Part 2 out of 5
I ought to ask pardon, perhaps, for dwelling upon a thing so slight as
the entrance of a thought in a woman's life. For as to Margaret, she
seemed unchanged. She made no sign that anything unusual had occurred.
We only knew that Mr. Lyon went away less cheerful than he usually was,
that he said nothing of returning in response to our invitations, and
that he seemed to anticipate nothing but the fulfillment of a duty in his
visit to Washington.
What had happened was regarded as only an episode. In fact, however,
I doubt if there are any episodes in our lives, any asides, that do not
permanently affect our entire career. Are not the episodes, the casual
thoughts, the fortuitous, unplanned meetings, the brief and maybe at the
moment unnoted events, those which exercise the most influence on our
destiny? To all observation the career of Lyon, and not of Margaret,
was most affected by their interview. But often the implanting of an
idea in the mind is more potent than the frustration of a plan or the
gratification of a desire, so hidden are the causes that make character.
For some time I saw little of Margaret. Affairs in which I was not alone
or chiefly concerned took me from home. One of the most curious and
interesting places in the world is a Chamber in the business heart of New
York--if that scene of struggle and passion can be said to have a heart--
situated midway where the currents of eagerness to acquire the money of
other people, not to make it, ceaselessly meet and dash against each
other. If we could suppose there was a web covering this region, spun by
the most alert and busy of men to catch those less alert and more
productive, here in this Chamber would sit the ingenious spiders. But
the analogy fails, for spiders do not prey upon each other. Scientists
say that the human system has two nerve-centres--one in the brain, to
which and from which are telegraphed all movements depending upon the
will, and another in the small of the back, the centre of the involuntary
operations of respiration, digestion, and so on. It may be fanciful to
suppose that in the national system Washington is the one nervous centre
and New York the other. And yet it does sometimes seem that the nerves
and ganglions in the small of the back in the commercial metropolis act
automatically and without any visible intervention of intelligence. For
all that, their operations may be as essential as the other, in which the
will-power sometimes gets into a deadlock, and sometimes telegraphs the
most eccentric and incomprehensible orders. Puzzled by these
contradictions, some philosophers have said that there may be somewhere
outside of these two material centres another power that keeps affairs
moving along with some steadiness.
This noble Chamber has a large irregular area of floor space, is very
high, and has running round three sides a narrow elevated gallery, from
which spectators can look down upon the throng below. Upon a raised dais
at one side sits the presiding genius of the place, who rules very much
as Jupiter was supposed to govern the earthly swarms, by letting things
run and occasionally launching a thunderbolt. High up on one side, in an
Olympian seclusion, away from the noise and the strife, sits a Board,
calm as fate, and panoplied in the responsibility of chance, whose
function seems to be that of switch-shifters in their windowed cubby at a
network of railway intersections--to prevent collisions.
At both ends of the floor and along one side are narrow railed-off spaces
full of clerks figuring at desks, of telegraph operators clicking their
machines, of messenger-boys arriving and departing in haste, of
unprivileged operators nervously watching the scene and waiting the
chance of a word with some one on the floor; through noiseless swinging
doors men are entering and departing every moment--men in a hurry, men
with anxious faces, conscious that the fate of the country is in their
hands. On the floor itself are five hundred, perhaps a thousand, men,
gathered for the most part in small groups about little stands upon the
summit of which is a rallying legend, talking, laughing, screaming, good-
natured, indifferent, excited, running hither and thither in response to
changing figures in the checker-board squares on the great wall opposite-
-calm, cynical one moment, the next violently agitated, shouting,
gesticulating, rushing together, shaking their fists in a tumult of
passion which presently subsides.
The swarms ebb and flow about these little stands--bees, not bringing any
honey, but attracted to the hive where it is rumored most honey is to be
had. By habit some always stand or sit about a particular hive, waiting
for the show of comb. By-and-by there is a stir; the crowd thickens; one
beardless youth shouts out the figure "one-half"; another howls, "three-
eighths." The first one nods. It is done. The electric wire running up
the stand quivers and takes the figure, passes it to all the other wires,
transmits it to every office and hotel in the city, to all the "tickers"
in ten thousand chambers and "bucketshops" and offices in the republic.
Suddenly on the bulletin-boards in New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco,
Podunk, Liverpool, appear the mysterious "three-eighths," electrifying
the watchers of these boards, who begin to jabber and gesticulate and
"transact business." It is wonderful.
What induced the beardless young man to make this "investment" in "three-
eighths"--who can tell? Perhaps he had heard, as he came into the room,
that the Secretary of the Treasury was going to make a call of Fives;
perhaps he had heard that Bismarck had said that the French blood was too
thin and needed a little more iron; perhaps he had heard that a norther
in Texas had killed a herd of cattle, or that two grasshoppers had been
seen in the neighborhood of Fargo, or that Jay Hawker had been observed
that morning hurrying to his brokers with a scowl on his face and his hat
pulled over his eyes. The young man sold what he did not have, and the
other young man bought what he will never get.
This is business of the higher and almost immaterial sort, and has an
element of faith in it, and, as one may say, belief in the unseen, whence
it is characterized by an expression--"dealing in futures." It is not
gambling, for there are no "chips" used, and there is no roulette-table
in sight, and there are no piles of money or piles of anything else.
It is not a lottery, for there is no wheel at which impartial men preside
to insure honest drawings, and there are no predestined blanks and
prizes, and the man who buys and the man who sells can do something,
either in the newspapers or elsewhere, to affect the worth of the
investment, whereas in a lottery everything depends upon the turn of the
blind wheel. It is not necessary, however, to attempt a defense of the
Chamber. It is one of the recognized ways of becoming important and
powerful in this world. The privilege of the floor--a seat, as it is
called--in this temple of the god Chance to be Rich is worth more than a
seat in the Cabinet. It is not only true that a fortune may be made here
in a day or lost here in a day, but that a nod and a wink here enable
people all over the land to ruin others or ruin themselves with celerity.
The relation of the Chamber to the business of the country is therefore
evident. If an earthquake should suddenly sink this temple and all its
votaries into the bowels of the earth, with all its nervousness and all
its electricity, it is appalling to think what would become of the
business of the country.
Not far from this vast Chamber, where great financial operations are
conducted on the highest principles of honor, and with the strictest
regard to the Marquis of Dusenbury's rules, there is another less
pretentious Chamber, known as "open," a sort of overflow meeting. Those
who have not quite left hope behind can go in here. Here are the tickers
communicating with the Chamber, tended by lads, who transfer the figures
to big blackboards on the wall. In front of these boards sit, from
morning to night, rows, perhaps relays, of men intently or listlessly
watching the figures. Many of them, who seldom make a sign, come here
from habit; they have nowhere else to go. Some of them were once lords
in the great Chamber, who have been, as the phrase is, "cleaned out."
There is a gray-bearded veteran in seedy clothes, with sunken fiery eyes,
who was once many times a millionaire, was a power in the Board, followed
by reporters, had a palace in the Avenue, and drove to his office with
coachman and footman in livery, and his wife headed the list of
charities. Now he spends his old age watching this blackboard, and
considers it a good day that brings him five dollars and his car-fare.
At one end of the low-ceiled apartment are busy clerks behind a counter,
alert and cheerful. If one should go through a side door and down a
passage he might encounter the smell of rum. Smart young men, clad in
the choicest raiment from the misfit counters, with greed stamped on
their astute faces, bustle about, watch the blackboards, and make
investments with each other. Middle-aged men in slouch hats lounge
around with hungry eyes. The place is feverish rather than exciting.
A tall fellow, whose gait and clothes proclaim him English, with a hard
face and lack-lustre eyes, saunters about; his friends at home suppose he
is making his fortune in America. A dapper young gentleman, quite in the
mode, and with the quick air of prosperity, rapidly enters the room and
confers with a clerk at the counter. He has the run of the Chamber, and
is from the great house of Flamm and Slamm. Perhaps he is taking a
"flier" on his own account, perhaps he represents his house in a side
transactionthere are so many ways open to enterprising young men in the
city; at any rate, his entrance is regarded as significant: This is not a
hospital for the broken down and "cleaned out" of the Chamber, but it is
a place of business, which is created and fed by the incessant "ticker."
How men existed or did any business at all before the advent of the
"ticker" is a wonder.
But the Chamber, the creator of low-pressure and high-pressure, the
inspirer of the "ticker," is the great generator of business. Here I
found Henderson in the morning hour, and he came up to me on the call of
a messenger. He approached, nonchalant and smiling as usual.
"Do you see that man," he said, as we stood a moment looking down,
"sitting there on a side bench--big body, small head, hair grayish, long
beard parted--apparently taking no interest in anything?
"That's Flink, who made the corner in O. B. --one of the longest-headed
operators in the Chamber. He is about the only man who dare try a hold
with Jay Hawker. And for some reason or another, though they have
apparent tussles, Hawker rather favors him. Five years ago he could just
raise money enough to get into the Chamber. Now he is reckoned at
anywhere from five to ten millions. I was at his home the other night.
Everybody was there. I had a queer feeling, in all the magnificence,
that the sheriff might be in there in ten days. Yet he may own a good
slice of the island in ten years. His wife, whom I complimented, and who
thanked me for coming, said she had invited none but the reshershy."
"He looks like a rascal," I ventured to remark.
"Oh, that is not a word used in the Chamber. He is called a 'daisy.'
I was put into his pew in church the other Sunday, and the preacher
described him and his methods so exactly that I didn't dare look at him.
When we came out he whispered, 'That was rather hard on Slack; he must
have felt it.' These men rather like that sort of preaching."
"I don't come here often," Henderson resumed, as we walked away. "The
market is flat today. There promised to be a little flurry in L. and P.,
and I looked in for a customer."
We walked to his down-town club to lunch. Everybody, I noticed, seemed
to know Henderson, and his presence was hailed with a cordial smile, a
good-humored nod, or a hearty grasp of the hand. I never knew a more
prepossessing man; his bonhomie was infectious. Though his demeanor was
perfectly quiet and modest, he carried the air of good-fellowship.
He was entirely frank, cordial, and had that sort of sincerity which one
can afford to have who does not take life too seriously. Tall--at least
six feet-with a well-shaped head set on square shoulders, brown hair
inclined to curl, large blue eyes which could be merry or exceedingly
grave, I thought him a picture of manly beauty. Good-natured, clever,
prosperous, and not yet thirty. What a dower!
After we had disposed of our little matter of business, which I confess
was not exactly satisfactory to me, although when I was told that "the
first bondholders will be obliged to come in," he added that "of course
we shall take care of our friends," we went to his bachelor quarters up-
town. "I want you to see," he said, "how a hermit lives."
The apartments were not my idea of a hermitage--except in the city.
A charming library, spacious, but so full as to be cozy, with an open
fire; chamber, dressing-room, and bathroom connecting, furnished with
everything that a luxurious habit could suggest and good taste would not
refuse, made a retreat that could almost reconcile a sinner to solitude.
There were a few good paintings, many rare engravings, on the walls,
a notable absence, even in the sleeping-room, of photographs of actresses
and professional beauties, but here and there souvenirs of travel and
evidences that the gentler sex had contributed the skill of their slender
fingers to the cheerfulness of the bachelor's home. Scattered about were
the daily and monthly products of the press, the newest sensations, the
things talked about at dinners, but the walls for the most part were
lined with books that are recognized as the proper possessions of the
lover of books, and most of them in exquisite bindings. Less care,
I thought, had been given in the collection to "sets" of "standards" than
to those that are rare, or for some reason, either from distinguished
ownership or autograph notes, have a peculiar value.
In this atmosphere, when we were prepared to take our ease, the talk was
no longer of stocks, or railways, or schemes, but of books. Whether or
not Henderson loved literature I did not then make up my mind, but he had
a passion for books, especially for rare and first editions; and the
delight with which he exhibited his library, the manner in which he
handled the books that he took down one after the other, the sparkle in
his eyes over a "find" or a bargain, gave me a side of his character
quite different from that I should have gained by seeing him "in the
street" only. He had that genuine respect and affection for a "book"
which has become almost traditional in these days of cheap and flimsy
publications, a taste held by scholars and collectors, and quite beyond
the popular comprehension. The respect for a book is essential to the
dignity and consideration of the place of literature in the world, and
when books are treated with no more regard than the newspaper, it is a
sign that literature is losing its power. Even the collector, who may
read little and care more for the externals than for the soul of his
favorites, by the honor he pays them, by the solicitude he expends upon
their preservation without spot, by the lavishness of expense upon
binding, contributes much to the dignity of that art which preserves for
the race the continuity of its thought and development. If Henderson
loved books merely as a collector whose taste for luxury and expense
takes this direction, his indulgence could not but have a certain
refining influence. I could not see that he cultivated any decided
specialty, but he had many rare copies which had cost fabulous prices,
the possession of which gives a reputation to any owner. "My shelves of
Americana," he said, "are nothing like Goodloe's, who has a lot of scarce
things that I am hoping to get hold of some day. But there's a little
thing" (it was a small coffee-colored tract of six leaves, upon which the
binder of the city had exercised his utmost skill) "which Goodloe offered
me five hundred dollars for the other day. I picked it up in a New
Hampshire garret." Not the least interesting part of the collection was
first editions of American authors--a person's value to a collector is
often in proportion to his obscurity--and what most delighted him among
them were certain thin volumes of poetry, which the authors since
becoming famous had gone to a good deal of time and expense to suppress.
The world seems to experience a lively pleasure in holding a man to his
early follies. There were many examples of superb binding, especially of
exquisite tooling on hog-skin covers--the appreciation of which has
lately greatly revived. The recent rage for bindings has been a sore
trouble to students and collectors in special lines, raising the prices
of books far beyond their intrinsic value. I had a charming afternoon in
Henderson's library, an enjoyment not much lessened at the time by
experiencing in it, with him, rather a sense of luxury than of learning.
It is true, one might pass an hour altogether different in the garret of
a student, and come away with quite other impressions of the pageant of
At five o'clock his stylish trap was sent around from the boarding
stable, and we drove in the Park till twilight. Henderson handling the
reins, and making a part of that daily display which is too heterogeneous
to have distinction, reverted quite naturally to the tone of worldliness
and tolerant cynicism which had characterized his conversation in the
morning. If the Park and the moving assemblage had not the air of
distinction, it had that of expense, which is quite as attractive to
many. Here, as downtown, my companion seemed to know and be known by
everybody, returning the familiar salutes of brokers and club men,
receiving gracious bows from stout matrons, smiles and nods from pretty
women, and more formal recognition from stately and stiff elderly men,
who sat bolt-upright beside their wives and tried to look like
millionaires. For every passerby Henderson had a quick word of
characterization sufficiently amusing, and about many a story which
illuminated the social life of the day. It was wonderful how many of
this chance company had little "histories"--comic, tragic, pitiful,
interesting enough for the pages of a novel.
"There is a young lady"--Henderson touched his hat, and I caught a
glimpse of golden hair and a flash of dark eyes out of a mass of furs--
"who has no history: the world is all before her."
"Who is that?"
"The daughter of old Eschelle--Carmen Eschelle--the banker and
politician, you remember; had a diplomatic position abroad, and the girl
was educated in Europe. She is very clever. She and her mother have
more money than they ought to know what to do with."
"That was the celebrated Jay Hawker" ( a moment after), "in the modest
coupe--not much display about him."
"Is he recognized by respectable people?"
"Recognized?" Henderson laughed. "He's a power. There are plenty of
people who live by trying to guess what he is going to do. Hawker isn't
such a bad fellow. Other people have used the means he used to get rich
and haven't succeeded. They are not held up to point a moral. The
trouble is that Hawker succeeded. Of course, it's a game. He plays as
fair as anybody."
"Yes," Henderson resumed, walking his horses in sight of the obelisk,
which suggested the long continuance of the human race, "it is the same
old game, and it is very interesting to those who are in it. Outsiders
think it is all greed. In the Chamber it is a good deal the love of the
game, to watch each other, to find out a man's plans, to circumvent him,
to thwart him, to start a scheme and manipulate it, to catch somebody, to
escape somebody; it is a perpetual excitement."
"The machine in the Chamber appears to run very smoothly," I said.
"Oh, that is a public register and indicator. The system back of it is
comprehensive, and appears to be complicated, but it is really very
simple. Spend an hour some day in the office of Flamm and Slamm, and you
will see a part of the system. There are, always a number of men
watching the blackboard, figures on which are changed every minute by the
attendants. Telegrams are constantly arriving from every part of the
Union, from all over the continent, from all the centres in Europe, which
are read by some one connected with the firm, and then displayed for the
guidance of the watchers of the blackboard. Upon this news one or
another says, 'I think I'll buy,' or 'I think I'll sell,' so and so. His
order is transmitted instantly to the Chamber. In two minutes the result
comes back and appears upon the blackboard."
"But where does the news come from?"
"From the men whose special business it is to pick it up or make it.
They are inside of politics, of the railways, of the weather bureau,
everywhere. The other day in Chicago I sat some time in a broker's
office with others watching the market, and dropped into conversation
with a bright young fellow, at whose right hand, across the rail, was a
telegraph operator at the end of a private wire. Soon a man came in
quietly, and whispered in the ear of my neighbor and went out. The young
fellow instantly wrote a despatch and handed it to the operator, and
turning to me, said, 'Now watch the blackboard.'
In an incredibly short space of time a fall in a leading railway showed
on the blackboard. 'What was it?' I asked. 'Why, that man was the
general freight manager of the A. B. road. He told me that they were to
cut rates. I sent it to New York by a private wire.' I learned by
further conversation that my young gentleman was a Manufacturer of News,
and that such was his address and intelligence that though he was not a
member of the broker's firm, he made ten thousand a year in the business.
Soon another man came in, whispered his news, and went away. Another
despatch--another responsive change in the figures. 'That,' explained my
companion, 'was a man connected with the weather bureau. He told me that
there would be a heavy frost tonight in the Northwest.'
"Do they sell the weather?" I asked, very much amused.
"Yes, twice; once over a private wire, and then to the public, after the
value of it has been squeezed out, in the shape of predictions. Oh, the
weather bureau is worth all the money it costs, for business purposes.
It is a great auxiliary."
Dining that evening with Henderson at his club, I had further opportunity
to study a representative man. He was of a good New Hampshire family,
exceedingly respectable without being distinguished. Over the chimney-
place in the old farmhouse hung a rusty Queen Anne that had been at the
taking of Louisburg. His grandfather shouldered a musket at Bunker Hill;
his father, the youngest son, had been a judge as well as a farmer, and
noted for his shrewdness and reticence. Rodney, inheriting the thrift of
his ancestors, had pushed out from his home, adapting this thrift to the
modern methods of turning it to account. He had brought also to the city
the stamina of three generations of plain living--a splendid capital,
by which the city is constantly reinforced, and which one generation does
not exhaust, except by the aid of extreme dissipation. With sound
health, good ability, and fair education, he had the cheerful temperament
which makes friends, and does not allow their misfortunes to injure his
career. Generous by impulse, he would rather do a favor than not, and
yet he would be likely to let nothing interfere with any object he had in
view for himself. Inheriting a conventional respect for religion and
morality, he was not so bigoted as to rebuke the gayety of a convivial
company, nor so intractable as to make him an uncomfortable associate in
any scheme, according to the modern notions of business, that promised
profit. His engaging manner made him popular, and his good-natured
adroitness made him successful. If his early experience of life caused
him to be cynical, he was not bitterly so; his cynicism was of the
tolerant sort that does not condemn the world and withdraw from it, but
courts it and makes the most of it, lowering his private opinion of men
in proportion as he is successful in the game he plays with them.
At this period I could see that he had determined to be successful, and
that he had not determined to be unscrupulous. He would only drift with
the tide that made for fortune. He enjoyed the world--a sufficient
reason why the world should like him. His business morality was gauged
by what other people do in similar circumstances. In short, he was a
product of the period since the civil war closed, that great upheaval of
patriotic feeling and sacrifice, which ended in so much expansion and so
many opportunities. If he had remained in New Hampshire he would
probably have been a successful politician, successful not only in
keeping in place, but in teaching younger aspirants that serving the
country is a very good way to the attainment of luxury and the
consideration that money brings. But having chosen the law as a
stepping-stone to the lobby, to speculation, and the manipulation of
chances, he had a poor opinion of politics and of politicians. His
success thus far, though considerable, had not been sufficient to create
for him powerful enemies, so that he may be said to be admired by all and
feared by none. In the general opinion he was a downright good fellow
and amazingly clever.
In youth, as at the opera, everything seems possible. Surely it is not
necessary to choose between love and riches. One may have both, and the
one all the more easily for having attained the other. It must be a
fiction of the moralists who construct the dramas that the god of love
and the god of money each claims an undivided allegiance. It was in some
wholly legendary, perhaps spiritual, world that it was necessary to
renounce love to gain the Rhine gold. The boxes at the Metropolitan did
not believe this. The spectators of the boxes could believe it still
less. For was not beauty there seen shining in jewels that have a market
value, and did not love visibly preside over the union, and make it known
that his sweetest favors go with a prosperous world? And yet, is the
charm of life somewhat depending upon a sense of its fleetingness, of its
phantasmagorial character, a note of coming disaster, maybe, in the midst
of its most seductive pageantry, in the whirl and glitter and hurry of
it? Is there some subtle sense of exquisite satisfaction in snatching
the sweet moments of life out of the very delirium of it, that must soon
end in an awakening to bankruptcy of the affections, and the dreadful
loss of illusions? Else why do we take pleasure--a pleasure so deep that
it touches the heart like melancholy--in the common drama of the opera?
How gay and joyous is the beginning! Mirth, hilarity, entrancing sound,
brilliant color, the note of a trumpet calling to heroism, the beseeching
of the concordant strings, and the soft flute inviting to pleasure;
scenes placid, pastoral, innocent; light-hearted love, the dance on the
green, the stately pageant in the sunlit streets, the court, the ball,
the mad splendor of life. And then love becomes passion, and passion
thwarted hurries on to sin, and sin lifts to the heights of the immortal,
sweetly smiling gods, and plunges to the depths of despair. In vain the
orchestra, the inevitable accompaniment of life, warns and pleads and
admonishes; calm has gone, and gayety has gone; there is no sweetness now
but in the wildness of surrender and of sacrifice. How sad are the
remembered strains that aforetime were incentives to love and promises of
happiness! Gloom settles upon the scene; Mephisto, the only radiant one,
flits across it, and mocks the poor broken-hearted girl clinging to the
church door. There is a dungeon, the chanting of the procession of
tonsured priests, the passing-bell. Seldom appears the golden bridge
over which the baffled and tired pass into Valhalla.
Do we like this because it is life, or because there is a certain
satisfaction in seeing the tragedy which impends over all, pervades the
atmosphere, as it were, and adds something of zest to the mildest
enjoyment? Should we go away from the mimic stage any, better and
stronger if the drama began in the dungeon and ended on the greensward,
with innocent love and resplendent beauty in possession of the Rhine
How simple, after all, was the created world on the stage to the real
world in the auditorium, with its thousand complexities and dramatic
situations l and if the little knot of players of parts for an hour could
have had leisure to be spectators of the audience, what a deeper
revelation of life would they not have seen! For the world has never
assembled such an epitome of itself, in its passion for pleasure and its
passion for display, as in the modern opera, with its ranks and tiers of
votaries from the pit to the dome. I fancy that even Margaret, whose
love for music was genuine, was almost as much fascinated by the greater
spectacle as by the less.
It was a crowded night, for the opera was one that appealed to the senses
and stimulated them to activity, and left the mind free to pursue its own
schemes; in a word, orchestra and the scenes formed a sort of
accompaniment and interpreter to the private dramas in the boxes. The
opera was made for society, and not society for the opera. We occupied a
box in the second tier--the Morgans, Margaret, and my wife. Morgan said
that the glasses were raised to us from the parquet and leveled at us
from the loges because we were a country party, but he well enough knew
whose fresh beauty and enthusiastic young face it was that drew the fire
when the curtain fell on the first act, and there was for a moment a
little lull in the hum of conversation.
"I had heard," Morgan was saying, "that the opera was not acclimated in
New York; but it is nearly so. The audience do not jabber so loud nor so
incessantly as at San Carlo, and they do not hum the airs with the
"Perhaps," said my wife, "that is because they do not know the airs."
"But they are getting on in cultivation, and learning how to assert the
social side of the opera, which is not to be seriously interfered with by
the music on the stage."
"But the music, the scenery, were never before so good," I replied to
these cynical observations.
"That is true. And the social side has risen with it. Do you know what
an impudent thing the managers did the other night in protesting against
the raising of the lights by which the house was made brilliant and the
cheap illusions of the stage were destroyed? They wanted to make the
house positively gloomy for the sake of a little artificial moonlight on
the painted towers and the canvas lakes."
As the world goes, the scene was brilliant, of course with republican
simplicity. The imagination was helped by no titled names any more than
the eye was by the insignia of rank, but there was a certain glow of
feeling, as the glass swept the circle, to know that there were ten
millions in this box, and twenty in the next, and fifty in the next,
attested well enough by the flash of jewels and the splendor of attire,
and one might indulge a genuine pride in the prosperity of the republic.
As for beauty, the world, surely, in this later time, had flowered here-
flowered with something of Aspasia's grace and something of the haughty
coldness of Agrippina. And yet it was American. Here and there in the
boxes was a thoroughbred portrait by Copley--the long shapely neck, the
sloping shoulders, the drooping eyelids, even to the gown in which the
great-grandmother danced with the French officers.
"Who is that lovely creature?" asked Margaret, indicating a box opposite.
I did not know. There were two ladies, and behind them I had no
difficulty in making out Henderson and--Margaret evidently had not seen
him Mr. Lyon. Almost at the same moment Henderson recognized me, and
signaled for me to come to his box. As I rose to do so, Mrs. Morgan
exclaimed: "Why, there is Mr. Lyon! Do tell him we are here." I saw
Margaret's color rise, but she did not speak.
I was presented to Mrs. Eschelle and her daughter; in the latter I
recognized the beauty who had flashed by us in the Park. The elder lady
inclined to stoutness, and her too youthful apparel could not mislead one
as to the length of her pilgrimage in this world, nor soften the hard
lines of her worldly face-lines acquired, one could see, by a social
struggle, and not drawn there by an innate patrician insolence.
"We are glad to see a friend of Mr. Henderson's," she said, "and of Mr.
Lyon's also. Mr. Lyon has told us much of your charming country home.
Who is that pretty girl in your box, Mr. Fairchild?"
Miss Eschelle had her glass pointed at Margaret as I gave the desired
"How innocent!" she murmured. "And she's quite in the style--isn't she,
Mr. Lyon?" she asked, turning about, her sweet mobile face quite the
picture of what she was describing. "We are all innocent in these days."
"It is a very good style," I said.
"Isn't it becoming?" asked the girl, making her dark eyes at once merry
Mr. Lyon was looking intently at the opposite box, and a slight shade
came over his fine face. "Ah, I see!"
"I beg your pardon, Miss Eschelle," he said, after a second, "I hardly
know which to admire most, the beauty, or the wit, or the innocence of
the American women."
"There is nothing so confusing, though, as the country innocence," the
girl said, with the most natural air; "it never knows where to stop."
"You are too absurd, Carmen," her mother interposed; "as if the town girl
"Well, mamma, there is authority for saying that there is a time for
everything, only one must be in the fashion, you know."
Mr. Lyon looked a little dubious at this turn of the talk; Mr. Henderson
was as evidently amused at the girl's acting. I said I was glad to see
that goodness was in fashion.
"Oh, it often is. You know we were promised a knowledge of good as well
as evil. It depends upon the point of view. I fancy, now, that Mr.
Henderson tolerates the good--that is the reason we get on so well
together; and Mr. Lyon tolerates the evil--that's the reason he likes New
York. I have almost promised him that I will have a mission school."
The girl looked quite capable of it, or of any other form of devotion.
Notwithstanding her persistent banter, she had a most inviting innocence
of manner, almost an ingenuousness, that well became her exquisite
beauty. And but for a tentative daring in her talk, as if the gentle
creature were experimenting as to how far one could safely go, her
innocence might have seemed that of ignorance.
It came out in the talk that Mr. Lyon had been in Washington for a week,
and would return there later on.
"We had a claim on him," said Mrs. Eschelle, "for his kindness to us in
London, and we are trying to convince him that New York is the real
"Unfortunately," added Miss Eschelle, looking up in Mr. Lyon's face,
"he visited Brandon first, and you seem to have bewitched him with your
simple country ways. I can get him to talk of nothing else."
"You mean to say," Mr. Lyon replied, with the air of retorting, "that you
have asked me about nothing else."
"Oh, you know we felt a little responsible for you; and there is no place
so dangerous as the country. Now here you are protected--we put all the
wickedness on the stage, and learn to recognize and shun it."
"It may be wicked," said her mother, "but it is dull. Don't you find it
so, Mr. Henderson? I am passionately fond of Wagner, but it is too noisy
for anything tonight."
"I notice, dear," the dutiful daughter replied for all of us, "that you
have to raise your voice. But there is the ballet. Let us all listen
Mr. Lyon excused himself from going with me, saying that he would call at
our hotel, and I took Henderson. "I shall count the minutes you are
going to lose," the girl said as we went out-to our box. The lobbies in
the interact were thronged with men--for the most part the young
speculators of the Chamber turned into loungers in the foyer--knowing,
alert, attitudinizing in the extreme of the mode, unable even in this
hour to give beauty the preference to business, well knowing, perhaps,
that beauty itself in these days has a fine eye for business.
I liked Henderson better in our box than in his own. Was it because the
atmosphere was more natural and genuine? Or was it Margaret's
transparent nature, her sincere enjoyment of the scene, her evident
pleasure in the music, the color, the gayety of the house, that made him
drop the slight cynical air of the world which had fitted him so
admirably a moment before? He already knew my wife and the Morgans, and,
after the greetings were made, he took a seat by Margaret, quite content
while the act was going on to watch its progress in the play of her
responsive features. How quickly she felt, how the frown followed the
smile, how, she seemed to weigh and try to apprehend the meaning of what
went on--how her every sense enjoyed life!
"It is absurd," she said, turning her bright face to him when the curtain
dropped, "to be so interested in fictitious trouble."
"I'm not so sure that it is," he replied, in her own tone; "the opera is
a sort of pulpit, and not seldom preaches an awful sermon--more plainly
than the preacher dares to make it."
"But not in nomine Dei."
"No. But who can say what is most effective? I often wonder, as I watch
the congregations coming from the churches on the Avenue, if they are any
more solemnized than the audiences that pour out of this house.
I confess that I cannot shake off 'Lohengrin' in a good while after I
"And so you think the theatres have a moral influence?"
"Honestly"--and I heard his good-natured laugh--"I couldn't swear to
that. But then we don't know what New York might be without them."
"I don't know," said Margaret, reflectively, "that my own good impulses,
such as I have, are excited by anything I see on the stage; perhaps I am
more tolerant, and maybe toleration is not good. I wonder if I should
grow worldly, seeing more of it?"
"Perhaps it is not the stage so much as the house," Henderson replied,
beginning to read the girl's mind.
"Yes, it would be different if one came alone and saw the play,
unconscious of the house, as if it were a picture. I think it is the
house that disturbs one, makes one restless and discontented."
"I never analyzed my emotions," said Henderson, "but when I was a boy and
came to the theatre I well remember that it made me ambitious; every sort
of thing seemed possible of attainment in the excitement of the crowded
house, the music, the lights, the easy successes on the stage; nothing
else is more stimulating to a lad; nothing else makes the world more
"And does it continue to have the same effect, Mr. Henderson?"
"Hardly," and he smiled; "the illusion goes, and the stage is about as
real as the house--usually less interesting. It can hardly compete with
the comedy in the boxes."
"Perhaps it is lack of experience, but I like the play for itself."
"Oh yes; desire for the dramatic is natural. People will have it
somehow. In the country village where there are no theatres the people
make dramas out of each other's lives; the most trivial incidents are
magnified and talked about--dramatized, in short."
"You mean gossiped about?"
"Well, you may call it gossip--nothing can be concealed; everybody knows
about everybody else; there is no privacy; everything is used to create
that illusory spectacle which the stage tries to give. I think that in
the country village a good theatre would be a wholesome influence,
satisfy a natural appetite indicated by the inquisition into the affairs
of neighbors, and by the petty scandal."
"We are on the way to it," said Mr. Morgan, who sat behind them; "we have
theatricals in the church parlors, which may grow into a nineteenth-
century substitute for the miracle-plays. You mustn't, Margaret, let Mr.
Henderson prejudice you against the country."
"No," said the latter, quickly; "I was only trying to defend the city.
We country people always do that. We must base our theatrical life on
something in nature."
"What is the difference, Mr. Henderson," asked Margaret, "between the
gossip in the boxes and the country gossip you spoke of?"
"In toleration mainly, and lack of exact knowledge. It is here rather
cynical persiflage, not concentrated public opinion."
"I don't follow you," said Morgan. "It seems to me that in the city
you've got gossip plus the stage."
"That is to say, we have the world."
"I don't like to believe that," said Margaret, seriously--"your
definition of the world."
"You make me see that it was a poor jest," he said, rising to go.
"By-the-way, we have a friend of yours in our box tonight--a young
"Oh, Mr. Lyon. We were all delighted with him. Such a transparent,
"Tell him," said my wife, "that we should be happy to see him at our
When Henderson came back to his box Carmen did not look up, but she said,
indifferently: "What, so soon? But your absence has made one person
thoroughly miserable. Mr. Lyon has not taken his eyes off you. I never
saw such an international attachment."
"What more could I do for Miss Eschelle than to leave her in such
"I beg your pardon," said Lyon. "Miss Eschelle must believe that I
thoroughly appreciate Mr. Henderson's self-sacrifice. If I occasionally
looked over where he was, I assure you it was in pity."
"You are both altogether too self-sacrificing," the beauty replied,
turning to Henderson a look that was sweetly forgiving. "They who sin
much shall be forgiven much, you know."
"That leaves me," Mr. Lyon answered, with a laugh, "as you say over here,
out in the cold, for I have passed a too happy evening to feel like a
"The sins of omission are the worst sort," she retorted.
"You see what you must do to be forgiven," Henderson said to Lyon, with
that good-natured smile that was so potent to smooth away sharpness.
"I fear I can never do enough to qualify myself." And he also laughed.
"You never will," Carmen answered, but she accompanied the doubt with a
witching smile that denied it.
"What is all this about forgiveness?" asked Mrs. Eschelle, turning to
them from regarding the stage.
"Oh, we were having an experience meeting behind your back, mamma, only
Mr. Henderson won't tell his experience."
"Miss Eschelle is in such a forgiving humor tonight that she absolves
before any one has a chance to confess," he replied.
"Don't you think I am always so, Mr. Lyon?"
Mr. Lyon bowed. "I think that an opera-box with Miss Eschelle is the
easiest confessional in the world."
"That's something like a compliment. You see" (to Henderson) "how much
you Americans have to learn."
"Will you be my teacher?"
"Or your pupil," the girl said, in a low voice, standing near him as she
The play was over. In the robing and descending through the corridors
there were the usual chatter, meaning looks, confidential asides. It is
always at the last moment, in the hurry, as in a postscript, that woman
says what she means, or what for the moment she wishes to be thought to
mean. In the crowd on the main stairway the two parties saw each other
at a distance, but without speaking.
"Is it true that Lyon is 'epris' there?" Carmen whispered to Henderson
when she had scanned and thoroughly inventoried Margaret.
"You know as much as I do."
"Well, you did stay a long time," she said, in a lower tone.
As Margaret's party waited for their carriage she saw Mrs. Eschelle and
her daughter enter a shining coach, with footman and coachman in livery.
Henderson stood raising his hat. A little white hand was shaken to him
from the window, and a sweet, innocent face leaned forward--a face with
dark, eyes and golden hair, lit up with a radiant smile. That face for
the moment was New York to Margaret, and New York seemed a vain show.
Carmen threw herself back in her seat as if weary. Mrs. Eschelle sat
"What in the world, child, made you go on so tonight?"
"I don't know."
"What made you snub Mr. Lyon so often?"
"Did I? He won't mind much. Didn't you see, mother, that he was
distrait the moment he espied that girl? I'm not going to waste my time.
I know the signs. No fisheries imbroglio for me, thank you."
"Fish? Who said anything about fish?"
"Oh, the international business. Ask Mr. Henderson to explain it. The
English want to fish in our waters, I believe. I think Mr. Lyon has had
a nibble from a fresh-water fish. Perhaps it's the other way, and he's
hooked. There be fishers of men, you know, mother."
"You are a strange child, Carmen. I hope you will be civil to both of
them." And they rode on in silence.
In real life the opera or the theatre is only the prologue to the
evening. Our little party supped at Delgardo's. The play then begins.
New York is quite awake by that time, and ready to amuse itself. After
the public duty, the public attitudinizing, after assisting at the
artificial comedy and tragedy which imitate life under a mask, and
suggest without satisfying, comes the actual experience. My gentle girl
--God bless your sweet face and pure heart!--who looked down from the
sky-parlor at the Metropolitan upon the legendary splendor of the stage,
and the alluring beauty and wealth of the boxes, and went home to create
in dreams the dearest romance in a maiden's life, you did not know that
for many the romance of the night just began when the curtain fell.
The streets were as light as day. At no other hour were the pavements so
thronged, was there such a crush of carriages, such a blockade of cars,
such running, and shouting, greetings and decorous laughter, such a swirl
of pleasurable excitement. Never were the fashionable cafes and
restaurants so crowded and brilliant. It is not a carnival time; it is
just the flow and ebb of a night's pleasure, an electric night which has
all of the morning except its peace, a night of the gayest opportunity
and unlimited possibility.
At each little table was a drama in progress, light or serious--all the
more serious for being light at the moment and unconsidered. Morgan, who
was so well informed in the gossip of society and so little involved in
it--some men have this faculty, which makes them much more entertaining
than the daily newspaper--knew the histories of half the people in the
room. There were an Italian marquis and his wife supping together like
lovers, so strong is the force of habit that makes this public life
necessary even when the domestic life is established. There is a man who
shot himself rather seriously on the doorsteps of the beauty who rejected
him, and in a year married the handsome and more wealthy woman who sits
opposite him in that convivial party. There is a Russian princess,
a fair woman with cool observant eyes, making herself agreeable to a
mixed company in three languages. In this brilliant light is it not
wonderful how dazzlingly beautiful the women are--brunettes in yellow and
diamonds, blondes in elaborately simple toilets, with only a bunch of
roses for ornament, in the flush of the midnight hour, in a radiant glow
that even the excitement and the lifted glass cannot heighten? That
pretty girl yonder--is she wife or widow?--slight and fresh and fair,
they say has an ambition to extend her notoriety by going upon the stage;
the young lady with her, who does not seem to fear a public place, may be
helping her on the road. The two young gentlemen, their attendants, have
the air of taking life more seriously than the girls, but regard with
respectful interest the mounting vivacity of their companions, which
rises and sparkles like the bubbles in the slender glasses which they
raise to their lips with the dainty grace of practice. The staid family
parties who are supping at adjoining tables notice this group with
curiosity, and express their opinion by elevated eyebrows.
Margaret leaned back in her chair and regarded the whole in a musing'
frame of mind. I think she apprehended nothing of it except the light,
the color, the beauty, the movement of gayety. For her the notes of the
orchestra sounded through it all--the voices of the singers, the hum of
the house; it was all a spectacle and a play. Why should she not enjoy
it? There was something in the nature of the girl that responded to this
form of pleasure--the legitimate pleasure the senses take in being
gratified. "It is so different," she said to me, "from the pleasure one
has in an evening by the fire. Do you know, even Mr. Morgan seems
It was a deeper matter than she thought, this about worldliness, which
had been raised in Margaret's mind. Have we all double natures, and do
we simply conform to whatever surrounds us? Is there any difference in
kind between the country worldliness and the city worldliness? I do not
suppose that Margaret formulated any of these ideas in words. Her
knowledge of the city had hitherto been superficial. It was a place for
shopping, for a day in a picture exhibition, for an evening in the
theatre, no more a part of her existence than a novel or a book of
travels: of the life of the town she knew nothing. That night in her
room she became aware for the first time of another world, restless,
fascinating, striving, full of opportunities. What must London be?
If we could only note the first coming into the mind of a thought that
changes life and re-forms character--supposing that every act and every
new departure has this subtle beginning--we might be less the sport of
circumstances than we seem to be. Unnoted, the desire so swiftly follows
the thought and juggles with the will.
The next day Mr. Henderson left his card and a basket of roses. Mr. Lyon
called. It was a constrained visit. Margaret was cordially civil, and I
fancied that Mr. Lyon would have been more content if she had been less
so. If he were a lover, there was little to please him in the exchange
of the commonplaces of the day.
"Yes," he was saying to my wife, "perhaps I shall have to change my mind
about the simplicity of your American life. It is much the same in New
York and London. It is only a question of more or less sophistication."
"Mr. Henderson tells us," said my wife, "that you knew the Eschelles in
"Yes. Miss Eschelle almost had a career there last season."
"Well--you will pardon me--one needs for success in these days to be not
only very clever, but equally daring. It is every day more difficult to
make a sensation."
"I thought her, across the house," Margaret said, "very pretty and
attractive. I did not know you were so satirical, Mr. Lyon. Do you mean
that one must be more daring, as you call it, in London than in New
"I hope it will not hurt your national pride, Miss Debree, if I say that
there is always the greater competition in the larger market."
"Oh, my pride," Margaret answered, "does not lie in that direction."
"And to do her justice, I don't think Miss Eschelle's does, either. She
appears to be more interested now in New York than in London."
He laughed as he said this, and Margaret laughed also, and then stopped
suddenly, thinking of the roses that came that morning. Could she be
comparing the Londoner with the handsome American who sat by her side at
the opera last night? She was half annoyed with herself at the thought.
"And are not you also interested in New York, Mr. Lyon?" my wife asked.
"Yes, moderately so, if you will permit me to say it." It was an effort
on his part to keep up the conversation, Margaret was so wholly
unresponsive; and afterwards, knowing how affairs stood with them,
I could understand his well-bred misery. The hardest thing in the world
is to suffer decorously and make no sign in the midst of a society which
insists on stoicism, no matter how badly one is hurt. The Society for
First Aid to the Injured hardens its heart in these cases. "I have never
seen another place," he continued, "where the women are so busy in
improving themselves. Societies, clubs, parlor lectures, readings,
recitations, musicales, classes--it fatigues one to keep in sight of
them. Every afternoon, every evening, something. I doubt if men are
capable of such incessant energy, Mrs. Fairchild."
"And you find they have no time to be agreeable?"
"Quite the contrary. There is nothing they are not interesting in,
nothing about which they cannot talk, and talk intensely. They absorb
everything, and have the gift of acquiring intelligence without, as one
of them told me, having to waste time in reading. Yes, it is a most
The coming in of Mr. Morgan gave another turn to the talk. He had been
to see a rural American play, an exhibition of country life and
character, constructed in absolute disregard of any traditions of the
"I don't suppose," Mr. Morgan said, "a foreigner would understand it; it
would be impossible in Paris, incomprehensible in London."
"Yes, I saw it," said Mr. Lyon, thus appealed to. "It was very odd, and
seemed to amuse the audience immensely. I suppose one must be familiar
with American farm life to see the points of it. I confess that while I
sat there, in an audience so keenly in sympathy with the play--almost a
part of it, one might say--I doubted if I understood your people as well
as I thought I did when I had been here a week only. Perhaps this is the
beginning of an American drama."
"Some people say that it is."
"But it is so local!"
"Anything that is true must be true to local conditions, to begin with.
The only question is, is it true to human nature? What puzzled me in
this American play was its raising the old question of nature and art.
You've seen Coquelin? Well, that is acting, as artificial as a sonnet,
the perfection of training, skill in an art. You never doubt that he is
performing in a play for the entertainment of an audience. You have the
same enjoyment of it that you have of a picture--a picture, I mean, full
of character and sentiment, not a photograph. But I don't think of
Denman Thompson as an actor trained to perfection in a dramatic school,
but as a New Hampshire farmer. I don't admire his skill; I admire him.
There is plenty that is artificial, vulgarly conventional, in his play,
plenty of imitation of the rustic that shows it is imitation, but he is
the natural man. If he is a stage illusion, he does not seem so to me."
"Probably to an American audience only he does not," Mr. Lyon remarked.
"Well, that is getting to be a tolerably large audience."
"I doubt if you will change the laws of art," said Mr. Lyon, rising to
"We shall hope to see you again at our house," my wife said.
"You are very good. I should like it; but my time is running out."
"If you cannot come, you may leave your adieus with Miss Debree, who is
staying some time in the city," my wife said, evidently to Margaret's
annoyance. But she could do no less than give him her city address,
though the information was not accompanied by any invitation in her
Margaret was to stay some time with two maiden ladies, old friends of her
mother, the Misses Arbuser. The Arbusers were people of consequence in
their day, with a certain social prestige; in fact, the excellent ladies
were two generations removed from successful mercantile life, which in
the remote prospective took on an old-family solidity. Nowhere else in
the city could Margaret have come closer in contact with a certain phase
of New York life in which women are the chief actors--a phase which may
be a transition, and may be only a craze. It is not so much a
condescension of society to literature as it is a discovery that
literature and art, in the persons of those who produce both, may be
sources of amusement, or perhaps, to be just, of the enlargement of the
horizon and the improvement of the mind. The society mind was never
before so hospitable to new ideas and new sensations. Charities, boards
of managers, missions, hospitals, news-rooms, and lodging-houses for the
illiterate and the homeless--these are not sufficient, even with balls,
dancing classes, and teas, for the superfluous energies of this restless,
improving generation; there must be also radical clubs, reading classes,
study classes, ethical, historical, scientific, literary lectures, the
reading of papers by ladies of distinction and gentlemen of special
attainments--an unremitting pursuit of culture and information.
Curiosity is awake. The extreme of social refinement and a mild
Bohemianism almost touch. It passes beyond the affectation of knowing
persons who write books and write for the press, artists in paint and
artists in music. "You cannot be sure in the most exclusive circle"--it
was Carmen Eschelle who said this--"that you will not meet an author or
even a journalist." Not all the women, however, adore letters or affect
enthusiasm at drawing-room lectures; there are some bright and cynical
ones who do not, who write papers themselves, and have an air of being
behind the scenes.
Margaret had thought that she was fully occupied in the country, with her
teaching, her reading, her literature and historical clubs, but she had
never known before what it was to be busy and not have time for anything,
always in pursuit of some new thing, and getting a fragment here and
there; life was a good deal like reading the dictionary and remembering
none of the words. And it was all so cosmopolitan and all-embracingly
sympathetic. One day it was a paper by a Servian countess on the social
life of the Servians, absorbingly interesting both in itself and because
it was a countess who read it; and this was followed by the singing of an
Icelandic tenor and a Swedish soprano, and a recital on the violin by a
slight, red-haired, middle-aged woman from London. All the talents seem
to be afloat and at the service of the strenuous ones who are cultivating
The first function at which Margaret assisted in the long drawing-rooms
of the Arbusers was a serious one--one that combined the charm of culture
with the temptations of benevolence. The rooms were crowded with the
fashion of the town, with a sprinkling of clergymen and of thin
philanthropic gentlemen in advanced years. It was a four-o'clock, and
the assembly had the cheerfulness of a reception, only that the display
of toilets was felt to be sanctified by a purpose. The performance
opened with a tremendous prelude on the piano by Herr Bloomgarten, who
had been Liszt's favorite pupil; indeed, it was whispered that Liszt had
said that, old as he was, he never heard Bloomgarten without learning
something. There was a good deal of subdued conversation while the
pianist was in his extreme agony of execution, and a hush of extreme
admiration--it was divine, divine, ravishing--when he had finished.
The speaker was a learned female pundit from India, and her object was to
interest the women of America in the condition of their unfortunate
Hindoo sisters. It appeared that thousands and tens of thousands of them
were doomed to early and lifelong widowhood, owing to the operation of
cruel caste laws, which condemned even girls betrothed to deceased
Brahmins to perpetual celibacy. This fate could only be alleviated by
the education and elevation of women. And money was needed for schools,
especially for medical schools, which would break down the walls of
prejudice and enfranchise the sex. The appeal was so charmingly made
that every one was moved by it, especially the maiden ladies present, who
might be supposed to enter into the feelings of their dusky sisters
beyond the seas. The speaker said, with a touch of humor that always
intensifies a serious discourse, that she had been told that in one of
the New England States there was a superfluity of unmarried women; but
this was an entirely different affair; it was a matter of choice with
these highly educated and accomplished women. And the day had come when
woman could make her choice! At this there was a great clapping of
hands. It was one thing to be free to lead a life of single self-
culture, and quite another to be compelled to lead a single fife without
self-culture. The address was a great success, and much enthusiasm
spread abroad for the cause of the unmarried women of India.
In the audience were Mrs. Eschelle and her daughter. Margaret and Carmen
were made acquainted, and were drawn together by curiosity, and perhaps
by a secret feeling of repulsion. Carmen was all candor and sweetness,
and absorbingly interested in the women of India, she said. With
Margaret's permission she would come and see her, for she believed they
had common friends.
It would seem that there could not be much sympathy between natures so
opposed, persons who looked at life from such different points of view,
but undeniably Carmen had a certain attraction for Margaret. The New
Englander, whose climate is at once his enemy and his tonic, always longs
for the tropics, which to him are a region of romance, as Italy is to the
German. In his nature, also, there is something easily awakened to the
allurements of a sensuous existence, and to a desire for a freer
experience of life than custom has allowed him. Carmen, who showed to
Margaret only her best side--she would have been wise to exhibit no other
to Henderson, but women of her nature are apt to cheapen themselves with
men--seemed an embodiment of that graceful gayety and fascinating
worldliness which make the world agreeable.
One morning, a few days after the Indian function, Margaret was alone in
her own cozy sitting-room. Nothing was wanting that luxury could suggest
to make it in harmony with a beautiful woman, nothing that did not
flatter and please, or nurse, perhaps, a personal sense of beauty, and
impart that glow of satisfaction which comes when the senses are adroitly
ministered to. Margaret had been in a mood that morning to pay extreme
attention to her toilet. The result was the perfection of simplicity, of
freshness, of maiden purity, enhanced by the touch of art. As she
surveyed herself in the pier-glass, and noted the refined lines of the
morning-gown which draped but did not conceal the more exquisite lines of
her figure, and adjusted a rose in her bosom, she did not feel like a
Puritan, and, although she may not have noted the fact, she did not look
like one. It was not a look of vanity that she threw into the mirror,
or of special self-consciousness; in her toilet she had obeyed only her
instinct (that infallible guide in a woman of refinement), and if she was
conscious of any emotion, it was of the stirring within her of the
deepest womanly nature.
In fact, she was restless. She flung herself into an easy-chair before
the fire, and took up a novel. It was a novel with a religious problem.
In vain she tried to be interested in it. At home she would have
absorbed it eagerly; they would have discussed it; the doubts and
suggestions in it would have assumed the deepest personal importance.
It might have made an era in her thoughtful country life. Here it did
not so appeal to her; it seemed unreal and shadowy in a life that had so
much more of action than of reflection in it. It was a life fascinating
and exciting, and profoundly unsatisfactory. Yet, after all, it was more
really life than that placid vegetation in the country. She felt that in
the whirl of only a few days of it--operas, receptions, teas, readings,
dances, dinners, where everybody sparkled with a bewildering brilliancy,
and yet from which one brought away nothing but a sense of strain; such
gallantry, such compliments, such an easy tossing about of every topic
under heaven; such an air of knowing everything, and not caring about
anything very much; so much mutual admiration and personal satisfaction!
She liked it, and perhaps was restless because she liked it. To be
admired, to be deferred to--was there any harm in that? Only, if one
suffers admiration today, it becomes a necessity tomorrow. She began to
feel the influence of that life which will not let one stand still for a
moment. If it is not the opera, it is a charity; if it is not a lover,
it is some endowed cot in a hospital. There must be something going on
every day, every hour.
Yes, she was restless, and could not read. She thought of Mr. Henderson.
He had called formally. She had seen him, here and there, again and
again. He had sought her out in all companies; his face had broken into
a smile when he met her; he had talked with her lightly, gayly; she
remembered the sound of his voice; she had learned to know his figure in
a room among a hundred; and she blushed as she remembered that she had
once or twice followed him with her eyes in a throng. He was, to be
sure, nothing to her; but he was friendly; he was certainly entertaining;
he was a part, somehow, of this easy-flowing life.
Miss Eschelle was announced. Margaret begged that she would come up-
stairs without ceremony. The mutual taking-in of the pretty street
costume and the pretty morning toilet was the work of a moment--the
photographer has invented no machine that equals a woman's eyes for such
"How delightful it is! how altogether charming!" and Margaret felt that
she was included with the room in this admiration. "I told mamma that I
was coming to see you this morning, even if I missed the Nestors'
luncheon. I like to please myself sometimes. Mamma says I'm frivolous,
but do you know"--the girls were comfortably seated by the fire, and
Carmen turned her sweet face and candid eyes to her companion--"I get
dreadfully tired of all this going round and round. No, I don't even go
to the Indigent Mothers' Home; it's part of the same thing, but I haven't
any gift that way. Ah, you were reading--that novel."
"Yes; I was trying to read it; I intend to read it."
"Oh, we have had it! It's a little past now, but it has been all the
rage. Everybody has read it; that is, I don't know that anybody has read
it, but everybody has been talking about it. Of course somebody must
have read it, to set the thing agoing. And it has been discussed to
death. I sometimes feel as if I had changed my religion half a dozen
times in a fortnight. But I haven't heard anything about it for a week.
We have taken up the Hindoo widows now, you know." And the girl laughed,
as if she knew she were talking nonsense.
"And you do not read much in the city?" Margaret asked, with an answering
"Yes; in the summer. That is, some do. There is a reading set. I don't
know that they read much, but there is a reading set. You know, Miss
Debree, that when a book is published--really published, as Mr. Henderson
says--you don't need to read it. Somehow it gets into the air and
becomes common property. Everybody hears the whole thing. You can talk
about it from a notice. Of course there are some novels that one must
read in order to understand human nature. Do you read French?"
"Yes; but not many French novels; I cannot."
"Nor can I," said Carmen, with a sincere face. "They are too realistic
for me." She was at the moment running over in her mind a "situation" in
a paper-covered novel turned down on her nightstand. "Mr. Henderson says
that everybody condemns the French novels, and that people praise the
novels they don't read."
"You know Mr. Henderson very well?"
"Yes; we've known him a long time. He is the only man I'm afraid of."
"Well, you know he is a sort of Club man; that style of man provokes your
curiosity, for you never can tell how much such men know. It makes you a
Carmen was looking into the fire, as if abstractedly reflecting upon the
nature of men in general, but she did not fail to notice a slight
expression of pain on Margaret's face.
"But there is your Mr. Lyon--"
Margaret laughed. "You do me too much honor. I think you discovered him
"Well, our Mr. Lyon." Carmen was still looking into the fire. "He is
such a good young man!"
Margaret did not exactly fancy this sort of commendation, and she
replied, with somewhat the tone of defending him, "We all have the
highest regard for Mr. Lyon."
"Yes, and he is quite gone on Brandon, I assure you. He intends to do a
great deal of good in the world. I think he spends half his time in New
York studying, he calls it, our charitable institutions. Mamma
reproaches me that I don't take more interest in philanthropy. That is
her worldly side. Everybody has a worldly side. I'm as worldly as I can
be"--this with a look of innocence that denied the self-accusation--"but
I haven't any call to marry into Exeter Hall and that sort of thing.
That is what she means--dear mamma. Are you High-Church or evangelical?"
she asked, after a moment, turning to Margaret,
Margaret explained that she was neither.
"Well, I am High-Church, and Mr. Lyon is evangelical-Church evangelical.
There couldn't be any happiness, you know, without harmony in religious
"I should think not," said Margaret, now quite recovering herself.
"It must be a matter of great anxiety to you here."
Carmen was quick to note the change of tone, and her face beamed with
merriment as she rose.
"What nonsense I've been talking! I did not intend to go into such deep
things. You must not mind what I said about Mr.--(a little pause to read
Margaret's face)--Mr. Lyon. We esteem him as much as you do. How
charming you are looking this morning! I wish I had your secret of not
letting this life tell on one." And she was gone in a shower of
compliments and smiles and caressing ways. She had found out what she
came to find out. Mr. Henderson needs watching, she said to herself.
The interview, as Margaret thought it over, was amusing, but it did not
raise her spirits. Was everybody worldly and shallow? Was this the sort
of woman whom Mr. Henderson fancied? Was Mr. Henderson the sort of man
to whom such a woman would be attracted?
It was a dinner party in one of the up-town houses--palaces--that begin
to repeat in size, spaciousness of apartments, and decoration the
splendor of the Medicean merchant princes. It is the penalty that we pay
for the freedom of republican opportunity that some must be very rich.
This is the logical outcome of the open chance for everybody to be rich--
and it is the surest way to distinction. In a free country the course
must be run, and it is by the accumulation of great wealth that one can
get beyond anxiety, and be at liberty to indulge in republican
Margaret and Miss Arbuser were ushered in through a double row of
servants in livery--shortclothes and stockings--in decorous vacuity--an
array necessary to bring into relief the naturalness and simplicity of
the entertainers. Vulgarity, one can see, consists in making one's self
a part of the display of wealth: the thing to be attained is personal
simplicity on a background of the richest ostentation. It is difficult
to attain this, and theory says that it takes three generations for a man
to separate himself thus from his display. It was the tattle of the town
that the first owner of the pictures in the gallery of the Stott mansion
used to tell the prices to his visitors; the third owner is quite beyond
remembering them. He might mention, laughingly, that the ornamented
shovel in the great fireplace in the library was decorated by Vavani--it
was his wife's fancy. But he did not say that the ceiling in the music-
room was painted by Pontifex Lodge, or that six Italian artists had
worked four years making the Corean room, every inch of it exquisite as
an intaglio--indeed, the reporters had made the town familiar with the
The present occupants understood quite well the value of a background:
the house swarmed with servants--retainers, one might say. Margaret, who
was fresh from her history class, recalled the days of Elizabeth, when a
man's importance was gauged by the retinue of servitors and men and women
in waiting. And this is, after all, a better test of wealth than a mere
accumulation of things and cost of decoration; for though men and women
do not cost so much originally as good pictures--that is, good men and
women--everybody knows that it needs more revenue to maintain them.
Though the dinner party was not large, there was to be a dance
afterwards, and for every guest was provided a special attendant.
The dinner was served in the state dining-room, to which Mr. Henderson
had the honor of conducting Margaret. Here prevailed also the same
studied simplicity. The seats were for sixteen. The table went to the
extremity of elegant plainness, no crowding, no confusion of colors under
the soft lights; if there was ostentation anywhere, it was in the
dazzling fineness of the expanse of table-linen, not in the few rare
flowers, or the crystal, or the plate, which was of solid gold, simply
modest. The eye is pleased by this chastity--pure whiteness, the glow of
yellow, the slight touch of sensuous warmth in the rose. The dinner was
in keeping, short, noiselessly served under the eye of the maitre
d'hotel, few courses, few wines; no anxiety on the part of the host and
hostess--perhaps just a little consciousness that everything was simple
and elegant, a little consciousness of the background; but another
generation will remove that.
If to Margaret's country apprehension the conversation was not quite up
to the level of the dinner and the house--what except that of a circle of
wits, who would be out of place there, could be?--the presence of Mr.
Henderson, who devoted himself to her, made the lack unnoticed. The talk
ran, as usual, on the opera, Wagner, a Christmas party at Lenox, at
Tuxedo, somebody's engagement, some lucky hit in the Exchange, the
irritating personalities of the newspapers, the last English season, the
marriage of the Duchess of Bolinbroke, a confidential disclosure of who
would be in the Cabinet and who would have missions, a jocular remark
across the table about a "corner" (it is impossible absolutely here, as
well as at a literary dinner, to sink the shop), the Sunday opening of
galleries--anything to pass the hour, the ladies contributing most of the
vivacity and persiflage.
"I saw you, Mr. Henderson"--it was Mrs. Laflamme raising her voice--"the
other night in a box with a very pretty woman."
"I don't know them. We used to hear of them in Naples, Venice, various
places; they were in Europe some time; I believe. She was said to be
very entertaining--and enterprising."
"Well, I suppose they have seen something of the world. The other lady
was her mother. And the man with us--that might interest you more, Mrs.
Laflamme, was Mr. Lyon, who will be the Earl of Chisholm."
"Ah! Then I suppose she has money?"
"I never saw any painful evidence of poverty. But I don't think Mr. Lyon
is fortune-hunting. He seems to be after information and--goodness."
Margaret flushed a little, but apparently Henderson did not notice it.
Then she said (after Mrs. Laflamme had dropped the subject with the
remark that he had come to the right place), "Miss Eschelle called on me
"And was, no doubt, agreeable."
"She was, as Mrs. Laflamme says, entertaining. She quoted you a good
"Quoted me? For what?"
"As one would a book, as a familiar authority."
"I suppose I ought to be flattered, if you will excuse the street
expression, to have my stock quotable. Perhaps you couldn't tell whether
Miss Eschelle was a bull or a bear in this case?"
"I don't clearly know what that is. She didn't offer me any," said
Margaret, in a tone of carrying on the figure without any personal
"Well, she is a bit of an operator. A good many women here amuse
themselves a little in stocks."
"It doesn't seem to me very feminine."
"No? But women generally like to' take risks and chances. In countries
where lotteries are established they always buy tickets."
"Ah! then they only risk what they have. I think women are more prudent
and conservative than men."
"No doubt. They are conservatives usually. But when they do go in for
radical measures and risks, they leave us quite behind." Mr. Henderson
did not care to extend the conversation in this direction, and he asked,
abruptly, "Are you finding New York agreeable, Miss Debree?"
"Yes. Yes and no. One has no time to one's self. Do you understand why
it is, Mr. Henderson, that one can enjoy the whole day and then be
thoroughly dissatisfied with it?"
"Perfectly; when the excitement is over."
"And then I don't seem to be myself here. I have a feeling of having
"Because the world is so big?"
"Not that. Do you know, the world seems much smaller here than at home."
"And the city appears narrow and provincial?"
"I cannot quite explain it. The interests of life don't seem so large--
the questions, I mean, what is going on in Europe, the literature, the
reforms, the politics. I get a wider view when I stand off--at home.
I suppose it is more concentrated here. And, oh dear, I'm so stupid!
Everybody is so alert in little things, so quick to turn a compliment,
and say a bright thing. While I am getting ready to say what I really
think about Browning, for instance, he is disposed of in a sentence."
"That is because you try to say what you really think."
"If one don't, what's the use of talk?"
"Oh, to pass the time."
Margaret looked up to see if Henderson was serious. There was a smile of
amusement on his face, but not at all offensive, because the woman saw
that it was a look of interest also.
"Then I sha'n't be serious any more," she said, as there was a movement
to quit the table.
"That lays the responsibility on me of being serious," he replied, in the
same light tone.
Later they were wandering through the picture-gallery together.
A gallery of modern pictures appeals for the most part to the senses--
represents the pomps, the color, the allurements of life. It struck
Henderson forcibly that this gallery, which he knew well, appeared very
different looking at it with Miss Debree from what it would if he had
been looking at it with Miss Eschelle. There were some pictures that he
hurried past, some technical excellences only used for sensuous effects--
that he did not call attention to as he might have done with another.
Curiously enough, he found himself seeking sentiment, purity. If the
drawing was bad, Margaret knew it; if a false note was struck, she saw
it. But she was not educated up to a good many of the suggestions of the
gallery. Henderson perceived this, and his manner to her became more
deferential and protective. It was a manner to which every true woman
responds, and Margaret was happy, more herself, and talked with a freedom
and gayety, a spice of satire, and a note of reality that made her every
moment more attractive to her companion. In her, animation the charm of
her unworn beauty blazed upon him with a direct personal appeal.
He hardly cared to conceal his frank admiration. She, on her part, was
thinking, what could Miss Eschelle mean by saying that she was afraid of
"Does the world seem any larger here, Miss Debree?" he asked, as they had
lingeringly made the circuit of the room and passed out through the
tropical conservatory to join the rest of the company.
"Yes--away from people."
"Then it is not numbers, I am glad to know, that make a world."
She did not reply. But when he encountered her, robed for departure, at
the foot of the stairway, she gave him her hand in good-night, and their
eyes met for a moment.
I wonder if that was the time? Probably not. I fancy that when the
right day came she confessed that the moment was when she first saw him
enter their box at the opera.
Henderson walked down the avenue slowly, hearing the echo of his own
steps in the deserted street. He was in no haste to reach home. It was
such a delightful evening-snowing a little, and cold, but so
exhilarating. He remembered just how she turned her head as she got into
the carriage. She had touched his arm lightly once in the gallery to
call his attention to a picture. Yes, the world was larger, larger, by
one, and it would seem large--her image came to him distinctly--if she
were the only one.
Henderson was under the spell of this evening when the next, in response
to a note asking him to call for a moment on business, he was shown into
the Eschelle drawing-room. It was dimly lighted, but familiarity with
the place enabled him without difficulty to find his way down the long
suite, rather overcrowded with luxurious furniture, statuary, and
pictures on easels, to the little library at the far end glowing in a
There, ensconced in a big chair, a book in her hand, one pretty foot on
the fender, sat Carmen, in a grayish, vaporous toilet, which took a warm
hue from the color of the spreading lamp-shades. On the carved table
near was a litter of books and of nameless little articles, costly and
coquettish, which assert femininity, even in a literary atmosphere.
Over the fireplace hung a picture of spring--a budding girl, smiling and
winning, in a semi-transparent raiment, advancing with swift steps to
bring in the season of flowers and of love. The hand that held the book
rested upon the arm of the chair, a finger inserted in the place where
she had been reading, her rounded white arm visible to the elbow, and
Carmen was looking into the fire in the attitude of reflection upon a
Women have so many forms of attraction, different women are attractive in
so many different ways, moods are so changing, beauty is so undefinable,
and has so many weapons. And yet men are called inconstant!
It was not until Henderson had time to take in the warmth of this
domestic picture that Carmen rose.
"It is so good of you to come, with all your engagements. Mamma is
excused with a headache, but she has left me power of attorney to ask
questions about our little venture."
"I hope the attorney will not put me through a cross-examination."
"That depends upon how you have been behaving, Mr. Henderson. I'm not
very cross yet. Now, sit there so that I can look at you and see how
honest you are."
"Do you want me to put on my business or my evening expression?"
"Oh, the first, if you mean business."
"Well, your stocks are going up."
"That's nice. You are so lucky! Everything goes up with you. Do you
know what they say of you.
"Nothing bad, I hope."
"That everything you touch turns to gold. That you will be one of the
nabobs of New York in ten years."
"That's a startling destiny."
"Isn't it? I don't like it." The girl seemed very serious. "I'd like
you to be distinguished. To be in the Cabinet. To be minister--go to
England. But one needs a great deal of money for that, to go as one
ought to go. What a career is open to a man in this country if he has
"But I don't care for politics."
"Who does? But position. You can afford that if you have money enough.
Do you know, Mr. Henderson, I think you are dull."
"Thank you. I reckoned you'd find it out."
"The other night at the Nestor ball a lady--no, I won't tell you who she
is--asked me if I knew who that man was across the room; such an air of
distinction; might be the new British Minister. You know, I almost
blushed when I said I did know him."
"You see what people expect of you. When a man looks distinguished and
is clever, and knows how to please if he likes, he cannot help having a
career, unless he is afraid to take the chances."
Henderson was not conscious of ever being wanting in this direction. The
picture conjured up by the ingenious girl was not unfamiliar to his mind,
and he understood quite well the relation to it that Carmen had in her
mind; but he did not take the lead offered. Instead, he took refuge in
the usual commonplace, and asked, "Wouldn't you like to have been a man?"
"Heaven forbid! I should be too wicked. It is responsibility enough to
be a woman. I did not expect such a banality from you. Do you think,
Mr. Henderson, we had better sell?"
"Our stocks. You are so occupied that I thought they might fall when you
are up in the clouds somewhere."
"No, I shall not forget."
"Well, such things happen. I might forget you if it were not for the
"Then I shall keep the stocks, even if they fall."
"And we should both fall together. That would be some compensation.
Not much. Going to smash with you would be something like going to
church with Mr. Lyon. It might have a steadying effect."
"What has come over you tonight, Carmen?" Henderson asked, leaning
forward with an expression of half amusement, half curiosity.
"I've been thinking--doesn't that astonish you?--about life. It is very
serious. I got some new views talking with that Miss Debree from
Brandon. Chiefly from what she didn't say. She is such a lovely girl,
and just as unsophisticated--well, as we are. I fear I shocked her by
telling her your opinion of French novels."
"You didn't tell her that I approved of all the French novels you read?"
"Oh no! I didn't say you approved of any. It sort of came out that you
knew about them. She is so downright and conscientious. I declare I
felt virtuous shivers running all over me all the time I was with her.
I'm conscientious myself. I want everybody to know the worst of me.
I wish I could practice some concealment. But she rather discourages me.
She would take the color out of a career. She somehow doesn't allow for
color, I could see. Duty, duty--that is the way she looks at life.
She'd try to keep me up to it; no playing by the way. I liked her very
much. I like people not to have too much toleration. She would be just
the wife for some nice country rector."
"Perhaps I ought to tell her your plan for her? I dined with her last
night at the Stotts'."
"Yes?" Carmen had been wondering if he would tell her of that. "Was it
"Not very. There was music, distant enough not to interfere with
conversation, and the gallery afterwards."
"It must have been very exhilarating. You talked about the Duchess of
Bolinbroke, and the opera, and Prince Talleyrand, and the corner in
wheat--dear me, I know, so decorous! And you said Miss Debree was
"I had the honor of taking her out."
"Mr. Henderson"--the girl had risen to adjust the lamp-shade, and now
stood behind his chair with her arm resting on it, so that he was obliged
to turn his head backward to see her--"Mr. Henderson, do you know you are
getting to be a desperate flirt?" The laughing eyes looking into his
said that was not such a desperate thing to do if he chose the right
"Who taught me?" He raised his left hand. She did not respond to the
overture, except to snap the hand with her index-finger, and was back in
her chair again, regarding him demurely.
"I think we shall go abroad soon." The little foot was on the fender
again, and the face had the look of melancholy resolution.
"And leave Mr. Lyon without any protection here?" The remark was made in
a tone of good-humored raillery, but for some reason it seemed to sting
"Pshaw!" she said. "How can you talk such nonsense? You," and she rose
to her feet in indignation--"you to advise an American girl to sell
herself for a title--the chance of a title. I'm ashamed of you!"
"Why, Carmen," he replied, flushing, "I advised nothing of the sort.
I hadn't the least idea. I don't care a straw for Mr. Lyon."
"That's just it; you don't care," sinking into her seat, still
unappeased. "I think I'll tell Mr. Lyon that he will have occupation
enough to keep him in this country if he puts his money into that scheme
you were talking over the other night."
Henderson was in turn annoyed. "You can tell him anything you like.
I'm no more responsible for his speculations than for his domestic
"Now you are offended. It's not nice of you to put me in the wrong when
you know how impulsive I am. I wish I didn't let my feelings run away
with me." This said reflectively, and looking away from him. And then,
turning towards him with wistful, pleading eyes: "Do you know,
I sometimes wish I had never seen you. You have so much power to make a
person very bad or very good."
"Come, come," said Henderson, rising, "we mustn't quarrel about an
Englishman--such old friends."
"Yes, we are very old friends." The girl rose also, and gave him her
hand. "Perhaps that's the worst of it. If I should lose your esteem I
should go into a convent." She dropped his hand, and snatching a bunch
of violets from the table, fixed them in his button-hole, looking up in
his face with vestal sweetness. "You are not offended?"
"Not a bit; not the least in the world," said Henderson, heartily,
patting the hand that still lingered upon his lapel.
When he had gone, Carmen sank into her chair with a gesture of vexation,
and there were hard lines in her sweet face. "What an insensible stick!"
Then she ran up-stairs to her mother, who sat in her room reading one of
the town-weeklies, into which some elderly ladies look for something to
"Such a stupid evening! He is just absorbed in that girl from Brandon.
I told him we were going abroad."
"Going abroad! You are crazy, child. New York is forty times as
"And forty times as tiresome. I'm sick of it. Mamma, don't you think it
would be only civil to ask Mr. Lyon to a quiet dinner before he goes?"
"Certainly. That is what I said the other day. I thought you--"
"Yes, I was ill-natured then. But I want to please you. And we really
ought to be civil."
One day is so like another in the city. Every day something new, and,
the new the same thing over again. And always the expectation that it
will be different tomorrow. Nothing is so tiresome as a kaleidoscope,
though it never repeats itself.
Fortunately there are two pursuits that never pall--making money and
Henderson had a new object in life, though the new one did not sensibly
divert him from the old; it rather threw a charming light over it, and
made the possibilities of it more attractive. In all his schemes he
found the thought of Margaret entering. Why should it not have been
Carmen? he sometimes thought. She thoroughly understood him. She would
never stand in the way of his most daring ambitions with any scruples.
Her conscience would never nag his. She would be ambitious for a career
for him. Would she care for him or the career? How clever she was! And
affectionate? She would be if she had a heart.
He was not balancing the two. What man ever does, in fact? It was
simply because Margaret had a heart that he loved her, that she seemed
necessary to him. He was quite capable of making a match for his
advancement, but he felt strong enough to make one for his own pleasure.
And if there are men so worldly as not to be attracted to unworldliness
in a woman, Henderson was not one of them. If his heart had not
dictated, his brain would have told him the value of the sympathy of a
He was a very busy man, in the thick of the struggle for a great fortune.
It did not occur to him to reflect whether she would approve all the
methods he resorted to, but all the women he knew liked success, and the
thought of her invigorated him. If she once loved him, she would approve
what he did.
He saw much of her in those passing days--days that went like a dream to
one of them at least. He was a welcome guest at the Arbusers', but he
saw little of Margaret alone. It did not matter. A chance look is a
volume; a word is a library. They saw each other; they heard each other.
And then passion grows almost as well in the absence as in the presence
of the object. Imagination then has free play. A little separation
sometimes will fan it into a flame.
The days went by, and Margaret's visit was over. I am obliged to say
that the leave-taking was a gay one, as full of laughter as it was of
hope. Brandon was such a little way off. Henderson often had business
there. The Misses Arbuser said, "Of course." And Margaret said he must
not forget that she lived there. Even when she bade her entertainers an
affectionate good-by, she could not look very unhappy.
Spring was coming. That day in the cars there were few signs of it on
the roadside to be seen, but the buds were swelling. And Margaret,
neglecting the book which lay on her lap, and looking out the window,
felt it in all her veins.
It is said that the world is created anew for every person who is in
love. There is therefore this constant miracle of a new heavens and a
new earth. It does not depend upon the seasons. The subtle force which
is in every human being, more or less active, has this power, as if love
were somehow a principle pervading nature itself, and capable of
transforming it. Is this a divine gift? Can it be used more than once?
Once spent, does the world to each succeeding experimenter in it become
old and stale? We say the world is old. In one sense, the real sense to
every person, it is no older than the lives lived in it at any given
time. If it is always passing away, it is always being renewed. Every
time a youth looks love in a maiden's eyes, and sees the timid appealing
return of the universal passion, the world for those two is just as
certainly created as it was on the first morning, in all its color, odor,
song, freshness, promise. This is the central mystery of life.
Unconsciously to herself, Margaret had worked this miracle. Never before
did the little town look so bright; never before was there exactly such a
color on the hills-sentiment is so pale compared with love; never before
did her home appear so sweet; never before was there such a fine ecstasy
in the coming of spring.
For all this, home-coming, after the first excitement of arrival is over,
is apt to be dull. The mind is so occupied with other emotions that the
friends even seem a little commonplace and unresponsive, and the routine
is tame. Out of such a whirl of new experiences to return and find that
nothing has happened; that the old duties and responsibilities are
waiting! Margaret had eagerly leaped from the carriage to throw herself
into her aunt's arms-what a sweet welcome it is, that of kin!--and yet
almost before the greeting was over she felt alone. There was that in
the affectionate calmness of Miss Forsythe that seemed to chill the glow
and fever of passion in her new world. And she had nothing to tell.
Everything had changed, and she must behave as if nothing had happened.
She must take up her old life--the interests of the neighborhood. Even
the little circle of people she loved appeared distant from her at the
moment; impossible it seemed to bring them into the rushing current of
her life. Their joy in getting her back again she could not doubt, nor
the personal affection with which she was welcomed. But was the New
England atmosphere a little cold? What was the flavor she missed in it
all? The next day a letter came. The excuse for it was the return of a
fan which Mr. Henderson had carried off in his pocket from the opera.
What a wonderful letter it was--his handwriting, the first note from him!
Miss Forsythe saw in it only politeness. For Margaret it outweighed the
town of Brandon. It lay in her lap as she sat at her chamber window
looking out over the landscape, which was beginning to be flushed with a
pale green. There was a robin on the lawn, and a blackbird singing in
the pine. "Go not, happy day," she said, with tears in her eyes. She
took up the brief letter and read it again. Was he really hers, "truly"?
And she answered the letter, swiftly and with no hesitation, but with a
throbbing heart. It was a civil acknowledgment; that was all. Henderson
might have lead it aloud in the Exchange. But what color, what charming
turns of expression, what of herself, had the girl put into it, that gave
him such a thrill of pleasure when he read it? What secret power has a
woman to make a common phrase so glow with her very self?
Here was something in her life that was her own, a secret, a hope, and
yet a tremulous anticipation to be guarded almost from herself.
It colored everything; it was always, whatever she was doing or saying,
present, like an air that one unconsciously hums for days after it has
caught his fancy. Blessed be the capacity of being fond and foolish!
If that letter was under her pillow at night, if this new revelation was
last in her thought as she fell asleep, if it mingled with the song of
the birds in the spring morning, as some great good pervading the world,
is there anything distinguishing in such an experience that it should be
dwelt on? And if there were questionings and little panics of doubt, did
not these moments also reveal Margaret to herself more certainly than the
hours of happy dreaming?
Questionings no doubt there were, and, later, serious questionings; for
habit is almost as strong as love, and the old ways of life and of
thought will reassert themselves in a thoughtful mind, and reason will
insist on analyzing passion and even hope.
Gradually the home life and every-day interests began to assume their
natural aspect and proportions. It was so sweet and sane, this home
life, interesting and not feverish. There was time for reading, time for
turning over things in the mind, time for those interchanges of feeling
and of ideas, by the fireside; she was not required to be always on dress
parade, in mind or person, always keyed up to make an impression or
receive one; how much wider and sounder was Morgan's view of the world,
allowing for his kindly cynicism, than that prevalent in the talk where
she had lately been! How sincere and hearty and free ran the personal
currents in this little neighborhood! In the very fact that the daily
love and affection for her and interest in her were taken for granted she
realized the difference between her position here and that among newer
friends who showed more open admiration.
Little by little there was a readjustment. In comparison, the city life,
with its intensity of action and feeling, began to appear distant, not so
real, mixed, turbid, even frivolous. And was Henderson a vanishing part
of this pageant? Was his figure less distinct as the days went by?
It could not be affirmed. Love is such a little juggler, and likes, now
and again, to pretend to be so reasonable and judicious. There were no
more letters. If there had been a letter now and then, on any excuse,
the nexus would have been more distinct: nothing feeds the flame exactly
like a letter; it has intention, personality, secrecy. And the little
excitement of it grows. Once a week gets to be twice a week, three
times, four times, and then daily. And then a day without a letter is
such a blank, and so full of fear! What can have happened? Is he ill?
Has he changed? The opium habit is nothing to the letter habit-between
lovers. Not that Margaret expected a letter. Indeed, reason told her
that it had not gone so far as that. But she should see him. She felt
sure of that. And the thought filled all the vacant places in her
imagination of the future.
And yet she thought she was seeing him more clearly than when he was with
her. Oh wise young woman! She fancied she was deliberating, looking at
life with great prudence. It must be one's own fault if one makes a
radical mistake in marriage. She was watching the married people about
her with more interest-the Morgans, our own household, Mrs. Fletcher; and
besides, her aunt, whose even and cheerful life lacked this experience.
It is so wise to do this, to keep one's feelings in control, not to be
too hasty! Everybody has these intervals of prudence. That is the reason
there are so few mistakes.
I dare say that all these reflections and deliberations in the maidenly
mind were almost unconscious to herself; certainly unacknowledged.
It was her imagination that she was following, and scarcely a distinct
reality or intention. She thought of Henderson, and he gave a certain
personality, vivid maybe, to that dream of the future which we all in
youth indulge; but she would have shrunk from owning this even to
herself. We deceive ourselves as often as we deceive others. Margaret
would have repudiated with some warmth any intimation that she had lost
her heart, and was really predicting the practical possibilities of that
loss, and she would have been quite honest with herself in thinking that
she was still mistress of her own feeling. Later on she would know, and
delight to confess, that her destiny was fixed at a certain hour, at a
certain moment, in New York, for subsequent events would run back to that
like links in a chain. And she would have been right and also wrong in
that; for but for those subsequent events the first impression would
have faded, and been taken little account of in her life. I am more and
more convinced that men and women act more upon impulse and less upon
deep reflection and self-examination than the analytic novelists would
have us believe, duly weighing motives and balancing considerations; and
that men and women know themselves much less thoroughly than they suppose
they do. There is a great deal of exaggeration, I am convinced, about
the inward struggles and self-conflicts. The reader may know that
Margaret was hopelessly in love, because he knows everything; but that
charming girl would have been shocked and wounded to the most indignant
humiliation if she had fancied that her friends thought that. Nay, more,
if Henderson had at this moment made by letter a proposal for her hand,
her impulse would have been to repudiate the offer as unjustified by
anything that had taken place, and she would no doubt have obeyed that
But something occurred, while she was in this mood, that did not shock
her maidenly self-consciousness, nor throw her into antagonism, but which
did bring her face to face with a possible reality. And this was simply
the receipt of a letter from Henderson; not a love-letter--far enough
from that--but one in which there was a certain tone and intention that
the most inexperienced would recognize as possibly serious. Aside from
the announcement in the letter, the very fact of writing it was
significant, conveying an intimation that the reader might be interested
in what concerned the writer. The letter was longer than it need have
been, for one thing, as if the pen, once started on its errand, ran on
con amore. The writer was coming to Brandon; business, to be sure, was
the excuse; but why should it have been necessary to announce to her a
business visit? There crept into the letter somehow a good deal about
his daily life, linked, to be sure, with mention of places and people in
which she had recently an interest. He had been in Washington, and there
were slight sketches of well-known characters in Congress and in the
Government; he had been in Chicago, and even as far as Denver, and there
were little pictures of scenes that might amuse her. There was no
special mystery about all this travel and hurrying from place to place,
but it gave Margaret a sense of varied and large occupations that she did
not understand. Through it all there was the personality that had been
recently so much in her thoughts. He was coming. That was a very solid
fact that she must meet. And she did not doubt that he was coming to see
her, and soon. That was a definite and very different idea from the dim
belief that he would come some time. He had signed himself hers
It was a letter that could not be answered like the other one; for it
raised questions and prospects, and the thousand doubts that make one
hesitate in any definite step; and, besides, she pleased herself to think
that she did not know her own mind. He had not asked if he might come;
he had said he was coming, and really there was no answer to that.
Therefore she put it out of her mind-another curious mental process we
have in dealing with a matter that is all the time the substratum of our
existence. And she was actually serious; if she was reflective, she was
conscious of being judicially reflective.
But in this period of calm and reflection it was impossible that a woman
of Margaret's habits and temperament should not attempt to settle in her
mind what that life was yonder of which she had a little taste; what was
the career that Henderson had marked out for himself; what were his
principles; what were the methods and reasons of his evident success.
Endeavoring in her clear mind to separate the person, about whose
personality she was so fondly foolish, from his schemes, which she so
dimly comprehended, and applying to his somewhat hazy occupations her
simple moral test, were the schemes quite legitimate? Perhaps she did
not go so far as this; but what she read in the newspapers of moneymaking
in these days made her secretly uneasy, and she found herself wishing
that he were definitely practicing some profession, or engaged in some
one solid occupation.
In the little parliament at our house, where everything, first and last,
was overhauled and brought to judgment, without, it must be confessed,
any visible effect on anything, one evening a common "incident" of the
day started the conversation. It was an admiring account in a newspaper
of a brilliant operation by which three or four men had suddenly become
"I don't see," said my wife, "any mention in this account of the
thousands who have been reduced to poverty by this operation."
"No," said Morgan; "that is not interesting."
"But it would be very interesting to me," Mrs. Fletcher remarked.
"Is there any protection, Mr. Morgan, for people who have invested their
"Yes; the law."
"But suppose your money is all invested, say in a railway, and something
goes wrong, where are you to get the money to pay for the law that will
give you restitution? Is there anything in the State, or public opinion,
or anywhere, that will protect your interests against clever swindling?"
"Not that I know of," Morgan admitted. "You take your chance when you
let your money go out of your stocking. You see there are so many people
who want it. You can put it in the ground."
"But if I own the ground I put it in, the voters who have no ground will
tax it till there is nothing left for me."
"That is equality."
"But it isn't equality, for somebody gets very rich in railways or lands,
while we lose our little all. Don't you think there ought to be a public
official whose duty it is to enforce the law gratis which I cannot afford
to enforce when I am wronged?"
"The difficulty is to discover whether you are wronged or only
unfortunate. It needs a lawyer to find that out. And very likely if you
are wronged, the wrongdoer has so cleverly gone round the law that it
needs legislation to set you straight, and that needs a lobbyist, whom
the lawyer must hire, or he must turn lobbyist himself. Now, a lawyer
costs money, and a lobbyist is one of the most expensive of modern
luxuries; but when you have a lawyer and lobbyist in one, you will find