innumerable disguises at all stratagems and all devices to escape it.
"And now," he said, "I want to talk to you about what brought me over here to-day. I thought at first that I was only going to see your lawyer."
Matt felt that he need now no longer practise those reserves in speaking to Sue of her father, which he had observed so painfully hitherto. Neither did she shrink from the fact they had to deal with. In the trust established between them, they spoke of it all openly, and if there was any difference in them concerning it, the difference was in his greater forbearance toward the unhappy man. They both spoke of his wrong-doing as if it were his infirmity; they could not do otherwise; and they both insensibly assumed his irresponsibility in a measure; they dwelt in the fiction or the persuasion of a mental obliquity which would account for otherwise unaccountable things.
"It is what my sister has always said," Sue eagerly assented to his suggestion of this theory. "I suppose it's what I've always believed, too, somehow, or I couldn't have lived."
"Yes; yes, it must be so," Matt insisted. "But now the question is how to reach him, and make some beginning of the end with him. I suppose it's the suspense and the uncertainty that is breaking your sister down?"
"Yes—that and what we ought to do about giving up the property. We—quarrelled about that at first; we couldn't see it alike; but now I've yielded; we've both yielded; and we don't know what to do."
"We must talk all that over with your lawyer, in connection with something I've just heard of." He told her of Pinney's scheme, and he said, "We must see if we can't turn it to account."
They agreed not to talk of her father with Adeline, but she began it herself. She looked very old and frail, as she sat nervously rocking herself in a corner of the cottage parlor, and her voice had a sharp, anxious note. "What I think is, that now we know father is alive, we oughtn't to do anything about the property without hearing from him. It stands to reason, don't you think it does, Mr. Hilary, that he would know better than anybody else, what we ought to do. Any rate, I think we ought to wait and consult with him about it, and see what he says. The property belonged to mother in the first place, and he mightn't like to have us part with it."
"I don't think you need trouble about that, now, Miss Northwick," said Matt. "Nothing need be done about the property at present."
"But I keep thinking about it. I want to do what Sue thinks is right, and to see it just in the light she does; and I've told her I would do exactly as she said about it; but now she won't say; and so I think we've got to wait and hear from father. Don't you?"
"Decidedly, I think you ought to do nothing now, till you hear from him," said Matt.
"I knew you would," said the old maid, "and if Sue will be ruled by me, she'll see that it will all turn out right. I know father, and I know he'll want to do what is sensible, and at the same time honorable. He is a person who could never bear to wrong any one out of a cent."
"Well," said Sue, "we will do what Mr. Hilary says; and now, try not to worry about it any more," she coaxed.
"Oh, yes! It's well enough to say not to worry now, when my mind's got going on it," said the old maid, querulously; she flung her weak frame against the chair-back, and she began to wipe the gathering tears. "But if you'd agreed with me in the first place, it wouldn't have come to this. Now I'm all broken down, and I don't know when I shall be well again."
It was a painful moment; Sue patiently adjusted the cushion to her sister's shoulders, while Adeline's tongue ran helplessly on. "You were so headstrong and stubborn, I thought you would kill me. You were just like a rock, and I could beat myself to pieces against you, and you wouldn't move."
"I was wrong," said the proud girl, meekly.
"I'm sure," Adeline whimpered, "I hate to make an exhibition before Mr. Hilary, as much as any one, but I can't help it; no, I can't. My nerves are all gone."
The doctor came, and Sue followed Matt out of doors, to leave her, for the first few confidential moments, sacred to the flow of symptoms, alone with the physician. There was a little sequestered space among the avenue firs beside the lodge, with a bench, toward which he led the way, but the girl would not sit down. She stood with her arms fallen at her side, and looked him steadily in the face.
"It's all true that she said of me. I set myself like a rock against her. I have made her sick, and if she died, I should be her murderer!"
He put his arms round her, and folded her to his heart. "Oh, my love, my love, my love!" he lamented and exulted over her.
She did not try to resist; she let her arms hang at her side; she said, "Is this the way we keep our word?—Already!"
"Our word was made to be broken; we must have meant it so. I'm glad we could break it so soon. Now I can truly help you; now that you are to be my wife."
She did not gainsay him, but she asked, "What will you think when you know—you must have known that I used to care for some else; but he never cared for me? It ought to make you despise me; it made me despise myself! But it is true. I did care all the world for him, once. Now will you say—"
"Now, more than ever," said the young man, silencing her lips with his own, and in their trance of love the world seemed to reel away from under their feet, with all its sorrows and shames, and leave them in mid-heaven.
"Suzette!" Adeline's voice called from within. "Suzette! Where are you?"
Sue released herself, and ran into the cottage. She came out again in a little while, and said that the doctor thought Adeline had better go to bed for a day or two and have a thorough rest, and relief from all excitement. "We mustn't talk before her any more, and you mustn't stay any longer."
He accepted the authority she instinctively assumed over him, and found his dismissal already of the order of things. He said, "Yes, I'll go at once. But about—"
She put a card into his hand. "You can see Mr. Putney, and whatever you and he think best, will be best. Haven't you been our good angel ever since—Oh, I'm not half good enough for you, and I shouldn't be, even if there were no stain—"
"Stop!" he said; he caught her hand, and pulled her toward him.
The doctor came out, and said in a low voice, "There's nothing to be anxious about, but she really must have quiet. I'll send Mrs. Morrell down to see you, after tea. She's quiet itself."
Suzette submitted, and let Matt take her hand again in parting.
"Will you give me a lift, doctor, if you're going toward town?"
"Get in," said the doctor.
Sue went indoors, and the two men drove off together.
Matt looked at the card in his hand, and read: "Mr. Putney: Please talk to Mr. Hilary as you would to my sister or me." Suzette's printed name served for signature. Matt put the card in his pocket-book, and then he said, "What sort of man is Mr. Putney, doctor?"
"Mr. Putney," said the doctor, with a twinkle of his blue eyes, "is one of those uncommon people who have enemies. He has a good many because he's a man that thinks, and then says what he thinks. But he's his own worst enemy, because from time to time he gets drunk."
"A character," said Matt. "Do you think he's a safe one? Doesn't his getting drunk from time to time interfere with his usefulness?"
"Well, of course," said the doctor. "It's bad for him; but I think it's slowly getting better. Yes, decidedly. It's very extraordinary, but ever since he's been in charge of the Miss Northwicks' interests—"
"Yes; that's what I was thinking of."
"He's kept perfectly straight. It's as if the responsibilities had steadied him."
"But if he goes on sprees, he may be on the verge of one that's gathering violence from its postponement," Matt suggested.
"I think not," said the doctor after a moment. "But of course I can't tell."
"They trust him so implicitly," said Matt.
"I know," said the doctor. "And I know that he's entirely devoted to them. The fact is, Putney's a very dear friend of mine."
"Oh, excuse me—"
"No, no!" The doctor stayed Matt's apologies. "I understand just what you mean. He disliked their father very much. He was principled against him as a merely rich man, with mischievous influence on the imaginations of all the poor people about him who wanted to be like him—"
"Oh, that's rather good," said Matt.
"Do you think so?" asked the doctor, looking round at him. "Well! I supposed you would be all the other way. Well! What I was saying was that Putney looks upon these poor girls as their father's chief victims. I think he was touched by their coming to him, and has pitied them. The impression is that he's managed their affairs very well; I don't know about such things; but I know he's managed them honorably; I would stake my life on it; and I believe he'll hold out straight to the last. I suppose," the doctor conjectured, at the end, "that they will try to get at Northwick now, and arrange with his creditors for his return."
"I don't mind telling you," said Matt, "that it's been tried and failed. The State's attorney insists that he shall come back and stand his trial, first of all."
"Oh!" said the doctor.
"Of course, that's right from the legal point of view. But in the meantime, nobody knows where Mr. Northwick is."
"I suppose," said the doctor, "it would have been better for him not to have written that letter."
"It's hard to say," Matt answered. "I thought so, too, at first. I thought it was cowardly and selfish of him to take away his children's superstition about his honesty. You knew that they held to that through all?"
"Most touching thing in the world," said the doctor, leaning forward to push a fly off his horse with the limp point of his whip. "That poor old maid has talked it into me till I almost believed it myself."
"I don't know that I should hold him severely accountable. And I'm not sure now that I should condemn him for writing that letter. It must have been a great relief to him. In a way, you may say he had to do it. It's conceivable that if he had kept it on his mind any longer, his mind would have given way. As it is, they have now the comfort of another superstition—if it is a superstition. What do you think, doctor? Do you believe that there was a mental twist in him?"
"There seems to be in nearly all these defaulters. What they do is so senseless—so insane. I suppose that's the true theory of all crime. But it won't do to act upon it, yet awhile."
The doctor went on after a pause, with a laugh of enjoyment at the notion. "Above all, it won't do to let the defaulters act upon that theory, and apply for admission to the insane asylums instead of taking the express for Canada, when they're found out."
"Oh, no," said Matt. He wondered at himself for being able to analyze the offence of Suzette's father so cold-bloodedly. But in fact he could not relate the thought of her to the thought of him in his sin, at all; he could only realize their kindred in her share of his suffering.
Putney accepted Suzette's authorization of Matt with apparent unconsciousness of anything but its immediate meaning, and they talked Pinney's scheme intimately over together. In the end, it still remained a question whether the energies of such an investigator could be confined to the discovery of Northwick's whereabouts; whether his newspaper instincts would not be too strong for any sense of personal advantage that could be appealed to in him. They both believed that it would not be long before Northwick followed up the publication of his letter by some communication with his family.
But time began to go by again, and Northwick made no further sign; the flurry of activity which his letter had called out in the detectives came to nothing. Their search was not very strenuous; Northwick's creditors were of various minds as to the amount of money he had carried away with him. Every one knew that if he chose to stay in Canada, he could not be molested there; and it seemed very improbable that he could be persuaded to put himself within reach of the law. The law had no terms to offer him, and there was really nothing to be done.
Putney forecast all this in his talk with Matt, when he held that they must wait Northwick's motion. He professed himself willing to wait as long as Northwick chose, though he thought they would not have to wait long, and he contended for a theory of the man's whole performance which he said he should like to have tested before a jury.
Matt could not make out how much he really meant by saying that Northwick could be defended very fairly on the ground of insanity; and that he would enjoy managing such a defence. It was a common thing to show that a murderer was insane; why not a defaulter? Tilted back in his chair, with one leg over the corner of his table, and changing the tobacco in his mouth from one cheek to the other as he talked, the lawyer outlined the argument which he said could be made very effective. There was the fact to begin with, that Northwick was a very wealthy man, and had no need of more money when he began to speculate; Putney held that this want of motive could be made a strong point; and that the reckless, almost open, way in which Northwick used the company's money, when he began to borrow, was proof in itself of unsound mind: apparently he had no sense whatever of meum and tuum, especially tuum. Then, the total collapse of the man when he was found out; his flight without an effort to retrieve himself, although his shortage was by no means hopelessly vast, and could have been almost made up by skilful use of the credit that Northwick could command, was another evidence of shaken reason. But besides all this, there was his behavior since he left home. He had been absent nearly five months, and in that time he had made no attempt whatever to communicate with his family, although he must have known that it was perfectly safe for him to do so. He was a father who was almost dotingly fond of his children, and singularly attached to his home; yet he had remained all that time in voluntary exile, and he had left them in entire uncertainty as to his fate except so far as they could accept the probability of his death by a horrible casualty. This inversion of the natural character of a man was one of the most striking phenomena of insanity, and Putney, for the purpose of argument, maintained that it could be made to tell tremendously with a jury.
Matt was unable to enjoy the sardonic metaphysics of the case with Putney. He said gravely that he had been talking of the matter with Dr. Morrell, and he had no doubt that there was a taint of insanity in every wrong-doer; some day he believed the law would take cognizance of the fact.
"I don't suppose the time is quite ripe yet, though I think I could make out a strong case for Brother Northwick," said Putney. He seemed to enter into it more fully, as if he had a mischievous perception of Matt's uneasiness, and chose to torment him; but then apparently he changed his mind, and dealt with other aspects of their common interest so seriously and sympathetically, that Matt parted from him with a regret that he could not remove the last barrier between them, and tell the lawyer that he concerned himself so anxiously in the affairs of that wretched defaulter because his dearest hope was that the daughter of the criminal would some day be his wife.
But Matt felt that this fact must first be confided to those who were nearest him; and how to shape it in terms that would convey the fact and yet hide the repulsiveness he knew in it, was the question that teased him all the way back to Vardley, like some tiresome riddle. He understood why his love for Suzette Northwick must be grievous to his father and mother; how embarrassing, how disappointing, how really in some sort disastrous; and yet he felt that if there was anything more sacred than another in the world for him, it was that love, he must be true to it at whatever cost, and in every event, and he must begin by being perfectly frank with those whom it would afflict, and confessing to himself all its difficulties and drawbacks. He was not much afraid of dealing with his father; they were both men, and they could look at it from the man's point of view. Besides, his father really cared little what people would say; after the first fever of disgust, if he did not change wholly and favor it vehemently, he would see so much good in it that he would be promptly and finally reconciled.
But Matt knew that his mother was of another make, and that the blow would be much harder for her to bear; his problem was how to lighten it. Sometimes he thought he had better not try to lighten it, but let it fall at once, and trust to her affection and good sense for the rest. But when he found himself alone with her that night, he began by making play and keeping her beyond reach. He was so lost in this perverse effort that he was not aware of some such effort on her part, till she suddenly dropped it, and said, "Matt, there is something I wish to speak to you about—very seriously."
His heart jumped into his throat, but he said "Well?" and she went on.
"Louise tells me that you think of bringing this young man down to the shore with you when you come to see us next week."
"Maxwell? I thought the change might do him good; yes," said Matt, with a cowardly joy in his escape from the worst he feared. He thought she was going to speak to him of Suzette.
She said, "I don't wish you to bring him. I don't wish Louise to see him again after she leaves this place—ever again. She is fascinated with him."
"I can't call it anything else. I don't say that she's in love; but there's no question but she's allowed her curiosity to run wild, and her fancy to be taken; the two strongest things in her—in most girls. I want to break it all up."
"But do you think—"
"I know. It isn't that she's with him at every moment, but that her thoughts are with him when they're apart. He puzzles her; he piques her; she's always talking and asking about him. It's their difference in everything that does it. I don't mean to say that her heart is touched, and I don't intend it shall be. So, you mustn't ask him to the shore with you, and if you've asked him already, you must get out of it. If you think he needs sea air, you can get him board at some of the resorts. But not near us." She asked, in default of any response from her son, "You don't think, Matt, it would be well for the acquaintance to go on?"
"No, I don't mother; you're quite right as to that," said Matt, "if you're not mistaken in supposing—"
"I'm not; you may depend upon it. And I'm glad you can see the matter from my point of view. It is all very well for you to have your queer opinions, and even to live them. I think it's all ridiculous; but your father and I both respect you for your sincerity, though your course has been a great disappointment to us."
"I know that, mother," said Matt, groaning in spirit to think how much worse the disappointment he was meditating must be, and feeling himself dishonest and cowardly, through and through.
"But I feel sure," Mrs. Hilary went on, "that when it's a question of your sister, you would wish her life to be continued on the same plane, and in the surroundings she had always been used to."
"I should think that best, certainly, for a girl of Louise's ideas," said Matt, trying to get his own to the surface.
"Ideas!" cried his mother. "She has no ideas. She merely has impulses, and her impulses are to do what people wish. But her education and breeding have been different from those of such a young man, and she would be very unhappy with him. They never could quite understand each other, no matter how much they were in love. I know he is very talented, and all that; and I shouldn't at all mind his being poor. I never minded Cyril Wade's being poor, when I thought he had taken her fancy, because he was one of ourselves; and this young man—Matt, you can't pretend, that with all his intellectual qualities, he's what one calls a gentleman. With his origin and bringing up; his coarse experiences; all his trials and struggles; even with his successes, he couldn't be; and Louise could not be happy with him for that very reason. He might have all the gifts, all the virtues, under the sun; I don't deny that he has—"
"He has some very serious faults," Matt interrupted.
"We all have," said Mrs. Hilary, tolerantly. "But he might be a perfect saint—a hero—a martyr, and if he wasn't what one calls a gentleman, don't you see? We can't be frank about such things, here, because we live in a republic; but—"
"We get there, just the same," said Matt, with unwonted slang.
"Yes," said his mother. "That is what I mean."
"And you're quite right, as to the facts, mother." He got up, and began to walk about the long, low living-room of the farmhouse where they were sitting. Louise had gone to direct her maid in packing for her flitting to the seaside in the morning; Matt could see a light in the ell-chamber where Maxwell was probably writing. "The self-made man can never be the society equal of the society-made man. He may have more brains, more money, more virtue, but he's a kind of inferior, and he betrays his inferiority in every worldly exigency. And if he's successful, he's so because he's been stronger, fiercer, harder than others in the battle of life. That's one reason why I say that there oughtn't to be any battle of life. Maxwell has the defects of his disadvantages—I see that. He's often bitter, and cynical, and cruel because he has had to fight for his bread. He isn't Louise's social equal; I quite agree with you there, mother; and if she wants to live for society, he would be always in danger of wounding her by his inferiority to other people of her sort. I'm sorry for Maxwell, but I don't pity him, especially. He bears the penalty of his misfortunes; but he is strong enough to bear it. Let him stand it! But there are others—weaker, unhappier—Mother! You haven't asked me yet about—the Northwicks." Matt stopped in front of her chair, and looked down into her lifted face, where the satisfaction his acquiescence in her views concerning Louise was scarcely marred by her perception that he had not changed his mind at all on other points. She was used to his way of thinking, and she gratefully resolved to be more and more patient with it, and give him time for the change that was sure to come. She interpreted the look of stormy wistfulness he wore as an expression of his perplexity in the presence of the contradictory facts and theories.
"No," she said, "I expected to do that. You know I've seen them so very lately, and with this about Louise on my mind—How are they? That poor Adeline—I'm afraid it's killing her. Were you able to do anything for them?"
"Ah, I don't know," the young man sighed. "They have to suffer for their misfortunes, too."
"It seems to be the order of Providence," said Mrs. Hilary, with the resignation of the philosophical spectator.
"No!" Matt protested. "It's the disorder of improvidence. There's nothing of the Divine will in consequences so unjust and oppressive. Those women are perfectly innocent; they've only wished to do right, and tried to do it; but they're under a ban the same as if they had shared their father's guilt. They have no friends—"
"Well, Matt," said his mother, with dignity, "I think you can hardly say that. I'm sure that as far as we are concerned, we have nothing to reproach ourselves with. I think we've gone to the extreme to show our good-will. How much further do you want us to go? Come; I don't like your saying this!"
"I beg your pardon. I certainly don't blame you, or Louise, or father. I blame myself—for cowardice—for—for unworthiness in being afraid to say—to tell you—Mother," he burst out suddenly, after a halt, "I've asked Suzette Northwick to marry me."
Matt had tried to imagine himself saying this to his mother, and the effect it would have, ever since he had left Suzette's absorbing presence; all through his talk with Putney, and all the way home, and now throughout what he and his mother had been saying of Maxwell and Louise. But it always seemed impossible, and more and more impossible, so that when he found the words spoken in his own voice, it seemed wholly incredible.
The effect of a thing is never quite what we have forecast. Mrs. Hilary heard Matt's confession without apparently anything of his tumult in making it. Women, after all, dwell mainly in the region of the affections; even the most worldly women have their likes and dislikes, and the question of the sort Matt had sprung upon his mother, is first a personal question with them. She was not a very worldly woman; but she liked her place in the world, and she preferred conformity and similarity; the people she was born of and bred with, were the nicest kind of people, and she did not see how any one could differ from them to advantage. Their ideas were the best, or they would not have had them; she, herself, did not wish to have other ideas. But her family was more, far more, to her than her world was. She knew that in his time her husband had not had the ideas of her world concerning slavery, but she had always contrived to honor the ideas of both. Since her son had begun to disagree with her world concerning what he called the industrial slavery, she contrived, without the sense of inconsistency, to suffer him and yet remain with the world. She represented in her maternal tolerance, the principle actuating the church, which includes the facts as fast as they accomplish themselves, without changing any point of doctrine.
"Then you mean, Matt," she asked, "that you are going to marry her?"
"Yes," said Matt, "that is what I mean," and then, something in his mother's way of taking it nettled him on Sue's behalf. "But I don't know that my marrying her necessarily followed from my asking her. I expected her to refuse me."
"Men always do; I don't know why," said Mrs. Hilary. "But in this case I can't imagine it."
"Can't imagine it? I can imagine it!" Matt retorted; but his mother did not seem to notice his resentment.
"Then, if it's quite settled, you don't wish me to say anything?"
"I wish you to say everything, mother—all that you feel and think—about her, and the whole affair. But I don't wish you to think—I can't let you think—that she has ever, by one look or word, allowed me to suppose that my offer would be welcome."
"Oh, I didn't mean that," said Mrs. Hilary. "She would be too proud for that. But I've no doubt it was welcome." Matt fretted in silence, but he allowed his mother to go on. "She is a very proud girl, and I've no doubt that what she's been through has intensified her pride."
"I don't suppose she's perfect," said Matt. "I'm not perfect, myself. But I don't conceal her faults from myself any more than I do my own. I know she's proud. I don't admire pride; but I suppose that with her it can't be helped."
"I don't know that I object to it," said Mrs. Hilary. "It doesn't always imply hardness; it goes with very good things, sometimes. That hauteur of hers is very effective. I've seen it carry her through with people who might have been disposed to look down on her for some reasons."
"I shouldn't value it, for that," Matt interrupted.
"No. But she made it serve her instead of her want of those family connections that every one else has—"
"She will have all of ours, I hope, mother!" Matt broke in, with a smile; but his mother would not be diverted from the point she was making.
"And that it always seemed so odd she shouldn't have. I'm sure that to see her come into a room, you would think half Boston, or all the princes of the blood, were her cousins. She's certainly a magnificent creature."
Matt differed with his mother from the ground up, in all her worldly reasons for admiring Suzette, but her praises filled his heart to overflowing. Tears stood in his eyes, and his voice trembled:
"She is—she is—angelically!"
"Well, not just that type, perhaps," said Mrs. Hilary. "But she is a good girl. No one can help respecting her; and I think she's even more to be respected for yielding to that poor old maid sister of hers about their property, than for wishing to give it up."
"Yes," Matt breathed gratefully.
"But there, there is the real skeleton, Matt! Suzette would grace the highest position. But her father! What will people say?"
"Need we mind that, mother?"
"Not, perhaps, so much, if things had remained as they were—if he had never been heard from again. But that letter of his! And what will he do next? He may come home, and offer to stand his trial!"
"I would respect him for that!" cried Matt passionately.
"It isn't a thing I should urge him to do. He may not have the strength for it. But if he had, it would be the best thing he could do, and I should be glad to stand by him!"
"And drag us all through the mire? Surely, my son, whatever you feel about your mother and sister, you can't wish your poor father to suffer anything more on that wretch's account?"
"Wish? No. And heaven knows how deeply anxious I am about the effect my engagement may have on father. I'm afraid it will embarrass him—compromise him, even—"
"As to that, I can't say," said Mrs. Hilary. "You and he ought to know best. One thing is certain. There won't be any opposition on his part or mine, my son, that you won't see yourself is reasonable—"
"Oh, I am sure of that, mother! And I can't tell you how deeply I feel—"
"Your father appreciates Suzette as fully as I do; but I don't believe he could stand any more Quixotism from you, Matt, and if you intend to make your marriage a preliminary to getting your father-in-law into State's prison, you may be very sure your father won't approve of your marriage."
Matt laughed at the humor of the proposition, which his mother did not perceive so keenly.
"I don't intend that, exactly."
"And I'm satisfied, as it is, he won't be easy about it till the thing is hushed up, or dies out of itself, if it's let alone."
"But father can't let it alone!" said Matt. "It's his duty to follow it up at every opportunity. I don't want you to deceive yourself about the matter. I want you to understand just how it will be. I have tried to face it squarely, and I know how it looks. I shall try to make Suzette see it as I do, and I'm sure she will. I don't think her father is guiltier than a great many other people who haven't been found out. But he has been found out, and he ought, for the sake of the community, to be willing to bear the penalty the law inflicts. That is his only hope, his salvation, his duty. Father's duty is to make him bear it whether he's willing or not. It's a much more odious duty—"
"I don't understand you, Matt, saying your father's part is more odious than a self-confessed defaulter's."
"No, I don't say—"
"Then I think you'd better go to your father, and reconcile your duty with his, if you can. I wash my hands of the affair. It seems to me, though, that you've quite lost your head. The world will look very differently, I can assure you, at a woman whose father died in Canada, nobody could remember just why, from what it will on one whose father was sent to State's prison for taking money that didn't belong to him."
Matt flung up his arms; "Oh, the world, the world! I won't let the world enter! I will never let Suzette face its mean and cruel prejudices. She will come here to the farm with me, and we will live down the memory of what she has innocently suffered, and we will let the world go its way."
"And don't you think the world will follow you here? Don't you suppose it is here, ready to welcome you home with all those prejudices you hope you can shun? Every old gossip of the neighborhood will point Suzette out, as the daughter of a man who is serving his term in jail for fraud. The great world forgets, but this little world around you here would remember it as long as either of you lived. No; the day you marry Suzette Northwick, you must make up your mind to follow her father into exile, or else to share his shame with her at home."
"I've made up my mind to share that shame at home. I never could ask her to run from it."
"Then for pity's sake, let that miserable man alone, wherever he is. Or, if you can get at him, beg him to stay away, and keep still till he dies. Good-night."
Mrs. Hilary rose from her own chair, and stooped over Matt, where he had sunk in his, and kissed his troubled forehead. He thought he had solved one part of his problem; but her words showed him that he had not rightly seen it in that light of love which had really hid it in dazzling illusions.
The difficulty had not yielded, at all, when he met his father with it; he thought it had only grown tougher and knottier; and he hardly knew how to present it. His mother had not only promised not to speak to his father of the affair, she had utterly refused to speak of it, and Matt instantly perceived that the fact he announced was somehow far more unexpected to his father than it had seemed to his mother.
But Hilary received it with a patience, a tenderness for his son, in all his amazement, that touched Matt more keenly than any other fashion of meeting it could have done. He asked if it were something that Matt had done, or had merely made up his mind some time to do; and when Matt said it was something he had done, his father was silent a moment. Then he said, "I shall have to take some action about it."
"Why, you must see, my dear boy, that as soon as this thing becomes known—and you wish it to be known, of course—"
"It will be impossible for me to continue holding my present relation to Northwick."
"As president of the Board, I'm ex officio his enemy and persecutor. It wouldn't be right, it wouldn't be decent, for me to continue that after it was known that you were going to marry his daughter. It wouldn't be possible. I must resign, I must withdraw from the Board altogether. I haven't the stuff in me to do my official duty at such a cost; so I'd better give up my office, and get rid of my duty."
"That will be a great sacrifice for you, father," said Matt.
"It won't bring me to want, exactly, if you mean money-wise."
"I didn't mean money-wise. But I know you've always enjoyed the position so much."
Hilary laughed uneasily. "Well, it hasn't been a bed of roses since we discovered Northwick's obliquities—excuse me!"
Matt blushed. "Oh, I know he's oblique, as such things go."
"In fact," his father resumed, "I shall be glad to be out of it, and I don't think there'll be much opposition to my going out; I know that there's a growing feeling against me in the Board. I have tried to carry water on both shoulders. I've made the effort honestly; but the effect hasn't been good. I couldn't keep my heart out of it; from the very first I pitied that poor devil's children so that I got him and gave him all the chance I could."
"That was perfectly right. It was the only business-like—"
"It wasn't business-like to hope that even if justice were defeated he might somehow, anyhow, escape the consequences of his crime; and I'm afraid this is what I've hoped, in spite of myself," said Hilary.
This was so probably true that Matt could not help his father deny it. He could only say, "I don't believe you've ever allowed that hope to interfere with the strict performance of your duty, at any moment."
"No; but I've had the hope; and others have had the suspicion that I've had it. I've felt that; and I'm glad that it's coming to an end. I'm not ashamed of your choice, Matt; I'm proud of it. The thing gave me a shock at first, because I had to face the part I must take. But she's all kinds of a splendid girl. The Board knows what she wished to do, and why she hasn't done it. No one can help honoring her. And I don't believe people will think the less of any of us for your wanting to marry her. But if they do, they may do it, and be damned."
Hilary shook himself together with greater comfort than he had yet felt, upon this conclusion: but he lapsed again after the long hand-pressure that he exchanged with his son.
"We must make it our business, now, to see that no man loses anything by that—We must get at him somehow. Of course, they have no more notion where he is than we have."
"No; not the least," said Matt. "I think it's the uncertainty that's preying upon Miss Northwick."
"The man's behaving like a confounded lunatic," said Hilary.
The word reminded Matt of Putney, and he said, "That's their lawyer's theory of him—"
"Oh, you've seen him, have you? Odd chap."
"Yes; I saw him when I was up there, after—after—at the request of Suzette. I wished to talk with him about the scheme that Maxwell's heard of from a brother reporter," and Matt now unfolded Pinney's plan to his father, and showed his letter.
Hilary looked from it at his son. "You don't mean that this is the blackguard who wrote that account of the defalcation in the Events?"
"Yes; the same fellow. But as to blackguard—"
"Well, then, Matt, I don't see how we can employ him. It seems to me it would be a kind of insult to those poor girls."
"I had thought of that. I felt that. But after all, I don't think he knew how much of a blackguard he was making of himself. Maxwell says he wouldn't know. And besides, we can't help ourselves. If he doesn't go for us, he will go for himself. We must employ him. He's a species of condottiere; we can buy his allegiance with his service: and we must forego the sentimental objection. I've gone all over it, and that's the only conclusion."
Hilary fumed and rebelled; but he saw that they could not help themselves, that they could not do better. He asked, "And what did their lawyer think of it?"
"He seemed to think we had better let it alone for the present; better wait and see if Mr. Northwick would not try to communicate with his family."
"I'm not so sure of that," said Hilary. "If this fellow is such a fellow as you say, I don't see why we shouldn't make use of him at once."
"Make use of him to get Mr. Northwick back?" said Matt. "I think it would be well for him to come back, but voluntarily—"
"Come back?" said Hilary, whose civic morality flew much lower than this. "Nonsense! And stir the whole filthy mess up in the courts? I mean, make use of this fellow to find him, and enable us to find out just how much money he has left, and how much we have got to supply, in order to make up his shortage."
Matt now perceived the extent of his father's purpose, and on its plane he honored it.
"Father, you're splendid!"
"Stuff! I'm in a corner. What else is there to do? What less could we do? What's the money for, if it isn't to—" Hilary choked with the emotion that filled him at the sight of his son's face.
Every father likes to have his grown-up son think him a good man; it is the sweetest thing that can come to him in life, far sweeter than a daughter's faith in him; for a son knows whether his father is good or not. At the bottom of his soul Hilary cared more for his son's opinion than most fathers; Matt was a crank, but because he was a crank, Hilary valued his judgment as something ideal.
After a moment he asked, "Can this fellow be got at?"
"Oh, I imagine very readily."
"What did Maxwell say about him, generally?"
"Generally, that he's not at all a bad kind of fellow. He's a reporter by nature, and he's a detective upon instinct. He's done some amateur detective work, as many reporters do—according to Maxwell's account. The two things run together—and he's very shrewd and capable in his way. He's going into it as a speculation, and of course he wants it to be worth his while. Maxwell says his expectation of newspaper promotion is mere brag; they know him too well to put him in any position of control. He's a mixture, like everybody else. He's devotedly fond of his wife, and he wants to give her and the baby a change of air—"
"My idea," Hilary interrupted, "would be not to wait for the Social Science Convention, but to send this—"
"Pinney at once. Will you see him?"
"If you have made up your mind."
"I've made up my mind. But handle the wretch carefully, and for heaven's sake bind him by all that's sacred—if there's anything sacred to him—not to give the matter away. Let him fix his price, and offer him a pension for his widow afterwards."
Mrs. Hilary was a large woman, of portly frame, the prophecy in amplitude of what her son might come to be if he did not carry the activities of youth into his later life. She, for her part, was long past such activities; and yet she was not a woman to let the grass grow upon any path she had taken. She appointed the afternoon of the day following her talk with Matt for leaving the farm and going to the shore; Louise was to go with her, and upon the whole she judged it best to tell her why, when the girl came to say good-night, and to announce that her packing was finished.
"But what in the world are we in such a hurry for, mamma, all of a sudden?"
"We are in a hurry because—don't you really know, Louise?—because in the crazy atmosphere of this house, one loses the sense of—of proportion—of differences."
"Aren't you rather—Emersonian, mamma?"
"Do you think so, my dear? Matt's queer notions infect everybody; I don't blame you, particularly; and the simple life he makes people lead—by leading it himself, more than anything else—makes you think that you could keep on living just as simply if you wished, everywhere."
"It's very sweet—it's so restful," sighed the girl. "It makes you sick of dinners and ashamed of dances."
"But you must go back to them; you must go back to the world you belong to; and you'd better not carry any queer habits back with you."
"You are rather sphinx-like, mamma! Such habits, for instance, as?"
"As Mr. Maxwell." The girl's face changed; her mother had touched the quick. She went on, looking steadily at her daughter, "You know he wouldn't do, there."
"No; he wouldn't," said Louise, promptly; so mournfully, though, that her mother's heart relented.
"I've seen that you've become interested in him, Louise; that your fancy is excited; he stimulates your curiosity. I don't wonder at it! He is very interesting. He makes you feel his power more than any other young man I've met. He charms your imagination even when he shocks your taste."
"Yes; all that," said Louise, desolately.
"But he does shock your taste?"
"Often enough, though, to make the difference that I'm afraid you'll lose the sense of. Louise, I should be very sorry if I thought you were at all—in love with that young man!"
It seemed a question; Louise let her head droop, and answered with another. "How should I know? He hasn't asked me."
This vexed her mother. "Don't be trivial, don't be childish, my dear. You don't need to be asked, though I'm exceedingly glad he hasn't asked you, for now you can get away with a good conscience."
"I'm not sure yet that I want to get away," said the girl, dreamily.
"Yes, you are, my dear!" her mother retorted. "You know it wouldn't do at all. It isn't a question of his poverty; your father has money enough: it's a question of his social quality, and of all those little nothings that make up the whole of happiness in marriage. He would be different enough, being merely a man; but being a man born and reared in as different a world from yours as if it were another planet—I want you to think over all the girls you know—all the people you know—and see how many of them have married out of their own set, their own circle—we might almost say, their own family. There isn't one!"
"I've not said I wished to marry him, mamma."
"No. But I wish you to realize just what it would be."
"It would be something rather distinguished, if his dreams came true," Louise suggested.
"Well, of course," Mrs. Hilary admitted. She wished to be very, very reasonable; very, very just; it was the only thing with a girl like Louise; perhaps with any girl. "It would be distinguished, in a way. But it wouldn't be distinguished in the society way; the only way you've professed to care for. I know that we've always been an intellectual community, and New-Yorkers, and that kind of people, think, or profess to think, that we make a great deal of literary men. We do invite them somewhat, but I pass whole seasons without meeting them; and I don't know that you could say that they are of society, even when they are in it. If such a man has society connections, he's in society; but he's there on account of his connections, not on account of his achievements. This young man may become very distinguished, but he'll always be rather queer; and he would put a society girl at odds with society. His distinction would be public; it wouldn't be social."
"Matt doesn't think society is worth minding," Louise said, casually.
"But you do," returned her mother. "And Matt says that a man of this young man's traditions might mortify you before society people."
"Did Matt say that?" Louise demanded, angrily. "I will speak to Matt about that! I should like to know what he means by it. I should like to hear what he would say."
"Very likely he would say that the society people were not worth minding. You know his nonsense. If you agree with Matt, I've nothing more to say, Louise; not a word. You can marry a mechanic or a day-laborer, in that case, without loss of self-respect. I've only been talking to you on the plane where I've always understood you wished to be taken. But if you don't, then I can't help it. You must understand, though, and understand distinctly, that you can't live on two levels; the world won't let you. Either you must be in the world and of it entirely; or you must discard its criterions, and form your own, and hover about in a sort of Bohemian limbo on its outskirts; or you must give it up altogether." Mrs. Hilary rose from the lounge where she had been sitting, and said, "Now I'm going to bed. And I want you to think this all carefully over, Louise. I don't blame you for it: and I wish nothing but your good and happiness—yours and Matt's, both. But I must say you've been pretty difficult children to provide for. Do you know what Matt has been doing?" Mrs. Hilary had not meant to speak of it, but she felt an invincible necessity of doing so, at last.
"Something new about the Northwicks?"
"Very decidedly—or about one of them. He's offered himself to Suzette."
"How grand! How perfectly magnificent! Then she can give up her property at once, and Matt can take care of her and Adeline both."
"Or, your father can, for him. Matt has not the crime of being a capitalist on his conscience. His idea seems to be to get Suzette to live here on the farm with him."
"I don't believe she'd be satisfied with that," said Louise. "But could she bear to face the world? Wouldn't she always be thinking what people thought?"
"I felt that I ought to suggest that to Matt; though, really, when it comes to the practical side of the matter, people wouldn't care much what her father had been—that is, society people wouldn't, as society people. She would have the education and the traditions of a lady, and she would have Matt's name. It's nonsense to suppose there wouldn't be talk; but I don't believe there would be anything that couldn't be lived down. The fact is," said Mrs. Hilary, giving her daughter the advantage of a species of soliloquy, "I think we ought to be glad Matt has let us off so easily. I've been afraid that he would end by marrying some farmer's daughter, and bringing somebody into the family who would say 'Want to know,' and 'How?' and 'What-say?' through her nose. Suzette is indefinitely better than that, no matter what her father is. But I must confess that it was a shock when Matt told me they were engaged."
"Why, were you surprised, mamma?" said Louise. "I thought all along that it would come to that. I knew in the first place, Matt's sympathy would be roused, and you know that's the strongest thing in him. And then, Suzette is a beautiful girl. She's perfectly regal; and she's just Matt's opposite, every way; and, of course he would be taken with her. I'm not a bit surprised. Why it's the most natural thing in the world."
"It might be very much worse," sighed Mrs. Hilary. "As soon as he has seen your father, we must announce it, and face it out with people. Fortunately, it's summer; and a great many have gone abroad this year."
Louise began to laugh. "Even Mr. Northwick is abroad."
"Yes, and I hope he'll stay there," said Mrs. Hilary, wincing.
"It would be quite like Matt, wouldn't it, to have him brought home in chains, long enough to give away the bride?"
"Louise!" said her mother.
Louise began to cry. "Oh, you think it's nothing," she said stormily, "for Matt to marry a girl whose father ran away with other people's money; but a man who has fought his way honestly is disgraceful, no matter how gifted he is, because he hasn't the traditions of a society man—"
"I won't condescend to answer your unjust nonsense, my dear," said Mrs. Hilary. "I will merely ask you if you wish to marry Mr. Maxwell—"
"I will take care of myself!" cried the girl, in open, if not definite rebellion. She flung from the room, and ran upstairs to her chamber, which looked across at the chamber where Maxwell's light was burning. She dropped on her knees beside the window, and bowed herself to the light, that swam on her tears, a golden mist, and pitied and entreated it, and remained there, till the lamp was suddenly quenched, and the moon possessed itself of the night in unbroken splendor.
After breakfast, which she made late the next morning, she found Maxwell waiting for her on the piazza.
"Are you going over to the camp?" she asked.
"I was, after I had said good-by," he answered.
"Oh, we're not going for several hours yet. We shall take the noon train, mamma's decided." She possessed herself of the cushion, stuffed with spruce sprays, that lay on the piazza-steps, and added, "I will go over with you." They had hitherto made some pretence, one to the other, for being together at the camp; but this morning neither feigned any reason for it. Louise stopped, when she found he was not keeping up with her, and turned to him, and waited for him to reach her. "I wanted to speak with you, Mr. Maxwell, and I expect you to be very patient and tractable." She said this very authoritatively; she ended by asking, "Will you?"
"It depends upon what it is. I am always docile if I like a thing."
"Well, you ought to like this."
"Oh, that's different. That's often infuriating."
They went on, and then paused at the low stone wall between the pasture and the pines.
"Before I say it, you must promise to take it in the right way," she said.
He asked, teasingly, "Why do you think I won't?"
"Because—because I wish you to so much!"
"And am I such a contrary-minded person that you can't trust me to behave myself, under ordinary provocation?"
"You may think the provocation is extraordinary."
"Well, let's see." He got himself over the wall, and allowed her to scramble after him.
She asked herself whether, if he had the traditions of a society man, he would have done that; but somehow, when she looked at his dreamy face, rapt in remote thought that beautified it from afar, she did not care for his neglect of small attentions. She said to herself that if a woman could be the companion of his thoughts that would be enough; she did not go into the details of arranging association with thoughts so far off as Maxwell's; she did not ask herself whether it would be easy or possible. She put the cushion into the hammock for a pillow, but he chose to sit beside her on the bench between the pine-tree boles, and the hammock swayed empty in the light breeze that woke the sea-song of the boughs over them.
"I don't know exactly how to begin," she said, after a little silence.
"If you'll tell me what you want to say," he suggested, "I'll begin for you."
"No, thank you, I'll begin myself. Do you remember, the other day, when we were here, and were talking of the difference in peoples' pride?"
"Purse pride and poverty pride? Yes, I remember that."
"I didn't like what you said, then; or, rather, what you were."
"Have you begun now? Why didn't you?"
"Because—because you seemed very worldly."
"And do you object to the world? I didn't make it," said Maxwell, with his scornful smile. "But I've no criticisms of the Creator to offer. I take the world as I find it, and as soon as I get a little stronger, I'm going back to it. But I thought you were rather worldly yourself, Miss Hilary."
"I don't know. I don't believe I am, very. Don't you think the kind of life Matt's trying to live is better?"
"Your brother is the best man I ever knew—"
"Oh, isn't he? Magnificent!"
"But life means business. Even literary life, as I understand it, means business."
"And can't you think—can't you wish—for anything better than the life that means business?" she asked, she almost entreated. "Why should you ever wish to go back to the world? If you could live in the country away from society, and all its vanity and vexation of spirit, why wouldn't you rather lead a literary life that didn't mean business?"
"But how? Are you proposing a public subscription, or a fairy godmother?" asked Maxwell.
"No; merely the golden age. I'm just supposing the case," said Louise. "You were born in Arcady, you know," she added, with a wistful smile.
"Arcady is a good place to emigrate from," said Maxwell, with a smile that was not wistful. "It's like Vermont, where I was born, too. And if I owned the whole of Arcady, I should have no use for it till I had seen what the world had to offer. Then I might like it for a few months in the summer."
"Yes," she sighed faintly, and suddenly she rose, and said, "I must go and put the finishing touches. Good-by, Mr. Maxwell"—she mechanically gave him her hand. "I hope you will soon be well enough to get back to the world again."
"Thank you," he said, in surprise. "But the great trial you were going to make of my patience, my docility—"
She caught away her hand. "Oh, that wasn't anything. I've decided not. Good-by! Don't go through the empty form of coming back to the house with me. I'll take your adieus to mamma." She put the cushion into the hammock. "You had better stay and try to get a nap, and gather strength for the battle of life as fast as you can."
She spoke so gayly and lightly, that Maxwell, with all his subtlety, felt no other mood in her. He did not even notice, till afterwards, that she had said nothing about their meeting again. He got into the hammock, and after a while he drowsed, with a delicious, poetic sense of her capricious charm, as she drifted back to the farmhouse, over the sloping meadow. He visioned a future in which fame had given him courage to tell her his love.
Mrs. Hilary knew from her daughter's face that something had happened; but she knew also that it was not what she dreaded.
Matt Hilary saw Pinney, and easily got at the truth of his hopes and possibilities concerning Northwick. He found that the reporter really expected to do little more than to find his man, and make a newspaper sensation out of his discovery. He was willing to forego this in the interest of Northwick's family, if it could be made worth his while; he said he had always sympathized with his family, and Mrs. Pinney had, and he would be glad to be of use to them. He was so far from conceiving that his account of the defalcation in the Events could have been displeasing to them, that he bore them none of an offender's malice. He referred to his masterpiece in proof of his interest, and he promptly agreed with Matt as to the terms of his visit to Canada, and its object.
It was, in fact, the more practicable, because, since he had written to Maxwell, there had been a change in his plans and expectations. Pinney was disappointed in the Events' people; they had not seen his proposed excursion as he had; the failure of Northwick's letter, as an enterprise, had dashed their interest in him; and they did not care to invest in Pinney's scheme, even so far as to guarantee his expenses. This disgusted Pinney, and turned his thoughts strongly toward another calling. It was not altogether strange to him; he had already done some minor pieces of amateur detective work, and acquitted himself with gratifying success; and he had lately seen a private detective, who attested his appreciation of Pinney's skill by offering him a partnership. His wife was not in favor of his undertaking the work, though she could not deny that he had some distinct qualification for it. The air of confidence which he diffused about him unconsciously, and which often served him so well in newspaper life, was in itself the most valuable property that a detective could have. She said this, and she did not object to the profession itself, except for the dangers that she believed it involved. She did not wish Pinney to incur these, and she would not be laughed out of her fears when he told her that there were lines of detective work that were not half so dangerous, in the long run, as that of a reporter subject to assignment. She only answered that she would much rather he kept along on the newspaper. But this offer to look up Northwick in behalf of his family, was a different affair. That would give them a chance for their outing in Canada, and pay them better than any newspaper enterprise. They agreed to this, and upon how much good it would do the baby, and they imagined how Mrs. Pinney should stay quietly at Quebec, while Pinney went about, looking up his man, if that was necessary.
"And then," he said, "if I find him, and all goes well, and I can get him to come home with me by moral suasion, I can butter my bread on both sides. There's a reward out for him; and I guess I will just qualify as a detective before we start, so as to be prepared for emergencies—"
"Lorenzo Pinney!" screamed his wife. "Don't you think of such a wicked thing! So dishonorable!"
"How wicked? How dishonorable?" demanded Pinney.
"I'm ashamed to have to tell you, if you don't see; and I won't. But if you go as a detective, go as a detective; and if you go as their friend, to help them and serve them, then go that way. But don't you try to carry water on both shoulders. If you do, I won't stir a step with you; so there!"
"Ah!" said Pinney, "I understand. I didn't catch on, at first. Well, you needn't be afraid of my mixing drinks. I'll just use the old fellow for practice. Very likely he may lead to something else in the defaulter line. You won't object to that?"
"No; I won't object to that."
They had the light preparations of young housekeepers to make, and they were off to the field of Pinney's work in a very few days after he had seen Matt, and told him that he would talk it over with his wife. At Quebec he found board for his family at the same hotel where Northwick had stopped in the winter, but it had kept no recognizable trace of him in the name of Warwick on its register. Pinney passed a week of search in the city, where he had to carry on his investigations with an eye not only to Northwick's discovery, but to his concealment as well. If he could find him he must hide him from the pursuit of others, and he went about his work in the journalistic rather than the legal way. He had not wholly "severed his connection," as the newspaper phrase is, with the Events. He had a fast and loose relation with it, pending a closer tie with his friend, the detective, which authorized him to keep its name on his card; and he was soon friends with all the gentlemen of the local press. They did not understand, in their old-fashioned, quiet ideal of newspaper work, the vigor with which Pinney proposed to enjoy the leisure of his vacation in exploiting all the journalistic material relating to the financial exiles resident in their city. But they had a sort of local pride in their presence, and with their help Pinney came to know all that was to be known of them. The colony was not large, but it had its differences, its distinctions, which the citizens were very well aware of. There are defaulters and defaulters, and the blame is not in all cases the same, nor the breeding of the offenders. Pinney learned that there were defaulters who were in society, and not merely because they were defaulters for large sums and were of good social standing at home, but because there were circumstances that attenuated their offence in the eyes of the people of their city of refuge; they judged them by their known intentions and their exigencies, as the justice they had fled from could not judge them. There were other defaulters of a different type and condition, whose status followed them: embezzlers who had deliberately planned their misdeeds, and who had fallen from no domestic dignity in their exclusion from respectable association abroad. These Pinney saw in their walks about the town; and he was not too proud, for the purposes of art, to make their acquaintance, and to study in their vacancy and solitude the dulness and weariness of exile. They did not consort together, but held aloof from one another, and professed to be ignorant each of the affairs of the rest. Pinney sympathized in tone if not in sentiment with them, but he did not lure them to the confidence he so often enjoyed; they proved to be men of reticent temper; when frankly invited to speak of their history and their hopes in the interest of the reputations they had left behind them, they said they had no statement to make.