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An Open-Eyed Conspiracy--An Idyl of Saratoga by William Dean Howells

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"Oh! And I suppose that by ESPECIALLY NOW, you mean Kendricks," I
said, and I laughed mockingly, as the novelists say. "How sick I am
of this stale old love-business between young people! We ought to
know better--we're old enough; at least YOU are."

She seemed not to feel the gibe. "Why, Basil," she asked dreamily,
"haven't you any romance left in you?"

"Romance? Bah! It's the most ridiculous unreality in the world.
If you had so much sympathy for that stupid girl, in that poor woman
in her anxiety about her disappointment, why hadn't you a little for
her sick husband? But a husband is nothing--when you have got him."

"I did sympathise with her."

"You didn't say so."

"Well, she is only his second wife, and I don't suppose it's
anything serious. Didn't I really say anything to her?"

"Not a word. It is curious," I went on, "how we let this idiotic
love-passion absorb us to the very last. It is wholly unimportant
who marries who, or whether anybody marries at all. And yet we no
sooner have the making of a love-affair within reach than we revert
to the folly of our own youth, and abandon ourselves to it as if it
were one of the great interests of life."

"Who is talking about love? It isn't a question of that. It's a
question of making a girl have a pleasant time for a few days; and
what is the harm of it? Girls have a dull enough time at the very
best. My heart aches for them, and I shall never let a chance slip
to help them, I don't care what you say."

"Now, Isabel," I returned, "don't you be a humbug. This is a
perfectly plain case, and you are going in for a very risky affair
with your eyes open. You shall not pretend you're not."

"Very well, then, if I am going into it with my eyes open, I shall
look out that nothing happens."

"And you think prevision will avail! I wish," I said, "that instead
of coming home that night and telling you about this girl, I had
confined my sentimentalising to that young French-Canadian mother,
and her dirty little boy who ate the pea-nut shells. I've no doubt
it was really a more tragical case. They looked dreadfully poor and
squalid. Why couldn't I have amused my idle fancy with their
fortunes--the sort of husband and father they had, their shabby
home, the struggle of their life? That is the appeal that a genuine
person listens to. Nothing does more to stamp me a poseur than the
fact that I preferred to bemoan myself for a sulky girl who seemed
not to be having a good time."

There was truth in my joking, but the truth did not save me; it lost
me rather. "Yes," said my wife; "it was your fault. I should never
have seen anything in her if it had not been for you. It was your
coming back and working me up about her that began the whole thing,
and now if anything goes wrong you will have yourself to thank for
it."

She seized the opportunity of my having jestingly taken up this load
to buckle it on me tight and fast, clasping it here, tying it there,
and giving a final pull to the knots that left me scarcely the power
to draw my breath, much less the breath to protest. I was forced to
hear her say again that all her concern from the beginning was for
Mrs. Deering, and that now, if she had offered to do something for
Miss Gage, it was not because she cared anything for her, but
because she cared everything for Mrs. Deering, who could never lift
up her head again at De Witt Point if she went back so completely
defeated in all the purposes she had in asking Miss Gage to come
with her to Saratoga.

I did not observe that this wave of compassion carried Mrs. March so
far as to leave her stranded with Mrs. Deering that evening when we
called with Kendricks, and asked her and Miss Gage to go with us to
the Congress Park concert. Mrs. Deering said that she had to pack,
that she did not feel just exactly like going; and my tender heart
ached with a knowledge of her distress. Miss Gage made a faint,
false pretence of refusing to come with us, too; but Mrs. Deering
urged her to go, and put on the new dress, which had just come home,
so that Mrs. March could see it. The girl came back looking
radiant, divine, and--"Will it do?" she palpitated under my wife's
critical glance.

"Do? It will OUTdo! I never saw anything like it!" The
connoisseur patted it a little this way and a little that. "It is a
dream! Did the hat come too?"

It appeared that the hat had come too. Miss Gage rematerialised
with it on, after a moment's evanescence, and looked at my wife with
the expression of being something impersonal with a hat on.

"Simply, there is nothing to say!" cried Mrs. March. The girl put
up her hands to it. "Good gracious! You mustn't take it off! Your
costume is perfect for the concert."

"Is it, really?" asked the girl joyfully; and she seemed to find
this the first fitting moment to say, for sole recognition of our
self-sacrifice, "I'm much obliged to you, Mr. March, for getting me
that room."

I begged her not to speak of it, and turned an ironical eye upon my
wife; but she was lost in admiration of the hat.

"Yes," she sighed; "it's much better than the one I wanted you to
get at first." And she afterward explained that the girl seemed to
have a perfect instinct for what went with her style.

Kendricks kept himself discreetly in the background, and, with his
unfailing right feeling, was talking to Mrs. Deering, in spite of
her not paying much attention to him. I must own that I too was
absorbed in the spectacle of Miss Gage.

She went off with us, and did not say another word to Mrs. Deering
about helping her to pack. Perhaps this was best, though it seemed
heartless; it may not have been so heartless as it seemed. I dare
say it would have been more suffering to the woman if the girl had
missed this chance.

CHAPTER X

We had undertaken rather a queer affair but it was not so queer
after all, when Miss Gage was fairly settled with us. There were
other young girls in that pleasant house who had only one another's
protection and the general safety of the social atmosphere. We
could not conceal from ourselves, of course, that we had done a
rather romantic thing, and, in the light of Europe, which we had
more or less upon our actions, rather an absurd thing; but it was a
comfort to find that Miss Gage thought it neither romantic nor
absurd. She took the affair with an apparent ignorance of anything
unusual in it--with so much ignorance, indeed, that Mrs. March had
her occasional question whether she was duly impressed with what was
being done for her. Whether this was so or not, it is certain that
she was as docile and as biddable as need be. She did not always
ask what she should do; that would not have been in the tradition of
village independence; but she always did what she was told, and did
not vary from her instructions a hair's-breadth. I do not suppose
she always knew why she might do this and might not do that; and I
do not suppose that young girls often understand the reasons of the
proprieties. They are told that they must, and that they must not,
and this in an astonishing degree suffices them if they are nice
girls.

Of course there was pretty constant question of Kendricks in the
management of Miss Gage's amusement, for that was really what our
enterprise resolved itself into. He showed from the first the
sweetest disposition to forward all our plans in regard to her, and,
in fact, he even anticipated our wishes. I do not mean to give the
notion that he behaved from an interested motive in going to the
station the morning Mrs. Deering left, and getting her ticket for
her, and checking her baggage, and posting her in the changes she
would have to make. This was something I ought to have thought of
myself, but I did not think of it, and I am willing that he should
have all the credit.

I know that he did it out of the lovely generosity of nature which
always took me in him. Miss Gage was there with her, and she
remained to be consoled after Mrs. Deering departed. They came
straight to us from the train, and then, when he had consigned Miss
Gage to Mrs. March's care, he offered to go and see that her things
were transferred from her hotel to ours; they were all ready, she
said, and the bill was paid.

He did not come back that day, and, in fact, he delicately waited
for some sign from us that his help was wanted. But when he did
come he had formulated Saratoga very completely, and had a better
conception of doing it than I had, after my repeated sojourns.

We went very early in our explorations to the House of Pansa, which
you find in very much better repair at Saratoga than you do at
Pompeii, and we contrived to pass a whole afternoon there. My wife
and I had been there before more than once; but it always pleasantly
recalled our wander-years, when we first met in Europe, and we
suffered round after those young things with a patience which I hope
will not be forgotten at the day of judgment. When we came to a
seat we sat down, and let them go off by themselves; but my
recollection is that there is not much furniture in the House of
Pansa that you can sit down on, and for the most part we all kept
together.

Kendricks and I thought alike about the Pompeian house as a model of
something that might be done in the way of a seaside cottage in our
own country, and we talked up a little paper that might be done for
Every Other Week, with pretty architectural drawings, giving an
account of our imaginary realisation of the notion.

"Have somebody," he said, "visit people who had been boring him to
come down, or up, or out, and see them, and find them in a Pompeian
house, with the sea in front and a blue-green grove of low pines
behind. Might have a thread of story, but mostly talk about how
they came to do it, and how delightfully livable they found it. You
could work it up with some architect, who would help you to 'keep
off the grass' in the way of technical blunders. With all this
tendency to the classic in public architecture, I don't see why the
Pompeian villa shouldn't be the next word for summer cottages."

"Well, we'll see what Fulkerson says. He may see an ad. in it.
Would you like to do it?"

"Why not do it yourself? Nobody else could do it so well."

"Thanks for the taffy; but the idea was yours."

"I'll do it," said Kendricks after a moment, "if you won't."

"We'll see."

Miss Gage stared, and Mrs. March said -

"I didn't suppose the House of Pansa would lead to shop with you
two."

"You never can tell which way copy lies," I returned; and I asked
the girl, "What should YOU think, Miss Gage, of a little paper with
a thread of story, but mostly talk, on a supposititious Pompeian
cottage?"

"I don't believe I understand," said she, far too remote from our
literary interests, as I saw, to be ashamed of her ignorance.

"There!" I said to Kendricks. "Do you think the general public
would?"

"Miss Gage isn't the general public," said my wife, who had followed
the course of my thought; her tone implied that Miss Gage was wiser
and better.

"Would you allow yourself to be drawn," I asked, "dreamily issuing
from an aisle of the pine grove as the tutelary goddess of a
Pompeian cottage?"

The girl cast a bewildered glance at my wife, who said, "You needn't
pay any attention to him, Miss Gage. He has an idea that he is
making a joke."

We felt that we had done enough for one afternoon, when we had done
the House of Pansa, and I proposed that we should go and sit down in
Congress Park and listen to the Troy band. I was not without the
hope that it would play "Washington Post."

My wife contrived that we should fall in behind the young people as
we went, and she asked, "What DO you suppose she made of it all?"

"Probably she thought it was the house of Sancho Panza."

"No; she hasn't read enough to be so ignorant even as that. It's
astonishing how much she doesn't know. What can her home life have
been like?"

"Philistine to the last degree. We people who are near to
literature have no conception how far from it most people are. The
immense majority of 'homes,' as the newspapers call them, have no
books in them except the Bible and a semi-religious volume or two--
things you never see out of such 'homes'--and the State business
directory. I was astonished when it came out that she knew about
Every Other Week. It must have been by accident. The sordidness of
her home life must be something unimaginable. The daughter of a
village capitalist, who's put together his money dollar by dollar,
as they do in such places, from the necessities and follies of his
neighbours, and has half the farmers of the region by the throat
through his mortgages--I don't think that she's 'one to be desired'
any more than 'the daughter of a hundred earls,' if so much."

"She doesn't seem sordid herself."

"Oh, the taint doesn't show itself at once--

'If nature put not forth her power
About the opening of the flower,
Who is it that would live an hour?'

and she is a flower, beautiful, exquisite"

"Yes, and she had a mother as well as this father of hers. Why
shouldn't she be like her mother?"

I laughed. "That is true! I wonder why we always leave the mother
out of the count when we sum up the hereditary tendencies? I
suppose the mother is as much a parent as the father."

"Quite. And there is no reason why this girl shouldn't have her
mother's nature."

"We don't actually KNOW anything against her father's nature yet," I
suggested; "but if her mother lived a starved and stunted life with
him, it may account for that effect of disappointed greed which I
fancied in her when I first saw her."

"I don't call it greed in a young girl to want to see something of
the world."

"What do you call it?"

Kendricks and the girl were stopping at the gate of the pavilion,
and looking round at us. "Ah, he's got enough for one day! He's
going to leave her to us now."

When we came up he said, "I'm going to run off a moment; I'm going
up to the book-store there," and he pointed toward one that had
spread across the sidewalk just below the Congress Hall verandah,
with banks and shelves of novels, and a cry of bargains in them on
signs sticking up from their rows. "I want to see if they have the
Last Days of Pompeii."

"We will find the ladies inside the park," I said. "I will go with
you--"

"Mr. March wants to see if they have the last number of Every Other
Week," my wife mocked after us. This was, indeed, commonly a foible
of mine. I had newly become one of the owners of the periodical as
well as the editor, and I was all the time looking out for it at the
news-stands and book-stores, and judging their enterprise by its
presence or absence. But this time I had another motive, though I
did not allege it.

"I suppose it's for Miss Gage?" I ventured to say, by way of
prefacing what I wished to say. "Kendricks, I'm afraid we're
abusing your good nature. I know you're up here to look about, and
you're letting us use all your time. You mustn't do it. Women have
no conscience about these things, and you can't expect a woman who
has a young lady on her hands to spare you. I give you the hint.
Don't count upon Mrs. March in this matter."

"Oh, I think you are very good to allow me to bother round," said
the young fellow, with that indefatigable politeness of his. He
added vaguely, "It's very interesting."

"Seeing it through such a fresh mind?" I suggested. "Well, I'll own
that I don't think you could have found a much fresher one. Has she
read the Last Days of Pompeii?"

"She thought she had at first, but it was the Fall of Granada."

"How delightful! Don't you wish we could read books with that
utterly unliterary sense of them?"

"Don't you think women generally do?" he asked evasively.

"I daresay they do at De Witt Point."

He did not answer; I saw that he was not willing to talk the young
lady over, and I could not help praising his taste to myself at the
cost of my own. His delicacy forbade him the indulgence which my
own protested against in vain. He showed his taste again in buying
a cheap copy of the book, which he meant to give her, and of course
he had to be all the more attentive to her because of my deprecating
his self-devotion.

CHAPTER XI

In the intimacy that grew up between my wife and Miss Gage I found
myself less and less included. It seemed to me at times that I
might have gone away from Saratoga and not been seriously missed by
any one, but perhaps this was not taking sufficient account of my
value as a spectator, by whom Mrs. March could verify her own
impressions.

The girl had never known a mother's care, and it was affecting to
see how willing she was to be mothered by the chance kindness of a
stranger. She probably felt more and more her ignorance of the
world as it unfolded itself to her in terms so altogether strange to
the life of De Witt Point. I was not sure that she would have been
so grateful for the efforts made for her enjoyment if they had
failed, but as the case stood she was certainly grateful; my wife
said that, and I saw it. She seemed to have written home about us
to her father, for she read my wife part of a letter from him
conveying his "respects," and asking her to thank us for him. She
came to me with the cheque it enclosed, and asked me to get it
cashed for her; it was for a handsome amount. But she continued to
go about at our cost, quite unconsciously, till one day she happened
to witness a contest of civility between Kendricks and myself as to
which should pay the carriage we were dismissing. That night she
came to Mrs. March, and, with many blushes, asked to be allowed to
pay for the past and future her full share of the expense of our
joint pleasures. She said that she had never thought of it before,
and she felt so much ashamed. She could not be consoled till she
was promised that she should be indulged for the future, and that I
should be obliged to average the outlay already made and let her pay
a fourth. When she had gained her point, Mrs. March said that she
seemed a little scared, and said, "I haven't offended you, Mrs.
March, have I? Because if it isn't right for me to pay--"

"It's quite right, my dear," said my wife, "and it's very nice of
you to think of it."

"You know," the girl explained, "I've never been out a great deal at
home even; and it's always the custom there for the gentlemen to pay
for a ride--or dance--or anything; but this is different."

Mrs March said "Yes," and, in the interest of civilisation, she did
a little missionary work. She told her that in Boston the young
ladies paid for their tickets to the Harvard assemblies, and
preferred to do it, because it left them without even a tacit
obligation.

Miss Gage said she had never heard of such a thing before, but she
could see how much better it was.

I do not think she got on with the Last Days of Pompeii very
rapidly; its immediate interest was superseded by other things. But
she always had the book about with her, and I fancied that she tried
to read it in those moments of relaxation from our pleasuring when
she might better have been day-dreaming, though I dare say she did
enough of that too.

What amused me in the affair was the celerity with which it took
itself out of our hands. In an incredibly short time we had no
longer the trouble of thinking what we should do for Miss Gage; that
was provided for by the forethought of Kendricks, and our concern
was how each could make the other go with the young people on their
excursions and expeditions. We had seen and done all the things
that they were doing, and it presently bored us to chaperon them.
After a good deal of talking we arrived at a rough division of duty,
and I went with them walking and eating and drinking, and for
anything involving late hours, and Mrs. March presided at such
things as carriage exercise, concerts, and shopping.

There are not many public entertainments at Saratoga, except such as
the hotels supply; but a series of Salvation Army meetings did duty
as amusements, and there was one theatrical performance--a
performance of East Lynne entirely by people of colour. The
sentiments and incidents of the heart-breaking melodrama, as the
coloured mind interpreted them, were of very curious effect. It was
as if the version were dyed with the same pigment that darkened the
players' skins: it all came out negro. Yet they had tried to make
it white; I could perceive how they aimed not at the imitation of
our nature, but at the imitation of our convention; it was like the
play of children in that. I should have said that nothing could be
more false than the motives and emotions of the drama as the author
imagined them, but I had to own that their rendition by these
sincere souls was yet more artificial. There was nothing
traditional, nothing archaic, nothing autochthonic in their poor
art. If the scene could at any moment have resolved myself into a
walk-round, with an interspersion of spirituals, it would have had
the charm of these; it would have consoled and edified; but as it
was I have seldom been so bored. I began to make some sad
reflections, as that our American society, in its endeavour for the
effect of European society, was of no truer ideal than these
coloured comedians, and I accused myself of a final absurdity in
having come there with these young people, who, according to our
good native usage, could have come perfectly well without me. At
the end of the first act I broke into their talk with my conclusion
that we must not count the histrionic talent among the gifts of the
African race just yet. We could concede them music, I supposed, and
there seemed to be hope for them, from what they had some of them
done, in the region of the plastic arts; but apparently the stage
was not for them, and this was all the stranger because they were so
imitative. Perhaps, I said, it was an excess of self-consciousness
which prevented their giving themselves wholly to the art, and I
began to speak of the subjective and the objective, of the real and
the ideal; and whether it was that I became unintelligible as I
became metaphysical, I found Kendricks obviously not following me in
the incoherent replies he gave. Miss Gage had honestly made no
attempt to follow me. He asked, Why, didn't I think it was pretty
well done? They had enjoyed it very much, he said. I could only
stare in answer, and wonder what had become of the man's tastes or
his principles; he was either humbugging himself or he was
humbugging me. After that I left them alone, and suffered through
the rest of the play with what relief I could get from laughing when
the pathetic emotions of the drama became too poignant. I decided
that Kendricks was absorbed in the study of his companion's mind,
which must be open to his contemporaneous eye as it could never have
been to my old-sighted glasses, and I envied him the knowledge he
was gaining of that type of American girl. It suddenly came to me
that he must be finding his account in this, and I felt a little
less regret for the waste of civilities, of attentions, which
sometimes seemed to me beyond her appreciation.

I, for my part, gave myself to the study of the types about me, and
I dwelt long and luxuriously upon the vision of a florid and massive
matron in diaphanous evening dress, whom I imagined to be revisiting
the glimpses of her girlhood in the ancient watering-place, and to
be getting all the gaiety she could out of it. These are the
figures one mostly sees at Saratoga; there is very little youth of
the present day there, but the youth of the past abounds, with the
belated yellow hair and the purple moustaches, which gave a notion
of greater wickedness in a former generation.

I made my observation that the dress, even in extreme cases of
elderly prime, was very good--in the case of the women, I mean; the
men there, as everywhere with us, were mostly slovens; and I was
glad to find that the good taste and the correct fashion were
without a colour-line; there were some mulatto ladies present as
stylish as their white sisters, or step-sisters.

The most amiable of the human race is in great force at Saratoga,
where the vast hotel service is wholly in its hands, and it had
honoured the effort of the comedians that night with a full house of
their own complexion. We who were not of it showed strangely enough
in the dark mass, who let us lead the applause, however, as if
doubtful themselves where it ought to come in, and whom I found
willing even to share some misplaced laughter of mine. They formed
two-thirds of the audience on the floor, and they were a cloud in
the gallery, scarcely broken by a gleam of white.

I entertained myself with them a good deal, and I thought how much
more delightful they were in their own kindly character than in
their assumption of white character, and I tried to define my
suffering from the performance as an effect from my tormented
sympathies rather than from my offended tastes. When the long
stress was over, and we rose and stood to let the crowd get out, I
asked Miss Gage if she did not think this must be the case. I do
not suppose she was really much more experienced in the theatre than
the people on the stage, some of whom I doubted to have ever seen a
play till they took part in East Lynne. But I thought I would ask
her that in order to hear what she would say; and she said very
simply that she had seen so few plays she did not know what to think
of it, and I could see that she was abashed by the fact. Kendricks
must have seen it too, for he began at once to save her from
herself, with all his subtle generosity, and to turn her shame to
praise. My heart, which remained sufficiently cold to her, warmed
more than ever to him, and I should have liked to tell her that here
was the finest and rarest human porcelain using itself like common
clay in her behalf, and to demand whether she thought she was worth
it.

I did not think she was, and I had a lurid moment when I was tempted
to push on and make her show herself somehow at her worst. We had
undertaken a preposterous thing in befriending her as we had done,
and our course in bringing Kendricks in was wholly unjustifiable.
How could I lead her on to some betrayal of her essential
Philistinism, and make her so impossible in his eyes that even he,
with all his sweetness and goodness, must take the first train from
Saratoga in the morning?

We had of course joined the crowd in pushing forward; people always
do, though they promise themselves to wait till the last one is out.
I got caught in a dark eddy on the first stair-landing; but I could
see them farther down, and I knew they would wait for me outside the
door.

When I reached it at last they were nowhere to be seen; I looked up
this street and down that, but they were not in sight.

CHAPTER XII

I did not afflict myself very much, nor pretend to do so. They knew
the way home, and after I had blundered about in search of them
through the lampshot darkness, I settled myself to walk back at my
leisure, comfortably sure that I should find them on the verandah
waiting for me when I reached the hotel. It was quite a thick
night, and I almost ran into a couple at a corner of our quieter
street when I had got to it out of Broadway. They seemed to be
standing and looking about, and when the man said, "He must have
thought we took the first turn," and the woman, "Yes, that must have
been the way," I recognised my estrays.

I thought I would not discover myself to them, but follow on, and
surprise them by arriving at our steps at the same moment they did,
and I prepared myself to hurry after them. But they seemed in no
hurry, and I had even some difficulty in accommodating my pace to
the slowness of theirs.

"Won't you take my arm, Miss Gage?" he asked as they moved on.

"It's so VERY dark," she answered, and I knew she had taken it. "I
can hardly see a step, and poor Mr. March with his glasses--I don't
know what he'll do."

"Oh, he only uses them to read with; he can see as well as we can in
the dark."

"He's very young in his feelings," said the girl; "he puts me in
mind of my own father."

"He's very young in his thoughts," said Kendricks; "and that's much
more to the purpose for a magazine editor. There are very few men
of his age who keep in touch with the times as he does."

"Still, Mrs. March seems a good deal younger, don't you think? I
wonder how soon they begin to feel old?"

"Oh, not till along in the forties, I should say. It's a good deal
in temperament. I don't suppose that either of them realises yet
that they're old, and they must be nearly fifty."

"How strange it must be," said the girl, "fifty years old! Twenty
seems old enough, goodness knows."

"How should you like to be a dotard of twenty-seven?" Kendricks
asked, and she laughed at his joke.

"I don't suppose I should mind it so much if I were a man."

I had promised myself that if the talk became at all confidential I
would drop behind out of earshot; but though it was curiously
intimate for me to be put apart in the minds of these young people
on account of my years as not of the same race or fate as
themselves, there was nothing in what they said that I might not
innocently overhear, as far as they were concerned, and I listened
on.

But they had apparently given me quite enough attention. After some
mutual laughter at what she said last, they were silent a moment,
and then he said soberly, "There's something fine in this isolation
the dark gives you, isn't there? You're as remote in it from our
own time and place as if you were wandering in interplanetary
space."

"I suppose we ARE doing that all the time--on the earth," she
suggested.

"Yes; but how hard it is to realise that we are on the earth now.
Sometimes I have a sense of it, though, when the moon breaks from
one flying cloud to another. Then it seems as if I were a passenger
on some vast, shapeless ship sailing through the air. What," he
asked, with no relevancy that I could perceive, "was the strangest
feeling YOU ever had?" I remembered asking girls such questions
when I was young, and their not apparently thinking it at all odd.

"I don't know," she returned thoughtfully. "There was one time when
I was little, and it had sleeted, and the sun came out just before
it set, and seemed to set all the woods on fire. I thought the
world was burning up."

"It must have been very weird," said Kendricks; and I thought, "Oh,
good heavens! Has he got to talking of weird things?"

"It's strange," he added, "how we all have that belief when we are
children that the world is going to burn up! I don't suppose any
child escapes it. Do you remember that poem of Thompson's--the City
of Dreadful Night man--where he describes the end of the world?"

"No, I never read it."

"Well, merely, he says when the conflagration began the little
flames looked like crocuses breaking through the sod. If it ever
happened I fancy it would be quite as simple as that. But perhaps
you don't like gloomy poetry?"

'Yes, yes, I do. It's the only kind that I care about."

"Then you hate funny poetry?"

"I think it's disgusting. Papa is always cutting it out of the
papers and wanting to send it to me, and we have the greatest
TIMES!"

"I suppose," said Kendricks, "it expresses some moods, though."

"Oh yes; it expresses some moods; and sometimes it makes me laugh in
spite of myself, and ashamed of anything serious."

"That's always the effect of a farce with me."

"But then I'm ashamed of being ashamed afterward," said the girl.
"I suppose you go to the theatre a great deal in New York."

"It's a school of life," said Kendricks. "I mean the audience."

"I would like to go to the opera once. I am going to make papa take
me in the winter." She laughed with a gay sense of power, and he
said -

"You seem to be great friends with your father."

"Yes, we're always together. I always went everywhere with him;
this is the first time I've been away without him. But I thought
I'd come with Mrs. Deering and see what Saratoga was like; I had
never been here."

"And is it like what you thought?"

"No. The first week we didn't do anything. Then we got acquainted
with Mr. and Mrs. March, and I began to really see something. But I
supposed it was all balls and gaiety."

"We must get up a few if you're so fond of them," Kendricks
playfully suggested.

"Oh, I don't know as I am. I never went much at home. Papa didn't
care to have me."

"Ah, do you think it was right for him to keep you all to himself?"
The girl did not answer, and they had both halted so abruptly that I
almost ran into them. "I don't quite make out where we are."
Kendricks seemed to be peering about. I plunged across the street
lest he should ask me. I heard him add, "Oh yes; I know now," and
then they pressed forward.

We were quite near our hotel, but I thought it best to walk round
the square and let them arrive first. On the way I amused myself
thinking how different the girl had shown herself to him from what
she had ever shown herself to my wife or me. She had really, this
plain-minded goddess, a vein of poetic feeling, some inner beauty of
soul answering to the outer beauty of body. She had a romantic
attachment to her father, and this shed a sort of light on both of
them, though I knew that it was not always a revelation of
character.

CHAPTER XIII

When I reached the hotel I found Miss Gage at the door, and
Kendricks coming out of the office toward her.

"Oh, here he is!" she called to him at sight of me.

"Where in the world have you been?" he demanded. "I had just found
out from the clerk that you hadn't come in yet, and I was going back
for you with a searchlight."

"Oh, I wasn't so badly lost as all that," I returned. "I missed you
in the crowd at the door, but I knew you'd get home somehow, and so
I came on without you. But my aged steps are not so quick as
yours."

The words, mechanically uttered, suggested something, and I thought
that if they were in for weirdness I would give them as much
weirdness as they could ask for. "When you get along toward fifty
you'll find that the foot you've still got out of the grave doesn't
work so lively as it used. Besides, I was interested in the night
effect. It's so gloriously dark; and I had a fine sense of
isolation as I came along, as if I were altogether out of my epoch
and my environment. I felt as if the earth was a sort of Flying
Dutchman, and I was the only passenger. It was about the weirdest
sensation I ever had. It reminded me, I don't know how, exactly of
the feeling I had when I was young, and I saw the sunset one evening
through the woods after a sleet-storm."

They stared at each other as I went on, and I could see Kendricks's
fine eyes kindle with an imaginative appreciation of the literary
quality of the coincidence. But when I added, "Did you ever read a
poem about the end of the world by that City of Dreadful Night man?"
Miss Gage impulsively caught me by the coat lapel and shook me.

"Ah, it was you all the time! I knew there was somebody following
us, and I might have KNOWN who it was!"

We all gave way in a gale of laughter, and sat down on the verandah
and had our joke out in full recognition of the fact. When
Kendricks rose to go at last, I said, "We won't say anything about
this little incident to Mrs. March, hey?" And then they laughed
again as if it were the finest wit in the world, and Miss Gage bade
me a joyful good-night at the head of the stairs as she went off to
her room and I to mine.

I found Mrs. March waiting up with a book; and as soon as I shut
myself in with her she said, awfully, "What WERE you laughing so
about?"

"Laughing? Did you hear me laughing?"

"The whole house heard you, I'm afraid. You certainly ought to have
known better, Basil. It was very inconsiderate of you." And as I
saw she was going on with more of that sort of thing, to divert her
thoughts from my crime I told her the whole story. It had quite the
effect I intended up to a certain point. She even smiled a little,
as much as a woman could be expected to smile who was not originally
in the joke.

"And they had got to comparing weird experiences?" she asked.

"Yes; the staleness of the thing almost made me sick. Do you
remember when we first compared our weird experiences? But I
suppose they will go on doing it to the end of time, and it will
have as great a charm for the last man and woman as it had for Adam
and Eve when they compared THEIR weird experiences."

"And was that what you were laughing at?"

"We were laughing at the wonderful case of telepathy I put up on
them."

Mrs. March faced her open book down on the table before her, and
looked at me with profound solemnity. "Well, then, I can tell you,
my dear, it is no laughing matter. If they have got to the weird it
is very serious; and her talking to him about her family, and his
wanting to know about her father, that's serious too--far more
serious than either of them can understand. I don't like it, Basil;
we have got a terrible affair on our hands."

"Terrible?"

"Yes, terrible. As long as he was interested in her simply from a
literary point of view, though I didn't like that either, I could
put up with it; but now that he's got to telling her about himself,
and exchanging weird experiences with her, it's another thing
altogether. Oh, I never wanted Kendricks brought into the affair at
all."

"Come now, Isabel! Stick to the facts, please."

"No matter! It was you that discovered the girl, and then something
had to be done. I was perfectly shocked when you told me that Mr.
Kendricks was in town, because I saw at once that he would have to
be got in for it; and now we have to think what we shall do."

"Couldn't we think better in the morning?"

"No; we must think at once. I shall not sleep to-night anyhow. My
peace is gone. I shall have to watch them every instant."

"Beginning at this instant. Why not wait till you can see them?"

"Oh, you can't joke it away, my dear. If I find they are really
interested in each other I shall have to speak. I am responsible."

"The young lady," I said, more to gain time than anything else,
"seems quite capable of taking care of herself."

"That makes it all the worse. Do you think I care for her only?
It's Kendricks too that I care for. I don't know that I care for
her at all."

"Oh, then I think we may fairly leave Kendricks to his own devices;
and I'm not alarmed for Miss Gage either, though I do care for her a
great deal."

"I don't understand how you can be so heartless about it, Basil,"
said Mrs. March, plaintively. "She is a young girl, and she has
never seen anything of the world, and of course if he keeps on
paying her attention in this way she can't help thinking that he is
interested in her. Men never can see such things as women do. They
think that, until a man has actually asked a girl to marry him, he
hasn't done anything to warrant her in supposing that he is in love
with her, or that she has any right to be in love with him."

"That is true; we can't imagine that she would be so indelicate."

"I see that you're determined to tease, my dear," said Mrs. March,
and she took up her book with an air of offence and dismissal. "If
you won't talk seriously, I hope you will think seriously, and try
to realise what we've got in for. Such a girl couldn't imagine that
we had simply got Mr Kendricks to go about with her from a romantic
wish to make her have a good time, and that he was doing it to
oblige us, and wasn't at all interested in her."

"It does look a little preposterous, even to the outsider," I
admitted.

"I am glad you are beginning to see it in that light, my dear, and
if you can think of anything to do by morning I shall be humbly
thankful. _I_ don't expect to."

"Perhaps I shall dream of something," I said more lightly than I
felt. "How would it do for you to have a little talk with her--a
little motherly talk--and hint round, and warn her not to let her
feelings run away with her in Kendricks's direction?" Mrs. March
faced her book down in her lap, and listened as if there might be
some reason in the nonsense I was talking. "You might say that he
was a society man, and was in great request, and then intimate that
there was a prior attachment, or that he was the kind of man who
would never marry, but was really cold-hearted with all his
sweetness, and merely had a passion for studying character."

"Do you think that would do, Basil?" she asked.

"Well, I thought perhaps you might think so."

"I'm afraid it wouldn't," she sighed.

"All that we can do now is to watch them, and act promptly, if we
see that they are really in love, either of them."

"I don't believe," I said, "that I should know that they were in
love even if I saw it. I have forgotten the outward signs, if I
ever knew them. Should he give her flowers? He's done it from the
start; he's brought her boxes of Huyler candy, and lent her books;
but I dare say he's been merely complying with our wishes in doing
it. I doubt if lovers sigh nowadays. I didn't sigh myself, even in
my time; and I don't believe any passion could make Kendricks
neglect his dress. He keeps his eyes on her all the time, but that
may be merely an effort to divine her character. I don't believe I
should know, indeed I don't."

"I shall," said Mrs. March.

CHAPTER XIV

We were to go the next day to the races, and I woke with more
anxiety about the weather than about the lovers, or potential
lovers. But after realising that the day was beautiful, on that
large scale of loveliness which seems characteristic of the summer
days at Saratoga, where they have them almost the size of the summer
days I knew when I was a boy, I was sensible of a secondary worry in
my mind, which presently related itself to Kendricks and Miss Gage.
It was a haze of trouble merely, however, such as burns off, like a
morning fog, when the sun gets higher, and it was chiefly on my
wife's account.

I suppose that the great difference between her conscience and one
originating outside of New England (if any conscience can originate
outside of New England) is that it cannot leave the moral government
of the universe in the hands of divine Providence. I was willing to
leave so many things which I could not control to the Deity, who
probably could that she accused me of fatalism, and I was held to be
little better than one of the wicked because I would not forecast
the effects of what I did in the lives of others. I insisted that
others were also probably in the hands of the somma sapienza e il
primo amore, and that I was so little aware of the influence of
other lives upon my own, even where there had been a direct and
strenuous effort to affect me, that I could not readily believe
others had swerved from the line of their destiny because of me.
Especially I protested that I could not hold myself guilty of
misfortunes I had not intended, even though my faulty conduct had
caused them. As to this business of Kendricks and Miss Gage, I
denied in the dispute I now began tacitly to hold with Mrs. March's
conscience that my conduct had been faulty. I said that there was
no earthly harm in my having been interested by the girl's
forlornness when I first saw her; that I did not do wrong to
interest Mrs. March in her; that she did not sin in going shopping
with Miss Gage and Mrs. Deering; that we had not sinned, either of
us, in rejoicing that Kendricks had come to Saratoga, or in letting
Mrs. Deering go home to her sick husband and leave Miss Gage on our
hands; that we were not wicked in permitting the young fellow to
help us make her have a good time. In this colloquy I did all the
reasoning, and Mrs. March's conscience was completely silenced; but
it rose triumphant in my miserable soul when I met Miss Gage at
breakfast, looking radiantly happy, and disposed to fellowship me in
an unusual confidence because, as I clearly perceived, of our last
night's adventure. I said to myself bitterly that happiness did not
become her style, and I hoped that she would get away with her
confounded rapture before Mrs. March came down. I resolved not to
tell Mrs. March if it fell out so, but at the same time, as a sort
of atonement, I decided to begin keeping the sharpest kind of watch
upon Miss Gage for the outward signs and tokens of love.

She said, "When you began to talk that way last night, Mr. March, it
almost took my breath, and if you hadn't gone so far, and mentioned
about the sunset through the sleety trees, I never should have
suspected you."

"Ah, that's the trouble with men, Miss Gage." And when I said "men"
I fancied she flushed a little. "We never know when to stop; we
always overdo it; if it were not for that we should be as perfect as
women. Perhaps you'll give me another chance, though."

"No; we shall be on our guard after this." She corrected herself
and said, "I shall always be looking out for you now," and she
certainly showed herself conscious in the bridling glance that met
my keen gaze.

"Good heavens!" I thought. "Has it really gone so far?" and more
than ever I resolved not to tell Mrs. March.

I went out to engage a carriage to take us to the races, and to
agree with the driver that he should wait for us at a certain corner
some blocks distant from our hotel, where we were to walk and find
him. We always did this, because there were a number of clergymen
in our house, and Mrs. March could not make it seem right to start
for the races direct from the door, though she held that it was
perfectly right for us to go. For the same reason she made the
driver stop short of our destination on our return, and walked home
the rest of the way. Almost the first time we practised this
deception I was met at the door by the sweetest and dearest of these
old divines, who said, "Have you ever seen the races here? I'm told
the spectacle is something very fine," and I was obliged to own that
I had once had a glimpse of them. But it was in vain that I pleaded
this fact with Mrs. March; she insisted that the appearance of not
going to the races was something that we owed the cloth, and no
connivance on their part could dispense us from it.

As I now went looking up and down the street for the driver who was
usually on the watch for me about eleven o'clock on a fair day of
the races, I turned over in my mind the several accidents which are
employed in novels to bring young people to a realising sense of
their feelings toward each other, and wondered which of them I might
most safely invoke. I was not anxious to have Kendricks and Miss
Gage lovers; it would be altogether simpler for us if they were not;
but if they were, the sooner they knew it and we knew it the better.
I thought of a carriage accident, in which he should seize her and
leap with her from the flying vehicle, while the horses plunged
madly on, but I did not know what in this case would become of Mrs.
March and me. Besides, I could think of nothing that would frighten
our driver's horses, and I dismissed the fleeting notion of getting
any others because Mrs. March liked their being so safe, and she
had, besides, interested herself particularly in the driver, who had
a family and counted upon our custom. The poor fellow came in sight
presently, and smilingly made the usual arrangement with me, and an
hour later he delivered us all sound in wind and limb at the
racecourse.

I watched in vain for signs of uncommon tenderness in the two young
people. If anything they were rather stiff and distant with each
other, and I asked myself whether this might not be from an access
of consciousness. Kendricks was particularly devoted to Mrs. March,
who, in the airy detachment with which she responded to his
attentions, gave me the impression that she had absolutely dismissed
her suspicions of the night before, or else had heartlessly
abandoned the affair to me altogether. If she had really done this,
then I saw no way out of it for me but by an accident which should
reveal them to each other. Perhaps some one might insult Miss Gage-
-some ruffian--and Kendricks might strike the fellow; but this
seemed too squalid. There might be a terrible jam, and he interpose
his person between her and the danger of her being crushed to death;
or the floor of the grand stand might give way, and everybody be
precipitated into the space beneath, and he fight his way, with her
senseless form on his arm, over the bodies of the mangled and dying.
Any of these things would have availed in a novel, and something of
the kind would have happened, too. But, to tell the truth, nothing
whatever happened, and if it had not been for that anxiety on my
mind I should have thought it much pleasanter so.

Even as it was I felt a measure of the hilarity which commonly fills
me at a running race, and I began to lose in the charm of the gay
scene the sense of my responsibility, and little by little to abate
the vigilance apparently left all to me. The day was beautiful; the
long heat had burned itself out, and there was a clear sparkle in
the sunshine, which seemed blown across the wide space within the
loop of the track by the delicate breeze. A vague, remote smell of
horses haunted the air, with now and then a breath of the pines from
the grove shutting the race-ground from the highway. We got
excellent places, as one always may, the grand stand is so vast, and
the young people disposed themselves on the bench in front of us,
but so near that we were not tempted to talk them over. The
newsboys came round with papers, and the boys who sold programmes of
the races; from the bar below there appeared from time to time
shining negroes in white linen jackets, with trays bearing tall
glasses of lemonade, and straws tilted in the glasses. Bookmakers
from the pool-rooms took the bets of the ladies, who formed by far
the greater part of the spectators on the grand stand, and
contributed, with their summer hats and gowns, to the gaiety of the
ensemble. They were of all types, city and country both, and of the
Southern dark as well as the Northern fair complexion, with so thick
a sprinkling of South Americans that the Spanish gutturals made
themselves almost as much heard as the Yankee nasals. Among them
moved two nuns of some mendicant order, receiving charity from the
fair gamblers, who gave for luck without distinction of race or
religion.

I leaned forward and called Kendricks's attention to the nuns, and
to the admirable literary quality of the whole situation. He was
talking to Miss Gage, and he said as impatiently as he ever suffered
himself to speak, "Yes, yes; tremendously picturesque."

"You ought to get something out of it, my dear fellow. Don't you
feel copy in it?"

"Oh, splendid, of course; but it's your ground, Mr. March. I
shouldn't feel it right to do anything with Saratoga after you had
discovered it," and he turned eagerly again to Miss Gage.

My wife put her hand on my sleeve and frowned, and I had so far lost
myself in my appreciation of the scene that I was going to ask her
what the matter was, when a general sensation about me made me look
at the track, where the horses for the first race had already
appeared, with their jockeys in vivid silk jackets of various dyes.
They began to form for the start with the usual tricks and feints,
till I became very indignant with them, though I had no bets
pending, and did not care in the least which horse won. What I
wanted was to see the race, the flight, and all this miserable
manoeuvring was retarding it. Now and then a jockey rode his horse
far off on the track and came back between the false starts; now and
then one kept stubbornly behind the rest and would not start with
them. How their several schemes and ambitions were finally
reconciled I never could tell, but at last the starter's flag swept
down and they were really off. Everybody could have seen perfectly
well as they sat, but everybody rose and watched the swift swoop of
the horses, bunched together in the distance, and scarcely
distinguishable by the colours of their riders. The supreme moment
came for me when they were exactly opposite the grand stand, full
half a mile away--the moment that I remembered from year to year as
one of exquisite illusion--for then the horses seemed to lift from
the earth as with wings, and to skim over the track like a covey of
low-flying birds. The finish was tame to this. Mrs. March and I
had our wonted difference of opinion as to which horse had won, and
we were rather uncommonly controversial because we had both decided
upon the same horse, as we found, only she was talking of the
jockey's colours, and I was talking of the horse's. We appealed to
Kendricks, who said that another horse altogether had won the race,
and this compromise pacified us.

We were all on foot, and he suggested, "We could see better,
couldn't we, if we went farther down in front?" And Mrs. March
answered -

"No, we prefer to stay here; but you two can go." And when they had
promptly availed themselves of her leave, she said to me, "This is
killing me dead, Basil, and if it keeps up much longer I don't
believe I can live through it. I don't care now, and I believe I
shall throw them together all I can from this out. The quicker they
decide whether they're in love or not the better. _I_ have some
rights too."

Her whirling words expressed the feeling in my own mind. I had the
same sense of being trifled with by these young people, who would
not behave so conclusively toward each other as to justify our
interference on the ground that they were in love, nor yet treat
each other so indifferently as to relieve us of the strain of
apprehension. I had lost all faith in accident by this time, and I
was quite willing to leave them to their own devices; I was so
desperate that I said I hoped they would get lost from us, as they
had from me the night before, and never come back, but just keep on
wandering round for ever. All sorts of vengeful thoughts went
through my mind as I saw them leaning toward each other to say
something, and then drawing apart to laugh in what seemed an
indefinite comradery instead of an irrepressible passion. Did they
think we were going to let this sort of thing go on? What did they
suppose our nerves were made of? Had they no mercy, no
consideration? It was quite like the selfishness of youth to wish
to continue in that fool's paradise, but they would find out that
middle age had its rights too. I felt capable of asking them
bluntly what they meant by it. But when they docilely rejoined us
at the end of the races, hurrying up with some joke about not
letting me get lost this time, and Miss Gage put herself at my
wife's side and Kendricks dropped into step with me, all I had been
thinking seemed absurd. They were just two young people who were
enjoying a holiday-time together, and we were in no wise culpable
concerning them.

I suggested this to Mrs. March when we got home, and, in the need of
some relief from the tension she had been in, she was fain to accept
the theory provisionally, though I knew that her later rejection of
it would be all the more violent for this respite.

CHAPTER XV

There was to be a hop at the Grand Union that night, and I had got
tickets for it in virtue of my relation to Every Other Week. I must
say the clerk who gave them me was very civil about it; he said they
were really only for the hotel guests, but he was glad to give them
to outsiders who applied with proper credentials; and he even
offered me more tickets than I asked for.

Miss Gage was getting a dress for the hop, and it was to be finished
that day. I think women really like the scare of thinking their
dresses will not be done for a given occasion, and so arrange to
have them at the last moment. Mrs. March went with the girl early
in the afternoon to have it tried on for the last time, and they
came home reporting that it was a poem. My wife confided to me that
it was not half done--merely begun, in fact--and would never be
finished in time in the world. She also assured Miss Gage that she
need not be the least uneasy; that there was not an hour's work on
the dress; and that the dress-maker's reputation was at stake, and
she would not dare to fail her. I knew she was perfectly sincere in
both these declarations, which were, indeed, merely the expression
of two mental attitudes, and had no relation to the facts.

She added to me that she was completely worn out with anxiety and
worry, and I must not think of her going to the hop. I would have
to do the chaperoning for her, and she did hope that I would not
forget what I was sent for, or get talking with somebody, and leave
Miss Gage altogether to Kendricks. She said that quite likely there
might be friends or acquaintances of his at the hop--such a large
affair--whom he would want to show some attention, and I must take
charge of Miss Gage myself, and try to find her other partners. She
drilled me in the duties of my position until I believed that I was
letter-perfect, and then she said that she supposed I would commit
some terrible blunder that would ruin everything.

I thought that this was very likely, too, but I would not admit it.

The dress came home at nine o'clock, and operated a happy diversion
from my imaginable shortcomings; for it appeared from Mrs. March's
asides to me that it was a perfect horror in the set, and that
everybody could see that it had been simply SLUNG together at the
last moment, and she would never, as long as the world stood, go to
that woman for anything again.

I must say I could not myself see anything wrong about the dress. I
thought it exquisite in tint and texture; a delicate, pale-greenish
film that clung and floated, and set off the girl's beauty as the
leafage of a flower heightens the loveliness of a flower. I did not
dare to say this in the face of Mrs. March's private despair, and I
was silent while the girl submitted to be twirled about for my
inspection like a statue on a revolving pedestal. Kendricks,
however, had no such restrictions upon him, and I could see him
start with delight in the splendid vision before he spoke.

"ISN'T it a poem?" demanded Mrs. March. "Isn't it a perfect LYRIC?"

"Why should you have allowed her to be transported altogether into
the ideal? Wasn't she far enough from us before?" he asked; and I
found myself wishing that he would be either less or more
articulate. He ought to have been mute with passion, or else he
ought to have been frankly voluble about the girl's gown, and gone
on about it longer. But he simply left the matter there, and though
I kept him carefully under my eye, I could not see that he was
concealing any further emotion. She, on her part, neither blushed
nor frowned at his compliment; she did nothing by look or gesture to
provoke more praise; she took it very much as the beautiful evening
might, so undeniably fine, so perfect in its way.

She and the evening were equally fitted for the event to which they
seemed equally dedicated. The dancing was to be out of doors on a
vast planking, or platform, set up in the heart of that bosky court
which the hotel incloses. Around this platform drooped the slim,
tall Saratogan trees, and over it hung the Saratogan sky, of a
nocturnal blue very rare in our latitude, with the stars faint in
its depths, and by and by a white moon that permitted itself a
modest competition with the electric lights effulgent everywhere.
There was a great crowd of people in the portico, the vestibule, and
the inner piazzas, and on the lawn around the platform, where "the
trodden weed" sent up the sweet scent of bruised grass in the cool
night air. My foolish old heart bounded with a pulse of youth at
the thought of all the gay and tender possibilities of such a scene.

But the young people under my care seemed in no haste to mingle in
it. We oldsters are always fancying youth impatient, but there is
no time of life which has so much patience. It behaves as if it had
eternity before it--an eternity of youth--instead of a few days and
years, and then the frosty poll. We who are young no longer think
we would do so and so if we were young, as women think they would do
so and so if they were men; but if we were really young again, we
should not do at all what we think. We should not hurry to
experience our emotions; we should not press forward to discharge
our duties or repair our mistakes; we should not seize the occasion
to make a friend or reconcile an enemy; we should let weeks and
months go by in the realisation of a passion, and trust all sorts of
contingencies and accidents to help us out with its confession. The
thoughts of youth are very long, and its conclusions are deliberate
and delayed, and often withheld altogether. It is age which is
tremulously eager in these matters, and cannot wait with the fine
patience of nature in her growing moods.

As soon, even, as I was in the hotel I was impatient to press
through to the place where the dancing was, and where I already
heard the band playing. I knew very well that when we got there I
should have to sit down somewhere on the edge of the platform with
the other frumps and fogies, and begin taking cold in my dress-coat,
and want to doze off without being able to, while my young people
were waltzing together, or else promenading up and down ignoring me,
or recognising me by the offer of a fan, and the question whether I
was not simply melting; I have seen how the poor chaperon fares at
such times. But they, secure of their fun, were by no means
desirous to have it over, or even to have it begin. They dawdled
through the thronged hotel office, where other irresponsible pairs
were coming and going under the admiring eyes of the hotel loungers,
and they wandered up and down the waste parlours, and sat on tete-a-
tetes just to try them, apparently; and Miss Gage verified in the
mirrors the beauty which was reflected in all eyes. They amused
themselves with the extent of the richly-carpeted and upholstered
desolation around them, where only a few lonely and aging women
lurked about on sofas and ottomans; and they fell to playing with
their compassion for the plebeian spectators at the long verandah
windows trying to penetrate with their forbidden eyes to the hop
going on in the court far beyond the intermediary desert of the
parlours.

When they signified at last that they were ready for me to lead them
on to the dance, I would so much rather have gone to bed that there
are no words for the comparison. Then, when we got to the place,
which I should never have been able to reach in the world if it had
not been for the young energy and inspiration of Kendricks, and they
had put me in a certain seat with Miss Gage's wraps beside me where
they could find me, they went off and danced for hours and hours.
For hours and hours? For ages and ages! while I withered away amid
mouldering mothers, and saw my charges through the dreadful half-
dreams of such a state whirling in the waltz, hopping in the polka,
sliding in the galop, and then endlessly walking up and down between
the dances, and eating and drinking the chill refreshments that it
made my teeth chatter to think of. I suppose they decently came to
me from time to time, though they seemed to be always dancing, for I
could afterward remember Miss Gage taking a wrap from me now and
then, and quickly coming back to shed it upon my lap again. I got
so chilled that if they had not been unmistakably women's wraps I
should have bundled them all about my shoulders, which I could
almost hear creak with rheumatism. I must have fallen into a sort
of drowse at last; for I was having a dispute with some sort of
authority, which turned out to be Mrs. March, and upbraiding her
with the fact that there were no women's wraps which would also do
for a man, when the young people stood arm in arm before me, and
Miss Gage said that she was tired to death now, and they were going.

But it appeared that they were only going as far as the parlours for
the present; for when they re-entered the hotel, they turned into
them, and sat down there quite as if that had been the
understanding. When I arrived with the wraps, I was reminded of
something, and I said, "Have you two been dancing together the whole
evening?"

They looked at each other as if for the first time they now realised
the fact, and Kendricks said, "Why, of course we have! We didn't
know anybody."

"Very well, then," I said; "you have got me into a scrape."

"Oh, poor Mr. March!" cried the girl. "How have we done it?"

"Why, Mrs. March said that Mr. Kendricks would be sure to know
numbers of people, and I must get you other partners, for it
wouldn't do for you to dance the whole evening together."

She threw herself back in the chair she had taken, and laughed as if
this were the best joke in the world.

He said hardily, "You see it HAS done."

"And if it wouldn't do," she gasped, "why didn't you bring me the
other partners?"

"Because I didn't know any," I said; and this seemed to amuse them
both so much that I was afraid they would never get their breath.

She looked by and by at her dancing-card, and as soon as she could
wipe the tears from her eyes she said, "No; there is no other name
there"; and this seemed even a better joke than the other from the
way they joined in laughing at it.

"Well, now," I said, when they were quiet again, "this won't do, my
young friends. It's all very well for you, and you seem to like it;
but I am responsible for your having passed a proper evening under
my chaperonage, and something has got to be done to prove it." They
saw the reasonableness of this, and they immediately became sober.
"Kendricks," I asked, "can't you think of something?"

No, he said, he couldn't; and then he began to laugh again.

I applied to her in the same terms; but she only answered, "Oh,
don't ask ME," and she went off laughing too.

"Very well, then," I said; "I shall have to do something desperate,
and I shall expect you both to bear me out in it, and I don't want
any miserable subterfuges when it comes to the point with Mrs.
March. Will you let me have your dancing-card Miss Gage?" She
detached it, and handed it to me. "It's very fortunate that Mr.
Kendricks wrote his name for the first dance only, and didn't go on
and fill it up."

"Why, we didn't think it was worth while!" she innocently explained.

"And that's what makes it so perfectly providential, as Mrs. March
says. Now then," I went on, as I wrote in the name of a rising
young politician, who happened just then to have been announced as
arriving in Saratoga to join some other leaders in arranging the
slate of his party for the convention to meet a month later, "we
will begin with a good American."

I handed the card to Kendricks. "Do you happen to remember the name
of the young French nobleman who danced the third dance with Miss
Gage?"

"No," he said; "but I think I could invent it." And he dashed down
an extremely probable marquis, while Miss Gage clapped her hands for
joy.

"Oh, how glorious! how splendid!"

I asked, "Will you ever give me away the longest day you live?"

"Never," she promised; and I added the name of a South American
doctor, one of those doctors who seem to be always becoming the
presidents of their republics, and ordering all their patients of
opposite politics to be shot in the plaza.

Kendricks entered a younger son of an English duke, and I
contributed the hyphenated surname of a New York swell, and between
us we soon had all the dances on Miss Gage's card taken by the most
distinguished people. We really studied probability in the forgery,
and we were proud of the air of reality it wore in the carefully
differenced handwritings, with national traits nicely accented in
each.

CHAPTER XVI

The fun of it all was that Mrs. March was not deceived for an
instant. "Oh, nonsense!" she said, when she glanced at our pretty
deception, which we presented with perhaps too perfect seriousness.
"Then you danced only the first dance?"

"No, no!" Miss Gage protested. "I danced every dance as long as I
stayed." She laughed with her handkerchief to her mouth and her
eyes shining above.

"Yes; I can testify to that, Mrs. March," said Kendricks, and he
laughed wildly, too. I must say their laughter throughout was far
beyond the mirthfulness of the facts. They both protested that they
had had the best time in the world, and the gayest time; that I had
been a mirror of chaperons, and followed them round with my eyes
wherever they went like a family portrait; and that they were the
most exemplary young couple at the hop in their behaviour. Mrs.
March asked them all about it, and she joined in their fun with a
hilarity which I knew from long experience boded me no good.

When Kendricks had gone away, and Miss Gage had left us for the
night with an embrace, whose fondness I wondered at, from Mrs.
March, an awful silence fell upon us in the deserted parlour where
she had waited up.

I knew that when she broke the silence she would begin with, "Well,
my dear!" and this was what she did. She added, "I hope you're
convinced NOW!"

I did not even pretend not to understand. "You mean that they are
in love? I suppose that their we-ing and us-ing so much would
indicate something of the kind."

"It isn't that alone; everything indicates it. She would hardly let
go of him with her eyes. I wish," sighed Mrs. March, and she let
her head droop upon her hand a moment, "I could be as sure of him as
I am of her."

''Wouldn't that double the difficulty?" I ventured to suggest,
though till she spoke I had not doubted that it was the case.

"I should make you speak to him if I were sure of him; but as it is
I shall speak to her, and the sooner the better."

"To-night?" I quaked.

"No; I shall let the poor thing have her sleep to-night. But the
first thing in the morning I shall speak, and I want you to send her
up to me as soon as she's had her breakfast. Tell her I'm not well,
and shall not be down; I shall not close my eyes the whole night.
And now," she added, "I want you to tell me everything that happened
this evening. Don't omit a word, or a look, or a motion. I wish to
proceed intelligently."

I hope I was accurate in the history of the hop which I gave Mrs.
March; I am sure I was full. I think my account may be justly
described as having a creative truthfulness, if no other merit. I
had really no wish to conceal anything except the fact that I had
not, in my utter helplessness, even tried to get Miss Gage any other
partners. But in the larger interest of the present situation, Mrs.
March seemed to have lost the sense of my dereliction in this
respect. She merely asked, "And it was after you went back to the
parlour, just before you came home, that you wrote those names on
her card?"

"Kendricks wrote half of them," I said.

"I dare say. Well, it was very amusing, and if the circumstances
were different, I could have entered into the spirit of it too. But
you see yourself, Basil, that we can't let this affair go any
further without dealing frankly with her. YOU can't speak to her,
and _I_ MUST. Don't you see?"

I said that I saw, but I had suddenly a wild wish that it were
practicable for me to speak to Miss Gage. I should have liked to
have a peep into a girl's heart at just such a moment, when it must
be quivering with the unconfessed sense of love, and the confident
hope of being loved, but while as yet nothing was assured, nothing
was ascertained. If it would not have been shocking, if it would
not have been sacrilegious, it would have been infinitely
interesting, and from an aesthetic point of view infinitely
important. I thought that I should have been willing to undergo all
the embarrassment of such an inquiry for the sake of its precious
results, if it had been at all possible; but I acquiesced that it
would not be possible. I felt that I was getting off pretty lightly
not to have it brought home to me again that I was the cause of all
this trouble, and that if it had not been for me there would have
been, as far as Mrs. March was concerned, no Miss Gage, and no love-
affair of hers to deal with. I debated in my mind a moment whether
I had better urge her to let me speak to Kendricks after all; but I
forbore, and in the morning I waited about in much perturbation,
after I had sent Miss Gage to her, until I could know the result of
their interview. When I saw the girl come away from her room, which
she did rather trippingly, I went to her, and found her by no means
the wreck I had expected the ordeal to leave her.

"Did you meet Miss Gage?" she asked.

"Yes," I returned, with tremulous expectation.

"Well, don't you think she looks perfectly divine in that gown?
It's one of Mme. Cody's, and we got it for thirty dollars. It would
have been fifty in New York, and it was, here, earlier in the
season. I shall always come here for some of my things; as soon as
the season's a little past they simply FLING them away. Well, my
dear!"

"Well, what?"

"I didn't speak to her after all."

"You didn't! Don't you think she's in love with him, then?"

"Dead."

"Well?"

"Well, I couldn't somehow seem to approach the subject as I had
expected to. She was so happy, and so good, and so perfectly
obedient, that I couldn't get anything to take hold of. You see, I
didn't know but she might be a little rebellious, or resentful of my
interference; but in the little gingerly attempts I did make she was
so submissive, don't you understand? And she was very modest about
Mr. Kendricks' attentions, and so self-depreciatory that, well--"

"Look here, Isabel," I broke in, "this is pretty shameless of you.
You pretend to be in the greatest kind of fidge about this girl; and
you make me lie awake all night thinking what you're going to say to
her; and now you as much as tell me you were so fascinated with the
modest way she was in love that you couldn't say anything to her
against being in love on our hands in any sort of way. Do you call
this business?"

"Well, I don't care if I DID encourage her--"

"Oh, you even encouraged her!"

"I DIDN'T encourage her. I merely praised Mr. Kendricks, and said
how much you thought of him as a writer."

"Oh! then you gave the subject a literary cast. I see! Do you
think Miss Gage was able to follow you?"

"That doesn't matter."

"And what do you propose to do now?"

"I propose to do nothing. I think that I have done all my duty
requires, and that now I can leave the whole affair to you. It was
your affair in the beginning. I don't see why I should worry myself
about it."

"It seems to me that this is a very strange position for a lady to
take who was not going to close an eye last night in view of a
situation which has not changed in the least, except for the worse.
Don't you think you are rather culpably light-hearted all of a
sudden?"

"I am light-hearted, but if there is any culpability it is yours,
Basil."

I reflected, but I failed to find any novelty in the fact. "Very
well, then; what do you propose that I should do?"

"I leave that entirely to your own conscience."

"And if my conscience has no suggestion to make?"

"That's your affair."

I reflected again, and then I said, more than anything to make her
uncomfortable, I'm afraid: "I feel perfectly easy in my conscience,
personally, but I have a social duty in the matter, and I hope I
shall perform it with more fidelity and courage than you have shown.
I shall speak to Kendricks."

She said: "That is just what you ought to do. I'm quite
surprised." After this touch of irony she added earnestly, "And I
do hope, my dear, you will use judgment in speaking to him, and
tact. You mustn't go at it bluntly. Remember that Mr. Kendricks is
not at all to blame. He began to show her attention to oblige us,
and if she has fallen in love with him it is our fault."

"I shall handle him without gloves," I said. "I shall tell him he
had better go away."

I was joking, but she said seriously, "Yes; he must go away. And I
don't envy you having to tell him. I suppose you will bungle it, of
course."

"Well, then, you must advise me," I said; and we really began to
consider the question. We could hardly exaggerate the difficulty
and delicacy of the duty before me. We recognised that before I
made any explicit demand of him I must first ascertain the nature of
the whole ground and then be governed by the facts. It would be
simple enough if I had merely to say that we thought the girl's
affections were becoming engaged, and then appeal to his eager
generosity, his delicate magnanimity; but there were possible
complications on his side which must be regarded. I was to
ascertain, we concluded, the exact nature of the situation before I
ventured to say anything openly. I was to make my approaches by a
series of ambushes before I unmasked my purpose, and perhaps I must
not unmask it at all. As I set off on my mission, which must begin
with finding Kendricks at his hotel, Mrs. March said she pitied me.
She called me back to ask whether I thought I had really better do
anything. Then, as I showed signs of weakening, she drove me from
her with, "Yes, yes! You must! You must!"

CHAPTER XVII

It was still so early that I had my doubts whether I should find
Kendricks up after the last night's revelry, but he met me half-way
between our hotel and his. He said he was coming to see how Mrs.
March was bearing Miss Gage's immense success at the ball; but
perhaps this was not his sole motive. He asked frankly how the
young lady was, and whether I thought Mrs. March would consider a
lunch at a restaurant by the lake a good notion. When I said I had
very little doubt she would, and proposed taking a turn in the park
before I went back with him, he looked at his watch and laughed, and
said he supposed it WAS rather early yet, and came very willingly
with me.

We had the pretty place almost to ourselves at that hour. There
were a half-dozen or so nursemaids, pushing their perambulators
about, or standing the vehicles across the walk in front of the
benches where they sat, in the simple belief of all people who have
to do with babies that the rest of the world may be fitly
discommoded in their behalf. But they did not actively molest us,
and they scarcely circumscribed our choice of seats. We were by no
means driven to the little kiosk in the lake for them, and I should
rather say that we were fatefully led there, so apt were the
associations of the place to my purpose. Nothing could have been
more natural than that I should say, as we sat down there, "This was
where I first saw Miss Gage with her friends"; and it was by a
perfectly natural transition that I should go on to speak, in a
semi-humorous strain, of the responsibility which Mrs. March and
myself had incurred by letting our sympathy for her run away with
us. I said I supposed that if we had not been willing from the
first to try to realise for her some of the expectations we imagined
she had in coming to Saratoga, she never would have fallen to our
charge; that people really brought a great many more things upon
themselves than they were willing to own; and that fate was perhaps
more the fulfilment of our tacit ambitions than our overt acts.
This bit of philosophy, which I confess I thought fine, did not seem
to impress Kendricks. He merely said that it must be great fun to
have the chance of baffling the malice of circumstance in a case
like that, and I perceived that he felt nothing complex in the
situation. In fact, I doubt whether youth perceives anything
complex in life. To the young, life is a very plain case. To be
sure, they are much more alarmed than their elders at getting
tangled up in its web at times, but that is because they have not
had our experience in getting untangled, and think they are never
going to get out alive. When they do, they think that it is the
only tangle they are ever going to be in, and do not know that they
are simply going on from one to another as long as there is enough
of them left to be caught in a mesh. To Kendricks we Marches were
simply two amiable people, who had fancied doing a pleasant thing
for a beautiful girl that accident had thrown it in our power to
befriend, and were by no means the trembling arbiters of her destiny
we felt ourselves to be. The difference between his objective sense
and my subjective sense was the difference between his twenty-seven
years and my fifty-two, and while this remained I saw that it would
be useless to try to get on common ground with him, or to give him
our point of view. If I were to speak to him at all, it must be
with authority, with the right of one who stood in the place of the
girl's parents, and had her happiness at heart. That is, it was
something like that; but my words say it too bluntly. I found
myself beginning, "I have rather had a notion that her father might
come on, and take the enterprise off our hands," though, to tell the
truth, I had never imagined such a thing, which came into my head at
that moment through an association with the thought of parents.

"Have you any idea what sort of man he is?" asked Kendricks.

"Oh, some little local magnate, president of the village and
president of the village bank; I fancy the chief figure in the
place, but probably as ignorant of our world as a Cherokee."

"Well, I don't know," said the young fellow. "Do you think that
follows because he doesn't live in it?" I could see that he did not
quite like what I had said. "I suppose ours is rather a small
world."

"The smallest of all worlds," I answered. "And in the eyes of Papa
Gage, if they could once be focused upon it, our world would shrivel
to an atom."

"Do you think," he asked, with a manifest anxiety, "that it would in
hers?"

"No; she is not the American people, and her father is, as I fancy
him. I make out from the vague hints that Brother Deering (as
Fulkerson would call him) dropped when he talked about him that Papa
Gage is a shrewd, practical, home-keeping business man, with an eye
single to the main chance, lavish, but not generous, Philistine to
the backbone, blindly devoted to his daughter, and contemptuous of
all the myriad mysteries of civilisation that he doesn't understand.
I don't know why I should be authorised to imagine him personally
long and lank, with possibly a tobacco habit of some sort. His
natural history, upon no better authority, is that of a hard-headed
farmer, who found out that farming could never be more than a
livelihood, and came into the village, and began to lend money, and
get gain, till he was in a position to help found the De Witt Point
National Bank, and then, by weight of his moneyed solidity, imposed
himself upon the free and independent voters of the village--a
majority of them under mortgage to him--and became its president.
It isn't a pleasant type, but it's ideally American."

"Yes," said Kendricks ruefully.

"But his daughter," I continued, "is probably altogether different.
There is something fine about her--really fine. Our world wouldn't
shrivel in her eye; it would probably swell up and fill the
universe," I added by an impulse that came from nowhere irresistibly
upon me: "that is, if she could see YOU in it."

"What do you mean?" he asked with a start.

"Oh, now I must tell you what I mean," I said desperately. "It's
you that have complicated this case so dreadfully for us. Can't you
think why?"

"No, I can't," he said; but he had to say that.

His fine, sensitive face flamed at once so fire-red that it could
only turn pale for a change when I plunged on: "I'm afraid we've
trifled with her happiness"; and this formulation of the case
disgusted me so much that I laughed wildly, and added, "unless we've
trifled with yours, too."

"I don't know why you call it trifling with happiness," he returned
with dignity, but without offence. "If you will leave her out of
the question, I will say that you have given me the greatest
happiness of my life in introducing me to Miss Gage."

"Now," I demanded, "may I ask what YOU mean? You know I wouldn't if
I didn't feel bound for her sake, and if you hadn't said just what
you have said. You needn't answer me unless you like! It's
pleasant to know that you've not been bored, and Mrs. March and I
are infinitely obliged to you for helping us out."

Kendricks made as if he were going to say something, and then he did
not. He hung his head lower and lower in the silence which I had to
break for him--"I hope I haven't been intrusive, my dear fellow.
This is something I felt bound to speak of. You know we couldn't
let it go on. Mrs. March and I have blamed ourselves a good deal,
and we couldn't let it go on. But I'm afraid I haven't been as
delicate with you--"

"Oh! delicate!" He lifted his head and flashed a face of generous
self-reproach upon me. "It's _I_ that haven't been delicate with
YOU. I've been monstrously indelicate. But I never meant to be,
and--and--I was coming to see you just now when we met--to see you--
Miss Gage--and ask her--tell her that we--I--must tell you and Mrs.
March--Mr. March! At the hop last night I asked her to be my wife,
and as soon as she can hear from her father--But the first thing
when I woke this morning, I saw that I must tell Mrs. March and you.
And you--you must forgive us--or me, rather; for it was my fault--
for not telling you last night--at once--oh, thank you! thank you!"

I had seized his hand, and was wringing it vehemently in expression
of my pleasure in what he had told me. In that first moment I felt
nothing but pure joy and an immeasurable relief. I drew my breath,
a very deep and full one, in a sudden, absolute freedom from
anxieties which had been none the less real and constant because so
often burlesqued. Afterward considerations presented themselves to
alloy my rapture, but for that moment, as I say, it was nothing but
rapture. There was no question in it of the lovers' fitness for
each other, of their acceptability to their respective families, of
their general conduct, or of their especial behaviour toward us.
All that I could realise was that it was a great escape for both of
us, and a great triumph for me. I had been afraid that I should not
have the courage to speak to Kendricks of the matter at all, much
less ask him to go away; and here I had actually spoken to him, with
the splendid result that I need only congratulate him on his
engagement to the lady whose unrequited affections I had been
wishing him to spare. I don't remember just the terms I used in
doing this, but they seemed satisfactory to Kendricks; probably a
repetition of the letters of the alphabet would have been equally
acceptable. At last I said, "Well, now I must go and tell the great
news to Mrs. March," and I shook hands with him again; we had been
shaking hands at half-minutely intervals ever since the first time.

CHAPTER XVIII

I saw Mrs. March waiting for me on the hotel verandah. She wore her
bonnet, and she warned me not to approach, and then ran down to meet
me.

"Well, my dear," she said, as she pushed her hand through my arm and
began to propel me away from the sight and hearing of people on the
piazza, "I hope you didn't make a fool of yourself with Kendricks.
They're engaged!"

She apparently expected me to be prostrated by this stroke. "Yes,"
I said very coolly; "I was just coming to tell you."

"How did you know it? Who told you? Did Kendricks? I don't
believe it!" she cried in an excitement not unmixed with resentment.

"No one told me," I said. "I simply divined it."

She didn't mind that for a moment. "Well, I'm glad he had the grace
to do so, and I hope he did it before you asked him any leading
questions." Without waiting to hear whether this was so or not, she
went on, with an emphasis on the next word that almost blotted it
out of the language, "SHE came back to me almost the instant you
were gone, and told me everything. She said she wanted to tell me
last night, but she hadn't the courage, and this morning, when she
saw that I was beginning to hint up to Mr. Kendricks a little, she
hadn't the courage at all. I sent her straight off to telegraph for
her father. She is behaving splendidly. And now, what are we going
to do?"

"What the rest of the world is--nothing. It seems to me that we are
out of the story, my dear. At any rate, I shan't attempt to compete
with Miss Gage in splendid behaviour, and I hope you won't. It
would be so easy for us. I wonder what Papa Gage is going to be
like."

I felt my thrill of apprehension impart itself to her. "Yes!" she
gasped; "what if he shouldn't like it?"

"Well, then, that's his affair." But I did not feel so lightly
about it as I spoke, and from time to time during the day I was
overtaken with a cold dismay at the thought of the unknown quantity
in the problem.

When we returned to the hotel after a tour of the block, we saw
Kendricks in our corner of the verandah with Miss Gage. They were
both laughing convulsively, and they ran down to meet us in yet
wilder throes of merriment.

"We've just been comparing notes," he said, "and at the very moment
when I was telling you, Mr. March, Julia was telling Mrs. March."

"Wonderful case of telepathy," I mocked.

"Give it to the Psychical Research."

They both seemed a little daunted, and Miss Gage said, "I know Mr.
March doesn't like the way we've done."

"Like it!" cried Mrs. March, contriving to shake me a little with
the hand she still had in my arm. "Of course he likes it. He was
just saying you had behaved splendidly. He said HE wouldn't attempt
to compete with you. But you mustn't regard him in the least."

I admired the skill with which Isabel saved her conscience in this
statement too much to dispute it; and I suppose that whatever she
had said, Miss Gage would have been reassured. I cannot
particularly praise the wisdom of her behaviour during that day, or,
for the matter of that, the behaviour of Kendricks either. The
ideal thing would have been for him to keep away now till her father
came, but it seemed to me that he was about under our feet all the
while, and that she, so far from making him remain at his own hotel,
encouraged him to pass the time at ours. Without consulting me,
Mrs. March asked him to stay to dinner after he had stayed all the
forenoon, and he made this a pretext for spending the afternoon in
our corner of the verandah. She made me give it up to him and Miss
Gage, so that they could be alone together, though I must say they
did not seem to mind us a great deal when we were present; he was
always leaning on the back of her chair, or sitting next her with
his hand dangling over it in a manner that made me sick. I wondered
if I was ever such an ass as that, and I quite lost the respect for
Kendricks's good sense and good taste which had been the ground of
my liking for him.

I felt myself withdrawn from the affair farther and farther in
sympathy, since it had now passed beyond my control; and I resented
the strain of the responsibility which I had thrown off, I found,
only for a moment, and must continue to suffer until the girl's
father appeared and finally relieved me. The worst was that I had
to bear it alone. It was impossible to detach Mrs. March's interest
from Miss Gage, as a girl who had been made love to, long enough to
enable her to realise her as a daughter with filial ties and duties.
She did try in a perfunctory way to do it, but I could see that she
never gave her mind to it. I could not even make her share my sense
of my own culpability, a thing she was only too willing to do in
most matters. She admitted that it was absurd for me to have let my
fancy play about the girl when I first saw her until we felt that I
must do something for her; but I could not get her to own that we
had both acted preposterously in letting Mrs. Deering leave Miss
Gage in our charge. In the first place, she denied that she had
been left in our charge. She had simply been left in the hotel
where we were staying, and we should have been perfectly free to do
nothing for her. But when Kendricks turned up so unexpectedly, it
was quite natural we should ask him to be polite to her. Mrs. March
saw nothing strange in all that. What was I worrying about? What
she had been afraid of was that he had not been in love with the
girl when she was so clearly in love with him. But now!

"And suppose her father doesn't like it!"

"Not like Mr. Kendricks!" She stared at me, and I could see how
infatuated she was.

I was myself always charmed with the young fellow. He was not only
good and generous and handsome, and clever--I never thought him a
first-class talent--but he was beautifully well bred, and he was
very well born, as those things go with us. That is, he came of
people who had not done much of anything for a generation, and had
acquired merit with themselves for it. They were not very rich, but
they had a right to think that he might have done nothing, or done
something better than literature; and I wish I could set forth
exactly the terms, tacit and explicit, in which his mother and
sisters condoned his dereliction to me at a reception where he
presented me to them. In virtue of his wish to do something, he had
become a human being, and they could not quite follow him; but they
were very polite in tolerating me, and trying to make me feel that I
was not at all odd, though he was so queer in being proud of writing
for my paper, as they called it. He was so unlike them all that I
liked him more than ever after meeting them. Still, I could imagine
a fond father, as I imagined Miss Gage's father to be, objecting to
him, on some grounds at least, till he knew him, and Mrs. March
apparently could not imagine even this.

I do not know why I should have prefigured Miss Gage's father as
tall and lank. She was not herself so very tall, though she was
rather tall than short, and though she was rather of the Diana or
girlish type of goddess, she was by no means lank. Yet it was in
this shape that I had always thought of him, perhaps through an
obscure association with his fellow-villager, Deering. I had
fancied him saturnine of spirit, slovenly of dress, and lounging of
habit, upon no authority that I could allege, and I was wholly
unprepared for the neat, small figure of a man, very precise of
manner and scrupulous of aspect, who said, "How do you do, sir? I
hope I see you well, sir," when his daughter presented us to each
other, the morning after the eventful day described, and he shook my
hand with his very small, dry hand.

I could not make out from their manner with each other whether they
had been speaking of the great matter in hand or not. I am rather
at a loss about people of that Philistine make as to what their
procedure will be in circumstances where I know just what people of
my own sort of sophistication would do. These would come straight
at the trouble, but I fancy that with the other sort the convention
is a preliminary reserve. I found Mr. Gage disposed to prolong,
with me at least, a discussion of the weather, and the aspects of
Saratoga, the events of his journey from De Witt Point, and the
hardship of having to ride all the way to Mooer's Junction in a
stage-coach. I felt more and more, while we bandied these
futilities, as if Mr. Gage had an overdue note of mine, and was
waiting for me, since I could not pay it, to make some proposition
toward its renewal; and he did really tire me out at last, so that I
said, "Well, Mr. Gage, I suppose Miss Gage has told you something of
the tremendous situation that has developed itself here?"

I thought I had better give the affair such smiling character as a
jocose treatment might impart, and the dry little man twinkled up
responsively so far as manner was concerned. "Well, yes, yes.
There has been some talk of it between us," and again he left the
word to me.

"Mrs. March urged your daughter to send for you at once because that
was the right and fit thing to do, and because we felt that the
affair had now quite transcended our powers, such as they were, and
nobody could really cope with it but yourself. I hope you were not
unduly alarmed by the summons?"

"Not at all. She said in the despatch that she was not sick. I had
been anticipating a short visit to Saratoga for some days, and my
business was in a shape so that I could leave."

"Oh!" I said vaguely, "I am very glad. Mrs. March felt, as I did,
that circumstances had given us a certain obligation in regard to
Miss Gage, and we were anxious to discharge it faithfully and to the
utmost. We should have written to you, summoned you, before, if we
could have supposed--or been sure; but you know these things go on
so obscurely, and we acted at the very first possible moment. I
wish you to understand that. We talked it over a great deal, and I
hope you will believe that we studied throughout--that we were most
solicitous from beginning to end for Miss Gage's happiness, and that
if we could have foreseen or imagined--if we could have taken any
steps--I trust you will believe--" I was furious at myself for
being so confoundedly apologetic, for I was thinking all the time of
the bother and affliction we had had with the girl; and there sat
that little wooden image accepting my self-inculpations, and
apparently demanding more of me; but I could not help going on in
the same strain: "We felt especially bound in the matter, from the
fact that Mr. Kendricks was a personal friend of ours, whom we are
very fond of, and we both are very anxious that you should not
suppose that we promoted, or that we were not most vigilant--that we
were for a moment forgetful of your rights in such an affair--"

I stopped, and Mr. Gage passed his hand across his little meagre,
smiling mouth.

"Then he is not a connection of yours, Mr. March?"

"Bless me, no!" I said in great relief; "we are not so swell as
that." And I tried to give him some notion of Kendricks's local
quality, repeating a list of agglutinated New York surnames to which
his was more or less affiliated. They always amuse me, those names,
which more than any in the world give the notion of social
straining; but I doubt if they affected the imagination of Mr. Gage,
either in this way or in the way I meanly meant them to affect him.

"And what did you say his business was?" he asked, with that
implication of a previous statement on your part which some people
think it so clever to make when they question you.

I always hate it, and I avenged myself by answering simply, "Bless
my soul, he has no business!" and letting him take up the word now
or not, as he liked.

"Then he is a man of independent means?"

I could not resist answering, "Independent means? Kendricks has no
means whatever." But having dealt this blow, I could add, "I
believe his mother has some money. They are people who live
comfortably"

"Then he has no profession?" asked Mr. Gage, with a little more
stringency in his smile.

"I don't know whether you will call it a profession. He is a
writer."

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