"I think I'll give it up," he said, finally, as he turned the horse's head towards Southampton. "I hate to lose three hundred and fifty dollars as much as any man; but I love my fair young life, and I'm not going to turn into an equestrian statue in ice for anybody's collie dog."
He drove the cart to the stable and unharnessed the horse himself, as all the grooms were out scouring the country, and then went upstairs unobserved and locked himself in his room, for he did not care to have the others know that he had given out so early in the chase. There was a big open fire in his room, and he put on his warm things and stretched out before it in a great easy-chair, and smoked and sipped the brandy and chuckled with delight as he thought of the four other men racing around in the snow.
"They may have more nerve than I," he soliloquized, "and I don't say they have not; but they can have all the credit and rewards they want, and I'll be satisfied to stay just where I am."
At seven he saw the four riders coming back dejectedly, and without the dog. As they passed his room he heard one of the men ask if Van Bibber had got back yet, and another say yes, he had, as he had left the cart in the stable, but that one of the servants had said that he had started out again on foot.
"He has, has he?" said the voice. "Well, he's got sporting blood, and he'll need to keep it at fever heat if he expects to live. I'm frozen so that I can't bend my fingers."
Van Bibber smiled, and moved comfortably in the big chair; he had dozed a little, and was feeling very contented. At half-past seven he began to dress, and at five minutes to eight he was ready for dinner and stood looking out of the window at the moonlight on the white lawn below. The snow had stopped falling, and everything lay quiet and still as though it were cut in marble. And then suddenly, across the lawn, came a black, bedraggled object on four legs, limping painfully, and lifting its feet as though there were lead on them.
"Great heavens!" cried Van Bibber, "it's the dog!" He was out of the room in a moment and down into the hall. He heard the murmur of voices in the drawing-room, and the sympathetic tones of the women who were pitying the men. Van Bibber pulled on his overshoes and a great-coat that covered him from his ears to his ankles, and dashed out into the snow. The dog had just enough spirit left to try and dodge him, and with a leap to one side went off again across the lawn. It was, as Van Bibber knew, but three minutes to eight o'clock, and have the dog he must and would. The collie sprang first to one side and then to the other, and snarled and snapped; but Van Bibber was keen with the excitement of the chase, so he plunged forward recklessly and tackled the dog around the body, and they both rolled over and over together. Then Van Bibber scrambled to his feet and dashed up the steps and into the drawing-room just as the people were in line for dinner, and while the minute-hand stood at a minute to eight o'clock.
"How is this?" shouted Van Bibber, holding up one hand and clasping the dog under his other arm.
Miss Arnett flew at the collie and embraced it, wet as it was, and ruined her gown, and all the men glanced instinctively at the clock and said:
"You've won, Van."
"But you must be frozen to death," said Miss Arnett, looking up at him with gratitude in her eyes.
"Yes, yes," said Van Bibber, beginning to shiver. "I've had a terrible long walk, and I had to carry him all the way. If you'll excuse me, I'll go change my things."
He reappeared again in a suspiciously short time for one who had to change outright, and the men admired his endurance and paid up the bet.
"Where did you find him, Van?" one of them asked.
"Oh, yes," they all chorused. "Where was he?"
"That," said Mr. Van Bibber, "is a thing known to only two beings, Duncan and myself. Duncan can't tell, and I won't. If I did, you'd say I was trying to make myself out clever, and I never boast about the things I do."
Miss Eleanore Cuyler had dined alone with her mother that night, and she was now sitting in the drawing-room, near the open fire, with her gloves and fan on the divan beside her, for she was going out later to a dance.
She was reading a somewhat weighty German review, and the contrast which the smartness of her gown presented to the seriousness of her occupation made her smile slightly as she paused for a moment to cut the leaves.
And when the bell sounded in the hall she put the book away from her altogether, and wondered who it might be.
It might be young Wainwright, with the proof-sheets of the new story he had promised to let her see, or flowers for the dance from Bruce-Brice, of the English Legation at Washington, who for the time being was practising diplomatic moves in New York, or some of her working-girls with a new perplexity for her to unravel, or only one of the men from the stable to tell her how her hunter was getting on after his fall. It might be any of these and more. The possibilities were diverse and all of interest, and she acknowledged this to herself, with a little sigh of content that it was so. For she found her pleasure in doing many things, and in the fact that there were so many. She rejoiced daily that she was free, and her own mistress in everything; free to do these many things denied to other young women, and that she had the health and position and cleverness to carry them on and through to success. She did them all, and equally well and gracefully, whether it was the rejection of a too ambitious devotee who dared to want to have her all to himself, or the planning of a woman's luncheon, or the pushing of a bill to provide kindergartens in the public schools. But it was rather a relief when the man opened the curtains and said, "Mr. Wainwright," and Wainwright walked quickly towards her, tugging at his glove.
"You are very good to see me so late," he said, speaking as he entered, "but I had to see you to-night, and I wasn't asked to that dance. I'm going away," he went on, taking his place by the fire, with his arm resting on the mantel. He had a trick of standing there when he had something of interest to say, and he was tall and well-looking enough to appear best in that position, and she was used to it. He was the most frequent of her visitors.
"Going away," she repeated, smiling up at him; "not for long, I hope. Where are you going now?"
"I'm going to London," he said. "They cabled me this morning. It seems they've taken the play, and are going to put it on at once." He smiled, and blushed slightly at her exclamation of pleasure. "Yes, it is rather nice. It seems 'Jilted' was a failure, and they've taken it off, and are going to put on 'School,' with the old cast, until they can get my play rehearsed, and they want me to come over and suggest things."
She stopped him with another little cry of delight that was very sweet to him, and full of moment.
"Oh, how glad I am!" she said. "How proud you must be! Now, why do you pretend you are not? And I suppose Tree and the rest of them will be in the cast, and all that dreadful American colony in the stalls, and you will make a speech—and I won't be there to hear it." She rose suddenly with a quick, graceful movement, and held out her hand to him, which he took, laughing and conscious-looking with pleasure.
She sank back on the divan, and shook her head doubtfully at him. "When will you stop?" she said. "Don't tell me you mean to be an Admirable Crichton. You are too fine for that."
He looked down at the fire, and said, slowly, "It is not as if I were trying my hand at an entirely different kind of work. No, I don't think I did wrong in dramatizing it. The papers all said, when the book first came out, that it would make a good play; and then so many men wrote to me for permission to dramatize it that I thought I might as well try to do it myself. No, I think it is in line with my other work. I don't think I am straying after strange gods."
"You should not," she said, softly. "The old ones have been so kind to you. But you took me too seriously," she added.
"I am afraid sometimes," he answered, "that you do not know how seriously I do take you."
"Yes, I do," she said, quickly. "And when I am serious, that is all very well; but to-night I only want to laugh. I am very happy, it is such good news. And after the New York managers refusing it, too. They will have to take it now, now that it is a London success."
"Well, it isn't a London success yet," he said, dryly. "The books went well over there because the kind of Western things I wrote about met their ideas of this country—cowboys and prairies and Indian maidens and all that. And so I rather hope the play will suit them for the same reason."
"And you will go out a great deal, I hope," she said. "Oh, you will have to! You will find so many people to like, almost friends already. They were talking about you even when I was there, and I used to shine in reflected glory because I knew you."
"Yes, I can fancy it," he said. "But I should like to see something of them if I have time. Lowes wants me to stay with them, and I suppose I will. He would feel hurt if I didn't. He has a most absurd idea of what I did for him on the ranche when he had the fever that time, and ever since he went back to enjoy his ill-gotten gains and his title and all that, he has kept writing to me to come out. Yes, I suppose I will stay with them. They are in town now."
Miss Cuyler's face was still lit with pleasure at his good fortune, but her smile was less spontaneous than it had been. "That will be very nice. I quite envy you," she said. "I suppose you know about his sister?"
"The Honorable Evelyn?" he asked. "Yes; he used to have a photograph of her, and I saw some others the other day in a shop-window on Broadway."
"She is a very nice girl," Miss Cuyler said, thoughtfully. "I wonder how you two will get along?" and then she added, as if with sudden compunction, "but I am sure you will like her very much. She is very clever, besides."
"I don't know how a professional beauty will wear if one sees her every day at breakfast," he said. "One always associates them with functions and varnishing days and lawn-parties. You will write to me, will you not?" he added.
"That sounds," she said, "as though you meant to be gone such a very long time."
He turned one of the ornaments on the mantel with his fingers, and looked at it curiously. "It depends," he said, slowly—"it depends on so many things. No," he went on, looking at her; "it does not depend on many things; just on one."
Miss Cuyler looked up at him questioningly, and then down again very quickly, and reached meaninglessly for the book beside her. She saw something in his face and in the rigidity of his position that made her breathe more rapidly. She had not been afraid of this from him, because she had always taken the attitude towards him of a very dear friend and of one who was older, not in years, but in experience of the world, for she had lived abroad while he had gone from the university to the West, which he had made his own, in books. They were both very young.
She did not want him to say anything. She could only answer him in one way, and in a way that would hurt and give pain to them both. She had hoped he could remain just as he was, a very dear friend, with a suggestion sometimes in the background of his becoming something more. She was, of course, too experienced to believe in a long platonic friendship.
Uppermost in her mind was the thought that, no matter what he urged, she must remember that she wanted to be free, to live her own life, to fill her own sphere of usefulness, and she must not let him tempt her to forget this. She had next to consider him, and that she must be hard and keep him from speaking at all; and this was very difficult, for she cared for him very dearly. She strengthened her determination by thinking of his going away, and of how glad she would be when he had gone that she had committed herself to nothing. This absence would be a test for both of them; it could not have been better had it been arranged on purpose. She had ideas of what she could best do for those around her, and she must not be controlled and curbed, no matter how strongly she might think she wished it. She must not give way to the temptation of the moment, or to a passing mood. And then there were other men. She had their photographs on her dressing-table, and liked each for some qualities the others did not possess in such a degree; but she liked them all because no one of them had the right to say "must" or even "you might" to her, and she fancied that the moment she gave one of them this right she would hate him cordially, and would fly to the others for sympathy; and she was not a young woman who thought that matrimony meant freedom to fly to any one but her husband for that. But this one of the men was a little the worst; he made it harder for her to be quite herself. She noticed that when she was with him she talked more about her feelings than with the other men, with whom she was satisfied to discuss the play, or what girl they wanted to take into dinner. She had touches of remorse after these confidences to Wainwright, and wrote him brisk, friendly notes the next morning, in which the words "your friend" were always sure to appear, either markedly at the beginning or at the end, or tucked away in the middle. She thought by this to unravel the web she might have woven the day before. But she had apparently failed. She stood up suddenly from pure nervousness, and crossed the room as though she meant to go to the piano, which was a very unfortunate move, as she seldom played, and never for him. She sat down before it, nevertheless, rather hopelessly, and crossed her hands in front of her. He had turned, and followed her with his eyes; they were very bright and eager, and her own faltered as she looked at them.
"You do not show much interest in the one thing that will bring me back," he said. He spoke reproachfully and yet a little haughtily, as though he had already half suspected she had guessed what he meant to say.
"Ah, you cannot tell how long you will be there," she said, lightly. "You will like it much more than you think. I—" she stopped hopelessly, and glanced, without meaning to do so, at the clock-face on the mantel beside him.
"Oh," he said, with quick misunderstanding, "I beg your pardon, I am keeping you, I forgot how late it was, and you are going out." He came towards her as though he meant to go. She stood up and made a quick, impatient gesture with her hands. He was making it very hard for her.
"Fancy!" she said. "You know I want to talk to you; what does the dance matter? Why are you so unlike yourself?" she went on, gently. "And it is our last night, too."
The tone of her words seemed to reassure him, for he came nearer and rested his elbow beside her on the piano and said, "Then you are sorry that I am going?"
It was very hard to be unyielding to him when he spoke and looked as he did then; but she repeated to herself, "He will be gone to-morrow, and then I shall be so thankful that I did not bind myself—that I am still free. He will be gone, and I shall be so glad. It will only be a minute now before he goes, and if I am strong I will rejoice at leisure." So she looked up at him without a sign of the effort it cost her, frankly and openly, and said, "Sorry? Of course I am sorry. One does not have so many friends that one can spare them for long, even to have them grow famous. I think it is very selfish of you to go, for you are famous enough already."
As he looked at her and heard her words running on smoothly and meaninglessly, he knew that it was quite useless to speak, and he grew suddenly colder, and sick, and furious at once with a confused anger and bitterness. And then, for he was quite young, so young that he thought it was the manly thing to do to carry his grief off lightly instead of rather being proud of his love, however she might hold it,—he drew himself up and began pulling carefully at his glove.
"Yes," he said, slowly, "I fancy the change will be very pleasant." He was not thinking of his words or of how thoughtless they must sound. He was only anxious to get away without showing how deeply he was hurt. If he had not done this; if he had let her see how miserable he was, and that plays and books and such things were nothing to him now, and that she was just all there was in the whole world to him, it might have ended differently. But he was untried, and young. So he buttoned the left glove with careful scrutiny and said, "They always start those boats at such absurd hours; the tides never seem to suit one; you have to go on board without breakfast, or else stay on board the night before, and that's so unpleasant. Well, I hope you will enjoy the dance, and tell them I was very much hurt that I wasn't asked."
He held out his hand quite steadily. "I will write you if you will let me," he went on, "and send you word where I am as soon as I know." She took his hand and said, "Good-by, and I hope it will be a grand success: I know it will. And come back soon; and, yes, do write to me. I hope you will have a very pleasant voyage."
He had reached the door and stopped uncertainly at the curtains. "Thank you," he said; and "Oh," he added, politely, "will you say good-by to your mother for me, please?"
She nodded her head and smiled and said, "Yes; I will not forget. Good-by."
She did not move until she heard the door close upon him, and then she turned towards the window as though she could still follow him through the closed blinds, and then she walked over to the divan and picked up her fan and gloves and remained looking down at them in her hand. The room seemed very empty. She glanced at the place where he had stood and at the darkened windows again, and sank down very slowly against the cushions of the divan, and pressed her hands against her cheeks.
She did not hear the rustle of her mother's dress as she came down the stairs and parted the curtains.
"Are you ready, Eleanore?" she said, briskly. "Tell me, how does this lace look? I think there is entirely too much of it."
* * * * *
It was a month after this, simultaneously with the announcements by cable of the instant success in London of "A Western Idyl," that Miss Cuyler retired from the world she knew, and disappeared into darkest New York by the way of Rivington Street. She had discovered one morning that she was not ill nor run down nor overtaxed, but just mentally tired of all things, and that what she needed was change of air and environment, and unselfish work for the good of others, and less thought of herself. Her mother's physician suggested to her, after a secret and hasty interview with Mrs. Cuyler, that change of air was good, but that the air of Rivington Street was not of the best; and her friends, both men and women, assured her that they appreciated her much more than the people of the east side possibly could do, and that they were much more worthy of her consideration, and in a fair way of improvement yet if she would only continue to shine upon and before them. But she was determined in her purpose, and regarded the College Settlement as the one opening and refuge for the energies which had too long been given to the arrangement of paper chases across country, and the routine of society, and dilettante interest in kindergartens. Life had become for her real and earnest, and she rejected Bruce-Brice of the British Legation with the sad and hopeless kindness of one who almost contemplates taking the veil, and to whom the things of this world outside of tenements are hollow and unprofitable. She found a cruel disappointment at first, for the women of the College Settlement had rules and ideas of their own, and had seen enthusiasts like herself come into Rivington Street before, and depart again. She had thought she would nurse the sick and visit the prisoners on the Island, and bring cleanliness and hope into miserable lives, but she found that this was the work of women tried in the service, who understood it, and who made her first serve her apprenticeship by reading the German Bible to old women whose eyes were dim, but who were as hopelessly clean and quite as self-respecting in their way as herself. The heroism and the self-sacrifice of a Father Damien or a Florence Nightingale were not for her; older and wiser young women saw to that work with a quiet matter-of-fact cheerfulness and a common-sense that bewildered her. And they treated her kindly, but indulgently, as an outsider. It took her some time to understand this, and she did not confess to herself without a struggle that she was disappointed in her own usefulness; but she brought herself to confess it to her friends "uptown," when she visited that delightful country from which she was self-exiled. She went there occasionally for an afternoon's rest or to a luncheon or a particularly attractive dinner, but she always returned to the Settlement at night, and this threw an additional interest about her to her friends—an interest of which she was ashamed, for she knew how little she was really doing, and that her sacrifice was one of discomfort merely. The good she did now, it was humiliating to acknowledge, was in no way proportionate to that which her influence had wrought among people of her own class.
And what made it very hard was that wherever she went they seemed to talk of him. Now it would be a girl just from the other side who had met him on the terrace of the Lower House, "where he seemed to know every one," and another had driven with him to Ascot, where he had held the reins, and had shown them what a man who had guided a mail-coach one whole winter over the mountains for a living could do with a coach for pleasure. And many of the men had met him at the clubs and at house parties in the country, and they declared with enthusiastic envy that he was no end of a success. Her English friends all wrote of him, and wanted to know all manner of little things concerning him, and hinted that they understood they were very great friends. The papers seemed to be always having him doing something, and there was apparently no one else in London who could so properly respond to the toasts of America at all the public dinners. She had had letters from him herself—of course bright, clever ones—that suggested what a wonderfully full and happy life his was, but with no reference to his return. He was living with his young friend Lord Lowes, and went everywhere with him and his people; and then as a final touch, which she had already anticipated, people began to speak of him and the Honorable Evelyn. What could be more natural? they said. He had saved her brother's life while out West half a dozen times at least, from all accounts; and he was rich, and well-looking, and well-born, and rapidly becoming famous.
A young married woman announced it at a girls' luncheon. She had it from her friend the Marchioness of Pelby, who was Evelyn's first-cousin. So far, only the family had been told; but all London knew it, and it was said that Lord Lowes was very much pleased. One of the girls at the table said you never could tell about those things; she had no doubt the Marchioness of Pelby was an authority, but she would wait until she got their wedding-cards before she believed it. For some reason this girl did not look at Miss Cuyler, and Miss Cuyler felt grateful to her, and thought she was a nice, bright little thing; and then another girl said it was only turn about. The Englishmen had taken all the attractive American girls, and it was only fair that the English girls should get some of the nice American men. This girl was an old friend of Eleanore's; but she was surprised at her making such a speech, and wondered why she had not noticed in her before similar exhibitions of bad taste. She walked back to Rivington Street from the luncheon; composing the letter she would write to him, congratulating him on his engagement. She composed several. Some of them were very short and cheery, and others rather longer and full of reminiscences. She wondered with sudden fierce bitterness how he could so soon forget certain walks and afternoons they had spent together; and the last note, which she composed in bed, was a very sad and scornful one, and so pathetic as a work of composition that she cried a little over it, and went to sleep full of indignation that she had cried.
She told herself the next morning that she had cried because she was frankly sorry to lose the companionship of so old and good a friend, and because now that she had been given much more important work to do, she was naturally saddened by the life she saw around her, and weakened by the foul air of the courts and streets, and the dreary environments of the tenements. As for him, she was happy in his happiness; and she pictured how some day, when he proudly brought his young bride to this country to show her to his friends, he would ask after her. And they would say: "Who! Eleanore Cuyler? Why, don't you know? While you were on your honeymoon she was in the slums, where she took typhoid fever nursing a child, and died!" Or else some day, when she had grown into a beautiful sweet-faced old lady, with white hair, his wife would die, and he would return to her, never having been very happy with his first wife, but having nobly hidden from her and from the world his true feelings. He would find her working among the poor, and would ask her forgiveness, and she could not quite determine whether she would forgive him or not. These pictures comforted her even while they saddened her, and she went about her work, feeling that it was now her life's work, and that she was in reality an old, old woman. The rest, she was sure, was but a weary waiting for the end.
* * * * *
It was about six months after this, in the early spring, while Miss Cuyler was still in Rivington Street, that young Van Bibber invited his friend Travers to dine with him, and go on later to the People's Theatre, on the Bowery, where Irving Willis, the Boy Actor, was playing "Nick of the Woods." Travers despatched a hasty and joyous note in reply to this to the effect that he would be on hand. He then went off with a man to try a horse at a riding academy, and easily and promptly forgot all about it. He did remember, as he was dressing for dinner, that he had an appointment somewhere, and took some consolation out of this fact, for he considered it a decided step in advance when he could remember that he had an engagement, even if he could not recall what it was. The stern mental discipline necessary to do this latter would, he hoped, come in time. So he dined unwarily at home, and was, in consequence, seized upon by his father, who sent him to the opera, as a substitute for himself, with his mother and sisters, while he went off delightedly to his club to play whist.
Travers did not care for the opera, and sat in the back of the box and dozed, and wondered moodily what so many nice men saw in his sisters to make them want to talk to them. It was midnight, and just as he had tumbled into bed, when the nature of his original engagement came back to him, and his anger and disappointment were so intense that he kicked the clothes over the foot of his bedstead.
As for Van Bibber, he knew his friend too well to wait for him, and occupied a box at the People's Theatre in solitary state, and from its depths gurgled with delight whenever the Boy Actor escaped being run over by a real locomotive, or in turn rescued the stout heroine from six red shirted cowboys. There were quite as many sudden deaths and lofty sentiments as he had expected, and he left the theatre with the pleased satisfaction of an evening well spent and with a pitying sympathy for Travers who had missed it. The night was pleasant and filled with the softness of early spring, and Van Bibber turned down the Bowery with a cigar between his teeth and no determined purpose except the one that he did not intend to go to bed. The streets were still crowded, and the lights showed the many types of this "Thieves' Highway" with which Van Bibber, in his many excursions in search of mild adventure, had become familiar. They were so familiar that the unfamiliarity of the hurrying figure of a girl of his own class who passed in front of him down Grand Street brought him, abruptly wondering, to a halt. She had passed directly under an electric light, and her dress, and walk, and bearing he seemed to recognize, but as belonging to another place. What a girl, well-born and well-dressed, could be doing at such an hour in such a neighborhood aroused his curiosity; but it was rather with a feeling of noblesse oblige, and a hope of being of use to one of his own people, that he crossed to the opposite side of the street and followed her. She was evidently going somewhere; that was written in every movement of her regular quick walk and her steadfast look ahead. Her veil hid the upper part of her face, and the passing crowd shut her sometimes entirely from view; but Van Bibber, himself unnoticed, succeeded in keeping her in sight, while he speculated as to the nature of her errand and her personality. At Eldridge Street she turned sharply to the north, and, without a change in her hurrying gait, passed on quickly, and turned again at Rivington. "Oh," said Van Bibber, with relieved curiosity, "one of the College Settlement," and stopped satisfied. But the street had now become deserted, and though he disliked the idea of following a woman, even though she might not be aware of his doing so, he disliked even more the idea of leaving her to make her way in such a place alone. And so he started on again, and as there was now more likelihood of her seeing him in the empty street, he dropped farther to the rear and kept in the shadow; and as he did so, he saw a man, whom he had before noticed on the opposite side of the street, quicken his pace and draw nearer to the girl. It seemed impossible to Van Bibber that any man could mistake the standing of this woman and the evident purpose of her haste; but the man was apparently settling his pace to match hers, as if only waiting an opportunity to approach her. Van Bibber tucked his stick under his arm and moved forward more quickly. It was midnight, and the street was utterly strange to him. From the light of the lamps he could see signs in Hebrew and the double eagle of Russia painted on the windows of the saloons. Long rows of trucks and drays stood ranged along the pavements for the night, and on some of the stoops and fire-escapes of the tenements a few dwarfish specimens of the Polish Jew sat squabbling in their native tongue.
But it was not until they had reached Orchard Street, and when Rivington Street was quite empty, that the man drew up uncertainly beside the girl, and, bending over, stared up in her face, and then, walking on at her side, surveyed her deliberately from head to foot. For a few steps the girl moved on as apparently unmindful of his near presence as though he were a stray dog running at her side; but when he stepped directly in front of her, she stopped and backed away from him fearfully. The man hesitated for an instant, and then came on after her, laughing.
Van Bibber had been some distance in the rear. He reached the curb beside them just as the girl turned back, with the man still following her, and stepped in between them. He had come so suddenly from out of the darkness that they both started. Van Bibber did not look at the man. He turned to the girl, and raised his hat slightly, and recognized Eleanore Cuyler instantly as he did so; but as she did not seem to remember him he did not call her by name, but simply said, with a jerk of his head, "Is this man annoying you?"
Miss Cuyler seemed to wish before everything else to avoid a scene.
"He—he just spoke to me, that is all," she said. "I live only a block below here; if you will please let me go on alone, I would be very much obliged."
"Certainly, do go on," said Van Bibber, "but I shall have to follow you until you get in-doors. You needn't be alarmed, no one will speak to you." Then he turned to the man, and said, in a lower tone, "You wait here till I get back, will you? I want to talk to you."
The man paid no attention to him whatsoever. He was so far misled by Van Bibber's appearance as to misunderstand the situation entirely. "Oh, come now," he said, smiling knowingly at the girl, "you can't shake me for no dude."
He put out his hand as he spoke as though he meant to touch her. Van Bibber pulled his stick from under his arm and tossed it out of his way, and struck the man twice heavily in the face. He was very cool and determined about it, and punished him, in consequence, much more effectively than if his indignation had made him excited. The man gave a howl of pain, and stumbled backwards over one of the stoops, where he dropped moaning and swearing, with his fingers pressed against his face.
"Please, now," begged Van Bibber, quickly turning to Miss Cuyler, "I am very sorry, but if you had only gone when I asked you to." He motioned impatiently with his hand. "Will you please go?"
But the girl, to his surprise, stood still and looked past him over his shoulder. Van Bibber motioned again for her to pass on, and then, as she still hesitated, turned and glanced behind him. The street had the blue-black look of a New York street at night. There was not a lighted window in the block. It seemed to have grown suddenly more silent and dirty and desolate-looking. He could see the glow of the elevated station at Allen Street, and it seemed fully a half-mile away. Save for the girl and the groaning fool on the stoop, and the three figures closing in on him, he was quite alone. The foremost of the three men stopped running, and came up briskly with his finger held interrogatively in front of him. He stopped when it was within a foot of Van Bibber's face.
"Are you looking for a fight?" he asked.
There was enough of the element of the sport in Van Bibber to enable him to recognize the same element in the young man before him. He knew that this was no whimpering blackguard who followed women into side streets to insult them; this was one of the purest specimens of the tough of the East-Side water-front, and he and his companions would fight as readily as Van Bibber would smoke—and they would not fight fair. The adventure had taken on a grim and serious turn, and Van Bibber gave an imperceptible shrug and a barely audible exclamation of disgust as he accepted it.
"Because," continued his new opponent with business-like briskness, "if you're looking for a fight, you can set right to me. You needn't think you can come down here and run things—you—" He followed this with an easy roll of oaths, intended to goad his victim into action.
A reformed prize-fighter had once told Van Bibber that there were six rules to observe in a street fight. He said he had forgotten the first five, but the sixth one was to strike first. Van Bibber turned his head towards Miss Cuyler. "You had better run," he said, over his shoulder; and then, turning quickly, he brought his left fist, with all the strength and weight of his arm and body back of it, against the end of the new-comer's chin.
This is a most effective blow. This is so because the lower jaw is anatomically loose; and when it is struck heavily, it turns and jars the brain, and the man who is struck feels as though the man who struck him had opened the top of his skull and taken his brains in his hand and wrenched them as a brakeman wrenches a brake. If you shut your teeth hard, and rap the tip of your chin sharply with your knuckles, you can get an idea of how effective this is when multiplied by an arm and all the muscles of a shoulder.
The man threw up his arms and went over backwards, groping blindly with his hands.
Van Bibber heard a sharp rapping behind him frequently repeated; he could not turn to see what it was, for one of the remaining men was engaging him in front, and the other was kicking at his knee-cap, and striking at his head from behind. He was no longer cool; he was grandly and viciously excited; and, rushing past his opponent, he caught him over his hip with his left arm across his breast, and so tossed him, using his hip for a lever.
A man in this position can be thrown so that he will either fall as lightly as a baby falls from his pillow to the bed, or with sufficient force to break his ribs. Van Bibber, being excited, threw him the latter way. Seeing this, the second man, who had so far failed to find Van Bibber's knee-cap, backed rapidly away, with his hands in front of him.
"Here," he cried, "lem'me alone; I'm not in this."
"Oh yes, you are," cried Van Bibber, gasping, but with fierce politeness. "Excuse me, but you are. Put up your hands; I'm going to kill you."
He had a throbbing feeling in the back of his head, and his breathing was difficult. He could still hear the heavy, irregular rapping behind him, but it had become confused with the throbbing in his head. "Put up your hands," he panted.
The third man, still backing away, placed his arms in a position of defence, and Van Bibber beat them down savagely, and caught him by the throat and pounded him until his arm was tired, and he had to drop him at his feet.
As he turned dizzily, he heard a sharp answering rap down the street, and saw coming towards him the burly figure of a policeman running heavily and throwing his night-stick in front of him by its leather thong, so that it struck reverberating echoes out of the pavement.
And then he saw to his amazement that Miss Cuyler was still with him, standing by the curb and beating it with his heavy walking-stick as calmly as though she were playing golf, and looking keenly up and down the street for possible aid. Van Bibber gazed at her with breathless admiration.
"Good heavens!" he panted, "didn't I ask you please to go home?"
The policeman passed them and dived uncertainly down a dark area-way as one departing figure disappeared into the open doorway of a tenement, on his way to the roof, and the legs of another dodged between the line of drays.
"Where'd them fellows go?" gasped the officer, instantly reappearing up the steps of the basement.
"How should I know?" answered Van Bibber, and added, with ill-timed lightness, "they didn't leave any address." The officer stared at him with severe suspicion, and then disappeared again under one of the trucks.
"I am very, very much obliged to you, Miss Cuyler," Van Bibber said. He tried to raise his hat, but the efforts of the gentleman who had struck him from behind had been successful and the hat came off only after a wrench that made him wince.
"You were very brave," he went on. "And it was very good of you to stand by me. You won't mind my saying so, now, will you? But you gave the wrong rap. I hadn't time to tell you to change it." He mopped the back of his head tenderly with his handkerchief, and tried to smile cheerfully. "You see, you were giving the rap," he explained politely, "for a fire-engine; but it's of no consequence." Miss Cuyler came closer to him, and he saw that her face showed sudden anxiety.
"Mr. Van Bibber!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I didn't know it was you! I didn't know it was any one who knew me. What will you think?"
"I beg your pardon," said Van Bibber, blankly.
"You must not believe," she went on, quickly, "that I am subject to this sort of thing. Please do not imagine I am annoyed down here like this. It has never happened before. I was nursing a woman, and her son, who generally goes home with me, was kept at the works, and I thought I could risk getting back alone. You see," she explained, as Van Bibber's face showed he was still puzzled, "my people do not fancy my living down here; and if they should hear of this they would never consent to my remaining another day, and it means so much to me now."
"They need not hear of it," Van Bibber answered, sympathetically. "They certainly won't from me, if that's what you mean."
The officer had returned, and interrupted them brusquely. It seemed to him that he was not receiving proper attention.
"Say, what's wrong here?" he demanded. "Did that gang take anything off'n you."
"They did not," said Van Bibber. "They held me up, but they didn't take nothin' off'n of me."
The officer flushed uncomfortably, and was certain now that he was being undervalued. He surveyed the blood running down over Van Bibber's collar with a smile of malicious satisfaction.
"They done you up, any way," he suggested.
"Yes, they done me up," assented Van Bibber, cheerfully, "and if you'd come a little sooner they'd done you up too."
He stepped to Miss Cuyler's side, and they walked on down the street to the College Settlement in silence, the policeman following uncertainly in the rear.
"I haven't thanked you, Mr. Van Bibber," said Miss Cuyler. "It was really fine of you, and most exciting. You must be very strong. I can't imagine how you happened to be there, but it was most fortunate for me that you were. If you had not, I—"
"Oh, that's all right," said Van Bibber, hurriedly. "I haven't had so much fun without paying for it for a long time. Fun," he added, meditatively, "costs so much."
"And you will be so good, then, as not to speak of it," she said, as she gave him her hand at the door.
"Of course not. Why should I?" said Van Bibber, and then his face beamed and clouded again instantly. "But, oh," he begged, "I'm afraid I'll have to tell Travers! Oh, please let me tell Travers! I'll make him promise not to mention it, but it's too good a joke on him, when you think what he missed. You see," he added, hastily, "we were to have gone out together, and he forgot, as usual, and missed the whole thing, and he wasn't in it, and it will just about break his heart. He's always getting grinds on me," he went on, persuasively, "and now I've got this on him. You will really have to let me tell Travers."
Miss Cuyler looked puzzled and said "Certainly," though she failed to see why Mr. Travers should want his head broken, and then she thanked Van Bibber again and nodded to the officer and went in-doors.
The policeman, who had listened to the closing speeches, looked at Van Bibber with dawning admiration.
"Now then, officer," said Van Bibber, briskly, "which of the saloons around here break the law by keeping open after one? You probably know, and if you don't I'll have to take your number." And peace being in this way restored, the two disappeared together into the darkness to break the law.
Van Bibber told Travers about it the next morning, and Travers forgot he was not to mention it, and told the next man he met. By one o'clock the story had grown in his telling, and Van Bibber's reputation had grown with it.
Travers found three men breakfasting together at the club, and drew up a chair. "Have you heard the joke Van Bibber's got on me?" he asked, sadly, by way of introduction.
Wainwright was sitting at the next table with his back to them. He had just left the customs officers, and his wonder at the dirtiness of the streets and height of the buildings had given way to the pleasure of being home again, and before the knowledge that "old friends are best." He had meant to return again immediately as soon as he had arranged for the production of his play in New York; his second play was to be brought out in London in a month. But the heartiness of his friends' greetings, and the anxiety of men to be recognized who had been mere acquaintances hitherto, had touched and amused him. He was too young to be cynical over it, and he was glad, on the whole, that he had come back.
His mind was wide awake, and shifting from one pleasant thought to another, when he heard Travers's voice behind him raised impressively. "And they both went at Van hammer and tongs," he heard Travers say, "one in front and the other behind, kicking and striking all over the shop. And," continued Travers, interrupting himself suddenly with a shrill and anxious tone of interrogation, "where was I while this was going on? That's the pathetic part of it—where was I?" His voice rose to almost a shriek of disappointment. "I was sitting in a red-silk box listening to a red-silk opera with a lot of girls—that's what I was doing. I wasn't in it; I wasn't. I—"
"Well, never mind what you were doing," said one of the men, soothingly; "you weren't in it, as you say. Return to the libretto."
"Well," continued Travers, meekly, "let me see; where was I?"
"You were in a red-silk box," suggested one of the men, reaching for the coffee.
"Go on, Travers," said the first man. "The two men were kicking Van Bibber."
"Oh, yes," cried Travers. "Well, Van just threw the first fellow over his head, and threw him hard. He must have broken his ribs, for the second fellow tried to get away, and begged off, but Van wouldn't have it, and rushed him. He got the tough's head under his arm, and pummelled it till his arm ached, and then he threw him into the street, and asked if any other gentleman would like to try his luck. That's what Van did, and he told me not to tell any one, so I hope you will not mention it. But I had to tell you, because I want to know if you have ever met a harder case of hard luck than that. Think of it, will you? Think of me sitting there in a red-silk box listening to a—"
"What did the girl do?" interrupted one of the men.
"Oh, yes," said Travers, hastily; "that's the best part of it; that's the plot—the girl. Now, who do you think the girl was?" He looked around the table proudly, with the air of a man who is sure of his climax.
"How should I know?" one man said. "Some actress going home from the theatre, maybe—"
"No," said Travers. "It's a girl you all know." He paused impressively. "What would you say now," he went on, dropping his voice, "if I was to tell you it was Eleanore Cuyler?"
The three men looked up suddenly and at each other with serious concern. There was a moment's silence. "Well," said one of them, softly, "that is rather nasty."
"Now, what I want to know is," Travers ran on, elated at the sensation his narrative had made—"what I want to know is, where is that girl's mother, or sister, or brother? Have they anything to say? Has any one anything to say? Why, one of Eleanore Cuyler's little fingers is worth more than all the East and West Side put together; and she is to be allowed to run risks like—"
Wainwright pushed his chair back, and walked out of the room.
"See that fellow, quick," said Travers; "that's Wainwright who writes plays and things. He's a thoroughbred sport, too, and he just got back from London. It's in the afternoon papers."
Miss Cuyler was reading to Mrs. Lockmuller, who was old and bedridden and cross. Under the influence of Eleanore's low voice she frequently went to sleep, only to wake and demand ungratefully why the reading had stopped.
Miss Cuyler was very tired. It was close and hot, and her head ached a little, and the prospect across the roofs of the other tenements was not cheerful. Neither was the thought that she was to spend her summer making working-girls happy on a farm on Long Island.
She had grown sceptical as to working-girls, and of the good she did them—or any one else. It was all terribly dreary and forlorn, and she wished she could end it by putting her head on some broad shoulder and by being told that it didn't matter, and that she was not to blame if the world would be wicked and its people unrepentant and ungrateful. Corrigan, on the third floor, was drunk again and promised trouble. His voice ascended to the room in which she sat, and made her nervous, for she was feeling the reaction from the excitement of the night before. There were heavy footsteps on the stairs, and a child's shrill voice cried, "She's in there," and, suspecting it might be Corrigan, she looked up fearfully, and then the door opened and she saw the most magnificent and the handsomest being in the world. His magnificence was due to a Bond Street tailor, who had shown how very small a waist will go with very broad shoulders, and if he was handsome, that was the tan of a week at sea. But it was not the tan, nor the unusual length of his coat, that Eleanore saw, but the eager, confident look in his face—and all she could say was, "Oh, Mr. Wainwright," feebly.
Wainwright waved away all such trifling barriers as "Mister" and "Miss." He came towards her with his face stern and determined. "Eleanore," he said, "I have a hansom at the door, and I want you to come down and get into it."
Was this the young man she had been used to scold and advise and criticise? She looked at him wondering and happy. It seemed to rest her eyes just to see him, and she loved his ordering her so, until a flash of miserable doubt came over her that if he was confident, it was because he was not only sure of himself, but of some one else on the other side of the sea.
And all her pride came to her, and thankfulness that she had not shown him what his coming meant, and she said, "Did my mother send you? How did you come? Is anything wrong?"
He took her hand in one of his and put his other on top of it firmly. "Yes," he said. "Everything is wrong. But we'll fix all that."
He did not seem able to go on immediately, but just looked at her. "Eleanore," he said, "I have been a fool, all sorts of a fool. I came over here to go back again at once, and I am going back, but not alone. I have been alone too long. I had begun to fancy there was only one woman in the world until I came back, and then—something some man said proved to me there was another one, and that she was the only one, and that I—had come near losing her. I had tried to forget about her. I had tried to harden myself to her by thinking she had been hard to me. I said—she does not care for you as the woman you love must care for you, but it doesn't matter now whether she cares or not, for I love her so. I want her to come to me and scold me again, and tell me how unworthy I am, and make me good and true like herself, and happy. The rest doesn't count without her, it means nothing to me unless she takes it and keeps it in trust for me, and shares it with me." He had both her hands now, and was pressing them against the flowers in the breast of the long coat.
"Eleanore," he said, "I tried to tell you once of the one thing that would bring me back and you stopped me. Will you stop me now?"
She tried to look up at him, but she would not let him see the happiness in her face just then, and lowered it and gently said, "No, no."
It must have taken him a long time to tell it, for after he had driven them twice around the Park the driver of the hansom decided that he could ask eight dollars at the regular rates, and might even venture on ten, and the result showed that as a judge of human nature he was a success.
They were married in May, and Lord Lowes acted as best man, and his sister sent her warmest congratulations and a pair of silver candlesticks for the dinner-table, which Wainwright thought were very handsome indeed, but which Miss Cuyler considered a little showy. Van Bibber and Travers were ushers, and, indeed, it was Van Bibber himself who closed the door of the carriage upon them as they were starting forth after the wedding. Mrs. Wainwright said something to her husband, and he laughed and said, "Van, Mrs. Wainwright says she's much obliged."
"Yes?" said Van Bibber, pleased and eager, putting his head through the window of the carriage. "What for, Mrs. Wainwright—the chafing-dish? Travers gave half, you know."
And then Mrs. Wainwright said, "No; not for the chafing-dish."
And they drove off, laughing.
"Look at 'em," said Travers, morosely. "They don't think the wheels are going around, do they? They think it is just the earth revolving with them on top of it, and nobody else. We don't have to say 'please' to no one, not much! We can do just what we jolly well please, and dine when we please and wherever we please. You say to me, Travers, let's go to Pastor's to-night, and I say, I won't, and you say I won't go to the Casino, because I don't want to, and there you are, and all we have to do is to agree to go somewhere else."
"I wonder," said Van Bibber, dreamily, as he watched the carriage disappear down the avenue, "what brings a man to the proposing point?"
"Some other man," said Travers, promptly. "Some man he thinks has more to do for the girl than he likes."
"Who," persisted Van Bibber, innocently, "do you think was the man in that case?"
"How should I know?" exclaimed Travers, impatiently, waving away such unprofitable discussion with a sweep of his stick, and coming down to the serious affairs of life. "What I want to know is to what theatre we are going—that's what I want to know."
A RECRUIT AT CHRISTMAS
Young Lieutenant Claflin left the Brooklyn Navy-yard at an early hour, and arrived at the recruiting-office at ten o'clock. It was the day before Christmas, and even the Bowery, "the thieves' highway," had taken on the emblems and spirit of the season, and the young officer smiled grimly as he saw a hard-faced proprietor of a saloon directing the hanging of wreaths and crosses over the door of his palace and telling the assistant barkeeper to make the red holly berries "show up" better.
The cheap lodging-houses had trailed the green over their illuminated transoms, and even on Mott Street the Chinamen had hung up strings of evergreen over the doors of the joss-house and the gambling-house next door. And the tramps and good-for-nothings, just back from the Island, had an animated, expectant look, as though something certainly was going to happen.
Lieutenant Claflin nodded to Corporal Goddard at the door of the recruiting-office, and startled that veteran's rigidity, and kept his cotton-gloved hand at his visor longer than the Regulations required, by saying, "Wish you merry Christmas," as he jumped up the stairs.
The recruiting-office was a dull, blank-looking place, the view from the windows was not inspiring, and the sight of the plump and black-eyed Jewess in front of the pawn-shop across the street, who was a vision of delight to Corporal Goddard, had no attractions to the officer upstairs. He put on his blue jacket, with the black braid down the front, lighted a cigar, and wrote letters on every other than official matters, and forgot about recruits. He was to have leave of absence on Christmas, and though the others had denounced him for leaving the mess-table on that day, they had forgiven him when he explained that he was going to spend it with his people at home. The others had homes as far away as San Francisco and as far inland as Milwaukee, and some called the big ship of war home; but Claflin's people lived up in Connecticut, and he could reach them in a few hours. He was a very lucky man, the others said, and he felt very cheerful over it, and forgot the blank-looking office with its Rules and Regulations, and colored prints of uniforms, and models of old war-ships, and tin boxes of official documents which were to be filled out and sent to "the Honorable, the Secretary of the Navy."
Corporal Goddard on the stoop below shifted from one foot to the other, and chafed his gloved hands softly together to keep them warm. He had no time to write letters on unofficial writing-paper, nor to smoke cigars or read novels with his feet on a chair, with the choice of looking out at the queer stream of human life moving by below the window on the opposite side of the Bowery. He had to stand straight, which came easily to him now, and to answer questions and urge doubtful minds to join the ranks of the government's marines.
A drunken man gazed at Ogden's colored pictures of the American infantry, cavalry, and marine uniforms that hung before the door, and placed an unsteady finger on the cavalry-man's picture, and said he chose to be one of those. Corporal Goddard told him severely to be off and get sober and grow six inches before he thought of such a thing, and frowned him off the stoop.
Then two boys from the country asked about the service, and went off very quickly when they found they would have to remain in it for three years at least. A great many more stopped in front of the gay pictures and gazed admiringly at Corporal Goddard's bright brass buttons and brilliant complexion, which they innocently attributed to exposure to the sun on long, weary marches. But no one came to offer himself in earnest. At one o'clock Lieutenant Claflin changed his coat and went down-town to luncheon, and came back still more content and in feeling with the season, and lighted another cigar.
But just as he had settled himself comfortably he heard Corporal Goddard's step on the stairs and a less determined step behind him. He took his feet down from the rung of the other chair, pulled his undress jacket into place, and took up a pen.
Corporal Goddard saluted at the door and introduced with a wave of his hand the latest applicant for Uncle Sam's service. The applicant was as young as Lieutenant Claflin, and as good-looking; but he was dirty and unshaven, and his eyes were set back in the sockets, and his fingers twitched at his side. Lieutenant Claflin had seen many applicants in this stage. He called it the remorseful stage, and was used to it.
"Name?" said Lieutenant Claflin, as he pulled a printed sheet of paper towards him.
The applicant hesitated, then he said,
The Lieutenant noticed the hesitation, but he merely remarked to himself, "It's none of my business," and added, aloud, "Nationality?" and wrote United States before the applicant answered.
The applicant said he was unmarried, was twenty three years old, and had been born in New York City. Even Corporal Goddard knew this last was not so, but it was none of his business, either. He moved the applicant up against the wall under the measuring-rod, and brought it down on his head.
So he measured and weighed the applicant, and tested his eyesight with printed letters and bits of colored yarn, and the lieutenant kept tally on the sheet, and bit the end of his pen and watched the applicant's face. There were a great many applicants, and few were chosen, but none of them had quite the air about him which this one had. Lieutenant Claflin thought Corporal Goddard was just a bit too callous in the way he handled the applicant, and too peremptory in his questions; but he could not tell why Corporal Goddard treated them all in that way. Then the young officer noticed that the applicant's white face was flushing, and that he bit his lips when Corporal Goddard pushed him towards the weighing-machine as he would have moved a barrel of flour.
"You'll answer," said Lieutenant Claflin, glancing at the sheet. "Your average is very good. All you've got to do now is to sign this, and then it will be over." But he did not let go of the sheet in his hand, as he would have done had he wanted it over. Neither did the applicant move forward to sign.
"After you have signed this," said the young officer, keeping his eyes down on the paper before him, "you will have become a servant of the United States; you will sit in that other room until the office is closed for to-day, and then you will be led over to the Navy-yard and put into a uniform, and from that time on for three years you will have a number, the same number as the one on your musket. You and the musket will both belong to the government. You will clean and load the musket, and fight with it if God ever gives us the chance; and the government will feed you and keep you clean, and fight with you if needful."
The lieutenant looked up at the corporal and said, "You can go, Goddard," and the corporal turned on his heel and walked downstairs, wondering.
"You may spend the three years," continued the officer, still without looking at the applicant, "which are the best years of a young man's life, on the sea, visiting foreign ports, or you may spend it marching up and down the Brooklyn Navy-yard and cleaning brass-work. There are some men who are meant to clean brass-work and to march up and down in front of a stone arsenal, and who are fitted for nothing else. But to every man is given something which should tell him that he is put here to make the best of himself. Every man has that, even the men who are only fit to clean brass rods; but some men kill it, or try to kill it, in different ways, generally by rum. And they are as generally successful, if they keep the process up long enough. The government, of which I am a very humble representative, is always glad to get good men to serve her, but it seems to me (and I may be wrong, and I'm quite sure that I am speaking contrary to Regulations) that some of her men can serve her better in other ways than swabbing down decks. Now, you know yourself best. It may be that you are just the sort of man to stand up and salute the ladies when they come on board to see the ship, and to watch them from for'ard as they walk about with the officers. You won't be allowed to speak to them; you will be number 329 or 328, and whatever benefits a good woman can give a man will be shut off from you, more or less, for three years.
"And, on the other hand, it may be that there are some good women who could keep you on shore, and help you to do something more with yourself than to carry a musket. And, again, it may be that if you stayed on shore you would drink yourself more or less comfortably to death, and break somebody's heart. I can't tell. But if I were not a commissioned officer of the United States, and a thing of Rules and Regulations who can dance and wear a uniform, and a youth generally unfit to pose as an example, I would advise you not to sign this, but to go home and brace up and leave whiskey alone.
"Now, what shall we do?" said the young lieutenant, smiling; "shall we tear this up, or will you sign it?"
The applicant's lips were twitching as well as his hands now, and he rubbed his cuff over his face and smiled back.
"I'm much obliged to you," he said, nervously. "That sounds a rather flat thing to say, I know, but if you knew all I meant by it, though, it would mean enough. I've made a damned fool of myself in this city, but nothing worse. And it was a choice of the navy, where they'd keep me straight, or going to the devil my own way. But it won't be my own way now, thanks to you. I don't know how you saw how it was so quickly; but, you see, I have got a home back in Connecticut, and women that can help me there, and I'll go back to them and ask them to let me start in again where I was when I went away."
"That's good," said the young officer, cheerfully; "that's the way to talk. Tell me where you live in Connecticut, and I'll lend you the car-fare to get there. I'll expect it back with interest, you know," he said, laughing.
"Thank you," said the rejected applicant. "It's not so far but that I can walk, and I don't think you'd believe in me if I took money."
"Oh, yes, I would," said the lieutenant. "How much do you want?"
"Thank you, but I'd rather walk," said the other. "I can get there easily enough by to-morrow. I'll be a nice Christmas present, won't I?" he added, grimly.
"You'll do," said the young officer. "I fancy you'll be about as welcome a one as they'll get." He held out his hand and the other shook it, and walked out with his shoulders as stiff as those of Corporal Goddard.
Then he came back and looked into the room shyly. "I say," he said, hesitatingly. The lieutenant ran his hand down into his pocket. "You've changed your mind?" he asked, eagerly. "That's good. How much will you want?"
The rejected applicant flushed. "No, not that," he said. "I just came back to say—wish you a merry Christmas."
A PATRON OF ART
Young Carstairs and his wife had a studio at Fifty-seventh Street and Sixth Avenue, where Carstairs painted pictures and Mrs. Carstairs mended stockings and wrote letters home to her people in Vermont. Young Carstairs had had a picture in the Salon, and was getting one ready for the Academy, which he hoped to have accepted if he lived long enough to finish it. They were very poor. Not so poor that there was any thought of Carstairs starving to death, but there was at least a possibility that he would not be able to finish his picture in the studio, for which he could not pay the rent. He was very young and had no business to marry; but she was willing, and her people had an idea it would come out all right. They had only three hundred dollars left, and it was mid-winter.
Carstairs went out to sketch Broadway at One Hundred and Fifty-ninth Street, where it is more of a country road than anything else, and his hands almost froze while he was getting down the black lines of the bare trees, and the deep, irregular ruts in the road, where the mud showed through the snow. He intended to put a yellow sky behind this, and a house with smoke coming out of the chimney, and with red light shining through the window, and call it Winter.
A horse and buggy stopped just back of him, and he was conscious from the shadows on the snow that the driver was looking down from his perch.
Carstairs paid no attention to his spectator. He was used to working with Park policemen and nursery-maids looking over his shoulder and making audible criticisms or giggling hysterically. So he sketched on and became unconscious of the shadow falling on the snow in front of him; and when he looked up about a quarter of an hour later and noticed that the shadow was still there, he smiled at the tribute such mute attention paid his work. When the sketch was finished he leaned back and closed one eye, and moved his head from side to side and surveyed it critically. Then he heard a voice over his shoulder say, in sympathetic tones, "Purty good, isn't it?" He turned and smiled at his critic, and found him to be a fat, red-faced old gentleman, wrapped in a great fur coat with fur driving-gloves and fur cap.
"You didn't mind my watching you, did you?" asked the old gentleman.
Carstairs said no, he did not mind. The other said that it must be rather cold drawing in such weather, and Carstairs said yes, it was; but that you couldn't get winter and snow in June.
"Exactly," said the driver; "you've got to take it as it comes. How are you going back?"
Carstairs said he would walk to One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Street and take the elevated.
"You'd better get in here," said the older man. "Do you know anything about trotting?" Carstairs got in, and showed that he did know something about trotting by his comments on the mare in front of him. This seemed to please the old gentleman, and he beamed on Carstairs approvingly. He asked him a great many questions about his work, and told him that he owned several good pictures himself, but admitted that it was at his wife's and daughter's suggestion that he had purchased them. "They made me get 'em when we were in Paris," he said, "and they cost a lot of money, and a heap more before I got 'em through the Custom-house." He mentioned the names of the artists who had painted them, and asked Carstairs if he had ever heard of them, and Carstairs said yes, that he knew of them all, and had studied under some of them.
"They're purty high up, I guess," suggested the driver, tentatively.
"Oh, yes," Carstairs answered, lending himself to the other's point of view, "you needn't be afraid of ever losing on your investment. Those pictures will be worth more every year."
This seemed to strike the older man as a very sensible way to take his gallery, and he said, when they had reached the studio, that he would like to see more of Mr. Carstairs and to look at his pictures. His name, he said, was Cole. Carstairs smilingly asked him if he was any relation to the railroad king, of whom the papers spoke as King Cole, and was somewhat embarrassed when the old gentleman replied, gravely, that he was that King Cole himself. Carstairs had a humorous desire to imprison him in his studio and keep him for ransom. Some one held the horse, and the two men went up to the sixth floor and into Carstairs's studio, where they discovered pretty Mrs. Carstairs in the act of sewing a new collar-band on one of her husband's old shirts. She went on at this while the railroad king, who seemed a very simple, kindly old gentleman, wandered around the studio and turned over the pictures, but made no comment. It had been a very cold drive, and Carstairs felt chilled, so he took the hot water his wife had for her tea and some Scotch whiskey and a bit of lemon, and filled a glass with it for his guest and for himself. Mrs. Carstairs rose and put some sugar in King Cole's glass and stirred it for him, and tasted it out of the spoon and coughed, which made the old gentleman laugh. Then he lighted a cigar, and sat back in a big arm-chair and asked many questions, until, before they knew it, the young people had told him a great deal about themselves—almost everything except that they were poor. He could never guess that, they thought, because the studio was so handsomely furnished and in such a proper neighborhood. It was late in the afternoon, and quite dark, when their guest departed, without having made any comment on the paintings he had seen, and certainly without expressing any desire to purchase one.
Mrs. Carstairs said, when her husband told her who their guest had been, that they ought to have held a pistol to his head and made him make out a few checks for them while they had him about. "Billionaires don't drop in like that every day," said she. "I really don't think we appreciated our opportunity."
They were very much surprised a few days later when the railroad king rang at the door, and begged to be allowed to come in and get warm, and to have another glass of hot Scotch. He did this very often, and they got to like him very much. He said he did not care for his club, and his room at home was too strongly suggestive of the shop, on account of the big things he had thought over there, but that their studio was so bright and warm; and they reminded him, he said, of the days when he was first married, before he was rich. They tried to imagine what he was like when he was first married, and failed utterly. Mrs. Carstairs was quite sure he was not at all like her husband.
* * * * *
There was a youth who came to call on the Misses Cole, who had a great deal of money, and who was a dilettante in art. He had had a studio in Paris, where he had spent the last two years, and he wanted one, so he said at dinner one day, in New York.
Old Mr. Cole was seated but one place away from him, and was wondering when the courses would stop and he could get upstairs. He did not care for the dinners his wife gave, but she always made him come to them. He never could remember whether the roast came before or after the bird, and he was trying to guess how much longer it would be before he would be allowed to go, when he overheard the young man at his daughter's side speaking.
"The only studio in the building that I would care to have," said the young man, "is occupied at present. A young fellow named Carstairs has it, but he is going to give it up next week, when I will move in. He has not been successful in getting rid of his pictures, and he and his wife are going back to Vermont to live. I feel rather sorry for the chap, for he is really very clever and only needs a start. It is almost impossible for a young artist to get on here, I imagine, unless he knows people, or unless some one who is known buys his work."
"Yes," said Miss Cole, politely. "Didn't you say you met the Whelen girls before you left Paris? Were they really such a success at Homburg?"
Mr. Cole did not eat any more dinner, but sat thoughtfully until he was allowed to go. Then he went out into the hall, and put on his overcoat and hat.
The Carstairses were dismantling the studio. They had been at it all day, and they were very tired. It seemed so much harder work to take the things down and pack them away than it did to unpack them and put them up in appropriate corners and where they would show to the best advantage.
The studio looked very bare indeed, for the rugs and altar cloths and old curtains had been stripped from the walls, and the pictures and arms and plaques lay scattered all over the floor. It was only a week before Christmas, and it seemed a most inappropriate time to evict one's self. "And it's hardest," said Carstairs, as he rolled up a great Daghestan rug and sat on it, "to go back and own up that you're a failure."
"A what!" cried young Mrs. Carstairs, indignantly. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself? You're not a failure. It's the New Yorkers who don't know what's good when it's shown them. They'll buy all those nasty French pictures because they're expensive and showy, and they can't understand what's true and good. They're not educated up to it, and they won't be for fifty years yet."
"Fifty years is a long time to wait," said her husband, resignedly, "but if necessary we can give them that much time. And we were to have gone abroad, and taken dinner at Bignon's, and had a studio in Montmartre."
"Well, you needn't talk about that just now," said Mrs. Carstairs, as she shook out an old shawl. "It's not cheerful."
There came a knock at the door, and the railroad king walked in, covered with snow. "Goodness me!" exclaimed King Cole, "what are you doing?"
They told him they were going back to Vermont to spend Christmas and the rest of the winter.
"You might have let me know you were going," said the king. "I had something most important to say to you, and you almost gave me the slip."
He seated himself very comfortably and lighted a fat, black cigar, which he chewed as he smoked. "You know," he said, "that I was brought up in Connecticut. I own the old homestead there still, and a tenant of mine lives in it. I've got a place in London, or, I mean, my wife has, and one in Scotland, and one in Brittany, a chateau, and one in—well, I've a good many here and there. I keep 'em closed till I want 'em. I've never been to the shooting-place in Scotland—my sons go there—nor to the London house, but I have to the French place, and I like it next best to only one other place on earth. Because it's among big trees and on a cliff, where you can see the ships all day, and the girls in colored petticoats catching those little fish you eat with brown bread. I go there in the summer and sit on the cliff, and smoke and feel just as good as though I owned the whole coast and all the sea in sight. I bought a number of pictures of Brittany, and the girls had the place photographed by a fellow from Paris, with the traps in the front yard, and themselves and their friends on the front terrace in groups. But it never seemed to me to be just what I remembered of the place. And so what I want to ask is, if you'll go up to my old place in Connecticut and paint me a picture of it as I used to know it when I was a boy, so that I can have it by me in my room. A picture with the cow-path leading up from the pool at the foot of the hill, and the stone walls, and the corn piled on the fields, and the pumpkins lying around, and the sun setting behind the house. Paint it on one of these cold, snappy afternoons, when your blood tingles and you feel good that you're alive. And when you get through with that, I'd like you to paint me a picture to match it of the chateau, and as many little sketches of the fishermen, and the girls with the big white hats and bare legs and red petticoats, as you choose. You can live in the homestead till that picture's done, and then you can cross over and live in the chateau.
"I don't see that there is anything wrong in painting a picture to order, is there? You paint a portrait to order, why shouldn't you paint an old house, or a beautiful castle on a cliff, with the sea beyond it? If you wish, I'll close with you now and call it a bargain."
Mrs. Carstairs had been standing all this time with an unframed picture in one hand, and a dust brush in the other, and her husband had been sitting on the rolled-up Turkish rug and trying not to look at her.
"I'd like to do it very well," he said, simply.
"Well, that's good," replied the railroad king, heartily. "You'll need a retaining fee, I suppose, like lawyers do; and you put your best work on the two pictures and remember what they mean to me, and put the spirit of home into them. It's my home you're painting, do you understand? I think you do. That's why I asked you instead of asking any of the others. Now, you know how I feel about it, and you put the feeling into the picture; and as to the price, you ask whatever you please, and you live at my houses and at my expense until the work is done. If I don't see you again," he said, as he laid a check down on the table among the brushes and paint tubes and cigars, "I will wish you a merry Christmas." Then he hurried out and banged the door behind him and escaped their thanks, and left them alone together.
The pictures of Breton life and landscape were exhibited a year later in Paris, and in the winter in New York, and, as they bore the significant numerals of the Salon on the frame, they were immediately appreciated, and many people asked the price. But the attendant said they were already sold to Mr. Cole, the railroad king, who had purchased also the great artistic success of the exhibition—an old farm-house with a wintry landscape, and the word "Home" printed beneath it.
ANDY M'GEE'S CHORUS GIRL
Andy M'Gee was a fireman, and was detailed every evening to theatre duty at the Grand Opera House, where the Ada Howard Burlesque and Comic Opera Company was playing "Pocahontas." He had nothing to do but to stand in the first entrance and watch the border lights and see that the stand lights in the wings did not set fire to the canvas. He was a quiet, shy young man, very strong-looking and with a handsome boyish face. Miss Agnes Carroll was the third girl from the right in the first semi-circle of amazons, and very beautiful. By rights she should have been on the end, but she was so proud and haughty that she would smile but seldom, and never at the men in front. Brady, the stage manager, who was also the second comedian, said that a girl on the end should at least look as though she were enjoying herself, and though he did not expect her to talk across the footlights, she might at least look over them once in a while, just to show there was no ill feeling. Miss Carroll did not agree with him in this, and so she was relegated to the third place, and another girl who was more interested in the audience and less in the play took her position. When Miss Carroll was not on the stage she used to sit on the carpeted steps of the throne, which were not in use after the opening scene, and read novels by the Duchess, or knit on a pair of blue woollen wristlets, which she kept wrapped up in a towel and gave to the wardrobe woman to hold when she went on. One night there was a quicker call than usual, owing to Ada Howard's failing to get her usual encore for her waltz song, and Brady hurried them. The wardrobe woman was not in sight, so Agnes handed her novel and her knitting to M'Gee and said: "Will you hold these for me until I come off?" She looked at him for the first time as she handed him the things, and he felt, as he had felt several times before, that her beauty was of a distinctly disturbing quality. There was something so shy about her face when she was not on the stage, and something so kindly, that he stood holding the pieces of blue wool, still warm from her hands, without moving from the position he had held when she gave them to him. When she came off he gave them back to her and touched the visor of his cap as she thanked him. One of the other beautiful amazons laughed and whispered, "Agnes has a mash on the fire laddie," which made the retiring Mr. M'Gee turn very red. He did not dare to look and see what effect it had on Miss Carroll. But the next evening he took off his hat to her, and she said "Good-evening," quite boldly. After that he watched her a great deal. He thought he did it in such a way that she did not see him, but that was only because he was a man; for the other women noticed it at once, and made humorous comments on it when they were in the dressing-rooms.
Old man Sanders, who had been in the chorus of different comic-opera companies since he was twenty years old, and who was something of a pessimist, used to take great pleasure in abusing the other members of the company to Andy M'Gee, and in telling anecdotes concerning them which were extremely detrimental to their characters. He could not find anything good to say of any of them, and M'Gee began to believe that the stage was a very terrible place indeed. He was more sorry for this, and he could not at first understand why, until he discovered that he was very much interested in Miss Agnes Carroll, and her character was to him a thing of great and poignant importance. He often wished to ask old Sanders about her, but he was afraid to do so, partly because he thought he ought to take it for granted that she was a good girl, and partly because he was afraid Sanders would tell him she was not. But one night as she passed them, as proud and haughty looking as ever, old Sanders grunted scornfully, and M'Gee felt that he was growing very red.
"Now, there is a girl," said the old man, "who ought to be out of this business. She's too good for it, and she'll never get on in it. Not that she couldn't keep straight and get on, but because she is too little interested in it, and shows no heart in the little she has to do. She can sing a little bit, but she can't do the steps."
"Then why does she stay in it?" said Andy M'Gee.
"Well, they tell me she's got a brother to support. He's too young or too lazy to work, or a cripple or something. She tried giving singing lessons, but she couldn't get any pupils, and now she supports herself and her brother with this."
Andy M'Gee felt a great load lifted off his mind. He became more and more interested in Miss Agnes Carroll, and he began to think up little speeches to make to her, which were intended to show how great his respect for her was, and what an agreeable young person he might be if you only grew to know him. But she never grew to know him. She always answered him very quietly and very kindly, but never with any show of friendliness or with any approach to it, and he felt that he would never know her any better than he did on the first night she spoke to him. But three or four times he found her watching him, and he took heart at this and from something he believed he saw in her manner and in the very reticence she showed. He counted up how much of his pay he had saved, and concluded that with it and with what he received monthly he could very well afford to marry. When he decided on this he became more devoted to her, and even the girls stopped laughing about it now. They saw it was growing very serious indeed.
One afternoon there was a great fire, and he and three others fell from the roof and were burned a bit, and the boy ambulance surgeon lost his head and said they were seriously injured, which fact got into the afternoon papers, and when Andy turned up as usual at the Opera House there was great surprise and much rejoicing. And the next day one of the wounded firemen who had had to remain in the hospital overnight told Andy that a most beautiful lady had come there and asked to see him and had then said: "This is not the man; the papers said Mr. M'Gee was hurt." She had refused to tell her name, but had gone away greatly relieved.
Andy dared to think that this had been Agnes Carroll, and that night he tried to see her to speak to her, but she avoided him and went at once to her dressing-room whenever she was off the stage. But Andy was determined to speak to her, and waited for her at the stage door, instead of going back at once to the engine house to make out his report, which was entirely wrong, and which cost him a day's pay. It was Tuesday night, and salaries had just been given all around, and the men and girls left the stage door with the envelopes in their hands and discussing the different restaurants at which they would fitly celebrate the weekly walk of the ghost. Agnes came out among the last, veiled, and moving quickly through the crowd of half-grown boys, and men about town, and poor relations who lay in wait and hovered around the lamp over the stage door like moths about a candle. Andy stepped forward quickly to follow her, but before he could reach her side a man stepped up to her, and she stopped and spoke to him in a low tone and retreated as she spoke. Andy heard him, with a sharp, jealous doubt in his heart, and stood still. Then the man reached for the envelope in the girl's hand and said, "Give it to me, do you hear?" and she drew back and started to run, but he seized her arm. Then Andy jumped at him and knocked him down, and picked him up again by the collar and beat him over the head. "Stop!" the girl cried. "Stop!"
"Stop like—," said Andy.
"Stop! do you hear?" cried the woman again "He has a right to the money. He is my husband."
Andy asked to be taken off theatre duty, and the captain did what he asked. After that he grew very morose and unhappy, and was as cross and disagreeable as he could be; so that the other men said they would like to thrash him just once. But when there was a fire he acted like another man, and was so reckless that the captain, mistaking foolhardiness for bravery, handed in his name for promotion, and as his political backing was very strong, he was given the white helmet and became foreman of another engine-house. But he did not seem to enjoy life any the more, and he was most unpopular. The winter passed away and the summer came, and one day on Fifth Avenue Andy met old man Sanders, whom he tried to avoid, because the recollections he brought up were bitter ones; but Sanders buttonholed him and told him he had been reading about his getting the Bennett medal, and insisted on his taking a drink with him.
"And, by the way," said Sanders, just as Andy thought he had finally succeeded in shaking him off, "do you remember Agnes Carroll? It seems she was married to a drunken, good-for-nothing lout, who beat her. Well, he took a glass too much one night, and walked off a ferry-boat into the East River. Drink is a terrible thing, isn't it? They say the paddle-wheels knocked the—"
"And his wife?" gasped Andy.
"She's with us yet," said Sanders. "We're at the Bijou this week. Come in and see the piece."
Brady, the stage manager, waved a letter at the acting manager.
"Letter from Carroll," he said. "Sends in her notice. Going to leave the stage, she says; going to get married again. She was a good girl," he added with a sigh, "and she sang well enough, but she couldn't do the dance steps a little bit."
A LEANDER OF THE EAST RIVER
"Hefty" Burke was one of the best swimmers in the East River. There was no regular way open for him to prove this, as the gentlemen of the Harlem boat-clubs, under whose auspices the annual races were given, called him a professional, and would not swim against him. "They won't keep company with me on land," Hefty complained, bitterly, "and they can't keep company with me in the water; so I lose both ways." Young Burke held these gentlemen of the rowing clubs in great contempt, and their outriggers and low-necked and picturesque rowing clothes as well. They were fond of lying out of the current, with the oars pulled across at their backs for support, smoking and commenting audibly upon the other oarsmen who passed them by perspiring uncomfortably, and conscious that they were being criticised. Hefty said that these amateur oarsmen and swimmers were only pretty boys, and that he could give them two hundred yards start in a mile of rough or smooth water and pass them as easily as a tug passes a lighter.
He was quite right in this latter boast; but, as they would call him a professional and would not swim against him, there was no way for him to prove it. His idea of a race and their idea of a race differed. They had a committee to select prizes and open a book for entries, and when the day of the races came they had a judges' boat with gay bunting all over it, and a badly frightened referee and a host of reporters, and police boats to keep order. But when Hefty swam, his two backers, who had challenged some other young man through a sporting paper, rowed in a boat behind him and yelled and swore directions, advice, warnings, and encouragement at him, and in their excitement drank all of the whiskey that had been intended for him. And the other young man's backers, who had put up ten dollars on him, and a tugboat filled with other rough young men, kegs of beer, and three Italians with two fiddles and one harp, followed close in the wake of the swimmers. It was most exciting, and though Hefty never had any prizes to show for it, he always came in first, and so won a great deal of local reputation. He also gained renown as a life-saver; for if it had not been for him many a venturesome lad would have ended his young life in the waters of the East River.
For this he received ornate and very thin gold medals, with very little gold spread over a large extent of medal, from grateful parents and admiring friends. These were real medals, and given to him, and not paid for by himself as were "Rags" Raegan's, who always bought himself a medal whenever he assaulted a reputable citizen and the case was up before the Court of General Sessions. It was the habit of Mr. Raegan's friends to fall overboard for him whenever he was in difficulty of this sort, and allow themselves to be saved, and to present Raegan with the medal he had prepared; and this act of heroism would get into the papers, and Raegan's lawyer would make the most of it before the judges. Rags had been Hefty's foremost rival among the swimmers of the East Side, but since the retirement of the former into reputable and private life Hefty was the acknowledged champion of the river front.
Hefty was not at all a bad young man—that is, he did not expect his people to support him—and he worked occasionally, especially about election time, and what he made in bets and in backing himself to swim supplied him with small change. Then he fell in love with Miss Casey, and the trouble and happiness of his life came to him hand and hand together; and as this human feeling does away with class distinctions, I need not feel I must apologize for him any longer, but just tell his story.
He met her at the Hon. P.C. McGovern's Fourth Ward Association's excursion and picnic, at which he was one of the twenty-five vice-presidents. On this occasion Hefty had jumped overboard after one of the Rag Gang whom the members of the Half-Hose Social Club had, in a spirit of merriment, dropped over the side of the boat. This action and the subsequent rescue and ensuing intoxication of the half-drowned member of the Rag Gang had filled Miss Casey's heart with admiration, and she told Hefty he was a good one and ought to be proud of himself.