Part 4 out of 5
"Yes, dear, but I would not have them think they can blot out by their
liberality the condemnation of the means by which many of them make
money. That is what they are doing, and the public is getting used to
"Well," said Margaret, with some warmth, "I don't know that they are any
worse than the stingy saints who have made their money by saving, and act
as if they expected to carry it with them."
"Saints or sinners, it does not make much difference to me," now put in
Mrs. Fletcher, who was evidently considering the question from a
practical point of view, "what a man professes, if he founds a hospital
for indigent women out of the dividends that I never received."
Morgan laughed. "Don't you think, Mrs. Fletcher, that it is a good sign
of the times, that so many people who make money rapidly are disposed to
use it philanthropically?"
"It may be for them, but it does not console me much just now."
"But you don't make allowance enough for the rich. Perhaps they are
under a necessity of doing something. I was reading this morning in the
diary of old John Ward of Stratford-on-Avon this sentence: 'It was a
saying of Navisson, a lawyer, that no man could be valiant unless he
hazarded his body, nor rich unless he hazarded his soul.'"
"Was Navisson a modern lawyer?" I asked.
"No; the diary is dated 1648-1679."
"I thought so."
There was a little laugh at this, and the talk drifted off into a
consideration of the kind of conscience that enables a professional man
to espouse a cause he knows to be wrong as zealously as one he knows to
be right; a talk that I should not have remembered at all, except for
Margaret's earnestness in insisting that she did not see how a lawyer
could take up the dishonest side.
Before Margaret went to Lenox, Henderson spent a few days with us.
He brought with him the amounding cheerfulness, and the air of a
prosperous, smiling world, that attended him in all circumstances. And
how happy Margaret was! They went over every foot of the ground on which
their brief courtship had taken place, and Heaven knows what joy there
was to her in reviving all the tenderness and all the fear of it! Busy
as Henderson was, pursued by hourly telegrams and letters, we could not
but be gratified that his attention to her was that of a lover. How
could it be otherwise, when all the promise of the girl was realized in
the bloom and the exquisite susceptibility of the woman? Among other
things, she dragged him down to her mission in the city, to which he went
in a laughing and bantering mood. When he had gone away, Margaret ran
over to my wife, bringing in her hand a slip of paper.
"See that!" she cried, her eyes dancing with pleasure. It was a check
for a thousand dollars. "That will refurnish the mission from top to
bottom," she said, "and run it for a year."
"How generous he is!" cried my wife. Margaret did not reply, but she
looked at the check, and there were tears in her eyes.
The Arbuser cottage at Lenox was really a magnificent villa. Richardson
had built it. At a distance it had the appearance of a mediaeval
structure, with its low doorways, picturesque gables, and steep roofs,
and in its situation on a gentle swell of green turf backed by native
forest-trees it imparted to the landscape an ancestral tone which is much
valued in these days. But near to, it was seen to be mediaevalism
adapted to the sunny hospitality of our summer climate, with generous
verandas and projecting balconies shaded by gay awnings, and within
spacious, open to the breezes, and from its broad windows offering views
of lawns and flower-beds and ornamental trees, of a great sweep of
pastures and forests and miniature lakes, with graceful and reposeful
hills on the horizon.
It was, in short, the modern idea of country simplicity. The passion for
country life, which has been in decadence for nearly half a century, has
again become the fashion. Nature, which, left to itself, is a little
ragged, not to say monotonous and tiresome, is discovered to be a
valuable ally for aid in passing the time when art is able to make
portions of it exclusive. What the Arbusers wanted was a simple home in
the country, and in obtaining it they were indulging a sentiment of
returning to the primitive life of their father, who had come to the city
from a hill farm, and had been too busy all his life to recur to the
tastes of his boyhood. At least that was the theory of his daughters;
but the old gentleman had a horror of his early life, and could scarcely
be dragged away from the city even in the summer. He would no doubt have
been astonished at the lofty and substantial stone stables, the long
range of greenhouses, and at a farm which produced nothing except lawns
and flower-beds, ornamental fields of clover, avenues of trees, lawn-
tennis grounds, and a few Alderneys tethered to feed among the trees,
where their beauty would heighten the rural and domestic aspect of the
scene. The Arbusers liked to come to this place as early as possible to
escape the society exactions of the city. That was another theory of
theirs. All their set in the city met there for the same purpose.
Margaret was welcomed with open arms.
"We have been counting the days," said the elder of the sisters. "Your
luggage has come, your rooms are all ready, and your coachman, who has
been here some days, says that the horses need exercise. Everybody is
here, and we need you for a hundred things."
"You are very kind. It is so charming here. I knew it would be, but I
couldn't bear to shorten my visit in Brandon."
"Your aunt must miss you very much. Is she well?"
"Wouldn't she have come with you? I've a mind to telegraph."
"I think not. She is wedded to quiet, and goes away from her little
neighborhood with reluctance."
"So Brandon was a little dull?" said Miss Arbuser, with a shrewd guess at
"Oh no," quickly replied Margaret, shrinking a little from what was in
her own mind; "it was restful and delightful; but you know that we New
England people take life rather seriously, and inquire into the reason of
things, and want an object in life."
"A very good thing to have," answered this sweet woman of the world,
whose object was to go along pleasantly and enjoy it.
"But to have it all the time!" Margaret suggested, lightly, as she ran
up-stairs. But even in this suggestion she was conscious of a twinge of
disloyalty to her former self. Deep down in her heart, coming to the
atmosphere of Lenox was a relief from questionings that a little
disturbed her at her old home, and she was indignant at herself that it
should be so, and then indignant at the suggestions that put her out of
humor with herself. Was it a sin, she said, to be happy and prosperous?
On her dressing-table was a letter from her husband. He was detained in
the city by a matter of importance. He scratched only a line, to catch
the mail, during a business interview. It was really only a business
interview, and had no sort of relation to Lenox or the summer gayety
Henderson was in his private office. The clerks in the outer offices, in
the neglige of summer costumes, winked to each other as they saw old
Jerry Hollowell enter and make his way to the inner room unannounced.
Something was in the wind.
"Well, old man," said Uncle Jerry, in the cheeriest manner, coming in,
depositing his hat on the table, and taking a seat opposite Henderson,
"we seem to have stirred up the animals."
"Only a little flurry," replied Henderson, laying down his pen and
folding a note he had just finished; "they'll come to reason."
"They've got to." Mr. Hollowell drew out a big bandanna and mopped his
heated face. "I've just got a letter from Jorkins. There's the
certificates that make up the two-thirds-more than we need, anyway. No
flaw about that, is there?"
"No. I'll put these with the balance in the safe. It's all right, if
Jorkins has been discreet. It may make a newspaper scandal if they get
hold of his operations."
"Oh, Jorkins is close. But he is a little overworked. I don't know but
it would do him good to have a little nervous prostration and go abroad
for a while."
"I guess it would do Jorkins good to take a turn in Europe for a year or
"Well, you write to him. Give him a sort of commission to see the
English bondholders, and explain the situation. They will appreciate
that half a loaf is better than no bread. What bothers me is the way the
American bondholders take it. They kick."
"Let 'em kick. The public don't care for a few soreheads and
impracticables in an operation that is going to open up the whole
Southwest. I've an appointment with one of them this morning. He ought
to be here now."
At the moment Henderson's private secretary entered and laid on the table
the card of Mr. John Hopper, who was invited to come in at once. Mr.
Hopper was a man of fifty, with iron-gray hair, a heavy mustache, and a
smooth-shaven chin that showed resolution. In dress and manner his
appearance was that of the shrewd city capitalist--quiet and determined,
who is neither to be deceived nor bullied. With a courteous greeting to
both the men, whom he knew well, he took a seat and stated his business.
"I have called to see you, Mr. Henderson, about the bonds of the A. and
B., and I am glad to find Mr. Hollowell here also."
"What amount do you represent, Mr. Hopper?" asked Henderson.
"With my own and my friends', altogether, rising a million. What do you
"You got our circular?"
"Yes, and we don't accept the terms."
"I'm sorry. It is the best that we could do."
"That is, the best you would do!"
"Pardon me, Mr. Hopper, the best we could do under the circumstances.
We gave you your option, to scale down on a fair estimate of the earnings
of the short line (the A. and B.), or to surrender your local bonds and
take new ones covering the whole consolidation, or, as is of course in
your discretion, to hold on and take the chances."
"Which your operations have practically destroyed."
"Not at all, Mr. Hopper. We offer you a much better security on the
whole system instead of a local road."
"And you mean to tell me, Mr. Henderson, that it is for our advantage to
exchange a seven per cent. bond on a road that has always paid its
interest promptly, for a four and a half on a system that is manipulated
nobody knows how? I tell you, gentlemen, that it looks to outsiders as
if there was crookedness somewhere."
"That is a rather rough charge, Mr. Hopper," said Henderson, with a
"But we are to understand that if we do not accept your terms, it's a
"You are to understand that we want to make the best arrangement possible
for all parties in interest."
"How some of those interests were acquired may be a question for the
courts," replied Mr. Hopper, resolutely. "When we put our money in good
seven per cent. bonds, we propose to inquire into the right of anybody to
demand that we shall exchange them for four and a half per cents. on
"Perfectly right, Mr. Hopper," said Henderson, with imperturbable good-
humor;" the transfer books are open to your inspection."
"Well, we prefer to hold on to our bonds."
"And wait for your interest," interposed Hollowell.
Mr. Hopper turned to the speaker. "And while we are waiting we propose
to inquire what has become of the surplus of the A. and B. The
bondholders had the first claim on the entire property."
"And we propose to protect it. See here, Mr. Hopper," continued Uncle
Jerry, with a most benevolent expression, "I needn't tell you that
investments fluctuate--the Lord knows mine do! The A. and B. was a good
road. I know that. But it was going to be paralleled. We'd got to
parallel it to make our Southwest connections. If we had, you'd have
waited till the Gulf of Mexico freezes over before you got any coupons
paid. Instead of that, we took it into our system, and it's being put on
a permanent basis. It's a little inconvenient for holders, and they have
got to stand a little shrinkage, but in the long-run it will be better
for everybody. The little road couldn't stand alone, and the day of big
interest is about over."
"That explanation may satisfy you, Mr. Hollowell, but it don't give us
our money, and I notify you that we shall carry the matter into the
When Mr. Hopper had gone, the two developers looked at each other a
"Hopper 'll fight," Hollowell said at last.
"And we have got the surplus to fight him with," replied Henderson.
"That's so," and Uncle Jerry chuckled to himself. "The rats that are on
the inside of the crib are a good deal better off than the rats on the
"The reporter of The Planet wants five minutes," announced the secretary,
opening the door. Henderson told him to let him in.
The reporter was a spruce young gentleman, in a loud summer suit, with a
rose in his button-hole, and the air of assurance which befits the
commissioner of the public curiosity.
"I am sent by The Planet," said the young man, "to show you this and ask
you if you have anything to say to it."
"What is it?" asked Henderson.
"It's about the A. and B."
"Very well. There is the president, Mr. Hollowell. Show it to him."
The reporter produced a long printed slip and handed it to Uncle Jerry,
who took it and began to read. As his eye ran down the column he was
apparently more and more interested, and he let it be shown on his face
that he was surprised, and even a little astonished. When he had
finished, he said:
"Well, my young friend, how did you get hold of this?"
"Oh, we have a way," said the reporter, twirling his straw hat by the
elastic, and looking more knowing than old Jerry himself.
"So I see," replied Jerry, with an admiring smile; "there is nothing that
you newspaper folks don't find out. It beats the devil!"
"Is it true, sir?" said the young gentleman, elated with this recognition
of his own shrewdness.
"It is so true that there is no fun in it. I don't see how the devil you
got hold of it."
"Have you any explanations?"
"No, I guess not," said Uncle Jerry, musingly. "If it is to come out,
I'd rather The Planet would have it than any, other paper. It's got some
sense. No; print it. It'll be a big beat for your paper. While you are
about it--I s'pose you'll print it anyway?" (the reporter nodded)--"you
might as well have the whole story."
"Certainly. We'd like to have it right. What is wrong about it?"
"Oh, nothing but some details. You have got it substantially. There's a
word or two and a date you are out on, naturally enough, and there are
two or three little things that would be exactly true if they were
"Would you mind telling me what they are?"
"No," said Jerry, with a little reluctance; "might as well have it all
And the old man took his pencil and changed some dates and a name or two,
and gave to some of the sentences a turn that seemed to the reporter only
another way of saying the same thing.
"There, that is all I know. Give my respects to Mr. Goss."
When the commissioner had withdrawn, Uncle Jerry gave vent to a long
whistle. Then he rose suddenly and called to the secretary, "Tell that
reporter to come back." The reporter reappeared.
"I was just thinking, and you can tell Mr. Goss, that now you have got
onto this thing, you might as well keep the lead on it. The public is
interested in what we are doing in the Southwest, and if you, or some
other bright fellow who has got eyes in his head, will go down there, he
will see something that will astonish him. I'm going tomorrow in my
private car, and if you could go along, I assure you a good time. I want
you to see for yourself, and I guess you would. Don't take my word.
I can't give you any passes, and I know you don't want any, but you can
just get into my private car and no expense to anybody, and see all there
is to be seen. Ask Goss, and let me know tonight."
The young fellow went off feeling several inches higher than when he came
in. Such is the power of a good address, and such is the omnipotence of
the great organ. Mr. Jerry Hollowell sat down and began to fan himself.
It was very hot in the office.
"Seems to me it's lunch-time. Great Scott! what a lot of time I used to
waste fighting the newspapers! That thing would have played the devil as
it stood. It will be comparatively harmless now. It will make a little
talk, but there is nothing to get hold of. Queer, about the difference
of a word or two. Come, old man, I'm thirsty."
"Uncle Jerry," said Henderson, taking his arm as they went out, "you
ought to be President of the United States."
"The salary is too small," said Uncle Jerry.
Of all this there was nothing to write to Margaret, who was passing her
time agreeably in the Berkshire hills, a little impatient for her
husband's arrival, postponed from day to day, and full of sympathy for
him, condemned to the hot city and the harassment of a business the
magnitude of which gave him the obligations and the character of a public
man. Henderson sent her instead a column from The Planet devoted to a
description of his private library. Mr. Goss, the editor, who was
college bred, had been round to talk with Henderson about the Southwest
trip, and the conversation drifting into other matters, Henderson had
taken from his desk and shown him a rare old book which he had picked up
the day before in a second-hand shop. This led to further talk about
Henderson's hobby, and the editor had asked permission to send a reporter
down to make a note of Henderson's collection. It would make a good
midsummer item, "The Stock-Broker in Literature," "The Private Tastes of
a Millionaire," etc. The column got condensed into a portable paragraph,
and went the rounds of the press, and changed the opinions of a good many
people about the great operator--he wasn't altogether devoted to vulgar
moneymaking. Uncle Jerry himself read the column with appreciation of
its value. "It diverts the public mind," he said. He himself had
recently diverted the public mind by the gift of a bell to the Norembega
Theological (colored) Institute, and the paragraph announcing the fact
conveyed the impression that while Uncle Jerry was a canny old customer,
his heart was on the right side. "There are worse men than Uncle Jerry
who are not worth a cent," was one of the humorous paragraphs tacked on
to the item.
Margaret was not alone in finding the social atmosphere of Lenox as
congenial as its natural beauties. Mrs. Laflamme declared that it was
the perfection of existence for a couple of months, one in early summer
and another in the golden autumn with its pathetic note of the falling
curtain dropping upon the dream of youth. Mrs. Laflamme was not a
sentimental person, but she was capable of drifting for a moment into a
poetic mood--a great charm in a woman of her vivacity and air of the
world. Margaret remembered her very distinctly, although she had only
exchanged a word with her at the memorable dinner in New York when
Henderson had revealed her feelings to herself. Mrs. Laflamme had the
immense advantage--it seemed so to her after five years of widowhood of
being a widow on the sunny side of thirty-five. If she had lost some
illusions she had gained a great deal of knowledge, and she had no
feverish anxiety about what life would bring her. Although she would not
put it in this way to herself, she could look about her deliberately,
enjoying the prospect, and please herself. Her position had two
advantages--experience and opportunity. A young woman unmarried, she
said, always has the uneasy sense of the possibility--well, it is
impossible to escape slang, and she said it with the merriest laugh--the
possibility of being left. A day or two after Margaret's arrival she had
driven around to call in her dog-cart, looking as fresh as a daisy in her
sunhat. She held the reins, but her seat was shared by Mr. Fox
McNaughton, the most useful man in the village, indispensable indeed;
a bachelor, with no intentions, no occupation, no ambition (except to
lead the german), who could mix a salad, brew a punch, organize a picnic,
and chaperon anything in petticoats with entire propriety, without regard
to age. And he had a position of social authority. This eminence Mr.
Fox McNaughton had attained by always doing the correct thing. The
obligation of society to such men is never enough acknowledged. While
they are trusted and used, and worked to death, one is apt to hear them
spoken of in a deprecatory tone.
"You hold the reins a moment, please. No, I don't want any help," she
said, as she jumped down with an elastic spring, and introduced him to
Margaret. "I've got Mr. McNaughton in training, and am thinking of
bringing him out."
She walked in with Margaret, chatting about the view and the house and
the divine weather.
"And your husband has not come yet?"
"He may come any day. I think business might suspend in the summer."
"So do I. But then, what would become of Lenox? It is rather hard on
the men, only I dare say they like it. Don't you think Mr. Henderson
would like a place here?"
"He cannot help being pleased with Lenox."
"I'm sure he would if you are. I have hardly seen him since that evening
at the Stotts'. Can I tell you?--I almost had five minutes of envy that
evening. You won't mind it in such an old woman?"
"I should rather trust your heart than your age, Mrs. Laflamme," said
Margaret, with a laugh.
"Yes, my heart is as old as my face. But I had a feeling, seeing you
walk away that evening into the conservatory. I knew what was coming.
I think I have discovered a great secret, Mrs. Henderson to be able to
live over again in other people. By-the-way, what has become of that
quiet Englishman, Mr. Lyon?"
"He has come into his title. He is the Earl of Chisholm."
"Dear me, how stupid in us not to have taken a sense of that! And the
Eschelles--do you know anything of the Eschelles?"
"Yes; they are at their house in Newport."
"Do you think there was anything between Miss Eschelle and Mr. Lyon?
I saw her afterwards several times."
"Not that I ever heard. Miss Eschelle says that she is thoroughly
American in her tastes."
"Then her tastes are not quite conformed to her style. That girl might
be anything--Queen of Spain, or coryphee in the opera ballet. She is
clever as clever. One always expects to hear of her as the heroine of an
"Didn't you say you knew her in Europe?"
"No. We heard of her and her mother everywhere. She was very
independent. She had the sort of reputation to excite curiosity. But I
noticed that the men in New York were a little afraid of her. She is a
woman who likes to drive very near the edge."
Mrs. Laflamme rose. "I must not keep Mr. McNaughton waiting for any more
of my gossip. We expect you and the Misses Arbuser this afternoon.
I warn you it will be dull. I should like to hear of some summer resort
where the men are over sixteen and under sixty."
Mrs. Laflamme liked to drive near the edge as much as Carmen did, and
this piquancy was undeniably an attraction in her case. But there was
this difference between the two: there was a confidence that Mrs.
Laflamme would never drive over the edge, whereas no one could tell what
sheer Carmen might not suddenly take. A woman's reputation is almost as
much affected by the expectation of what she may do as by anything she
has done. It was Fox McNaughton who set up the dictum that a woman may
do almost anything if it is known that she draws a line somewhere.
The lawn party was not at all dull to Margaret. In the first place, she
received a great deal of attention. Henderson's name was becoming very
well known, and it was natural that the splendor of his advancing fortune
should be reflected in the person of his young wife, whose loveliness was
enhanced by her simple enjoyment of the passing hour. Then the toilets
of the women were so fresh and charming, the colors grouped so prettily
on the greensward, the figures of the slender girls playing at tennis or
lounging on the benches under the trees, recalled scenes from the classic
poets. It was all so rich and refined. Nor did she miss the men of
military age, whose absence Mrs. Laflamme had deplored, for she thought
of her husband. And, besides, she found even the college boys (who are
always spoken of as men) amusing, and the elderly gentlemen--upon whom
watering-place society throws much responsibility--gallant, facetious,
complimentary, and active in whatever was afoot. Their boyishness,
indeed, contrasted with--the gravity of the undergraduates, who took
themselves very seriously, were civil to the young ladies,--confidential
with the married women, and had generally a certain reserve and dignity
which belong to persons upon whom such heavy responsibility rests.
There were, to be sure, men who looked bored, and women who were
listless, missing the stimulus of any personal interest; but the scene
was so animated, the weather so propitious, that, on the whole, a person
must be very cynical not to find the occasion delightful.
There was a young novelist present whose first story, "The Girl I Left
Behind Me," had made a hit the last season. It was thought to take a
profound hold upon life, because it was a book that could not be read
aloud in a mixed company. Margaret was very much interested in him,
although Mr. Summers Bass was not her idea of an imaginative writer.
He was a stout young gentleman, with very black hair and small black
eyes, to which it was difficult to give a melancholy cast even by an
habitual frown. Mr. Bass dressed himself scrupulously in the fashion,
was very exact in his pronunciation, careful about his manner, and had
the air of a little weariness, of the responsibility of one looking at
life. It was only at rare moments that his face expressed intensity of
"It is a very pretty scene. I suppose, Mr. Bass, that you are making
studies," said Margaret, by way of opening a conversation.
"No; hardly that. One must always observe. It gets to be a habit.
The thing is to see reality under appearances."
"Then you would call yourself a realist?"
Mr. Bass smiled. "That is a slang term, Mrs. Henderson. What you want
is nature, color, passion--to pierce the artificialities."
"But you must describe appearance."
"Certainly, to an extent--form, action, talk as it is, even trivialities
--especially the trivialities, for life is made up of the trivial."
"But suppose that does not interest me?"
"Pardon me, Mrs. Henderson, that is because you are used to the
conventional, the selected. Nature is always interesting."
"I do not find it so."
"No? Nature has been covered up; it has been idealized. Look yonder,"
and Mr. Bass pointed across the lawn. "See that young woman upon whom
the sunlight falls standing waiting her turn. See the quivering of the
eyelids, the heaving of the chest, the opening lips; note the curve of
her waist from the shoulder, and the line rounding into the fall of the
folds of the Austrian cashmere. I try to saturate myself with that form,
to impress myself with her every attitude and gesture, her color, her
movement, and then I shall imagine the form under the influence of
passion. Every detail will tell. I do not find unimportant the tie of
her shoe. The picture will be life."
"But suppose, Mr. Bass, when you come to speak with her, you find that
she has no ideas, and talks slang."
"All the better. It shows what we are, what our society is. And
besides, Mrs. Henderson, nearly everybody has the capacity of being
wicked; that is to say, of expressing emotion."
"You take a gloomy view, Mr. Bass."
"I take no view, Mrs. Henderson. My ambition is to record. It will not
help matters by pretending that people are better than they are."
"Well, Mr. Bass, you may be quite right, but I am not going to let you
spoil my enjoyment of this lovely scene," said Margaret, moving away.
Mr. Bass watched her until she disappeared, and then entered in his note-
book a phrase for future use, "The prosperous propriety of a pretty
plutocrat." He was gathering materials for his forthcoming book, "The
Last Sigh of the Prude."
The whole world knows how delightful Lenox is. It even has a club where
the men can take refuge from the exactions of society, as in the city.
The town is old enough to have "histories"; there is a romance attached
to nearly every estate, a tragedy of beauty, and money, and
disappointment; great writers have lived here, families whose names were
connected with our early politics and diplomacy; there is a tradition of
a society of wit and letters, of women whose charms were enhanced by a
spice of adventure, of men whose social brilliancy ended in misanthropy.
All this gave a background of distinction to the present gayety, luxury,
and adaptation of the unsurpassed loveliness of nature to the refined
fashion of the age.
Here, if anywhere, one could be above worry, above the passion of envy;
for did not every new "improvement" and every new refinement in living
add to the importance of every member of this favored community? For
Margaret it was all a pageant of beauty. The Misses Arbuser talked about
the quality of the air, the variety of the scenery, the exhilaration of
the drives, the freedom from noise and dust, the country quiet. There
were the morning calls, the intellectual life of the reading clubs, the
tennis parties, the afternoon teas, combined with charming drives from
one elegant place to another; the siestas, the idle swinging in hammocks,
with the latest magazine from which to get a topic for dinner, the mild
excitement of a tete-a-tete which might discover congenial tastes or run
on into an interesting attachment. Half the charm of life, says a
philosopher, is in these personal experiments.
When Henderson came, as he did several times for a few days, Margaret's
happiness was complete. She basked in the sun of his easy enjoyment of
life. She liked to take him about with her, and see the welcome in all
companies of a man so handsome, so natural and cordial, as her husband.
Especially aid she like the consideration in which he was evidently held
at the club, where the members gathered about him to listen to his racy
talk and catch points about the market. She liked to think that he was
not a woman's man. He gave her his version of some recent transactions
that had been commented on in the newspapers, and she was indignant over
the insinuations about him. It was the price, he said, that everybody
had to pay for success. Why shouldn't he, she reflected, make money?
Everybody would if they could, and no one knew how generous he was.
If she had been told that the family of Jerry Hollowell thought of him in
the same way, she would have said that there was a world-wide difference
in the two men. Insensibly she was losing the old standards she used to
apply to success. Here in Lenox, in this prosperous, agreeable world,
there was nothing to remind her of them.
In her enjoyment of this existence without care, I do not suppose it
occurred to her to examine if her ideals had been lowered. Sometimes
Henderson had a cynical, mocking tone about the world, which she reproved
with a caress, but he was always tolerant and good-natured. If he had
told her that he acted upon the maxim that every man and woman has his
and her price she would have been shocked, but she was getting to make
allowances that she would not have made before she learned to look at the
world through his eyes. She could see that the Brandon circle was over-
scrupulous. Her feeling of this would have been confirmed if she had
known that when her aunt read the letter announcing a month's visit to
the Eschelles in Newport, she laid it down with a sigh.
Uncle Jerry was sitting on the piazza of the Ocean House, absorbed in the
stock reports of a New York journal, answering at random the occasional
observations of his wife, who filled up one of the spacious chairs near
him--a florid woman, with diamonds in her ears, who had the resolute air
of enjoying herself. It was an August Newport morning, when there is a
salty freshness in the air, but a temperature that discourages exertion.
A pony phaeton dashed by containing two ladies. The ponies were cream-
colored, with flowing manes and tails, and harness of black and gold; the
phaeton had yellow wheels with a black body; the diminutive page with
folded arms, on the seat behind, wore a black jacket and yellow breeches.
The lady who held the yellow silk reins was a blonde with dark eyes. As
they flashed by, the lady on the seat with her bowed, and Mr. Hollowell
returned the salute.
"Who's that?" asked Mrs. Hollowell.
"That's Mrs. Henderson."
"And the other one?"
"I don't know her. She knows how to handle the ribbons, though."
"I seen her at the Casino the other night, before you come, with that
tandem-driving count. I don't believe he's any more count than you are."
"Oh, he's all right. He's one of the Spanish legation. This is just the
place for counts. I shouldn't wonder, Maria, if you'd like to be a
countess. We can afford it--the Countess Jeremiah, eh?" and Uncle
Jerry's eyes twinkled.
"Don't be a goose, Mr. Hollowell," bringing her fat hands round in front
of her, so that she could see the sparkle of the diamond rings on them.
"She's as pretty as a picture, that girl, but I should think a good wind
would blow her away. I shouldn't want to have her drive me round."
"Jorkins has sailed," said Mr. Hollowell, looking up from his paper.
"The Planet reporter tried to interview him, but he played sick, said he
was just going over and right back for a change. I guess it will be long
enough before they get a chance at him again."
"I'm glad he's gone. I hope the papers will mind their own business for
The house of the Eschelles was on the sea, looking over a vast sweep of
lawn to the cliff and the dimpling blue water of the first beach. It was
known as the Yellow Villa. Coming from the elegance of Lenox, Margaret
was surprised at the magnificence and luxury of this establishment, the
great drawing-rooms, the spacious chambers, the wide verandas, the
pictures, the flowers, the charming nooks and recessed windows, with
handy book-stands, and tables littered with the freshest and most-talked-
of issues from the press of Paris, Madrid, and London. Carmen had taken
a hint from Henderson's bachelor apartment, which she had visited once
with her mother, and though she had no literary taste, further than to
dip in here and there to what she found toothsome and exciting in various
languages, yet she knew the effect of the atmosphere of books, and she
had a standing order at a book-shop for whatever was fresh and likely to
come into notice.
And Carmen was a delightful hostess, both because her laziness gave an
air of repose to the place, and she had the tact never to appear to make
any demands upon her guests, and because she knew when to be piquant and
exhibit personal interest, and when to show even a little abandon of
vivacity. Society flowed through her house without any obstructions.
It was scarcely ever too early and never too late for visitors. Those
who were intimate used to lounge in and take up a book, or pass an hour
on the veranda, even when none of the family were at home. Men had a
habit of dropping in for a five o'clock cup of tea, and where the men
went the women needed little urging to follow. At first there had been
some reluctance about recognizing the Eschelles fully, and there were
still houses that exhibited a certain reserve towards them, but the
example of going to this house set by the legations, the members of which
enjoyed a chat with Miss Eschelle in the freedom of their own tongues and
the freedom of her tongue, went far to break down this barrier. They
were spoken of occasionally as "those Eschelles," but almost everybody
went there, and perhaps enjoyed it all the more because there had been a
shade of doubt about it.
Margaret's coming was a good card for Carmen. The little legend about
her French ancestry in Newport, and the romantic marriage in Rochambeau's
time, had been elaborated in the local newspaper, and when she appeared
the ancestral flavor, coupled with the knowledge of Henderson's
accumulating millions, lent an interest and a certain charm to whatever
she said and did. The Eschelle house became more attractive than ever
before, so much so that Mrs. Eschelle declared that she longed for the
quiet of Paris. To her motherly apprehension there was no result in this
whirl of gayety, no serious intention discoverable in any of the train
that followed Carmen. "You act, child," she said, "as if youth would
Margaret entered into this life as if she had been born to it. Perhaps
she was. Perhaps most people never find the career for which they are
fitted, and struggle along at cross-purposes with themselves. We all
thought that Margaret's natural bent was for some useful and self-
sacrificing work in the world, and never could have imagined that under
any circumstances she would develop into a woman of fashion.
"I intend to read a great deal this month," she said to Carmen on her
arrival, as she glanced at the litter of books.
"That was my intention," replied Carmen; "now we can read together. I'm
taking Spanish lessons of Count Crispo. I've learned two Spanish poems
and a Castilian dance."
"Is he married?"
"Not now. He told me, when he was teaching me the steps, that his heart
was buried in Seville."
"He seems to be full of sentiment."
"Perhaps that is because his salary is so small. Mamma says, of all
things an impecunious count! But he is amusing."
"But what do you care for money? "asked Margaret, by way of testing
"Nothing, my dear. But deliver me from a husband who is poor; he would
certainly be a tyrant. Besides, if I ever marry, it will be with an
"But suppose you fall in love with a poor man?"
"That would be against my principles. Never fall below your ideals--that
is what I heard a speaker say at the Town and Country Club, and that is
my notion. There is no safety for you if you lose your principles."
"That depends upon what they are," said Margaret, in the same bantering
"That sounds like good Mr. Lyon. I suspect he thought I hadn't any.
Mamma said I tried to shock him; but he shocked me. Do you think you
could live with such a man twenty-four hours, even if he had his crown
"I can imagine a great deal worse husbands than the Earl of Chisholm."
"Well, I haven't any imagination."
There was no reading that day nor the next. In the morning there was a
drive with the ponies through town, in the afternoon in the carriage by
the sea, with a couple of receptions, the five o'clock tea, with its
chatter, and in the evening a dinner party for Margaret. One day
sufficed to launch her, and there-after Carmen had only admiration for
the unflagging spirit which Margaret displayed. "If you were only
unmarried," she said, "what larks we could have!" Margaret looked grave
at this, but only for a moment, for she well knew that she could not
please her husband better than by enjoying the season to the full.
He never criticised her for taking the world as it is; and she confessed
to herself that life went very pleasantly in a house where there were
never any questions raised about duties. The really serious thought in
Carmen's mind was that perhaps after all a woman had no real freedom
until she was married. And she began to be interested in Margaret's
enjoyment of the world.
It was not, after all, a new world, only newly arranged, like another
scene in the same play. The actors, who came and went, were for the most
part the acquaintances of the Washington winter, and the callers and
diners and opera-goers and charity managers of the city. In these days
Margaret was quite at home with the old set: the British Minister, the
Belgian, the French, the Spanish, the Mexican, the German, and the
Italian, with their families and attaches--nothing was wanting, not even
the Chinese mandarin, who had rooms at the hotel, going about everywhere
in the conscientious discharge of his duties as ambassador to American
society, a great favorite on account of his silk apparel, which gave him
the appearance of a clumsy woman, and the everlasting, three-thousand-
year-old smile on his broad face, punctiliously leaving in every house a
big flaring red piece of paper which the ladies pinned up for a
decoration; a picture of helpless, childlike enjoyment, and almost
independent of the interpreter who followed him about, when he had
learned, upon being introduced to a lady, or taking a cup of tea, to say
"good-by" as distinctly as an articulating machine; a truly learned man,
setting an example of civility and perfect self-possession, but keenly
observant of the oddities of the social life to which his missionary
government had accredited him. One would like to have heard the comments
of the minister and his suite upon our manners; but perhaps they were too
polite to make any even in their seclusion. Certain it is that no one
ever heard any of the legation express any opinion but the most suave and
And yet they must have been amazed at the activity of this season of
repose, the endurance of American women who rode to the fox meets, were
excited spectators of the polo, played lawn-tennis, were incessantly
dining and calling, and sat through long dinners served with the
formality and dullness and the swarms of liveried attendants of a royal
feast. And they could not but admire the young men, who did not care for
politics or any business beyond the chances of the stock exchange, but
who expended an immense amount of energy in the dangerous polo contests,
in riding at fences after the scent-bag, in driving tandems and four-in-
hands, and yet had time to dress in the cut and shade demanded by every
Formerly the annual chronicle of this summer pageant, in which the same
women appeared day after day, and the same things were done over and over
again, Margaret used to read with a contempt for the life; but that she
enjoyed it, now she was a part of it, shows that the chroniclers for the
press were unable to catch the spirit of it, the excitement of the
personal encounters that made it new every day. Looking at a ball is
quite another thing from dancing.
"Yes, it is lively enough," said Mr. Ponsonby, one afternoon when they
had returned from the polo grounds and were seated on the veranda. Mr.
Ponsonby was a middle-aged Englishman, whose diplomatic labors at various
courts had worn a bald spot on his crown. Carmen had not yet come, and
they were waiting for a cup of tea. "And they ride well; but I think I
rather prefer the Wild West Show."
"You Englishmen," Margaret retorted, "seem to like the uncivilized. Are
you all tired of civilization?"
"Of some kinds. When we get through with the London season, you know,
Mrs. Henderson, we like to rough it, as you call it, for some months.
But, 'pon my word, I can't see much difference between Washington and
"We might get up a Wild West Show here, or a prize-fight, for you. Do
you know, Mr. Ponsonby, I think it will take full another century for
women to really civilize men."
"Get the cruelty and love of brutal sports out of them."
"Then you'd cease to like us. Nothing is so insipid, I fancy, to a woman
as a man made in her own image."
"Well, what have you against Newport?"
"Against it? I'm sure nothing could be better than this." And Mr.
Ponsonby allowed his adventurous eyes to rest for a moment upon
Margaret's trim figure, until he saw a flush in her face. "This
prospect," he added, turning to the sea, where a few sails took the slant
rays of the sun.
"'Where every prospect pleases,"' quoted Margaret, "'and only man--'"
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Henderson; men are not to be considered.
The women in Newport would make the place a paradise even if it were a
"That is another thing I object to in men."
"Flattery. You don't say such things to each other at the club. What is
your objection to Newport?"
"I didn't say I had any. But if you compel me well, the whole thing
seems to be a kind of imitation."
"Oh, the way things go on--the steeple-chasing and fox-hunting, and the
carts, and the style of the swell entertainments. Is that ill-natured?"
"Not at all. I like candor, especially English candor. But there is
Carmen drove up with Count Crispo, threw the reins to the groom, and
reached the ground with a touch on the shoulder of the count, who had
alighted to help her down.
"Carmen," said Margaret, "Mr. Ponsonby says that all Newport is just an
"Of course it is. We are all imitations, except Count Crispo. I'll bet
a cup of tea against a pair of gloves," said Carmen, who had facility in
picking up information, "that Mr. Ponsonby wasn't born in England."
Mr. Ponsonby looked redder than usual, and then laughed, and said, "Well,
I was only three years old when I left Halifax."
"I knew it!" cried Carmen, clapping her hands. "Now come in and have a
cup of English breakfast tea. That's imitation, too."
"The mistake you made," said Margaret, "was not being born in Spain."
"Perhaps it's not irreparable," the count interposed, with an air of
"No, no," said Carmen, audaciously; "by this time I should be buried in
Seville. No, I should prefer Halifax, for it would have been a pleasure
to emigrate from Halifax. Was it not, Mr. Ponsonby?"
"I can't remember. But it is a pleasure to sojourn in any land with Miss
"Thank you. Now you shall have two cups. Come."
The next morning, Mr. Jerry Hollowell, having inquired where Margaret was
staying, called to pay his respects, as he phrased it. Carmen, who was
with Margaret in the morning-room, received him with her most
distinguished manner. "We all know Mr. Hollowell," she said.
"That's not always an advantage," retorted Uncle Jerry, seating himself,
and depositing his hat beside his chair. "When do you expect your
husband, Mrs. Henderson?"
"Tomorrow. But I don't mean to tell him that you are here--not at
"No," said Carmen; "we women want Mr. Henderson a little while to
Why, I'm the idlest man in America. I tell Henderson that he ought to
take more time for rest. It's no good to drive things. I like quiet."
"And you get it in Newport?" Margaret asked.
"Well, my wife and children get what they call quiet. I guess a month of
it would use me up. She says if I had a place here I'd like it. Perhaps
so. You are very comfortably fixed, Miss Eschelle."
"It does very well for us, but something more would be expected of Mr.
Hollowell. We are just camping-out here. What Newport needs is a real
palace, just to show those foreigners who come here and patronize us.
Why is it, Mr. Hollowell, that all you millionaires can't think of
anything better to do with your money than to put up a big hotel or a
great elevator or a business block?"
"I suppose," said Uncle Jerry, blandly, "that is because they are
interested in the prosperity of the country, and have simple democratic
tastes for themselves. I'm afraid you are not democratic, Miss
"Oh, I'm anxious about the public also. I'm on your side, Mr. Hollowell;
but you don't go far enough. You just throw in a college now and then to
keep us quiet, but you owe it to the country to show the English that a
democrat can have as fine a house as anybody."
"I call that real patriotism. When I get rich, Miss Eschelle, I'll bear
it in mind."
"Oh, you never will be rich," said Carmen, sweetly, bound to pursue her
whim. "You might come to me for a start to begin the house. I was very
lucky last spring in A. and B. bonds."
"How was that? Are you interested in A. and B.?" asked Uncle Jerry,
turning around with a lively interest in this gentle little woman.
"Oh, no; we sold out. We sold when we heard what an interest there was
in the road. Mamma said it would never do for two capitalists to have
their eggs in the same basket."
"What do you mean, Carmen?" asked Margaret, startled. "Why, that is the
road Mr. Henderson is in."
"Yes, I know, dear. There were too many in it."
"Isn't it safe?" said Margaret, turning to Hollowell.
"A great deal more solid than it was," he replied. "It is part of a
through line. I suppose Miss Eschelle found a better investment."
"One nearer home," she admitted, in the most matter-of-fact way.
"Henderson must have given the girl points," thought Hollowell. He began
to feel at home with her. If he had said the truth, it would have been
that she was more his kind than Mrs. Henderson, but that he respected the
"I think we might go in partnership, Miss Eschelle, to mutual advantage--
but not in building. Your ideas are too large for me there."
"I should be a very unreliable partner, Mr. Hollowell; but I could
enlarge your ideas, if I had time."
Hollowell laughed, and said he hadn't a doubt of that. Margaret inquired
for Mrs. Hollowell and the children, and she and Carmen appointed an hour
for calling at the Ocean House. The talk went to other topics, and after
a half-hour ended in mutual good-feeling.
"What a delightful old party!" said Carmen, after he had gone. "I've a
mind to adopt him."
In a week Hollowell and Carmen were the best of friends. She called him
"Uncle Jerry," and buzzed about him, to his great delight. "The beauty
of it is," he said, "you never can tell where she will light."
Everybody knows what Newport is in August, and we need not dwell on it.
To Margaret, with its languidly moving pleasures, its well-bred scenery,
the luxury that lulled the senses into oblivion of the vulgar struggle
and anxiety which ordinarily attend life, it was little less than
paradise. To float along with Carmen, going deeper and deeper into the
shifting gayety which made the days fly without thought and with no care
for tomorrow, began to seem an admirable way of passing life. What could
one do fitter, after all, for a world hopelessly full of suffering and
poverty and discontent, than to set an example of cheerfulness and
enjoyment, and to contribute, as occasion offered, to the less fortunate?
Would it help matters to be personally anxious and miserable? To put a
large bill in the plate on Sunday, to open her purse wide for the objects
of charity and relief daily presented, was indeed a privilege and a
pleasure, and a satisfaction to the conscience which occasionally tripped
her in her rapid pace.
"I don't believe you have a bit of conscience," said Margaret to Carmen
one Sunday, as they walked home from morning service, when Margaret had
responded "extravagantly," as Carmen said, to an appeal for the mission
among the city pagans.
"I never said I had, dear. It must be the most troublesome thing you can
carry around with you. Of course I am interested in the heathen, but
charity--that is where I agree with Uncle Jerry--begins at home, and I
don't happen to know a greater heathen than I am."
"If you were as bad as you make yourself out, I wouldn't walk with you
"Well, you ask mother. She was in such a rage one day when I told Mr.
Lyon that he'd better look after Ireland than go pottering round among
the neglected children. Not that I care anything about the Irish," added
this candid person.
"I suppose you wanted to make it pleasant for Mr. Lyon?"
"No; for mother. She can't get over the idea that she is still bringing
me up. And Mr. Lyon! Goodness! there was no living with him after his
visit to Brandon. Do you know, Margaret, that I think you are just a
little bit sly?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Margaret, looking offended.
"Dear, I don't blame you," said the impulsive creature, wheeling short
round and coming close to Margaret. "I'd kiss you this minute if we were
not in the public road."
When Henderson came, Margaret's world was full; no desire was
ungratified. He experienced a little relief when she did not bother him
about his business nor inquire into his operations with Hollowell, and he
fancied that she was getting to accept the world as Carmen accepted it.
There had been moments since his marriage when he feared that Margaret's
scruples would interfere with his career, but never a moment when he had
doubted that her love for him would be superior to any solicitations from
others. Carmen, who knew him like a book, would have said that the model
wife for Henderson would be a woman devoted to him and to his interests,
and not too scrupulous. A wife is a torment, if you can't feel at ease
"If there were only a French fleet in the harbor, dear," said Margaret
one day," I should feel that I had quite taken up the life of my
They were sailing in Hollowell's yacht, in which Uncle Jerry had brought
his family round from New York. He hated the water, but Mrs. Hollowell
and the children doted on the sea, he said.
"Wouldn't the torpedo station make up for it?" Henderson asked.
"Hardly. But it shows the change of a hundred years. Only, isn't it
odd, this personal dropping back into an old situation? I wonder what
she was like?"
"The accounts say she was the belle of Newport. I suppose Newport has a
belle once in a hundred years. The time has come round. But I confess I
don't miss the French fleet," replied Henderson, with a look of love that
thrilled Margaret through and through.
"But you would have been an officer on the fleet, and I should have
fallen in love with you. Ah, well, it is better as it is."
And it was better. The days went by without a cloud. Even after
Henderson had gone, the prosperity of life filled her heart more and
"She might have been like me," Carmen said to herself, "if she had only
started right; but it is so hard to get rid of a New England conscience."
When Margaret stayed in her room, one morning, to write a long-postponed
letter to her aunt, she discovered that she had very little to write,
at least that she wanted to write, to her aunt. She began, however,
resolutely with a little account of her life. But it seemed another
thing on paper, addressed to the loving eyes at Brandon. There were too
much luxury and idleness and triviality in it, too much Carmen and Count
Crispo and flirtation and dissipation in it.
She tore it up, and went to the window and looked out upon the sea.
She was indignant with the Brandon people that they should care so little
about this charming life. She was indignant at herself that she had torn
up the letter. What had she done that anybody should criticise her?
Why shouldn't she live her life, and not be hampered everlastingly by
She sat down again, and took up her pen. Was she changing--was she
changed? Why was it that she had felt a little relief when her last
Brandon visit was at an end, a certain freedom in Lenox and a greater
freedom in Newport? The old associations became strong again in her
mind, the life in the little neighborhood, the simplicity of it, the high
ideals of it, the daily love and tenderness. Her aunt was no doubt
wondering now that she did not write, and perhaps grieving that Margaret
no more felt at home in Brandon. It was too much. She loved them, she
loved them all dearly. She would write that, and speak only generally of
her frivolous, happy summer. And she began, but somehow the letter
seemed stiff and to lack the old confiding tone.
But why should they disapprove of her? She thought of her husband.
If circumstances had altered, was she to blame? Could she always be
thinking of what they would think at Brandon? It was an intolerable
bondage. They had no right to set themselves up over her. Suppose her
aunt didn't like Carmen. She was not responsible for Carmen. What would
they have her do? Be unhappy because Henderson was prosperous, and she
could indulge her tastes and not have to drudge in school? Suppose she
did look at some things differently from what she used to. She knew more
of the world. Must you shut yourself up because you found you couldn't
trust everybody? What was Mr. Morgan always hitting at? Had he any
better opinion of men and women than her husband had? Was he any more
charitable than Uncle Jerry? She smiled as she thought of Uncle Jerry
and his remark--"It's a very decent world if you don't huff it." No; she
did like this life, and she was not going to pretend that she didn't.
It would be dreadful to lose the love and esteem of her dear old friends,
and she cried a little as this possibility came over her. And then she
hardened her heart a little at the thought that she could not help it if
they chose to misunderstand her and change.
Carmen was calling from the stairs that it was time to dress for the
drive. She dashed off a note. It contained messages of love for
everybody, but it was the first one in her life written to her aunt not
from her heart.
Shall we never have done with this carping at people who succeed? Are
those who start and don't arrive any better than those who do arrive?
Did not men always make all the money they had an opportunity to make?
Must we always have the old slow-coach merchants and planters thrown up
to us? Talk of George Washington and the men of this day! Were things
any better because they were on a small scale? Wasn't the thrifty George
Washington always adding to his plantations, and squeezing all he could
out of his land and his slaves? What are the negro traditions about it?
Were they all patriots in the Revolutionary War? Were there no
contractors who amassed fortunes then? And how was it in the late war?
The public has a great spasm of virtue all of a sudden. But we have got
past the day of stage-coaches.
Something like this Henderson was flinging out to Carmen as he paced back
and forth in her parlor. It was very unlike him, this outburst, and
Carmen knew that he would indulge in it to no one else, not even to Uncle
Jerry. She was coiled up in a corner of the sofa, her eyes sparkling
with admiration of his indignation and force. I confess that he had been
irritated by the comments of the newspapers, and by the prodding of the
lawyers in the suit then on trial over the Southwestern consolidation.
"Why, there was old Mansfield saying in his argument that he had had some
little experience in life, but he never had known a man to get rich
rapidly, barring some piece of luck, except by means that it would make
him writhe to have made public. I don't know but that Uncle Jerry was
right, that we made a mistake in not retaining him for the corporation."
"Not if you win," said Carmen, softly. "The public won't care for the
remark unless you fail."
"And he tried to prejudice the Court by quoting the remark attributed to
Uncle Jerry, 'The public be d---d' as if, said Mansfield, the public has
no rights as--against the railroad wreckers. Uncle Jerry laughed, and
interrupted: 'That's nonsense, reporters' nonsense. What I said was that
if the public thought I was fool enough to make it our enemy, the public
might be d---d (begging your honor's pardon).' Then everybody laughed.
'It's the bond holders, who want big dividends, that stand in the way of
the development of the country, that's what it is,' said he, as he sat
down, to those around him, but loud enough to be heard all over the room.
Mansfield asked the protection of the Court against these clap-trap
interruptions. The judge said it was altogether irregular, and Uncle
Jerry begged pardon. The reporters made this incident the one prominent
thing in the case that day."
"What a delightful Uncle Jerry it is!" said Carmen. "You'd better keep
an eye on him, Rodney; he'll be giving your money to that theological
seminary in Alabama."
"That reminds me," Henderson said, cooling down, "of a paragraph in The
Planet, the other day, about the amount of my gifts unknown to the
public. I showed it to Uncle Jerry, and he said, 'Yes, I mentioned it to
the editor; such things don't do any harm.'"
"I saw it, and wondered who started it," Carmen replied, wrinkling her
brows as if she had been a good deal perplexed about it.
"I thought," said Henderson, with a smile, "that it ought to be explained
"No," she said, reflectively; "you are liberal enough, goodness knows--
too liberal--but you are not a flat."
Henderson was in the habit of dropping in at the Eschelles' occasionally,
when he wanted to talk freely. He had no need to wear a mask with
Carmen. Her moral sense was tolerant and elastic, and feminine sympathy
of this sort is a grateful cushion. She admired Henderson, without
thinking any too well of the world in general, and she admired him for
the qualities that were most conformable to his inclination. It was no
case of hero-worship, to be sure, nor for tragedy; but then what a
satisfaction it must be to sweet Lady Macbeth, coiled up on her sofa, to
feel that the thane of Cawdor has some nerve!
The Hendersons had come back to Washington Square late in the autumn.
It is a merciful provision that one has an orderly and well-appointed
home to return to from the fatigues of the country. Margaret, at any
rate, was a little tired with the multiform excitements of her summer,
and experienced a feeling of relief when she crossed her own threshold
and entered into the freedom and quiet of her home. She was able to shut
the door there even against the solicitations of nature and against the
weariness of it also. How quiet it was in the square in those late
autumn days, and yet not lifeless by any means! Indeed, it seemed all
the more a haven because the roar of the great city environed it, and one
could feel, without being disturbed by, the active pulsation of human
life. And then, if one has sentiment, is there anywhere that it is more
ministered to than in the city at the close of the year? The trees in
the little park grow red and yellow and brown, the leaves fall and swirl
and drift in windrows by the paths, the flower-beds flame forth in the
last dying splendor of their color; the children, chasing each other with
hoop and ball about the walks, are more subdued than in the spring-time;
the old men, seeking now the benches where the sunshine falls, sit in
dreamy reminiscence of the days that are gone; the wandering minstrel of
Italy turns the crank of his wailing machine, O! bella, bella, as in the
spring, but the notes seem to come from far off and to be full of memory
rather than of promise; and at early morning, or when the shadows
lengthen at evening, the south wind that stirs the trees has a salt
smell, and sends a premonitory shiver of change to the fading foliage.
But how bright are the squares and the streets, for all this note of
melancholy! Life is to begin again.
But the social season opened languidly. It takes some time to recover
from the invigoration of the summer gayety--to pick up again the threads
and weave them into that brilliant pattern, which scarcely shows all its
loveliness of combination and color before the weavers begin to work in
the subdued tints of Lent. How delightful it is to see this knitting and
unraveling of the social fabric year after year! and how untiring are
the senders of the shuttles, the dyers, the hatchelers, the spinners, the
ever-busy makers and destroyers of the intricate web we call society!
After one campaign, must there not be time given to organize for another?
Who has fallen out, who are the new recruits, who are engaged, who will
marry, who have separated, who has lost his money? Before we can safely
reorganize we must not only examine the hearts but the stock-list.
No matter how many brilliant alliances have been arranged, no matter how
many husbands and wives have drifted apart in the local whirlpools of the
summer's current, the season will be dull if Wall Street is torpid and
discouraged. We cannot any of us, you see, live to ourselves alone.
Does not the preacher say that? And do we not all look about us in the
pews, when he thus moralizes, to see who has prospered? The B's have
taken a back seat, the C's have moved up nearer the pulpit. There is a
reason for these things, my friends.
I am sorry to say that Margaret was usually obliged to go alone to the
little church where she said her prayers; for however restful her life
might have been while that season was getting under way, Henderson was
involved in the most serious struggle of his life--a shameful kind of
conspiracy, Margaret told Carmen, against him. I have hinted at his
annoyance in the courts. Ever since September he had been pestered with
injunctions, threatened with attachments. And now December had come and
Congress was in session; in the very first days an investigation had been
ordered into the land grants involved in the Southwestern operations.
Uncle Jerry was in Washington to explain matters there, and Henderson,
with the ablest counsel in the city, was fighting in the courts. The
affair made a tremendous stir. Some of the bondholders of the A. and B.
happened to be men of prominence, and able to make a noise about their
injury. As several millions were involved in this one branch of the case
--the suit of the bondholders--the newspapers treated it with the
consideration and dignity it deserved. It was a vast financial
operation, some said, scathingly, a "deal," but the magnitude of it
prevented it from falling into the reports of petty swindling that appear
in the police-court column. It was a public affair, and not to be judged
by one's private standard. I know that there were remarks made about
Henderson that would have pained Margaret if she had heard them, but I
never heard that he lost standing in the street. Still, in justice to
the street it must be said that it charitably waits for things to be
proven, and that if Henderson had failed, he might have had little more
lenient judgment in the street than elsewhere.
In fact, those were very trying days for him-days when he needed all the
private sympathy he could get, and to be shielded, in his great fight
with the conspiracy, from petty private annoyances. It needed all his
courage and good-temper and bonhomie to carry him through. That he went
through was evidence not only of his adroitness and ability, but it was
proof also that he was a good fellow. If there were people who thought
otherwise, I never heard that they turned their backs on him, or failed
in that civility which he never laid aside in his intercourse with
If a man present a smiling front to the world under extreme trial, is not
that all that can be expected of him? Shall he not be excused for
showing a little irritation at home when things go badly? Henderson was
as good-humored a man as I ever knew, and he loved Margaret, he was proud
of her, he trusted her. Since when did the truest love prevent a man
from being petulant, even to the extent of wounding those he best loves,
especially if the loved one shows scruples when sympathy is needed?
The reader knows that the present writer has no great confidence in the
principle of Carmen; but if she had been married, and her husband had
wrecked an insurance company and appropriated all the surplus belonging
to the policy-holders, I don't believe she would have nagged him about
And yet Margaret loved Henderson with her whole soul. And in this stage
of her progress in the world she showed that she did, though not in the
way Carmen would have showed her love, if she had loved, and if she had a
soul capable of love.
It may have been inferred from Henderson's exhibition of temper that his
case had gone against him. It is true; an injunction had been granted in
the lower court, and public opinion went with the decree, and was in a
great measure satisfied by it. But this fight had really only just
begun; it would go on in the higher courts, with new resources and
infinite devices, which the public would be unable to fathom or follow,
until by-and-by it would come out that a compromise had been made, and
the easy public would not understand that this compromise gave the
looters of the railway substantially all they ever expected to get.
The morning after the granting of the injunction Henderson had been
silent and very much absorbed at breakfast, hardly polite, Margaret
thought, and so inattentive to her remarks that she asked him twice
whether they should accept the Brandon invitation to Christmas.
"Christmas! I don't know. I've got other things to think of than
Christmas," he said, scarcely looking at her, and rising abruptly and
going away to his library.
When the postman brought Margaret's mail there was a letter in it from
her aunt, which she opened leisurely after the other notes had been
glanced through, on the principle that a family letter can wait, or from
the fancy that some have of keeping the letter likely to be most
interesting till the last. But almost the first line enchained her
attention, and as she read, her heart beat faster, and her face became
scarlet. It was very short, and I am able to print it, because all
Margaret's correspondence ultimately came into possession of her aunt:
"BRANDON, December 17th.
"DEAREST MARGARET,--You do not say whether you will come for
Christmas, but we infer from your silence that you will. You know
how pained we shall all be if you do not. Yet I fear the day will
not be as pleasant as we could wish. In fact, we are in a good deal
of trouble. You know, dear, that poor Mrs. Fletcher had nearly
every dollar of her little fortune invested in the A. and B. bonds,
and for ten months she has not had a cent of income, and no prospect
of any. Indeed, Morgan says that she will be lucky if she
ultimately saves half her principal. We try to cheer her up, but
she is so cast down and mortified to have to live, as she says, on
charity. And it does make rather close house-keeping, though I'm
sure I couldn't live alone without her. It does not make so much
difference with Mr. Fairchild and Mr. Morgan, for they have plenty
of other resources. Mr. Fairchild tells her that she is in very
good company, for lots of the bonds are held in Brandon, and she is
not the only widow who suffers; but this is poor consolation. We
had great hopes, the other day, of the trial, but Morgan says it may
be years before any final settlement. I don't believe Mr. Henderson
knows. But there, dearest, I won't find fault. We are all well,
and eager to see you. Do come.
Your affectionate aunt,
Margaret's hand that held the letter trembled, and the eyes that read
these words were hot with indignation; but she controlled herself into an
appearance of calmness as she marched away with it straight to the
As she entered, Henderson was seated at his desk, with bowed head and
perplexed brows, sorting a pile of papers before him, and making notes.
He did not look up until she came close to him and stood at the end of
his desk. Then, turning his eyes for a moment, and putting out his left
hand to her, he said, "Well, what is it, dear?"
"Will you read that?" said Margaret, in a voice that sounded strange in
her own ears.
"A letter from Aunt Forsythe."
"Family matter. Can't it wait?" said Henderson, going on with his
"If it can, I cannot," Margaret answered, in a tone that caused him to
turn abruptly and look at her. He was so impatient and occupied that
even yet he did not comprehend the new expression in her face.
"Don't you see I am busy, child? I have an engagement in twenty minutes
in my office."
"You can read it in a moment," said Margaret, still calm.
Henderson took the letter with a gesture of extreme annoyance, ran his
eye through it, flung it from him on the table, and turned squarely round
in his chair.
"Well, what of it?"
"To ruin poor Mrs. Fletcher and a hundred like her!" cried Margaret,
with rising indignation.
"What have I to do with it? Did I make their investments? Do you think
I have time to attend to every poor duck? Why don't people look where
they put their money?"
"It's a shame, a burning shame!" she cried, regarding him steadily.
"Oh, yes; no doubt. I lost a hundred thousand yesterday; did I whine
about it? If I want to buy anything in the market, have I got to look
into every tuppenny interest concerned in it? If Mrs. Fletcher or
anybody else has any complaint against me, the courts are open. I defy
the whole pack!" Henderson thundered out, rising and buttoning his coat--
"the whole pack!"
"And you have nothing else to say, Rodney?" Margaret persisted, not
quailing in the least before his indignation. He had never seen her so
before, and he was now too much in a passion to fully heed her.
"Oh, women, women!" he said, taking up his hat, "you have sympathy enough
for anybody but your husbands." He pushed past her, and was gone without
another word or look.
Margaret turned to follow him. She would have cried "Stop!" but the word
stuck in her throat. She was half beside herself with rage for a moment.
But he had gone. She heard the outer door close. Shame and grief
overcame her. She sat down in the chair he had just occupied. It was
infamous the way Mrs. Fletcher was treated. And her husband--her husband
was so regardless of it. If he was not to blame for it, why didn't he
tell her--why didn't he explain? And he had gone away without looking at
her. He had left her for the first time since they were married without
kissing her! She put her head down on the desk and sobbed; it seemed as
if her heart would break. Perhaps he was angry, and wouldn't come back,
not for ever so long.
How cruel to say that she did not sympathize with her husband! How could
he be angry with her for her natural anxiety about her old friend!
He was unjust. There must be something wrong in these schemes, these
great operations that made so many confiding people suffer. Was
everybody grasping and selfish? She got up and walked about the dear
room, which recalled to her only the sweetest memories; she wandered
aimlessly about the lower part of the house. She was wretchedly unhappy.
Was her husband capable of such conduct? Would he cease to love her for
what she had done--for what she must do? How lovely this home was!
Everything spoke of his care, his tenderness, his quickness to anticipate
her slightest wish or whim. It had been all created for her. She looked
listlessly at the pictures, the painted ceiling, where the loves
garlanded with flowers chased each other; she lifted and let drop wearily
the rich hangings. He had said that it was all hers. How pretty was
this vista through the luxurious rooms down to the green and sunny
conservatory. And she shrank instinctively from it all. Was it hers?
No; it was his. And was she only a part of it? Was she his? How cold
his look as he went away!
What is this love, this divine passion, of which we hear so much? Is it,
then, such a discerner of right and wrong? Is it better than anything
else? Does it take the place of duty, of conscience? And yet what an
unbearable desert, what a den of wild beasts it would be, this world,
without love, the passionate, all-surrendering love of the man and the
In the chambers, in her own apartments, into which she dragged her steps,
it was worse than below. Everything here was personal. Mrs. Fairchild
had said that it was too rich, too luxurious; but her husband would have
it so. Nothing was too costly, too good, for the woman he loved. How
happy she had been in this boudoir, this room, her very own, with her
books, the souvenirs of all her happy life!
It seemed alien now, external, unsympathetic. Here, least of all places,
could she escape from herself, from her hateful thoughts. It was a
chilly day, and a bright fire crackled on the hearth. The square was
almost deserted, though the sun illuminated it, and showed all the
delicate tracery of the branches and twigs. It was a December sun. Her
easy-chair was drawn to the fire and her book-stand by it, with the novel
turned down that she had been reading the night before. She sat down and
took up the book. She had lost her interest in the characters. Fiction!
What stuff it was compared to the reality of her own life! No, it was
impossible. She must do something. She went to her dressing-room and
selected a street dress. She took pleasure in putting on the plainest
costume she could find, rejecting every ornament, everything but the
necessary and the simple. She wanted to get back to herself. Her maid
appeared in response to the bell.
"I am going out, Marie."
"Will madame have the carriage?"
"No, I will walk; I need exercise. Tell Jackson not to serve lunch."
Yes, she would walk; for it was his carriage, after all.
It was after mid-day. In the keen air and the bright sunshine the
streets were brilliant. Margaret walked on up the avenue. How gay was
the city, what a zest of life in the animated scene! The throng increased
as she approached Twenty-third Street. In the place where three or four
currents meet there was the usual jam of carriages, furniture wagons,
carts, cars, and hurried, timid, half-bewildered passengers trying to
make their way through it. It was all such a whirl and confusion. A
policeman aided Margaret to gain the side of the square. Children were
playing there; white-capped maids were pushing about baby-carriages; the
sparrows chattered and fought with as much vivacity as if they were
natives of the city instead of foreigners in possession. It seemed all
so empty and unreal. What was she, one woman with an aching heart, in
the midst of it all? What had she done? How could she have acted
otherwise? Was he still angry with her? The city was so vast and cruel.
On the avenue again there was the same unceasing roar of carts and
carriages; business, pleasure, fashion, idleness, the stream always went
by. From one and another carriage Margaret received a bow, a cool nod,
or a smile of greeting. Perhaps the occupants wondered to see her on
foot and alone. What did it matter? How heartless it all was! what an
empty pageant! If he was alienated, there was nothing. And yet she was
right. For a moment she thought of the Arbusers. She thought of Carmen.
She must see somebody. No, she couldn't talk. She couldn't trust
herself. She must bear it alone.
And how weary it was, walking, walking, with such a burden! House after
house, street after street, closed doors, repellant fronts, staring at
her. Suppose she were poor and hungry, a woman wandering forlorn, how
stony and pitiless these insolent mansions! And was she not burdened and
friendless and forlorn! Tired, she reached at last, and with no purpose,
the great white cathedral. The door was open. In all this street of
churches and palaces there was no other door open. Perhaps here for a
moment she could find shelter from the world, a quiet corner where she
could rest and think and pray.
She entered. It was almost empty, but down the vista of the great
columns hospitable lights gleamed, and here and there a man or a woman--
more women than men--was kneeling in the great aisle, before a picture,
at the side of a confessional, at the steps of the altar. How hushed and
calm and sweet it was! She crept into a pew in a side aisle in the
shelter of a pillar; and sat down. Presently, in the far apse, an organ
began to play, its notes stealing softly out through the great spaces
like a benediction. She fancied that the saints, the glorified martyrs
in the painted windows illumined by the sunlight, could feel, could hear,
were touched by human sympathy in their beatitude. There was peace here
at any rate, and perhaps strength. What a dizzy whirl it all was in
which she had been borne along! The tones of the organ rose fuller and
fuller, and now at the side entrances came pouring in children, the boys
on one side, the girls on another-school children with their books and
satchels, the poor children of the parish, long lines of girls and of
boys, marshaled by priests and nuns, streaming in--in frolicsome mood,
and filling all the pews of the nave at the front. They had their books
out, their singing-books; at a signal they all stood up; a young priest
with his baton stepped into the centre aisle; he waved his stick,
Margaret heard his sweet tenor voice, and then the whole chorus of
children's voices rising and filling all the house with the innocent
concord, but always above all the penetrating, soaring notes of the
priest-strong, clear, persuading. Was it not almost angelic there at the
moment? And how inspired the beautiful face of the singer leading the
Ah, me! it is not all of the world worldly, then. I don't know that the
singing was very good: it was not classical, I fear; not a voice, maybe,
that priest's, not a chorus, probably, that, for the Metropolitan.
I hear the organ is played better elsewhere. Song after song, chorus
after chorus, repeated, stopped, begun again: it was only drilling the
little urchins of the parochial schools--little ragamuffins, I dare say,
many of them. What was there in this to touch a woman of fashion,
sitting there crying in her corner? Was it because they were children's
voices, and innocent? Margaret did not care to check her tears. She was
thinking of her old home, of her own childhood, nay, of her girlhood--it
was not so long ago--of her ideals then, of her notion of the world and
what it would bring her, of the dear, affectionate life, the simple life,
the school, the little church, her room in the cottage--the chamber where
first the realization of love came to her with the odors of May. Was it
gone, that life?--gone or going out of her heart? And--great heavens!--
if her husband should be cold to her! Was she very worldly? Would he
love her if she were as unworldly as she once was? Why should this
childish singing raise these contrasts, and put her at odds so with her
own life? For a moment I doubt not this dear girl saw herself as we were
beginning to see her. Who says that the rich and the prosperous and the
successful do not need pity?
Was this a comforting hour, do you think, for Margaret in the cathedral?
Did she get any strength, I wonder? When the singing was over and the
organ ceased, and the children had filed out, she stole away also,
wearily and humbly enough, and took the stage down the avenue. It was
near the dinner-hour, and Henderson, if he came, would be at home any
moment. It seemed as if she could not wait--only to see him!
Do you suppose that Henderson had never spoken impatiently and sharply to
his wife before, that Margaret had never resented it and replied with
spirit, and been hurt and grieved, and that there had never been
reconciliations? In writing any biography there are some things that are
taken for granted with an intelligent public. Are men always gentle and
considerate, and women always even-tempered and consistent, simply by
virtue of a few words said to the priest?
But this was a more serious affair. Margaret waited in a tumult of
emotion. She felt that she would die if she did not see him soon, and
she dreaded his coming. A horrible suspicion had entered her mind that
respect for her husband, confidence in him, might be lowered, and a more
horrible doubt that she might lose his love. That she could not bear.
And was Henderson unconscious of all this? I dare say that in the
perplexing excitement of the day he did recall for a moment with a keen
thrust of regret the scene of the morning-his wife standing there
flushed, wounded, indignant. "I might have turned back, and taken her in
my arms, and told her it was all right," he thought. He wished he had
done so. But what nonsense it was to think that she could be seriously
troubled! Besides, he couldn't have women interfering with him every
How inconsiderate men are! They drop a word or a phrase--they do not know
how cruel it is--or give a look--they do not know how cold it is--and are
gone without a second thought about it; but it sinks into the woman's
heart and rankles there. For the instant it is like a mortal blow, it
hurts so, and in the brooding spirit it is exaggerated into a hopeless
disaster. The wound will heal with a kind word, with kisses. Yes, but
never, never without a little scar. But woe to the woman's love when she
becomes insensible to these little stabs!
Henderson hurried home, then, more eagerly than usual, with reparation in
his heart, but still with no conception of the seriousness of the breach.
Margaret heard the key in the door, heard his hasty step in the hall,
heard him call, as he always did on entering, "Margaret! where is
Margaret?" and she, sitting there in the deep window looking on the
square, longed to run to him, as usual also, and be lifted up in his
strong arms; but she could not stir. Only when he found her did she rise
up with a wistful look and a faint smile. "Have you had a good day,
child?" And he kissed her. But her kiss was on her lips only, for her
heart was heavy.
"Dinner will be served as soon as you dress," she said. What a greeting
was this! Who says that a woman cannot be as cruel as a man?
The dinner was not very cheerful, though Margaret did her best not to
appear constrained, and Henderson rattled on about the events of the day.
It had been a deuce of a day, but it was coming right; he felt sure that
the upper court would dissolve the injunction; the best counsel said so;
and the criminal proceedings--"Had there been criminal proceedings?"
asked Margaret, with a stricture at her heart--had broken down
completely, hadn't a leg to stand on, never had, were only begun to bluff
the company. It was a purely malicious prosecution. And Henderson did
not think it necessary to tell Margaret that only Uncle Jerry's dexterity
had spared both of them the experience of a night in the Ludlow Street
"Come," said Henderson--" come into the library. I have something to
tell you." He put his arm round her as they walked, and seating himself
in his chair by his desk in front of the fire, he tried to draw Margaret
to sit on his knee.
"No; I'll sit here, so that I can see you," she said, composed and
He took out his pocket-book, selected a slip of paper, and laid it on the
table before him. "There, that is a check for seven hundred dollars.
I looked in the books. That is the interest for a year on the Fletcher
bonds. Might as well make it an even year; it will be that soon."
"Do you mean to say---" asked Margaret, leaning forward.
"Yes; to brighten up the Christmas up there a little."
"---that you are going to send that to Mrs. Fletcher?" Margaret had
"Oh, no; that wouldn't do. I cannot send it, nor know anything about it.
It would raise the--well, it would--if the other bondholders knew
anything about it. But you can change that for your check, and nobody
"Oh, Rodney!" She was on his knee now. He was good, after all. Her head
was on his shoulder, and she was crying a little. "I've been so unhappy,
so unhappy, all day! And I can send that? "She sprang up. "I'll do it
this minute--I'll run and get my check-book!" But before she reached the
door she turned back, and came and stood by him and kissed him again and
again, and tumbled up his hair, and looked at him. There is, after all,
nothing in the world like a woman.
"Time enough in the morning," said Henderson, detaining her. "I want to
tell you all about it."
What he told her was, in fact, the case as it had been presented by his
lawyers, and it seemed a very large, a constitutional, kind of case.
"Of course," he said, "in the rivalry and competition of business
somebody must go to the wall, and in a great scheme of development and
reorganization of the transportation of a region as big as an empire some
individual interests will suffer. You can't help these changes. I'm
sorry for some of them--very sorry; but nothing would ever be done if we
waited to consider every little interest. And that the men who create
these great works, and organize these schemes for the benefit of the
whole public, shouldn't make anything by their superior enterprise and
courage is all nonsense. The world is not made that way."
The explanation, I am bound to say, was one that half the world considers
valid; it was one that squeezed through the courts. And when it was
done, and the whole thing had blown over, who cared? There were some
bondholders who said that it was rascally, that they had been boldly
swindled. In the clubs, long after, you would hear it said that
Hollowell and Henderson were awfully sharp, and hard to beat. It is a
very bad business, said the Brandon parliament, and it just shows that
the whole country is losing its moral sense, its capacity to judge what
is right and what is wrong.
I do not say that this explanation, the nature of which I have only
indicated, would have satisfied the clear mind of Margaret a year or two
before. But it was made by the man she loved, the man who had brought
her out into a world that was full of sunlight and prosperity and
satisfied desire; and more and more, day by day, she saw the world
through his eyes, and accepted his estimate of the motives of people--and
a low estimate I fear it was. Who would not be rich if he could? Do you
mean to tell me that a man who is getting fat dividends out of a stock
does not regard more leniently the manner in which that stock is
manipulated than one who does not own any of it? I dare say, if Carmen
had heard that explanation, and seen Margaret's tearful, happy acceptance
of it, she would have shaken her pretty head and said, "They are getting
too worldly for me."
In the morning the letter was despatched to Miss Forsythe, enclosing the
check for Mrs. Fletcher--a joyful note, full of affection. "We cannot
come," Margaret wrote. "My husband cannot leave, and he does not want to
spare me"--the little hypocrite! he had told her that she could easily go
for a day "but we shall think of you dear ones all day, and I do hope
that now there will not be the least cloud on your Christmas."
It seems a great pity, in view of the scientific organization of society,
that there are so many sensibilities unclassified and unprovided for in
the otherwise perfect machinery. Why should the beggar to whom you toss
a silver dollar from your carriage feel a little grudge against you?
Perhaps he wouldn't like to earn the dollar, but if it had been
accompanied by a word of sympathy, his sensibility might have been
soothed by your recognition of human partnership in the goods of this
world. People not paupers are all eager to take what is theirs of right;
but anything in the semblance of charity is a bitter pill to swallow
until self-respect is a little broken down. Probably the resentment lies
in the recognition of the truth that it is much easier to be charitable
than to be just. If Margaret had seen the effect produced by her letter
she might have thought of this; she might have gone further, and
reflected upon what would have been her own state of mind two years
earlier if she had received such a letter. Miss Forsythe read it with a
very heavy heart. She hesitated about showing it to Mrs. Fletcher, and
when she did, and gave her the check, it was with a sense of shame.
"The insolence of the thing!" cried Mrs. Fletcher, as soon as she
"Not insolence," pleaded Miss Forsythe, softly; "it is out of the
kindness of her heart. She would be dreadfully wounded to know that you
took it so."
"Well," said Mrs. Fletcher, hotly, "I like that kind of sensibility.
Does she think I have no feeling? Does she think I would take from her
as a charity what her husband knows is mine by right?"
"Perhaps her husband--"
"No," Mrs. Fletcher interrupted. "Why didn't he send it, then? why
didn't the company send it? They owe it. I'm not a pauper. And all the
other bondholders who need the money as much as I do! I'm not saying that
if the company sent it I should refuse it because the others had been
treated unjustly; but to take it as a favor, like a beggar!"
"Of course you cannot take it from Margaret," said Miss Forsythe sadly.
"How dreadful it is!"
Mrs. Fletcher would have shared her last crust with Miss Forsythe, and if
her own fortune were absolutely lost, she would not hesitate to accept
the shelter of her present home, using her energies to add to their
limited income, serving and being served in all love and trust. But this
is different from taking a bounty from the rich.
The check had to go back. Even my wife, who saw no insolence in
Margaret's attempt, applauded Mrs. Fletcher's spirit. She told Miss
Forsythe that if things did not mend they might get a few little pupils
for Mrs. Fletcher from the neighborhood, and Miss Forsythe knew that she
was thinking that her own boy might have been one of them if he had
lived. Mr. Morgan was a little satirical, as usual. He thought it would
be a pity to check Margaret's growing notion that there was no wrong that
money could not heal a remark that my wife thought unjust to the girl.
Mrs. Fletcher was for re-enclosing the check without a word of comment,
but that Miss Forsythe would not do.
"My dearest Margaret," she wrote, "I know the kindness of heart that
moved you to do this, and I love you more than ever, and am crying as I
think of it. But you must see yourself, when you reflect, that Mrs.
Fletcher could not take this from you. Her self-respect would not permit
it. Somebody has done a great wrong, and only those who have done it can
undo it. I don't know much about such things, my dear, and I don't
believe all that the newspapers have been saying, but there would be no
need for charity if there had not been dishonesty somewhere. I cannot
help thinking that. We do not blame you. And you must not take it to
heart that I am compelled to send this back. I understand why you sent
it, and you must try to understand why it cannot be kept."
There was more of this sort in the letter. It was full of a kind of
sorrowful yearning, as if there was fear that Margaret's love were
slipping away and all the old relations were being broken up, but yet it
had in it a certain moral condemnation that the New England spinster
could not conceal. Softened as it was by affectionate words, and all the
loving messages of the season, it was like a slap in the face to
Margaret. She read it in the first place with intense mortification, and
then with indignation. This was the way her loving spirit was flung back
upon her! They did not blame her! They blamed her husband, then. They
condemned him. It was his generosity that was spurned.
Is there a particular moment when we choose our path in life, when we
take the right or the left? At this instant, when Margaret arose with
the crumpled letter in her hand, and marched towards her husband's
library, did she choose, or had she been choosing for the two years past,
and was this only a publication of her election? Why had she secretly
been a little relieved from restraint when her Brandon visit ended in the
spring? They were against her husband; they disapproved of him, that was
clear. Was it not a wife's duty to stand by her husband? She was
indignant with the Brandon scrupulousness; it chafed her.. Was this
simply because she loved her husband, or was this indignation a little
due also to her liking for the world which so fell in with her
inclinations? The motives in life are so mixed that it seems impossible
wholly to condemn or wholly to approve. If Margaret's destiny had been
united with such a man as John Lyon, what would have been her discernment
in such a case as this? It is such a pity that for most people there is
only one chance in life.
She laid the letter and the check upon her husband's desk. He read it
with a slight frown, which changed to a smile of amusement as he looked
up and saw Margaret's excitement.
"Well, it was a miss-go. Those folks up there are too good for this
world. You'd better send it to the hospital."
"But you see that they say they do not blame me," Margaret said, with
"Oh, I can stand it. People usually don't try to hurt my feelings that
way. Don't mind it, child. They will come to their senses, and see what
nonsense it all is."
Yes, it was nonsense. And how generous and kind at heart her husband
was! In his skillful making little of it she was very much comforted, and
at the same time drawn into more perfect sympathy with him. She was glad
she was not going to Brandon for Christmas; she would not submit herself
to its censorship. The note of acknowledgment she wrote to her aunt was
short and almost formal. She was very sorry they looked at the matter in
that way. She thought she was doing right, and they might blame her or
not, but her aunt would see that she could not permit any distinction to
be set up between her and her husband, etc.
Was this little note a severance of her present from her old life? I do
not suppose she regarded it so. If she had fully realized that it was a
step in that direction, would she have penned it with so little regret as
she felt? Or did she think that circumstances and not her own choice
were responsible for her state of feeling? She was mortified, as has
been said, but she wrote with more indignation than pain.
A year ago Carmen would have been the last person to whom Margaret would
have spoken about a family affair of this kind. Nor would she have done
so now, notwithstanding the intimacy established at Newport, if Carmen
had not happened in that day, when Margaret was still hurt and excited,
and skillfully and most sympathetically extracted from her the cause of
the mood she found her in. But even with all these allowances, that
Margaret should confide such a matter to Carmen was the most startling
sign of the change that had taken place in her.
"Well," said this wise person, after she had wormed out the whole story,
and expressed her profound sympathy, and then fallen into an attitude of
deep reflection--"well, I wish I could cast my bread upon the waters in
that way. What are you going to do with the money?"
"I've sent it to the hospital."
"What extravagance! And did you tell your aunt that?"
"Of course not."
"Why not? I couldn't have resisted such a righteous chance of making her
"But I don't want to make her feel bad."
"Just a little? You will never convince people that you are unworldly
this way. Even Uncle Jerry wouldn't do that."
"You and Uncle Jerry are very much alike," cried Margaret, laughing in
spite of herself--"both of you as bad as you can be."
"But, dear, we don't pretend, do we?" asked Carmen, innocently.
To some of us at Brandon, Margaret's letter was scarcely a surprise,
though it emphasized a divergence we had been conscious of. But with
Miss Forsythe it was far otherwise. The coolness of Margaret's tone
filled her with alarm; it was the premonition of a future which she did
not dare to face.
There was a passage in the letter which she did not show; not that it was
unfeeling, she told my wife afterwards, but that it exhibited a worldly-
mindedness that she could not have conceived of in Margaret. She could
bear separation from the girl on whom she had bestowed her tenderest
affection, that she had schooled herself to expect upon her marriage--
that, indeed, was only a part of her life of willing self-sacrifice--
their paths must lie apart, and she could hope to see little of her. But
what she could not bear was the separation in spirit, the wrenching apart
of sympathy, the loss of her heart, and the thought of her going farther
and farther away into that world whose cynical and materialistic view of
life made her shudder. I think there are few tragedies in life
comparable to this to a sensitive, trusting soul--not death itself, with
its gracious healing and oblivion and pathos. Family quarrels have
something sustaining in them, something of a sense of wrong and even
indignation to keep up the spirits. There was no family quarrel here, no
indignation, just simple, helpless grief and sense of loss. In one sense
it seemed to the gentle spinster that her own life was ended, she had
lived so in this girl--ever since she came to her a child, in long curls
and short frocks, the sweetest, most trustful, mischievous, affectionate
thing. These two then never had had any secrets, never any pleasure,
never any griefs they did not share. She had seen the child's mind
unfold, the girl's grace and intelligence, the woman's character. Oh,
Margaret, she cried, to herself, if you only knew what you are to me!
Margaret's little chamber in the cottage was always kept ready for her,
much in the condition she had left it. She might come back at any time,
and be a girl again. Here were many of the things which she had
cherished; indeed everything in the room spoke of the simple days of her
maidenhood. It was here that Miss Forsythe sat in her loneliness the
morning after she received the letter, by the window with the muslin
curtain, looking out through the shrubbery to the blue hills. She must
be here; she could stay nowhere else in the house, for here the little
Margaret came back to her. Ah, and when she turned, would she hear the
quick steps and see the smiling face, and would she put back the tangled
hair and lift her up and kiss her? There in that closet still hung
articles of her clothing-dresses that had been laid aside when she became
a woman--kept with the sacred sentiment of New England thrift. How each
one, as Miss Forsythe took them down, recalled the girl! In the inner
closet was a pile of paper boxes. I do not know what impulse it was that
led the heavy-hearted woman to take them down one by one, and indulge her
grief in the memories enshrined in them. In one was a little bonnet, a
spring bonnet; Margaret had worn it on the Easter Sunday when she took
her first communion. The little thing was out of fashion now; the
ribbons were all faded, but the spray of moss rose-buds on the. side was
almost as fresh as ever. How well she remembered it, and the girl's
delight in the nodding roses!
When Mrs. Fletcher had called again and again, with no response, and
finally opened the door and peeped in, there the spinster sat by the
window, the pitiful little bonnet in her hand, and the tears rolling down
her cheeks. God help her!
The medical faculty are of the opinion that a sprain is often worse than
a broken limb; a purely scientific, view of the matter, in which the
patient usually does not coincide. Well-bred people shrink from the
vulgarity of violence, and avoid the publicity of any open rupture in
domestic and social relations. And yet, perhaps, a lively quarrel would
be less lamentable than the withering away of friendship while
appearances are kept up. Nothing, indeed, is more pitiable than the
gradual drifting apart of people who have been dear to each other--a
severance produced by change of views and of principle, and the
substitution of indifference for sympathy. This disintegration is
certain to take the spring and taste out of life, and commonly to
habituate one to a lower view of human nature.
There was no rupture between the Hendersons and the Brandon circle,
but there was little intercourse of the kind that had existed before.
There was with us a profound sense of loss and sorrow, due partly to the
growing knowledge, not pleasing to our vanity, that Margaret could get on
very well without us, that we were not necessary to her life. Miss
Forsythe recovered promptly her cheerful serenity, but not the elasticity
of hope; she was irretrievably hurt; it was as if life was now to be