Part 5 out of 5
endured. That Margaret herself was apparently unconscious of this, and
that it did not affect much her own enjoyment, made it the harder to
bear. The absolute truth probably was that she regretted it, and had
moments of sentimental unhappiness; but there is great compensation for
such loss in the feeling of freedom to pursue a career that is more and
more agreeable. And I had to confess, when occasionally I saw Margaret
during that winter, that she did not need us. Why should she? Did not
the city offer her everything that she desired? And where in the world
are beauty, and gayety with a touch of daring, and a magnificent
establishment better appreciated? I do not know what criterion newspaper
notoriety is of social prestige, but Mrs. Rodney Henderson's movements
were as faithfully chronicled as if she had been a visiting princess or
an actress of eccentric proclivities. Her name appeared as patroness of
all the charities, the balls, the soirees, musical and literary, and if
it did not appear in a list of the persons at any entertainment, one
might suspect that the affair lacked the cachet of the best society.
I suppose the final test of one's importance is to have all the details
of one's wardrobe spread before the public. Judged by this, Margaret's
career in New York was phenomenal. Even our interested household could
not follow her in all the changing splendor of her raiment. In time even
Miss Forsythe ceased to read all these details, but she cut them out,
deposited them with other relics in a sort of mortuary box of the child
and the maiden. I used to wonder if, in the Brandon attitude of mind at
this period, there were not just a little envy of such unclouded
prosperity. It is so much easier to forgive a failure than a success.
In the spring the Hendersons went abroad. The resolution to go may have
been sudden, for Margaret wrote of it briefly, and had not time to run up
and say good-by. The newspapers said that the trip was taken on account
of Mrs. Henderson's health; that it was because Henderson needed rest
from overwork; that he found it convenient to be away for a time, pending
the settlement of certain complications. There were ugly stories afloat,
but they were put in so many forms, and followed by so many different
sorts of denial, and so much importance was attached to every word
Henderson uttered, and every step he took, that the general impression of
his far-reaching sagacity and Napoleonic command of fortune was immensely
raised. Nothing is more significant of our progress than the good-
humored deference of the world to this sort of success. It is said that
the attraction of gravitation lessens according to the distance from the
earth, and there seems to be a region of aerial freedom, if one can
attain it, where the moral forces cease to be operative.
They remained in Europe a year, although Mr. Henderson in the interim
made two or three hasty trips to this country, always, so far as it was
made public, upon errands of great importance, and in connection with
names of well-known foreign capitalists and enterprises of dignity.
Margaret wrote seldom, but always with evident enjoyment of her
experiences, which were mainly social, for wherever they went they
commanded the consideration that is accorded to fortune. What most
impressed me in these hasty notes was that the woman was so little
interested in the persons and places which in the old days she expressed
such a lively desire to see. If she saw them at all, it was from a
different point of view than that she formerly had. She did indeed
express her admiration of some charming literary friends of ours in
London, to whom I had written to call on her--people in very moderate
circumstances, I am ashamed to say--but she had not time to see much of
them. She and her husband had spent a couple of days at Chisholm--
delightful days. Of the earl she had literally nothing to say, except
that he was very kind, and that his family received them with the most
engaging and simple cordiality. "It makes me laugh," she wrote from
Chisholm, "when I think what we considered fine at Lenox and Newport.
I've got some ideas for our new house." A note came from "John Lyon" to
Miss Forsythe, expressing the great pleasure it was to return, even in so
poor a way, the hospitality he had received at Brandon. I did not see
it, but Miss Forsythe said it was a sad little note.
In Paris Margaret was ill--very ill; and this misfortune caused for a
time a revival of all the old affection, in sympathy with a
disappointment which awoke in our womankind all the tenderness of their
natures. She was indeed a little delicate for some time, but all our
apprehensions were relieved by the reports from Rome of a succession of
gayeties little interfered with by archaeological studies. They returned
in June. Of the year abroad there was nothing to chronicle, and there
would be nothing to note except that when Margaret passed a day with us
on her return, we felt, as never before, that our interests in life were
more and more divergent.
How could it be otherwise? There were so many topics of conversation
that we had to avoid. Even light remarks on current news, comments that
we used to make freely on the conduct of conspicuous persons, now carried
condemnation that took a personal color. The doubtful means of making
money, the pace of fashionable life, the wasteful prodigality of the
time, we instinctively shrank from speaking of before Margaret. Perhaps
we did her injustice. She was never more gracious, never more anxious to
please. I fancied that there was at times something pathetic in her
wistful desire for our affection and esteem. She was always a generous
girl, and I have no doubt she felt repelled at the quiet rejection of her
well-meant efforts to play the Lady Bountiful. There were moments during
her brief visit when her face was very sad, but no doubt her predominant
feeling escaped her in regard to the criticism quoted from somebody on
Jerry Hollowell's methods and motives. "People are becoming very self-
righteous," she said.
My wife said to me that she was reminded of the gentle observation of
Carmen Eschelle, "The people I cannot stand are those who pretend they
are not wicked." If one does not believe in anybody his cynicism has
usually a quality of contemptuous bitterness in it. One brought up as
Margaret had been could not very well come to her present view of life
without a touch of this quality, but her disposition was so lovely--
perhaps there is no moral quality in a good temper--that change of
principle could not much affect it. And then she was never more winning;
perhaps her beauty had taken on a more refined quality from her illness
abroad; perhaps it was that indefinable knowledge of the world, which is
recognized as well in dress as in manner, which increased her
attractiveness. This was quite apart from the fact that she was not so
sympathetically companionable to us as she once was, and it was this very
attractiveness of the worldly sort, I fancied, that pained her aunt, and
marked the separateness of their sympathies.
How could it be otherwise than that our interests should diverge? It was
a very busy summer with the Hendersons. They were planning the New York
house, which had been one of the objects of Henderson's early ambition.
The sea-air had been prescribed for Margaret, and Henderson had built a
steam-yacht, the equipment and furnishing of which had been a prolific
newspaper topic. It was greatly admired by yachtsmen for the beauty of
its lines and its speed, and pages were written about its sumptuous and
comfortable interior. I never saw it, having little faith in the comfort
of any structure that is not immovably reposeful, but from the
descriptions it was a boudoir afloat. In it short voyages were made
during the summer all along the coast from New York to Maine, and the
arrival and departure of the Henderson yacht was one of the telegraphic
items we always looked for. Carmen Eschelle was usually of the party on
board, sometimes the Misses Arbuser; it was always a gay company, and in
whatever harbor it dropped anchor there was a new impetus given to the
somewhat languid pleasure of the summer season. We read of the dinners
and lunches on board, the entertainments where there were wine and
dancing and moonlight, and all that. I always thought of it as a fairy
sort of ship, sailing on summer seas, freighted with youth and beauty,
and carrying pleasure and good-fortune wherever it went. What more
pleasing spectacle than this in a world that has such a bad name for want
Henderson was master of the situation. The sudden accumulation of
millions of money is a mystery to most people. If Henderson had been
asked about it he would have said that he had not a dollar which he had
not earned by hard work. None worked harder. If simple industry is a
virtue, he would have been an example for Sunday-school children. The
object of life being to make money, he would have been a perfect example.
What an inspiration, indeed, for all poor boys were the names of
Hollowell and Henderson, which were as familiar as the name of the
President! There was much speculation as to the amount of Henderson's
fortune, and many wild estimates of it, but by common consent he was one
of the three or four great capitalists. The gauge of this was his power,
and the amounts he could command in an emergency. There was a mystery in
the very fact that the amount he could command was unknown. I have said
that his accumulation was sudden; it was probably so only in appearance.
For a dozen years, by operations, various, secret, untiring, he had been
laying the foundations for his success, and in the maturing of his
schemes it became apparent how vast his transactions had been. For years
he had been known as a rising man, and suddenly he became an important
man. The telegraph, the newspapers, chronicled his every movement;
whatever he said was construed like a Delphic oracle. The smile or the
frown of Jay Hawker himself had not a greater effect upon the market.
The Southwest operation, which made so much noise in the courts, was
merely an incident. In the lives of many successful men there are such
incidents, which they do not care to have inquired into, turning-points
that one slides over in the subsequent gilded biography, or, as it is
called, the nickel-plated biography. The uncomfortable A. and B.
bondholders had been settled with and silenced, after a fashion. In the
end, Mrs. Fletcher had received from the company nearly the full amount
of her investment. I always thought this was due to Margaret, but I made
no inquiries. There were many people who had no confidence in Henderson,
but generally his popularity was not much affected, and whatever was said
of him in private, his social position was almost as unchallenged as his
financial. It was a great point in his favor that he was very generous
to his family and his friends, and his public charities began to be
talked of. Nothing could have been more admirable than a paper which
appeared about this time in one of the leading magazines, written by a
great capitalist during a strike in his "system," off the uses of wealth
and the responsibilities of rich men. It amused Henderson and Uncle
Jerry, and Margaret sent it, marked, to her aunt. Uncle Jerry said it
was very timely, for at the moment there was a report that Hollowell and
Henderson had obtained possession of one of the great steamship lines in
connection with their trans-continental system. I thought at the time
that I should like to have heard Carmen's comments on the paper.
The continued friendly alliance of Rodney Henderson and Jerry Hollowell
was a marvel to the public, which expected to read any morning that the
one had sold out the other, or unloaded in a sly deal. The Stock
Exchange couldn't understand it; it was so against all experience that it
was considered something outside of human nature. But the explanation
was simple enough. The two kept a sharp eye on each other, and, as Uncle
Jerry would say, never dropped a stitch; but the simple fact was that
they were necessary to each other, and there had been no opportunity when
the one could handsomely swallow the other. So it was beautiful to see
their accord, and the familiar understanding between them.
One day in Henderson's office--it was at the time they were arranging the
steamship "scoop" while they were waiting for the drafting of some
papers, Uncle Jerry suddenly asked:
"By the way, old man, what's all this about a quarter of a million for a
colored college down South?"
"Oh, that's Mrs. Henderson's affair. They say it's the most magnificent
college building south of Washington. It's big enough. I've seen the
plan of it. Henderson Hall, they are going to call it. I suggested
Margaret Henderson Hall, but she wouldn't have it."
"What is it for?"
"One end of it is scientific, geological, chemical, electric, biological,
and all that; and the other end is theological. Miss Eschelle says it's
to reconcile science and religion."
"She's a daisy-that girl. Seems to me, though, that you are educating
the colored brother all on top. I suppose, however, it wouldn't have
been so philanthropic to build a hall for a white college."
Henderson laughed. "You keep your eye on the religious sentiment of the
North, Uncle Jerry. I told Mrs. Henderson that we had gone long on the
colored brother a good while. She said this was nothing. We could endow
a Henderson University by-and-by in the Southwest, white as alabaster,
and I suppose we shall."
"Yes, probably we've got to do something in that region to keep 'em
quiet. The public is a curious fish. It wants plenty of bait."
"And something to talk about," continued Henderson. "We are going down
next week to dedicate Henderson Hall. I couldn't get out of it."
"Oh, it will pay," said Uncle Jerry, as he turned again to business.
The trip was made in Henderson's private car; in fact, in a special
train, vestibuled; a neat baggage car with library and reading-room in
one end, a dining-room car, a private car for invited guests, and
his own car--a luxurious structure, with drawing-room, sleeping-room,
bath-room, and office for his telegrapher and type-writer. The whole was
a most commodious house of one story on wheels. The cost of it would
have built and furnished an industrial school and workshop for a hundred
negroes; but this train was, I dare say, a much more inspiring example of
what they might attain by the higher education. There were half a dozen
in the party besides the Hendersons--Carmen, of course; Mr. Ponsonby, the
English attache; and Mrs. Laflamme, to matronize three New York young
ladies. Margaret and Carmen had never been so far South before.
Is it not agreeable to have sweet charity silver shod? This sumptuous
special train caused as much comment as the errand on which it went.
Its coming was telegraphed from station to station, and crowds everywhere
collected to see it. Brisk reporters boarded it; the newspapers devoted
columns to descriptions of it; editorials glorified it as a signal
example of the progress of the great republic, or moralized on it as a
sign of the luxurious decadence of morals; pointing to Carthage and Rome
and Alexandria in withering sarcasm that made those places sink into
insignificance as corrupters of the world. There were covert allusions
to Cleopatra ensconced in the silken hangings of the boudoir car, and one
reporter went so far as to refer to the luxury of Capua and Baiae, to
their disparagement. All this, however, was felt to add to the glory of
the republic, and it all increased the importance of Henderson. To hear
the exclamations, "That's he!" "That's him!" "That's Henderson!" was to
Margaret in some degree a realization of her ambition; and Carmen
declared that it was for her a sweet thought to be identified with
So the Catachoobee University had its splendid new building--as great a
contrast to the shanties from which its pupils came as is the Capitol at
Washington to the huts of a third of its population. If the reader is
curious he may read in the local newspapers of the time glowing accounts
of its "inaugural dedication"; but universities are so common in this
country that it has become a little wearisome to read of ceremonies of
this sort. Mr. Henderson made a modest reply to the barefaced eulogy on
himself, which the president pronounced in the presence of six hundred
young men and women of various colors and invited guests--a eulogy which
no one more thoroughly enjoyed than Carmen. I am sorry to say that she
refused to take the affair seriouslv.
"I felt for you, Mr. Henderson,"; she said, after the exercises were
over. "I blushed for you. I almost felt ashamed, after all the
president said, that you had given so little."
"You seem, Miss Eschelle," remarked Mr. Ponsonby, "to be enthusiastic
about the education and elevation of the colored people."
"Yes, I am; I quite share Mr. Henderson's feeling about it. I'm for the
elevation of everything."
"There is a capital chance for you," said Henderson; "the university
wants some scholarships."
"And I've half a mind to found one--the Eschelle Scholarship of Washing
and Clear-starching. You ought to have seen my clothes that came back to
the car. Probably they were not done by your students. The things
looked as if they had been dragged through the Cat-a-what-do-you-call-it
River, and ironed with a pine chip."
"Could you do them any better, with all your cultivation?" asked
"I think I could, if I was obliged to. But I couldn't get through that
university, with all its ologies and laboratories and Greek and queer
bottles and machines. You have neglected my education, Mr. Henderson."
"It is not too late to begin now; you might see if you could pass the
examination here. It is part of our plan gradually to elevate the
whites," said Henderson.
"Yes, I know; and did you see that some of the scholars had red hair and
blue eyes, quite in the present style? And how nice the girls looked,"
she rattled on; "and what a lot of intelligent faces, and how they
kindled up when the president talked about the children of Israel in the
wilderness forty years, and Caesar crossing the Rubicon! And you, sir"
--she turned to the Englishman--"I've heard, were against all this
emancipation during the war."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed Ponsonby, "we never were against emancipation,
and wanted the best side to win."
"You had a mighty queer way of showing it, then."
"Well, honestly, Miss Eschelle, do you think the negroes are any better
"You'd better ask them. My opinion is that everybody should do what he
likes in this world."
"Then what are you girding Mr. Henderson for about his university?"
"Because these philanthropists, like Mr. Henderson and Uncle Jerry
Hollowell, are all building on top; putting on the frosting before the
"Haven't you found out, Mr. Ponsonby," Margaret interrupted, "that if
there were eight sides to a question, Miss Eschelle would be on every one
"And right, too. There are eight sides to every question, and generally
more. I think the negro question has a hundred. But there is only one
side to Henderson Hall. It is a noble institution. I like to think
about it, and Uncle Caesar Hollowell crossing the Rubicon in his
theological seminary. It is all so beautiful!"
"You are a bad child," said Margaret. "We should have left you at home."
"No, not bad, dear; only confused with such a lot of good deeds in a
That this junketing party was deeply interested in the cause of education
for whites or blacks, no one would have gathered from the conversation.
Margaret felt that Carmen had exactly hit the motives of this sort of
philanthropy, and she was both amused and provoked by the girl's mockery.
By force of old habit she defended, as well she might, these schools.
"You must have a high standard," she said. "You cannot have good lower
schools without good higher schools. And these colleges, which you think
above the colored people, will stimulate them and gradually raise the
whole mass. You cannot do anything until you educate teachers."
"So I have always heard," replied the incorrigible. "I have always been
a philanthropist about the negro till I came down here, and I intend to
be again when I go back."
Mrs. Laflamme was not a very eager apostle either, and the young ladies
devoted themselves to the picturesque aspects of the population, without
any concern for the moral problems. They all declared that they liked
the negro. But Margaret was not to be moved from her good-humor by any
amount of badgering. She liked Henderson Hall; she was proud of the
consideration it brought her husband; she had a comfortable sense of
doing something that was demanded by her opportunity. It is so difficult
to analyze motives, and in Margaret's case so hard to define the change
that had taken place in her. That her heart was not enlisted in this
affair, as it would have been a few years before, she herself knew.
Insensibly she had come to look at the world, at men and women, through
her husband's eyes, to take the worldly view, which is not inconsistent
with much good feeling and easy-going charity. She also felt the
necessity--a necessity totally unknown to such a nature as Carmen's--of
making compensation, of compounding for her pleasures. Gradually she was
learning to play her husband's game in life, and to see no harm in it.
What, then, is this thing we call conscience? Is it made of India-
rubber? I once knew a clever Southern woman, who said that New England
women seemed to her all conscience--Southern women all soul and impulse.
If it were possible to generalize in this way, we might say that Carmen
had neither conscience nor soul, simply very clever reason. Uncle Jerry
had no more conscience than Carmen, but he had a great deal of natural
affection. Henderson, with an abundance of good-nature, was simply a man
of his time, troubled with no scruples that stood in the way of his
success. Margaret, with a finer nature than either of them, stifling her
scruples in an atmosphere of worldly-mindedness, was likely to go further
than either of them. Even such a worldling as Carmen understood this.
"I do things," she said to Mrs. Laflamme--she made anybody her confidant
when the fit was on her--"I do things because I don't care. Mrs.
Henderson does the same, but she does care."
Margaret would be a sadder woman, but not a better woman, when the time
came that she did not care. She had come to the point of accepting
Henderson's methods of overreaching the world, and was tempering the
result with private liberality. Those were hypocrites who criticised
him; those were envious who disparaged him; the sufficient ethics of the
world she lived in was to be successful and be agreeable. And it is
difficult to condemn a person who goes with the general opinion of his
generation. Carmen was under no illusions about Henderson, or the
methods and manners of which she was a part. "Why pretend?" she said.
"We are all bad together, and I like it. Uncle Jerry is the easiest
person to get on with." I remember a delightful, wicked old baroness
whom I met in my youth stranded in Geneva on short allowance--European
resorts are full of such characters. "My dear," she said, "why shouldn't
I renege? Why shouldn't men cheat at cards? It's all in the game.
Don't we all know we are trying to deceive each other and get the best of
each other? I stopped pretending after Waterloo. Fighting for the peace
of Europe! Bah! We are all fighting for what we can get."
So the Catachoobee Henderson Hall was dedicated, and Mr. Henderson got
great credit out of it.
"It's a noble deed, Mr. Henderson," Carmen remarked, when they were at
dinner on the car the day of their departure. "But"--in an aside to her
host--"I advise the lambs in Wall Street to look alive at your next
We can get used to anything. Morgan says that even the New England
summer is endurable when you learn to dress warmly enough. We come to
endure pain and loss with equanimity; one thing and another drops out of
our lives-youth, for instance, and sometimes enthusiasm--and still we go
on with a good degree of enjoyment. I do not say that Miss Forsythe was
quite the same, or that a certain zest of life and spring had not gone
out of the little Brandon neighborhood.
As the months and the years went by we saw less and less of Margaret--
less and less, that is, in the old way. Her rare visits were
perfunctory, and gave little satisfaction to any of us; not that she was
ungracious or unkindly, but simply because the things we valued in life
were not the same. There was no doubt that any of us were welcome at the
Hendersons' when they were in the city, genuinely, though in an exterior
way, but gradually we almost ceased to keep up an intercourse which was a
little effort on both sides. Miss Forsythe came back from her infrequent
city visits weary and sad.
Was Margaret content? I suppose so. She was gay; she was admired; she
was always on view in that semi-public world in which Henderson moved;
she attained a newspaper notoriety which many people envied. If she
journeyed anywhere, if she tarried anywhere, if she had a slight illness,
the fact was a matter of public concern. We knew where she worshiped;
we knew the houses she frequented, the charities she patronized, the
fetes she adorned, every new costume that her wearing made the fashion.
Was she content? She could perhaps express no desire that an attempt was
not made to gratify it. But it seems impossible to get enough things
enough money, enough pleasure. They had a magnificent place in Newport;
it was not large enough; they were always adding to it--awning,
a ballroom, some architectural whim or another. Margaret had a fancy for
a cottage at Bar Harbor, but they rarely went there. They had an
interest in Tuxedo; they belonged to an exclusive club on Jekyl Island.
They passed one winter yachting among the islands in the eastern
Mediterranean; a part of another sailing from one tropical paradise to
another in the West Indies. If there was anything that money could not
obtain, it seemed to be a place where they could rest in serene peace
I used to wonder whether Margaret was satisfied with her husband's
reputation. Perhaps she mistook the newspaper homage, the notoriety, for
public respect. She saw his influence and his power. She saw that he
was feared, and of course hated, by some--the unsuccessful--but she saw
the terms he was on with his intimates, due to the fact that everybody
admitted that whatever Henderson was in "a deal," privately he was a
deuced good fellow.
Was this an ideal married life? Henderson's selfishness was fully
developed, and I could see that he was growing more and more hard. Would
Margaret not have felt it, if she also had not been growing hard, and
accustomed to regard the world in his unbelieving way? No, there was
sharpness occasionally between them, tiffs and disagreements. He was a
great deal away from home, and she plunged into a life of her own, which
had all the external signs of enjoyment. I doubt if he was ever very
selfish where she was concerned, and love can forgive almost any conduct
where there is personal indulgence. I had a glimpse of the real state of
things in a roundabout way. Henderson loved his wife and was proud of
her, and he was not unkind, but he might have been a brute and tied her
up to the bedpost, and she never would have shown by the least sign to
the world that she was not the most happy of wives.
When the Earl of Chisholm was in this country it was four years after
Margaret's marriage--we naturally saw a great deal of him. The young
fellow whom we liked so much had become a man, with a graver demeanor,
and I thought a trace of permanent sadness in his face; perhaps it was
only the responsibility of his position, or, as Morgan said, the modern
weight that must press upon an earl who is conscientious. He was still
unmarried. The friendship between him and Miss Forsythe, which had been
kept alive by occasional correspondence, became more cordial and
confidential. In New York he had seen much of Margaret, not at all to
his peace of mind in many ways, though the generous fellow would have
been less hurt if he had not estimated at its real value the life she was
leading. It did not need Margaret's introduction for the earl to be
sought for by the novelty and pleasure loving society of the city; but he
got, as he confessed, small satisfaction out of the whirl of it, although
we knew that he met Mrs. Henderson everywhere, and in a manner assisted
in her social triumphs. But he renewed his acquaintance with Miss
Eschelle, and it was the prattle of this ingenuous creature that made him
more heavy-hearted than anything else.
"How nice it is of you, Mr. Lyon--may I call you so, to bring back the
old relations?--to come here and revive the memory of the dear old days
when we were all innocent and happy! Dear me, I used to think I could
patronize that little country girl from Brandon! I was so worldly--don't
you remember?--and she was so good. And now she is such a splendid
woman, it is difficult for the rest of us to keep pace with her. The
nerve she has, and the things she will do! I just envy her. I sometimes
think she will drive me into a convent. And don't you think she is more
beautiful than ever? Of course her face is a little careworn, but nobody
makes up as she does; she was just ravishing the other night. Do you
know, I think she takes her husband too seriously."
"I trust she is happy," the earl had said.
"Why shouldn't she be?" Carmen asked in return. "She has everything she
wants. They both have a little temper; life would be flat without that;
she is a little irritable sometimes; she didn't use to be; and when they
don't agree they let each other alone for a little. I think she is as
happy as anybody can be who is married. Now you are shocked! Well, I
don't know any one who is more in love than she is, and that may be
happiness. She is becoming exactly like Mr. Henderson. You couldn't ask
anything more than that."
If Margaret were really happy, the earl told Miss Forsythe, he was glad,
but it was scarcely the career he would have thought would have suited
Meantime, the great house was approaching completion. Henderson's
palace, in the upper part of the city, had long been a topic for the
correspondents of the country press. It occupied half a square. Many
critics were discontented with it because it did not occupy the whole
square. Everybody was interested in having it the finest residence on
the continent. Why didn't Henderson take the whole block of ground,
build his palace on three sides, with the offices and stables on the
fourth, throw a glass roof over the vast interior court, plant it with
tropical trees and plants, adorn it with flower-beds and fountains, and
make a veritable winter-garden, giving the inhabitants a temperate
climate all the cold months? He might easily have summer in the centre
of the city from November to April. These rich people never know what to
do with their money. Such a place would give distinction to the city,
and compel foreigners to recognize the high civilization of America.
A great deal of fault was found with Henderson privately for his
parsimony in such a splendid opportunity.
Nevertheless it was already one of the sights of the town. Strangers
were taken to see it, as it rose in its simple grandeur. Local reporters
made articles on the progress of the interior whenever they could get an
entrance. It was not ornate enough to please, generally, but those who
admired the old Louvre liked the simplicity of its lines and the dignity
of the elevations. They discovered the domestic note in its quiet
character, and said that the architect had avoided the look of an
"institution" in such a great mass. He was not afraid of dignified wall
space, and there was no nervous anxiety manifested, which would have
belittled it with trivial ornamentation.
Perhaps it was not an American structure, although one could find in it
all the rare woods and stones of the continent. Great numbers of foreign
workmen were employed in its finishing and decoration. One could wander
in it from Pompeii to Japan, from India to Versailles, from Greece to the
England of the Tudors, from the Alhambra to colonial Salem. It was so
cosmopolitan that a representative of almost any nationality, ancient or
modern, could have been suited in it with an apartment to his taste, and
if the interior lacked unity it did not lack a display of variety that
appealed to the imagination. From time to time paragraphs appeared in
English, French, and Italian journals, regarding the work of this and
that famous artist who was designing a set of furniture or furnishing the
drawings of a room, or carving the paneling and statuary, or painting the
ceiling of an apartment in the great Palazzo Henderson in New York--
Washington. The United American Workers (who were half foreigners by
birth) passed resolutions denouncing Henderson for employing foreign
pauper labor, and organized more than one strike while the house was
building. It was very unpatriotic and un-American to have anything done
that could not be done by a member of the Union. There was a firm of
excellent stone-cutters which offered to make all the statuary needed in
the house, and set it up in good shape, and when the offer was declined,
it memorialized Congress for protection.
Although Henderson gave what time he could spare to the design and
erection of the building, it pleased him to call it Margaret's house,
and to see the eagerness with which she entered into its embellishment.
There was something humorous in the enlargement of her ideas since the
days when she had wondered at the magnificence of the Washington Square
home, and modestly protested against its luxury. Her own boudoir was a
cheap affair compared with that in the new house.
Don't you think, dear," she said, puzzling over the drawings, "that it
would better be all sandalwood? I hate mosaics. It looks so cheap to
have little bits of precious woods stuck about."
"I should think so. But what do you do with the ebony?"
"Oh, the ebony and gold? That is the adjoining sitting-room--such a
"And the teak?"
"It has such a beautiful polish. That is another room. Carmen says that
will be our sober room, where we go when we want to repent of things."
"Well, if you have any sandal-wood left over, you can work it into your
Boys' Lodging-house, you know."
"Don't be foolish! And then the ballroom, ninety feet long--it looks
small on the paper. And do you think we'd better have those life-size
figures all round, mediaeval statues, with the incandescents? Carmen
says she would prefer a row of monks--something piquant about that in a
ballroom. I don't know that I like the figures, after all; they are too
crushing and heavy."
"It would make a good room for the Common Council," Henderson suggested.
"Wouldn't it be prettier hung with silken arras figured with a chain of
dancing-girls? Dear me, I don't know what to do. Rodney, you must put
your mind on it."
"Might line it with gold plate. I'll make arrangements so that you can
draw on the Bank of England."
Margaret looked hurt. "But you told me, dear, not to spare anything--
that we would have the finest house in the city. I'm sure I sha'n't
enjoy it unless you want it."
"Oh, I want it," resumed Henderson, good-humoredly. "Go ahead, little
wife. We shall pull through."
"Women beat me," Henderson confessed to Uncle Jerry next day. "They are
the most economical of beings and the most extravagant. I've got to look
round for an extra million somewhere today."
"Yes, there is this good thing about women," Uncle Jerry responded, with
a twinkle in his eyes, "they share your riches just as cheerfully as they
do your poverty. I tell Maria that if I had the capacity for making
money that she has for spending it I could assume the national debt."
To have the finest house in the city, or rather, in the American
newspaper phrase, in the Western world, was a comprehensible ambition for
Henderson, for it was a visible expression of his wealth and his
cultivated taste. But why Margaret should wish to exchange her dainty
and luxurious home in Washington Square for the care of a vast
establishment big enough for a royal court, my wife could not comprehend.
But why not? To be the visible leader in her world, to be able to
dispense a hospitality which should surpass anything heretofore seen, to
be the mistress and autocrat of an army of servants, with ample room for
their evolution, in a palace whose dimensions and splendor should awaken
envy and astonishment--would this not be an attraction to a woman of
imagination and spirit?
Besides, they had outgrown the old house. There was no longer room for
the display, scarcely for the storage, of the works of art, the pictures,
the curiosities, the books, that unlimited money and the opportunity of
foreign travel had collected in all these years. "We must either build
or send our things to a warehouse," Henderson had long ago said. Among
the obligations of wealth is the obligation of display. People of small
means do not allow for the expansion of mind that goes along with the
accumulation of property. It was only natural that Margaret, who might
have been contented with two rooms and a lean-to as the wife of a country
clergyman, should have felt cramped in her old house, which once seemed a
world too large for the country girl.
"I don't see how you could do with less room," Carmen said, with an air
of profound conviction. They were looking about the house on its last
uninhabited day, directing the final disposition of its contents. For
Carmen, as well as for Margaret, the decoration and the furnishing of the
house had been an occupation. The girl had the whim of playing the part
of restrainer and economizer in everything; but Henderson used to say,
when Margaret told him of Carmen's suggestions, that a little more of her
economy would ruin him.
"Yes," Margaret admitted, "there does not seem to be anything that is not
"Not a thing. When you think of it, two people require as much space as
a dozen; when you go beyond one room, you must go on. Of course you
couldn't get on without a reception-room, drawing-rooms, a conservatory,
a music-room, a library, a morning-room, a breakfast-room, a small
dining-room and a state dining-room, Mr. Henderson's snuggery, with his
own library, a billiard-room, a picture-gallery--it is full already;
you'll have to extend it or sell some pictures--your own suite and Mr.
Henderson's suite, and the guest-rooms, and I forgot the theatre in the
attic. I don't see but you have scrimped to the last degree."
"And yet there is room to move about," Margaret acknowledged, with a
gratified smile, as they wandered around. "Dear me, I used to think the
Stotts' house was a palace."
It was the height of the season before Lent. There had been one delay
and another, but at last all the workmen had been expelled, and Margaret
was mistress of her house. Cards for the house-warming had been out for
two weeks, and the event was near. She was in her own apartments this
pale, wintry afternoon, putting the finishing touches to her toilet.
Nothing seemed to suit. The maid found her in a very bad humor.
"Remember," she had said to her husband, when he ordered his brougham
after breakfast, "sharp seven, we are to dine alone the first time." It
lacked two hours yet of dinner-time, but she was dressing for want of
Was this then the summit of her ambition? She had indeed looked forward
to some such moment as this as one of exultation in the satisfaction of
all her wishes. She took up a book of apothegms that lay on the table,
and opened by chance to this, "Unhappy are they whose desires are all
ratified." It was like a sting. Why should she think at this moment of
her girlhood; of the ideals indulged in during that quiet time; of her
aunt's cheerful, tender, lonely life; of her rejection of Mr. Lyon? She
did not love Mr. Lyon; she was not satisfied then. How narrow that
little life in Brandon had been! She threw the book from her. She hated
all that restraint and censoriousness. If her aunt could see her in all
this splendor, she would probably be sadder than ever. What right had
she to sit there and mourn--as she knew her aunt did--and sigh over her
career? What right had they to sit in judgment on her?
She went out from her room, down the great stairway, into the spacious
house, pausing in the great hall to see opening vista after vista in the
magnificent apartments. It was the first time that she had alone really
taken the full meaning of it--had possessed it with the eye. It was
hers. Wherever she went, all hers. No, she had desires yet. It should
be filled with life--it should be the most brilliant house in the world.
Society should see, should acknowledge the leadership. Yes--as she
glanced at herself in a drawing-room mirror--they should see that
Henderson's wife was capable of a success equal to his own, and she would
stop the hateful gossip about him. She set her foot firmly as she
thought about it; she would crush those people who had sneered at them as
parvenu. She strayed into the noble gallery. Some face there touched
her, some landscape soothed her. No, she said to herself, I will win
them, I do not want hateful strife.
Who knows what is in a woman? how many moods in a quarter of an hour,
and which is the characteristic one? Was this the Margaret who had
walked with Lyon that Sunday afternoon of the baptism, and had a heart
full of pain for the pitiful suffering of the world?
As she sat there she grew calmer. Her thoughts went away in a vision of
all the social possibilities of this wonderful house. From vaguely
admiring what she looked at, she began to be critical; this and that
could be changed to advantage; this shade of hanging was not harmonious;
this light did not fall right. She smiled to think that her husband
thought it all done. How he would laugh to find that she was already
planning to rearrange it! Hadn't she been satisfied for almost twenty-
four hours? That was a long time for a woman. Then she thought of the
reception; of the guests; of what some of them would wear; how they would
look about; what they would say. She was already in that world which was
so shining and shifting and attractive. She did not hear Henderson come
in until his arm was around her.
"Well, sweet, keeping house alone? I've had a jolly day; lucky as old
"Have you?" she cried, springing up. "I'm so glad. Come, see the
"You look a little pale," he said, as they strolled out to the
"Just a little tired," she admitted. "Do you know, Rodney, I hated this
house at five o'clock--positively hated it?"
"Oh, I don't know; I was thinking. But I liked it at half-past six.
I love it now. I've got used to it, as if I had always lived here.
Isn't it beautiful everywhere? But I'm going to make some changes."
"A hanging garden on the roof?" Henderson asked, with meekness.
"That would be nice. No, not now. But to make over and take off the
new look. Everything looks so new."
"Well, we will try to live that down."
And so they wandered on, admiring, bantering, planning. Could Etienne
Debree have seen his descendant at this moment he would have been more
than ever proud of his share in establishing the great republic, and of
his appreciation of the promise of its beauty. What satisfies a woman's
heart is luxury, thought Henderson, in an admiring cynical moment.
They had come into his own den and library, and he stood looking at the
rows of his favorite collection shining in their new home. For all its
newness it had a familiar look. He thought for a moment that he might be
in his old bachelor quarters. Suddenly Margaret made a rush at him. She
shook the great fellow. She feasted her eyes on him.
"What's got into you to look so splendid? Do you hear, go this instant
and dress, and make yourself ten times as fascinating."
Live not unto yourselves! Can any one deny that this blessed sentiment
is extending in modern life? Do we build houses for ourselves or for
others? Do we make great entertainments for our own comfort? I do not
know that anybody regarded the erection of the Henderson palace as an
altruistic performance. The socialistic newspapers said that it was pure
ostentation. But had it not been all along in the minds of the builders
to ask all the world to see it, to share the delight of it? Is this a
selfish spirit? When I stroll in the Park am I not pleased with the
equipages, with the display of elegance upon which so much money has been
lavished for my enjoyment?
All the world was asked to the Henderson reception. The coming event was
the talk of the town. I have now cuttings from the great journals,
articles describing the house, more beautifully written than Gibbon's
stately periods about the luxury of later Rome. It makes one smile to
hear that the day of fine writing is over. Everybody was eager to go;
there was some plotting to obtain invitations by those who felt that they
could not afford to be omitted from the list that would be printed; by
those who did not know the Hendersons, and did not care to know them, but
who shared the general curiosity; and everybody vowed that he supposed he
must go, but he hated such a crush and jam as it was sure to be. Yet no
one would have cared to go if it had not promised to be a crush. I said
that all the world was asked, which is our way of saying that a thousand
or two had been carefully selected from the million within reach.
Invitations came to Brandon, of course, for old times' sake. The Morgans
said that they preferred a private view; Miss Forsythe declared that she
hadn't the heart to go; in short, Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild alone went to
represent the worldly element.
I am sorry to say that the reader must go to the files of the city press
for an account of the night's festivity. The pen that has been used in
portraying Margaret's career is entirely inadequate to it. There is a
general impression that an American can do anything that he sets his hand
to, but it is not true; it is true only that he tries everything. The
reporter is born, as the poet is; it cannot be acquired--that
astonishing, irresponsible command of the English language; that warm,
lyrical tone; that color, and bewildering metaphorical brilliancy; that
picturesqueness; that use of words as the painter uses pigments, in
splashes and blotches which are so effective; that touch of raillery and
sarcasm and condescension; that gay enjoyment of reveling in the
illimitable; that air of superior knowledge and style; that dash of
sentiment; that calm and somewhat haughty judgment.
I am always impressed at such an entertainment with the good-humor of the
American people, no matter what may be the annoyance and discomfort.
In all the push and thrust and confusion, amid the rending of trains, the
tearing of lace, the general crushing of costumes, there was the merriest
persiflage, laughter, and chatter, and men and women entered into and
drew out of the fashionable wreck in the highest spirits. For even in
such a spacious mansion there were spots where currents met, and rooms
where there was a fight for mere breath. It would have been a tame
affair without this struggle. And what an epitome of life it all was!
There were those who gave themselves up to admiration, who gushed with
enthusiasm; there were those who had the weary air of surfeit with
splendor of this sort; there were the bustling and volatile, who made
facetious remarks, and treated the affair like a Fourth of July; and
there were also groups dark and haughty, like the Stotts, who held a
little aloof, and coldly admitted that it was most successful; it lacked
je ne sais quoi, but it was in much better taste than they had expected.
Is there something in the very nature of a crowd to bring out the
inherent vulgarity of the best-bred people, so that some have doubted
whether the highest civilization will tolerate these crushing and
At any rate, one could enjoy the general effect. There might be vulgar
units, and one caught notes of talk that disenchanted, but there were so
many women of rare and stately beauty, of exquisite loveliness, of charm
in manner and figure--so many men of fine presence, with such an air of
power and manly prosperity and self-reliance--I doubt if any other
assembly in the world, undecorated by orders and uniforms, with no blazon
of rank, would have a greater air of distinction. Looking over it from a
landing in the great stairway that commanded vistas and ranges of the
lofty, brilliant apartments, vivified by the throng, which seemed
ennobled by the spacious splendor in which it moved, one would be
pardoned a feeling of national pride in the spectacle. I drew aside to
let a stately train of beauty and of fashion descend, and saw it sweep
through the hall, and enter the drawing-rooms, until it was lost in a sea
of shifting color. It was like a dream.
And the centre of all this charming plutocratic graciousness and beauty
was Margaret--Margaret and her handsome husband. Where did the New
Hampshire boy learn this simple dignity of bearing, this good-humored
cordiality without condescension, this easy air of the man of the world?
Was this the railway wrecker, the insurance manipulator, the familiar of
Uncle Jerry, the king of the lobby, the pride and the bugaboo of Wall
Street? Margaret was regnant. And how charmingly she received her
guests! How well I knew that half-imperious toss of the head, and the
glance of those level, large gray eyes, softened instantly, on
recognition, into the sweetest smile of welcome playing about the dimple
and the expressive mouth! What woman would not feel a little thrill of
triumph? The world was at her feet. Why was it, I wonder, as I stood
there watching the throng which saluted this queenly woman of the world,
in an hour of supreme social triumph, while the notes of the distant
orchestra came softly on the air, and the overpowering perfume of banks
of flowers and tropical plants--why was it that I thought of a fair,
simple girl, stirred with noble ideals, eager for the intellectual life,
tender, sympathetic, courageous? It was Margaret Debree--how often I had
seen her thus!--sitting on her little veranda, swinging her chip hat by
the string, glowing from some errand in which her heart had played a much
more important part than her purse. I caught the odor of the honeysuckle
that climbed on the porch, and I heard the note of the robin that nested
"You seem to be in a brown study," said Carmen, who came up, leaning on
the arm of the Earl of Chisholm.
"I'm lost in admiration. You must make allowance, Miss Eschelle, for a
person from the country."
"Oh, we are all from the country. That is the beauty of it. There is
Mr. Hollowell, used to drive a peddler's cart, or something of that sort,
up in Maine, talking with Mr. Stott, whose father came in on the towpath
of the Erie Canal. You don't dance? The earl has just been giving me a
whirl in the ballroom, and I've been trying to make him understand about
"Yes," the earl rejoined; "Miss Eschelle has been interpreting to me
"And he cannot point out, Mr. Fairchild, why this is not as good as a
reception at St. James. I suppose it's his politeness."
"Indeed, it is all very charming. It must be a great thing to be the
architect of your own fortune."
"Yes; we are all self-made," Carmen confessed.
"I am, and I get dreadfully tired of it sometimes. I have to read over
the Declaration and look at the map of the Western country at such times.
A body has to have something to hold on to."
"Why, this seems pretty substantial," I said, wondering what the girl was
"Oh, yes; I suppose the world looks solid from a balloon. I heard one
man say to another just now, 'How long do you suppose Henderson will
last?' Probably we shall all come down by the run together by-and-by."
"You seem to be on a high plane," I suggested.
"I guess it's the influence of the earl. But I am the most misunderstood
of women. What I really like is simplicity. Can you have that without
the social traditions," she appealed to the earl, "such as you have in
"I really cannot say," the earl replied, laughing. "I fancied there was
simplicity in Brandon; perhaps that was traditional."
"Oh, Brandon!" Carmen cried, "see what Brandon does when it gets a
chance. I assure your lordship that we used to be very simple people in
New York. Come, let us go and tell Mrs. Henderson how delightful it all
is. I'm so sorry for her."
As I moved about afterwards with my wife we heard not many comments, a
word here and there about Henderson's wonderful success, a remark about
Margaret's beauty, some sympathy for her in such a wearisome ordeal--the
world is full of kindness--the house duly admired, and the ordinary
compliments paid; the people assembled were, as usual, absorbed in their
own affairs. From all we could gather, all those present were used to
living in a palace, and took all the splendor quite as a matter of
course. Was there no envy? Was there nothing said about the airs of a
country school-ma'am, the aplomb of an adventurer? Were there no
criticisms afterwards as the guests rolled home in their carriages,
surfeited and exhausted? What would you have? Do you expect the
millennium to begin in New York?
The newspapers said that it was the most brilliant affair the metropolis
had ever seen. I have no doubt it was. And I do not judge, either, by
the newspaper estimates of the expense. I take the simple words
addressed by the earl to Margaret, when he said good-night, at their full
value. She flushed with pleasure at his modest commendation. Perhaps it
was to her the seal of her night's triumph.
The house was opened. The world had seen it. The world had gone.
If sleep did not come that night to her tired head on the pillow, what
wonder? She had a position in the great world. In imagination it opened
wider and wider. Could not the infinite possibilities of it fill the
hunger of any soul?
The echoes of the Henderson reception continued long in the country
press. Items multiplied as to the cost. It was said that the sum
expended in flowers alone, which withered in a night, would have endowed
a ward in a charity hospital. Some wag said that the price of the supper
would have changed the result of the Presidential election. Views of the
mansion were given in the illustrated papers, and portraits of Mr. and
Mrs. Henderson. In country villages, in remote farmhouses, this great
social event was talked of, Henderson's wealth was the subject of
conjecture, Margaret's toilet was an object of interest. It was a
shining example of success. Preachers, whose sensational sermons are as
widely read as descriptions of great crimes, moralized on Henderson's
career and Henderson's palace, and raised up everywhere an envied image
of worldly prosperity. When he first arrived in New York, with only
fifty cents in his pocket--so the story ran-and walked up Broadway and
Fifth Avenue, he had nearly been run over at the corner of Twenty-sixth
Street by a carriage, the occupants of which, a lady and gentleman, had
stared insolently at the country youth. Never mind, said the lad to
himself, the day will come when you will cringe to me. And the day did
come when the gentleman begged Henderson to spare him in Wall Street, and
his wife intrigued for an invitation to Mrs. Henderson's ball. The
reader knows there is not a word of truth in this. Alas! said the
preacher, if he had only devoted his great talents to the service of the
Good and the True! Behold how vain are all the triumphs of this world!
see the result of the worship of Mammon! My friends, the age is
materialized, a spirit of worldliness is abroad; be vigilant, lest the
deceitfulness of riches send your souls to perdition. And the plain
country people thanked God for such a warning, and the country girl
dreamed of Margaret's career, and the country boy studied the ways of
Henderson's success, and resolved that he, too, would seek his fortune in
this bad metropolis.
The, Hendersons were important people. It was impossible that a
knowledge of their importance should not have a reflex influence upon
Margaret. Could it be otherwise than that gradually the fineness of her
discrimination should be dulled by the almost universal public consent in
the methods by which Henderson had achieved his position, and that in
time she should come to regard adverse judgment as the result of envy?
Henderson himself was under less illusion; the world was about what he
had taken it for, only a little worse--more gullible, and with less
principle. Carmen had mocked at Margaret's belief in Henderson. It is
certainly a pitiful outcome that Margaret, with her naturally believing
nature, should in the end have had a less clear perception of what was
right and wrong than Henderson himself. Yet Henderson would not have
shrunk, any more than Carmen would, from any course necessary to his
ends, while Margaret would have shrunk from many things; but in absolute
worldliness, in devotion to it, the time had come when Henderson felt
that his Puritan wife was no restraint upon him. It was this that broke
gentle Miss Forsythe's heart when she came fully to realize it.
I said that the world was at Margaret's feet. Was it? How many worlds
are there, and does one ever, except by birth (in a republic), conquer
them all? Truth to say, there were penetralia in New York society
concerning which this successful woman was uneasy in her heart. There
were people who had accepted her invitations, to whose houses she had
been, who had a dozen ways of making her feel that she was not of them.
These people--I suppose that if two castaways landed naked on a desert
island, one of them would instantly be the ancien regime--had spoken of
Mrs. Henderson and her ambition to the Earl of Chisholm in a way that
pained him. They graciously assumed that he, as one of the elect, would
understand them. It was therefore with a heavy heart that he came to say
good-by to Margaret before his return.
I cannot imagine anything more uncomfortable for an old lover than a
meeting of this sort; but I suppose the honest fellow could not resist
the inclination to see Margaret once more. I dare say she had a little
flutter of pride in receiving him, in her consciousness of the change in
herself into a wider experience of the world. And she may have been a
little chagrined that he was not apparently more impressed by her
surroundings, nor noticed the change in herself, but met her upon the
ground of simple sincerity where they had once stood. What he tried to
see, what she felt he was trying to see, was not the beautiful woman
about whose charm and hospitality the town talked, but the girl he had
loved in the old days.
He talked a little, a very little, about himself and his work in England,
and a great deal about what had interested him here on his second visit,
the social drift, the politics, the organized charities; and as he
talked, Margaret was conscious how little the world in which she lived
seemed to interest him; how little importance he attached to it. And she
saw, as in a momentary vision of herself, that the things that once
absorbed her and stirred her sympathies were now measurably indifferent
to her. Book after book which he casually mentioned, as showing the
drift of the age, and profoundly affecting modern thought, she knew only
by name. "I guess," said Carmen, afterwards, when Margaret spoke of the
earl's conversation, "that he is one of those who are trying to live in
the spirit--what do they call it?--care for things of the mind."
"You are doing a noble work," he said, "in your Palace of Industry."
"Yes, it is very well managed," Margaret replied; "but it is uphill work,
the poor are so ungrateful for charity."
"Perhaps nobody, Mrs. Henderson, likes to be treated as an object of
"Well, work isn't what they want when we give it, and they'd rather live
in the dirt than in clean apartments."
"Many of them don't know any better, and a good many of our poor resent
"Yes," said Margaret, with warmth; "they are getting to demand things as
their right, and they are insolent. The last time I drove down in that
quarter I was insulted by their manner. What are you going to do with
such people? One big fellow who was leaning against a lamp-post growled,
'You'd better stay in your own palace, miss, and not come prying round
here.' And a brazen girl cried out: 'Shut yer mouth, Dick; the lady's
got to have some pleasure. Don't yer see, she's a-slummin'?'"
"It's very hard, I know," said the earl; "perhaps we are all on the wrong
"Maybe. Mr. Henderson says that the world would get on better if
everybody minded his own business."
"I wish it were possible," the earl remarked, with an air of finishing
the topic. "I have just been up to Brandon, Mrs. Henderson. I fear that
I have seen the dear place for the last time."
"You don't mean that you are tired of America?"
"Not that. I shall never, even in thought, tire of Brandon."
"Yes, they are dear, good people."
"I thought Miss Forsythe--what a sweet, brave woman she is!--was looking
sad and weary."
"Oh, aunt won't do anything, or take an interest in anything. She just
stays there. I've tried in vain to get her here. Do you know"--and she
turned upon the earl a look of the old playfulness--"she doesn't quite
approve of me."
"Oh," he replied, hesitating a little--"I think, Mrs. Henderson, that her
heart is bound up in you. It isn't for me to say that you haven't a
truer friend in the world."
"Yes, I know. If I'd only--" and she stopped, with a petulant look on
her fair face--"well, it doesn't matter. She is a dear soul."
"I--suppose," said the earl, rising, "we shall see you again on the other
"Perhaps," with a smile. Could anything be more commonplace than such a
parting? Good-by, I shall see you tomorrow or next year, or in the next
world. Hail and farewell! That is the common experience. But, oh, the
bitterness of it to many a soul!
It is quite possible that when the Earl of Chisholm said good-by, with an
air of finality, Margaret felt that another part of her life was closed.
He was not in any way an extraordinary person, he was not a very rich
peer, probably with his modesty and conscientiousness, and devotion to
the ordinary duties of his station, he would never attain high rank in
the government. Yet no one could be long with him without apprehending
that his life was on a high plane. It was with a little irritation that
Margaret recognized this, and remembered, with a twinge of conscience,
that it was upon that plane that her life once traveled. The time had
been when the more important thing to her was the world of ideas, of
books, of intellectual life, of passionate sympathy with the fortunes of
humanity, of deepest interest in all the new thoughts struck out by the
leaders who studied the profound problems of life and destiny.
That peace of mind which is found only in the highest activity for the
noblest ends she once had, though she thought it then unrest and
striving--what Carmen, who was under no illusions about Henderson, or
Uncle Jerry, or the world of fashion, and had an intuitive perception of
cant that is sometimes denied to the children of light, called "taking
pleasure in the things of the mind." To do Margaret justice, there
entered into her reflections no thought of the title and position of the
Earl of Chisholm. They had never been alluring to her. If one could
take any satisfaction in this phase of her character, her worldiness was
"I hardly know which I should prefer," Carmen was saying when they were
talking over the ball and the earl's departure, "to be an English
countess or the wife of an American millionaire."
"It might depend upon the man," replied Margaret, with a smile.
"The American," continued Carmen, not heeding this suggestion, "has the
greater opportunities, and is not hindered by traditions. If you were a
countess you would have to act like a countess. If you are an American
you can act--like anything--you can do what you please. That is nicer.
Now, an earl must do what an earl has always done. What could you do
with such a husband? Mind! Yes, I know, dear, about things of the mind.
First, you know, he will be a gentleman socialist (in the magazines), and
maybe a Christian socialist, or a Christian scientist, or something of
that sort, interested in the Mind Cure."
"I should think that would suit you. Last I knew, you were deep in the
"So I was. That was last week. Now I'm in the Faith Cure; I've found
out about both. The difference is, in the Mind Cure you don't require
any faith; in the Faith Cure you don't require any mind. The Faith Cure
just suits me."
"So you put your faith in an American millionaire?"
"Yes, I think I should, until an American millionaire put faith in me.
That might shake me. It is such a queer world. No, I'm in doubt. If
you loved an earl he would stay an earl. If you loved an American
millionaire, ten to one he would fail."
Margaret did not escape the responsibility of her success. Who does?
My dear Charmian, who wrote the successful novel of last year, do you not
already repent your rash act? If you do not write a better novel this
year, will not the public flout you and jeer you for a pretender? Did
the public overpraise you at first? Its mistaken partiality becomes now
your presumption. Last year the press said you were the rival of
Hawthorne. This year it is, "that Miss Charmian who set herself up as a
second Hawthorne." When the new house was opened, it might be said that
socially Mrs. Henderson had "arrived." Had she? When one enters on the
path of worldliness is there any resting-place? Is not eternal vigilance
the price of position?
Henderson was apparently on good terms with the world. Many envied him,
many paid him the sincerest flattery, that of imitation. He was a king
in the street, great enterprises sought his aid, all the charities
knocked at his door, his word could organize a syndicate or a trust, his
nod could smash a "corner." There were fabulous stories about his
wealth, about his luck. This also was Margaret's world. Her ambition
expanded in it with his. The things he set his heart on she coveted.
Alas! there is always another round to the ladder.
Seeing the means by which he gained his ends, and the public condonation
of them, would not his cynicism harden into utter unbelief in general
virtue and goodness? I don't know that Henderson changed much, accented
as his grasping selfishness was on occasion; prosperity had not impaired
that indifferent good-fellowship and toleration which had early gained
him popularity. His presence was nowhere a rebuke to whatever was going
on. He was always accessible, often jocular. The younger members in the
club said Henderson was a devilish good fellow, whatever people said.
The President of the United States used to send for him and consult him,
because he wanted no office; he knew men, and it was a relief to talk
with a liberal rich man of so much bonhomie who wanted nothing.
And Margaret, what view of the world did all this give her? Did she come
in contact with any one who had not his price, who was not going or
wanting to go in the general current? Was it not natural that she should
take Henderson's view? Dear me, I am not preaching about her. We did
not see much of her in those days, and for one or two years of what I
suppose was her greatest enjoyment of her social triumphs. So far as we
heard, she was liked, admired, followed, envied. It could not be
otherwise, for she did not lose her beauty nor her charm, and she tried
to please. Once when I saw her in the city and we fell into talk--and
the talk was gay enough and unconstrained--I was struck with a certain
hardness of tone, a little bitterness quite unlike her old self. It is a
very hard thing to say, and I did not say it even to my wife, but I had a
painful impression that she was valuing people by the money they had, by
the social position they had attained.
Was she content in that great world in which she moved? I had heard
stories of slights, of stabs, of rebuffs, of spiteful remarks. Had she
not come to know how success even in social life is sometimes attained--
the meannesses, the jealousies, the cringing? Even with all her money at
command, did she not know that her position was at the price of incessant
effort? Because she had taken a bold step today, she must take a bolder
one tomorrow--more display, more servants, some new invention of luxury
and extravagance. And seeing, as I say, the inside of this life and what
it required, and how triumphs and notoriety were gained, was it a wonder
that she gradually became in her gayety cynical, in her judgments bitter?
I am not criticising her. What are we, who have had no opportunities, to
sit in judgment on her! I believe that it is true that it was at her
solicitation that Henderson at last did endow a university in the
Southwest. I know that her name was on all the leading charities of the
city. I know that of all the patronesses of the charity ball her costume
was the most exquisite, and her liberality was most spoken of. I know
that in the most fashionable house of worship (the newspapers call it
that) she was a constant attendant; that in her modest garb she never
missed a Lenten service; and we heard that she performed a novena during
this penitential season.
Why protract the story of how Margaret was lost to us? Could this
interest any but us--we who felt the loss because we still loved her?
And why should we presume to set up our standard of what is valuable in
life, of what is a successful career? She had not become what we hoped,
and little by little all the pleasure of intercourse on both sides,
I dare say, disappeared. Could we say that life, after all, had not
given her what she most desired? Rather than write on in this strain
about her, I would like to read her story as it appeared to the
companions whose pleasures were her pleasures, whose successes were her
successes--her story written by one who appreciated her worldly
advantages, and saw all the delight there was in this attractive
What comfort there was in it we had in knowing that she was a favorite in
the society of which we read such glowing descriptions, and that no one
else bore its honors more winningly. It was not an easy life, with all
its exactions and incessant movement. It demanded more physical strength
than most women possess, and we were not surprised to hear from time to
time that she was delicate, and that she went through her season with
feverish excitement. But she chose it; it had become necessary to her.
Can women stop in such a career, even if they wish to stop?
Yes, she chose it. I, for one, never begrudged her any pleasure she had
in life, and I do not know but she was as happy as it is possible for
human being to be in a full experiment of worldliness. Who is the judge?
But we, I say, who loved her, and knew so well the noble possibilities of
her royal nature under circumstances favorable to its development, felt
more and more her departure from her own ideals. Her life in its
spreading prosperity seemed more and more shallow. I do not say she was
heartless, I do not say she was uncharitable, I do not say that in all
the externals of worldly and religious observance she was wanting; I do
not say that the more she was assimilated to the serenely worldly nature
of her husband she did not love him, or that she was unlovely in the
worldliness that ingulfed her and bore her onward. I do not know that
there is anything singular in her history. But the pain of it to us was
in the certainty--and it seemed so near--that in the decay of her higher
life, in the hardening process of a material existence, in the transfer
of all her interests to the trivial and sensuous gratifications--time,
mind, heart, ambition, all fixed on them--we should never regain our
Margaret. What I saw in a vision of her future was a dead soul--a
beautiful woman in all the success of envied prosperity, with a dead
It is difficult not to convey a false impression of Margaret at this
time. Habits, manners, outward conduct--nay, the superficial kindliness
in human intercourse, the exterior graceful qualities, may all remain
when the character has subtly changed, when the real aims have changed,
when the ideals are lowered. The fair exterior may be only a shell.
I can imagine the heart retaining much tenderness and sympathy with
suffering when the soul itself has ceased to struggle for the higher
life, when the mind has lost, in regard to life, the final discrimination
of what is right and wrong.
Perhaps it is fairer to Margaret to consider the general opinion of the
world regarding her. No doubt, if we had now known her for the first
time, we should have admired her exceedingly, and probably have accounted
her thrice happy in filling so well her brilliant position. That her
loss of interest in things intellectual, in a wide range of topics of
human welfare, which is in the individual soul a sign of warmth and
growth, made her less companionable to some is true, but her very
absorption in the life of her world made her much more attractive to
others. I well remember a dinner one day at the Hendersons', when Mr.
Morgan and I happened to be in town, and the gay chat and persiflage of
the society people there assembled. Margaret shone in it. The light and
daring touch of her raillery Carmen herself might have envied, and the
spirit in which she handled the trifles and personal gossip tossed to the
surface, like the bubbles on the champagne.
It was such a pretty picture--the noble diningroom, the table sparkling
with glass and silver and glowing with masses of choicest flowers from
the conservatory, the animated convives, and Margaret presiding, radiant
in a costume of white and gold.
"After all," Morgan was saying, apropos of the position of women, "men
get mighty little out of it in the modern arrangement."
"I've always said, Mr. Morgan," Margaret retorted, "that you came into
the world a couple of centuries too late; you ought to have been here in
the squaw age."
"Well, men were of some account then. I appeal to Henderson," Morgan
persisted, "if he gets more than his board and clothes."
"Oh, my husband has to make his way; he's no time for idling and
"I should think not. Come, Henderson, speak up; what do you get out of
"Oh," said Henderson, glancing at his wife with an amused expression,
"I'm doing very well. I'm very well taken care of, but I often wonder
what the fellows did when polygamy was the fashion."
"Polygamy, indeed!" cried Margaret. "So men only dropped the a pluribus
unum method on account of the expense?"
"Not at all," replied Henderson. "Women are so much better now than
formerly that one wife is quite enough."
"You have got him well in hand, Mrs. Henderson, but--" Morgan began.
"But," continued Margaret for him, "you think as things are going that
polyandry will have to come in fashion--a woman will need more than one
husband to support her?"
"And I was born too soon," murmured Carmen.
"Yes, dear, you'll have to be born again. But, Mr. Morgan, you don't
seem to understand what civilization is."
"I'm beginning to. I've been thinking--this is entirely impersonal--that
it costs more to keep one fine lady going than it does a college. Just
reckon it up." (Margaret was watching him with sparkling eyes.) "The
palace in town is for her, the house in the mountains, the house by the
sea, are for her, the army of servants is for her, the horses and
carriages for all weathers are for her, the opera box is for her, and
then the wardrobe--why, half Paris lives on what women wear. I say
nothing of what would become of the medical profession but for her."
"Have you done?" asked Margaret.
"No, but I'm taking breath."
"Well, why shouldn't we support the working-people of Paris and
elsewhere? Do you want us to make our own clothes and starve the sewing-
women? Suppose there weren't any balls and fine dresses and what you
call luxury. What would the poor do without the rich? Isn't it the
highest charity to give them work? Even with it they are ungrateful
"That is too deep for me," said Morgan, evasively. "I suppose they ought
to be contented to see us enjoying ourselves. It's all in the way of
civilization, I dare say."
"It's just as I thought," said Margaret, more lightly. "You haven't an
inkling of what civilization is. See that flower before you. It is the
most exquisite thing in this room. See the refinement of its color and
form. That was cultivated. The plant came from South Africa. I don't
know what expense the gardener has been to about it, what material and
care have been necessary to bring it to perfection. You may take it to
Mrs. Morgan as an object-lesson. It is a thing of beauty. You cannot
put any of your mercantile value on it. Well, that is woman, the
consummate flower of civilization. That is what civilization is for."
"I'm sorry for you, old fellow," said Henderson.
"I'm sorry for myself," Carmen said, demurely.
"I admit all that," Morgan replied. "Take Mr. Henderson as a gardener,
"Suppose you take somebody else, and let my husband eat his dinner."
"Oh, I don't mind preaching; I've got used to being made to point a
"But he will go on next about the luxury of the age, and the extravagance
of women, and goodness knows what," said Margaret.
"No, I'm talking about men," Morgan continued. "Consider Henderson--it's
entirely impersonal--as a gardener. What does he get out of his
occupation? He can look at the flower. Perhaps that is enough. He gets
a good dinner when he has time for it, an hour at his club now and then,
occasionally an evening or half a day off at home, a decent wardrobe--"
"Fifty-two suits," interposed Margaret.
"His own brougham--"
"And a four-in-hand," added Margaret.
"A pass on the elevated road--"
"And a steam-yacht."
"Which he never gets time to sail in; practically all the time on the
road, or besieged by a throng in his office, hustled about from morning
till night, begged of, interviewed, a telegraphic despatch every five
"And me!" cried Margaret, rising. The guests all clapped their hands.
The Hendersons liked to have their house full, something going on--
dinners, musicales, readings, little comedies in the theatre; there was
continual coming and going, calling, dropping in for a cup of tea, late
suppers after the opera; the young fellows of town found no place so
agreeable for a half-hour after business as Mrs. Henderson's reception-
room. I fancied that life would be dull and hang heavily, especially for
Margaret, without this perpetual movement and excitement. Henderson, who
certainly had excitement enough without seeking it at home, was pleased
that his wife should be a leader in society, as he was in the great
enterprises in which his fortune waxed to enormous proportions. About
what we call the home life I do not know. Necessarily, as heretofore,
Henderson was often absent, and whether Margaret accompanied him or not,
a certain pace of life had to be kept up.
I suppose there is no delusion more general than that of retiring upon a
fortune--as if, when gained, a fortune would let a person retire, or,
still more improbable, as if it ever were really attained. It is not at
all probable that Henderson had set any limit to that he desired; the
wildest speculations about its amount would no doubt fall short of
satisfying the love of power which he expected to gratify in immeasurably
increasing it. Does not history teach us that to be a great general, or
poet, or philanthropist, is not more certain to preserve one's name than
to be the richest man, the Croesus, in his age? I could imagine Margaret
having a certain growing pride in this distinction, and a glowing
ambition to be socially what her husband was financially.
Heaven often plans more mercifully for us than we plan for ourselves.
Had not the Hebrew prophets a vision of the punishment by prosperity?
Perhaps it applied to an old age, gratified to the end by possession of
everything that selfishness covets, and hardened into absolute
worldliness. I knew once an old lady whose position and wealth had
always made her envied, and presumably happy, who was absolutely to be
pitied for a soul empty of all noble feeling.
The sun still shone on Margaret, and life yielded to her its specious
sweets. She was still young. If in her great house, in her dazzling
career, in the whirl of resplendent prosperity, she had hours of
unsatisfied yearning for something unattainable in this direction, the
world would not have guessed it. Whenever we heard of her she was the
centre and star of whatever for the moment excited the world of fashion.
It was indeed, at last, in the zenith of her gay existence that I, became
aware of a certain feminine anxiety about her in our neighborhood. She
had been, years before, very ill in Paris, and the apprehensions for her
safety now were based upon the recollection of her peril then. The days
came when the tender-hearted Miss Forsythe went about the house restless,
impatient, tearful, waiting for a summons that was sure to come when she
was needed. She thought only of her child, as she called her, and all
the tenderness of her nature was stirred-these years of cloud and
separation and pain were as they had not been. Little Margaret had
promised to send for her. She would not obtrude before she was wanted,
but Margaret was certain to send. And she was ready for departure the
instant the despatch came from Henderson--"Margaret wants you to come at
once." I went with her.
In calamity, trouble, sorrow, it is wonderful how the ties of blood
assert themselves. In this hour I am sure that Margaret longed for no
one more than her dear aunt, in whose arms, as a child, she had so often
forgotten her griefs. She had been able to live without her--nay, for a
long time her presence had been something of a restraint and a rebuke,
and her feelings had hardened towards her. Why is it that the heart
hardens in prosperity?
When we arrived Margaret was very ill. The house itself had a serious
air: it was no longer the palace of festivity and gayety, precautions had
been taken to secure quiet, the pavement was littered, and within the
hushed movements and the sombre looks spoke of apprehension and the
absence of the spirit that had been the life and light of the house.
Our arrival seemed to be a relief to Henderson. Little was said. I had
never before seen him nervous, never before so restless and anxious,
probably never before in all his career had he been unnerved with a sense
of his own helplessness.
"She has been asking for you this moment," he said, as he accompanied
Miss Forsythe to Margaret's apartment.
"Dear, dear aunt, I knew you would come--I love you so;" she had tried to
raise herself a little in her bed, and was sobbing like a child in her
"You must have courage, Margaret; it will all be well."
"Yes, but I'm so discouraged; I'm so tired."
The vigil began. The nurses were in waiting. The family physician would
not leave the house. He was a man of great repute in his profession.
Dr. Seftel's name was well known to me, but I had never met him before;
a man past middle life, smooth shaven, thin iron-gray hair, grave,
usually taciturn, deliberate in all his movements, as if every gesture
were important and significant, but with a kindly face. Knowing that
every moment of his waking life was golden, I could not but be impressed
with the power that could command his exclusive service for an indefinite
time. When he came down, we talked together in Henderson's room.
"It is a question of endurance, of constitution," he said; "many weak
women have this quality of persistence; many strong women go to pieces at
once; we know little about it. Mrs. Henderson"--glancing about him--"has
everything to live for; that's in her favor. I suppose there are not two
other men in the country whose fortune equals Henderson's."
I do not know how it was, probably the patient was not forgotten, but in
a moment the grave doctor was asking me if I had seen the last bulletin
about the yacht regatta. He took the keenest interest in the contest,
and described to me the build and sailing qualities of the different
yachts entered, and expressed his opinion as to which would win, and why.
From this he passed to the city government and the recent election--like
a true New Yorker, his chief interest centred in the city politics and
not in the national elections. Without the least unbending from his
dignity, he told me many anecdotes about city politicians, which would
have been amusing if I had not been anxious about other things.
The afternoon passed, and the night, and the day, I cannot tell how.
But at evening I knew by the movements in the house that the crisis had
come. I was waiting in Henderson's library. An hour passed, when
Henderson came hurrying in, pale, excited, but joyous.
"Thank God," he cried, "it is a boy!"
"And Margaret?" I gasped.
"Is doing very well!" He touched a bell, and gave an order to the
servant. "We will drink to the dear girl and to the heir of the house."
He was in great spirits. The doctor joined us, but I noticed that he was
anxious, and he did not stay long. Henderson was in and out, talking,
excited, restless. But everything was going very well, he thought. At
last, as we sat talking, a servant appeared at the door, with a
"The baby, sir!"
Alas! there had been an heir of the house of Henderson for just two
hours; and Margaret was not sustaining herself.
Why go on? Henderson was beside himself; stricken with grief, enraged,
I believe, as well, at the thought of his own impotence. Messengers were
despatched, a consultation was called. The best skill of the city, at
any cost, was at Margaret's bedside. Was there anything, then, that
money could not do? How weak we are!
The next day the patient was no better, she was evidently sinking. The
news went swiftly round the city. It needed a servant constantly at the
door to answer the stream of sympathetic inquirers. Reporters were
watching the closed house from the opposite pavement. I undertook to
satisfy some of them who gained the steps and came forward, civil enough
and note-books in hand, when the door was opened. This intrusion of
curiosity seemed so dreadful.
The great house was silent. How vain and empty and pitiful it all seemed
as I wandered alone through the gorgeous apartments! What a mockery it
all was of the tragedy impending above-stairs--the approach on list-shod
feet of the great enemy! Let us not be unjust. He would have come just
the same if his prey had lain in a farmhouse among the hills, or in a
tenement-house in C Street.
A day and a night, and another day--and then! It was Miss Forsythe who
came down to me, with strained eyes and awe in her face. It needed no
words. She put her face upon my shoulder, and sobbed as if her heart
I could not stay in the house. I went out into the streets, the streets
brilliant in the sun of an autumn day, into the town, gay, bustling,
crowded, pulsing with vigorous life. How blue the sky was! The sparrows
twittered in Madison Square, the idlers sat in the sun, the children
chased their hoops about the fountain.
I wandered into the club. The news had preceded me there. More than one
member in the reading-room grasped my hand, with just a word of sympathy.
Two young fellows, whom I had last seen at the Henderson dinner, were
seated at a small table.
"It's rough, Jack"--the speaker paused, with a match in his hand--"it's
rough. I'll be if she was not the finest woman I ever knew."
My wife and I were sitting in the orchestra stalls of the Metropolitan.
The opera was Siegfried. At the close of the first act, as we turned to
the house, we saw Carmen enter a box, radiant, in white. Henderson
followed, and took a seat a little in shadow behind her. There were
others in the box. There was a little movement and flutter as they came
in and glasses were turned that way.
"Married, and it is only two years," I said.
"It is only a year and eight months," my wife replied.
And the world goes on as cheerfully and prosperously as ever.