Part 5 out of 5
of the vast change from his late life of ease and luxury to this of daily
labor with a clerk's pay, that he had hours of revolt and cursed his
No, Jack's battle was not won in a day, or a week, or a year. And before
it was won he needed more help than his own somewhat irresolute will
could give. It is the impression of his biographer that he would have
failed in the end if he had been married to a frivolous and selfish
Mr. Fletcher was known as a very strict man of business, and as little
else. But he was a good judge of character, and under his notions of
discipline and of industry he was a kindly man, as his clerks, who feared
his sharp oversight, knew. And besides, he had made a compact with
Edith, for whom he had something more than family affection, and he
watched Jack's efforts to adjust himself to the new life with sympathy.
If it was an experiment for Jack, it was also an experiment for him,
the result of which gave him some anxiety. The situation was not a very
heroic one, but a life is often decided for good or ill by as
insignificant a matter as Jack's ability to persevere in learning about
the twine and cordage trade. This was a day of trial, and the element of
uncertainty in it kept both Mr. Fletcher and Jack from writing of the new
arrangement to Edith, for fear that only disappointment to her would be
the ultimate result. Jack's brief notes to her were therefore, as usual,
indefinite, but with the hint that he was beginning to see a way out of
After the passage of a couple of weeks, during which Mr. Fletcher had
been quietly studying his new clerk, he suddenly said to him, one
Saturday morning, after they had looked over and estimated the orders by
the day's mail, "Jack, I think you'd better let up a little, and run down
and see Edith."
"Oh!" said Jack, a little startled by the proposal, but recovering
himself; "I didn't suppose the business could spare me."
"I didn't mean a vacation, but run down for over Sunday. It must be
lovely there, and the change will make you as keen as a brier for
business. It always does me. Stay over Monday if the weather is good.
I have to be away myself the week after." As Jack hesitated and did not
reply, Mr. Fletcher continued:
"I really think you'd better go, Jack. You have hardly had a breath of
fresh air this summer. There's plenty of time to go up-town and get your
grip and catch the afternoon train."
Jack was still silent. The thought of seeing Edith created a tumult in
his mind. It seemed as if he were not quite ready, not exactly settled.
He had been procrastinating so long, putting off going, on one pretext or
another, that he had fallen into a sort of fear of going. At first,
absorbed in his speculations, enthralled by the company of Carmen and the
luxurious, easy-going view of life that her society created for him; he
had felt Edith and his house as an irritating restraint. Later, when the
smash came, he had been still more relieved that she was out of town.
And finally he had fallen into a reckless apathy, and had made himself
believe that he never would see her again until some stroke of fortune
should set him on his feet and restore his self-respect.
But since he had been with Fletcher & Co. his feelings had gradually
undergone a change. With a regular occupation and regular hours, and in
contact with the sensible mind and business routine of Mr. Fletcher, he
began to have saner views of life, and to realize that Edith would
approve what he was now attempting to do much more than any effort to
relieve himself by speculation.
As soon as he felt himself a little more firmly established, a little
more sure of himself, he would go to Edith, and confess everything, and
begin life anew. This had been his mood, but he was still irresolute,
and it needed some outside suggestion to push him forward to overcome his
lingering reluctance to go home.
But this had come suddenly. It seemed to him at first thought that he
needed time to prepare for it. Mr. Fletcher pulled out his watch.
"There is a later train at four. Take that, and we will get some lunch
An hour of postponement was such a relief! Why, of course he could go at
four. And instantly his heart leaped up with desire.
"All right," he said, as he rose and closed his desk. "But I think I'd
better not stay for lunch. I want to get something for the boy on my way
"Very good. Tuesday, then. My best regards to Edith."
As Jack came down the stairway from the elevated road at Twenty-third
Street he ran against a man who was hurrying up--a man in a pronounced
traveling-suit, grip-sack and umbrella in hand, and in haste. It was
Mavick. Recognition was instantaneous, and it was impossible for either
to avoid the meeting if he had desired to do so.
"You in town!" said Mavick.
"And you!" Jack retorted.
"No, not really. I'm just going to catch the steamer. Short leave. We
have all been kept by that confounded Chile business."
"Going for the government?"
"No, not publicly. Of course shall confer with our minister in London.
Any news here?"
"Yes; Henderson's dead." And Jack looked Mavick squarely in the face.
"Ah!" And Mavick smiled faintly, and then said, gravely: "It was an awful
business. So sudden, you know, that I couldn't do anything." He made a
movement to pass on. "I suppose there has been no--no--"
"I suppose not," said Jack, "except that Mrs. Henderson has gone to
"Ah!" And Mr. Mavick didn't wait for further news, but hurried up, with a
So Mavick was following Carmen to Europe. Well, why not? What an unreal
world it all was, that of a few months ago! The gigantic Henderson;
Jack's own vision of a great fortune; Carmen and her house of Nero; the
astute and diplomatic Mavick, with his patronizing airs! It was like a
scene in a play.
He stepped into a shop and selected a toy for the boy. It was a real
toy, and it was for a real boy. Jack experienced a genuine pleasure at
the thought of pleasing him. Perhaps the little fellow would not know
And then he thought of Edith--not of Edith the mother, but of Edith the
girl in the days of his wooing. And he went into Maillard's.
The pretty girl at the counter knew him. He was an old customer, and she
had often filled orders for him. She had despatched many a costly box to
addresses he had given her. It was in the recollection of those
transactions that he said: "A box of marrons glaces, please. My wife
"Shall I send it?" asked the girl, when she had done it up.
"No, thanks; we are not in town."
"Of course," she said, beaming upon him; "nobody is yet."
And this girl also seemed a part of the old life, with her little
affectation of familiarity with its ways.
He went to his room--it seemed a very mean little room now--packed his
bag, told the janitor he should be absent a few days, and hurried to the
ferry and the train as if he feared that some accident would delay him.
When he was seated and the train moved off, his thoughts took another
turn. He was in for it now.
He began to regret that he had not delayed, to think it all out more
thoroughly; perhaps it would have been better to have written.
He bought an evening journal, but he could not read it. What he read
between the lines was his own life. What a miserable failure! What a
mess he had made of his own affairs, and how unworthy of such a woman as
Edith he had been! How indifferent he had been to her happiness in the
pursuit of his own pleasure! How would she receive him? He could hardly
doubt that; but she must know, she must have felt cruelly his
estrangement. What if she met him with a royal forgiveness, as if he
were a returned prodigal? He couldn't stand that. If now he were only
going back with his fortune recovered, with brilliant prospects to spread
before her, and could come into the house in his old playful manner, with
the assumed deference of the master, and say: "Well, Edith dear, the
storm is over. It's all right now. I am awfully glad to get home.
Where's the rascal of an heir?"
Instead of that, he was going with nothing, humiliated, a clerk in a
twine-store. And not much of a clerk at that, he reflected, with his
ready humorous recognition of the situation.
And yet he was for the first time in his life earning his living. Edith
would like that. He had known all along that his idle life had been a
constant grief to her. No, she would not reproach him; she never did
reproach him. No doubt she would be glad that he was at work. But, oh,
the humiliation of the whole thing! At one moment he was eager to see
her, and the next the rattling train seemed to move too fast, and he
welcomed every wayside stop that delayed his arrival. But even the Long
Island trains arrive some time, and all too soon the cars slowed up at
the familiar little station, and Jack got out.
"Quite a stranger in these parts, Mr. Delancy," was the easy salutation
of the station-keeper.
"Yes. I've been away. All right down here?"
"Right as a trivet. Hot summer, though. Calculate it's goin' to be a
warm fall--generally is."
It was near sunset. When the train had moved on, and its pounding on the
rails became a distant roar and then was lost altogether, the country
silence so impressed Jack, as he walked along the road towards the sea,
that he became distinctly conscious of the sound of his own footsteps.
He stopped and listened. Yes, there were other sounds--the twitter of
birds in the bushes by the roadside, the hum of insects, and the faint
rhythmical murmur of lapsing waves on the shore.
And now the house came in view--first the big roof, and then the latticed
windows, the balconies, where there were pots of flowers, and then the
long veranda with its hammocks and climbing vines. There was a pink tone
in the distant water answering to the flush in the sky, and away to the
west the sand-dune that made out into the Sound was a point of light.
But the house! Jack's steps were again arrested. The level last rays of
the disappearing sun flashed upon the window-panes so that they glowed
like painted windows illuminated from within, with a reddish lustre, and
the roofs and the brown sides of the building, painted by those great
masters in color, the sun and the sea-wind, in that moment were like
burnished gold. Involuntarily Jack exclaimed:
"It is the Golden House!"
He made his way through the little fore yard. No one was about. The
veranda was deserted. There was Edith's work-basket; there were the
baby's playthings. The door stood open, and as he approached it he heard
singing--not singing, either, but a fitful sort of recitation, with the
occasional notes of an accompaniment struck as if in absence of mind.
The tune he knew, and as he passed through the first room towards the
sitting-room that looked on the sea he caught a line:
"Wely, wely, but love is bonny, for a little while--when it is new."
It was an old English ballad, the ballad of the "Cockle-shells," that
Edith used to sing often in the old days, when its note of melancholy
seemed best to express her happiness. It was only that line, and the
voice seemed to break, and there was silence.
He stole along and looked in. There was Edith, seated, her head bowed on
her hands, at the piano.
In an instant, before she could turn to the sound of his quick footsteps,
he was at her side, kneeling, his head bowed in the folds of her dress.
"Edith! I've been such a fool!"
She turned, slid from her seat, and was kneeling also, with her arms
thrown about his neck.
"Oh, Jack! You've come. Thank God! Thank God!"
And presently they stood, and his arms were still around her, and she was
looking up into his face, with her hands on his shoulders, and saying
"You've come to stay."
"Yes, dear, forever."
The whole landscape was golden, the sea was silver, on that October
morning. It was the brilliant decline of the year. Edith stood with
Jack on the veranda. He had his grip-sack in hand and was equipped for
town. Both were silent in the entrancing scene.
The birds, twittering in the fruit-trees and over the vines, had the air
of an orchestra, the concerts of the season over, gathering their
instruments and about to depart. One could detect in the lapse of the
waves along the shore the note of weariness preceding the change into the
fretfulness and the tumult of tempests. In the soft ripening of the
season there was peace and hope, but it was the hope of another day. The
curtain was falling on this.
Was life beginning, then, or ending? If life only could change and renew
itself like the seasons, with the perpetually recurring springs! But
youth comes only once, and thereafter the man gathers the fruit of it,
sweet or bitter.
Jack was not given to moralizing, but perhaps a subtle suggestion of this
came to him in the thought that an enterprise, a new enterprise, might
have seemed easier in May, when the forces of nature were with him, than
in October. There was something, at least, that fell in with his mood, a
mood of acquiescence in failure, in this closing season of the year, when
he stood empty-handed in the harvest-time.
"Edith," he said, as they paced down the walk which was flaming with
scarlet and crimson borders, and turned to look at the peaceful brown
house, "I hate to go."
"But you are not going," said Edith, brightly. "I feel all the time as
if you were just coming back. Jack, do you know," and she put her hand
on his shoulder, "this is the sweetest home in the world now!"
"It is the only one, dear;" and Jack made the statement with a humorous
sense of its truth. "Well, there's the train, and I'm off with the other
"Clerk, indeed!" cried Edith, putting up her face to his; "you are going
to be a Merchant Prince, Jack, that is what you are going to be."
On the train there was an atmosphere of business. Jack felt that he was
not going to the New York that he knew--not to his New York, but to a
city of traffic; down into the streets of commercial enterprise, not at
all to the metropolis of leisure, of pleasure, to the world of clubs and
drawing-rooms and elegant loiterings and the rivalries of society life.
That was all ended. Jack was hurrying to catch the down-town car for the
dingy office of Fletcher & Co. at an hour fixed.
It was ended, to be sure, but the struggle with Jack in his new life was
not ended, his biographer knows, for months and years.
It was long before he could pass his club windows without a pang of
humiliation, or lift his hat to a lady of his acquaintance in her passing
carriage without a vivid feeling of separateness from his old life. For
the old life--he could see that any day in the Avenue, any evening by the
flaming lights--went by in its gilded chariots and entrancing toilets,
the fascinating whirl of Vanity Fair crowned with roses and with ennui.
Did he regret it? No doubt. Not to regret would have been to change his
nature, and that were a feat impossible for his biographer to accomplish.
In a way his life was gone, and to build up a new life, serene and
enduring, was not the work of a day.
One thing he did not regret in the shock he had received, and that was
the absence of Carmen and her world. When he thought of her he had a
sense of escape. She was still abroad, and he heard from time to time
that Mavick was philandering about from capital to capital in her train.
Certainly he would have envied neither of them if he had been aware, as
the reader is aware, of the guilty secret that drew them together and
must be forever their torment. They knew each other.
But this glittering world, to attain a place in which is the object of
most of the struggles and hungry competition of modern life, seemed not
so real nor so desirable when he was at home with Edith, and in his
gradually growing interest in nobler pursuits. They had decided to take
a modest apartment in town for the winter, and almost before the lease
was signed, Edith, in her mind, had transformed it into a charming home.
Jack used to rally her on her enthusiasm in its simple furnishing; it
reminded him, he said, of Carmen's interest in her projected house of
Nero. It was a great contrast, to be sure, to their stately house by the
Park, but it was to them both what that had never been. To one who knows
how life goes astray in the solicitations of the great world, there was
something pathetic in Edith's pleasure. Even to Jack it might some day
come with the force of keen regret for years wasted, that it is enough to
break a body's heart to see how little a thing can make a woman happy.
It was another summer. Major Fairfax had come down with Jack to spend
Sunday at the Golden House. Edith was showing the Major the view from
the end of the veranda. Jack was running through the evening paper.
"Hi!" he cried; "here's news. Mavick is to have the mission to Rome, and
it is rumored that the rich and accomplished Mrs. Henderson, as the wife
of the minister, will make the Roman season very gay."
"It's too bad," said Edith. "Nothing is said about the training-school?"
"Nothing." "Poor Henderson!" was the Major's comment. "It was for this
that he drudged and schemed and heaped up his colossal fortune! His life
must look to him like a burlesque."