All at once she flung off her roses and dropped into a chair.
"I will not go down to-night," she cried. "You and Aunt Wess' must make out to receive Mr. Jadwin. I simply will not see any one to-night, Mr. Jadwin least of all. Tell him I'm gone to bed sick—which is the truth, I am going to bed, my head is splitting."
All persuasion, entreaty, or cajolery availed nothing. Neither Page nor Aunt Wess' could shake her decision. At last Page hazarded a remonstrance to the effect that if she had known that Laura was not going to be at dinner she would not have taken such pains with her own toilet.
Promptly thereat Laura lost her temper.
"I do declare, Page," she exclaimed, "it seems to me that I get very little thanks for ever taking any interest in your personal appearance. There is not a girl in Chicago—no millionaire's daughter—has any prettier gowns than you. I plan and plan, and go to the most expensive dressmakers so that you will be well dressed, and just as soon as I dare to express the desire to see you appear like a gentlewoman, I get it thrown in my face. And why do I do it? I'm sure I don't know. It's because I'm a poor weak, foolish, indulgent sister. I've given up the idea of ever being loved by you; but I do insist on being respected." Laura rose, stately, severe. It was the "grand manner" now, unequivocally, unmistakably. "I do insist upon being respected," she repeated. "It would be wrong and wicked of me to allow you to ignore and neglect my every wish. I'll not have it, I'll not tolerate it."
Page, aroused, indignant, disdained an answer, but drew in her breath and held it hard, her lips tight pressed.
"It's all very well for you to pose, miss," Laura went on; "to pose as injured innocence. But you understand very well what I mean. If you don't love me, at least I shall not allow you to flout me—deliberately, defiantly. And it does seem strange," she added, her voice beginning to break, "that when we two are all alone in the world, when there's no father or mother—and you are all I have, and when I love you as I do, that there might be on your part—a little consideration—when I only want to be loved for my own sake, and not—and not—when I want to be, oh, loved—loved—loved—"
The two sisters were in each other's arms by now, and Page was crying no less than Laura.
"Oh, little sister," exclaimed Laura, "I know you love me. I know you do. I didn't mean to say that. You must forgive me and be very kind to me these days. I know I'm cross, but sometimes these days I'm so excited and nervous I can't help it, and you must try to bear with me. Hark, there's the bell."
Listening, they heard the servant open the door, and then the sound of Jadwin's voice and the clank of his cane in the porcelain cane rack. But still Laura could not be persuaded to go down. No, she was going to bed; she had neuralgia; she was too nervous to so much as think. Her gown was "Dutchy." And in the end, so unshakable was her resolve, that Page and her aunt had to sit through the dinner with Jadwin and entertain him as best they could.
But as the coffee was being served the three received a genuine surprise. Laura appeared. All her finery was laid off. She wore the simplest, the most veritably monastic, of her dresses, plain to the point of severity. Her hands were bare of rings. Not a single jewel, not even the most modest ornament relieved her sober appearance. She was very quiet, spoke in a low voice and declared she had come down only to drink a glass of mineral water and then to return at once to her room.
As a matter of fact, she did nothing of the kind. The others prevailed upon her to take a cup of coffee. Then the dessert was recalled, and, forgetting herself in an animated discussion with Jadwin as to the name of their steam yacht, she ate two plates of wine jelly before she was aware. She expressed a doubt as to whether a little salad would do her good, and after a vehement exhortation from Jadwin, allowed herself to be persuaded into accepting a sufficiently generous amount.
"I think a classical name would be best for the boat," she declared. "Something like 'Arethusa' or 'The Nereid.'"
They rose from the table and passed into the library. The evening was sultry, threatening a rain-storm, and they preferred not to sit on the "stoop." Jadwin lit a cigar; he still wore his business clothes—the inevitable "cutaway," white waistcoat, and grey trousers of the middle-aged man of affairs.
"Oh, call her the 'Artemis,'" suggested Page.
"Well now, to tell the truth," observed Jadwin, "those names look pretty in print; but somehow I don't fancy them. They're hard to read, and they sound somehow frilled up and fancy. But if you're satisfied, Laura—"
"I knew a young man once," began Aunt Wess', "who had a boat—that was when we lived at Kenwood and Mr. Wessels belonged to the 'Farragut'—and this young man had a boat he called 'Fanchon.' He got tipped over in her one day, he and the three daughters of a lady I knew well, and two days afterward they found them at the bottom of the lake, all holding on to each other; and they fetched them up just like that in one piece. The mother of those girls never smiled once since that day, and her hair turned snow white. That was in 'seventy-nine. I remember it perfectly. The boat's name was 'Fanchon.'"
"But that was a sail boat, Aunt Wess'," objected Laura. "Ours is a steam yacht. There's all the difference in the world."
"I guess they're all pretty risky, those pleasure boats," answered Aunt Wess'. "My word, you couldn't get me to set foot on one."
Jadwin nodded his head at Laura, his eyes twinkling.
"Well, we'll leave 'em all at home, Laura, when we go," he said.
A little later one of Page's "young men" called to see her, and Page took him off into the drawing-room across the hall. Mrs. Wessels seized upon the occasion to slip away unobserved, and Laura and Jadwin were left alone.
"Well, my girl," began Jadwin, "how's the day gone with you?"
She had been seated at the centre table, by the drop light—the only light in the room—turning over the leaves of "The Age of Fable," looking for graceful and appropriate names for the yacht. Jadwin leaned over her and put his hand upon her shoulder.
"Oh, about the same as usual," she answered. "I told Page and Aunt Wess' this morning."
"What did they have to say?" Jadwin laid a soft but clumsy hand upon Laura's head, adding, "Laura, you have the most wonderful hair I ever saw."
"Oh, they were not surprised. Curtis, don't, you are mussing me." She moved her head impatiently; but then smiling, as if to mitigate her abruptness, said, "It always makes me nervous to have my hair touched. No, they were not surprised; unless it was that we were to be married so soon. They were surprised at that. You know I always said it was too soon. Why not put it off, Curtis—until the winter?"
But he scouted this, and then, as she returned to the subject again, interrupted her, drawing some papers from his pocket.
"Oh, by the way," he said, "here are the sketch plans for the alterations of the house at Geneva. The contractor brought them to the office to-day. He's made that change about the dining-room."
"Oh," exclaimed Laura, interested at once, "you mean about building on the conservatory?"
"Hum—no," answered Jadwin a little slowly. "You see, Laura, the difficulty is in getting the thing done this summer. When we go up there we want everything finished, don't we? We don't want a lot of workmen clattering around. I thought maybe we could wait about that conservatory till next year, if you didn't mind."
Laura acquiesced readily enough, but Jadwin could see that she was a little disappointed. Thoughtful, he tugged his mustache in silence for a moment. Perhaps, after all, it could be arranged. Then an idea presented itself to him. Smiling a little awkwardly, he said:
"Laura, I tell you what. I'll make a bargain with you."
She looked up as he hesitated. Jadwin sat down at the table opposite her and leaned forward upon his folded arms.
"Do you know," he began, "I happened to think—Well, here's what I mean," he suddenly declared decisively. "Do you know, Laura, that ever since we've been engaged you've never—Well, you've never—never kissed me of your own accord. It's foolish to talk that way now, isn't it? But, by George! That would be—would be such a wonderful thing for me. I know," he hastened to add, "I know, Laura, you aren't demonstrative. I ought not to expect, maybe, that you— Well, maybe it isn't much. But I was thinking a while ago that there wouldn't be a sweeter thing imaginable for me than if my own girl would come up to me some time—when I wasn't thinking—and of her own accord put her two arms around me and kiss me. And—well, I was thinking about it, and—" He hesitated again, then finished abruptly with, "And it occurred to me that you never had."
Laura made no answer, but smiled rather indefinitely, as she continued to search the pages of the book, her head to one side.
"We'll call it a bargain. Some day—before very long, mind you—you are going to kiss me—that way, understand, of your own accord, when I'm not thinking of it; and I'll get that conservatory in for you. I'll manage it somehow. I'll start those fellows at it to-morrow—twenty of 'em if it's necessary. How about it? Is it a bargain? Some day before long. What do you say?"
Laura hesitated, singularly embarrassed, unable to find the right words.
"Is it a bargain?" persisted Jadwin.
"Oh, if you put it that way," she murmured, "I suppose so—yes."
"You won't forget, because I shan't speak about it again. Promise you won't forget."
"No, I won't forget. Why not call her the 'Thetis'?"
"I was going to suggest the 'Dart,' or the 'Swallow,' or the 'Arrow.' Something like that—to give a notion of speed."
"No. I like the 'Thetis' best."
"That settles it then. She's your steam yacht, Laura."
Later on, when Jadwin was preparing to depart, they stood for a moment in the hallway, while he drew on his gloves and took a fresh cigar from his case.
"I'll call for you here at about ten," he said. "Will that do?"
He spoke of the following morning. He had planned to take Page, Mrs. Wessels, and Laura on a day's excursion to Geneva Lake to see how work was progressing on the country house. Jadwin had set his mind upon passing the summer months after the marriage at the lake, and as the early date of the ceremony made it impossible to erect a new building, he had bought, and was now causing to be remodelled, an old but very well constructed house just outside of the town and once occupied by a local magistrate. The grounds were ample, filled with shade and fruit trees, and fronted upon the lake. Laura had never seen her future country home. But for the past month Jadwin had had a small army of workmen and mechanics busy about the place, and had managed to galvanise the contractors with some of his own energy and persistence. There was every probability that the house and grounds would be finished in time.
"Very well," said Laura, in answer to his question, "at ten we'll be ready. Good-night." She held out her hand. But Jadwin put it quickly aside, and took her swiftly and strongly into his arms, and turning her face to his, kissed her cheek again and again.
Laura submitted, protesting:
"Curtis! Such foolishness. Oh, dear; can't you love me without crumpling me so? Curtis! Please. You are so rough with me, dear."
She pulled away from him, and looked up into his face, surprised to find it suddenly flushed; his eyes were flashing.
"My God," he murmured, with a quick intake of breath, "my God, how I love you, my girl! Just the touch of your hand, the smell of your hair. Oh, sweetheart. It is wonderful! Wonderful!" Then abruptly he was master of himself again.
"Good-night," he said. "Good-night. God bless you," and with the words was gone.
They were married on the last day of June of that summer at eleven o'clock in the morning in the church opposite Laura's house—the Episcopalian church of which she was a member. The wedding was very quiet. Only the Cresslers, Miss Gretry, Page, and Aunt Wess' were present. Immediately afterward the couple were to take the train for Geneva Lake—Jadwin having chartered a car for the occasion.
But the weather on the wedding day was abominable. A warm drizzle, which had set in early in the morning, developed by eleven o'clock into a steady downpour, accompanied by sullen grumblings of very distant thunder.
About an hour before the appointed time Laura insisted that her aunt and sister should leave her. She would allow only Mrs. Cressler to help her. The time passed. The rain continued to fall. At last it wanted but fifteen minutes to eleven.
Page and Aunt Wess', who presented themselves at the church in advance of the others, found the interior cool, dark, and damp. They sat down in a front pew, talking in whispers, looking about them. Druggeting shrouded the reader's stand, the baptismal font, and bishop's chair. Every footfall and every minute sound echoed noisily from the dark vaulting of the nave and chancel. The janitor or sexton, a severe old fellow, who wore a skull cap and loose slippers, was making a great to-do with a pile of pew cushions in a remote corner. The rain drummed with incessant monotony upon the slates overhead, and upon the stained windows on either hand. Page, who attended the church regularly every Sunday morning, now found it all strangely unfamiliar. The saints in the windows looked odd and unecclesiastical; the whole suggestion of the place was uncanonical. In the organ loft a tuner was at work upon the organ, and from time to time the distant mumbling of the thunder was mingled with a sonorous, prolonged note from the pipes.
"My word, how it is raining," whispered Aunt Wess', as the pour upon the roof suddenly swelled in volume.
But Page had taken a prayer book from the rack, and kneeling upon a hassock was repeating the Litany to herself.
It annoyed Aunt Wess'. Excited, aroused, the little old lady was never more in need of a listener. Would Page never be through?
"And Laura's new frock," she whispered, vaguely. "It's going to be ruined."
Page, her lips forming the words, "Good Lord deliver us," fixed her aunt with a reproving glance. To pass the time Aunt Wess' began counting the pews, missing a number here and there, confusing herself, always obliged to begin over again. From the direction of the vestry room came the sound of a closing door. Then all fell silent again. Even the shuffling of the janitor ceased for an instant.
"Isn't it still?" murmured Aunt Wess', her head in the air. "I wonder if that was them. I heard a door slam. They tell me that the rector has been married three times." Page, unheeding and demure, turned a leaf, and began with "All those who travel by land or water." Mr. Cressler and young Miss Gretry appeared. They took their seats behind Page and Aunt Wess', and the party exchanged greetings in low voices. Page reluctantly laid down her prayer book.
"Laura will be over soon," whispered Mr. Cressler. "Carrie is with her. I'm going into the vestry room. J. has just come." He took himself off, walking upon his tiptoes.
Aunt Wess' turned to Page, repeating:
"Do you know they say this rector has been married three times?"
But Page was once more deep in her prayer book, so the little old lady addressed her remark to the Gretry girl.
This other, however, her lips tightly compressed, made a despairing gesture with her hand, and at length managed to say:
"Why, heavens, child, whatever is the matter?"
"Makes them worse—when I open my mouth—I've got the hiccoughs."
Aunt Wess' flounced back in her seat, exasperated, out of sorts.
"Well, my word," she murmured to herself, "I never saw such girls."
"Preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth," continued Page.
Isabel Gretry's hiccoughs drove Aunt Wess' into "the fidgets." They "got on her nerves." What with them and Page's uninterrupted murmur, she was at length obliged to sit in the far end of the pew, and just as she had settled herself a second time the door of the vestry room opened and the wedding party came out; first Mrs. Cressler, then Laura, then Jadwin and Cressler, and then, robed in billowing white, venerable, his prayer book in his hand, the bishop of the diocese himself. Last of all came the clerk, osseous, perfumed, a gardenia in the lapel of his frock coat, terribly excited, and hurrying about on tiptoe, saying "Sh! Sh!" as a matter of principle.
Jadwin wore a new frock coat and a resplendent Ascot scarf, which Mr. Cressler had bought for him and Page knew at a glance that he was agitated beyond all measure, and was keeping himself in hand only by a tremendous effort. She could guess that his teeth were clenched. He stood by Cressler's side, his head bent forward, his hands—the fingers incessantly twisting and untwisting—clasped behind his back. Never for once did his eyes leave Laura's face.
She herself was absolutely calm, only a little paler perhaps than usual; but never more beautiful, never more charming. Abandoning for this once her accustomed black, she wore a tan travelling dress, tailor made, very smart, a picture hat with heavy plumes set off with a clasp of rhinestones, while into her belt was thrust a great bunch of violets. She drew off her gloves and handed them to Mrs. Cressler. At the same moment Page began to cry softly to herself.
"There's the last of Laura," she whimpered. "There's the last of my dear sister for me."
Aunt Wess' fixed her with a distressful gaze. She sniffed once or twice, and then began fumbling in her reticule for her handkerchief.
"If only her dear father were here," she whispered huskily. "And to think that's the same little girl I used to rap on the head with my thimble for annoying the cat! Oh, if Jonas could be here this day."
"She'll never be the same to me after now," sobbed Page, and as she spoke the Gretry girl, hypnotised with emotion and taken all unawares, gave vent to a shrill hiccough, a veritable yelp, that woke an explosive echo in every corner of the building.
Page could not restrain a giggle, and the giggle strangled with the sobs in her throat, so that the little girl was not far from hysterics.
And just then a sonorous voice, magnificent, orotund, began suddenly from the chancel with the words:
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company to join together this Man and this Woman in holy matrimony."
Promptly a spirit of reverence, not to say solemnity, pervaded the entire surroundings. The building no longer appeared secular, unecclesiastical. Not in the midst of all the pomp and ceremonial of the Easter service had the chancel and high altar disengaged a more compelling influence. All other intrusive noises died away; the organ was hushed; the fussy janitor was nowhere in sight; the outside clamour of the city seemed dwindling to the faintest, most distant vibration; the whole world was suddenly removed, while the great moment in the lives of the Man and the Woman began.
Page held her breath; the intensity of the situation seemed to her, almost physically, straining tighter and tighter with every passing instant. She was awed, stricken; and Laura appeared to her to be all at once a woman transfigured, semi-angelic, unknowable, exalted. The solemnity of those prolonged, canorous syllables: "I require and charge you both, as ye shall answer at the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed," weighed down upon her spirits with an almost intolerable majesty. Oh, it was all very well to speak lightly of marriage, to consider it in a vein of mirth. It was a pretty solemn affair, after all; and she herself, Page Dearborn, was a wicked, wicked girl, full of sins, full of deceits and frivolities, meriting of punishment—on "that dreadful day of judgment." Only last week she had deceived Aunt Wess' in the matter of one of her "young men." It was time she stopped. To-day would mark a change. Henceforward, she resolved, she would lead a new life.
"God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost ..."
To Page's mind the venerable bishop's voice was filling all the church, as on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles received the Holy Ghost, the building was filled with a "mighty rushing wind."
She knelt down again, but could not bring herself to close her eyes completely. From under her lids she still watched her sister and Jadwin. How Laura must be feeling now! She was, in fact, very pale. There was emotion in Jadwin's eyes. Page could see them plainly. It seemed beautiful that even he, the strong, modern man-of-affairs, should be so moved. How he must love Laura. He was fine, he was noble; and all at once this fineness and nobility of his so affected her that she began to cry again. Then suddenly came the words:
"... That in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen."
There was a moment's silence, then the group about the altar rail broke up.
"Come," said Aunt Wess', getting to her feet, "it's all over, Page. Come, and kiss your sister—Mrs. Jadwin."
In the vestry room Laura stood for a moment, while one after another of the wedding party—even Mr. Cressler—kissed her. When Page's turn came, the two sisters held each other in a close embrace a long moment, but Laura's eyes were always dry. Of all present she was the least excited.
"Here's something," vociferated the ubiquitous clerk, pushing his way forward. "It was on the table when we came out just now. The sexton says a messenger boy brought it. It's for Mrs. Jadwin."
He handed her a large box. Laura opened it. Inside was a great sheaf of Jacqueminot roses and a card, on which was written:
"May that same happiness which you have always inspired in the lives and memories of all who know you be with you always.
"Yrs. S. C."
The party, emerging from the church, hurried across the street to the Dearborns' home, where Laura and Jadwin were to get their valises and hand bags. Jadwin's carriage was already at the door.
They all assembled in the parlor, every one talking at once, while the servants, bare-headed, carried the baggage down to the carriage.
"Oh, wait—wait a minute, I'd forgotten something," cried Laura.
"What is it? Here, I'll get it for you," cried Jadwin and Cressler as she started toward the door. But she waved them off, crying:
"No, no. It's nothing. You wouldn't know where to look."
Alone she ran up the stairs, and gained the second story; then paused a moment on the landing to get her breath and to listen. The rooms near by were quiet, deserted. From below she could hear the voices of the others—their laughter and gaiety. She turned about, and went from room to room, looking long into each; first Aunt Wess's bedroom, then Page's, then the "front sitting-room," then, lastly, her own room. It was still in the disorder caused by that eventful morning; many of the ornaments—her own cherished knick-knacks—were gone, packed and shipped to her new home the day before. Her writing-desk and bureau were bare. On the backs of chairs, and across the footboard of the bed, were the odds and ends of dress she was never to wear again.
For a long time Laura stood looking silently at the empty room. Here she had lived the happiest period of her life; not an object there, however small, that was not hallowed by association. Now she was leaving it forever. Now the new life, the Untried, was to begin. Forever the old days, the old life were gone. Girlhood was gone; the Laura Dearborn that only last night had pressed the pillows of that bed, where was she now? Where was the little black-haired girl of Barrington?
And what was this new life to which she was going forth, under these leaden skies, under this warm mist of rain? The tears—at last—were in her eyes, and the sob in her throat, and she found herself, as she leaned an arm upon the lintel of the door, whispering:
"Good-by. Good-by. Good-by."
Then suddenly Laura, reckless of her wedding finery, forgetful of trivialities, crossed the room and knelt down at the side of the bed. Her head in her folded arms, she prayed—prayed in the little unstudied words of her childhood, prayed that God would take care of her and make her a good girl; prayed that she might be happy; prayed to God to help her in the new life, and that she should be a good and loyal wife.
And then as she knelt there, all at once she felt an arm, strong, heavy even, laid upon her. She raised her head and looked—for the first time—direct into her husband's eyes.
"I knew—" began Jadwin. "I thought—Dear, I understand, I understand."
He said no more than that. But suddenly Laura knew that he, Jadwin, her husband, did "understand," and she discovered, too, in that moment just what it meant to be completely, thoroughly understood—understood without chance of misapprehension, without shadow of doubt; understood to her heart's heart. And with the knowledge a new feeling was born within her. No woman, not her dearest friend; not even Page had ever seemed so close to her as did her husband now. How could she be unhappy henceforward? The future was already brightening.
Suddenly she threw both arms around his neck, and drawing his face down to her, kissed him again and again, and pressed her wet cheek to his—tear-stained like her own.
"It's going to be all right, dear," he said, as she stood from him, though still holding his hand. "It's going to be all right."
"Yes, yes, all right, all right," she assented. "I never seemed to realise it till this minute. From the first I must have loved you without knowing it. And I've been cold and hard to you, and now I'm sorry, sorry. You were wrong, remember that time in the library, when you said I was undemonstrative. I'm not. I love you dearly, dearly, and never for once, for one little moment, am I ever going to allow you to forget it."
Suddenly, as Jadwin recalled the incident of which she spoke, an idea occurred to him.
"Oh, our bargain—remember? You didn't forget after all."
"I did. I did," she cried. "I did forget it. That's the very sweetest thing about it."
The months passed. Soon three years had gone by, and the third winter since the ceremony in St. James' Church drew to its close.
Since that day when—acting upon the foreknowledge of the French import duty—Jadwin had sold his million of bushels short, the price of wheat had been steadily going down. From ninety-three and ninety-four it had dropped to the eighties. Heavy crops the world over had helped the decline. No one was willing to buy wheat. The Bear leaders were strong, unassailable. Lower and lower sagged the price; now it was seventy-five, now seventy-two. From all parts of the country in solid, waveless tides wheat—the mass of it incessantly crushing down the price—came rolling in upon Chicago and the Board of Trade Pit. All over the world the farmers saw season after season of good crops. They were good in the Argentine Republic, and on the Russian steppes. In India, on the little farms of Burmah, of Mysore, and of Sind the grain, year after year, headed out fat, heavy, and well-favoured. In the great San Joaquin valley of California the ranches were one welter of fertility. All over the United States, from the Dakotas, from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois, from all the wheat belt came steadily the reports of good crops.
But at the same time the low price of grain kept the farmers poor. New mortgages were added to farms already heavily "papered"; even the crops were mortgaged in advance. No new farm implements were bought. Throughout the farming communities of the "Middle West" there were no longer purchases of buggies and parlour organs. Somewhere in other remoter corners of the world the cheap wheat, that meant cheap bread, made living easy and induced prosperity, but in the United States the poverty of the farmer worked upward through the cogs and wheels of the whole great machine of business. It was as though a lubricant had dried up. The cogs and wheels worked slowly and with dislocations. Things were a little out of joint. Wall Street stocks were down. In a word, "times were bad." Thus for three years. It became a proverb on the Chicago Board of Trade that the quickest way to make money was to sell wheat short. One could with almost absolute certainty be sure of buying cheaper than one had sold. And that peculiar, indefinite thing known—among the most unsentimental men in the world—as "sentiment," prevailed more and more strongly in favour of low prices. "The 'sentiment,'" said the market reports, "was bearish"; and the traders, speculators, eighth-chasers, scalpers, brokers, bucket-shop men, and the like—all the world of La Salle Street—had become so accustomed to these "Bear conditions," that it was hard to believe that they would not continue indefinitely.
Jadwin, inevitably, had been again drawn into the troubled waters of the Pit. Always, as from the very first, a Bear, he had once more raided the market, and had once more been successful. Two months after this raid he and Gretry planned still another coup, a deal of greater magnitude than any they had previously hazarded. Laura, who knew very little of her husband's affairs—to which he seldom alluded—saw by the daily papers that at one stage of the affair the "deal" trembled to its base.
But Jadwin was by now "blooded to the game." He no longer needed Gretry's urging to spur him. He had developed into a strategist, bold, of inconceivable effrontery, delighting in the shock of battle, never more jovial, more daring than when under stress of the most merciless attack. On this occasion, when the "other side" resorted to the usual tactics to drive him from the Pit, he led on his enemies to make one single false step. Instantly—disregarding Gretry's entreaties as to caution—Jadwin had brought the vast bulk of his entire fortune to bear, in the manner of a general concentrating his heavy artillery, and crushed the opposition with appalling swiftness.
He issued from the grapple triumphantly, and it was not till long afterward that Laura knew how near, for a few hours, he had been to defeat.
And again the price of wheat declined. In the first week in April, at the end of the third winter of Jadwin's married life, May wheat was selling on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade at sixty-four, the July option at sixty-five, the September at sixty-six and an eighth. During February of the same year Jadwin had sold short five hundred thousand bushels of May. He believed with Gretry and with the majority of the professional traders that the price would go to sixty.
March passed without any further decline. All through this month and through the first days of April Jadwin was unusually thoughtful. His short wheat gave him no concern. He was now so rich that a mere half-million bushels was not a matter for anxiety. It was the "situation" that arrested his attention.
In some indefinable way, warned by that blessed sixth sense that had made him the successful speculator he was, he felt that somewhere, at some time during the course of the winter, a change had quietly, gradually come about, that it was even then operating. The conditions that had prevailed so consistently for three years, were they now to be shifted a little? He did not know, he could not say. But in the plexus of financial affairs in which he moved and lived he felt—a difference.
For one thing "times" were better, business was better. He could not fail to see that trade was picking up. In dry goods, in hardware, in manufactures there seemed to be a different spirit, and he could imagine that it was a spirit of optimism. There, in that great city where the Heart of the Nation beat, where the diseases of the times, or the times' healthful activities were instantly reflected, Jadwin sensed a more rapid, an easier, more untroubled run of life blood. All through the Body of Things, money, the vital fluid, seemed to be flowing more easily. People seemed richer, the banks were lending more, securities seemed stable, solid. In New York, stocks were booming. Men were making money—were making it, spending it, lending it, exchanging it. Instead of being congested in vaults, safes, and cash boxes, tight, hard, congealed, it was loosening, and, as it were, liquefying, so that it spread and spread and permeated the entire community. The People had money. They were willing to take chances.
So much for the financial conditions.
The spring had been backward, cold, bitter, inhospitable, and Jadwin began to suspect that the wheat crop of his native country, that for so long had been generous, and of excellent quality, was now to prove—it seemed quite possible—scant and of poor condition. He began to watch the weather, and to keep an eye upon the reports from the little county seats and "centres" in the winter wheat States. These, in part, seemed to confirm his suspicions.
From Keokuk, in Iowa, came the news that winter wheat was suffering from want of moisture. Benedict, Yates' Centre, and Douglass, in southeastern Kansas, sent in reports of dry, windy weather that was killing the young grain in every direction, and the same conditions seemed to prevail in the central counties. In Illinois, from Quincy and Waterloo in the west, and from Ridgway in the south, reports came steadily to hand of freezing weather and bitter winds. All through the lower portions of the State the snowfall during the winter had not been heavy enough to protect the seeded grain. But the Ohio crop, it would appear, was promising enough, as was also that of Missouri. In Indiana, however, Jadwin could guess that the hopes of even a moderate yield were fated to be disappointed; persistent cold weather, winter continuing almost up to the first of April, seemed to have definitely settled the question.
But more especially Jadwin watched Nebraska, that State which is one single vast wheat field. How would Nebraska do, Nebraska which alone might feed an entire nation? County seat after county seat began to send in its reports. All over the State the grip of winter held firm even yet. The wheat had been battered by incessant gales, had been nipped and harried by frost; everywhere the young half-grown grain seemed to be perishing. It was a massacre, a veritable slaughter.
But, for all this, nothing could be decided as yet. Other winter wheat States, from which returns were as yet only partial, might easily compensate for the failures elsewhere, and besides all that, the Bears of the Board of Trade might keep the price inert even in face of the news of short yields. As a matter of fact, the more important and stronger Bear traders were already piping their usual strain. Prices were bound to decline, the three years, sagging was not over yet. They, the Bears, were too strong; no Bull news could frighten them. Somehow there was bound to be plenty of wheat. In face of the rumours of a short crop they kept the price inert, weak.
On the tenth of April came the Government report on the condition of winter wheat. It announced an average far below any known for ten years past. On March tenth the same bulletin had shown a moderate supply in farmers' hands, less than one hundred million bushels in fact, and a visible supply of less than forty millions.
The Bear leaders promptly set to work to discount this news. They showed how certain foreign conditions would more than offset the effect of a poor American harvest. They pointed out the fact that the Government report on condition was brought up only to the first of April, and that since that time the weather in the wheat belt had been favorable beyond the wildest hopes.
The April report was made public on the afternoon of the tenth of the month. That same evening Jadwin invited Gretry and his wife to dine at the new house on North Avenue; and after dinner, leaving Mrs. Gretry and Laura in the drawing-room, he brought the broker up to the billiard-room for a game of pool.
But when Gretry had put the balls in the triangle, the two men did not begin to play at once. Jadwin had asked the question that had been uppermost in the minds of each during dinner.
"Well, Sam," he had said, by way of a beginning, "what do you think of this Government report?"
The broker chalked his cue placidly.
"I expect there'll be a bit of reaction on the strength of it, but the market will go off again. I said wheat would go to sixty, and I still say it. It's a long time between now and May."
"I wasn't thinking of crop conditions only," observed Jadwin. "Sam, we're going to have better times and higher prices this summer."
Gretry shook his head and entered into a long argument to show that Jadwin was wrong.
But Jadwin refused to be convinced. All at once he laid the flat of his hand upon the table.
"Sam, we've touched bottom," he declared, "touched bottom all along the line. It's a paper dime to the Sub-Treasury."
"I don't care about the rest of the line," said the broker doggedly, sitting on the edge of the table, "wheat will go to sixty." He indicated the nest of balls with a movement of his chin. "Will you break?"
Jadwin broke and scored, leaving one ball three inches in front of a corner pocket. He called the shot, and as he drew back his cue he said, deliberately:
"Just as sure as I make this pocket wheat will—not go—off—another—cent."
With the last word he drove the ball home and straightened up. Gretry laid down his cue and looked at him quickly. But he did not speak. Jadwin sat down on one of the straight-backed chairs upon the raised platform against the wall and rested his elbows upon his knees.
"Sam," he said, "the time is come for a great big change." He emphasised the word with a tap of his cue upon the floor. "We can't play our game the way we've been playing it the last three years. We've been hammering wheat down and down and down, till we've got it below the cost of production; and now she won't go any further with all the hammering in the world. The other fellows, the rest of this Bear crowd, don't seem to see it, but I see it. Before fall we're going to have higher prices. Wheat is going up, and when it does I mean to be right there."
"We're going to have a dull market right up to the beginning of winter," persisted the other.
"Come and say that to me at the beginning of winter, then," Jadwin retorted. "Look here, Sam, I'm short of May five hundred thousand bushels, and to-morrow morning you are going to send your boys on the floor for me and close that trade."
"You're crazy, J.," protested the broker. "Hold on another month, and I promise you, you'll thank me."
"Not another day, not another hour. This Bear campaign of ours has come to an end. That's said and signed."
"Why, it's just in its prime," protested the broker. "Great heavens, you mustn't get out of the game now, after hanging on for three years."
"I'm not going to get out of it."
"Why, good Lord!" said Gretry, "you don't mean to say that—"
"That I'm going over. That's exactly what I do mean. I'm going to change over so quick to the other side that I'll be there before you can take off your hat. I'm done with a Bear game. It was good while it lasted, but we've worked it for all there was in it. I'm not only going to cover my May shorts and get out of that trade, but"—Jadwin leaned forward and struck his hand upon his knee—"but I'm going to buy. I'm going to buy September wheat, and I'm going to buy it to-morrow, five hundred thousand bushels of it, and if the market goes as I think it will later on, I'm going to buy more. I'm no Bear any longer. I'm going to boost this market right through till the last bell rings; and from now on Curtis Jadwin spells B-u-double l—Bull."
"They'll slaughter you," said Gretry, "slaughter you in cold blood. You're just one man against a gang—a gang of cutthroats. Those Bears have got millions and millions back of them. You don't suppose, do you, that old man Crookes, or Kenniston, or little Sweeny, or all that lot would give you one little bit of a chance for your life if they got a grip on you. Cover your shorts if you want to, but, for God's sake, don't begin to buy in the same breath. You wait a while. If this market has touched bottom, we'll be able to tell in a few days. I'll admit, for the sake of argument, that just now there's a pause. But nobody can tell whether it will turn up or down yet. Now's the time to be conservative, to play it cautious."
"If I was conservative and cautious," answered Jadwin, "I wouldn't be in this game at all. I'd be buying U.S. four percents. That's the big mistake so many of these fellows down here make. They go into a game where the only ones who can possibly win are the ones who take big chances, and then they try to play the thing cautiously. If I wait a while till the market turns up and everybody is buying, how am I any the better off? No, sir, you buy the September option for me to-morrow—five hundred thousand bushels. I deposited the margin to your credit in the Illinois Trust this afternoon."
There was a long silence. Gretry spun a ball between his fingers, top-fashion.
"Well," he said at last, hesitatingly, "well—I don't know, J.—you are either Napoleonic—or—or a colossal idiot."
"Neither one nor the other, Samuel. I'm just using a little common sense.... Is it your shot?"
"I'm blessed if I know."
"Well, we'll start a new game. Sam, I'll give you six balls and beat you in"—he looked at his watch—"beat you before half-past nine."
"For a dollar?"
"I never bet, Sam, and you know it."
Half an hour later Jadwin said:
"Shall we go down and join the ladies? Don't put out your cigar. That's one bargain I made with Laura before we moved in here—that smoking was allowable everywhere."
"Room enough, I guess," observed the broker, as the two stepped into the elevator. "How many rooms have you got here, by the way?"
"Upon my word, I don't know," answered Jadwin. "I discovered a new one yesterday. Fact. I was having a look around, and I came out into a little kind of smoking-room or other that, I swear, I'd never seen before. I had to get Laura to tell me about it."
The elevator sank to the lower floor, and Jadwin and the broker stepped out into the main hallway. From the drawing-room near by came the sound of women's voices.
"Before we go in," said Jadwin, "I want you to see our art gallery and the organ. Last time you were up, remember, the men were still at work in here."
They passed down a broad corridor, and at the end, just before parting the heavy, sombre curtains, Jadwin pressed a couple of electric buttons, and in the open space above the curtain sprang up a lambent, steady glow.
The broker, as he entered, gave a long whistle. The art gallery took in the height of two of the stories of the house. It was shaped like a rotunda, and topped with a vast airy dome of coloured glass. Here and there about the room were glass cabinets full of bibelots, ivory statuettes, old snuff boxes, fans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The walls themselves were covered with a multitude of pictures, oils, water-colours, with one or two pastels.
But to the left of the entrance, let into the frame of the building, stood a great organ, large enough for a cathedral, and giving to view, in the dulled incandescence of the electrics, its sheaves of mighty pipes.
"Well, this is something like," exclaimed the broker.
"I don't know much about 'em myself," hazarded Jadwin, looking at the pictures, "but Laura can tell you. We bought most of 'em while we were abroad, year before last. Laura says this is the best." He indicated a large "Bougereau" that represented a group of nymphs bathing in a woodland pool.
"H'm!" said the broker, "you wouldn't want some of your Sunday-school superintendents to see this now. This is what the boys down on the Board would call a bar-room picture."
But Jadwin did not laugh.
"It never struck me in just that way," he said, gravely.
"It's a fine piece of work, though," Gretry hastened to add. "Fine, great colouring."
"I like this one pretty well," continued Jadwin, moving to a canvas by Detaille. It was one of the inevitable studies of a cuirassier; in this case a trumpeter, one arm high in the air, the hand clutching the trumpet, the horse, foam-flecked, at a furious gallop. In the rear, through clouds of dust, the rest of the squadron was indicated by a few points of colour.
"Yes, that's pretty neat," concurred Gretry. "He's sure got a gait on. Lord, what a lot of accoutrements those French fellows stick on. Now our boys would chuck about three-fourths of that truck before going into action.... Queer way these artists work," he went on, peering close to the canvas. "Look at it close up and it's just a lot of little daubs, but you get off a distance"—he drew back, cocking his head to one side—"and you see now. Hey—see how the thing bunches up. Pretty neat, isn't it?" He turned from the picture and rolled his eyes about the room.
"Well, well," he murmured. "This certainly is the real thing, J. I suppose, now, it all represents a pretty big pot of money."
"I'm not quite used to it yet myself," said Jadwin. "I was in here last Sunday, thinking it all over, the new house, and the money and all. And it struck me as kind of queer the way things have turned out for me.... Sam, do you know, I can remember the time, up there in Ottawa County, Michigan, on my old dad's farm, when I used to have to get up before day-break to tend the stock, and my sister and I used to run out quick into the stable and stand in the warm cow fodder in the stalls to warm our bare feet.... She up and died when she was about eighteen—galloping consumption. Yes, sir. By George, how I loved that little sister of mine! You remember her, Sam. Remember how you used to come out from Grand Rapids every now and then to go squirrel shooting with me?"
"Sure, sure. Oh, I haven't forgot."
"Well, I was wishing the other day that I could bring Sadie down here, and—oh, I don't know—give her a good time. She never had a good time when she was alive. Work, work, work; morning, noon, and night. I'd like to have made it up to her. I believe in making people happy, Sam. That's the way I take my fun. But it's too late to do it now for my little sister."
"Well," hazarded Gretry, "you got a good wife in yonder to—"
Jadwin interrupted him. He half turned away, thrusting his hands suddenly into his pockets. Partly to himself, partly to his friend he murmured:
"You bet I have, you bet I have. Sam," he exclaimed, then turned away again. "... Oh, well, never mind," he murmured.
Gretry, embarrassed, constrained, put his chin in the air, shutting his eyes in a knowing fashion.
"I understand," he answered. "I understand, J."
"Say, look at this organ here," said Jadwin briskly. "Here's the thing I like to play with."
They crossed to the other side of the room.
"Oh, you've got one of those attachment things," observed the broker.
"Listen now," said Jadwin. He took a perforated roll from the case near at hand and adjusted it, Gretry looking on with the solemn interest that all American business men have in mechanical inventions. Jadwin sat down before it, pulled out a stop or two, and placed his feet on the pedals. A vast preliminary roaring breath soughed through the pipes, with a vibratory rush of power. Then there came a canorous snarl of bass, and then, abruptly, with resistless charm, and with full-bodied, satisfying amplitude of volume the opening movement of the overture of "Carmen."
"Great, great!" shouted Gretry, his voice raised to make himself heard. "That's immense."
The great-lunged harmony was filling the entire gallery, clear cut, each note clearly, sharply treated with a precision that, if mechanical, was yet effective. Jadwin, his eyes now on the stops, now on the sliding strip of paper, played on. Through the sonorous clamour of the pipes Gretry could hear him speaking, but he caught only a word or two.
"Toreador ... horse power ... Madame Calve ... electric motor ... fine song ... storage battery."
The movement thinned out, and dwindled to a strain of delicate lightness, sustained by the smallest pipes and developing a new motive; this was twice repeated, and then ran down to a series of chords and bars that prepared for and prefigured some great effect close at hand. There was a short pause, then with the sudden releasing of a tremendous rush of sound, back surged the melody, with redoubled volume and power, to the original movement.
"That's bully, bully!" shouted Gretry, clapping his hands, and his eye, caught by a movement on the other side of the room, he turned about to see Laura Jadwin standing between the opened curtains at the entrance.
Seen thus unexpectedly, the broker was again overwhelmed with a sense of the beauty of Jadwin's wife. Laura was in evening dress of black lace; her arms and neck were bare. Her black hair was piled high upon her head, a single American Beauty rose nodded against her bare shoulder. She was even yet slim and very tall, her face pale with that unusual paleness of hers that was yet a colour. Around her slender neck was a marvellous collar of pearls many strands deep, set off and held in place by diamond clasps.
With Laura came Mrs. Gretry and Page. The broker's wife was a vivacious, small, rather pretty blonde woman, a little angular, a little faded. She was garrulous, witty, slangy. She wore turquoises in her ears morning, noon, and night.
But three years had made a vast difference in Page Dearborn. All at once she was a young woman. Her straight, hard, little figure had developed, her arms were rounded, her eyes were calmer. She had grown taller, broader. Her former exquisite beauty was perhaps not quite so delicate, so fine, so virginal, so charmingly angular and boyish. There was infinitely more of the woman in it; and perhaps because of this she looked more like Laura than at any time of her life before. But even yet her expression was one of gravity, of seriousness. There was always a certain aloofness about Page. She looked out at the world solemnly, and as if separated from its lighter side. Things humorous interested her only as inexplicable vagaries of the human animal.
"We heard the organ," said Laura, "so we came in. I wanted Mrs. Gretry to listen to it."
The three years that had just passed had been the most important years of Laura Jadwin's life. Since her marriage she had grown intellectually and morally with amazing rapidity. Indeed, so swift had been the change, that it was not so much a growth as a transformation. She was no longer the same half-formed, impulsive girl who had found a delight in the addresses of her three lovers, and who had sat on the floor in the old home on State Street and allowed Landry Court to hold her hand. She looked back upon the Miss Dearborn of those days as though she were another person. How she had grown since then! How she had changed! How different, how infinitely more serious and sweet her life since then had become!
A great fact had entered her world, a great new element, that dwarfed all other thoughts, all other considerations. This was her love for her husband. It was as though until the time of her marriage she had walked in darkness, a darkness that she fancied was day; walked perversely, carelessly, and with a frivolity that was almost wicked. Then, suddenly, she had seen a great light. Love had entered her world. In her new heaven a new light was fixed, and all other things were seen only because of this light; all other things were touched by it, tempered by it, warmed and vivified by it.
It had seemed to date from a certain evening at their country house at Geneva Lake in Wisconsin, where she had spent her honeymoon with her husband. They had been married about ten days. It was a July evening, and they were quite alone on board the little steam yacht the "Thetis." She remembered it all very plainly. It had been so warm that she had not changed her dress after dinner—she recalled that it was of Honiton lace over old-rose silk, and that Curtis had said it was the prettiest he had ever seen. It was an hour before midnight, and the lake was so still as to appear veritably solid. The moon was reflected upon the surface with never a ripple to blur its image. The sky was grey with starlight, and only a vague bar of black between the star shimmer and the pale shield of the water marked the shore line. Never since that night could she hear the call of whip-poor-wills or the piping of night frogs that the scene did not come back to her. The little "Thetis" had throbbed and panted steadily. At the door of the engine room, the engineer—the grey MacKenny, his back discreetly turned—sat smoking a pipe and taking the air. From time to time he would swing himself into the engine room, and the clink and scrape of his shovel made itself heard as he stoked the fire vigorously.
Stretched out in a long wicker deck chair, hatless, a drab coat thrown around her shoulders, Laura had sat near her husband, who had placed himself upon a camp stool, where he could reach the wheel with one hand.
"Well," he had said at last, "are you glad you married me, Miss Dearborn?" And she had caught him about the neck and drawn his face down to hers, and her head thrown back, their lips all but touching, had whispered over and over again:
"I love you—love you—love you!"
That night was final. The marriage ceremony, even that moment in her room, when her husband had taken her in his arms and she had felt the first stirring of love in her heart, all the first week of their married life had been for Laura a whirl, a blur. She had not been able to find herself. Her affection for her husband came and went capriciously. There were moments when she believed herself to be really unhappy. Then, all at once, she seemed to awake. Not the ceremony at St. James' Church, but that awakening had been her marriage. Now it was irrevocable; she was her husband's; she belonged to him indissolubly, forever and forever, and the surrender was a glory. Laura in that moment knew that love, the supreme triumph of a woman's life, was less a victory than a capitulation.
Since then her happiness had been perfect. Literally and truly there was not a cloud, not a mote in her sunshine. She had everything—the love of her husband, great wealth, extraordinary beauty, perfect health, an untroubled mind, friends, position—everything. God had been good to her, beyond all dreams and all deserving. For her had been reserved all the prizes, all the guerdons; for her who had done nothing to merit them.
Her husband she knew was no less happy. In those first three years after their marriage, life was one unending pageant; and their happiness became for them some marvellous, bewildering thing, dazzling, resplendent, a strange, glittering, jewelled Wonder-worker that suddenly had been put into their hands.
As one of the first results of this awakening, Laura reproached herself with having done but little for Page. She told herself that she had not been a good sister, that often she had been unjust, quick tempered, and had made the little girl to suffer because of her caprices. She had not sympathised sufficiently with her small troubles—so she made herself believe—and had found too many occasions to ridicule Page's intenseness and queer little solemnities. True she had given her a good home, good clothes, and a good education, but she should have given more—more than mere duty-gifts. She should have been more of a companion to the little girl, more of a help; in fine, more of a mother. Laura felt all at once the responsibilities of the elder sister in a family bereft of parents. Page was growing fast, and growing astonishingly beautiful; in a little while she would be a young woman, and over the near horizon, very soon now, must inevitably loom the grave question of her marriage.
But it was only this realisation of certain responsibilities that during the first years of her married life at any time drew away Laura's consideration of her husband. She began to get acquainted with the real man-within-the-man that she knew now revealed himself only after marriage. Jadwin her husband was so different from, so infinitely better than, Jadwin her lover, that Laura sometimes found herself looking back with a kind of retrospective apprehension on the old days and the time when she was simply Miss Dearborn. How little she had known him after all! And how, in the face of this ignorance, this innocence, this absence of any insight into his real character, had she dared to take the irretrievable step that bound her to him for life? The Curtis Jadwin of those early days was so much another man. He might have been a rascal; she could not have known it. As it was, her husband had promptly come to be, for her, the best, the finest man she had ever known. But it might easily have been different.
His attitude towards her was thoughtfulness itself. Hardly ever was he absent from her, even for a day, that he did not bring her some little present, some little keep-sake—or even a bunch of flowers—when he returned in the evening. The anniversaries—Christmas, their wedding day, her birthday—he always observed with great eclat. He took a holiday from his business, surprised her with presents under her pillow, or her dinner-plate, and never failed to take her to the theatre in the evening.
However, it was not only Jadwin's virtues that endeared him to his wife. He was no impeccable hero in her eyes. He was tremendously human. He had his faults, his certain lovable weaknesses, and it was precisely these traits that Laura found so adorable.
For one thing, Jadwin could be magnificently inconsistent. Let him set his mind and heart upon a given pursuit, pleasure, or line of conduct not altogether advisable at the moment, and the ingenuity of the excuses by which he justified himself were monuments of elaborate sophistry. Yet, if later he lost interest, he reversed his arguments with supreme disregard for his former words.
Then, too, he developed a boyish pleasure in certain unessential though cherished objects and occupations, that he indulged extravagantly and to the neglect of things, not to say duties, incontestably of more importance.
One of these objects was the "Thetis." In every conceivable particular the little steam yacht was complete down to the last bolt, the last coat of varnish; but at times during their summer vacations, when Jadwin, in all reason, should have been supervising the laying out of certain unfinished portions of the "grounds"—supervision which could be trusted to no subordinate—he would be found aboard the "Thetis," hatless, in his shirt-sleeves, in solemn debate with the grey MacKenny and—a cleaning rag, or monkey-wrench, or paint brush in his hand—tinkering and pottering about the boat, over and over again. Wealthy as he was, he could have maintained an entire crew on board whose whole duty should have been to screw, and scrub, and scour. But Jadwin would have none of it. "Costs too much," he would declare, with profound gravity. He had the self-made American's handiness with implements and paint brushes, and he would, at high noon and under a murderous sun, make the trip from the house to the dock where the "Thetis" was moored, for the trivial pleasure of tightening a bolt—which did not need tightening; or wake up in the night to tell Laura of some wonderful new idea he had conceived as to the equipment or decoration of the yacht. He had blustered about the extravagance of a "crew," but the sums of money that went to the brightening, refitting, overhauling, repainting, and reballasting of the boat—all absolutely uncalled-for—made even Laura gasp, and would have maintained a dozen sailors an entire year.
This same inconsistency prevailed also in other directions. In the matter of business Jadwin's economy was unimpeachable. He would cavil on a half-dollar's overcharge; he would put himself to downright inconvenience to save the useless expenditure of a dime—and boast of it. But no extravagance was ever too great, no time ever too valuable, when bass were to be caught.
For Jadwin was a fisherman unregenerate. Laura, though an early riser when in the city, was apt to sleep late in the country, and never omitted a two-hours' nap in the heat of the afternoon. Her husband improved these occasions when he was deprived of her society, to indulge in his pastime. Never a morning so forbidding that his lines were not in the water by five o'clock; never a sun so scorching that he was not coaxing a "strike" in the stumps and reeds in the shade under the shores.
It was the one pleasure he could not share with his wife. Laura was unable to bear the monotony of the slow-moving boat, the hours spent without results, the enforced idleness, the cramped positions. Only occasionally could Jadwin prevail upon her to accompany him. And then what preparations! Queen Elizabeth approaching her barge was attended with no less solicitude. MacKenny (who sometimes acted as guide and oarsman) and her husband exhausted their ingenuity to make her comfortable. They held anxious debates: "Do you think she'll like that?" "Wouldn't this make it easier for her?" "Is that the way she liked it last time?" Jadwin himself arranged the cushions, spread the carpet over the bottom of the boat, handed her in, found her old gloves for her, baited her hook, disentangled her line, saw to it that the mineral water in the ice-box was sufficiently cold, and performed an endless series of little attentions looking to her comfort and enjoyment. It was all to no purpose, and at length Laura declared:
"Curtis, dear, it is no use. You just sacrifice every bit of your pleasure to make me comfortable—to make me enjoy it; and I just don't. I'm sorry, I want to share every pleasure with you, but I don't like to fish, and never will. You go alone. I'm just a hindrance to you." And though he blustered at first, Laura had her way.
Once in the period of these three years Laura and her husband had gone abroad. But her experience in England—they did not get to the Continent—had been a disappointment to her. The museums, art galleries, and cathedrals were not of the least interest to Jadwin, and though he followed her from one to another with uncomplaining stoicism, she felt his distress, and had contrived to return home three months ahead of time.
It was during this trip that they had bought so many of the pictures and appointments for the North Avenue house, and Laura's disappointment over her curtailed European travels was mitigated by the anticipation of her pleasure in settling in the new home. This had not been possible immediately after their marriage. For nearly two years the great place had been given over to contractors, architects, decorators, and gardeners, and Laura and her husband had lived, while in Chicago, at a hotel, giving up the one-time rectory on Cass Street to Page and to Aunt Wess'.
But when at last Laura entered upon possession of the North Avenue house, she was not—after the first enthusiasm and excitement over its magnificence had died down—altogether pleased with it, though she told herself the contrary. Outwardly it was all that she could desire. It fronted Lincoln Park, and from all the windows upon that side the most delightful outlooks were obtainable—green woods, open lawns, the parade ground, the Lincoln monument, dells, bushes, smooth drives, flower beds, and fountains. From the great bay window of Laura's own sitting-room she could see far out over Lake Michigan, and watch the procession of great lake steamers, from Milwaukee, far-distant Duluth, and the Sault Sainte Marie—the famous "Soo"—defiling majestically past, making for the mouth of the river, laden to the water's edge with whole harvests of wheat. At night, when the windows were open in the warm weather, she could hear the mournful wash and lapping of the water on the embankments.
The grounds about her home were beautiful. The stable itself was half again as large as her old home opposite St. James's, and the conservatory, in which she took the keenest delight, was a wonderful affair—a vast bubble-like structure of green panes, whence, winter and summer, came a multitude of flowers for the house—violets, lilies of the valley, jonquils, hyacinths, tulips, and her own loved roses.
But the interior of the house was, in parts, less satisfactory. Jadwin, so soon as his marriage was a certainty, had bought the house, and had given over its internal furnishings to a firm of decorators. Innocently enough he had intended to surprise his wife, had told himself that she should not be burdened with the responsibility of selection and planning. Fortunately, however, the decorators were men of taste. There was nothing to offend, and much to delight in the results they obtained in the dining-room, breakfast-room, parlors, drawing-rooms, and suites of bedrooms. But Laura, though the beauty of it all enchanted her, could never rid herself of a feeling that it was not hers. It impressed her with its splendour of natural woods and dull "colour effects," its cunning electrical devices, its mechanical contrivances for comfort, like the ready-made luxury and "convenience" of a Pullman.
However, she had intervened in time to reserve certain of the rooms to herself, and these—the library, her bedroom, and more especially that apartment from whose bay windows she looked out upon the Lake, and which, as if she were still in her old home, she called the "upstairs sitting-room"—she furnished to suit herself.
For very long she found it difficult, even with all her resolution, with all her pleasure in her new-gained wealth, to adapt herself to a manner of living upon so vast a scale. She found herself continually planning the marketing for the next day, forgetting that this now was part of the housekeeper's duties. For months she persisted in "doing her room" after breakfast, just as she had been taught to do in the old days when she was a little girl at Barrington. She was afraid of the elevator, and never really learned how to use the neat little system of telephones that connected the various parts of the house with the servants' quarters. For months her chiefest concern in her wonderful surroundings took the form of a dread of burglars.
Her keenest delights were her stable and the great organ in the art gallery; and these alone more than compensated for her uneasiness in other particulars.
Horses Laura adored—black ones with flowing tails and manes, like certain pictures she had seen. Nowadays, except on the rarest occasions, she never set foot out of doors, except to take her carriage, her coupe, her phaeton, or her dog-cart. Best of all she loved her saddle horses. She had learned to ride, and the morning was inclement indeed that she did not take a long and solitary excursion through the Park, followed by the groom and Jadwin's two spotted coach dogs.
The great organ terrified her at first. But on closer acquaintance she came to regard it as a vast-hearted, sympathetic friend. She already played the piano very well, and she scorned Jadwin's self-playing "attachment." A teacher was engaged to instruct her in the intricacies of stops and of pedals, and in the difficulties of the "echo" organ, "great" organ, "choir," and "swell." So soon as she had mastered these, Laura entered upon a new world of delight. Her taste in music was as yet a little immature—Gounod and even Verdi were its limitations. But to hear, responsive to the lightest pressures of her finger-tips, the mighty instrument go thundering through the cadences of the "Anvil Chorus" gave her a thrilling sense of power that was superb.
The untrained, unguided instinct of the actress in Laura had fostered in her a curious penchant toward melodrama. She had a taste for the magnificent. She revelled in these great musical "effects" upon her organ, the grandiose easily appealed to her, while as for herself, the role of the "grande dame," with this wonderful house for background and environment, came to be for her, quite unconsciously, a sort of game in which she delighted.
It was by this means that, in the end, she succeeded in fitting herself to her new surroundings. Innocently enough, and with a harmless, almost childlike, affectation, she posed a little, and by so doing found the solution of the incongruity between herself—the Laura of moderate means and quiet life—and the massive luxury with which she was now surrounded. Without knowing it, she began to act the part of a great lady—and she acted it well. She assumed the existence of her numerous servants as she assumed the fact of the trees in the park; she gave herself into the hands of her maid, not as Laura Jadwin of herself would have done it, clumsily and with the constraint of inexperience, but as she would have done it if she had been acting the part on the stage, with an air, with all the nonchalance of a marquise, with—in fine—all the superb condescension of her "grand manner."
She knew very well that if she relaxed this hauteur, that her servants would impose on her, would run over her, and in this matter she found new cause for wonder in her husband.
The servants, from the frigid butler to the under groom, adored Jadwin. A half-expressed wish upon his part produced a more immediate effect than Laura's most explicit orders. He never descended to familiarity with them, and, as a matter of fact, ignored them to such an extent that he forgot or confused their names. But where Laura was obeyed with precise formality and chilly deference, Jadwin was served with obsequious alacrity, and with a good humour that even livery and "correct form" could not altogether conceal.
Laura's eyes were first opened to this genuine affection which Jadwin inspired in his servants by an incident which occurred in the first months of their occupancy of the new establishment. One of the gardeners discovered the fact that Jadwin affected gardenias in the lapel of his coat, and thereat was at immense pains to supply him with a fresh bloom from the conservatory each morning. The flower was to be placed at Jadwin's plate, and it was quite the event of the day for the old fellow when the master appeared on the front steps with the flower in his coat. But a feud promptly developed over this matter between the gardener and the maid who took the butler's place at breakfast every morning. Sometimes Jadwin did not get the flower, and the gardener charged the maid with remissness in forgetting to place it at his plate after he had given it into her hands. In the end the affair became so clamourous that Jadwin himself had to intervene. The gardener was summoned and found to have been in fault only in his eagerness to please.
"Billy," said Jadwin, to the old man at the conclusion of the whole matter, "you're an old fool."
And the gardener thereupon had bridled and stammered as though Jadwin had conferred a gift.
"Now if I had called him 'an old fool,'" observed Laura, "he would have sulked the rest of the week."
The happiest time of the day for Laura was the evening. In the daytime she was variously occupied, but her thoughts continually ran forward to the end of the day, when her husband would be with her. Jadwin breakfasted early, and Laura bore him company no matter how late she had stayed up the night before. By half-past eight he was out of the house, driving down to his office in his buggy behind Nip and Tuck. By nine Laura's own saddle horse was brought to the carriage porch, and until eleven she rode in the park. At twelve she lunched with Page, and in the afternoon—in the "upstairs sitting-room" read her Browning or her Meredith, the latter one of her newest discoveries, till three or four. Sometimes after that she went out in her carriage. If it was to "shop" she drove to the "Rookery," in La Salle Street, after her purchases were made, and sent the footman up to her husband's office to say that she would take him home. Or as often as not she called for Mrs. Cressler or Aunt Wess' or Mrs. Gretry, and carried them off to some exhibit of painting, or flowers, or more rarely—for she had not the least interest in social affairs—to teas or receptions.
But in the evenings, after dinner, she had her husband to herself. Page was almost invariably occupied by one or more of her young men in the drawing-room, but Laura and Jadwin shut themselves in the library, a lofty panelled room—a place of deep leather chairs, tall bookcases, etchings, and sombre brasses—and there, while Jadwin lay stretched out upon the broad sofa, smoking cigars, one hand behind his head, Laura read aloud to him.
His tastes in fiction were very positive. Laura at first had tried to introduce him to her beloved Meredith. But after three chapters, when he had exclaimed, "What's the fool talking about?" she had given over and begun again from another starting-point. Left to himself, his wife sorrowfully admitted that he would have gravitated to the "Mysterious Island" and "Michael Strogoff," or even to "Mr. Potter of Texas" and "Mr. Barnes of New York." But she had set herself to accomplish his literary education, so, Meredith failing, she took up "Treasure Island" and "The Wrecker." Much of these he made her skip.
"Oh, let's get on with the 'story,'" he urged. But Pinkerton for long remained for him an ideal, because he was "smart" and "alive."
"I'm not long very many of art," he announced. "But I believe that any art that don't make the world better and happier is no art at all, and is only fit for the dump heap."
But at last Laura found his abiding affinity in Howells.
"Nothing much happens," he said. "But I know all those people." He never could rid himself of a surreptitious admiration for Bartley Hubbard. He, too, was "smart" and "alive." He had the "get there" to him. "Why," he would say, "I know fifty boys just like him down there in La Salle Street." Lapham he loved as a brother. Never a point in the development of his character that he missed or failed to chuckle over. Bromfield Cory was poohed and boshed quite out of consideration as a "loafer," a "dilletanty," but Lapham had all his sympathy.
"Yes, sir," he would exclaim, interrupting the narrative, "that's just it. That's just what I would have done if I had been in his place. Come, this chap knows what he's writing about—not like that Middleton ass, with his 'Dianas' and 'Amazing Marriages.'"
Occasionally the Jadwins entertained. Laura's husband was proud of his house, and never tired of showing his friends about it. Laura gave Page a "coming-out" dance, and nearly every Sunday the Cresslers came to dinner. But Aunt Wess' could, at first, rarely be induced to pay the household a visit. So much grandeur made the little widow uneasy, even a little suspicious. She would shake her head at Laura, murmuring:
"My word, it's all very fine, but, dear me, Laura, I hope you do pay for everything on the nail, and don't run up any bills. I don't know what your dear father would say to it all, no, I don't." And she would spend hours in counting the electric bulbs, which she insisted were only devices for some new-fangled gas.
"Thirty-three in this one room alone," she would say. "I'd like to see your dear husband's face when he gets his gas bill. And a dressmaker that lives in the house.... Well,—I don't want to say anything."
Thus three years had gone by. The new household settled to a regime. Continually Jadwin grew richer. His real estate appreciated in value; rents went up. Every time he speculated in wheat, it was upon a larger scale, and every time he won. He was a Bear always, and on those rare occasions when he referred to his ventures in Laura's hearing, it was invariably to say that prices were going down. Till at last had come that spring when he believed that the bottom had been touched, had had the talk with Gretry, and had, in secret, "turned Bull," with the suddenness of a strategist.
The matter was yet in Gretry's mind while the party remained in the art gallery; and as they were returning to the drawing-room he detained Jadwin an instant.
"If you are set upon breaking your neck," he said, "you might tell me at what figure you want me to buy for you to-morrow."
"At the market," returned Jadwin. "I want to get into the thing quick."
A little later, when they had all reassembled in the drawing-room, and while Mrs. Gretry was telling an interminable story of how Isabel had all but asphyxiated herself the night before, a servant announced Landry Court, and the young man entered, spruce and debonair, a bouquet in one hand and a box of candy in the other.
Some days before this Page had lectured him solemnly on the fact that he was over-absorbed in business, and was starving his soul. He should read more, she told him, and she had said that if he would call upon her on this particular night, she would indicate a course of reading for him.
So it came about that, after a few moments, conversation with the older people in the drawing-room, the two adjourned to the library.
There, by way of a beginning, Page asked him what was his favourite character in fiction. She spoke of the beauty of Ruskin's thoughts, of the gracefulness of Charles Lamb's style. The conversation lagged a little. Landry, not to be behind her, declared for the modern novel, and spoke of the "newest book." But Page never read new books; she was not interested, and their talk, unable to establish itself upon a common ground, halted, and was in a fair way to end, until at last, and by insensible degrees, they began to speak of themselves and of each other. Promptly they were all aroused. They listened to one another's words with studious attention, answered with ever-ready promptness, discussed, argued, agreed, and disagreed over and over again.
Landry had said:
"When I was a boy, I always had an ambition to excel all the other boys. I wanted to be the best baseball player on the block—and I was, too. I could pitch three curves when I was fifteen, and I find I am the same now that I am a man grown. When I do a thing, I want to do it better than any one else. From the very first I have always been ambitious. It is my strongest trait. Now," he went on, turning to Page, "your strongest trait is your thoughtfulness. You are what they call introspective."
"Yes, yes," she answered. "Yes, I think so, too."
"You don't need the stimulation of competition. You are at your best when you are with just one person. A crowd doesn't interest you."
"I hate it," she exclaimed.
"Now with me, with a man of my temperament, a crowd is a real inspiration. When every one is talking and shouting around me, or to me, even, my mind works at its best. But," he added, solemnly, "it must be a crowd of men. I can't abide a crowd of women."
"They chatter so," she assented. "I can't either."
"But I find that the companionship of one intelligent, sympathetic woman is as much of a stimulus as a lot of men. It's funny, isn't it, that I should be like that?"
"Yes," she said, "it is funny—strange. But I believe in companionship. I believe that between man and woman that is the great thing—companionship. Love," she added, abruptly, and then broke off with a deep sigh. "Oh, I don't know," she murmured. "Do you remember those lines:
"Man's love is of his life a thing apart, 'Tis woman's whole existence.
Do you believe that?"
"Well," he asserted, gravely, choosing his words with deliberation, "it might be so, but all depends upon the man and woman. Love," he added, with tremendous gravity, "is the greatest power in the universe."
"I have never been in love," said Page. "Yes, love is a wonderful power."
"I've never been in love, either."
"Never, never been in love?"
"Oh, I've thought I was in love," he said, with a wave of his hand.
"I've never even thought I was," she answered, musing.
"Do you believe in early marriages?" demanded Landry.
"A man should never marry," she said, deliberately, "till he can give his wife a good home, and good clothes and—and that sort of thing. I do not think I shall ever marry."
"You! Why, of course you will. Why not?"
"No, no. It is my disposition. I am morose and taciturn. Laura says so."
Landry protested with vehemence.
"And," she went on, "I have long, brooding fits of melancholy."
"Well, so have I," he threw out recklessly. "At night, sometimes—when I wake up. Then I'm all down in the mouth, and I say, 'What's the use, by jingo?'"
"Do you believe in pessimism? I do. They say Carlyle was a terrible pessimist."
"Well—talking about love. I understand that you can't believe in pessimism and love at the same time. Wouldn't you feel unhappy if you lost your faith in love?"
"Oh, yes, terribly."
There was a moment's silence, and then Landry remarked:
"Now you are the kind of woman that would only love once, but love for that once mighty deep and strong."
Page's eyes grew wide. She murmured:
"'Tis a woman's whole existence—whole existence.' Yes, I think I am like that."
"Do you think Enoch Arden did right in going away after he found them married?"
"Oh, have you read that? Oh, isn't that a beautiful poem? Wasn't he noble? Wasn't he grand? Oh, yes, yes, he did right."
"By George, I wouldn't have gone away. I'd have gone right into that house, and I would have made things hum. I'd have thrown the other fellow out, lock, stock, and barrel."
"That's just like a man, so selfish, only thinking of himself. You don't know the meaning of love—great, true, unselfish love."
"I know the meaning of what's mine. Think I'd give up the woman I loved to another man?"
"Even if she loved the other man best?"
"I'd have my girl first, and find out how she felt about the other man afterwards."
"Oh, but think if you gave her up, how noble it would be. You would have sacrificed all that you held the dearest to an ideal. Oh, if I were in Enoch Arden's place, and my husband thought I was dead, and I knew he was happy with another woman, it would just be a joy to deny myself, sacrifice myself to spare him unhappiness. That would be my idea of love. Then I'd go into a convent."
"Not much. I'd let the other fellow go to the convent. If I loved a woman, I wouldn't let anything in the world stop me from winning her."
"You have so much determination, haven't you?" she said, looking at him.
Landry enlarged his shoulders a little and wagged his head.
"Well," he said, "I don't know, but I'd try pretty hard to get what I wanted, I guess."
"I love to see that characteristic in men," she observed. "Strength, determination."
"Just as a man loves to see a woman womanly," he answered. "Don't you hate strong-minded women?"
"Now, you are what I would call womanly—the womanliest woman I've ever known."
"Oh, I don't know," she protested, a little confused.
"Yes, you are. You are beautifully womanly—and so high-minded and well read. It's been inspiring to me. I want you should know that. Yes, sir, a real inspiration. It's been inspiring, elevating, to say the least."
"I like to read, if that's what you mean," she hastened to say.
"By Jove, I've got to do some reading, too. It's so hard to find time. But I'll make time. I'll get that 'Stones of Venice' I've heard you speak of, and I'll sit up nights—and keep awake with black coffee—but I'll read that book from cover to cover."
"That's your determination again," Page exclaimed. "Your eyes just flashed when you said it. I believe if you once made up your mind to do a thing, you would do it, no matter how hard it was, wouldn't you?"
"Well, I'd—I'd make things hum, I guess," he admitted.
The next day was Easter Sunday, and Page came down to nine o'clock breakfast a little late, to find Jadwin already finished and deep in the pages of the morning paper. Laura, still at table, was pouring her last cup of coffee.
They were in the breakfast-room, a small, charming apartment, light and airy, and with many windows, one end opening upon the house conservatory. Jadwin was in his frock coat, which later he would wear to church. The famous gardenia was in his lapel. He was freshly shaven, and his fine cigar made a blue haze over his head. Laura was radiant in a white morning gown. A newly cut bunch of violets, large as a cabbage, lay on the table before her.
The whole scene impressed itself sharply upon Page's mind—the fine sunlit room, with its gay open spaces and the glimpse of green leaves from the conservatory, the view of the smooth, trim lawn through the many windows, where an early robin, strayed from the park, was chirruping and feeding; her beautiful sister Laura, with her splendid, overshadowing coiffure, her pale, clear skin, her slender figure; Jadwin, the large, solid man of affairs, with his fine cigar, his gardenia, his well-groomed air. And then the little accessories that meant so much—the smell of violets, of good tobacco, of fragrant coffee; the gleaming damasks, china and silver of the breakfast table; the trim, fresh-looking maid, with her white cap, apron, and cuffs, who came and went; the thoroughbred setter dozing in the sun, and the parrot dozing and chuckling to himself on his perch upon the terrace outside the window.