The Hallowe'en frolic was on. Through the long hall, lighted to pleasant dusk by real Jack-o'-lanterns, stray couples strolled, with subdued murmurs and soft laughter. In the big white and gold parlour, in the dining-room, billiard-room, and in the tropic jungle of the immense palm-garden the party had bestowed itself in congenial groups, ever intersecting and forming anew. Little flutters of high laughter now and then told of tests that were being made with roasting chestnuts, apple-parings, the white of an egg dropped into water, or the lighted candle before an open window.
Percival watched for the chance to find Miss Milbrey alone. His sister had just ventured alone with a candle into the library to study the face of her future husband in a mirror. The result had been, in a sense, unsatisfactory. She had beheld looking over her shoulder the faces of Mauburn, Fred Milbrey, and the Angstead twins, and had declared herself unnerved by the weird prophecy.
Before the fire in the hall Percival stood while Mrs. Akemit reclined picturesquely near by, and Doctor von Herzlich explained, with excessive care as to his enunciation, that protoplasm can be analysed but cannot be reconstructed; following this with his own view as to why the synthesis does not produce life.
"You wonderful man!" from Mrs. Akemit; "I fairly tremble when I think of all you know. Oh, what a delight science must be to her votaries!"
The Angstead twins joined the group, attracted by Mrs. Akemit's inquiry of the savant if he did not consider civilisation a failure. The twins did. They considered civilisation a failure because it was killing off all the big game. There was none to speak of left now except in Africa; and they were pessimistic about Africa.
Percival listened absently to the talk and watched Miss Milbrey, now one of the group in the dining-room. Presently he saw her take a lighted candle from one of the laughing girls and go toward the library.
His heart-beats quickened. Now she should know his love and it would be well. He walked down the hall leisurely, turned into the big parlour, momentarily deserted, walked quickly but softly over its polished floor to a door that gave into the library, pushed the heavy portiere aside and stepped noiselessly in.
The large room was lighted dimly by two immense yellow pumpkins, their sides cut into faces of grinning grotesqueness. At the far side of the room Miss Milbrey had that instant arrived before an antique oval mirror whose gilded carvings reflected the light of the candle. She held it above her head with one rounded arm. He stood in deep shadow and the girl had been too absorbed in the play to note his coming. He took one noiseless step toward her, but then through the curtained doorway by which she had come he saw a man enter swiftly and furtively.
Trembling on the verge of laughing speech, something held him back, some unexplainable instinct, making itself known in a thrill that went from his feet to his head; he could feel the roots of his hair tingle. The newcomer went quickly, with catlike tread, toward the girl. Fascinated he stood, wanting to speak, to laugh, yet powerless from the very swiftness of what followed.
In the mirror under the candle-light he saw the man's dark face come beside the other, heard a little cry from the girl as she half-turned; then he saw the man take her in his arms, saw her head fall on to his shoulder, and her face turn to his kiss.
He tried to stop breathing, fearful of discovery, grasping with one hand the heavy fold of the curtain back of him to steady himself.
There was the space of two long, trembling breaths; then he heard her say, in a low, tense voice, as she drew away:
"Oh, you are my bad angel—why?—why?"
She fled toward the door to the hall.
"Don't come this way," she called back, in quick, low tones of caution.
The man turned toward the door where Percival stood, and in the darkness stumbled over a hassock. Instantly Percival was on the other side of the portiere, and, before the other had groped his way to the dark corner where the door was, had recrossed the empty parlour and was safely in the hall.
He made his way to the dining-room, where supper was under way.
"Mr. Bines has seen a ghost," said the sharp-eyed Mrs. Drelmer.
"Poor chap's only starved to death," said Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan. "Eat something, Mr. Bines; this supper is go-as-you-please. Nobody's to wait for anybody."
Strung loosely about the big table a dozen people were eating hot scones and bannocks with clotted cream and marmalade, and drinking mulled cider.
"And there's cold fowl and baked beans and doughnuts and all, for those who can't eat with a Scotch accent," said the host, cheerfully.
Percival dropped into one of the chairs.
"I'm Scotch enough to want a Scotch high-ball."
"And you're getting it so high it's top-heavy," cautioned Mrs. Drelmer.
Above the chatter of the table could be heard the voices of men and the musical laughter of women from the other rooms.
"I simply can't get 'em together," said the hostess.
"It's nice to have 'em all over the place," said her husband, "fair women and brave men, you know."
"The men have to be brave," she answered, shortly, with a glance at little Mrs. Akemit, who had permitted Percival to seat her at his side, and was now pleading with him to agree that simple ways of life are requisite to the needed measure of spirituality.
Then came strains of music from the rich-toned organ.
"Oh, that dear Ned Ristine is playing," cried one; and several of the group sauntered toward the music-room.
The music flooded the hall and the room, so that the talk died low.
"He's improvising," exclaimed Mrs. Akemit. "How splendid! He seems to be breathing a paean of triumph, some high, exalted spiritual triumph, as if his soul had risen above us—how precious!"
When the deep swell had subsided to silvery ripples and the last cadence had fainted, she looked at Percival with moistened parted lips and eyes half-shielded, as if her full gaze would betray too much of her quivering soul.
Then Percival heard the turquoised brunette say: "What a pity his wife is such an unsympathetic creature!"
"But Mr. Ristine is unmarried, is he not?" he asked, quickly.
There was a little laugh from Mrs. Drelmer.
"Not yet—not that I've heard of."
"I beg pardon!"
"There have been rumours lots of times that he was going to be unmarried, but they always seem to adjust their little difficulties. He and his wife are now staying over at the Bloynes."
"Oh! I see," answered Percival; "you're a jester, Mrs. Drelmer."
"Ristine," observed the theosophic Wilberforce, in the manner of a hired oracle, "is, in his present incarnation, imperfectly monogamous."
Some people came from the music-room.
"Miss Milbrey has stayed by the organist," said one; "and she's promised to make him play one more. Isn't he divine?"
The music came again.
"Oh!" from Mrs. Akemit, again in an ecstasy, '"' he's playing that heavenly stuff from the second act of 'Tristan and Isolde'—the one triumphant, perfect love-poem of all music."
"That Scotch whiskey is good in some of the lesser emergencies," remarked Percival, turning to her; "but it has its limitations. Let's you and me trifle with a nice cold quart of champagne!"
Doctor Von Herzlich Expounds the Hightower Hotel and Certain Allied Phenomena
The Hightower Hotel is by many observers held to be an instructive microcosm of New York, more especially of upper Broadway, with correct proportions of the native and the visiting provincial. With correct proportions, again, of the money-making native and the money-spending native, male and female. A splendid place is this New York; splendid but terrible. London for the stranger has a steady-going, hearty hospitality. Paris on short notice will be cosily and coaxingly intimate. New York is never either. It overwhelms with its lavish display of wealth, it stuns with its tireless, battering energy. But it stays always aloof, indifferent if it be loved or hated; if it crush or sustain.
The ground floor of the Hightower Hotel reproduces this magnificent, brutal indifference. One might live years in its mile or so of stately corridors and its acre or so of resplendent cafes, parlours, reception-rooms, and restaurants, elbowed by thousands, suffocated by that dense air of human crowdedness, that miasma of brain emanations, and still remain in splendid isolation, as had he worn the magic ring of Gyges. Here is every species of visitor: the money-burdened who "stop" here and cultivate an air of being blase to the wealth of polished splendours; and the less opulent who "stop" cheaply elsewhere and venture in to tread the corridors timidly, to stare with honest, drooping-jawed wonder at its marvels of architecture and decoration, and to gaze with becoming reverence at those persons whom they shrewdly conceive to be social celebrities.
This mixture of many and strange elements is never at rest. Its units wait expectantly, chat, drink, eat, or stroll with varying airs through reception-room, corridor, and office. It is an endless function, attended by all of Broadway, with entertainment diversely contrived for every taste by a catholic-minded host with a sincere desire to please the paying public.
"Isn't it a huge bear-garden, though?" asks Launton Oldaker of the estimable Doctor von Herzlich, after the two had observed the scene in silence for a time.
The wise German dropped an olive into his Rhine wine, and gazed reflectively about the room. Men and women sat at tables drinking. Beyond the tables at the farther side of the room, other men were playing billiards. It was four o'clock and the tide was high.
"It is yet more," answered the doctor. "In my prolonged studies of natural phenomena this is the most valuable of all which I have been privileged to observe."
He called them "brifiletched" and "awbsairf" with great nicety. Perhaps his discernment was less at fault.
"Having," continued the doctor, "granted myself some respite from toil in the laboratory at Marburg, I chose to pleasure voyage, to study yet more the social conditions in this loveworthy land. I suspected that much tiredness of travel would be involved. Yet here I find all conditions whatsoever—here in that which you denominate 'bear-garden'. They have been reduced here for my edification, yes? But your term is a term of inadequate comprehensiveness. It is to me more what you call a 'beast-garden,' to include all species of fauna. Are there not here moths and human flames? are there not cunning serpents crawling with apples of knowledge to unreluctant, idling Eves, yes? Do we not hear the amazing converse of parrots and note the pea-fowl negotiating admiration from observers? Mark at that yet farther table also the swine and the song-bird; again, mark our draught-horses who have achieved a competence, yes? You note also the presence of wolves and lambs. And, endly, mark our tailed arborean ancestors, trained to the wearing of garments and a single eye-glass. May I ask, have you bestowed upon this diversity your completest high attention? Hanh!"
This explosion of the doctor's meant that he invited and awaited some contradiction. As none ensued, he went on:
"For wolf and lamb I direct your attention to the group at yonder table. I notice that you greeted the young man as he entered—a common friend to us then—Mr. Bines, with financial resources incredibly unlimited? Also he is possessed of an unexperienced freedom from suspectedness-of-ulterior-motive-in-others—one may not in English as in German make the word to fit his need of the moment—that unsuspectedness, I repeat, which has ever characterised the lamb about to be converted into nutrition. You note the large, loose gentleman with wide-brimmed hat and beard after my own, somewhat, yes? He would dispose of some valuable oil-wells which he shall discover at Texas the moment he shall have sufficiently disposed of them. A wolf he is, yes? The more correctly attired person at his right, with the beak of a hawk and lips so thin that his big white teeth gleam through them when they are yet shut, he is what he calls himself a promoter. He has made sundry efforts to promote myself. I conclude 'promoter' is one other fashion of wolf-saying. The yet littler and yet younger man at his left of our friend, the one of soft voice and insinuating manner, much resembling a stray scion of aristocracy, discloses to those with whom he affably acquaints himself the location of a luxurious gaming house not far off; he will even consent to accompany one to its tables; and still yet he has but yesterday evening invited me the all-town to see.
"As a scientist, I remind you, I permit myself no prejudices. I observe the workings of unemotional law and sometimes record them. You have a saying here that there are three generations between shirt-sleeves and shirt-sleeves. I observe the process of the progress. It is benign as are all processes. I have lately observed it in England. There, by their law of entail, the same process is unswifter,—yet does it unvary. The poor aristocrats, almost back to shirt-sleeves, with their taxes and entailed lands, seek for the money in shops of dress and bonnet and ale, and graciously rent their castles to the but-newly-opulent in American oil or the diamonds of South Africa. Here the posterity of your Mynherr Knickerbocker do likewise. The ancestor they boast was a toiler, a market-gardener, a fur-trader, a boatman, hardworking, simple-wayed, unspending. The woman ancestor kitchen-gardened, spun, wove, and nourished the poultry. Their descendants upon the savings of these labours have forgotten how to labour themselves. They could not yet produce should they even relinquish the illusion that to produce is of a baseness, that only to consume is noble. I gather reports that a few retain enough of the ancient strain to become sturdy tradesmen and gardeners once more. Others seek out and assimilate this new-richness, which, in its turn, will become impoverished and helpless. Ah, what beautiful showing of Evolution!
"See the pendulum swing from useful penury to useless opulence. Why does it not halt midway, you inquire? Because the race is so young. Ach! a mere two hundred and forty million years from our grandfather-grandmother amoeba in the ancestral morass! What can one be expecting? Certain faculties develop in response to the pressure of environment. Omit the pressure and the faculties no longer ensue. Yes? Withdraw the pressure, and the faculties decay. Sightless moles, their environment demands not the sight; nor of the fishes that inhabit the streams of your Mammoth Cave. Your aristocrats between the sleeve-of-the-shirt periods likewise degenerate. There is no need to work, they lose the power. No need to sustain themselves, they become helpless. They are as animals grown in an environment that demands no struggle of them. Yet their environment is artificial. They live on stored energy, stored by another. It is exhausted, they perish. All but the few that can modify to correspond with the changed environment, as when your social celebrities venture into trade, and the also few that in their life of idleness have acquired graces of person and manner to let them find pleasure in the eyes of marryers among the but-now-rich."
The learned doctor submitted to have his glass refilled from the cooler at his side, dropped another olive into the wine, and resumed before Oldaker could manage an escape.
"And how long, you ask, shall the cosmic pendulum swing between these extremes of penurious industry and opulent idleness?"
Oldaker had not asked it. But he tried politely to appear as if he had meant to. He had really meant to ask the doctor what time it was and then pretend to recall an engagement for which he would be already late.
"It will so continue," the doctor placidly resumed, "until the race achieves a different ideal. Now you will say, but there can be no ideal so long as there is no imagination; and as I have directly—a moment-soon—said, the race is too young to have achieved imagination. The highest felicity which we are yet able to imagine is a felicity based upon much money; our highest pleasures the material pleasures which money buys, yes? We strive for it, developing the money-getting faculty at the expense of all others; and when the money is obtained we cannot enjoy it. We can imagine to do with it only delicate-eating and drinking and dressing for show-to-others and building houses immense and splendidly uncalculated for homes of rational dwelling. Art, science, music, literature, sociology, the great study and play of our humanity, they are shut to us.
"Our young friend Bines is a specimen. It is as if he were a child, having received from another a laboratory full of the most beautiful instruments of science. They are valuable, but he can do but common things with them because he knows not their possibilities. Or, we may call it stored energy he has; for such is money, the finest, subtlest, most potent form of stored energy; it may command the highest fruits of genius, the lowest fruits of animality; it is also volatile, elusive. Our young friend has many powerful batteries of it. But he is no electrician. Some he will happily waste without harm to himself. Much of it, apparently, he will convert into that champagne he now drinks. For a week since I had the pleasure of becoming known to him he has drunk it here each day, copiously. He cannot imagine a more salutary mode of exhausting his force. I am told he comes of a father who died at fifty, and who did in many ways like that. This one, at the rate I have observed, will not last so long. He will not so long correspond with an environment even so unexacting as this. And his son, perhaps his grandson, will become what you call broke; will from lack of pressure to learn some useful art, and from spending only, become useless and helpless. For besides drink, there is gambling. He plays what you say, the game of poker, this Bines. You see the gentleman, rounded gracefully in front, who has much the air of seeming to stand behind himself,—he drinks whiskey at my far right, yes? He is of a rich trust, the magnate-director as you say, and plays at cards nightly with our young friend. He jested with him in my presence before you entered, saying, 'I will make you look like'—I forget it now, but his humourous threat was to reduce our young friend to the aspect of some inconsiderable sum in the money of your country. I cannot recall the precise amount, but it was not so much as what you call one dollar. Strange, is it not, that the rich who have too much money gamble as feverishly as the poor who have none, and therefore have an excuse? And the love of display-for-display. If one were not a scientist one might be tempted to say there is no progress. The Peruvian grandee shod his mules with pure gold, albeit that metal makes but inferior shodding for beasts of burden. The London factory girl hires the dyed feathers of the ostrich to make her bonnet gay; and your money people are as display-loving. Lucullus and your latest millionaire joy in the same emotion of pleasure at making a show. Ach! we are truly in the race's childhood yet. The way of evolution is so unfast, yes? Ah! you will go now, Mr. Oldaker. I shall hope to enjoy you more again. Your observations have interested me deeply; they shall have my most high attention. Another time you shall discuss with me how it must be that the cosmic process shall produce a happy mean between stoic and epicure, by learning the valuable arts of compromise, yes? How Zeno with his bread and dates shall learn not to despise a few luxuries, and Vitellius shall learn that the mind may sometimes feast to advantage while the body fasts."
Through the marbled corridors and regal parlours, down long perspectives of Persian rugs and onyx pillars, the function raged.
The group at Percival's table broke up. He had an appointment to meet Colonel Poindexter the next morning to consummate the purchase of some oil stock certain to appreciate fabulously in value. He had promised to listen further to Mr. Isidore Lewis regarding a plan for obtaining control of a certain line of one of the metal stocks. And he had signified his desire to make one of a party the affable younger man would guide later in the evening to a sumptuous temple of chance, to which, by good luck, he had gained the entree. The three gentlemen parted most cordially from him after he had paid the check.
To Mr. Lewis, when Colonel Poindexter had also left, the young man with a taste for gaming remarked, ingenuously:
"Say, Izzy, on the level, there's the readiest money that ever registered at this joint. You don't have to be Mr. William Wisenham to do business with him. You can have all you want of that at track odds."
"I'm making book that way myself," responded the cheerful Mr. Lewis; "fifty'll get you a thousand any time, my lad. It's a lead-pipe at twenty to one. But say, with all these Petroleum Pete oil-stock grafters and Dawson City Daves with frozen feet and mining-stock in their mitts, a man's got to play them close in to his bosom to win out anything. Competition is killing this place, my boy."
In the Turkish room Percival found Mrs. Akemit, gowned to perfection, glowing, and wearing a bunch of violets bigger than her pretty head.
"I've just sent cards to your mother and sister," she explained, as she made room for him upon the divan.
To them came presently Mrs. Drelmer, well-groomed and aggressively cheerful.
"How de do! Just been down to Wall Street seeing how my other half lives, and now I'm famished for tea and things. Ah! here are your mother and our proud Western beauty!" And she went forward to greet them.
"It's more than her other half knows about her," was Mrs. Akemit's observation to the violets on her breast.
"Come sit with me here in this corner, dear," said Mrs. Drelmer to Psyche, while Mrs. Bines joined her son and Mrs. Akemit. "I've so much to tell you. And that poor little Florence Akemit, isn't it too bad about her. You know one of those bright French women said it's so inconvenient to be a widow because it's necessary to resume the modesty of a young girl without being able to feign her ignorance. No wonder Florence has a hard time of it; but isn't it wretched of me to gossip? And I wanted to tell you especially about Mr. Mauburn. You know of course he'll be Lord Casselthorpe when the present Lord Casselthorpe dies; a splendid title, really quite one of the best in all England; and, my dear, he's out-and-out smitten with you; there's no use in denying it; you should hear him rave to me about you; really these young men in love are so inconsiderate of us old women. Ah! here is that Mrs. Errol who does those fascinating miniatures of all the smart people. Excuse me one moment, my dear; I want her to meet your mother."
The fashionable miniature artist was presently arranging with the dazed Mrs. Bines for miniatures of herself and Psyche. Mrs. Drelmer, beholding the pair with the satisfied glance of one who has performed a kindly action, resumed her tete-a-tete with Psyche.
Percival, across the room, listened to Mrs. Akemit's artless disclosure that she found life too complex—far too hazardous, indeed, for a poor little creature in her unfortunate position, so liable to cruel misjudgment for thoughtless, harmless acts, the result of a young zest for life. She had often thought most seriously of a convent, indeed she had—"and, really, Mr. Bines, I'm amazed that I talk this way—so freely to you—you know, when I've known you so short a time; but something in you compels my confidences, poor little me! and my poor little confidences! One so seldom meets a man nowadays with whom one can venture to talk about any of the real things!"
A little later, as Mrs. Drelmer was leaving, the majestic figure of the Baron Ronault de Palliac framed itself in the handsome doorway. He sauntered in, as if to give the picture tone, and then with purposeful air took the seat Mrs. Drelmer had just vacated. Miss Bines had been entertained by involuntary visions of herself as Lady Casselthorpe. She now became in fancy the noble Baroness de Palliac, speaking faultless French and consorting with the rare old families of the Faubourg St. Germain. For, despite his artistic indirection, the baron's manner was conclusive, his intentions unmistakable.
And this day was much like many days in the life of the Bines and in the life of the Hightower Hotel. The scene from parlour to cafe was surveyed at intervals by a quiet-mannered person with watchful eyes, who appeared to enjoy it as one upon whom it conferred benefits. Now he washed his hands in the invisible sweet waters of satisfaction, and murmured softly to himself, "Setters and Buyers!" Perhaps the term fits the family of Bines as well as might many another coined especially for it.
When the three groups in the Turkish room dissolved, Percival with his mother and sister went to their suite on the fourth floor.
"Think of a real live French nobleman!" cried Psyche, with enthusiasm, "and French must be such a funny language—he talks such funny English. I wish now I'd learned more of it at the Sem, and talked more with that French Delpasse girl that was always toasting marshmallows on a hat-pin."
"That lady Mrs. Drelmer introduced me to," said Mrs. Bines, "is an artist, miniature artist, hand-painted you know, and she's going to paint our miniatures for a thousand dollars each because we're friends of Mrs. Drelmer."
"Oh, yes," exclaimed Psyche, with new enthusiasm, "and Mrs. Drelmer has promised to teach me bridge whist if I'll go to her house to-morrow. Isn't she kind? Really, every one must play bridge now, she tells me."
"Well, ladies," said the son and brother, "I'm glad to see you both getting some of the white meat. I guess we'll do well here. I'm going into oil stock and lead, myself."
"How girlish your little friend Mrs. Akemit is!" said his mother. "How did she come to lose her husband?"
"Lost him in South Dakota," replied her son, shortly.
"Divorced, ma," explained Psyche, "and Mrs. Drelmer says her family's good, but she's too gay."
"Ah!" exclaimed Percival, "Mrs. Drelmer's hammer must be one of those cute little gold ones, all set with precious stones. As a matter of fact, she's anything but gay. She's sad. She couldn't get along with her husband because he had no dignity of soul."
He became conscious of sympathising generously with all men not thus equipped.
The Diversions of a Young Multi-millionaire
To be idle and lavish of money, twenty-five years old, with the appetites keen and the need for action always pressing; then to have loved a girl with quick, strong, youthful ardour, and to have had the ideal smirched by gossip, then shattered before his amazed eyes,—this is a situation in which the male animal is apt to behave inequably. In the language of the estimable Herr Doctor von Herzlich, he will seek those avenues of modification in which the least struggle is required. In the simpler phrasing of Uncle Peter Bines, he will "cut loose."
During the winter that now followed Percival Bines behaved according to either formula, as the reader may prefer. He early ascertained his limitations with respect to New York and its people.
"Say, old man," he asked Herbert Delancey Livingston one night, across the table at their college club, "are all the people in New York society impecunious?"
Livingston had been with him at Harvard, and Livingston's family was so notoriously not impecunious that the question was devoid of any personal element. Livingston, moreover, had dined just unwisely enough to be truthful.
"Well, to be candid with you, Bines," the young man had replied, in a burst of alcoholic confidence, "about all that you are likely to meet are broke—else you wouldn't meet 'em, you know," he explained cheerfully. "You know, old chap, a few of you Western people have got into the right set here; there's the Nesbits, for instance. On my word the good wife and mother hasn't the kinks out of her fingers yet, nor the callouses from her hands, by Jove! She worked so hard cooking and washing woollen shirts for miners before Nesbit made his strike. As for him—well caviare, I'm afraid, will always be caviare to Jimmy Nesbit. And now the son's married a girl that had everything but money—my boy, Nellie Wemple has fairly got that family of Nesbits awestricken since she married into it, just by the way she can spend money—but what was I saying, old chap? Oh, yes, about getting in—it takes time, you know; on my word, I think they were as much as eight years, and had to start in abroad at that. At first, you know, you can only expect to meet a crowd that can't afford to be exclusive any longer."
From which friendly counsel, and from certain confirming observations of his own, Percival had concluded that his lot in New York was to spend money. This he began to do with a large Western carelessness that speedily earned him fame of a sort. Along upper Broadway, his advent was a golden joy. Tradesmen learned to love him; florists, jewelers, and tailors hailed his coming with honest fervour; waiters told moving tales of his tips; cabmen fought for the privilege of transporting him; and the hangers-on of rich young men picked pieces of lint assiduously and solicitously from his coat.
One of his favourite resorts was the sumptuous gambling-house in Forty-fourth Street. The man who slides back the panel of the stout oaken door early learned to welcome him through the slit, barred by its grill of wrought iron. The attendant who took his coat and hat, the waiter who took his order for food, and the croupier who took his money, were all gladdened by his coming; for his gratuities were as large when he lost as when he won Even the reserved proprietor, accustomed as he was to a wealthy and careless clientele, treated Percival with marked consideration after a night when the young man persuaded him to withdraw the limit at roulette, and spent a large sum in testing a system for breaking the wheel, given to him by a friend lately returned from Monte Carlo.
"I think, really the fellow who gave me that system is an ass," he said, lighting a cigarette when the play was done. "Now I'm going down and demolish eight dollars' worth of food and drink—you won't be all to the good on that, you know."
His host decided that a young man who was hungry, after losing a hundred thousand dollars in five hours' play, was a person to be not lightly considered.
And, though he loved the rhythmic whir and the ensuing rattle of the little ivory ball at the roulette wheel, he did not disdain the quieter faro, playing that dignified game exclusively with the chocolate-coloured chips, which cost a thousand dollars a stack. Sometimes he won; but not often enough to disturb his host's belief that there is less of chance in his business than in any other known to the captains of industry.
There were, too, sociable games of poker, played with Garmer, of the Lead Trust, Burman, the intrepid young wheat operator from Chicago, and half a dozen other well-moneyed spirits; games in which the limit, to use the Chicagoan's phrase, was "the beautiful but lofty North Star." At these games he lost even more regularly than at those where, with the exception of a trifling percentage, he was solely at the mercy of chance. But he was a joyous loser, endearing himself to the other players; to Garmer, whom Burman habitually accused of being "closer than a warm night," as well as to the open-handed son of the chewing-gum magnate, who had been raised abroad and who protested nightly that there was an element of beastly American commercialism in the game. When Percival was by some chance absent from a sitting, the others calculated the precise sum he probably would have lost and humourously acquainted him with the amount by telegraph next morning,—it was apt to be nine hundred and some odd dollars,—requesting that he cover by check at his early convenience.
Yet the diversion was not all gambling. There were Jong sessions at all-night restaurants where the element of chance in his favour, inconspicuous elsewhere, was wholly eliminated; suppers for hungry Thespians and thirsty parasites, protracted with song and talk until the gas-flames grew pale yellow, and the cabmen, when the party went out into the wan light, would be low-voiced, confidential, and suggestive in their approaches.
Broadway would be weirdly quiet at such times, save for the occasional frenzied clatter of a hurrying milk-wagon. Even the cars seemed to move with less sound than by day, and the early-rising workers inside, holding dinner-pails and lunch-baskets, were subdued and silent, yet strangely observing, as if the hour were one in which the vision was made clear to appraise the values of life justly. To the north, whence the cars bulked silently, would be an awakening sky of such tender beauty that the revellers often paid it the tribute of a moment's notice.
"Pure turquoise," one would declare.
"With just a dash of orange bitters in it," another might add.
And then perhaps they burst into song under the spell, blending their voices into what the professional gentlemen termed "barber-shop harmonies," until a policeman would saunter across the street, pretending, however, that he was not aware of them.
Then perhaps a ride toward the beautiful northern sky would be proposed, whereupon three or four hansom or coupe loads would begin a journey that wound up through Central Park toward the northern light, but which never attained a point remoter than some suburban road-house, where sleepy cooks and bartenders would have to be routed out to collaborate toward breakfast.
Oftener the party fell away into straggling groups with notions for sleep, chanting at last, perhaps:
"While beer brings gladness, don't forget That water only makes you wet!"
Percival would walk to the hotel, sobered and perhaps made a little reflective by the unwonted quiet. But they were pleasant, careless folk, he concluded always. They permitted him to spend his money, but he was quite sure they would spend it as freely as he if they had it. More than one appreciative soubrette, met under such circumstances, was subsequently enabled to laud the sureness of his taste in jewels,—he cared little for anything but large diamonds, it transpired. It was a feeling tribute paid to his munificence by one of these in converse with a sister artist, who had yet to meet him:
"Say, Myrtle, on the dead, he spends money just like a young Jew trying to be white!"
Under this more or less happy surface of diversion, however, was an experience decidedly less felicitous. He knew he should not, must not, hold Avice Milbrey in his mind; yet when he tried to put her out it hurt him.
At first he had plumed himself upon his lucky escape that night, when he would have declared his love to her. To have married a girl who cared only for his money; that would have been dire enough. But to marry a girl like that! He had been lucky indeed!
Yet, as the weeks went by the shock of the scene wore off. The scene itself remained clear, with the grinning grotesquerie of the Jack-o'-lanterns lighting it and mocking his simplicity. But the first sharp physical hurt had healed. He was forced to admit that the girl still had power to trouble him. At times his strained nerves would relax to no other device than the picturing of her as his own. Exactly in the measure that he indulged this would his pride smart. With a budding gift for negation he could imagine her caring for nothing but his money; and there was that other picture, swift and awful, a pantomime in shadow, with the leering yellow faces above it.
In the far night, when he awoke to sudden and hungry aloneness, he would let his arms feel their hunger for her. The vision of her would be flowers and music and sunlight and time and all things perfect to mystify and delight, to satisfy and—greatest of all boons—to unsatisfy. The thought of her became a rest-house for all weariness; a haven where he was free to choose his nook and lie down away from all that was not her, which was all that was not beautiful. He would go back to seek the lost sweetness of their first meeting; to mount the poor dead belief that she would care for him—that he could make her care for him—and endow the thing with artificial life, trying to capture the faint breath of it; but the memory was always fleeting, attenuated, like the spirit of the memory of a perfume that had been elusive at best. And always, to banish what joy even this poor device might bring, came the more vivid vision of the brutal, sordid facts. He forced himself to face them regularly as a penance and a corrective.
They came before him with especial clearness when he met her from time to time during the winter. He watched her in talk with others, noting the contradiction in her that she would at one moment appear knowing and masterful, with depths of reserve that the other people neither fathomed nor knew of; and at another moment frankly girlish, with an appealing feminine helplessness which is woman's greatest strength, coercing every strong masculine instinct.
When the reserve showed in her, he became afraid. What was she not capable of? In the other mood, frankly appealing, she drew him mightily, so that he abandoned himself for the moment, responding to her fresh exulting youth, longing to take her, to give her things, to make her laugh, to enfold and protect her, to tell her secrets, to feather her cheek with the softest kiss, to be the child-mate of her.
Toward him, directly, when they met she would sometimes be glacial and forbidding, sometimes uninterestedly frank, as if they were but the best of commonplace friends. Yet sometimes she made him feel that she, too, threw herself heartily to rest in the thought of their loving, and cheated herself, as he did, with dreams of comradeship. She left him at these times with the feeling that they were deaf, dumb, and blind to each other; that if some means of communication could be devised, something surer than the invisible play of secret longings, all might yet be well. They talked as the people about them talked, words that meant nothing to either, and if there were mute questionings, naked appeals, unuttered declarations, they were only such as language serves to divert attention from. Speech, doubtless, has its uses as well as its abuses. Politics, for example, would be less entertaining without it. But in matters of the heart, certain it is that there would be fewer misunderstandings if it were forbidden between the couple under the penalty of immediate separation. In this affair real meanings are rarely conveyed except by silences. Words are not more than tasteless drapery to obscure their lines. The silence of lovers is the plainest of all speech, warning, disconcerting indeed, by its very bluntness, any but the truly mated. An hour's silence with these two people by themselves might have worked wonders.
Another diversion of Percival's during this somewhat feverish winter was Mrs. Akemit. Not only was she a woman of finished and expert daintiness in dress and manner and surroundings, but she soothed, flattered, and stimulated him. With the wisdom of her thirty-two years, devoted chiefly to a study of his species, she took care never to be exigent. She had the way of referring to herself as "poor little me," yet she never made demands or allowed him to feel that she expected anything from him in the way of allegiance.
Mrs. Akemit was not only like St. Paul, "all things to all men," but she had gone a step beyond that excellent theologue. She could be all things to one man. She was light-heartedly frivolous, soberly reflective, shallow, profound, cynical or naive, ingenuous, or inscrutable. She prized dearly the ecclesiastical background provided by her uncle, the bishop, and had him to dine with the same unerring sense of artistry that led her to select swiftly the becoming shade of sofa-cushion to put her blond head back upon.
The good bishop believed she had jeopardised her soul with divorce. He feared now she meant to lose it irrevocably through remarriage. As a foil to his austerity, therefore, she would be audaciously gay in his presence.
"Hell," she said to him one evening, "is given up so reluctantly by those who don't expect to go there." And while the bishop frowned into his salad she invited Percival to drink with her in the manner of a woman who is mad to invite perdition. If the good man could have beheld her before a background of frivolity he might have suffered less anxiety. For there her sense of contrast-values led her to be grave and deep, to express distaste for society with its hollowness, and to expose timidly the cruel scars on a soul meant for higher things.
Many afternoons Percival drank tea with her in the little red drawing-room of her dainty apartment up the avenue. Here in the half light which she had preferred since thirty, in a soft corner with which she harmonised faultlessly, and where the blaze from the open fire coloured her animated face just enough, she talked him usually into the glow of a high conceit with himself. When she dwelt upon the shortcomings of man, she did it with the air of frankly presuming him to be different from all others, one who could sympathise with her through knowing the frailties of his sex, yet one immeasurably superior to them. When he was led to talk of himself—of whom, it seemed, she could never learn enough—he at once came to take high views of himself: to gaze, through her tactful prompting, with a gentle, purring appreciation upon the manifest spectacle of his own worth.
Sometimes, away from her, he wondered how she did it. Sometimes, in her very presence, his sense of humour became alert and suspicious. Part of the time he decided her to be a charming woman, with a depth and quality of sweetness unguessed by the world. The rest of the time he remembered a saying about alfalfa made by Uncle Peter: "It's an innocent lookin', triflin' vegetable, but its roots go right down into the ground a hundred feet."
"My dear," Mrs. Akemit had once confided to an intimate in an hour of negligee, "to meet a man, any man, from a red-cheeked butcher boy to a bloodless monk, and not make him feel something new for you—something he never before felt for any other woman—really it's as criminal as a wrinkled stocking, or for blondes to wear shiny things. Every woman can do it, if she'll study a little how to reduce them to their least common denominator—how to make them primitive."
Of another member of Mrs. Akemit's household Percival acknowledged the sway with never a misgiving. He had been the devoted lover of Baby Akemit from the afternoon when he had first cajoled her into autobiography—a vivid, fire-tipped little thing with her mother's piquancy. He gleaned that day that she was "a quarter to four years old;" that she was mamma's girl, but papa was a friend of Santa Claus; that she went to "ball-dances" every day clad in "dest a stirt 'cause big ladies don't ever wear waist-es at night;" that she had once ridden in a merry-go-round and it made her "all homesick right here," patting her stomach; and that "elephants are horrid, but you mustn't be cruel to them and cut their eyes out. Oh, no!"
Her Percival courted with results that left nothing to be desired. She fell to the floor in helpless, shrieking laughter when he came. In his honour she composed and sang songs to an improvised and spirited accompaniment upon her toy piano. His favourites among these were "'Cause Why I Love You" and "Darling, Ask Myself to Come to You." She rendered them with much feeling. If he were present when her bed-time came she refused to sleep until he had consented to an interview.
Avice Milbrey had the fortune to witness one of these bed-time causeries. One late afternoon the young man's summons came while he was one of a group that lingered late about Mrs. Akemit's little tea-table, Miss Milbrey being of the number.
He followed the maid dutifully out through the hall to the door of the bedroom, and entered on all-fours with what they two had agreed was the growl of a famished bear.
The familiar performance was viewed by the mother and by Miss Milbrey, whom the mother had urged to follow. Baby Akemit in her crib, modestly arrayed in blue pajamas, after simulating the extreme terror required by the situation, fell to chatting, while her mother and Miss Milbrey looked on from the doorway.
Miss Akemit had once been out in the woods, it appeared, and a "biting-wolf" chased her, and she ran and ran until she came to a river all full of pigs and fishes and berries, so she jumped in and had supper, and it wasn't a "biting-wolf" at all—and then—
But the narrative was cut short by her mother.
"Come, Pet! Mr. Bines wishes to go now."
Miss Akemit, it appeared, was bent upon relating the adventures of Goldie Locks, subsequent to her leap from the window of the bears' house. She had, it seemed, been compelled to ride nine-twenty miles on a trolley, and, reaching home too late for luncheon, had been obliged to eat in the kitchen with the cook.
"Mr. Bines can't stay, darling!"
Baby Akemit calculated briefly, and consented to his departure if Mr. Bines would bring her something next time.
Mr. Bines promised, and moved away after the customary embrace, but she was not through:
"Oh! oh! go out like a bear! dere's a bear come in here!"
And so, having brought the bear in, he was forced to drop again and growl the beast out, whereupon, appeased by this strict observance of the unities, the child sat up and demanded:
"You sure you'll bring me somefin next time?"
"Yes, sure, Lady Grenville St. Clare." "Well, you sure you're comin' next time?"
Being reassured on this point, and satisfied that no more bears were at large, she lay down once more while Percival and the two observers returned to the drawing-room.
"You love children so!" Miss Milbrey said. And never had she been so girlishly appealing to all that was strong in him as a man. The frolic with the child seemed to have blown away a fog from between them. Yet never had the other scene been more vivid to him, and never had the pain of her heartlessness been more poignant.
When he "played" with Baby Akemit thereafter, the pretence was not all with the child. For while she might "play" at giving a vexatiously large dinner, for which she was obliged to do the cooking because she had discharged all the servants, or when they "played" that the big couch was a splendid ferry-boat in which they were sailing to Chicago where Uncle David lived—with many stern threats to tell the janitor of the boat if the captain didn't behave himself and sail faster—Percival "played" that his companion's name was Baby Bines, and that her mother, who watched them with loving eyes, was a sweet and gracious young woman named Avice. And when he told Baby Akemit that she was "the only original sweetheart" he meant it of some one else than her.
When the play was over he always conducted himself back to sane reality by viewing this some one else in the cold light of truth.
The Distressing Adventure of Mrs. Bines
The fame of the Bines family for despising money was not fed wholly by Percival's unremitting activities. Miss Psyche Bines, during the winter, achieved wide and enviable renown as a player of bridge whist. Not for the excellence of her play; rather for the inveteracy and size of her losses and the unconcerned cheerfulness with which she defrayed them. She paid the considerable sums with an air of gratitude for having been permitted to lose them. Especially did she seem grateful for the zealous tutelage and chaperonage of Mrs. Drelmer.
"Everybody in New York plays bridge, my dear, and of course you must learn," that capable lady had said in the beginning.
"But I never was bright at cards," the girl confessed, "and I'm afraid I couldn't learn bridge well enough to interest you good players."
"Nonsense!" was Mrs. Drelmer's assurance. "Bridge is easy to learn and easy to play. I'll teach you, and I promise you the people you play with shall never complain."
Mrs. Drelmer, it soon appeared, knew what she was talking about.
Indeed, that well-informed woman was always likely to. Her husband was an intellectual delinquent whom she spoke of largely as being "in Wall Street," and in that feat of jugglery known as "keeping up appearances," his wife had long been the more dexterous performer.
She was apt not only to know what she talked about, but she was a woman of resource, unafraid of action. She drilled Miss Bines in the rudiments of bridge. If the teacher became subsequently much the largest winner of the pupil's losings, it was, perhaps, not more than her fit recompense. For Miss Bines enjoyed not only the sport of the game, but her manner of playing it, combined with the social prestige of her amiable sponsor, procured her a circle of acquaintances that would otherwise have remained considerably narrower. An enthusiastic player of bridge, of passable exterior, mediocre skill, and unlimited resources, need never want in New York for very excellent society. Not only was the Western girl received by Mrs. Drelmer's immediate circle, but more than one member of what the lady called "that snubby set" would now and then make a place for her at the card-table. A few of Mrs. Drelmer's intimates were so wanting in good taste as to intimate that she exploited Miss Bines even to the degree of an understanding expressed in bald percentage, with certain of those to whom she secured the girl's society at cards. Whether this ill-natured gossip was true or false, it is certain that the exigencies of life on next to nothing a year, with a husband who could boast of next to nothing but Family, had developed an unerring business sense in Mrs. Drelmer; and certain it also is that this winter was one when the appearances with which she had to strive were unwontedly buoyant.
Miss Bines tirelessly memorised rules. She would disclose to her placid mother that the lead of a trump to the third hand's go-over of hearts is of doubtful expediency; or that one must "follow suit with the smallest, except when you have only two, neither of them better than the Jack. Then play the higher first, so that when the lower falls your partner may know you are out of the suit, and ruff it."
Mrs. Bines declared that it did seem to her very much like out-and-out gambling. But Percival, looking over the stubs of his sister's check-book, warmly protested her innocence of this charge.
"Heaven knows sis has her shortcomings," he observed, patronisingly, in that young woman's presence, "but she's no gambler; don't say it, ma, I beg of you! She only knows five rules of the game, and I judge it's cost her about three thousand dollars each to learn those. And the only one she never forgets is, 'When in doubt, lead your highest check.' But don't ever accuse her of gambling. Poor girl, if she keeps on playing bridge she'll have writer's cramp; that's all I'm afraid of. I see there's a new rapid-fire check-book on the market, and an improved fountain pen that doesn't slobber. I'll have to get her one of each."
Yet Psyche Bines's experience, like her brother's, was not without a proper leaven of sentiment. There was Fred Milbrey, handsome, clever, amusing, knowing every one, and giving her a pleasant sense of intimacy with all that was worth while in New York. Him she felt very friendly to.
Then there was Mauburn, presently to be Lord Casselthorpe, with his lazy, high-pitched drawl; good-natured, frank, carrying an atmosphere of high-class British worldliness, and delicately awakening within her while she was with him a sense of her own latent superiority to the institutions of her native land. She liked Mauburn, too.
More impressive than either of these, however, was the Baron Ronault de Palliac. Tall, swarthy, saturnine, a polished man of all the world, of manners finished, elaborate, and ceremonious, she found herself feeling foreign and distinguished in his presence, quite as if she were the heroine of a romantic novel, and might at any instant be called upon to assist in royalist intrigues. The baron, to her intuition, nursed secret sorrows. For these she secretly worshipped him. It is true that when he dined with her and her mother, which he was frequently gracious enough to do, he ate with a heartiness that belied this secret sorrow she had imagined. But he was fascinating at all times, with a grace at table not less finished than that with which he bowed at their meetings and partings. It was not unpleasant to think of basking daily in the shine of that grand manner, even if she did feel friendlier with Milbrey, and more at ease with Mauburn.
If the truth must be told, Miss Bines was less impressionable than either of the three would have wished. Her heart seemed not easy to reach; her impulses were not inflammable. Young Milbrey early confided to his family a suspicion that she was singularly hard-headed, and the definite information that she had "a hob-nailed Western way" of treating her admirers.
Mauburn, too, was shrewd enough to see that, while she frankly liked him, he was for some reason less a favourite than the Baron de Palliac.
"It'll be no easy matter marrying that girl," he told Mrs. Drelmer. "She's really a dear, and awfully good fun, but she's not a bit silly, and I dare say she'll marry some chap because she likes him, and not because he's anybody, you know."
"Make her like you," insisted his adviser.
"On my word, I wish she did. And I'm not so sure, you know, she doesn't fancy that Frenchman, or even young Milbrey."
"I'll keep you before her," promised Mrs. Drelmer, "and I wish you'd not think you can't win her. 'Tisn't like you."
Miss Bines accordingly heard that it was such a pity young Milbrey drank so, because his only salvation lay in making a rich marriage, and a young man, nowadays, had to keep fairly sober to accomplish that. Really, Mrs. Drelmer felt sorry for the poor weak fellow. "Good-hearted chap, but he has no character, my dear, so I'm afraid there's no hope for him. He has the soul of a merchant tailor, actually, but not the tailor's manhood. Otherwise he'd be above marrying some unsuspecting girl for her money and breaking her heart after marriage. Now, Mauburn is a type so different; honest, unaffected, healthy, really he's a man for any girl to be proud of, even if he were not heir to a title—one of the best in all England, and an ornament of the most exclusively correct set; of a line, my dear, that is truly great—not like that shoddy French nobility, discredited in France, that sends so many of its comic-opera barons here looking for large dowries to pay their gambling debts and put furniture in their rattle-trap old chateaux, and keep them in absinthe and their other peculiar diversions. And Mauburn, you lucky minx, simply adores you—he's quite mad about you, really!"
In spite of Mrs. Drelmer's two-edged sword, Miss Bines continued rather more favourable to the line of De Palliac. The baron was so splendid, so gloomy, so deferential. He had the air of laying at her feet, as a rug, the whole glorious history of France. And he appeared so well in the victoria when they drove in the park.
It is true that the heart of Miss Bines was as yet quite untouched; and it was not more than a cool, dim, aesthetic light in which she surveyed the three suitors impartially, to behold the impressive figure of the baron towering above the others. Had the baron proposed for her hand, it is not impossible that, facing the question directly, she would have parried or evaded.
But certain events befell unpropitiously at a time when the baron was most certain of his conquest; at the very time, indeed, when he had determined to open his suit definitely by extending a proposal to the young lady through the orthodox medium of her nearest male relative.
"I admit," wrote the baron to his expectant father, "that it is what one calls 'very chances' in the English, but one must venture in this country, and your son is not without much hope. And if not, there is still Mlle. Higbee."
The baron shuddered as he wrote it. He preferred not to recognise even the existence of this alternative, for the reason that the father of Mlle. Higbee distressed him by an incompleteness of suavity.
"He conducts himself like a pork," the baron would declare to himself, by way of perfecting his English.
The secret cause of his subsequent determination not to propose for the hand of Miss Bines lay in the hopelessly middle-class leanings of the lady who might have incurred the supreme honour of becoming his mother-in-law. Had Mrs. Bines been above talking to low people, a catastrophe might have been averted. But Mrs. Bines was not above it. She was quite unable to repress a vulgar interest in the menials that served her.
She knew the butler's life history two days after she had ceased to be afraid of him. She knew the distressing family affairs of the maids; how many were the ignoble progeny of the elevator-man, and what his plebeian wife did for their croup; how much rent the hall-boy's low-born father paid for his mean two-story dwelling in Jersey City; and how many hours a day or night the debased scrub-women devoted to their unrefining toil.
Brazenly, too, she held converse with Philippe, the active and voluble Alsatian who served her when she chose to dine in the public restaurant instead of at her own private table. Philippe acquainted her with the joys and griefs of his difficult profession. There were fourteen thousand waiters in New York, if, by waiters, you meant any one. Of course there were not so many like Philippe, men of the world who had served their time as assistants and their three years as sub-waiters; men who spoke English, French, and German, who knew something of cooking, how to dress a salad, and how to carve. Only such, it appeared, could be members of the exclusive Geneva Club that procured a place for you when you were idle, and paid you eight dollars a week when you were sick.
Having the qualifications, one could earn twenty-five dollars a month in salary and three or four times as much in gratuities. Philippe's income was never less than one hundred and twenty dollars a month; for was he not one who had come from Europe as a master, after two seasons at Paris where a man acquires his polish—his perfection of manner, his finish, his grace? Philippe could never enough prize that post-graduate course at the Maison d'Or, where he had personally known—madame might not believe it—the incomparable Casmir, a chef who served two generations of epicures, princes, kings, statesmen, travelling Americans,—all the truly great.
With his own lips Casmir had told him, Philippe, of the occasion when Dumas, pere, had invited him to dinner that they might discuss the esoterics of salad dressing and sauces; also of the time when the Marquis de St. Georges embraced Casmir for inventing the precious soup that afterwards became famous as Potage Germine. And now the skilled and puissant Casmir had retired. It was a calamity. The Maison d'Or—Paris—would no longer be what they had been.
For that matter, since one must live, Philippe preferred it to be in America, for in no other country could an adept acquire so much money. And Philippe knew the whole dining world. With Celine and the baby, Paul, Philippe dwelt in an apartment that would really amaze madame by its appointments of luxury, in East 38th Street, and only the four flights to climb. And Paul was three, the largest for his age, quite the largest, that either Philippe or Celine had ever beheld. Even the brother of Celine and his wife, who had a restaurant of their own—serving the table d'hote at two and one-half francs the plate, with wine—even these swore they had never seen an infant so big, for his years, as Paul.
And so Mrs. Bines grew actually to feel an interest in the creature and his wretched affairs, and even fell into the deplorable habit of saying, "I must come to see you and your wife and Paul some pleasant day, Philippe," and Philippe, being a man of the world, thought none the less of her for believing that she did not mean it.
Yet it befell on an afternoon that Mrs. Bines found herself in a populous side-street, driving home from a visit to the rheumatic scrub-woman who had now to be supported by the papers her miserable offspring sold. Mrs. Bines had never seen so many children as flooded this street. She wondered if an orphan asylum were in the neighbourhood. And though the day was pleasantly warm, she decided that there were about her at least a thousand cases of incipient pneumonia, for not one child in five had on a hat. They raged and dashed and rippled from curb to curb so that they might have made her think of a swift mountain torrent at the bottom of a gloomy canyon, but that the worthy woman was too literal-minded for such fancies. She only warned the man to drive slowly.
And then by a street sign she saw that she was near the home of Philippe. It was three o'clock, and he would be resting from his work. The man found the number. The waves parted and piled themselves on either side in hushed wonder as she entered the hallway and searched for the name on the little cards under the bells. She had never known the surname, and on two of the cards "Ph." appeared. She rang one of the bells, the door mysteriously opened with a repeated double click, and she began the toilsome climb. The waves of children fell together behind her in turbulent play again.
At the top she breathed a moment and then knocked at a door before her. A voice within called:
"Entres!" and Mrs. Bines opened the door.
It was the tiny kitchen of Philippe. Philippe, himself, in shirt-sleeves, sat in a chair tilted back close to the gas-range, the Courier des Etats Unis in his hands and Paul on his lap. Celine ironed the bosom of a gentleman's white shirt on an ironing board supported by the backs of two chairs.
Hemmed in the corner by this board and by the gas-range, seated at a table covered by the oilcloth that simulates the marble of Italy's most famous quarry, sat, undoubtedly, the Baron Ronault de Palliac. A steaming plate of spaghetti a la Italien was before him, to his left a large bowl of salad, to his right a bottle of red wine.
For a space of three seconds the entire party behaved as if it were being photographed under time-exposure. Philippe and the baby stared, motionless. Celine stared, resting no slight weight on the hot flat-iron. The Baron Ronault de Palliac stared, his fork poised in mid-air and festooned with gay little streamers of spaghetti.
Then came smoke, the smell of scorching linen, and a cry of horror from Celine.
"Ah, la seule chemise blanche de Monsieur le Baron!"
The spell was broken. Philippe was on his feet, bowing effusively.
"Ah! it is Madame Bines. Je suis tres honore—I am very honoured to welcome you, madame. It is madame, ma femme, Celine,—and—Monsieur le Baron de Palliac—"
Philippe had turned with evident distress toward the latter. But Philippe was only a waiter, and had not behind him the centuries of schooling that enable a gentleman to remain a gentleman under adverse conditions.
The Baron Ronault de Palliac arose with unruffled aplomb and favoured the caller with his stateliest bow. He was at the moment a graceful and silencing rebuke to those who aver that manner and attire be interdependent. The baron's manner was ideal, undiminished in volume, faultless as to decorative qualities. One fitted to savour its exquisite finish would scarce have noted that above his waist the noble gentleman was clad in a single woollen undergarment of revolutionary red.
Or, if such a one had observed this trifling circumstance, he would, assuredly, have treated it as of no value to the moment; something to note, perhaps, and then gracefully to forget.
The baron's own behaviour would have served as a model. One swift glance had shown him there was no way of instant retreat. That being impossible, none other was graceful; hence none other was to be considered. He permitted himself not even a glance at the shirt upon whose fair, defenceless bosom the iron of the overcome Celine had burned its cruel brown imprimature. Mrs. Bines had greeted him as he would have wished, unconscious, apparently, that there could be cause for embarrassment.
"Ah! madame," he said, handsomely, "you see me, I unfast with the fork. You see me here, I have envy of the simple life. I am content of to do it—comme ca—as that, see you," waving in the direction of his unfinished repast. "All that magnificence of your grand hotel, there is not the why of it, the most big of the world, and suchly stupefying, with its 'infernil rackit' as you say. And of more—what droll of idea, enough curious, by example! to dwell with the good Philippe and his femme aimable. Their hotel is of the most littles, but I rest here very volunteerly since longtime. Is it that one can to comprehend liking the vast hotel American?"
"Monsieur le Baron lodges with us; we have so much of the chambers," ventured Celine.
"Monsieur le Baron wishes to retire to his apartment," said Philippe, raising the ironing-board. "Will madame be so good to enter our petit salon at the front, n'est-ce-pas?"
The baron stepped forth from his corner and bowed himself graciously out.
"Madame, my compliments—and to the adorable Mademoiselle Bines! Au revoir, madame—to the soontime—avant peu—before little!"
On the farther side of his closed door the Baron Ronault de Palliac swore—once. But the oath was one of the most awful that a Frenchman may utter in his native tongue: "Sacred Name of a Name!"
"But the baron wasn't done eating," protested Mrs. Bines.
"Ah, yes, madame!" replied Philippe. "Monsieur le Baron has consumed enough for now. Paul, mon enfant, ne touche pas la robe de madame! He is large, is he not, madame, as I have told you? A monster, yes?"
Mrs. Bines, stooping, took the limp and wide-eyed Paul up in her arms. Whereupon he began to talk so fast to her in French that she set him quickly down again, with the slightly helpless air of one who has picked up an innocent-looking clock only to have the clanging alarm go suddenly off.
"Madame will honour our little salon," urged Philippe, opening the door and bowing low.
"Quel dommage!" sighed Celine, moving after them; "la seule chemise blanche de Monsieur le Baron. Eh bien! il faut lui en acheter une autre!"
At dinner that evening Mrs. Bines related her adventure, to the unfeigned delight of her graceless son, and to the somewhat troubled amazement of her daughter.
"And, do you know," she ventured, "maybe he isn't a regular baron, after all!"
"Oh, I guess he's a regular one all right," said Percival; "only perhaps he hasn't worked at it much lately."
"But his sitting there eating in that—that shirt—" said his sister.
"My dear young woman, even the nobility are prey to climatic rigours; they are obliged, like the wretched low-born such as ourselves, to wear—pardon me—undergarments. Again, I understand from Mrs. Cadwallader here that the article in question was satisfactory and fit—red, I believe you say, Mrs. Terwilliger?"
"Awful red!" replied his mother—"and they call their parlour a saloon."
"And of necessity, even the noble have their moments of deshabille."
"They needn't eat their lunch that way," declared his sister.
"Is deshabille French for underclothes?" asked Mrs. Bines, struck by the word.
"Partly," answered her son.
"And the way that child of Philippe's jabbered French! It's wonderful how they can learn so young."
"They begin early, you know," Percival explained. "And as to our friend the baron, I'm ready to make book that sis doesn't see him again, except at a distance."
Sometime afterwards he computed the round sum he might have won if any such bets had been made; for his sister's list of suitors, to adopt his own lucent phrase, was thereafter "shy a baron."
The Summer Campaign Is Planned
Winter waned and spring charmed the land into blossom. The city-pent, as we have intimated, must take this season largely on faith. If one can find a patch of ground naked of stone or asphalt one may feel the heart of the earth beat. But even now the shop-windows are more inspiring. At least they copy the outer show. Tender-hued shirt-waists first push up their sprouts of arms through the winter furs and woollens, quite as the first violets out in the woodland thrust themselves up through the brown carpet of leaves. Then every window becomes a summery glade of lawn, tulle, and chiffon, more lavish of tints, shades, and combinations, indeed, than ever nature dared to be.
Outside, where the unspoiled earth begins, the blossoms are clouding the trees with a mist of pink and white, and the city-dweller knows it from the bloom and foliage of these same windows.
Then it is that the spring "get away" urge is felt by each prisoner, by those able to obey it, and by those, alike, who must wear it down in the groomed and sophisticated wildness of the city parks.
On a morning late in May Mrs. Bines and her daughter were at breakfast.
"Isn't Percival coming?" asked his mother. "Everything will be cold."
"Can't say," Psyche answered. "I don't even know if he came in last night. But don't worry about cold things. You can't get them too cold for Perce at breakfast, nowadays. He takes a lot of ice-water and a little something out of the decanter, and maybe some black coffee."
"Yes, and I'm sure it's bad for him. He doesn't look a bit healthy and hasn't since he quit eating breakfast. He used to be such a hearty eater at breakfast, steaks and bacon and chops and eggs and waffles. It was a sight to see him eat; and since he's quit taking anything but that cold stuff he's lost his colour and his eyes don't look right. I know what he's got hold of—it's that 'no-breakfast' fad. I heard about it from Mrs. Balldridge when we came here last fall. I never did believe in it, either."
The object of her solicitude entered in dressing-gown and slippers.
"I'm just telling Psyche that this no-breakfast fad is hurting your health, my son. Now do come and eat like you used to. You began to look bad as soon as you left off your breakfast. It's a silly fad, that's what it is. You can't tell me!"
The young man stared at his mother until he had mastered her meaning. Then he put both hands to his head and turned to the sideboard as if to conceal his emotion.
"That's it," he said, as he busied himself with a tall glass and the cracked ice. "It's that 'no-breakfast' fad. I didn't think you knew about it. The fact is," he continued, pouring out a measure of brandy, and directing the butler to open a bottle of soda, "we all eat too much. After a night of sound sleep we awaken refreshed and buoyant, all our forces replenished; thirsty, of course, but not hungry"—he sat down to the table and placed both hands again to his head—"and we have no need of food. Yet such is the force of custom that we deaden ourselves for the day by tanking up on coarse, loathsome stuff like bacon. Ugh! Any one would think, the way you two eat so early in the day, that you were a couple of cave-dwellers,—the kind that always loaded up when they had a chance because it might be a week before they got another."
He drained his glass and brightened visibly.
"Now, why not be reasonable?" he continued, pleadingly. "You know there is plenty of food. I have observed it being brought into town in huge wagon-loads in the early morning on many occasions. Why do you want to eat it all at one sitting? No one's going to starve you. Why stupefy yourselves when, by a little nervy self-denial, you can remain as fresh and bright and clear-headed as I am at this moment? Why doesn't a fire make its own escape, Mrs. Carstep-Jamwuddle?"
"I don't believe you feel right, either. I just know you've got an awful headache right now. Do let the man give you a nice piece of this steak."
"Don't, I beg of you, Lady Ashmorton! The suggestion is extremely repugnant to me. Besides, I'm behaving this way because I arose with the purely humourous fancy that my head was a fine large accordeon, and that some meddler had drawn it out too far. I'm sportively pretending that I can press it back into shape. Now you and sis never get up with any such light poetic notion as that. You know you don't—don't attempt to deceive me." He glanced over the table with swift disapproval.
"Strawberries, oatmeal, rolls, steak three inches thick, bacon, omelette—oh, that I should live to see this day! It's disgraceful! And at your age—before your own innocent woman-child, and leading her into the same excesses. Do you know what that breakfast is? No; I'll tell you. That breakfast is No. 78 in that book of Mrs. Rorer's, and she expressly warns everybody that it can be eaten safely only by steeple-climbers, piano-movers, and sea-captains. Really, Mrs. Wrangleberry, I blush for you."
"I don't care how you go on. You ain't looked well for months."
"But think of my great big heart—a heart like an ox,"—he seemed on the verge of tears—"and to think that you, a woman I have never treated with anything but respect since we met in Honduras in the fall of '93—to think you should throw it up to my own face that I'm not beautiful. Others there are, thank God, who can look into a man's heart and prize him for what he is—not condemn him for his mere superficial blemishes."
"And I just know you've got in with a fast set. I met Mr. Milbrey yesterday in the corridor—"
"Did he tell you how to make a lovely asparagus short-cake or something?"
"He told me those men you go with so much are dreadful gamblers, and that when you all went to Palm Beach last February you played poker for money night and day, and you told me you went for your health!"
"Oh, he did, did he? Well, I didn't get anything else. He's a dear old soul, if you've got the copper handy. If that man was a woman he'd be a warm neighbourhood gossip. He'd be the nice kind old lady that starts things, that's what Hoddy Milbrey would be."
"And you said yourself you played poker most of the time when you went to Aiken on the car last month."
"To be honest with you, ma, we did play poker. Say, they took it off of me so fast I could feel myself catching cold."
"There, you see—and you really ought to wear one of those chamois-skin chest protectors in this damp climate."
"Well, we'll see. If I can find one that an ace-full won't go through I'll snatch it so quick the man'll think he's being robbed. Now I'll join you ladies to the extent of some coffee, and then I want to know what you two would rather do this summer than."
"Of course," said Psyche, "no one stays in town in summer."
"Exactly. And I've chartered a steam yacht as big as this hotel—all but—But what I want to know is whether you two care to bunk on it or whether you'd rather stay quietly at some place, Newport perhaps, and maybe take a cruise with me now and then."
"Oh, that would be good fun. But here's ma getting so I can't do a thing with her, on account of all those beggars and horrid people down in the slums."
Mrs. Bines looked guilty and feebly deprecating. It was quite true that in her own way she had achieved a reputation for prodigality not inferior to that acquired by her children in ways of their own.
"You know it's so, ma," the daughter went on, accusingly. "One night last winter when you were away we dined at the Balldridge's, in Eighty-sixth Street, and the pavements were so sleety the horses couldn't stand, so Colonel Balldridge brought us home in the Elevated, about eleven o'clock. Well, at one of the stations a big policeman got on with a little baby all wrapped up in red flannel. He'd found it in an area-way, nearly covered with snow—where some one had left it, and he was taking it down to police-headquarters, he said. Well, ma went crazy right away. She made him undo it, and then she insisted on holding it all the way down to Thirty-third Street. One man said it might be President of the United States, some day; and Colonel Balldridge said, 'Yes, it has unknown possibilities—it may even be a President's wife'—just like that. But I thought ma would be demented. It was all fat and so warm and sleepy it could hardly hold its eyes open, and I believe she'd have kept it then and there if the policeman would have let her. She made him promise to get it a bottle of warm milk the first thing, and borrowed twenty dollars of the colonel to give to the policeman to get it things with, and then all the way down she talked against the authorities for allowing such things—as if they could help it—and when we got home she cried—you know you did, ma—and you pretended it was toothache—and ever since then she's been perfectly daft about babies. Why, whenever she sees a woman going along with one she thinks the poor thing is going to leave it some place; and now she's in with those charity workers and says she won't leave New York at all this summer."
"I don't care," protested the guilty mother, "it would have frozen to death in just a little while, and it's done so often. Why, up at the Catholic Protectory they put out a basket at the side door, so a body can leave their baby in it and ring the bell and run away; and they get one twice a week sometimes; and this was such a sweet, fat little baby with big blue eyes, and its forehead wrinkled, and it was all puckered up around its little nose—"
"And that isn't the worst of it," the relentless daughter broke in. "She gets begging letters by the score and gives money to all sorts of people, and a man from the Charities Organisation, who had heard about it, came and warned her that they were impostors—only she doesn't care. Do you know, there was a poor old blind woman with a dismal, wheezy organ down at Broadway and Twenty-third Street—the organ would hardly play at all, and just one wretched tune—only the woman wasn't blind at all we found out—and ma bought her a nice new organ that cost seventy-five dollars and had it taken up to her. Well, she found out through this man from the Organisation that the woman had pawned the new organ for twenty dollars and was still playing on the old one. She didn't want a new one because it was too cheerful; it didn't make people sad when they heard it, like her old one did. And yesterday ma bought an Indian—"
"A what?" asked her brother, in amazement.
"An Indian—a tobacco sign."
"You don't mean it? One of those lads that stand out in front and peer under their hands to see what palefaces are moving into the house across the street? Say, ma, what you going to do with him? There isn't much room here, you know."
"I didn't buy him for myself," replied Mrs. Bines, with dignity; "I wouldn't want such an object."
"She bought it," explained his sister, "for an Italian woman who keeps a little tobacco-shop down in Rivington Street. A man goes around to repaint them, you know, but hers was so battered that this man told her it wasn't worth painting again, and she'd better get another, and the woman said she didn't know what to do because they cost twenty-five dollars and one doesn't last very long. The bad boys whittle him and throw him down, and the people going along the street put their shoes up to tie them and step on his feet, and they scratch matches on his face, and when she goes out and says that isn't right they tell her she's too fresh. And so ma gave her twenty-five dollars for a new one."
"But she has to support five children, and her husband hasn't been able to work for three years, since he fell through a fire-escape where he was sleeping one hot night," pleaded Mrs. Bines, "and I think I'd rather stay here this summer. Just think of all those poor babies when the weather gets hot. I never thought there were so many babies in the world."
"Well, have your own way," said her son. "If you've started out to look after all the babies in New York you won't have any time left to play the races, I'll promise you that."
"Why, my son, I never—"
"But sis here would probably rather do other things."
"I think," said Psyche, "I'd like Newport—Mrs. Drelmer says I shouldn't think of going any place else. Only, of course, I can't go there alone. She says she would be glad to chaperone me, but her husband hasn't had a very good year in Wall Street, and she's afraid she won't be able to go herself."
"Maybe," began Mrs. Bines, "if you'd offer—"
"Oh! she'd be offended," exclaimed Psyche.
"I'm not so sure of that," said her brother, "not if you suggest it in the right way—put it on the ground that you'll be quite helpless without her, and that she'd oblige you world without end and all that. The more I see of people here the more I think they're quite reasonable in little matters like that. They look at them in the right light. Just lead up to it delicately with Mrs. Drelmer and see. Then if she's willing to go with you, your summer will be provided for; except that we shall both have to look in upon Mrs. Juzzlebraggin here now and then to see that she doesn't overplay the game and get sick herself, and make sure that they don't get her vaccination mark away from her. And, ma, you'll have to come off on the yacht once or twice, just to give it tone."
It appeared that Percival had been right in supposing that Mrs. Drelmer might be led to regard Psyche's proposal in a light entirely rational. She was reluctant, at first, it is true.
"It's awfully dear of you to ask me, child, but really, I'm afraid it will be quite impossible. Oh!—for reasons which you, of course, with your endless bank-account, cannot at all comprehend. You see we old New York families have a secure position here by right of birth; and even when we are forced to practice little economies in dress and household management it doesn't count against us—so long as we stay here. Now, Newport is different. One cannot economise gracefully there—not even one of us. There are quiet and very decent places for those of us that must. But at Newport one must not fall behind in display. A sense of loyalty to the others, a noblesse oblige, compels one to be as lavish as those flamboyant outsiders who go there. One doesn't want them to report, you know, that such and such families of our smart set are falling behind for lack of means. So, while we of the real stock are chummy enough here, where there is only us in a position to observe ourselves, there is a sort of tacit agreement that only those shall go to Newport who are able to keep up the pace. One need not, for one season or so, be a cottager; but, for example, in the matter of dress, one must be sinfully lavish. Really, child, I could spend three months in the Engadine for the price of one decent month at Newport; the parasols, gloves, fans, shoes, 'frillies'—enough to stock the Rue de la Paix, to say nothing of gowns—but why do I run on? Here am I with a few little simple summer things, fit enough indeed for the quiet place we shall reach for July and August, but ab-so-lute-ly impossible for Newport—so say no more about it, dear. You're a sweet—but it's madness to think of it."
"And I had," reported Psyche to her mother that night, "such a time getting her to agree. At first she wouldn't listen at all. Then, after I'd just fairly begged her, she admitted she might because she's taken such a fancy to me and hates to leave me—but she was sensitive about what people might say. I told her they'd never have a chance to say a word; and she was anxious Perce shouldn't know, because she says he's so cynical about New York people since that Milbrey girl made such a set for him; and at last she called me a dear and consented, though she'd been looking forward to a quiet summer. To-morrow early we start out for the shops."
So it came that the three members of the Bines family pursued during the summer their respective careers of diversion under conditions most satisfactory to each.
The steam yacht Viluca, chartered by Percival, was put into commission early in June. Her first cruise of ten days was a signal triumph. His eight guests were the men with whom he had played poker so tirelessly during the winter. Perhaps the most illuminating log of that cruise may be found in the reply of one of them whom Percival invited for another early in July.
"Much obliged, old man, but I haven't touched a drop now in over three weeks. My doctor says I must let it be for at least two months, and I mean to stick by him. Awfully kind of you, though!"
The Sight of a New Beauty, and Some Advice from Higbee
From the landing on a still morning in late July, Mrs. Drelmer surveyed the fleet of sailing and steam yachts at anchor in Newport harbour. She was beautifully and expensively gowned in nun's grey chiffon; her toque was of chiffon and lace, and she held a pale grey parasol, its ivory handle studded with sapphires. She fixed a glass upon one of the white, sharp-nosed steam yachts that rode in the distance near Goat Island. "Can you tell me if that's the Viluca?" she asked a sailor landing from a dinghy, "that boat just astern of the big schooner?"
"No ma'am; that's the Alta, Commodore Weckford."
"Looking for some one?" inquired a voice, and she turned to greet Fred Milbrey descending the steps.
"Oh! Good-morning! yes; but they've not come in, evidently. It's the Viluca—Mr. Bines, you know; he's bringing his sister back to me. And you?"
"I'm expecting the folks on Shepler's craft. Been out two weeks now, and were to have come down from New London last night. They're not in sight either. Perhaps the gale last night kept them back."
Mrs. Drelmer glanced above to where some one seemed to be waiting for him.
"Who's your perfectly gorgeous companion? You've been so devoted to her for three days that you've hardly bowed to old friends. Don't you want her to know any one?"
The young man laughed with an air of great shrewdness.
"Come, now, Mrs. Drelmer, you're too good a friend of Mauburn's—about his marrying, I mean. You fixed him to tackle me low the very first half of one game we know about, right when I was making a fine run down the field, too. I'm going to have better interference this time."
"Silly! Your chances are quite as good as his there this moment."
"You may think so; I know better."
"And of course, in any other affair, I'd never think of—"
"P'r'aps so; but I'd rather not chance it just yet."
"But who is she? What a magnificent mop of hair. It's like that rich piece of ore Mr. Bines showed us, with copper and gold in it."
"Well, I don't mind telling you she's the widow of a Southern gentleman, Colonel Brench Wybert."
"Ah, indeed! I did notice that two-inch band of black at the bottom of her accordeon-plaited petticoat. I'll wager that's a Rue de la Paix idea of mourning for one's dead husband. And she confides her grief to the world with such charming discretion. Half the New York women can't hold their skirts up as daintily as she does it. I dare say, now, her tears could be dried?—by the right comforter?"
Milbrey looked important.
"And I don't mind telling you the late Colonel Brench Wybert left her a fortune made in Montana copper. Can't say how much, but two weeks ago she asked the governor's advice about where to put a spare million and a half in cash. Not so bad, eh?"
"Oh, this new plutocracy! Where do they get it?"
"How old, now, should you say she was?"
Mrs. Drelmer glanced up again at the colour-scheme of heliotrope seated in a victoria upholstered in tan brocade.
"Thirty-five, I should say—about."
"Just about what I should say—she'd say."
"Come now, you women can't help it, can you? But you can't deny she's stunning?"
"Indeed I can't! She's a beauty—and, good luck to you. Is that the Viluca coming in? No; it has two stacks; and it's not your people because the Lotus is black. I shall go back to the hotel. Bertie Trafford brought me over on the trolley. I must find him first and do an errand in Thames Street."
At the head of the stairs they parted, Milbrey joining the lady who had waited for him.
Hers was a person to gladden the eye. Her figure, tall and full, was of a graceful and abundant perfection of contours; her face, precisely carved and showing the faintly generous rounding of maturity, was warm in colouring, with dark eyes, well shaded and languorous; her full lips betrayed their beauty in a ready and fascinating laugh; her voice was a rich, warm contralto; and her speech bore just a hint of the soft r-less drawl of the South.
She had blazed into young Milbrey's darkness one night in the palm-room of the Hightower Hotel, escorted by a pleased and beefy youth of his acquaintance, who later told him of their meeting at the American Embassy in Paris, and who unsuspectingly presented him. Since their meeting the young man had been her abject cavalier. The elder Milbrey, too, had met her at his son's suggestion. He had been as deeply impressed by her helplessness in the matter of a million and a half dollars of idle funds as she had been by his aristocratic bearing and enviable position in New York society.
"Sorry to have kept you waiting. The Lotus hasn't come in sight yet. Let's loaf over to the beach and have some tall, cold ones."
"Who was your elderly friend?" she asked, as they were driven slowly up the old-fashioned street.
"Oh! that's Joe Drelmer. She's not so old, you know; not a day over forty, Joe can't be; fine old stock; she was a Leydenbroek and her husband's family is one of the very oldest in New York. Awfully exclusive. Down to meet friends, but they'd not shown up, either. That reminds me; they're friends of ours, too, and I must have you meet them. They're from your part of the country—the Bines."
"Bines; family from Montana; decent enough sort; didn't know but you might have heard of them, being from your part of the country."
"Ah, I never think of that vulgar West as 'my part of the country' at all. My part is dear old Virginia, where my father, General Tulver, and his father and his father's father all lived the lives of country gentlemen, after the family came here from Devonshire. It was there Colonel Wybert wooed me, though we later removed to New Orleans." Mrs. Wybert called it "New Aw-leens."
"But it was not until my husband became interested in Montana mines that we ventured into that horrid West. So do remember not to confound me with your Western—ah—Bones,—was it not?"
"No, Bines; they'll be here presently, and you can meet them, anyway."
"Is there an old fellow—a queer old character, with them?"
"No, only a son and daughter and the mother."
"Of course I sha'n't mind meeting any friends of yours," she said, with charming graciousness, "but, really, I always understood that you Knickerbockers were so vastly more exclusive. I do recall this name now. I remember hearing tales of the family in Spokane. They're a type, you know. One sees many of the sort there. They make a strike in the mines and set up ridiculous establishments regardless of expense. You see them riding in their carriages with two men in the box—red-handed, grizzled old vulgarians who've roughed it in the mountains for twenty years with a pack-mule and a ham and a pick-axe—with their jug of whiskey—and their frowsy red-faced wives decked out in impossible finery. Yes, I do recall this family. There is a daughter, you say?"
"Yes; Miss Psyche Bines."
"Psyche; ah, yes; it's the same family. I recollect perfectly now. You know they tell the funniest tales of them out there. Her mother found the name 'Psyche' in a book, and liked it, but she pronounced it 'Pishy,' and so the girl was called until she became old enough to go to school and learned better."
"Dear me; fancy now!"
"And there are countless tales of the mother's queer sayings. Once a gentleman whom they were visiting in San Francisco was showing her a cabinet of curios. 'Now, don't you find the Pompeiian figurines exquisite?' he asked her. The poor creature, after looking around her helplessly, declared that she did like them; but that she liked the California nectarines better—they were so much juicier."
"You don't tell me; gad! that was a good one. Oh, well, she's a meek, harmless old soul, and really, my family's not the snobbish sort, you know."
In from the shining sea late that afternoon steamed the Viluca. As her chain was rattling through the hawse-hole, Percival, with his sister and Mauburn, came on deck.
"Why, there's the Chicago—Higbee's yacht."
"That's the boat," said Mauburn, "that's been piling the white water up in front of her all afternoon trying to overhaul us."
"There's Millie Higbee and old Silas, now."
"And, as I live," exclaimed Psyche, "there's the Baron de Palliac between them!"
"Sure enough," said her brother. "We must call ma up to see him dressed in those sweet, pretty yachting flannels. Oh, there you are!" as Mrs. Bines joined them. "Just take this glass and treat yourself to a look at your old friend, the baron. You'll notice he has one on—see—they're waving to us."
"Doesn't the baron look just too distinguished beside Mr. Higbee?" said Psyche, watching them.
"And doesn't Higbee look just too Chicago beside the baron?" replied her brother.
The Higbee craft cut her way gracefully up to an anchorage near the Viluca, and launches from both yachts now prepared to land their people. At the landing Percival telephoned for a carriage. While they were waiting the Higbee party came ashore.
"Hello!" said Higbee; "if I'd known that was you we was chasing I'd have put on steam and left you out of sight."
"It's much better you didn't recognise us; these boiler explosions are so messy."
"Know the baron here?"
"Of course we know the baron. Ah, baron!"
"Ah, ha! very charmed, Mr. Bines and Miss Bines; it is of a long time that we are not encountered."
He was radiant; they had never before seen him thus. Mrs. Higbee hovered near him with an air of proud ownership. Pretty Millie Higbee posed gracefully at her side.
"This your carriage?" asked Higbee; "I must telephone for one myself. Going to the Mayson? So are we. See you again to-night. We're off for Bar Harbour early to-morrow."
"Looks as if there were something doing there," said Percival, as they drove off the wharf.
"Of course, stupid!" said his sister; "that's plain; only it isn't doing, it's already done. Isn't it funny, ma?"
"For a French person," observed Mrs. Bines, guardedly, "I always liked the baron."
"Of course," said her son, to Mauburn's mystification, "and the noblest men on this earth have to wear 'em."
The surmise regarding the Baron de Palliac and Millie Higbee proved to be correct. Percival came upon Higbee in the meditative enjoyment of his after-dinner cigar, out on the broad piazza.
"I s'pose you're on," he began; "the girl's engaged to that Frenchy."
"I congratulate him," said Percival, heartily.
"A real baron," continued Higbee. "I looked him up and made sure of that; title's good as wheat. God knows that never would 'a' got me, but the madam was set on it, and the girl too, and I had to give in. It seemed to be a question of him or some actor. The madam said I'd had my way about Hank, puttin' his poor stubby nose to the grindstone out there in Chicago, and makin' a plain insignificant business man out of him, and I'd ought to let her have her way with the girl, being that I couldn't expect her to go to work too. So Mil will work the society end. I says to the madam, I says, 'All right, have your own way; and we'll see whether you make more out of the girl than I make out of the boy,' I says. But it ain't going to be all digging up. I've made the baron promise to go into business with me, and though I ain't told him yet, I'm going to put out a line of Higbee's thin-sliced ham and bacon in glass jars with his crest on 'em for the French trade. This baron'll cost me more'n that sign I showed you coming out of the old town, and he won't give any such returns, but the crest on them jars, printed in three colours and gold, will be a bully ad; and it kept the women quiet," he concluded, apologetically.
"The baron's a good fellow," said Percival.
"Sure," replied Higbee. "They're all good fellows. Hank had the makin's of a good fellow in him. And say, young man, that reminds me; I hear all kinds of reports about your getting to be one yourself. Now I knew your father, Daniel J. Bines, and I liked him, and I like you; and I hope you won't get huffy, but from what they tell me you ain't doing yourself a bit of good."
"Don't believe all you hear," laughed Percival.
"Well, I'll tell you one thing plain, if you was my son, you'd fade right back to the packing-house along with Henry-boy. It's a pity you ain't got some one to shut down on you that way. They tell me you got your father's capacity for carrying liquor, and I hear you're known from one end of Broadway to the other as the easiest mark that ever came to town. They say you couldn't walk in your sleep without spending money. Now, excuse my plain speaking, but them are two reputations that are mighty hard to live up to beyond a certain limit. They've put lots of good weight-carriers off the track before they was due to go. I hear you got pinched in that wheat deal of Burman's?"