Part 3 out of 5
it economical to let him take your claim and all that can be made out of
it, and not bother you any more about it. But there is no doubt about
the law, as I said. You can get just as much law as you can pay for. It
is like any other commodity."
"You mean to say," I asked, "that the lawyer takes what the operator
"Not exactly. There is a great deal of unreasonable prejudice against
lawyers. They must live. There is no nobler occupation than the
application of the principle of justice in human affairs. The trouble is
that public opinion sustains the operator in his smartness, and estimates
the lawyer according to his adroitness. If we only evoked the aid of a
lawyer in a just cause, the lawyers would have less to do.
"Usually and naturally the best talent goes with the biggest fees."
"It seems to me," said my wife, musing along, in her way, on parallel
lines, "that there ought to be a limit to the amount of property one man
can get into his absolute possession, to say nothing of the methods by
which he gets it."
"That never yet could be set," Morgan replied. "It is impossible for any
number of men to agree on it. I don't see any line between absolute
freedom of acquisition, trusting to circumstances, misfortune, and death
to knock things to pieces, and absolute slavery, which is communism."
"Do you believe, Mr. Morgan, that any vast fortune was ever honestly come
"That is another question. Honesty is such a flexible word. If you mean
a process the law cannot touch, yes. If you mean moral consideration for
others, I doubt. But property accumulates by itself almost. Many a man
who has got a start by an operation he would not like to have
investigated, and which he tries to forget, goes on to be very rich, and
has a daily feeling of being more and more honorable and respectable,
using only means which all the world calls fair and shrewd."
"Mr. Morgan," suddenly asked Margaret, who had been all the time an
uneasy listener to the turn the talk had taken, "what is railroad
"Oh, it is very simple, at least in some of its forms. The 'wreckers,'
as they are called, fasten upon some railway that is prosperous, pays
dividends, pays a liberal interest on its bonds, and has a surplus. They
contrive to buy, no matter of what cost, a controlling interest in it,
either in its stock or its management. Then they absorb its surplus;
they let it run down so that it pays no dividends, and by-and-by cannot
even pay its interest; then they squeeze the bondholders, who may be glad
to accept anything that is offered out of the wreck, and perhaps then
they throw the property into the hands of a receiver, or consolidate it
with some other road at a value enormously greater than the cost to them
in stealing it. Having in one way or another sucked it dry, they look
round for another road."
"And all the people who first invested lose their money, or the most of
"Naturally, the little fish get swallowed."
"It is infamous," said Margaret--"infamous! And men go to work to do
this, to get other people's property, in cool blood?"
"I don't know how cool, but it is in the way of business."
"What is the difference between that and getting possession of a bank and
robbing it?" she asked, hot with indignation.
"Oh, one is an operation, and the other is embezzlement."
"It is a shame. How can people permit it? Suppose, Mrs. Fletcher, a
wrecker should steal your money that way?"
"I was thinking of that."
I never saw Margaret more disturbed--out of all proportion, I thought, to
the cause; for we had talked a hundred times about such things.
Do you think all men who are what you call operating around are like
that?" she asked.
"Oh, no," I said. "Probably most men who are engaged in what is
generally called speculation are doing what seems to them a perfectly
legitimate business. It is a common way of making a fortune."
"You see, Margaret," Morgan explained, "when people in trade buy
anything, they expect to sell it for more than they gave for it."
"It seems to me," Margaret replied, more calmly, "that a great deal of
what you men call business is just trying to get other people's money,
and doesn't help anybody or produce anything."
"Oh, that is keeping up the circulation, preventing stagnation."
"And that is the use of brokers in grain and stocks?"
"Partly. They are commonly the agents that others use to keep themselves
"I cannot see any good in it," Margaret persisted. "No one seems to have
the things he buys or sells. I don't understand it."
"That is because you are a woman, if you will pardon me for saying it.
Men don't need to have things in hand; business is done on faith and
credit, and when a transaction is over, they settle up and pay the
difference, without the trouble of transporting things back and forth."
"I know you are chaffing me, Mr. Morgan. But I should call that
"Oh, there is a risk in everything you do. But you see it is really
paying for a difference of knowledge or opinion."
"Would you buy stocks that way?"
"Why, agreeing to pay for your difference of opinion, as you call it, not
really having any stock at all."
"I never did. But I have bought stocks and sold them pretty soon, if I
could make anything by the sale. All merchants act on that principle."
"Well," said Margaret, dimly seeing the sophistry of this, "I don't
understand business morality."
"Nobody does, Margaret. Most men go by the law. The Golden Rule seems
to be suspended by a more than two-thirds vote."
It was by such inquiries, leading to many talks of this sort, that
Margaret was groping in her mind for the solution of what might become to
her a personal question. Consciously she did not doubt Henderson's
integrity or his honor, but she was perplexed about the world of which
she had recently had a glimpse, and it was impossible to separate him
from it. Subjected to an absolutely new experience, stirred as her heart
had never been before by any man--a fact which at once irritated and
pleased her--she was following the law of her own nature, while she was
still her own mistress, to ponder these things and to bring her reason to
the guidance of her feeling. And it is probable that she did not at all
know the strength of her feeling, or have any conception of the real
power of love, and how little the head has to do with the great passion
of life, the intensity of which the poets have never in the least
exaggerated. If she thought of Mr. Lyon occasionally, of his white face
and pitiful look of suffering that day, she could not, after all, make it
real or permanently serious. Indeed, she was sure that no emotion could
so master her. And yet she looked forward to Henderson's coming with a
sort of nervous apprehension, amounting almost to dread.
It was the susceptible time of the year for plants, for birds, for maids:
all innocent natural impulses respond to the subtle influence of spring.
One may well gauge his advance in selfishness, worldliness, and sin by
his loss of this annual susceptibility, by the failure of this sweet
appeal to touch his heart. One must be very far gone if some note of it
does not for a moment bring back the tenderest recollections of the days
of joyous innocence.
Even the city, with its mass of stone and brick, rectangles, straight
lines, dust, noise, and fever of activity, is penetrated by this divine
suggestion of the renewal of life. You can scarcely open a window
without letting in a breath of it; the south wind, the twitter of a
sparrow, the rustle of leaves in the squares, the smell of the earth and
of some struggling plant in the area, the note of a distant hand-organ
softened by distance, are begetting a longing for youth, for green
fields, for love. As Carmen walked down the avenue with Mr. Lyon on a
spring morning she almost made herself believe that an unworldly life
with this simple-hearted gentleman--when he should come into his title
and estate--would be more to her liking than the most brilliant success
in place and power with Henderson. Unfortunately the spring influence
also suggested the superior attractiveness of the only man who had ever
taken her shallow fancy. And unfortunately the same note of nature
suggested to Mr. Lyon the contrast of this artificial piece of loveliness
with the domestic life of which he dreamed.
As for Margaret, she opened her heart to the spring without reserve. It
was May. The soft maples had a purple tinge, the chestnuts showed color,
the apple-trees were in bloom (all the air was full of their perfume),
the blackbirds were chattering in convention in the tall oaks, the bright
leaves and the flowering shrubs were alive with the twittering and
singing of darting birds. The soft, fleecy clouds, hovering as over a
world just created, seemed to make near and participant in the scene the
delicate blue of the sky. Margaret--I remember the morning--was standing
on her piazza, as I passed through the neighborhood drive, with a spray
of apple-blossoms in her hand. For the moment she seemed to embody all
the maiden purity of the scene, all its promise. I said, laughing:
"We shall have to have you painted as spring."
"But spring isn't painted at all," she replied, holding up the apple--
blossoms, and coming down the piazza with a dancing step.
"And so it won't last. We want something permanent," I was beginning to
say, when a carriage passed, going to our house. "I think that must be
"Ah!" she exclaimed. Her sunny face clouded at once, and she turned to
go in as I hurried away.
It was Mr. Henderson, and there was at least pretense enough of business
to occupy us, with Mr. Morgan, the greater part of the day. It was not
till late in the afternoon that Henderson appeared to remember that
Margaret was in the neighborhood, and spoke of his intention of calling.
My wife pointed out the way to him across the grounds, and watched him
leisurely walking among the trees till he was out of sight.
"What an agreeable man Mr. Henderson is!" she said, turning to me; "most
companionable; and yet--and yet, my dear, I'm glad he is not my husband.
You suit me very well." There was an air of conviction about this
remark, as if it were the result of deep reflection and comparison, and
it was emphasized by the little possessory act of readjusting my necktie
--one of the most subtle of female flatteries.
"But who wanted him to be your husband?" I asked. "Married women have
the oddest habit of going about the world picking out the men they would
not like to have married. Do they need continually to justify
"No; they congratulate themselves. You never can understand."
"I confess I cannot. My first thought about an attractive woman whose
acquaintance I make is not that I am glad I did not marry her."
"I dare say not. You are all inconsistent, you men. But you are the
least so of any man in the world, I do believe."
It would be difficult to say whether the spring morning seemed more or
less glorious to Margaret when she went indoors, but its serenity was
It was like the premonition in nature of a change. She put the apple
blossoms in water and placed the jug on the table, turning it about half
a dozen times, moving her head from side to side to get the effect.
When it was exactly right, she said to her aunt, who sat sewing in the
bay-window, in a perfectly indifferent tone, "Mr. Fairchild just passed
here, and said that Mr. Henderson had come."
"Ah!" Her aunt did not lift her eyes from her work, or appear to attach
the least importance to this tremendous piece of news. Margaret was
annoyed at what seemed to her an assumed indifference. Her nerves were
quivering with the knowledge that he had arrived, that he was in the next
house, that he might be here any moment--the man who had entered into her
whole life--and the announcement was no more to her aunt than if she had
said it rained. She was provoked at herself that she should be so
disturbed, yes, annoyed, at his proximity. She wished he had not come--
not today, at any rate. She looked about for something to do, and began
to rearrange this and that trifle in the sitting-room, which she had
perfectly arranged once before in the morning, moving about here and
there in a rather purposeless manner, until her aunt looked up and for a
moment followed her movements till Margaret left the room. In her own
chamber she sat by the window and tried to think, but there was no
orderly mental process; in vain she tried to run over in her mind the
past month and all her reflections and wise resolves. She heard the call
of the birds, she inhaled the odor of the new year, she was conscious of
all that was gracious and inviting in the fresh scene, but in her sub-
consciousness there was only one thought--he was there, he was coming.
She took up her sewing, but the needle paused in the stitch, and she
found herself looking away across the lawn to the hills; she took up a
book, but the words had no meaning, read and reread them as she would.
He is there, he is coming. And what of it? Why should she be so
disturbed? She was uncommitted, she was mistress of her own actions.
Had she not been coolly judging his conduct? She despised herself for
being so nervous and unsettled. If he was coming, why did he not come?
Why was he waiting so long? She arose impatiently and went down-stairs.
There was a necessity of doing something.
"Is there anything that you want from town, auntie?"
"Nothing that I know of. Are you going in?"
"No, unless you have an errand. It is such a fine day that it seems a
pity to stay indoors."
"Well, I would walk if I were you." But she did not go; she went instead
to her room. He might come any moment. She ought not to run away; and
yet she wished she were away. He said he was coming on business. Was it
not, then, a pretense? She felt humiliated in the idea of waiting for
him if the business were not a pretense.
How insensible men are! What a mere subordinate thing to them in life is
the love of a woman! Yes, evidently business was more important to him
than anything else. He must know that she was waiting; and she blushed
to herself at the very possibility that he should think such a thing.
She was not waiting. It was lunch-time. She excused herself. In the
next moment she was angry that she had not gone down as usual. It was
time for him to come. He would certainly come immediately after lunch.
She would not see him. She hoped never to see him. She rose in haste,
put on her hat, put it on carefully, turning and returning before the
glass, selected fresh gloves, and ran down-stairs.
"I'm going, auntie, for a walk to town."
The walk was a long one. She came back tired. It was late in the
afternoon. Her aunt was quietly reading. She needed to ask her nothing:
Mr. Henderson had not been there. Why had he written to her?
"Oh, the Fairchilds want us to come over to dinner," said Miss Forsythe,
without looking up.
"I hope you will go, auntie. I sha'n't mind being alone."
"Why? It's perfectly informal. Mr. Henderson happens to be there."
"I'm too stupid. But you must go. Mr. Henderson, in New York, expressed
the greatest desire to make your acquaintance."
Miss Forsythe smiled. "I suppose he has come up on purpose. But, dear,
you must go to chaperon me. It would hardly be civil not to go, when you
knew Mr. Henderson in New York, and the Fairchilds want to make it
agreeable for him."
"Why, auntie, it is just a business visit. I'm too tired to make the
effort. It must be this spring weather."
Perhaps it was. It is so unfortunate that the spring, which begets so
many desires, brings the languor that defeats their execution. But there
is a limit to the responsibility even of spring for a woman's moods.
Just as Margaret spoke she saw, through the open window, Henderson coming
across the lawn, walking briskly, but evidently not inattentive to the
charm of the landscape. It was his springy step, his athletic figure,
and, as he came nearer, the joyous anticipation in his face. And it was
so sudden, so unexpected--the vision so long looked for! There was no
time for flight, had she wanted to avoid him; he was on the piazza; he
was at the open door. Her hand went quickly to her heart to still the
rapid flutter, which might be from pain and might be from joy--she could
not tell. She had imagined their possible meeting so many times, and it
was not at all like this. She ought to receive him coldly, she ought to
receive him kindly, she ought to receive him indifferently. But how real
he was, how handsome he was! If she could have obeyed the impulse of the
moment I am not sure but she would have fled, and cast herself face
downward somewhere, and cried a little and thanked God for him. He was
in the room. In his manner there was no hesitation, in his expression no
uncertainty. His face beamed with pleasure, and there was so much open
admiration in his eyes that Margaret, conscious of it to her heart's
core, feared that her aunt would notice it. And she met him calmly
enough, frankly enough. The quickness with which a woman can pull
herself together under such circumstances is testimony to her superior
"I've been looking across here ever since morning," he said, as soon as
the hand-shaking and introduction were over, "and I've only this minute
been released." There was no air of apology in this, but a delicate
intimation of impatience at the delay. And still, what an unconscious
brute a man is!
"I thought perhaps you had returned," said Margaret, "until my aunt was
just telling me we were asked to dine with you."
Henderson gave her a quick glance. Was it possible she thought he could
go away without seeing her?
"Yes, and I was commissioned to bring you over when you are ready."
"I will not keep you waiting long, Mr. Henderson," interposed Miss
Forsythe, out of the goodness of her heart. "My niece has been taking a
long walk, and this debilitating spring weather--"
"Oh, since the sun has gone away, I think I'm quite up to the exertion,
since you wish it, auntie," a speech that made Henderson stare again,
wholly unable to comprehend the reason of an indirection which he could
feel--he who had been all day impatient for this moment. There was a
little talk about the country and the city at this season, mainly
sustained by Miss Forsythe and Henderson, and then he was left alone.
"Of course you should go, Margaret," said her aunt, as they went up-
stairs; "it would not be at all the thing for me to leave you here. And
what a fine, manly, engaging fellow Mr. Henderson is!"
"Yes, he acts very much like a man;" and Margaret was gone into her room.
Go? There was not force enough in the commonwealth, without calling out
the militia, to keep Margaret from going to the dinner. She stopped a
moment in the middle of her chamber to think. She had almost forgotten
how he looked--his eyes, his smile. Dear me! how the birds were singing
outside, and how fresh the world was! And she would not hurry. He could
wait. No doubt he would wait now any length of time for her. He was in
the house, in the room below, perhaps looking out of the window, perhaps
reading, perhaps spying about at her knick-knacks--she would like to look
in at the door a moment to see what he was doing. Of course he was here
to see her, and all the business was a pretext. As she sat a moment upon
the edge of her bed reflecting what to put on, she had a little pang that
she had been doing him injustice in her thought. But it was only for an
instant. He was here. She was not in the least flurried. Indeed, her
mental processes were never clearer than when she settled upon her simple
toilet, made as it was in every detail with the sure instinct of a woman
who dresses for her lover. Heavens! what a miserable day it had been,
what a rebellious day! He ought to be punished for it somehow. Perhaps
the rose she put in her hair was part of the punishment. But he should
not see how happy she was; she would be civil, and just a little
reserved; it was so like a man to make a woman wait all day and then
think he could smooth it all over simply by appearing.
But somehow in Henderson's presence these little theories of conduct did
not apply. He was too natural, direct, unaffected, his pleasure in being
with her was so evident! He seemed to brush aside the little defenses
and subterfuges. There was this about him that appeared to her
admirable, and in contrast with her own hesitating indirection, that
whatever he wanted--money, or position, or the love of woman--he went
straight to his object with unconsciousness that failure was possible.
Even in walking across the grounds in the soft sunset light, and chatting
easily, their relations seemed established on a most natural basis, and
Margaret found herself giving way to the simple enjoyment of the hour.
She was not only happy, but her spirits rose to inexpressible gayety,
which ran into the humor of badinage and a sort of spiritual elation,
in which all things seemed possible. Perhaps she recognized in herself,
what Henderson saw in her. And with it all there was an access of
tenderness for her aunt, the dear thing whose gentle life appeared so
I had never seen Margaret so radiant as at the dinner; her high spirits
infected the table, and the listening and the talking were of the best
that the company could give. I remembered it afterwards, not from
anything special that was said, but from its flow of high animal spirits,
and the electric responsive mood everyone was in; no topic carried too
far, and the chance seriousness setting off the sparkling comments on
affairs. Henderson's talk had the notable flavor of direct contact with
life, and very little of the speculative and reflective tone of Morgan's,
who was always generalizing and theorizing about it. He had just come
from the West, and his off-hand sketches of men had a special cynicism,
not in the least condemnatory, mere good-natured acceptance, and in
contrast to Morgan's moralizing and rather pitying cynicism.
It struck me that he did not believe in his fellows as much as Morgan
did; but I fancied that Margaret only saw in his attitude a tolerant
knowledge of the world.
"Are the people on the border as bad as they are represented?" she asked.
"Certainly not much worse than they represent themselves," he replied;
"I suppose the difference is that men feel less restraint there."
"It is something more than that," added Morgan. "There is a sort of
drift-wood of adventure and devil-may-care-ism that civilization throws
in advance of itself; but that isn't so bad as the slag it manufactures
in the cities."
"I remember you said, Mr. Morgan, that men go West to get rid of their
past," said Margaret.
"As New Yorkers go to Europe to get rid of their future? "Henderson
inquired, catching the phrase.
"Yes"--Morgan turned to Margaret--"doubtless there is a satisfaction
sometimes in placing the width of a continent between a man and what he
has done. I've thought that one of the most popular verses in the
Psalter, on the border, must be the one that says--you will know if I
quote it right 'Look how wide also the East is from the West; so far hath
He set our sins from us.'"
"That is dreadful," exclaimed Margaret. "To think of you spending your
time in the service picking out passages to fit other people!"
"It sounds as if you had manufactured it," was Henderson's comment.
"No; that quiet Mr. Lyon pointed it out to me when we were talking about
Montana. He had been there."
"By-the-way, Mr. Henderson," my wife asked, "do you know what has become
of Mr. Lyon?"
"I believe he is about to go home."
"I fancied Miss Eschelle might have something to say about that," Morgan
"Perhaps, if she were asked. But Mr. Lyon appeared rather indifferent to
Margaret looked quickly at Henderson as he said this, and then ventured,
a little slyly, "She seemed to appreciate his goodness."
"Yes; Miss Eschelle has an eye for goodness."
This was said without change of countenance, but it convinced the
listener that Carmen was understood.
"And yet," said Margaret, with a little air of temerity, "you seem to be
very good friends."
"Oh, she is very charitable; she sees, I suppose, what is good in me; and
I'll spare you the trouble of remarking that she must necessarily be very
"And I'm not going to destroy your illusion by telling you her real
opinion of you," Margaret retorted.
Henderson begged to know what it was, but Margaret evaded the question by
new raillery. What did she care at the moment what Carmen thought of
Henderson? What--did either of them care what they were saying, so long
as there was some personal flavor in the talk! Was it not enough to talk
to each other, to see each other?
As we sat afterwards upon the piazza with our cigars, inhaling the odor
of the apple blossoms, and yielding ourselves, according to our age, to
the influence of the mild night, Margaret was in the high spirits which
accompany the expectation of bliss, without the sobering effect of its
responsibility. Love itself is very serious, but the overture is full of
freakish gayety. And it was all gayety that night. We all constituted
ourselves a guard of honor to Miss Forsythe and Margaret when they went
to their cottage, and there was a merry leave-taking in the moonlight.
To be sure, Margaret walked with Henderson, and they lagged a little
behind, but I had no reason to suppose that they were speaking of the
stars, or that they raised the ordinary question of their being
inhabited. I doubt if they saw the stars at all. How one remembers
little trifles, that recur like the gay bird notes of the opening scenes
that are repeated in the tragedy of the opera! I can see Margaret now,
on some bantering pretext, running back, after we had said good-night, to
give Henderson the blush-rose she had worn in her hair. How charming the
girl was in this freakish action!
"Do you think he is good enough for her?" asked my wife, when we were
"Who is good enough for whom?" I said, a yawn revealing my want of
"Don't be stupid. You are not so blind as you pretend."
"Well, if I am not so blind as I pretend, though I did not pretend to be
blind, I suppose that is mainly her concern."
"But I wish she had cared for Lyon."
"Perhaps Lyon did not care for her," I suggested.
"You never see anything. Lyon was a noble fellow."
"I didn't deny that. But how was I to know about Lyon, my dear? I never
heard you say that you were glad he wasn't your husband."
"Don't be silly. I think Henderson has very serious intentions."
"I hope he isn't frivolous," I said.
"Well, you are. It isn't a joking matter--and you pretend to be so fond
"So that is another thing I pretend? What do you want me to do? Which
one do you want me to make my enemy by telling him or her that the other
isn't good enough?"
"I don't want you to do anything, except to be reasonable, and
"Oh, I sympathize all round. I assure you I've no doubt you are quite
right." And in this way I crawled out of the discussion, as usual.
What a pretty simile it is, comparing life to a river, because rivers are
so different! There are the calm streams that flow eagerly from the
youthful sources, join a kindred flood, and go placidly to the sea, only
broadening and deepening and getting very muddy at times, but without a
rapid or a fall. There are others that flow carelessly in the upper
sunshine, begin to ripple and dance, then run swiftly, and rush into
rapids in which there is no escape (though friends stand weeping and
imploring on the banks) from the awful plunge of the cataract. Then
there is the tumult and the seething, the exciting race and rage through
the canon, the whirlpools and the passions of love and revelations of
character, and finally, let us hope, the happy emergence into the lake of
a serene life. And the more interesting rivers are those that have
tumults and experiences.
I knew well enough before the next day was over that it was too late for
the rescue of Margaret or Henderson. They were in the rapids, and would
have rejected any friendly rope thrown to draw them ashore. And
notwithstanding the doubts of my wife, I confess that I had so much
sympathy with the genuineness of it that I enjoyed this shock of two
strong natures rushing to their fate. Was it too sudden? Do two living
streams hesitate when they come together? When they join they join, and
mingle and reconcile themselves afterwards. It is only canals that flow
languidly in parallel lines, and meet, if they meet at all, by the
orderly contrivance of a lock.
In the morning the two were off for a stroll. There is a hill from which
a most extensive prospect is had of the city, the teeming valley, with a
score of villages and innumerable white spires, of forests and meadows
and broken mountain ranges. It was a view that Margaret the night before
had promised to show Henderson, that he might see what to her was the
loveliest landscape in the world. Whether they saw the view I do not
know. But I know the rock from which it is best seen, and could fancy
Margaret sitting there, with her face turned towards it and her hands
folded in her lap, and Henderson sitting, half turned away from it,
looking in her face. There is an apple orchard just below. It was in
bloom, and all the invitation of spring was in the air. That he saw all
the glorious prospect reflected in her mobile face I do not doubt--all
the nobility and tenderness of it. If I knew the faltering talk in that
hour of growing confidence and expectation, I would not repeat it.
Henderson lunched at the Forsythe's, and after lunch he had some talk
with Miss Forsythe. It must have been of an exciting nature to her, for,
immediately after, that good woman came over in a great flutter, and was
closeted with my wife, who at the end of the interview had an air of
mysterious importance. It was evidently a woman's day, and my advice was
not wanted, even if my presence was tolerated. All I heard my wife say
through the opening door, as the consultation ended, was, "I hope she
knows her own mind fully before anything is decided."
As to the objects of this anxiety, they were upon the veranda of the
cottage, quite unconscious of the necessity of digging into their own
minds. He was seated, and she was leaning against the railing on which
the honeysuckle climbed, pulling a flower in pieces.
"It is such a short time I have known you," she was saying, as if in
apology for her own feeling.
"Yes, in one way;" and he leaned forward, and broke his sentence with a
little laugh. "I think I must have known you in some pre-existent
"Perhaps. And yet, in another way, it seems long--a whole month, you
know." And the girl laughed a little in her turn.
"It was the longest month I ever knew, after you left the city."
"Was it? I oughtn't to have said that first. But do you know, Mr.
Henderson, you seem totally different from any other man I ever knew."
That this was a profound and original discovery there could be no doubt,
from the conviction with which it was announced. "I felt from the first
that I could trust you."
"I wish"--and there was genuine feeling in the tone--"I were worthier of
such a generous trust."
There was a wistful look in her face--timidity, self-depreciation,
worship--as Henderson rose and stood near her, and she looked up while he
took the broken flower from her hand. There was but one answer to this,
and in spite of the open piazza and the all-observant, all-revealing day,
it might have been given; but at the moment Miss Forsythe was seen
hurrying towards them through the shrubbery. She came straight to where
they stood, with an air of New England directness and determination.
One hand she gave to Henderson, the other to Margaret. She essayed to
speak, but tears were in her eyes, and her lips trembled; the words would
not come. She regarded them for an instant with all the overflowing
affection of a quarter of a century of repression, and then quickly
turned and went in. In a moment they followed her. Heaven go with them!
After Henderson had made his hasty adieus at our house and gone, before
the sun was down, Margaret came over. She came swiftly into the room,
gave me a kiss as I rose to greet her, with a delightful impersonality,
as if she owed a debt somewhere and must pay it at once--we men who are
so much left out of these affairs have occasionally to thank Heaven for a
merciful moment--seized my wife, and dragged her to her room.
"I couldn't wait another moment," she said, as she threw herself on my
wife's bosom in a passion of tears. "I am so happy! he is so noble, and
I love him so! "And she sobbed as if it were the greatest calamity in
the world. And then, after a little, in reply to a question--for women
are never more practical than in such a crisis: "Oh, no--not for a long,
long, long time. Not before autumn."
And the girl looked, through her glad tears, as if she expected to be
admired for this heroism. And I have no doubt she was.
Well, that was another success. The world is round, and like a ball
seems swinging in the air, and swinging very pleasantly, thought
Henderson, as he stepped on board the train that evening. The world is
truly what you make it, and Henderson was determined to make it
agreeable. His philosophy was concise, and might be hung up, as a motto:
Get all you can, and don't fret about what you cannot get.
He went into the smoking compartment, and sat musing by the window for
some time before he lit his cigar, feeling a glow of happiness that was
new in his experience. The country was charming at twilight, but he was
little conscious of that. What he saw distinctly was Margaret's face,
trustful and wistful, looking up into his as she bade him goodby. What
he was vividly conscious of was being followed, enveloped, by a woman's
"You will write, dear, the moment you get there, will you not? I am so
afraid of accidents," she had said.
"Why, I will telegraph, sweet," he had replied, quite gayly.
"Will you? Telegraph? I never had that sort of a message." It seemed a
very wonderful thing that he should use the public wire for this purpose,
and she looked at him with new admiration.
"Are you timid about the train?" he asked.
"No. I never think of it. I never thought of it for myself; but this is
"Oh, I see." He put his arm round her and looked down into her eyes.
This was a humorous suggestion to him, who spent half his time on the
trains. "I think I'll take out an accident policy."
"Don't say that. But you men are so reckless. Promise you won't stand
on the platform, and won't get off while the train is in motion, and all
the rest of the directions," she said, laughing a little with him; "and
you will be careful?"
"I'll take such care of myself as I never did before, I promise. I never
felt of so much consequence in my life."
"You'll think me silly. But you know, don't you, dear? "She put a hand
on each shoulder, and pushing him back, studied his face. "You are all
the world. And only to think, day before yesterday, I didn't think of
the trains at all."
To have one look like that from a woman! To carry it with him! Henderson
still forgot to light his cigar.
"Ah, Hollowell! I thought you were in Kansas City."
The new-comer was a man of middle age, thick set, with rounded shoulders,
deep chest, heavy neck, iron-gray hair close cut, gray whiskers cropped
so as to show his strong jaw, blue eyes that expressed at once resolution
"Well, how's things? Been up to fix the Legislature?"
"No; Perkins is attending to that," said Henderson, rather indifferently,
like a man awakened out of a pleasant dream. "Don't seem to need much
fixing. The public are fond of parallels."
Hollowell laughed. "I guess that's so--till they get 'em."
"Or don't get them," Henderson added. And then both laughed.
"It looks as if it would go through this time. Bemis says the C. D.'s
badly scared. They'll have to come down lively."
"I shouldn't wonder. By-the-way, look in tomorrow. I've got something
to show you."
Henderson lit his cigar, and they both puffed in silence for some
"By-the-way, did I ever show you this?" Hollowell took from his breast-
pocket a handsome morocco case, and handed it to his companion.
"I never travel without that. It's better than an accident policy."
Henderson unfolded the case, and saw seven photographs--a showy-looking
handsome woman in lace and jewels, and six children, handsome like their
mother, the whole group with the photographic look of prosperity.
Henderson looked at it as if it had been a mirror of his own destiny, and
expressed his admiration.
"Yes, it's hard to beat," Hollowell confessed, with a soft look in his
face. "It's not for sale. Seven figures wouldn't touch it." He looked
at it lovingly before he put it up, and then added: "Well, there's a
figure for each, Rodney, and a big nest-egg for the old woman besides.
There's nothing like it, old man. You'd better come in." And he put his
hand affectionately on Henderson's knee.
Jeremiah Hollowell--commonly known as Jerry--was a remarkable man.
Thirty years ago he had come to the city from Maine as a "hand" on a
coast schooner, obtained employment in a railroad yard, then as a freight
conductor, gone West, become a contractor, in which position a lucky hit
set him on the road of the unscrupulous accumulation of property. He was
now a railway magnate, the president of a system, a manipulator of
dexterity and courage. All this would not have come about if his big
head had not been packed with common-sense brains, and he had not had
uncommon will and force of character. Success had developed the best
side of him, the family side; and the worst side of him--a brutal
determination to increase his big fortune. He was not hampered by any
scruples in business, but he had the good-sense to deal squarely with his
friends when he had distinctly agreed to do so.
Henderson did not respond to the matrimonial suggestion; it was not
possible for him to vulgarize his own affair by hinting it to such a man
as Hollowell; but they soon fell into serious talk about schemes in which
they were both interested. This talk so absorbed Henderson that after
they had reached the city he had walked some blocks towards his lodging
before he recalled his promise about the message. On his table he found
a note from Carmen bidding him to dinner informally--an invitation which
he had no difficulty in declining on account of a previous engagement.
And then he went to his club, and passed a cheerful evening. Why not?
There was nothing melancholy about the young fellows in the smoking-room,
who liked a good story and the latest gossip, and were attracted to the
society of Henderson, who was open-handed and full of animal spirits, and
above all had a reputation for success, and for being on the inside of
affairs. There is nowhere else so much wisdom and such understanding of
life as in a city club of young fellows, who have their experience still,
for the most part, before them. Henderson was that night in great
"force"--as the phrase is. His companions thought he had made a lucky
turn, and he did not tell them that he had won the love of the finest
girl in the world, who was at that moment thinking of him as fondly as he
was thinking of her--but this was the subconsciousness of his gayety.
Late at night he wrote her a long letter--an honest letter of love and
admiration, which warmed into the tenderness of devotion as it went on; a
letter that she never parted with all her life long; but he left a
description of the loneliness of his evening without her to her
It was for Margaret also a happy evening, but not a calm one, and not
gay. She was swept away by a flood of emotions. She wanted to be alone,
to think it over, every item of the short visit, every look, every tone.
Was it all true? The great change made her tremble: of the future she
dared scarcely think. She was restless, but not restless as before; she
could not be calm in such a great happiness. And then the wonder of it,
that he should choose her of all others--he who knew the world so well,
and must have known so many women. She followed him on his journey,
thinking what he was doing now, and now, and now. She would have given
the world to see him just for a moment, to look in his eyes and be sure
again, to have him say that little word once more: there was a kind of
pain in her heart, the separation was so cruel; it had been over two
hours now. More than once in the evening she ran down to the sitting-
room, where her aunt was pretending to be absorbed in a book, to kiss
her, to pet her, to smooth her grayish hair and pat her cheek, and get
her to talk about her girlhood days. She was so happy that tears were in
her eyes half the time. At nine o'clock there was a pull at the bell
that threatened to drag the wire out, and an insignificant little urchin
appeared with a telegram, which frightened Miss Forsythe, and seemed to
Margaret to drop out of heaven. Such an absurd thing to do at night,
said the aunt, and then she kissed Margaret, and laughed a little, and
declared that things had come to a queer pass when people made love by
telegraph. There wasn't any love in the telegram, Margaret said; but she
knew better--the sending word of his arrival was a marvelous exhibition
of thoughtfulness and constancy.
And then she led her aunt on to talk of Mr. Henderson, to give her
impression, how he looked, what she really thought of him, and so on, and
There was not much to say, but it could be said over and over again in
various ways. It was the one night of the world, and her overwrought
feeling sought relief. It would not be so again. She would be more
reticent and more coquettish about her lover, but now it was all so new
That night when the girl went to sleep the telegram was under her pillow,
and it seemed to throb with a thousand messages, as if it felt the
pulsation of the current that sent it.
The prospective marriage of the budding millionaire Rodney Henderson was
a society paper item in less than a week--the modern method of publishing
the banns. This was accompanied by a patronizing reference to the pretty
school-ma'am, who was complimented upon her good-fortune in phrases so
neatly turned as to give Henderson the greatest offense, and leave him no
remedy, since nothing could have better suited the journal than further
notoriety. He could not remember that he had spoken of it to any one
except the Eschelles, to whom his relations made the communication a
necessity, and he suspected Carmen, without, however, guessing that she
was a habitual purveyor of the town gossiper.
"It is a shameful impertinence," she burst out, introducing the subject
herself, when he called to see her. "I would horsewhip the editor."
Her indignation was so genuine, and she took his side with such warm good
comradeship, that his suspicions vanished for a moment.
"What good?" he answered, cooling down at the sight of her rage. "It is
true, we are to be married, and she has taught school. I can't drag her
name into a row about it. Perhaps she never will see it."
"Oh dear! dear me! what have I done?" the girl cried, with an accent of
contrition. "I never thought of that. I was so angry that I cut it out
and put it in the letter that was to contain nothing but congratulations,
and told her how perfectly outrageous I thought it. How stupid!" and
there was a world of trouble in her big dark eyes, while she looked up
penitently, as if to ask his forgiveness for a great crime.
"Well, it cannot be helped," Henderson said, with a little touch of
sympathy for Carmen's grief. "Those who know her will think it simply
malicious, and the others will not think of it a second time."
"But I cannot forgive myself for my stupidity. I'm not sure but I'd
rather you'd think me wicked than stupid," she continued, with the smile
in her eyes that most men found attractive. "I confess--is that very
bad?--that I feel it more for you than for her. But" ( she thought she
saw a shade in his face) "I warn you, if you are not very nice, I shall
transfer my affections to her."
The girl was in her best mood, with the manner of a confiding, intimate
friend. She talked about Margaret, but not too much, and a good deal
more about Henderson and his future, not laying too great stress upon the
marriage, as if it were, in fact, only an incident in his career,
contriving always to make herself appear as a friend, who hadn't many
illusions or much romance, to be sure, but who could always be relied on
in any mood or any perplexity, and wouldn't be frightened or very severe
at any confidences. She posed as a woman who could make allowances, and
whose friendship would be no check or hinderance. This was conveyed in
manner as much as in words, and put Henderson quite at his ease. He was
not above the weakness of liking the comradeship of a woman of whom he
was not afraid, a woman to whom he could say anything, a woman who could
make allowances. Perhaps he was hardly conscious of this. He knew
Carmen better than she thought he knew her, and he couldn't approve of
her as a wife; and yet the fact was that she never gave him any moral
"Yes," she said, when the talk drifted that way, "the chrysalis earl has
gone. I think that mamma is quite inconsolable. She says she doesn't
understand girls, or men, or anything, these days."
"Do you?" asked Henderson, lightly.
"I? No. I'm an agnostic--except in religion. Have you got it into your
head, my friend, that I ever fancied Mr. Lyon?"
"Not for himself--" began Henderson, mischievously.
"That will do." She stopped him. "Or that he ever had any intention--"
"I don't see how he could resist such--"
"Stuff! See here, Mr. Rodney!" The girl sprang up, seized a plaque from
the table, held it aloft in one hand, took half a dozen fascinating,
languid steps, advancing and retreating with the grace of a Nautch girl,
holding her dress with the other hand so as to allow a free movement.
"Do you think I'd ever do that for John the Lyon's head on a charger?"
Then her mood changed to the domestic, as she threw herself into an easy-
chair and said: "After all, I'm rather sorry he has gone. He was a man
you could trust; that is, if you wanted to trust anybody--I wish I had
been made good."
When Henderson bade her good-night it was with the renewed impression
that she was a very diverting comrade.
"I'm sort of sorry for you," she said, and her eyes were not so serious
as to offend, as she gave him her hand, "for when you are married, you
know, as the saying is, you'll want some place to spend your evenings."
The audacity of the remark was quite obscured in the innocent frankness
and sweetness of her manner.
What Henderson had to show Hollowell in his office had been of a nature
greatly to interest that able financier. It was a project that would
have excited the sympathy of Carmen, but Henderson did not speak of it to
her--though he had found that she was a safe deposit of daring schemes in
general--on account of a feeling of loyalty to Margaret, to whom he had
never mentioned it in any of his daily letters. The scheme made a great
deal of noise, later on, when it came to the light of consummation in
legislatures and in courts, both civil and criminal; but its magnitude
and success added greatly to Henderson's reputation as a bold and
fortunate operator, and gave him that consideration which always attaches
to those who command millions of money, and have the nerve to go
undaunted through the most trying crises. I am anticipating by saying
that it absolutely ruined thousands of innocent people, caused widespread
strikes and practical business paralysis over a large region; but those
things were regarded as only incidental to a certain sort of development,
and did not impair the business standing, and rather helped the social
position, of the two or three men who counted their gains by millions in
the operation. It furnished occupation and gave good fees to a multitude
of lawyers, and was dignified by the anxious consultation of many learned
judges. A moralist, if he were poor and pessimistic, might have put the
case in a line, and taken that line from the Mosaic decalogue (which was
not intended for this new dispensation); but it was involved in such a
cloud of legal technicalities, and took on such an aspect of enterprise
and development of resources, and what not, that the general public mind
was completely befogged about it. I am charitable enough to suppose that
if the scheme had failed, the public conscience is so tender that there
would have been a question of Henderson's honesty. But it did not fail.
Of this scheme, however, we knew nothing at the time in Brandon.
Henderson was never in better spirits, never more agreeable, and it did
not need inquiry to convince one that he was never so prosperous. He was
often with us, in flying visits, and I can well remember that his coming
and the expectation of it gave a kind of elation to the summer--that and
Margaret's supreme and sunny happiness. Even my wife admitted that it
was on both sides a love-match, and could urge nothing against it except
the woman's instinct that made her shrink from the point of ever thinking
of him as a husband for herself, which seemed to me a perfectly
reasonable feeling under all the circumstances.
The summer--or what we call summer in the North, which is usually a
preparation for warm weather, ending in a preparation for cold weather--
seemed to me very short--but I have noticed that each summer is a little
shorter than the preceding one. If Henderson had wanted to gain the
confidence of my wife he could not have done so more effectually than he
did in making us the confidants of a little plan he had in the city,
which was a profound secret to the party most concerned. This was the
purchase and furnishing of a house, and we made many clandestine visits
with him to town in the early autumn in furtherance of his plan. He was
intent on a little surprise, and when I once hinted to him that women
liked to have a hand in making the home they were to occupy, he said he
thought that my wife knew Margaret's taste--and besides, he added, with a
smile, "it will be only temporary; I should like her, if she chooses, to
build and furnish a house to suit herself." In any one else this would
have seemed like assumption, but with Henderson it was only the simple
belief in his career.
We were still more surprised when we came to see the temporary home that
Henderson had selected, the place where the bride was to alight, and look
about her for such a home as would suit her growing idea of expanding
fortune and position. It was one of the old-fashioned mansions on
Washington Square, built at a time when people attached more importance
to room and comfort than to outside display--a house that seemed to have
traditions of hospitality and of serene family life. It was being
thoroughly renovated and furnished, with as little help from the
decorative artist and the splendid upholsterer as consisted with some
regard to public opinion; in fact the expenditure showed in solid dignity
and luxurious ease, and not in the construction of a museum in which one
could only move about with the constant fear of destroying something.
My wife was given almost carte blanche in the indulgence of her taste,
and she confessed her delight in being able for once to deal with a house
without the feeling that she was ruining me. Only in the suite designed
for Margaret did Henderson seriously interfere, and insist upon a luxury
that almost took my wife's breath away. She opposed it on moral grounds.
She said that no true woman could stand such pampering of her senses
without destruction of her moral fibre. But Henderson had his way, as he
always had it. What pleased her most in the house was the conservatory,
opening out from the drawing-room--a spacious place with a fountain and
cool vines and flowering plants, not a tropical hothouse in a stifling
atmosphere, in which nothing could live except orchids and flowers born
near the equator, but a garden with a temperature adapted to human lungs,
where one could sit and enjoy the sunshine, and the odor of flowers, and
the clear and not too incessant notes of Mexican birds. But when it was
all done, undoubtedly the most agreeable room in the house was that to
which least thought had been given, the room to which any odds and ends
could be sent, the room to which everybody gravitated when rest and
simple enjoyment without restraint were the object Henderson's own
library, with its big open fire, and the books and belongings of his
bachelor days. Man is usually not credited with much taste or ability to
take care of himself in the matter of comfortable living, but it is
frequently noticed that when woman has made a dainty paradise of every
other portion of the house, the room she most enjoys, that from which it
is difficult to keep out the family, is the one that the man is permitted
to call his own, in which he retains some of the comforts and can indulge
some of the habits of his bachelor days. There is an important truth in
this fact with regard to the sexes, but I do not know what it is.
They were married in October, and went at once to their own house.
I suppose all other days were but a preparation for this golden autumn
day on which we went to church and returned to the wedding-breakfast.
I am sure everybody was happy. Miss Forsythe was so happy that tears
were in her eyes half the time, and she bustled about with an affectation
of cheerfulness that was almost contagious. Poor, dear, gentle lady!
I can imagine the sensations of a peach-tree, in an orchard of trees
which bud and bloom and by-and-by are weighty with yellow fruit, year
after year--a peach-tree that blooms, also, but never comes to fruition,
only wastes its delicate sweetness on the air, and finally blooms less
and less, but feels nevertheless in each returning spring the stir of the
sap and the longing for that fuller life, while all the orchard bursts
into flower, and the bees swarm about the pink promises, and the fruit
sets and slowly matures to lusciousness in the sun of July. I fancy the
wedding, which robbed us all, was hardest for her, for it was in one
sense a finality of her life. Whereas if Margaret had regrets--and deep
sorrow she had in wrenching herself from the little neighborhood, though
she never could have guessed the vacancy she caused by the withdrawal of
her loved presence--her own life was only just beginning, and she was
sustained by the longing which every human soul has for a new career,
by the curiosity and imagination which the traveler feels when he departs
for a land which he desires, and yet dreads to see lest his illusions
should vanish. Margaret was about to take that journey in the world
which Miss Forsythe had dreamed of in her youth, but had never set out
on. There are some who say that those are happiest who keep at home and
content themselves with reading about the lands of the imagination. But
happily the world does not believe this, and indeed would be very unhappy
if it could not try and prove all the possibilities of human nature, to
suffer as well as to enjoy.
I do not know how we fell into the feeling that this marriage was somehow
exceptional and important, since marriages take place every day, and are
so common and ordinarily so commonplace, when the first flutter is over.
Even Morgan said, in his wife's presence, that he thought there had been
weddings enough; at least he would interdict those that upset things like
this one. For one thing, it brought about the house-keeping union of
Mrs. Fletcher and Miss Forsythe in the tatter's cottage--a sort of
closing up of the ranks that happens on the field during a fatal
engagement. As we go on, it becomes more and more difficult to fill up
We were very unwilling to feel that Margaret had gone out of our life.
"But you cannot," Morgan used to say, "be friends with the rich, and that
is what makes the position of the very rich so pitiful, for the rich get
so tired of each other."
"But Margaret," my wife urged, "will never be of that sort: money will
not change either her habits or her affections."
"Perhaps. You can never trust to inherited poverty. I have no doubt
that she will resist the world, if anybody can, but my advice is that if
you want to keep along with Margaret, you'd better urge your husband to
make money. Experience seems to teach that while they cannot come to us,
we may sometimes go to them."
My wife and Mrs. Fletcher were both indignant at this banter, and accused
Morgan of want of faith, and even lack of affection for Margaret; in
short, of worldly-mindedness himself.
"Perhaps I am rather shop-worn," he confessed. "It's not distrust of
Margaret's intentions, but knowledge of the strength of the current on
which she has embarked. Henderson will not stop in his career short of
some overwhelming disaster or of death."
"I thought you liked him? At any rate, Margaret will make a good use of
"It isn't a question, my dear Mrs. Fairchild, of the use of money, but of
the use money makes of you. Yes, I do like Henderson, but I can't give
up my philosophy of life for the sake of one good fellow."
"Philosophy of fudge!" exclaimed my wife. And there really was no answer
After six weeks had passed, my wife paid a visit to Margaret. Nothing
could exceed the affectionate cordiality of her welcome. Margaret was
overjoyed to see her, to show the house, to have her know her husband
better, to take her into her new life. She was hardly yet over the naive
surprises of her lovely surroundings. Or if it is too mach to say that
her surprise had lasted six weeks--for it is marvelous how soon women
adapt themselves to new conditions if they are agreeable--she was in a
glow of wonder at her husband's goodness, at his love, which had procured
all this happiness for her.
"You have no idea," she said, "how thoughtful he is about everything--and
he makes so little of it all. I am to thank you, he tells me always, for
whatever pleases my taste in the house, and indeed I think I should have
known you had been here if he had not told me. There are so many little
touches that remind me of home. I am glad of that, for it is the more
likely to make you feel that it is your home also."
She clung to this idea in the whirl of the new life. In the first days
she dwelt much on this theme; indeed it was hardly second in her talk to
her worship--I can call it nothing less--of her husband. She liked to
talk of Brandon and the dear life there and the dearer friends--this much
talk about it showed that it was another life, already of the past, and
beginning to be distant in the mind. My wife had a feeling that
Margaret, thus early, was conscious of a drift, of a widening space, and
was making an effort to pull the two parts of her life together, that
there should be no break, as one carried away to sea by a resistless tide
grasps the straining rope that still maintains his slender connection
with the shore.
But it was all so different: the luxurious house, the carriage at call,
the box at the opera, the social duties inevitable with her own
acquaintances and the friends of her husband. She spoke of this in
moments of confidence, and when she was tired, with a consciousness that
it was a different life, but in no tone of regret, and I fancy that the
French blood in her veins, which had so long run decorously in Puritan
channels, leaped at its return into new gayety. Years ago Margaret had
thought that she might some time be a missionary, at least that she
should like to devote her life to useful labors among the poor and the
unfortunate. If conscience ever reminded her of this, conscience was
quieted by the suggestion that now she was in a position to be more
liberal than she ever expected to be; that is, to give everything except
the essential thing--herself. Henderson liked a gay house, brightness,
dinners, entertainment, and that his wife should be seen and admired.
Proof of his love she found in all this, and she entered into it with
spirit, and an enjoyment increased by the thought that she was lightening
the burden of his business, which she could see pressed more and more.
Not that Henderson made any account of his growing occupations, or that
any preoccupation was visible except to the eye of love, which is quick
to see all moods. These were indeed happy days, full of the brightness
of an expanding prosperity and unlimited possibilities of the enjoyment
of life. It was in obedience to her natural instinct, and not yet a
feeling of compensation and propitiation, that enlisted Margaret in the
city charities, connection with which was a fashionable self-
entertainment with some, and a means of social promotion with others.
My wife came home a little weary with so much of the world, but, on the
whole, impressed with Margaret's good-fortune. Henderson in his own
house was the soul of consideration and hospitality, and Margaret was
blooming in the beauty that shines in satisfied desire.
It is so painful to shrink, and so delightful to grow! Every one knows
the renovation of feeling--often mistaken for a moral renewal--when the
worn dress of the day is exchanged for the fresh evening toilet. The
expansiveness of prosperity has a like effect, though the moralist is
always piping about the beneficent uses of adversity. The moralist is,
of course, right, time enough given; but what does the tree, putting out
its tender green leaves to the wooing of the south wind, care for the
moralist? How charming the world is when you go with it, and not against
It was better than Margaret had thought. When she came to Washington in
the winter season the beautiful city seemed to welcome her and respond to
the gayety of her spirit. It was so open, cheerful, hospitable, in the
appearance of its smooth, broad avenues and pretty little parks, with the
bronze statues which all looked noble--in the moonlight; it was such a
combination and piquant contrast of shabby ease and stately elegance--
negro cabins and stone mansions, picket-fences and sheds, and flower-
banked terraces before rows of residences which bespoke wealth and
refinement. The very aspect of the street population was novel; compared
to New York, the city was as silent as a country village, and the
passers, who have the fashion of walking in the middle of the street upon
the asphalt as freely as upon the sidewalks, had a sort of busy
leisureliness, the natural air of thousands of officials hived in offices
for a few hours and then left in irresponsible idleness. But what most
distinguished the town, after all, in Margaret's first glimpse of it, was
the swarming negro population pervading every part of it--the slouching
plantation negro, the smart mulatto girl with gay raiment and mincing
step, the old-time auntie, the brisk waiter-boy with uncertain eye, the
washerwoman, the hawkers and fruiterers, the loafing strollers of both
sexes--carrying everywhere color, abandon, a certain picturesqueness and
irresponsibility and good-nature, and a sense of moral relaxation in a
too strict and duty-ridden world.
In the morning, when Margaret looked from the windows of the hotel, the
sky was gray and yielding, and all the outlines of the looming buildings
were softened in the hazy air. The dome of the Capitol seemed to float
like a bubble, and to be as unsubstantial as the genii edifices in the
Arabian tale. The Monument, the slim white shaft as tall as the Great
Pyramid, was still more a dream creation, not really made of hard marble,
but of something as soft as vapor, almost melting into the sky, and yet
distinct, unwavering, its point piercing the upper air, threatening every
instant to dissolve, as if it were truly the baseless fabric of a vision
--light, unreal, ghost-like, spotless, pure as an unsullied thought;
it might vanish in a breath; and yet, no; it is solid: in the mist of
doubt, in the assault of storms, smitten by the sun, beaten by the
tempests, it stands there, springing, graceful, immovable--emblem, let us
say, of the purity and permanence of the republic.
"You never half told me, Rodney, how beautiful it all is!" Margaret
exclaimed, in a glow of delight.
"Yes," said Henderson, "the Monument is behaving very well this morning.
I never saw it before look so little like a factory chimney."
"That is, you never looked at it with my eyes before, cynic. But it is
all so lovely, everywhere."
"Of course it is, dear." They were standing together at the window, and
his arm was where it should have been. "What did you expect? There are
concentrated here the taste and virtue of sixty millions of people."
"But you always said the Washington hotels were so bad. These apartments
"Yes"--and he drew her closer to him--"there is no denying that. But
presently I shall have to explain to you an odd phenomenon. Virginia,
you know, used to be famous for its good living, and Maryland was simply
unapproachable for good cooking. It was expected when the District was
made out of these two that the result would be something quite
extraordinary in the places of public entertainment. But, by a process
which nobody can explain, in the union the art of cooking in hotels got
"Well," she said, with winning illogicality, "you've got me."
"If you could only eat the breakfasts for me, as you can see the Monument
"Dear, I could eat the Monument for you, if it would do you any good."
And neither of them was ashamed of this nonsense, for both knew that
married people indulge in it when they are happy.
Although Henderson came to Washington on business, this was Margaret's
wedding journey. There is no other city in the world where a wedding
journey can better be combined with such business as is transacted here,
for in both is a certain element of mystery. Washington is gracious to a
bride, if she is pretty and agreeable--devotion to governing, or to
legislation, or to diplomacy, does not render a man insensible to
feminine attractions; and if in addition to beauty a woman has the
reputation of wealth, she is as nearly irresistible here as anywhere.
To Margaret, who was able to return the hospitality she received, and
whose equipage was almost as much admired as her toilets, all doors were
open--a very natural thing, surely, in a good-natured, give-and-take
world. The colonel--Margaret had laughed till she cried when first she
heard her husband saluted by this title in Washington by his New
Hampshire acquaintances, but he explained to her that he had justly won
it years ago by undergoing the hardship of receptions as a member of the
Governor's staff--the colonel had brought on his horses and carriages,
not at all by way of ostentation, but simply out of regard to what was
due her as his wife, and because a carriage at call is a constant
necessity in this city, whose dignity is equal to the square of its
distances, and because there is something incongruous in sending a bride
about in a herdic. Margaret's unworldly simplicity had received a little
shock when she first saw her servants in livery, but she was not slow to
see the propriety and even necessity of it in a republican society, since
elegance cannot be a patchwork, but must be harmonious, and there is no
harmony between a stylish turnout--noble horses nobly caparisoned--and a
coachman and footman on the box dressed according to their own vulgar
taste. Given a certain position, one's sense of fitness and taste mast
be maintained. And there is so much kindliness and consideration in
human nature--Margaret's gorgeous coachman and footman never by a look
revealed their knowledge that she was new to the situation, and I dare
say that their respectful demeanor contributed to raise her in her own
esteem as one of the select and favored in this prosperous world. The
most self-poised and genuine are not insensible to the tribute of this
personal consideration. My lady giving orders to her respectful
servitors, and driving down the avenue in her luxurious turnout, is not
at all the same person in feeling that she would be if dragged about in a
dissolute-looking hack whose driver has the air of the stable. We take
kindly to this transformation, and perhaps it is only the vulgar in soul
who become snobbish in it. Little by little, under this genial
consideration, Margaret advanced in the pleasant path of worldliness;
and we heard, by the newspapers and otherwise--indeed, Mr. and Mrs.
Morgan were there for a couple of weeks in the winter--that she was never
more sweet and gracious and lovely than in this first season at the
capital. I don't know that the town was raving, as they said, about her
beauty and wit--there is nothing like the wit of a handsome woman--and
amiability and unostentatious little charities, but she was a great
favorite. We used to talk about it by the fire in Brandon, where
everything reminded us of the girl we loved, and rejoice in her good-
fortune and happiness, and get rather heavy-hearted in thinking that she
had gone away from us into such splendor.
"I wish you were here," she wrote to my wife. "I am sure you would enjoy
it. There are so many distinguished people and brilliant people--though
the distinguished are not always brilliant nor the brilliant
distinguished--and everybody is so kind and hospitable, and Rodney is
such a favorite. We go everywhere, literally, and all the time. You
must not scold, but I haven't opened a book, except my prayerbook, in six
weeks--it is such a whirl. And it is so amusing. I didn't know there
were so many kinds of people and so many sorts of provincialism in the
world. The other night, at the British Minister's, a French attache, who
complimented my awful French--I told him that I inherited all but the
vocabulary and the accent--said that if specimens of the different kinds
of women evolved in all out-of-the-way places who come to Washington
could be exhibited, nobody would doubt any more that America is an
interesting country. Wasn't it an impudent speech? I tried to tell him,
in French, how grateful American women are for any little attention from
foreigners who have centuries of politeness behind them. Ah me! I
sometimes long for one of the old-fashioned talks before your smoldering
logs! What we talk about here, Heaven only knows. I sometimes tell
Rodney at night--it is usually morning--that I feel like an extinct piece
of fireworks. But next day it is all delightful again; and, dear friend,
I don't know but that I like being fireworks."
Among the men who came oftenest to see Henderson was Jerry Hollowell.
It seemed to Margaret an odd sort of companionship; it could not be any
similarity of tastes that drew them together, and she could not
understand the nature of the business transacted in their mysterious
conferences. Social life had few attractions for Hollowell, for his
family were in the West; he appeared to have no relations with any branch
of government; he wanted no office, though his influence was much sought
by those who did want it.
"You spend a good deal of time here, Mr. Hollowell," Margaret said one
day when he called in Henderson's absence.
"Yes, ma'am, considerable. Things need a good deal of fixing up.
Washington is a curious place. It's a sort of exchange for the whole
country: you can see everybody here, and it is a good place to arrange
"With Congress, do you mean?" Margaret had heard much of the corruption
"No, not Congress particularly. Congressmen are just about like other
people. It's all nonsense, this talk about buying Congressmen. You
cannot buy them any more than you can buy other people, but you can sort
of work together with some of them. We don't want anything of Congress,
except to be let alone. If we are doing something to develop the trade
in the Southwest, build it up, some member who thinks he is smart will
just as likely as not try to put in a block somewhere, or investigate,
or something, in order to show his independence, and then he has to be
seen, and shown that he is going against the interests of his
constituents. It is just as it is everywhere: men have to be shown what
their real interest is. No; most Congressmen are poor, and they stay
poor. It is a good deal easier to deal with those among them who are
rich and have some idea about the prosperity of the country. It is just
so in the departments. You've got to watch things, if you expect them to
go smooth. You've got to get acquainted with the men. Most men are
reasonable when you get well acquainted with them. I tell your husband
that people are about as reasonable in Washington as you'll find them
"Washington is certainly very pleasant."
"Yes, that's so; it is pleasant. Where most everybody wants something,
they are bound to be accommodating. That's my idea. I reckon you don't
find Jerry Hollowell trying to pull a cat by its tail," he added,
dropping into his native manner.
"Well, I must go and hunt up the old man. Glad to have made your
acquaintance, Mrs. Henderson." And then, with a sly look, "If I knew you
better, ma'am, I should take the liberty of congratulating you that
Henderson has come round so handsomely."
"Come round?" asked Margaret, in amused wonder.
"Well, I took the liberty of giving him a hint that he wasn't cut-out for
a single man. I showed him that," and he lugged out his photograph-case
from a mass of papers in his breast-pocket and handed it to her.
"Ah, I see," said Margaret, studying the photographs with a peculiar
"Oh, Henderson knows a good thing when he sees it," said Hollowell,
It was not easy to be offended with Hollowell's kind-hearted boorishness,
and after he had gone, Margaret sat a long time reflecting upon this new
specimen of man in her experience. She was getting many new ideas in
these days, the moral lines were not as clearly drawn as she had thought;
it was impossible to ticket men off into good and bad. In Hollowell she
had a glimpse of a world low-toned and vulgar; she had heard that he was
absolutely unscrupulous, and she had supposed that he would appear to be
a very wicked man. But he seemed to be good-hearted and tolerant and
friendly. How fond he was of his family, and how charitable about
Congress! And she wondered if the world was generally on Hollowell's
level. She met many men more cultivated than he, gentlemen in manner and
in the first social position, who took, after all, about his tone in
regard to the world, very agreeable people usually, easy to get on with,
not exacting, or professing much faith in anybody, and mildly cynical--
only bitterly cynical when they failed to get what they wanted, and felt
the good things of life slipping away from them. It was to take her some
time to learn that some of the most agreeable people are those who have
succeeded by the most questionable means; and when she came to this
knowledge, what would be her power of judgment as to these means?
"Mr. Hollowell has been here," she said, when Henderson returned.
"Old Jerry? He is a character."
"Do you trust him?"
"It never occurred to me. Yes, I suppose so, as far as his interests go.
He isn't a bad sort of fellow--very long-headed."
"Dear," said Margaret, with hesitation, "I wish you didn't have anything
to do with such men."
"Oh, I don't know. You needn't laugh. It rather lets one down; and it
isn't like you."
Henderson laughed aloud now. "But you needn't associate with Hollowell.
We men cannot pick our companions in business and politics. It needs all
sorts to keep the world going."
"Then I'd rather let it stop," Margaret said.
"And sell out at auction?" he cried, with a look of amusement.
"But aren't Mr. Morgan and Mr. Fairchild business men?"
"Yes--of the old-fashioned sort. The fact--is, Margaret, you've got a
sort of preserve up in Brandon, and you fancy that the world is divided
into sheep and goats. It's a great mistake. There is no such division.
Every man almost is both a sheep and a goat."
"I don't believe it, Rodney. You are neither." She came close to him,
and taking the collar of his coat in each hand, gave him a little shake,
and looking up into his face with quizzical affection, asked, "What is
your business here?"
Henderson stooped down and kissed her forehead, and tenderly lifted the
locks of her brown hair. "You wouldn't understand, sweet, if I told
"You might try."
"Well, there's a man here from Fort Worth who wants us to buy a piece of
railroad, and extend it, and join it with Hollowell's system, and open up
a lot of new country."
"And isn't it a good piece of road?"
"Yes; that's the trouble. The owners want to keep it to themselves, and
prevent the general development. But we shall get it."
"It isn't anything like wrecking, is it, dear?"
"Do you think we would want to wreck our own property?"
"But what has Congress to do with it?"
"Oh, there's a land grant. But some of the members who were not in the
Congress that voted it say that it is forfeited."
In this fashion the explanation went on. Margaret loved to hear her
husband talk, and to watch the changing expression of his face, and he
explained about this business until she thought he was the sweetest
fellow in the world.
The Morgans had arrived at the same hotel, and Margaret went about with
them in the daytime, while Henderson was occupied. It was like a breath
of home to be with them, and their presence, reviving that old life, gave
a new zest to the society spectacle, to the innocent round of
entertainments, which more and more absorbed her. Besides, it was very
interesting to have Mr. Morgan's point of view of Washington, and to see
the shifting panorama through his experience. He had been very much in
the city in former years, but he came less and less now, not because it
was less beautiful or attractive in a way, but because it had lost for
him a certain charm it once had.
"I am not sure," he said, as they were driving one day, "that it is not
now the handsomest capital in the world; at any rate, it is on its way
to be that. No other has public buildings more imposing, or streets and
avenues so attractive in their interrupted regularity, so many stately
vistas ending in objects refreshing to the eye--a bit of park, banks of
flowers, a statue or a monument that is decorative, at least in the
distance. As the years go on we shall have finer historical groups,
triumphal arches and columns that will give it more and more an air of
distinction, the sort of splendor with which the Roman Empire celebrated
itself, and, added to this, the libraries and museums and galleries that
are the chief attractions of European cities. Oh, we have only just
begun--the city is so accessible in all directions, and lends itself
to all sorts of magnificence and beauty."
"I declare," said Mrs. Morgan to Margaret, "I didn't know that he could
be so eloquent. Page, you ought to be in Congress."
"In order to snuff myself out? Congress is not so important a feature as
it used to be. Washington is getting to have a character of its own; it
seems as if it wouldn't be much without its official life, yet the
process is going on here that is so marked all over the country--the
divorce of social and political life. I used to think, fifteen years
ago, that Washington was a standing contradiction to the old aphorism
that a democracy cannot make society--there was no more agreeable society
in the world than that in Washington even ten years ago: society selected
itself somehow without any marked class distinction, and it was
delightfully simple and accessible."
"And what has changed it?" Margaret asked.
"Money, which changes everything and everybody. The whole scale has
altered. There is so much more display and expense. I remember when a
private carriage in Washington was a rare object. The possession of
money didn't help one much socially. What made a person desired in any
company was the talent of being agreeable, talent of some sort, not the
ability to give a costly dinner or a big ball."
"But there are more literary and scientific people here, everybody says,"
said Margaret, who was becoming a partisan of the city.
"Yes, and they keep more to themselves--withdraw into their studies, or
hive in their clubs. They tell me that the delightful informality and
freedom of the old life is gone. Ask the old Washington residents
whether the coming in of rich people with leisure hasn't demoralized
society, or stiffened it, and made it impossible after the old sort.
It is as easy here now as anywhere else to get together a very heavy
dinner party--all very grand, but it isn't amusing. It is more and more
like New York."
"But we have been to delightful dinners," Margaret insisted.
"No doubt. There are still houses of the old sort, where wit and good-
humor and free hospitality are more conspicuous than expense; but when
money selects, there is usually an incongruous lot about the board.
An oracular scientist at the club the other night put it rather neatly
when he said that a society that exists mainly to pay its debts gets
"That's as clever," Margaret retorted, "as the remark of an under-
secretary at a cabinet reception the other night, that it is one thing to
entertain and another to be entertaining. I won't have you slander
Washington. I should like to spend all my winters here."
"Dear me!" said Morgan, "I've been praising Washington. I should like to
live here also, if I had the millions of Jerry Hollowell. Jerry is going
to build a palace out on the Massachusetts Avenue extension bigger than
the White House."
"I don't want to hear anything about Hollowell."
"But he is the coming man. He represents the democratic plutocracy that
we are coming to."
All Morgan's banter couldn't shake Margaret's enjoyment of the cheerful
city. "You like it as well as anybody," she told him. And in truth he
and Mrs. Morgan dipped into every gayety that was going. "Of course I
do," he said, "for a couple of weeks. I shouldn't like to be obliged to
follow it as a steady business. Washington is a good place to take a
plunge occasionally. And then you can go home and read King Solomon with
Margaret had thought when she came to Washington that she should spend a
good deal of time at the Capitol, listening to the eloquence of the
Senators and Representatives, and that she should study the collections
and the Patent-office and explore all the public buildings, in which she
had such intense historical interest as a teacher in Brandon. But there
was little time for these pleasures, which weighed upon her like duties.
She did go to the Capitol once, and tired herself out tramping up and
down, and was very proud of it all, and wondered how any legislation was
ever accomplished, and was confused by the hustling about, the swinging
of doors, the swarms in the lobbies, and the racing of messengers, and
concluded unjustly that it was a big hive of whispered conference, and
bargaining, and private interviewing. Morgan asked her if she expected
that the business of sixty millions of people was going to be done with
the order and decorum of a lyceum debating society. In one of the
committee-rooms she saw Hollowell, looking at ease, and apparently an
indispensable part of the government machine. Her own husband, who had
accompanied the party, she lost presently, whisked away somewhere.
He was sought in vain afterwards, and at last Margaret came away dazed
and stunned by the noise of the wheels of the great republic in motion.
She did not try it again, and very little strolling about the departments
satisfied her. The west end claimed her--the rolling equipages, the
drawing-rooms, the dress, the vistas of evening lamps, the gay chatter in
a hundred shining houses, the exquisite dinners, the crush of the
assemblies, the full flow of the tide of fashion and of enjoyment--what
is there so good in life? To be young, to be rich, to be pretty, to be
loved, to be admired, to compliment and be complimented--every Sunday at
morning service, kneeling in a fluttering row of the sweetly devout,
whose fresh toilets made it good to be there, and who might humbly hope
to be forgiven for the things they have left undone, Margaret thanked
Heaven for its gifts.
And it went well with Henderson meantime. Surely he was born under a
lucky star--if it is good-luck for a man to have absolute prosperity and
the gratification of all his desires. One reason why Hollowell sought
his cooperation was a belief in this luck, and besides Henderson was, he
knew, more presentable, and had social access in quarters where influence
was desirable, although Hollowell was discovering that with most men
delicacy in presenting anything that is for their interest is thrown
away. He found no difficulty in getting recruits for his little dinners
at Champolion's--dinners that were not always given in his name, and
where he appeared as a guest, though he footed the bills. Bungling
grossness has disappeared from all really able and large transactions,
and genius is mainly exercised in the supply of motives for a line of
conduct. The public good is one of the motives that looks best in
Henderson and Hollowell got what they wanted in regard to the Southwest
consolidation, and got it in the most gentlemanly way. Nobody was
bought, no one was offered a bribe. There were, of course, fees paid for
opinions and for professional services, and some able men induced to take
a prospective interest in what was demonstrably for the public good.
But no vote was given for a consideration--at least this was the report
of an investigating committee later on. Nothing, of course, goes through
Congress of its own weight, except occasionally a resolution of sympathy
with the Coreans, and the calendar needs to be watched, and the good
offices of friends secured. Skillful wording of a clause, the right
moment, and opportune recognition do the business. The main thing is to
create a favorable atmosphere and avoid discussion. When the bill was
passed, Hollowell did give a dinner on his own invitation, a dinner that
was talked of for its refinement as well as its cost. The chief topic of
conversation was the development of the Southwest and the extension of
our trade relations with Mexico. The little scheme, hatched in
Henderson's New York office, in order to transfer certain already created
values to the pockets of himself and his friends, appeared to have a
national importance. When Henderson rose to propose the health of Jerry
Hollowell, neither he nor the man he eulogized as a creator of industries
whose republican patriotism was not bound by State lines nor
circumscribed by sections was without a sense of the humor of the
And yet in a certain way Mr. Hollowell was conscious that he merited the
eulogy. He had come to believe that the enterprises in which he was
engaged, that absolutely gave him, it was believed, an income of a
million a year, were for the public good. Such vast operations lent him
the importance of a public man. If he was a victim of the confusion of
mind which mistook his own prosperity for the general benefit, he only
shared a wide public opinion which regards the accumulation of enormous
fortunes in a few hands as an evidence of national wealth.
Margaret left Washington with regret. She had a desire to linger in the
opening of the charming spring there, for the little parks were brilliant
with flower beds-tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, violets--the magnolias and
redbuds in their prodigal splendor attracted the eye a quarter of a mile
away, and the slender twigs of the trees began to be suffused with tender
green. It was the sentimental time of the year. But Congress had gone,
and whatever might be the promise of the season, Henderson had already
gathered the fruits that had been forced in the hothouse of the session.
He was in high spirits.
"It has all been so delightful, dear!" said Margaret as they rode away in
the train, and caught their last sight of the dome. They were in
Hollowell's private car, which the good-natured old fellow had put at
their disposal. And Margaret had a sense of how delightful and
prosperous this world is as seen from a private car.
"Yes," Henderson answered, thinking of various things; "it has been a
successful winter. The capital is really attractive. It occurred to me
the other day that America has invented a new kind of city, the
apotheosis of the village--Washington."
They talked of the city, of the acquaintances of the winter, of
Hollowell's thoughtfulness in lending them his car, that their bridal
trip, as he had said, might have a good finish. Margaret's heart opened
to the world. She thought of the friends at Brandon, she thought of the
poor old ladies she was accustomed to look after in the city, of the
ragged-school that she visited, of the hospital in which she was a
manager, of the mission chapel. The next Sunday would be Easter, and she
thought of a hundred ways in which she could make it brighter for so many
of the unfortunates. Her heart was opened to the world, and looking
across to Henderson, who was deep in the morning paper, she said, with a
wife's unblushing effrontery, "Dearest, how handsome you are!"
The home life took itself up again easily and smoothly in Washington
Square. Did there ever come a moment of reflection as to the nature of
this prosperity which was altogether so absorbing and agreeable? If it
came, did it give any doubts and raise any of the old questions that used
to be discussed at Brandon? Wasn't it the use that people made of money,
after all, that was the real test? She did not like Hollowell, but on
acquaintance he was not the monster that he had appeared to her in the
newspapers. She was perplexed now and then by her husband's business,
but did it differ from that of other men she had known, except that it
was on a larger scale? And how much good could be done with money!
On Easter morning, when Margaret returned from early service, to which
she had gone alone, she found upon her dressing-table a note addressed to
"My Wife," and in it a check for a large sum to her order, and a card,
on which was written, "For Margaret's Easter Charities." Flushed with
pleasure, she ran to meet her husband on the landing as he was descending
to breakfast, threw her arms about his neck, and, with tears in her eyes,
cried, "Dearest, how good you are!"
It is such a good and prosperous generation.
Our lives are largely made up of the things we do not have. In May, the
time of the apple blossoms--just a year from the swift wooing of
Margaret--Miss Forsythe received a letter from John Lyon. It was in a
mourning envelope. The Earl of Chisholm was dead, and John Lyon was Earl
of Chisholm. The information was briefly conveyed, but with an air of
profound sorrow. The letter spoke of the change that this loss brought
to his own life, and the new duties laid upon him, which would confine
him more closely to England. It also contained congratulations--which
circumstances had delayed--upon Mrs. Henderson's marriage, and a simple
wish for her happiness. The letter was longer than it need have been for
these purposes; it seemed to love to dwell upon the little visit to
Brandon and the circle of friends there, and it was pervaded by a tone,
almost affectionate, towards Miss Forsythe, which touched her very
deeply. She said it was such a manly letter.
America, the earl said, interested him more and more. In all history,
he wrote, there never had been such an opportunity for studying the
formation of society, for watching the working out of political problems;
the elements meeting were so new, and the conditions so original, that
historical precedents were of little service as guides. He acknowledged
an almost irresistible impulse to come back, and he announced his
intention of another visit as soon as circumstances permitted.
I had noticed this in English travelers of intelligence before. Crude as
the country is, and uninteresting according to certain established
standards, it seems to have a "drawing" quality, a certain unexplained
fascination. Morgan says that it is the social unconventionality that
attracts, and that the American women are the loadstone. He declares.
that when an Englishman secures and carries home with him an American
wife, his curiosity about the country is sated. But this is generalizing
on narrow premises.
There was certainly in Lyon's letter a longing to see the country again,
but the impression it made upon me when I read it--due partly to its tone
towards Miss Forsythe, almost a family tone--was that the earldom was an
empty thing without the love of Margaret Debree. Life is so brief at the
best, and has so little in it when the one thing that the heart desires
is denied. That the earl should wish to come to America again without
hope or expectation was, however, quite human nature. If a man has found
a diamond and lost it, he is likely to go again and again and wander
about the field where he found it, not perhaps in any defined hope of
finding another, but because there is a melancholy satisfaction in seeing
the spot again. It was some such feeling that impelled the earl to wish
to see again Miss Forsythe, and perhaps to talk of Margaret, but he
certainly had no thought that there were two Margaret Debrees in America.
To her aunt's letter conveying the intelligence of Mr. Lyon's loss,
Margaret replied with a civil message of condolence. The news had
already reached the Eschelles, and Carmen, Margaret said, had written to
the new earl a most pious note, which contained no allusion to his change
of fortune, except an expression of sympathy with his now enlarged
opportunity for carrying on his philanthropic plans--a most unworldly
note. "I used to think," she had said, when confiding what she had done
to Margaret, "that you would make a perfect missionary countess, but you
have done better, my dear, and taken up a much more difficult work among
us fashionable sinners. Do you know," she went on, "that I feel a great
deal less worldly than I used to?"
Margaret wrote a most amusing account of this interview, and added that
Carmen was really very good-hearted, and not half as worldly-minded as
she pretended to be; an opinion with which Miss Forsythe did not at all
agree. She had spent a fortnight with Margaret after Easter, and she
came back in a dubious frame of mind. Margaret's growing intimacy with
Carmen was one of the sources of her uneasiness. They appeared to be
more and more companionable, although Margaret's clear perception of
character made her estimate of Carmen very nearly correct. But the fact
remained that she found her company interesting. Whether the girl tried
to astonish the country aunt, or whether she was so thoroughly a child of
her day as to lack certain moral perceptions, I do not know, but her
candid conversation greatly shocked Miss Forsythe.
"Margaret," she said one day, in one of her apparent bursts of
confidence, "seems to have had such a different start in life from mine.
Sometimes, Miss Forsythe, she puzzles me. I never saw anybody so much in
love as she is with Mr. Henderson; she doesn't simply love him, she is in
love with him. I don't wonder she is fond of him--any woman might be
that--but, do you know, she actually believes in him."
"Why shouldn't she believe in him?" exclaimed Miss Forsythe, in
"Oh, of course, in a way," the girl went on. "I like Mr. Henderson--I
like him very much--but I don't believe in him. It isn't the way now to
believe in anybody very much. We don't do it, and I think we get along
just as well--and better. Don't you think it's nicer not to have any
Miss Forsythe was too much stunned to make any reply. It seemed to her
that the bottom had fallen out of society.
"Do you think Mr. Henderson believes in people?" the girl persisted.
"If he does not he isn't much of a man. If people don't believe in each
other, society is going to pieces. I am astonished at such a tone from a
"Oh, it isn't any tone in me, my dear Miss Forsythe," Carmen continued,
sweetly. "Society is a great deal pleasanter when you are not anxious
and don't expect too much."
Miss Forsythe told Margaret that she thought Miss Eschelle was a
dangerous woman. Margaret did not defend her, but she did not join,
either, in condemning her; she appeared to have accepted her as a part of
her world. And there were other things that Margaret seemed to have
accepted without that vigorous protest which she used to raise at
whatever crossed her conscience. To her aunt she was never more
affectionate, never more solicitous about her comfort and her pleasure,
and it was almost enough to see Margaret happy, radiant, expanding day by
day in the prosperity that was illimitable, only there was to her a note
of unreality in all the whirl and hurry of the busy life. She liked to
escape to her room with a book, and be out of it all, and the two weeks
away from her country life seemed long to her. She couldn't reconcile
Margaret's love of the world, her tolerance of Carmen, and other men and
women whose lives seemed to be based on Carmen's philosophy, with her
devotion to the church services, to the city missions, and the dozens of
charities that absorb so much of the time of the leaders of society.
"You are too young, dear, to be so good and devout," was Carmen's comment
on the situation.
To Miss Forsythe's wonder, Margaret did not resent this impertinence, but
only said that no accumulation of years was likely to bring Carmen into
either of these dangers. And the reply was no more satisfactory to Miss
Forsythe than the remark that provoked it.
That she had had a delightful visit, that Margaret was more lovely than
ever, that Henderson was a delightful host, was the report of Miss
Forsythe when she returned to us. In a confidential talk with my wife
she confessed, however, that she couldn't tell whither Margaret was
One of the worries of modern life is the perplexity where to spend the
summer. The restless spirit of change affects those who dwell in the
country, as well as those who live in the city. No matter how charming
the residence is, one can stay in it only a part of the year. He
actually needs a house in town, a villa by the sea, and a cottage in the
hills. When these are secured--each one an establishment more luxurious
year by year--then the family is ready to travel about, and is in a
greater perplexity than before whether to spend the summer in Europe or
in America, the novelties of which are beginning to excite the
imagination. This nomadism, which is nothing less than society on
wheels, cannot be satirized as a whim of fashion; it has a serious cause
in--the discovery of the disease called nervous prostration, which
demands for its cure constant change of scene, without any occupation.
Henderson recognized it, but he said that personally he had no time to
indulge in it. His summer was to be a very busy one. It was impossible
to take Margaret with him on his sudden and tedious journeys from one end
of the country to the other, but she needed a change. It was therefore
arranged that after a visit to Brandon she should pass the warm months
with the Arbusers in their summer home at Lenox, with a month--the right
month--in the Eschelle villa at Newport; and he hoped never to be long
absent from one place or the other.
Margaret came to Brandon at the beginning of June, just at the season
when the region was at its loveliest, and just when its society was
making preparations to get away from it to the sea, or the mountains, or
to any place that was not home. I could never understand why a people
who have been grumbling about snow and frost for six months, and longing
for genial weather, should flee from it as soon as it comes. I had made
the discovery, quite by chance--and it was so novel that I might have
taken out a patent on it--that if one has a comfortable home in our
northern latitude, he cannot do better than to stay in it when the hum of
the mosquito is heard in the land, and the mercury is racing up and down
the scale between fifty and ninety. This opinion, however, did not
extend beyond our little neighborhood, and we may be said to have had the
summer to ourselves.
I fancied that the neighborhood had not changed, but the coming of
Margaret showed me that this was a delusion. No one can keep in the same
place in life simply by standing still, and the events of the past two
years had wrought a subtle change in our quiet. Nothing had been changed
to the eye, yet something had been taken away, or something had been
added, a door had been opened into the world. Margaret had come home,
yet I fancied it was not the home to her that she had been thinking
about. Had she changed?
She was more beautiful. She had the air--I should hesitate to call it
that of the fine lady--of assured position, something the manner of that
greater world in which the possession of wealth has supreme importance,
but it was scarcely a change of manner so much as of ideas about life and
of the things valuable in it gradually showing itself. Her delight at
being again with her old friends was perfectly genuine, and she had never
appeared more unselfish or more affectionate. If there was a subtle
difference, it might very well be in us, though I found it impossible to
conceive of her in her former role of teacher and simple maiden, with her
heart in the little concerns of our daily life. And why should she be
expected to go back to that stage? Must we not all live our lives?
Miss Forsythe's solicitude about Margaret was mingled with a curious
deference, as to one who had a larger experience of life than her own.
The girl of a year ago was now the married woman, and was invested with
something of the dignity that Miss Forsythe in her pure imagination
attached to that position. Without yielding any of her opinions, this
idea somehow changed her relations to Margaret; a little, I thought, to
the amusement of Mrs. Fletcher and the other ladies, to whom marriage
took on a less mysterious aspect. It arose doubtless from a renewed
sense of the incompleteness of her single life, long as it had been, and
enriched as it was by observation.
In that June there were vexatious strikes in various parts of the
country, formidable combinations of laboring-men, demonstrations of
trades-unions, and the exhibition of a spirit that sharply called
attention to the unequal distribution of wealth. The discontent was
attributed in some quarters to the exhibition of extreme luxury and
reckless living by those who had been fortunate. It was even said that
the strikes, unreasonable and futile as they were, and most injurious to
those who indulged in them, were indirectly caused by the railway
manipulation, in the attempt not only to crush out competition, but to
exact excessive revenues on fictitious values. Resistance to this could
be shown to be blind, and the strikers technically in the wrong, yet the
impression gained ground that there was something monstrously wrong in
the way great fortunes were accumulated, in total disregard of individual
rights, and in a materialistic spirit that did not take into account
ordinary humanity. For it was not alone the laboring class that was
discontented, but all over the country those who lived upon small
invested savings, widows and minors, found their income imperiled by the
trickery of rival operators and speculators in railways and securities,
who treated the little private accumulations as mere counters in the
games they were playing. The loss of dividends to them was poorly
compensated by reflections upon the development of the country, and the
advantage to trade of great consolidations, which inured to the benefit
of half a dozen insolent men.
In discussing these things in our little parliament we were not
altogether unprejudiced, it must be confessed. For, to say nothing of
interests of Mr. Morgan and my own, which seemed in some danger of
disappearing for the "public good," Mrs. Fletcher's little fortune was
nearly all invested in that sound "rock-bed" railway in the Southwest
that Mr. Jerry Hollowell had recently taken under his paternal care.
She was assured, indeed, that dividends were only reserved pending some
sort of reorganization, which would ultimately be of great benefit to all
the parties concerned; but this was much like telling a hungry man that
if he would possess his appetite in patience, he would very likely have a
splendid dinner next year. Women are not constituted to understand this
sort of reasoning. It is needless to say that in our general talks on
the situation these personalities were not referred to, for although
Margaret was silent, it was plain to see that she was uneasy.
Morgan liked to raise questions of casuistry, such as that whether money
dishonestly come by could be accepted for good purposes.
"I had this question referred to me the other day," he said. "A gambler
--not a petty cheater in cards, but a man who has a splendid
establishment in which he has amassed a fortune, a man known for his
liberality and good-fellowship and his interest in politics--offered the
president of a leading college a hundred thousand dollars to endow a
professorship. Ought the president to take the money, knowing how it was
"Wouldn't the money do good--as much good as any other hundred thousand
dollars?" asked Margaret.
"Perhaps. But the professorship was to bear his name, and what would be
the moral effect of that?"
"Did you recommend the president to take the money, if he could get it
without using the gambler's name?"
"I am not saying yet what I advised. I am trying to get your views on a
"But wouldn't it be a sneaking thing to take a man's money, and refuse
him the credit of his generosity?"
"But was it generosity? Was not his object, probably, to get a
reputation which his whole life belied, and to get it by obliterating the
distinction between right and wrong?"
"But isn't it a compromising distinction," my wife asked, "to take his
money without his name? The president knows that it is money
fraudulently got, that really belongs to somebody else; and the gambler
would feel that if the president takes it, he cannot think very
disapprovingly of the manner in which it was acquired. I think it would
be more honest and straightforward to take his name with the money."
"The public effect of connecting the gambler's name with the college
would be debasing," said Morgan; "but, on the contrary, is every charity
or educational institution bound to scrutinize the source of every
benefaction? Isn't it better that money, however acquired, should be
used for a good purpose than a bad one?"
"That is a question," I said, "that is a vital one in our present
situation, and the sophistry of it puzzles the public. What would you
say to this case? A man notoriously dishonest, but within the law, and
very rich, offered a princely endowment to a college very much in need of
it. The sum would have enabled it to do a great work in education. But
it was intimated that the man would expect, after a while, to be made one
of the trustees. His object, of course, was social position."
"I suppose, of course," Margaret replied, "that the college couldn't
afford that. It would look like bribery."
"Wouldn't he be satisfied with an LL.D.?" Morgan asked.
"I don't see," my wife said, "any difference between the two cases stated
and that of the stock gambler, whose unscrupulous operations have ruined
thousands of people, who founds a theological seminary with the gains of
his slippery transactions. By accepting his seminary the public condones
his conduct. Another man, with the same shaky reputation, endows a
college. Do you think that religion and education are benefited in the
long-run by this? It seems to me that the public is gradually losing its
power of discrimination between the value of honesty and dishonesty.
Real respect is gone when the public sees that a man is able to buy it."
This was a hot speech for my wife to make. For a moment Margaret flamed
up under it with her old-time indignation. I could see it in her eyes,
and then she turned red and confused, and at length said:
"But wouldn't you have rich men do good with their money?"