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

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"Ah!" Mr. Gage softly breathed. "Does he write for your--paper?"

I noted that as to the literary technicalities he seemed not to be
much more ignorant than Kendricks's own family, and I said,
tolerantly, "Yes; he writes for our magazine."

"Magazine--yes; I beg your pardon," he interrupted.

"And for any others where he can place his material."

This apparently did not convey any very luminous idea to Mr. Gage's
mind, and he asked after a moment, "What kind of things does he
write?"

"Oh, stories, sketches, poems, reviews, essays--almost anything, in
fact."

The light left his face, and I perceived that I had carried my
revenge too far, at least for Kendricks's advantage, and I
determined to take a new departure at the first chance. The chance
did not come immediately.

"And can a man support a wife by that kind of writing?" asked Mr.
Gage.

I laughed uneasily. "Some people do. It depends upon how much of
it he can sell. It depends upon how handsomely a wife wishes to be
supported. The result isn't usually beyond the dreams of avarice,"
I said, with a desperate levity.

"Excuse me," returned the little man. "Do you live in that way? By
your writings?"

"No," I said with some state, which I tried to subdue; "I am the
editor of Every Other Week, and part owner. Mr. Kendricks is merely
a contributor."

"Ah," he breathed again. "And if he were successful in selling his
writings, how much would he probably make in a year?"

"In a year?" I repeated, to gain time. "Mr. Kendricks is
comparatively a beginner. Say fifteen hundred--two thousand--
twenty-five hundred."

"And that would not go very far in New York."

"No; that would not go far in New York." I was beginning to find a
certain pleasure in dealing so frankly with this hard little man. I
liked to see him suffer, and I could see that he did suffer; he
suffered as a father must who learns that from a pecuniary point of
view his daughter is imprudently in love. Why should we always
regard such a sufferer as a comic figure? He is, if we think of it
rightly, a most serious, even tragical figure, and at all events a
most respectable figure. He loves her, and his heart is torn
between the wish to indulge her and the wish to do what will be
finally best for her. Why should our sympathies, in such a case, be
all for the foolish young lovers? They ought in great measure to be
for the father, too. Something like a sense of this smote me, and I
was ashamed in my pleasure.

"Then I should say, Mr. March, that this seems a most undesirable
engagement for my daughter. What should you say? I ask you to make
the case your own."

"Excuse me," I answered; "I would much rather not make the case my
own, Mr. Gage, and I must decline to have you consult me. I think
that in this matter I have done all that I was called upon to do. I
have told you what I know of Mr. Kendricks's circumstances and
connections. As to his character, I can truly say that he is one of
the best men I ever knew. I believe in his absolute purity of
heart, and he is the most unselfish, the most generous--"

Mr. Gage waved the facts aside with his hand. "I don't undervalue
those things. If I could be master, no one should have my girl
without them. But they do not constitute a livelihood. From what
you tell me of Mr. Kendricks's prospects, I am not prepared to say
that I think the outlook is brilliant. If he has counted upon my
supplying a deficiency--"

"Oh, excuse me, Mr. Gage! Your insinuation--"

"Excuse ME!" he retorted. "I am making no insinuation. I merely
wish to say that, while my means are such as to enable me to live in
comfort at De Witt Point, I am well aware that much more would be
needed in New York to enable my daughter to live in the same
comfort. I'm not willing she should live in less. I think it is my
duty to say that I am not at all a rich man, and if there has been
any supposition that I am so, it is a mistake that cannot be
corrected too soon."

This time I could not resent his insinuation, for since he had begun
to speak I had become guiltily aware of having felt a sort of ease
in regard to Kendricks's modesty of competence from a belief, given
me, I suspect, by the talk of Deering, that Mr. Gage had plenty of
money, and could come to the rescue in any amount needed. I could
only say, "Mr. Gage, all this is so far beyond my control that I
ought not to allow you to say it to me. It is something that you
must say to Mr. Kendricks."

As I spoke I saw the young fellow come round the corner of the
street, and mount the hotel steps. He did not see me, for he did
not look toward the little corner of lawn where Mr. Gage and I had
put our chairs for the sake of the morning shade, and for the
seclusion that the spot afforded us. It was at the angle of the
house farthest from our peculiar corner of the piazza, whither I had
the belief that the girl had withdrawn when she left me to her
father. I was sure that Kendricks would seek her there, far enough
beyond eyeshot or earshot of us, and I had no doubt that she was
expecting him.

"You are Mr. Kendricks's friend--"

"I have tried much more to be Miss Gage's friend; and Mrs. March--"
It came into my mind that she was most selfishly and shamelessly
keeping out of the way, and I could not go on and celebrate her
magnanimous impartiality, her eager and sleepless vigilance.

"I have no doubt of that," said the little man, "and I am very much
obliged to you for all the trouble you have taken on my daughter's
account. But you are his friend, and I can speak to you much more
fully and frankly than I could to him."

I did not know just what to say to this, and he went on: "In point
of fact, I don't think that I shall speak to him at all."

"That is quite your affair, my dear sir," I said dryly. "It isn't
to be supposed that you would seek an interview with him."

"And if he seeks an interview with me, I shall decline it." He
looked at me defiantly and yet interrogatively. I could see that he
was very angry, and yet uncertain.

"I must say, then, Mr. Gage, that I don't think you would be right."

"How, not right?"

"I should say that in equity he had a full and perfect right to meet
you, and to talk this matter over with you. He has done you no
wrong whatever in admiring your daughter, and wishing to marry her.
It's for you and her to decide whether you will let him. But as far
as his wish goes, and his expression of it to her, he is quite
within his rights. You must see that yourself."

"I consider," he answered, "that he has done me a wrong in that very
thing. A man without means, or any stated occupation, he had no
business to speak to my daughter without speaking to me. He took
advantage of the circumstances. What does he think? Does he
suppose I am MADE of money? Does he suppose I want to support a
son-in-law? I can tell you that if I were possessed of unlimited
means, I should not do it." I began to suspect that Deering was
nearer right, after all, in his representations of the man's
financial ability; I fancied something of the anxiety, the tremor of
avarice, in his resentment of poor Kendricks's possible, or rather
impossible, designs upon his pocket. "If he had any profession, or
any kind of business, I should feel differently, and I should be
willing to assist him to a reasonable degree; or if he had a
business training, I might take him in with me; but as it is, I
should have a helpless burden on my hands, and I can tell you I am
not going in for that sort of thing. I shall make short work of it.
I shall decline to meet Mr. Hendricks, or Kendricks, and I shall ask
you to say as much to him from me."

"And I shall decline to be the bearer of any such message from you,
Mr. Gage," I answered, and I saw, not without pleasure, the
bewilderment that began to mix with his arrogance.

"Very well, then, sir," he answered, after a moment; "I shall simply
take my daughter away with me, and that will end it."

The prim little, grim little man looked at me with his hard eyes,
and set his lips so close that the beard on the lower one stuck out
at me with a sort of additional menace I felt that he was too
capable of doing what he said, and I lost myself in a sense of his
sordidness, a sense which was almost without a trace of compassion.

It seemed as if I were a long time under the spell of this, and the
sight of his repugnant face; but it could really have been merely a
moment, when I heard a stir of drapery on the grass near us, and the
soft, rich voice of Miss Gage saying, "Papa!"

We both started to our feet. I do not know whether she had heard
what he said or not. We had spoken low, and in the utmost vehemence
of his speech he did not lift his voice. In any case, she did not
heed what he said.

"Papa," she repeated, "I want you to come up and see Mrs. March on
the piazza. And--Mr. Kendricks is there."

I had a wild desire to laugh at what followed, and yet it was not
without its pathos. "I--I--hm! hm! I--cannot see Mr. Kendricks
just at present. I--the fact is, I do not want to see him. It is
better--not. I think you had better get ready to go home with me at
once, daughter. I--hm!--cannot approve of any engagement to Mr.
Kendricks, and I--prefer not to meet him." He stopped.

Miss Gage said nothing, and I cannot say that she looked anything.
She simply CLOUDED UP, if I may so express the effect that came and
remained upon her countenance, which was now the countenance she had
shown me the first evening I saw her, when I saw the Deerings
cowering in its shadow. I had no need to look at the adamantine
little man before her to know that he was softening into wax, and,
in fact, I felt a sort of indecency in beholding his inteneration,
for I knew that it came from his heart, and had its consecration
through his love for her.

That is why I turned away, and do not know to this moment just how
the change she desired in him was brought about. I will not say
that I did not look back from a discreet distance, and continue
looking until I saw them start away together and move in the
direction of that corner of the piazza where Kendricks was waiting
with Mrs. March.

It appeared, from her account, that Mr. Gage, with no uncommon show
of ill-will, but with merely a natural dryness, suffered Kendricks
to be presented to him, and entered upon some preliminary banalities
with him, such as he had used in opening a conversation with me.
Before these came to a close Mrs. March had thought it well to leave
the three together.

Afterward, when we knew the only result that the affair could have,
she said, "The girl has a powerful will. I wonder what the mother
was like."

"Yes; evidently she didn't get that will from her father. I have
still a sense of exhaustion from it in our own case. What do you
think it portends for poor Kendricks!"

"Poor Kendricks!" she repeated thoughtfully. "Yes; in that sense I
suppose you might call him poor. It isn't an equal thing as far as
nature, as character, goes. But isn't it always dreadful to see two
people who have made up their minds to get married?"

"It's very common," I suggested.

"That doesn't change the fact, or lessen the risk. She is very
beautiful, and now he is in love with her beautiful girlhood. But
after a while the girlhood will go."

"And the girl will remain," I said.

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