Part 2 out of 7
venturing to poke fun at him. Drunk as he now was, the
openest sarcasm would have been accepted as a compliment.
After a gorgeous dessert which nobody more
than touched--a molded mousse of whipped and frozen
cream and strawberries--``specially sent on to me from
Florida and costing me a dollar apiece, I guess''--after
this costly wonder had disappeared fruit was served.
General Siddall had ready a long oration upon this
course. He delivered it in a disgustingly thick tone.
The pineapple was an English hothouse product, the
grapes were grown by a costly process under glass in
Belgium. As for the peaches, Potin had sent those deli-
cately blushing marvels, and the charge for this would
be ``not less than a louis apiece, sir--a louis d'or
--which, as you no doubt know, is about four dollars
of Uncle Sam's money.''
The coffee--``the Queen of Holland may have it on
her PRIVATE table--MAY, I say--but I doubt if anyone
else in the world gets a smell of it except me''--
the coffee and the brandy came not a moment too soon.
Presbury was becoming stupefied with indigestion; his
wife was nodding and was wearing that vague, forced,
pleasant smile which stands propriety-guard over a
mind asleep; Mildred Gower felt that her nerves would
endure no more; and the general was falling into a
besotted state, spilling his wine, mumbling his words.
The coffee and the brandy revived them all somewhat.
Mildred, lifting her eyes, saw by way of a mirrored
section of the enormous sideboard the English butler
surveying master and guests with slowly moving, sneering
glance of ineffable contempt.
In the drawing-room again Mildred, requested by
Siddall and ordered by Presbury, sang a little French
song and then--at the urging of Siddall--``Annie
Laurie.'' Siddall was wiping his eyes when she turned
around. He said to Presbury:
``Take your wife into the conservatory to look at my
orchids. I want to say a word to your stepdaughter.''
Mildred started up nervously. She saw how drunk
the general was, saw the expression of his face that a
woman has to be innocent indeed not to understand.
She was afraid to be left alone with him. Presbury
came up to her, said rapidly, in a low tone:
``It's all right. He's got a high sense of what's due
a respectable woman of our class. He isn't as drunk
as he looks and acts.''
Having said which, he took his wife by the arm and
pushed her into the adjoining conservatory. Mildred
reseated herself upon the inlaid piano-bench. The little
man, his face now shiny with the sweat of drink and
emotion, drew up a chair in front of her. He sat--
and he was almost as tall sitting as standing. He said
``Don't be afraid, my dear girl. I'm not that dangerous.''
She lifted her eyes and looked at him. She tried to
conceal her aversion; she feared she was not succeeding.
But she need not have concerned herself about that.
General Siddall, after the manner of very rich men,
could not conceive of anyone being less impressed with
his superiority in any way than he himself was. For
years he had heard only flatteries of himself--his own
voice singing his praises, the fawning voices of those
he hired and of those hoping to get some financial
advantage. He could not have imagined a mere woman
not being overwhelmed by the prospect of his courting
her. Nor would it have entered his head that his money
would be the chief, much less the only, consideration
with her. He had long since lost all point of view, and
believed that the adulation paid his wealth was evoked
by his charms of person, mind, and manner. Those
who imagine this was evidence of folly and weak-mindedness
and extraordinary vanity show how little they
know human nature. The strongest head could not re-
main steady, the most accurate eyes could not retain
their measuring skill, in such an environment as always
completely envelops wealth and power. And the much-
talked-of difference between those born to wealth and
power and those who rise to it from obscurity resolves
itself to little more than the difference between those
born mad and those who go insane.
Looking at the little man with the disagreeable eyes,
so dull yet so shrewd, Mildred saw that within the
drunkard who could scarcely sit straight upon the richly
upholstered and carved gilt chair there was another person,
coldly sober, calmly calculating. And she realized
that it was this person with whom she was about to
have the most serious conversation of her life thus far.
The drunkard smiled with a repulsive wiping and
smacking of the thin, sensual lips. ``I suppose you
know why I had you brought here this evening?'' said
Mildred looked and waited.
``I didn't intend to say anything to-night. In fact,
I didn't expect to find in you what I've been looking
for. I thought that old fool of a stepfather of yours
was cracking up his goods beyond their merits. But
he wasn't. My dear, you suit me from the ground
up. I've been looking you over carefully. You were
made for the place I want to fill.''
Mildred had lowered her eyes. Her face had become
deathly pale. ``I feel faint,'' she murmured. ``It is
very warm here.''
``You're not sickly?'' inquired the general sharply.
``You look like a good solid woman--thin but wiry.
Ever been sick? I must look into your health. That's
a point on which I must be satisfied.''
A wave of anger swept through her, restoring her
strength. She was about to speak--a rebuke to his
colossal impudence that he would not soon forget.
Then she remembered, and bit her lips.
``I don't ask you to decide to-night,'' pursued he,
hastening to explain this concession by adding: ``I
don't intend to decide, myself. All I say is that I am
willing--if the goods are up to the sample.''
Mildred saw her stepfather and her mother watching
from just within the conservatory door. A movement
of the portiere at the door into the hall let her
know that Darcy, the butler, was peeping and listening
there. She stood up, clenched her hands, struck them
together, struck them against her temples, crossed the
room swiftly, flung herself down upon a sofa, and burst
into tears. Presbury and his wife entered. Siddall
was standing, looking after Mildred with a grin. He
winked at Presbury and said:
``I guess we gave her too much of that wine. It's
all old and stronger than you'd think.''
``My daughter hardly touched her glasses,'' cried
``I know that, ma'am,'' replied Siddall. ``I watched
her. If she'd done much drinking, I'd have been done,
then and there.''
``I suspect she's upset by what you've been saying,
General,'' said Presbury. ``Wasn't it enough to upset
a girl? You don't realize how magnificent you are--
how magnificent everything is here.''
``I'm sorry if I upset her,'' said the general, swelling
and loftily contrite. ``I don t know why it is that people
never seem to be able to act natural with me.'' He
hated those who did, regarding them as sodden,
Mrs. Presbury was quieting her daughter. Presbury
and Siddall lighted cigars and went into the smoking--
and billiard-room across the hall. Said Presbury:
``I didn't deceive you, did I, General?''
``She's entirely satisfactory,'' replied Siddall. ``I'm
going to make careful inquiries about her character and
her health. If those things prove to be all right I'm
ready to go ahead.''
``Then the thing's settled,'' said Presbury. ``She's
all that a lady should be. And except a cold now and
then she never has anything the matter with her. She
comes of good healthy stock.''
``I can't stand a sickly, ailing woman,'' said Siddall.
``I wouldn't marry one, and if one I married turned out
to be that kind, I'd make short work of her. When you
get right down to facts, what is a woman? Why, a
body. If she ain't pretty and well, she ain't nothing.
While I'm looking up her pedigree, so to speak, I want
you to get her mother to explain to her just what kind
of a man I am.''
``Certainly, certainly,'' said Presbury.
``Have her told that I don't put up with foolishness.
If she wants to look at a man, let her look at me.''
``You'll have no trouble in that way,'' said Presbury.
``I DID have trouble in that way,'' replied the general
sourly. ``Women are fools--ALL women. But the
principal trouble with the second Mrs. Siddall was that
she wasn't a lady born.''
``That's why I say you'll have no trouble,'' said
``Well, I want her mother to talk to her plainer than
a gentleman can talk to a young lady. I want her to
understand that I am marrying so that I can have a
WIFE--cheerful, ready, and healthy. I'll not put up
with foolishness of any kind.''
``I understand,'' said Presbury. ``You'll find that
she'll meet all your conditions.''
``Explain to her that, while I'm the easiest, most
liberal-spending man in the world when I'm getting
what I want, I am just the opposite when I'm not
getting what I pay for. If I take her and if she acts right,
she'll have more of everything that women want than
any woman in the world. I'd take a pride in my wife.
There isn't anything I wouldn't spend in showing her
off to advantage. And I'm willing to be liberal with
her mother, too.''
Presbury had been hoping for this. His eyes sparkled.
``You're a prince, General,'' he said. ``A genuine
prince. You know how to do things right.''
``I flatter myself I do,'' said the general. ``I've
been up and down the world, and I tell you most of the
kings live cheap beside me. And when I get a wife
worth showing of, I'll do still better. I've got wonderful
creative ability. There isn't anything I can't and
Presbury noted uneasily how cold and straight, how
obviously repelled and repelling the girl was as she
yielded her fingers to Siddall at the leave-taking. He
and her mother covered the silence and ice with hot and
voluble sycophantry. They might have spared themselves
the exertion. To Siddall Mildred was at her
most fascinating when she was thus ``the lady and the
queen.'' The final impression she made upon him was
the most favorable of all.
In the cab Mrs. Presbury talked out of the fullness
of an overflowing heart. ``What a remarkable man
the general is!'' said she. ``You've only to look at
him to realize that you're in the presence of a really
superior person. And what tact he has!--and how
generous he is!--and how beautifully he entertains!
So much dignity--so much simplicity--so much--''
``Fiddlesticks!'' interrupted Presbury. ``Your
daughter isn't a damn fool, Mrs. Presbury.''
Mildred gave a short, dry laugh.
Up flared her mother. ``I mean every word I said!''
cried she. ``If I hadn't admired and appreciated him,
I'd certainly not have acted as I did. _I_ couldn't stoop
to such hypocrisy.''
``Fiddlesticks!'' sneered Presbury. ``Bill Siddall is
a horror. His house is a horror. His dinner was a
horror. These loathsome rich people! They're ruining
the world--as they always have. They're making
it impossible for anyone to get good service or good
food or good furniture or good clothing or good
anything. They don't know good things, and they pay
exorbitant prices for showy trash, for crude vulgar
luxury. They corrupt taste. They make everyone
round them or near them sycophants and cheats. They
substitute money for intelligence and discrimination.
They degrade every fine thing in life. Civilization is
built up by brains and hard work, and along come the
rich and rot and ruin it!''
Mildred and her mother were listening in astonishment.
Said the mother:
``I'd be ashamed to confess myself such a hypocrite.''
``And I, madam, would be ashamed to be such a
hypocrite without taking a bath of confession afterward,''
``At least you might have waited until Mildred
wasn't in hearing,'' snapped she.
``I shall marry him if I can,'' said Mildred.
``And blissfully happy you'll be,'' said Presbury.
``Women, ladies--true ladies, like you and your
mother--have no sensibilities. All you ask is luxury.
If Bill Siddall were a thousand times worse than he is,
his money would buy him almost any refined, delicate
lady anywhere in Christendom.''
Mrs. Presbury laughed angrily. ``YOU, talking like
this--you of all men. Is there anything YOU wouldn't
stoop to for money?''
``Do you think I laid myself open to that charge by
marrying you?'' said Presbury, made cheerful despite
his savage indigestion by the opportunity for effective
insult she had given him and he had promptly seized.
``I am far too gallant to agree with you. But I'm
also too gallant to contradict a lady. By the way,
you must be careful in dealing with Siddall. Rich people
like to be fawned on, but not to be slobbered on.
You went entirely too far.''
Mrs. Presbury, whom indigestion had rendered stupid,
could think of no reply. So she burst into tears.
``And my own daughter sitting silent while that man
insults her mother!'' she sobbed.
Mildred sat stiff and cold.
``It'll be a week before I recover from that dinner,''
Presbury went on sourly. ``What a dinner! What a
villainous mess! These vulgar, showy rich! That
champagne! He said it cost him six dollars a bottle,
and no doubt it did. I doubt if it ever saw France.
The dealers rarely waste genuine wine on such cattle.
The wine-cellars of fine houses the world through are
the laughing-stock of connoisseurs--like their picture-
galleries and their other attempts to make money do the
work of taste. I forgot to put my pills in my bag.
I'll have to hunt up an all-night drug-store. I'd not
dare go to bed without taking an antidote for that
But Presbury had not been altogether improvident.
He had hoped great things of Bill Siddall's wine-cellar
--this despite an almost unbroken series of bitter
disillusionments and disappointments in experience with
those who had the wealth to buy, if they had had the
taste to select, the fine wines he loved. So, resolving
to indulge himself, he had put into his bag his pair of
This was a device of his own inventing, on which he
prided himself. It consisted of a pair of roomy doe-
skin slippers reenforced with heavy soles and provided
with a set of three thin insoles to be used according as
the state of his toes made advisable. The cost of the
Presbury gout-boot had been, thanks to patient search
for a cheap cobbler, something under four dollars--
this, when men paid shoe specialists twenty, thirty, and
even forty dollars a pair for gout-boots that gave less
comfort. The morning after the dinner at which he
had drunk to drown his chagrin and to give him courage
and tongue for sycophantry, he put on the boots.
Without them it would have been necessary to carry him
from his room to a cab and from cab to train. With
them he was able to hobble to a street-car. He tried
to distract his mind from his sufferings by lashing
away without ceasing at his wife and his step-daughter.
When they were once more at home, and the mother
and daughter escaped from him, the mother said:
``I was glad to see that you put up with that wretch,
and didn't answer him back.''
``Of course,'' said Mildred. ``He's mad to be rid
of me, but if I offended him he might snatch away this
``He would,'' said Mrs. Presbury. ``I'm sure he
would. But--'' she laughed viciously--``once you're
married you can revenge yourself--and me!''
``I wonder,'' said Mildred thoughtfully.
``Why not?'' exclaimed her mother, irritated.
``I can't make Mr. Presbury out,'' replied the girl.
``I understand why he's helping me to this chance, but
I don't understand why he isn't making friends with me,
in the hope of getting something after I'm married.''
Her mother saw the point, and was instantly agitated.
``Perhaps he's simply leading you on, intending to up-
set it all at the last minute.'' She gritted her teeth.
``Oh, what a wretch!''
Mildred was not heeding. ``I must have General
Siddall looked up carefully,'' she went on. ``It may
be that he isn't rich, or that he has another wife
somewhere, or that there's some other awful reason
why marrying him would be even worse than it
``Worse than it seems!'' cried her mother. ``How
CAN you talk so, Milly! The general seems to be an
ideal husband--simply ideal! I wish _I_ had your
chance. Any sensible woman could love him.''
A strange look came into the girl's face, and her
mother could not withstand her eyes. ``Don't, mother,''
she said quietly. ``Either you take me for a fool or
you are trying to show me that you have no self-
respect. I am not deceiving myself about what I'm doing.''
Mrs. Presbury opened her lips to remonstrate,
changed her mind, drew a deep sigh. ``It's frightful
to be a woman,'' she said.
``To be a lady, Mr. Presbury would say,'' suggested
After some discussion, they fixed upon Joseph Tilker
as the best available investigator of General Siddall.
Tilker had been head clerk for Henry Gower. He was
now in for himself and had offered to look after any
legal business Mrs. Presbury might have without
charging her. He presently reported that there was
not a doubt as to the wealth of the little general.
``There are all sorts of ugly stories about how he made
his money,'' said Tilker; ``but all the great fortunes
have a scandalous history, and I doubt if Siddall's is
any worse than the others. I don't see how it well could
be. Siddall has the reputation of being a mean and
cruel little tyrant. He is said to be pompous, vain,
``Indeed he's not,'' cried Mrs. Presbury. ``He's a
rough diamond, but a natural gentleman. I've met
``Well, he's rich enough, and that was all you asked
me to find out,'' said Tilker. ``But I must warn you,
Mrs. Presbury, not to have any business or intimate
personal relations with him.''
Mrs. Presbury congratulated herself on her wisdom
in having come alone to hear Tilker's report. She did
not repeat any part of it to Mildred except what he had
said about the wealth. That she enlarged upon until
Mildred's patience gave out. She interrupted with a
``Anything else, mamma? Anything about him personally?''
``We've got to judge him in that way for ourselves,''
replied Mrs. Presbury. ``You know how wickedly they
lie about anyone who has anything.''
``I should like to read a full account of General
Siddall,'' said Mildred reflectively; ``just to satisfy my
Mrs. Presbury made no reply.
Presbury had decided that it was best to make no
advance, but to wait until they heard from Siddall. He
let a week, ten days, go by; then his impatience got
the better of his shrewdness. He sought admittance
to the great man at the offices of the International
Metals and Minerals Company in Cedar Street. After
being subjected to varied indignities by sundry under-
strappers, he received a message from the general
through a secretary: ``The general says he'll let you
know when he's ready to take up that matter. He says
he hasn't got round to it yet.'' Presbury apologized
courteously for his intrusion and went away, cursing
under his breath. You may be sure that he made his
wife and his stepdaughter suffer for what he had been
through. Two weeks more passed--three--a month.
One morning in the mail there arrived this note--type-
written upon business paper:
JAMES PRESBURY, Esqr.:
General Siddall asks me to present his compliments
and to say that he will be pleased if you and your wife and
the young lady will dine with him at his house next Thursday
the seventeenth at half-past seven sharp.
ROBERT CHANDLESS, Secretary.
The only words in longhand were the two forming
the name of the secretary. Presbury laughed and
tossed the note across the breakfast table to his wife.
``You see what an ignorant creature he is,'' said he.
``He imagines he has done the thing up in grand style.
He's the sort of man that can't be taught manners
because he thinks manners, the ordinary civilities, are for
the lower orders of people. Oh, he's a joke, is Bill
Siddall--a horrible joke.''
Mrs. Presbury read and passed the letter to Mildred.
She simply glanced at it and returned it to her step-father.
``I'm just about over that last dinner,'' pursued
Presbury. ``I'll eat little Thursday and drink less.
And I'd advise you to do the same, Mrs. Presbury.''
He always addressed her as ``Mrs. Presbury''
because he had discovered that when so addressed she
always winced, and, if he put a certain tone into his voice,
``That dinner aged you five years,'' he went on.
``Besides, you drank so much that it went to your head
and made you slather him with flatteries that irritated
him. He thought you were a fool, and no one is stupid
enough to like to be flattered by a fool.''
Mrs. Presbury bridled, swallowed hard, said mildly:
``We'll have to spend the night in town again, I suppose.''
``You and your daughter may do as you like,'' said
Presbury. ``I shall return here that night. I always
catch cold in strange beds.''
``We might as well all return here,'' said Mildred.
``I shall not wear evening dress; that is, I'll wear a
high-neck dress and a hat.''
She had just got a new hat that was peculiarly
becoming to her. She had shown Siddall herself at the
best in evening attire; another sort of costume would
give him a different view of her looks, one which she
flattered herself was not less attractive. But Presbury
interposed an emphatic veto.
``You'll wear full evening dress,'' said he. ``Bare
neck and arms for men like Bill Siddall. They want
to see what they're getting.''
Mildred flushed scarlet and her lips trembled as
though she were about to cry. In fact, her emotion
was altogether shame--a shame so poignant that even
Presbury was abashed, and mumbled something apologetic.
Nevertheless she wore a low-neck dress on Thursday
evening, one as daring as the extremely daring
fashions of that year permitted an unmarried woman
to wear. It seemed to her that Siddall was still more
costly and elegant-looking than before, though this
may have been due to the fact that he always created an
impression that in the retrospect of memory seemed
exaggerated. It seemed impossible that anyone could be
so clean, so polished and scoured, so groomed and
tailored, so bedecked, so high-heeled and loftily coiffed.
His mean little countenance with its grotesquely waxed
mustache and imperial wore an expression of gracious
benignity that assured his guests they need anticipate
no disagreeable news.
``I owe you an apology for keeping you in suspense
so long,'' said he. ``I'm a very busy man, with
interests in all parts of the world. I keep house--
some of 'em bigger than this--open and going in sis
different places. I always like to be at home wherever
my business takes me.''
Mrs. Presbury rolled her eyes. ``Isn't that WONDERFUL!''
she exclaimed. ``What an interesting life you
``Oh, so--so,'' replied the general. ``But I get
awful lonesome. I'm naturally a domestic man. I
don't care for friends. They're expensive and dangerous.
A man in my position is like a king. He can't
have friends. So, if he hasn't got a family, he hasn't
``Nothing like home life,'' said Presbury.
``Yes, indeed,'' cried Mrs. Presbury.
The little general smiled upon Mildred, sitting pale
and silent, with eyes downcast. ``Well, I don't intend
to be alone much longer, if I can help it,'' said he.
``And I may say that I can make a woman happy if
she's the right sort--if she has sense enough to
appreciate a good husband.'' This last he said sternly,
with more than a hint of his past matrimonial misfortunes
in his frown and in his voice. ``The trouble with
a great many women is that they're fools--flighty,
ungrateful fools. If I married a woman like that, I'd
make short work of her.''
``And she'd deserve it, General,'' said Mildred's
mother earnestly. ``But you'll have no trouble if you
select a lady--a girl who's been well brought up and
has respect for herself.''
``That's my opinion, ma'am,'' said the general.
``I'm convinced that while a man can become a gentleman,
a woman's got to be born a lady or she never is
``Very true, General,'' cried Mrs. Presbury. ``I
never thought of it before, but it's the truest thing I
Presbury grinned at his plate. He stole a glance at
Mildred. Their eyes met. She flushed faintly.
``I've had a great deal of experience of women,'' pur-
sued the general. ``In my boyhood days I was a ladies'
man. And of course since I've had money they've
swarmed round me like bees in a clover-patch.''
``Oh, General, you're far too modest,'' cried Mrs.
Presbury. ``A man like you wouldn't need to be
afraid, if he hadn't a cent.''
``But not the kind of women I want,'' replied he,
firmly if complacently. ``A lady needs money to keep
up her position. She has to have it. On the other
hand, a man of wealth and station needs a lady to
assist him in the proper kind of life for men of his sort.
So they need each other. They've got to have each
other. That's the practical, sensible way to look at it.''
``Exactly,'' said Presbury.
``And I've made up my mind to marry, and marry
right away. But we'll come back to this later on.
Presbury, you're neglecting that wine.''
``I'm drinking it slowly to enjoy it better,'' said Presbury.
The dinner was the same unending and expensive
function that had wearied them and upset their digestions
on Thanksgiving Day. There was too much of
everything, and it was all just wrong. The general
was not quite so voluble as he had been before; his gaze
was fixed most of the time on Mildred--roving from
her lovely face to her smooth, slender shoulders and back
again. As he drank and ate his gesture of slightly
smacking his thin lips seemed to include an enjoyment
of the girl's charms. And a sensitive observer might
have suspected that she was not unconscious of this and
was suffering some such pain as if abhorrent and cruel
lips and teeth were actually mouthing and mumbling
her. She said not a word from sitting down at table
until they rose to go into the library for coffee.
``Do tell me about your early life, General,'' Mrs.
Presbury said. ``Only the other day Millie was saying
she wished she could read a biography of your romantic
``Yes, it has been rather--unusual,'' conceded the
general with swelling chest and gently waving dollar-
``I do so ADMIRE a man who carves out his own
fortune,'' Mrs. Presbury went on--she had not obeyed
her husband's injunction as to the champagne. ``It
seems so wonderful to me that a man could with his own
hands just dig a fortune out of the ground.''
``He couldn't, ma'am,'' said the general, with
gracious tolerance. ``It wasn't till I stopped the fool
digging and hunting around for gold that I began to get
ahead. I threw away the pick and shovel and opened
a hotel.'' (There were two or three sleeping-rooms of
a kind in that ``hotel,'' but it was rather a saloon of
the species known as ``doggery.'') ``Yes, it was in the
hotel that I got my start. The fellows that make the
money in mining countries ain't the prospectors and
``Really!'' cried Mrs. Presbury breathlessly. ``How
``They're fools, they are,'' proceeded the general.
``No, the money's made by the fellows that grub-stake
the fools--give 'em supplies and send 'em out to nose
around in the mountains. Then them that find any-
thing have to give half to the fellow that did the grub-
staking. And he looks into the claim, and if there's
anything in it, why, he buys the fool out. In mines,
like everywhere else, ma'am, it ain't work, it's brains
that makes the money. No miner ever made a mining
fortune--not one. It's the brainy, foxy fellows that
stay back in the camps. I used to send out fifty and a
hundred men a year. Maybe only two or three'd turn
up anything worth while. No, ma'am, I never got a
dollar ahead on my digging. All the gold I ever dug
went right off for grub--or a good time.''
``Wonderful!'' exclaimed Mrs. Presbury. ``I never
heard of such a thing.''
``But we're not here to talk about mines,'' said the
general, his eyes upon Mildred. ``I've been looking
into matters--to get down to business--and I've
asked you here to let you know that I'm willing to go
Profound silence. Mildred suddenly drew in her
breath with a sound so sharp that the three others
started and glanced hastily at her. But she made no
further sign. She sat still and cold and pale.
The general, perfectly at ease, broke the silence.
``I think Miss Gower and I would get on faster
Presbury at once stood up; his wife hesitated, her
eyes uneasily upon her daughter. Presbury said:
``Come on, Alice.'' She rose and preceded him into the
adjoining conservatory. The little general posed
himself before the huge open fire, one hand behind him,
the other at the level of his waistcoat, the big cigar be-
tween his first and second fingers. ``Well, my dear?''
Mildred somewhat hesitatingly lifted her eyes; but,
once she had them up, their gaze held steadily enough
upon his--too steadily for his comfort. He addressed
himself to his cigar:
``I'm not quite ready to say I'm willing to go the
limit,'' said he. ``We don't exactly know each other
sufficiently well as yet, do we?''
``No,'' said Mildred.
``I've been making inquiries,'' he went on; ``that is,
I had my chief secretary make them--and he's a very
thorough man, thanks to my training. He reports
everything entirely all right. I admire dignity and
reserve in a woman, and you have been very particular.
Were you engaged to Stanley Baird?''
Mildred flushed, veiled her eyes to hide their resentful
flash at this impertinence. She debated with herself,
decided that any rebuke short of one that would
anger him would be wasted upon him. ``No,'' said she.
``That agrees with Harding's report,'' said the
general. ``It was a mere girlish flirtation--very dignified
and proper,'' he hastened to add. ``I don't mean
to suggest that you were at all flighty.''
``Thank you,'' said Mildred sweetly.
``Are there any questions you would like to ask about
me?'' inquired he.
``No,'' said Mildred.
``As I understand it--from my talk with Presbury
--you are willing to go on?''
``Yes,'' said Mildred.
The general smiled genially. ``I think I may say
without conceit that you will like me as you know me
better. I have no bad habits--I've too much regard
for my health to over-indulge or run loose. In my
boyhood days I may have put in rather a heavy sowing
of wild oats''--the general laughed; Mildred conjured
up the wintriest and faintest of echoing smiles--``but
that's all past,'' he went on, ``and there's nothing that
could rise up to interfere with our happiness. You are
fond of children?''
A pause, then Mildred said quite evenly, ``Yes.''
``Excellent,'' said the general. ``I'll expect you and
your mother and father to dinner Sunday night. Is
``Yes,'' said Mildred.
A longish pause. Then the general: ``You seem to
be a little--afraid of me. I don't know why it is that
people are always that way with me.'' A halt, to give
her the opportunity to say the obvious flattering thing.
Mildred said nothing, gave no sign. He went on: ``It
will wear away as we know each other better. I am a
simple, plain man--kind and generous in my instincts.
Of course I am dignified, and I do not like familiarity.
But I do not mean to inspire fear and awe.''
A still longer pause. ``Well, everything is settled,''
said the general. ``We understand each other clearly?
--not an engagement, nothing binding on either side
--simply a--a--an option without forfeit.'' And
he laughed--his laugh was a ghoulish sound, not loud
but explosive and an instant check upon demonstration
of mirth from anyone else.
``I understand,'' said Mildred with a glance toward
the door through which Presbury and his wife had disappeared.
``Now, we'll join the others, and I'll show you the
house''--again the laugh--``what may be your future
home--one of them.''
The four were soon started upon what was for three
of them a weariful journey despite the elevator that
spared them the ascents of the stairways. The house
was an exaggerated reproduction of all the establishments
of the rich who confuse expenditure with luxury
and comfort. Bill Siddall had bought ``the best of
everything''; that is, the things into which the purveyors
of costly furnishings have put the most excuses for
charging. Of taste, of comfort, of discrimination,
there were few traces and these obviously accidental.
``I picked out the men acknowledged to be the best in
their different lines,'' said the general, ``and I gave them
``I see that at a glance,'' said Presbury. ``You've
done the grand thing on the grandest possible scale.''
``I've looked into the finest of the famous places on
the other side,'' said the general. ``All I can say is,
I've had no regrets.''
``I should say not,'' cried Mrs. Presbury.
With an affectation of modest hesitation--to show
that he was a gentleman with a gentleman's fine appreciation
of the due of maiden modesty--Siddall paused
at the outer door of his own apartments. But at one
sentence of urging from Mrs. Presbury he opened the
door and ushered them in. And soon he was showing
them everything--his Carrara marble bathroom and
bathing-pool, his bed that had been used by several
French kings, his dressing-room with its appliances of
gold and platinum and precious stones, his clothing.
They had to inspect a room full of suits, huge
chiffoniers crowded with shirts and ties and underclothes.
He exhibited silk dressing-robes and pajamas, pointed
out the marks of the fashionable London and Paris
makers, the monograms, the linings of ermine and sable.
``I'm very particular about everything that touches
me,'' explained he. ``It seems to me a gentleman can't
be too particular.'' With a meaning glance at Mildred,
``And I'd feel the same way about my wife.''
``You hear that, Mildred?'' said Presbury, with a
nasty little laugh. He had been relieving the tedium
of this sight-seeing tour by observing--and from time
to time aggravating--Mildred's sufferings.
The general released his mirth-strangling goat laugh;
Mrs. Presbury echoed it with a gale of rather wild
hysterics. So well pleased was the general with the excursion
and so far did he feel advanced toward intimacy that on
the way down the majestic marble stairway he ventured
to give Mildred's arm a gentle, playful squeeze. And at
the parting he kissed her hand. Presbury had changed
his mind about returning to the country. On the way
to the hotel he girded at Mildred, reviewing all that the
little general had said and done, and sneering, jeering
at it. Mildred made not a single retort until they
were upstairs in the hotel. At the door to her room
she said to Presbury--said it in a quiet, cold, terrible
``If you really want me to go through with this
thing, you will stop insulting him and me. If you do it
again, I'll give up--and go on the streets before I'll
Presbury shrugged his shoulders and went on to the
other room. But he did not begin again the next day,
and from that time forth avoided reference to the
general. In fact, there was an astonishing change in his
whole demeanor. He ceased to bait his wife, became
polite, even affable. If he had conducted himself thus
from the outset, he would have got far less credit, would
have made far less progress toward winning the liking
of his wife, and of her daughter, than he did in a brief
two weeks of change from petty and malignant tyrant
to good-natured, interestingly talkative old gentleman.
After the manner of human nature, Mildred and her
mother, in their relief, in their pleasure through this
amazing sudden and wholly unexpected geniality, not
merely forgave but forgot all they had suffered at his
hands. Mildred was not without a suspicion of the
truth that this change, inaugurated in his own good
time, was fresh evidence of his contempt for both of
them--of his feeling that he could easily make reparation
with a little kindness and decency and put himself
in the way of getting any possible benefits from the
rich alliance. But though she practically knew what
was going on in his mind, she could not prevent herself
from softening toward him.
Now followed a succession of dinners, of theater- and
opera-goings, of week-ends at the general's new country
palace in the fashionable region of Long Island.
All these festivities were of the same formal and tedious
character. At all the general was the central sun with
the others dim and draggled satellites, hardly more
important than the outer rim of satellite servants. He
did most of the talking; he was the sole topic of
conversation; for when he was not talking about himself
he wished to be hearing about himself. If Mildred had
not been seeing more and more plainly that other and
real personality of his, her contempt for him and for
herself would have grown beyond control. But, with
him or away from him, at every instant there was the
sense of that other real William Siddall--a shadowy
menace full of terror. She dreamed of it--was
startled from sleep by visions of a monstrous and
mighty distortion of the little general's grotesque
exterior. ``I shall marry him if I can,'' she said to her
self. ``But--can I?'' And she feared and hoped
that she could not, that courage would fail her, or
would come to her rescue, whichever it was, and that
she would refuse him. Aside from the sense of her
body that cannot but be with any woman who is beautiful,
she had never theretofore been especially physical
in thought. That side of life had remained vague, as
she had never indulged in or even been strongly tempted
with the things that rouse it from its virginal sleep.
But now she thought only of her body, because that it
was, and that alone, that had drawn this prospective
purchaser, and his eyes never let her forget it. She
fell into the habit of looking at herself in the glass--
at her face, at her shoulders, at her whole person, not
in vanity but in a kind of wonder or aversion. And
in the visions, both the waking and the sleeping, she
reached the climax of horror when the monster touched
her--with clammy, creepy fingers, with munching lips,
with the sharp ends of the mustache or imperial.
Said Mrs. Presbury to her husband, ``I'm afraid the
general will be irritated by Mildred's unresponsiveness.''
``Don't worry,'' replied Presbury. ``He's so crazy
about himself that he imagines the whole world is in the
``Isn't it strange that he doesn't give her presents?
Never anything but candy and flowers.''
``And he never will,'' said Presbury.
``Not until they're married, I suppose.''
Presbury was silent.
``I can't help thinking that if Milly were to rouse
herself and show some--some liking--or at least
interest, it'd be wiser.''
``She's taking the best possible course,'' said
Presbury. ``Unconsciously to both of them, she's leading
him on. He thinks that's the way a lady should act--
Mildred's attitude was simple inertia. The most
positive effort she made was avoiding saying or doing
anything to displease him--no difficult matter, as she
was silent and almost lifeless when he was near. Without
any encouragement from her he gradually got a
deep respect for her--which meant that he became
convinced of her coldness and exclusiveness, of her
absolute trustworthiness. Presbury was more profoundly
right than he knew. The girl pursued the only course
that made possible the success she longed for, yet
dreaded and loathed. For at the outset Siddall had
not been nearly so strongly in earnest in his matrimonial
project as he had professed and had believed
himself. He wished to marry, wished to add to his
possessions the admirable show-piece and exhibition
opportunity afforded by the right sort of wife; but in the
bottom of his heart he felt that such a woman as he
dreamed of did not exist in all the foolish, fickle, and
shallow female sex. This girl--so cold, so proud,
beautiful yet not eager to display her charms or to have
them praised--she was the rare bird he sought.
In a month he asked her to marry him; that is, he
said: ``My dear, I find that I am ready to go the
limit--if you are.'' And she assented. He put his
arm around her and kissed her cheek--and was
delighted to discover that the alluring embrace made no
impression upon the ice of her ``purity and ladylike
dignity.'' Up to the very last moment of the formal
courtship he held himself ready to withdraw should she
reveal to his watchfulness the slightest sign of having
any ``unladylike'' tendencies or feelings. She revealed
no such sign, but remained ``ladylike''; and certainly,
so the general reasoned, a woman who could thus resist
him, even in the license of the formal engagement, would
As soon as the engagement was formally concluded,
the general hurried on the preparations for the wedding.
He opened accounts at half a dozen shops in
New York--dressmakers, milliners, dealers in fine and
fashionable clothing of every kind--and gave them
orders to execute whatever commands Miss Gower or
her mother--for HER--might give them. When he
told her of this munificence and magnificence and paused
for the outburst of gratitude, he listened in vain.
Mildred colored to the roots of her hair and was silent, was
seeking the courage to refuse.
``I know that you and your people can't afford to do
the thing as things related to me must be done,'' he
went on to say. ``So I decided to just start in a little
early at what I've got to do anyhow. Not that I blame
you for your not having money, my dear. On the contrary,
that's one of your merits with me. I wouldn't
marry a woman with money. It puts the family life on
a wrong basis.''
``I had planned a quiet wedding,'' said Mildred.
``I'd much prefer it.''
``Now you can be frank with me, my dear,'' said the
general. ``I know you ladies--how cheated you feel
if you aren't married with all the frills and fixings.
So that's the way it shall be done.''
``Really,'' protested Mildred, ``I'm absolutely frank.
I wish it to be quite quiet--in our drawing-room, with
Siddall smiled, genial and tolerant. ``Don't argue
with me, my dear. I know what you want, and I'll see
that you get it. Go ahead with these shop-people I've
put at your disposal--and go as far as you like.
There isn't anything--ANYTHING--in the way of
clothes that you can't have--that you mustn't have.
Mrs. General Siddall is going to be the best-dressed
woman in the world--as she is the prettiest. I haven't
opened an account for you with Tiffany's or any of
those people. I'll look out for that part of the
``I don't care for jewelry,'' said Mildred.
``Naturally not for the kind that's been within your
means heretofore,'' replied he; ``but you'll open your
eyes when you see MY jewelry for MY wife. All in
good time, my dear. You and your mother must start
right in with the shopping; and, a week or so before
the wedding, I'll send my people down to transform the
house. I may be wrong, but I rather think that the
Siddall wedding will cause some talk.''
He was not wrong. Through his confidential
secretary, Harding the thorough, the newspaper press was
induced to take an interest in the incredible extravagance
Siddall was perpetrating in arranging for a fitting
wedding for General William Siddall. For many
days before the ceremony there were daily columns
about him and his romantic career and his romantic
wooing of the New Jersey girl of excellent family and
social position but of comparatively modest means.
The shopkeepers gave interviews on the trousseau. The
decorators and caterers detailed the splendors and the
costliness of the preparations of which they had charge.
From morning until dark a crowd hung round the house
at Hanging Rock, and on the wedding day the streets
leading to it were blocked--chiefly with people come
from a distance, many of them from New York.
At the outset all this noise was deeply distasteful to
Mildred, but after a few days she recovered her normal
point of view, forgot the kind of man she was marry-
ing in the excitement and exultation over her sudden
splendor and fame. So strongly did the delusion presently
become, that she was looking at the little general
with anything but unfavorable eyes. He seemed to her
a quaint, fascinating, benevolent necromancer, having
miraculous powers which he was exercising in her behalf.
She even reproached herself with ingratitude in not
being wildly in love with him. Would not any other
girl, in her place, have fallen over ears in love with
this marvelous man?
However, while she could not quite convince herself
that she loved, she became convinced without effort that
she was happy, that she was going to be still happier.
The excitement wrought her into a state of exaltation
and swept her through the wedding ceremony and the
going away as radiant a bride as a man would care to
There is much to be said against the noisy, showy
wedding. Certainly love has rarely been known to
degrade himself to the point of attending any such. But
there is something to be said for that sort of married
start--for instance, where love is neither invited nor
desired, an effort must be made to cover the painful
vacancy his absence always causes.
The little general's insistence on a ``real wedding''
was most happy for him. It probably got him his
THE intoxication of that wedding held on long enough
and strongly enough to soften and blunt the disillusionments
of the first few days of the honeymoon. In the
prospect that period had seemed, even to Mildred's
rather unsophisticated imagination, appalling beyond
her power to endure. In the fact--thanks in large
part to that intoxication--it was certainly not
unendurable. A human being, even an innocent young girl,
can usually bear up under any experience to which a
human being can be subjected. The general in pajamas--
of the finest silk and of pigeon's-egg blue
with a vast gorgeous monogram on the pocket--was
more grotesque, rather than more repellent, than the
general in morning or evening attire. Also he--that
is, his expert staff of providers of luxury--had
arranged for the bride a series of the most ravishing
sensations in whisking her, like the heroine of an Arabian
Night's tale, from straitened circumstances to the very
paradise of luxury.
The general's ideas on the subject of woman were old
fashioned, of the hard-shell variety. Woman was made
for luxury, and luxury was made for woman. His
woman must be the most divinely easeful of the luxurious.
At all times she must be fit and ready for any
and every sybaritic idea that might enter her husband's
head--and other purpose she had none. When she
was not directly engaged in ministering to his joy she
must be busy preparing herself for his next call upon
her. A woman was a luxury, was the luxury of
luxuries, must have and must use to their uttermost all
capacities for gratifying his senses and his vanity.
Alone with him, she must make him constantly feel how
rich and rare and expensive a prize he had captured.
When others were about, she must be constantly making
them envy and admire him for having exclusive
rights in such wonderful preserves. All this with an
inflexible devotion to the loftiest ideals of chastity.
But the first realizations of her husband's notions as
to women were altogether pleasant. As she entered the
automobile in which they went to the private car in the
special train that took them to New York and the
steamer--as she entered that new and prodigally
luxurious automobile, she had a first, keen sense of her
changed position. Then there was the superb private
car--her car, since she was his wife--and there was
the beautiful suite in the magnificent steamer. And at
every instant menials thrusting attentions upon her,
addressing her as if she were a queen, revealing in their
nervous tones and anxious eyes their eagerness to please,
their fear of displeasing. And on the steamer, from
New York to Cherbourg, she was never permitted to
lose sight of the material splendors that were now hers.
All the servants, all the passengers, reminded her by
their looks, their tones. At Paris, in the hotel, in the
restaurants, in the shops--especially in the shops--
those snobbish instincts that are latent in the sanest
and the wisest of us were fed and fattened and pampered
until her head was quite turned. And the general
began to buy jewels for her. Such jewels--
ropes of diamonds and pearls and emeralds, rings such
as she had never dreamed existed! Those shopping
excursions of theirs in the Rue de la Paix would make such
a tale as your ordinary simple citizen, ignorant of the
world's resources in luxury and therefore incredulous
about them, would read with a laugh at the extravagance
of the teller.
Before the intoxication of the wedding had worn
away it was re-enforced by the intoxication of the honey-
moon--not an intoxication of love's providing, but
one exceeding potent in its influence upon our weak
human brains and hearts, one from which the strongest
of us, instead of sneering at poor Mildred, would better
be praying to be delivered.
At her marriage she had a few hundred dollars left
of her patrimony--three hundred and fifty and odd,
to be more exact. She spent a little money of her own
here and there--in tips, in buying presents for her
mother, in picking up trifles for her own toilet. The
day came when she looked in her purse and found two
one-franc pieces, a fifty-franc note, and a few coppers.
And suddenly she sat back and stared, her mouth open
like her almost empty gold bag, which the general had
bought her on their first day in the Rue de la Paix.
About ten dollars in all the world, and the general had
forgotten to speak--or to make any arrangement, at
least any arrangement of which she was aware--about
a further supply of money.
They had been married nearly a month. He knew
that she was poor. Why hadn't he said something or,
better still, DONE something? Doubtless he had simply
forgotten. But since he had forgotten for a month,
might he not continue to forget? True, he had himself
been poor at one time in his life, very poor, and
that for a long time. But it had been so many years
ago that he had probably lost all sense of the meaning
of poverty. She frowned at this evidence of his lack
of the finer sensibilities--by no means the first time
that lack had been disagreeably thrust upon her. Soon
she would be without money--and she must have money
--not much, as all the serious expenses were looked
after by the general, but still a little money. How
could she get it? How could she remind him of his
neglect without seeming to be indelicate? It was a
difficult problem. She worked at it more and more
continuously, and irritably, and nervously, as the days
went by and her fifty-two francs dwindled to five.
She lay awake, planning long and elaborate
conversations that would imperceptibly lead him up to where
he must see what she needed without seeing that he had
been led. She carried out these ingenious conversations.
She led him along, he docilely and unsuspectingly
following. She brought him up to where it
seemed to her impossible for any human being endowed
with the ordinary faculties to fail to see what was so
plainly in view. All in vain. General William Siddall
gazed placidly--and saw nothing.
Several days of these failures, and with her funds
reduced to a fifty-centime piece and a two-sous copper
she made a frontal attack. When they went forth for
the day's shopping she left her gold bag behind. After
an hour or so she said:
``I've got to go to the Galleries Lafayette for some
little things. I shan't ask you to sacrifice yourself. I
know you hate those stuffy, smelly big shops.''
``Very well,'' said he. ``I'll use the time in a call
on my bankers.''
As they were about to separate, she taking the motor
and he walking, she made a face of charming dismay
and said: ``How provoking! I've left my bag at the
Instead of the expected prompt offer of money he
said, ``It'll only take you a minute or so to drive there.''
``But it's out of the way,'' she replied. ``I'll need
only a hundred francs or so.''
Said he: ``I've an account at the Bon Marche. Go
there and have the things charged. It's much the best
big shop in Paris.''
``Very well,'' was all she could trust herself to say.
She concealed her anger beneath a careless smile and
drove away. How dense he was! Could anything be
more exasperating--or more disagreeable? What
SHOULD she do? The situation was intolerable; yet how
could it be ended, except by a humiliating direct
request for money? She wondered how young wives
habitually dealt with this problem, when they happened to
marry husbands so negligent, not to say underbred, as
to cause them the awkwardness and the shame. There
followed several days during which the money idea was
an obsession, nagging and grinning at her every in-
stant. The sight of money gave her a peculiar itching
sensation. When the little general paid for anything
--always drawing out a great sheaf of bank notes in
doing it--she flushed hot and cold, her glance fell
guiltily and sought the money furtively. At last her
desperation gave birth to an inspiration.
About her and the general, or, rather, about the
general, revolved the usual rich man's small army of
satellites of various degrees--secretaries, butlers,
footmen, valets, other servants male and female, some of
them supposed to be devoted entirely to her service, but
all in fact looking ever to the little general. The
members of this company, regardless of differences of rank
and pay, were banded together in a sort of democratic
fellowship, talking freely with one another, on terms
of perfect equality. She herself had, curiously, gotten
on excellent terms with this motley fraternity and found
no small relief from the strain of the general's formal
dignity in talking with them with a freedom and ease
she had never before felt in the society of underlings.
The most conspicuous and most agreeable figure in this
company was Harding, the general's factotum. Why
not lay the case before Harding? He was notably
sensible, and sympathetic--and discreet.
The following day she did so. Said she, blushing
furiously: ``Mr. Harding, I find myself in a very
embarrassing position. I wonder if you can help me?''
Harding, a young man and of one of the best blond
types, said: ``No doubt I can--and I'll be glad to.''
``The fact is''-- Her voice was trembling with
nervousness. She opened the gold bag, took out the little
silver pieces and the big copper piece, extended her pink
palm with them upon it--``there's all I've got left of
the money I brought with me.''
Harding gazed at the exhibit tranquilly. He was
chiefly remarkable for his perfect self-possession. Said
he: ``Do you wish me to cash a check for you?''
The stupidity of men! Tears of vexation gathered
in her eyes. When she could speak she faltered:
He was looking at her now--a grave, kind glance.
She somehow felt encouraged and heartened. She
went on: ``I was hoping--that--that the gen--
that my husband had said something to you and that
you perhaps had not thought to say anything to me.''
Their glances met, his movingly sympathetic and
understanding, hers piteously forlorn--the look of a
lovely girl, stranded and friendless in a far strange
land. Presently he said gently:
``Yes, he told me to say something to you--if you
should speak to me about this matter.'' His tone
caused in her heart a horrible stillness of suspense. He
went on: ``He said--I give you his exact words:
`If my wife should ask you for money, tell her my
ideas on the subject.' ''
A pause. She started up, crimson, her glance
darting nervously this way and that to avoid his. ``Never
mind. Really, it's of no importance. Thank you--
I'll get on very well--I'm sorry to have troubled
``Pardon me, Mrs. Siddall,'' he interposed, ``but I
think you'd best let me finish.''
She started to protest, she tried to move toward the
door. Her strength failed her, she sat down, waited,
nervously clasping and unclasping the costly, jewel-
``He has explained to me, many times,'' continued
Harding, ``that he believes women do not understand
the value of money and ought not to be trusted with it.
He proposes to provide everything for you, every
comfort and luxury--I am using his own language, Mrs.
Siddall--and he has open accounts at the principal
shops in every city where you will go--New York,
Washington, Chicago, Denver, Paris, London, Rome.
He says you are at liberty to get practically anything
you please at these shops, and he will pay the bills.
He thus entirely spares you the necessity of ever spending
any money. Should you see anything you wish at
some shop where he has no account, you can have it sent
collect, and I or my assistant, Mr. Drawl, will settle
for it. All he asks is that you use discretion in this
freedom. He says it would be extremely painful to
him to have to withdraw it.''
Harding had pronounced this long speech in a dry
monotonous voice, like one reading mechanically from
a dull book. As Mildred listened, her thoughts began
to whirl about the central idea until she fell into a kind
of stupor. When he finished she was staring vacantly
at the bag in her lap--the bag she was holding open
Harding continued: ``He also instructed me to say
something about his former--his experiences. The
first Mrs. Siddall he married when he was very young
and poor. As he grew rich, she became madly extravagant.
And as they had started on a basis on which she
had free access to his money he could not check her.
The result, finally, was a succession of bitter quarrels,
and they were about to divorce when she died. He
made the second Mrs. Siddall an allowance, a liberal
allowance. Her follies compelled him to withdraw it.
She resorted to underhanded means to get money from
him without his knowing it. He detected the fraud.
After a series of disagreeable incidents she committed
the indiscretion which caused him to divorce her. He
says that these experiences have convinced him that--''
``The second Mrs. Siddall,'' interrupted Mildred, ``is
she still alive?''
Harding hesitated. ``Yes,'' he said reluctantly.
``Is she--poor?'' asked Mildred.
``I should prefer not to--''
``Did the general forbid you to tell me?''
``On the contrary, he instructed me-- But I'd
rather not talk about it, Mrs. Siddall.''
``Is she poor?'' repeated Mildred.
``What became of her?''
A long pause. Then Harding said: ``She was a
poor girl when the general married her. After the
divorce she lived for a while with the man. But he had
nothing. They separated. She tried various kinds of
work--and other things. Since she lost her looks--
She writes from time to time, asking for money.''
``Which she never gets?'' said Mildred.
``Which she never gets,'' said Harding. ``Lately
she was cashier or head waitress in a cheap restaurant
in St. Louis.''
After a long silence Mildred said: ``I understand.
I understand.'' She drew a long breath. ``I shall
understand better as time goes on, but I understand fairly
``I need not tell you, Mrs. Siddall,'' said Harding in
his gentle, tranquil way, ``that the general is the kindest
and most generous of men, but he has his own methods--
as who has not?''
Mildred had forgotten that he was there--not a
difficult matter, when he had in its perfection the
secretarial manner of complete self-effacement. Said she
reflectively, like one puzzling out a difficult problem:
``He buys a woman, as he buys a dog or a horse.
He does not give his dog, his horse, pocket-money.
Why should he give his woman pocket-money?''
``Will it help matters, Mrs. Siddall, to go to the other
extreme and do him a grave injustice?''
She did not hear. At the picture presented to her
mind by her own thoughts she gave a short satirical
laugh. ``How stupid of me not to have understood
from the outset,'' said she. ``Why, I've often heard of
this very thing.''
``It is more and more the custom among men of large
property, I believe,'' said Harding. ``Perhaps, Mrs.
Siddall, you would not blame them if you were in their
position. The rich men who are careless--they ruin
everybody about them, I assure you. I've seen it again
But the young wife was absorbed in her own
thoughts. Harding, feeling her mood, did not interrupt.
After a while she said:
``I must ask you some questions. These jewels the
general has been buying--''
Harding made a movement of embarrassment and
protest. She smiled ironically and went on:
``One moment, please. Every time I wish to wear
any of them I have to go to him to get them. He asks
me to return them when I am undressing. He says it
is safer to keep everything in his strong box. I have
been assuming that that was the only reason. I begin
to suspect-- Am I right, Mr. Harding?''
``Really I can't say, Mrs. Siddall,'' said Harding.
``These are not matters to discuss with me, if you will
permit me to say so.''
``Oh, yes, they are,'' replied she laughingly.
``Aren't we all in the same boat?--all employes of
Harding made no reply.
Mildred was beside herself with a kind of rage that,
because outlet was necessary and because raving against
the little general would be absolutely futile, found outlet
in self-mockery and reckless sarcasm.
``I understand about the jewels, too,'' she went on.
``They are not mine. Nothing is mine. Everything,
including myself, belongs to him. If I give satisfaction
in the position for which I've been hired for my board
and clothes, I may continue to eat the general's food
and sleep in the general's house and wear the general's
jewels and dresses and ride in the general's traps and be
waited on by the general's servants. If I don't like my
place or he doesn't like my way of filling it''--she
laughed merrily, mockingly--``out I go--into the
streets--after the second Mrs. Siddall. And the general
will hire a new--'' She paused, cast about for a
word in vain, appealed to the secretary, ``What would
you call it, Mr. Harding?''
Harding rose, looking at her with a very soothing
tranquillity. ``If I were you, Mrs. Siddall,'' said he,
``I should get into the auto and go for a long drive--
out to the Bois--out to Versailles--a long, long
drive. I should be gone four or five hours at least, and
I should look at the thing from all sides. Especially,
I'd look at it from HIS standpoint.''
Mildred, somewhat quieter, but still mocking, said:
``If I should decide to quit, would my expenses be paid
back to where I was engaged? I fancy not.''
Harding looked grave. ``If you had had money
enough to pay your own expenses about, would you
have married him?'' said he. ``Isn't he paying--paying
liberally, Mrs. Siddall--for ALL he gets?''
Mildred, stung, drew herself up haughtily, gave him
a look that reminded him who she was and who he was.
But Harding was not impressed.
``You said a moment ago--truly--that we are all
in the same boat,'' observed he. ``I put those questions
to you because I honestly wish to help you--because
I wish you not to act foolishly, hastily.''
``Thank you, Mr. Harding,'' said Mildred coldly.
And with a slight nod she went, angry and ashamed
that she had so unaccountably opened up her secret
soul, bared its ugly wounds, before a man she knew so
slightly, a man in a position but one remove from
menial. However, she took his advice--not as to trying
to view the matter from all sides, for she was
convinced that there was only the one side, but as to
calming herself by a long drive alone in the woods and
along quiet roads. When she returned she was under
control once more.
She found the general impatiently awaiting her.
Many packages had come--from the jewelers, from
the furriers, from a shop whose specialty was the
thinnest and most delicate of hand-made underwear. The
general loved to open and inspect finery for her--
loved it more than he loved inspecting finery for
himself, because feminine finery was far more attractive
than masculine. To whet his pleasure to the keenest
she must be there to admire with him, to try on, to
exhibit. As she entered the salon where the little man
was fussing about among the packages, their glances
met. She saw that Harding had told him--at least in
discreet outline--of their conversation. She also saw
that if she reopened the subject she would find herself
straightway whirled out upon a stormy sea of danger
that might easily overwhelm her flimsy boat. She
silently and sullenly dropped into her place; she
ministered to the general's pleasure in packages of finery.
But she did not exclaim, or admire, or respond in any
way. The honeymoon was over. Her dream of wifehood
She understood now the look she so often had seen
on the faces of rich men's poor wives driving in state
in Fifth Avenue. That night, as she inspected herself
in the glass while the general's maid for her brushed
her long thick hair, she saw the beginnings of that look
in her own face. ``I don't know just what I am,'' she
said to herself. ``But I do know what I am not. I am
not a wife.''
She sent away the maid, and sat there in the dressing-
room before the mirror, waiting, her glance traveling
about and noting the profuse and prodigal luxury. In
the corner stood a circular rack loaded with dressing-
gowns--more than a score of exquisite combinations
of silk and lace or silk and chiffon. It so happened
that there was nowhere in sight a single article of her
apparel or for her toilet that was not bought with
the general's money. No, there were some hairpins
that she had paid for herself, and a comb with widely
separated teeth that she had chanced to see in a
window when she was alone one day. Anything else?
Yes, a two-franc box of pins. And that was all.
Everything else belonged to the general. In the closets,
in the trunks--all the general's, part of the trousseau
he had paid for. Not an undergarment; not an outer
garment; not a hat or a pair of shoes, not a wrap, not
a pair of gloves. All, the general's.
He was in the door of the dressing-room--the small
wiry figure in rose-silk pajamas. The mustache and
imperial were carefully waxed as always, day and night.
On the little feet were high-heeled slippers. On the
head was a rose-silk Neapolitan nightcap with gay tassel.
The nightcap hid the bald spot from which the lofty
toupee had been removed. A grotesque little figure,
but not grotesque to her. Through the mask of the
vain, boastful little face she saw the general watching
her, as she had seen him that afternoon when she came
in--the mysterious and terrible personality that had
made the vast fortune, that had ridden ruthlessly over
friend and foe, over man and woman and child--to the
goal of its desires.
``It's late, my dear?'' said the little man. ``Come
She rose to obey--she in the general's purchases of
filmy nightgown under a pale-pink silk dressing-gown.
He smiled with that curious noiseless mumbling and
smacking of the thin lips. She sat down again.
``Don't keep me waiting. It's chilly,'' he said,
advancing toward her.
``I shall sleep in here to-night--on the couch,'' said
she. She was trembling with fright at her own audacity.
She could see a fifty-centime piece and a copper
dancing before her eyes. She felt horribly alone and
weak, but she had no desire to retract the words with
which she had thrown down the gauntlet.
The little general halted. The mask dropped; the
man, the monster, looked at her. ``What's the matter?''
said he in an ominously quiet voice.
``Mr. Harding delivered your message to-day,'' said
she, and her steady voice astonished her. ``So I am
going back home.''
He waited, looking steadily at her.
``After he told me and I thought about it, I decided
to submit, but just now I saw that I couldn't. I don't
know what possesses me. I don't know what I'm going
to do, or how I'm going to do it. But it's all over
between us.'' She said this rapidly, fluently, in a
decisive way, quite foreign to her character as she had
``You are coming to bed, where you belong,'' said
``No,'' replied she, pressing herself against her chair
as if force were being used to drag her from it. She
cast about for something that would make yielding
impossible. ``You are--repulsive to me.''
He looked at her without change of countenance.
Said he: ``Come to bed. I ask you for the last time.''
There was no anger in his voice, no menace either
open or covert; simply finality--the last word of the
man who had made himself feared and secure in the
mining-camps where the equation of personal courage is
straightway applied to every situation. Mildred
shivered. She longed to yield, to stammer out some excuse
and obey him. But she could not; nor was she able
to rise from her chair. She saw in his hard eyes a look
of astonishment, of curiosity as to this unaccountable
defiance in one who had seemed docile, who had
apparently no alternative but obedience. He was not so
astonished at her as she was at herself. ``What is to
become of me?'' her terror-stricken soul was crying.
``I must do as he says--I must--yet I cannot!''
And she looked at him and sat motionless.
He turned away, moved slowly toward the door,
halted at the threshold to give her time, was gone. A
fit of trembling seized her; she leaned forward and
rested her arms upon the dressing-table or she would
have fallen from the chair to the floor. Yet, even as
her fear made her sick and weak, she knew that she
would not yield.
The cold drove her to the couch, to lie under half a
dozen of the dressing-gowns and presently to fall into
a sleep of exhaustion. When she awoke after what she
thought was a few minutes of unconsciousness, the
clamor of traffic in the Rue de Rivoli startled her. She
started up, glanced at the clock on the chimneypiece.
It was ten minutes past nine! When, by all the rules
governing the action of the nerves, she ought to have
passed a wakeful night she had overslept more than an
hour. Indeed, she had had the first sound and prolonged
sleep that had come to her since the honeymoon
began; for until then she had slept alone all her life
and the new order had almost given her chronic insomnia.
She rang for her maid and began to dress. The
maid did not come. She rang again and again;
apparently the bell was broken. She finished dressing and
went out into the huge, grandly and gaudily furnished
salon. Harding was at a carved old-gold and lacquer
desk, writing. As she entered he rose and bowed.
``Won't you please call one of the servants?'' said
she. ``I want my coffee. I guess the bell in my room
is broken. My maid doesn't answer.''
``No, the bell is not broken,'' said Harding.
She looked at him questioningly.
``The general has issued an order that nothing is
to be done in this apartment, and nothing served, unless
he personally authorizes it.''
Mildred paled, drew herself up in what seemed a
gesture of haughtiness but was an effort to muster her
strength. To save herself from the humiliation of a
breakdown before him, she hastily retreated by the way
she had come. After perhaps a quarter of an hour she
reappeared in the salon; she was now dressed for the
street. Harding looked up from his writing, rose and
bowed gravely. Said she:
``I am going out for a walk. I'll be back in an hour
``One moment,'' said Harding, halting her as she was
opening the door into the public hall. ``The general
has issued an order that if you go out, you are not to be
allowed to return.''
Her hand fell from the knob. With flashing eyes
she cried, ``But that is impossible!''
``It is his orders,'' said Harding, in his usual quiet
manner. ``And as he pays the bills he will be
She debated. Against her will, her trembling hand
sought the knob again. Against her will, her weak arm
began to draw the door open. Harding came toward
her, stood before her and looked directly into her eyes.
His eyes had dread and entreaty in them, but his voice
was as always when he said:
``You know him, Mrs. Siddall.''
``Yes,'' she said.
``The reason he has got ALL he wanted--whatever he
wanted--is that he will go to any length. Every other
human being, almost, has a limit, beyond which they will
not go--a physical fear or a moral fear or a fear of
public opinion. But the general--he has no limit.''
``Yes,'' she said. And deathly pale and almost stag-
gering she drew open the door and went out into the
``For God's sake, Mrs. Siddall!'' cried Harding, in
great agitation. ``Come in quickly. They are watching--
they will tell him! Are you mad?''
``I think I must be,'' said she. ``I am sick with fear.
I can hardly keep from dropping down here in a faint.
Yet--'' a strange look, a mingling of abject terror
and passionate defiance, gave her an aspect quite insane
--``I am going. Perhaps I, too, have no limit.''
And she went along the corridor, past a group of
gaping and frightened servants, down the stairway and
out by the private entrance for the grand apartments
of the hotel in the Rue Raymond de l'Isle. She crossed
the Rue de Rivoli and entered the Tuileries Gardens.
It was only bracingly cool in the sunshine of that
winter day. She seated herself on a chair on the
terrace to regain her ebbed strength. Hardly had she
sat down when the woman collector came and stood waiting
for the two sous for the chair. Mildred opened her
bag, found two coins. She gave the coppers to the
woman. The other--all the money she had--was the
``But the bag--I can get a good deal for that,'' she
``I beg your pardon--I didn't catch that.''
She came back to a sense of her surroundings. Stanley
Baird was standing a few feet away, smiling down
at her. He was, if possible, even more attractively
dressed than in the days when he hovered about her,
hoping vague things of which he was ashamed and try-
ing to get the courage to put down his snobbishness and
marry her because she so exactly suited him. He was
wearing a new kind of collar and tie, striking yet in
excellent quiet taste. Also, his face and figure had filled
out just enough--he had been too thin in the former
days. But he was now entered upon that period of the
fearsome forties when, unless a man amounts to something,
he begins to look insignificant. He did not
amount to anything; he was therefore paling and waning
as a personality.
``Was I thinking aloud?'' said Mildred, as she gave
him her hand.
``You said something about `getting a good deal.' ''
He inspected her with the freedom of an old friend and
with the thoroughness of a connoisseur. Women who
took pains with themselves and were satisfied with the
results liked Stanley Baird's knowing and appreciative
way of noting the best points in their toilets. ``You're
looking fine,'' declared he. ``It must be a pleasure to
them up in the Rue de la Paix to dress you. That's
more than can be said for nine out of ten of the women
who go there. Yes, you're looking fine--and in grand
health, too. Why, you look younger than I ever saw
you. Nothing like marriage to freshen a girl up.
Well, I suppose waiting round for a husband who may
or may not turn up does wear a woman down.''
``It almost killed me,'' laughed Mildred. ``And you
were largely responsible.''
``I?'' said Baird. ``You didn't want me. I was too
old for you.''
``No, I didn't want you,'' said Mildred. ``But you
spoiled me. I couldn't endure the boys of my own
Stanley was remembering that Mildred had married
a man much older than he. With some notion of a careless
sort of tact in mind he said, ``I was betwixt and
between--neither young enough nor old enough.''
``You've married, too, since we met. By the way,
thank you again for that charming remembrance.
You always did have such good taste. But why
didn't you come to the wedding--you and your
He laughed. ``We were busy busting up,'' said he.
``You hadn't heard? It's been in the papers. She's
gone back to her people. Oh, nothing disgraceful on
either side. Simply that we bored each other to death.
She was crazy about horses and dogs, and that set. I
think the stable's the place for horses--don't care to
have 'em parading through the house all the time, every
room, every meal, sleeping and waking. And dogs--
the infernal brutes always have fleas. Fleas only tickled
her, but they bite me--raise welts and hills. There's
your husband now, isn't it?''
Baird was looking up at the windows of the
Continental, across the street. Mildred's glance slowly and
carelessly followed his. At one window stood the little
general, gazing abstractedly out over the gardens. At
another window Mildred saw Harding; at a third, her
maid; at a fourth, Harding's assistant, Drawl; at a
fifth, three servants of the retinue. Except the general,
all were looking at her.
``You've married a very extraordinary man,'' said
Baird, in a correct tone of admiration. ``One of the
ablest and most interesting men we've got, _I_ think.''
``So you are free again?'' said Mildred, looking at
him with a queer, cold smile.
``Yes, and no,'' replied Stanley. ``I hope to be
entirely free. It's her move next. I'm expecting it
every day. But I'm thoroughly respectable. Won't
you and the general dine with me?''
``Thanks, but I'm sailing for home to-morrow or
``That's interesting,'' said Baird, with enthusiasm.
``So am I. What ship do you go on?''
``I don't know yet. I'm to decide this afternoon,
after lunch.'' She laughed. ``I'm sitting here waiting
for someone to ask me to lunch. I've not had even
``Lunch with me!'' cried Baird. ``I'll go get the
general--I know him slightly.''
``I didn't say anything about the general,'' said Mildred.
Stanley smiled apologetically. ``It wouldn't do for
you to go about with me--not when my missus is looking
for grounds for divorce.''
``Why not?'' said Mildred. ``So's my husband.''
``You busted up, too? Now, that's what _I_ call
jolly.'' And he cast a puzzled glance up at the
abstracted general. ``I say, Mildred, this is no place for
either of us, is it?''
``I'd rather be where there's food,'' confessed she.
``You think it's a joke, but I assure you-- Oh,
you WERE joking--about YOUR bust-up?''
``No, indeed,'' she assured him. ``I walked out a
while ago, and I couldn't go back if I would--and I
don't think I would if I could.''
``That's foolish. Better go back,'' advised he. He
was preparing hastily to decamp from so perilous a
neighborhood. ``One marriage is about like another,
once you get through the surface. I'm sure you'll be
better off than--back with your stepfather.''
``I've no intention of going to his house,'' she declared.
``Oh, there's your brother. I forgot.''
``So had I forgotten him. I'll not go there, either.
In fact, I've not thought where I'll go.''
``You seem to have done mighty little thinking before
you took a very serious step for a woman.'' He
was uneasily eying the rigid, abstracted little figure a
story up across the way.
``Those things aren't a question of thinking,'' said
she absently. ``I never thought in my life--don't
think I could if I tried. But when the time came I--
I walked out.'' She came back to herself, laughed.
``I don't understand why I'm telling you all this,
especially as you're mad with fright and wild to get away.
Well, good-by, Stanley.''
He lifted his hat. ``Good-by. We'll meet when we
can do so without my getting a scandal on you.'' He
walked a few paces, turned, and came back. ``By the
way, I'm sailing on the Deutschland. I thought you'd
like to know--so that you and I wouldn't by any
chance cross on the same boat.''
``Thanks,'' said she dryly.
``What's the matter?'' asked he, arrested, despite his
anxiety to be gone, by the sad, scornful look in her
``You had such a--such a queer look.''
In fact, she had thought--had hoped for the sake
of her liking for him--that he had come back to make
the glaringly omitted offer of help that should have
come from any human being learning that a fellow
being was in the precarious position in which she had told
him she was. Not that she would have accepted any
such offer. Still, she would have liked to have heard the
kindly words. She sat watching his handsome, graceful
figure, draped in the most artistically cut of long
dark overcoats, until he disappeared in the crowd in
the Rue de Castiglione. Then, without a glance up
at the interested, not to say excited windows of the
general's splendid and spreading apartments, she
strolled down the gardens toward the Place Concorde.
In Paris the beautiful, on a bright and brisk day it is
all but impossible to despair when one still has left
youth and health. Mildred was not happy--far from
it. The future, the immediate future, pressed its
terrors upon her. But in mitigation there was, perhaps
born of youth and inexperience, a giddy sense of relief.
She had not realized how abhorrent the general was--
married life with the general. She had been resigning
herself to it, accepting it as the only thing possible,
keeping it heavily draped with her vanities of wealth
and luxury--until she discovered that the wealth and
the luxury were in reality no more hers than they were
her maid's. And now she was free!
That word free did not have its full meaning for her.
She had never known what real freedom was; women
of the comfortable class--and men, too, for that matter--
usually are born into the petty slavery of conventions
at least, and know nothing else their whole lives
through--never know the joy of the thought and the
act of a free mind and a free heart. Still, she was
released from a bondage that seemed slavish even to her,
and the release gave her a sensation akin to the joy of
freedom. A heavy hand that was crushing her very
soul had been lifted off--no, FLUNG off, and by herself.
That thought, terrifying though it was, also gave her
a certain new and exalting self-respect. After all, she