Part 3 out of 6
At the end of two hours Nancy returned, the two clerks and the
manager accompanying her. The store people were slightly flushed,
Nancy herself sullenly acquiescent. For the first time in her life
she had had the opportunity to buy enough clothes of her own, and
yet she hadn't been allowed to choose what she really wanted. Gently
but inexorably they had rejected the garments Nancy selected,
smoothly insisting that these weren't "just the thing" for her. They
slid her into quiet-colored, plainly cut things that she wouldn't
have looked at if left to her own devices. It took their united
tact, firmness, and diplomacy to steer Nancy over the reefs of what
the manager called hired-girl taste.
Nancy was silent when she appeared before Mr. Champneys in her new
clothes. She thought that if she had been allowed to pick them out
for herself, instead of having been hypnotized--"bulldozed" is what
she called it--into plain old dowdy duds by two shopwomen and a Jew
manager, she'd have given him more for his money.
Mr. Champneys, looking her over critically, admitted that the girl
was at least presentable. From hat to shoes she gave the impression
of being well and carefully dressed. But her aspect breathed
dissatisfaction, her bearing was ungraciousness itself; nor did the
two women clerks, trained to patience, tact, and politeness as they
were, altogether manage to conceal their unfavorable opinion of
her; even the clever, smiling young Jew, used to managing women
shoppers, failed to hide the fact that he was more than glad to get
this one off his hands.
Nancy hadn't taken time to eat her dinner before leaving the Baxter
house, nor had Mr. Champneys had his lunch. They drove to his hotel,
both hungry, and had their first meal together. Nancy hadn't been
trained to linger over meals: one ate as much as one could get, in
as short a space of time as possible. Mr. Champneys was grateful to
a merciful Providence that he had ordered that repast served in his
Her hunger quite satisfied, she shoved her plate aside, sighed,
stretched luxuriously, and yawned widely, like the healthy animal
"What we got to do now? Them women at the store said they'd get the
rest of my things here, along with the travelin'-bags, in a coupla
hours. I got a swell suit-case, didn't I? And oh, them toilet
things! But between now and then, what you want I should do?"
It was then half-after four, and the train they were to take didn't
leave until half-after seven.
"What would you like to do?" he asked.
"Can I go to the movies?"
He thought it an excellent idea. It would give him some idea of the
girl's mental processes; the psychology of the proletariat, he
thought, could be studied to advantage in their reaction to the
He sat beside her for an unhappy hour while a famous screen
comedian did the things with his feet and his backbone for which his
managers paid him more in one year than the United States pays its
Presidents in ten. At each impossible climax Nancy shrieked with
laughter, the loud, delighted laughter of a pleased child. Her
enthusiasm for the slapstick artist provoked him, but at the same
time that gay laughter tickled his ears pleasantly. There's plenty
of good in a girl who can laugh like that! After the grimacing
genius there followed a short drama of stage mother-love, in which
the angel-child dies strenuously in his little white bed. Nancy
dabbled her eyes, and blew her nose with what her captious companion
thought unnecessary vigor.
"Ain't it movin'?"
"Yes. Moving pictures," was the cold response. And to himself he was
saying, defiantly: "Well, what else could I expect? She's not a whit
worse than the vast majority! She's got the herd-taste. That's
perfectly natural, under the circumstances. When I get her well in
hand, she will be different."
"You don't like funny things, an' you got no feelin' for sad
things," she ruminated, as they left the theater. In silence they
walked back to their hotel.
The bulk of her purchases had been sent from the store, and a huge
parcel awaited her in her room. It enchanted her to go over these
new possessions, to gloat over her new toilet articles, to sniff at
the leather of her traveling-kit. The smell of new leather was
always to linger subconsciously in Nancy's memory; it was the smell
of adventure and of change.
They dined together in Mr. Champney's sitting-room, although she
would have preferred the public dining-room. Mr. Champneys was an
abstemious man, but the girl was frankly greedy with the naive greed
of one who had been heretofore stinted. She had seldom had what she
really craved, and at best she had never had enough of it. To be
allowed to order what and as much as she pleased, to be served
first, to have her wishes consulted at all, was a new, amazing, and
altogether delightful experience. Everything was brand-new to her.
She had never before traveled in a sleeping-car. It delighted her to
watch the deft porter make up the berths; she decided that the
peculiar etiquette of sleeping-cars required that all travelers,
male and female, should be driven to bed by lordly colored men in
white jackets, and there left in cramped misery with nothing but an
uncertain, rustling curtain between them and the world; this, too,
at an hour when nobody is sleepy. Nancy wondered to see free white
citizens meekly obey their dusky tyrant. She got into her own lower
berth, grateful that she hadn't to climb like a cat into an upper.
She lay there staring, while the train whizzed through the night.
This had been the most momentous day of her life. That morning she
had been the hopeless slavey in the Baxter kitchen, an unpaid drudge
with her hand against every man and every man's hand against her.
She had been bullied and beaten, she had eaten leavings, and worn
cast-offs. Since her mother's death she had known the life of an
uncared-for child, the minimum of care measured against the maximum
of labor squeezed out of it. Until to-day her fate had been the fate
of those who approach the table of Life with unshod feet and
And to-night all that was changed. She was here, flying farther and
farther away from all she had known. She wondered if she were not
dreaming it. Panicky at that, she sat up in her berth, pressed the
button that turned on the electric light, slipped her new kimono
about her, and looked long and earnestly at the new clothes within
reach of her hand. There they were, real to her touch; there was her
fine new hand-bag; and most real of all was the feel of the money in
it. Nancy fingered the money, thoughtfully smoothing out the bills.
"As soon as we are settled, you will have your allowance, and I
shall of course provide you with a check-book," Mr. Champneys had
told her. "In the meanwhile you will naturally want money for such
little things as you may need." And he had given her twenty
five-dollar bills. She had received the money dumbly. This had been
the crowning miracle--for she had never in the whole course of her
life had so much as one five-dollar bill to do as she pleased with.
She sat looking at the money, concrete proof of the reality of the
change that had befallen her, and wondered, and wondered. With a
sigh of content she thrust the hand-bag under her pillow, folded
her kimono at the foot of her berth, switched out the light, and
presently fell asleep.
In his berth opposite hers, Mr. Chadwick Champneys, more sleepless
even than Nancy, was tabulating his estimate of the young woman he
had acquired. It ran something like this:
Looks: bad; _may_ improve.
Manners: worse; _must_ improve. Particularly in speech.
Appetite: that of the seventeen-year locust. Must be restrained, to
prevent an early death.
Character in general: suspend judgment until further study.
General summary of personal appearance: Nice teeth on which a little
dentistry will work wonders. Not a bad figure, but doesn't know how
to carry herself; has a villainous fashion of slouching, with her
hands on her hips. Plenty of hair, but of terrifying redness; sullen
expression of the eyes; fiendish profusion of freckles: may have to
be skinned. Excellent nose. Speaks with appalling frankness at times
but is not talkative.
What must be done for her? _Everything_.
He groaned, turned over, and after a while managed to sleep.
Sufficient to the day was the red hair thereof; he couldn't afford
to lie awake worrying about to-morrow.
He had long since decided upon New York as a residence until all his
plans had matured. One had greater freedom to act, and far more
privacy, in so large a city. They would stay at some quiet hotel
until after the marriage; then he and Nancy would occupy the house
he had recently purchased, in the West Seventies. It was a fine old
house with a glimpse of near-by Central Park for an outlook, and
what he had paid for it would have purchased half Riverton. He
wanted its large, high-ceilinged rooms to be furnished as the old
house in Carolina had been furnished, this being his standard of all
that was desirable. He wished for Peter's wife such a background as
Peter's forebears had known; and Peter's wife must be trained to
appreciate and to fit into it, that's all!
The New York hotel, with its deft and deferential servants who
seemed to anticipate her wishes, its luxury, its music, its
shifting, splendidly dressed patrons, its light and glitter, filled
Nancy with the same wonder that had fallen upon Aladdin when he
found himself in the magic cave with all its treasures gleaming
before his astounded, ignorant young eyes.
She hadn't thought the whole world contained so many people as she
saw in New York in one day. Fifth Avenue amazed and absorbed more
than it delighted her. The expressionless expressions of the women,
their hand-made faces, their smart shoes, the way they wore their
hair, the way they wore their clothes; the men's air of being well
dressed, of having money to spend, of appearing importantly busy at
any cost; a certain pretentiousness, as if everything were shown at
once and there were no reserve of power, nothing held in disciplined
abeyance, interested her profoundly. She had a native shrewdness.
"They're just like the same kind of folks back home, but there's
more of 'em here," she decided.
The huge policemen she saw at every turn, lordly and massive
monoliths rising superbly above lesser humanity, filled her with the
deepest respect and admiration. The mere policemen in her home town
were to these magnificent beings as daubs to Titians, as pigmies to
Titans. If in those first days the girl had been called upon to do
the seven bendings and the nine knockings before the one New York
institution which impressed her most profoundly, she undoubtedly
would have singled out one of those mastodons a-bossing everything
and everybody, with a prize-ham paw.
She was cold to the Woolworth Building, as indifferent to the
Sherman monument as Mr. Chadwick Champneys was acridly averse to it,
and not at all interested in the Public Library. The Museum of
Natural History failed to win any applause from her; the
Metropolitan Museum bored her interminably, there was so much of it.
Most of the antiquities she thought so much junk, and the Egyptian
and Assyrian remains were so obviously the plunder of old graveyards
that she couldn't for the life of her understand why anybody should
wish to keep them above ground.
Mr. Champneys explained, patiently. He wished, by way of aiding and
abetting the education he had in view for her, to arouse her
interest in these remains of a lost and vanished world.
She stood by the glass case that contains the old brown mummied
priest with his shaven skull, his long, narrow feet, his flattened
nose and fleshless hands, and the mark of the embalmer's stone knife
still visible upon his poor old empty stomach. And she didn't like
him at all. There was something grisly and repellent to her in the
idea that living people should make of this poor old dead man a
spectacle for idle curiosity.
"There was a feller in our town used to keep stuffed snakes an'
monkeys an' birds, an' dried grasshoppers an' bugs an' things like
that in glass cases; but I never dreamed in all my born life that
anybody'd want to keep dried people," she commented disgustedly. "I
don't see no good in it: it's sickenin'." She turned her back upon
mummied Egypt with a gesture of aversion. "For Gawdsake let's go see
He looked at her a bit helplessly. Plainly, this young person's
education wasn't to be tackled off-hand! Agreeably to her wishes he
took her to a certain famous shop filled at that hour with
fashionable women wonderfully groomed and gowned. Here, seated at a
small table, lingering over her ice-cream, Nancy was all observant
eyes and ears. Not being a woman, however, Mr. Champneys was not
aware that her proper education was distinctly under way.
A day or two later he took her to the Bronx Zoo. Here he caught a
glimpse of Nancy Simms that made him prick up his ears and pull his
mustache, thoughtfully. He had discovered how appallingly ignorant
she was, how untrained, how undisciplined. To-day he saw how really
young she was. She ran from cage to cage. Her laughter made the
corners of his mouth turn up sympathetically.
There was something pathetic in her eager enjoyment, something so
fresh and unspoiled in that laughter of hers that one felt drawn to
her. When she forgot to narrow her eyes, or to furrow her forehead,
or to screw up her mouth, she was almost attractive, despite her
freckles! Her eyes, of an agaty gray-green, were transparently
honest. She had brushed the untidy mop of red hair, parted it in the
middle, and wore it in a thick bright plait, tied with a black
ribbon. She wore a simple middy blouse and a well-made blue skirt.
Altogether, she looked more like a normal young girl than he had yet
The Zoo enchanted her. She hurried from house to house. Once, she
told him, when she was a little kid, a traveling-man had taken her
to a circus, because he was sorry for her. That was the happiest day
she had ever spent; it stood out bright and golden in her memory.
There had been a steam-piano hoo-hooing "Wait till the clouds roll
by, Jenny." Wasn't a steam-piano perfectly grand? She liked it
better than anything she'd ever heard. She'd long ago made up her
mind that if she was ever really rich and had a place of her own,
she'd have a big circus steam-piano out in the barn, and she'd play
it on Sundays and holidays--_hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo_--like
that, you know.
And to-day reminded her of that long-ago circus day, with even more
animals to look at! She had never seen as many different animals as
she wanted to see, until now. She admitted that she sort of loved
wild things--she even liked the wild smell of 'em. There was
something in here--she touched her breast lightly--that felt kin to
There was not the usual horde of visitors, that day being a pay-day.
A bearded man with a crutch was showing one or two visitors around,
and at a word from him a keeper unlocked a cage door, to allow a
young chimpanzee to leap into his arms. It hugged him, exhibiting
extravagant affection; it thrust out its absurd muzzle to kiss his
cheek, and patted him with its small, leathery, unpleasantly human
"It's just like any other baby," said the keeper, petting it.
"I sure hope it ain't like any _I_'ll ever have," said Nancy, so
naively that the man with the crutch laughed. He looked at her
"Go over and see the baby lion," he suggested; and he added,
smiling, "It's got red hair."
"It can afford to have red hair, so long as it's a lion," said
Nancy, sturdily; and she added, reflectively: "I'd any day rather
have me a lion-child with red hair, than a monkey-child with any
kind of hair."
Somehow that blunt comment pleased Mr. Champneys. When he took his
charge back to their hotel that evening, it was with something like
a glimmering of real hope in his heart.
The next day, as he joined her at lunch, he said casually:
"I had a message from my nephew this morning. He will be here in a
She turned pale; the hand that held her fork began to tremble.
"Is it--soon?" she asked, almost unaudibly.
"The sooner the better. I think we'd better have it here, in our
sitting-room, say at noon on Wednesday. Don't be seared," he added,
kindly. "All you have to do is just to stand still and say, 'I
will,' at the right moment."
"My nephew's boat sails at about two. He drives to the pier. You and
I go to our apartment, until our own house is ready for us. You see
how nicely it's all arranged."
"I ain't--I mean, I don't have to see him nor talk to him before, do
I?" She looked panic-stricken. "Because I won't! I can't! There's
some things I just can't stummick, an' meetin' that feller before
the very last minute I got to do it, is one of 'em."
"Of course, of course! You sha'n't meet him until the very last
minute. Though he's a mighty nice chap, my nephew Peter is--a mighty
"He must be! We're both of us a mighty nice pair, ain't we? Him
goin' one way an' me goin', another way, all by our lonesomes!"
"The arrangement does not suit you?" he inquired politely.
"Oh, it suits me all right," she said, after a moment. "I said I'd
do what I was told, an' I'll do it--I ain't the sort backs down. But
I ain't none too anxious to get any better acquainted with this
feller than what I am right now. I ain't stuck on men, noways."
"You are only sixteen, my dear," he reminded her.
"Women know as much about men when they're sixteen as they do when
they're sixty," said she, coldly. "There ain't but one thing to
believe about 'em--an' that is, you best not believe any of 'em."
"I hope," said he, stiffly, "that you have no just cause to
disbelieve me, Nancy? Have I been unkind to you?"
"It ain't _me_ you're either kind or yet unkind to," she told him.
"It's Aunt Milly's niece: you're a little crazy on that head, I
guess. It's Aunt Milly's niece you aim to marry to that nephew of
yours. If I was just me myself without bein' any kin to her, you
wouldn't wipe your old shoes on me." She gave him a clear, level
look. "Let's don't have any lies about this thing," she begged. "I'm
a poor hand for lies. I know, and I want you should know I know, and
deal with me honest."
She surprised him. Her next question surprised him even more.
"What about my weddin'-dress?" she demanded. "I got nothin' fittin'
to be married in."
"I should think a plain, tailored suit--" he began.
"Then you got another think comin' to you," she said, in a hard
voice. "I got nothin' to do with pickin' out the groom: you fixed
that to suit yourself. But I don't let no man alive pick out my
dress. I want a weddin'-dress. I want one I want myself. I want it
should be white satin' an' real bride-like. I've saw pictures of
brides, an' I know what's due 'em. I ain't goin' to resemble just me
myself, standin' up to be married in a coat-suit you get some
floor-walker to pick out for me. White satin or nothin'. An' a veil
and white satin slippers."
He looked at her helplessly. "White satin, my dear? And a veil?"
"Yes, sir. An' a shower bokay," said she, firmly. "I got to insist
on the shower bokay. If I got to be a bride I'll be my kind of bride
and not yours."
"My dear child, of course, of course. You shall choose your own
frock," said he, hastily. "Only--under the circumstances, I can't
help thinking that something plain, something quite plain and
simple, would be more in keeping."
"With me? 'T wouldn't, neither. It'd be something fierce, an' I
won't stand for it. I don't mind bein' buried in somethin' plain,
but I won't get married in it. Ain't it hard enough as it is,
without me havin' to feel more horrid than what I do already? I want
something to make me feel better about it, and there ain't anything
can do that except it's a dress I want myself."
Mr. Champneys capitulated, horse and foot.
"We will go to some good shop immediately after lunch, and you shall
choose your own wedding-dress," he promised, resignedly, marveling
at the psychology of women.
It was a very fine forenoon, with a hint of coming autumn in the
air. Even an imminent bridegroom couldn't altogether dampen the
delight of whizzing through those marvelous streets in a taxi. Then
came the even more marvelous world of the department store, which,
"by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches, in all sorts of
things, in blue clothes, and broidered work, and in chests of rich
apparel," put one in mind of the great fairs of Tyre when Tyre was a
prince of the sea, as set forth in the Twenty-seventh Chapter of
Nancy would have been tempted to marry Bluebeard himself for the
sake of some of the "rich apparel" that obliging saleswomen were
setting forth for her inspection. Getting married began to assume a
rosier aspect, due probably to the reflection of the filmy and lacy
miracles that she might have for the mere choosing. She would almost
have been willing to be hanged, let alone married, in a pink-silk
The saleswomen scented mystery and romance here. The girl was no
beauty, but then, she was astonishingly young; and the old gentleman
was very distinguished-looking--quite a personage. They thought at
first that he was the prospective bridegroom; learning that he
wasn't deepened the mystery but didn't destroy the romance.
Americans are all but hysterically sentimental. Sentimentality is a
national disease, which rages nowhere more virulently than among
women clerks. Would they rush through the necessary alterations, set
an entire force to work overtime, if necessary, in order to have
that girl's wedding-dress at her hotel on time? _Wouldn't_ they,
though! And they did. Gown, gloves, veil, shoes, fan, everything;
all done up with the most exquisite care in reams of soft tissue
She was to be married on the noon of Wednesday. On Tuesday night
Nancy locked her door, opened her boxes, and spread her wedding
finery on her bed. The dress was a magnificent one, as magnificent a
dress as a great store can turn out; its lines had been designed by
a justly famous designer. There was a slip, with as much lace as
could be put upon one garment; such white satin slippers as she had
never hoped to wear; and the texture of the silk stockings almost
made her shout for joy. Achilles was vulnerable in the heel: fly,
O man, from the woman who is indifferent to the lure of a silk
Nancy got into her kimono and turned on the hot water in her bath.
At Baxters' there had never been enough hot water with which to wash
the dishes, not to mention Nancy herself. Here there was enough to
scald all the dishes--and the people--on earth, it seemed to her.
She could hardly get used to the delight and the luxury of all the
hot water and scented soap and clean towels she wanted, in a
bath-room all to herself. Think of not having to wait one's turn, a
very limited turn at that, in a spotted tin tub set in a
five-by-seven hole in the wall, with an unshaded gas-jet sizzling
about a foot above one's head! The shower-bath was to her an
adventure--like running out in the rain, when one was a child. She
couldn't get into the tub, and slide down into the warm, scented
water, without a squeal of pleasure.
She skipped back to her bedroom, red as a boiled lobster, a rope of
damp red hair hanging down her back, sat down on the floor, and drew
on those silk stockings, and loved them from a full heart. She
wiggled her toes ecstatically.
"O Lord!" sighed Nancy, fervently, "I wish You'd fix it so's folks
could walk on their hands for a change! My feet are so much prettier
than my face!"
Slipping on the satin slippers, she teetered over and reverently
touched the satin frock. All these glories for her, Nancy Simms, who
had worn Mrs. Baxter's wretched old clothes cut down for her!
She was afraid to refold the dress, almost afraid to touch it, lest
she rumple it. It looked so shining, so lustrous, so fairy-like and
glorious and almost impossible, glistening there on her bed!
Carefully she smoothed a fold, slightly awry. Reverently she placed
the thin tulle veil beside it, as well as the rest of her Cinderella
finery, including the satin slippers and the fine silk stockings
which her soul loved.
She took the two pillows off her bed, secured two huge bath-towels
from her bath-room by way of a mattress and a coverlet; and with a
last passionate glance at the splendors of her wedding-frock, and
never a thought for the unknown groom because of whom she was to don
it, the bride switched off her light, curled herself up like a cat,
and in five minutes was sound asleep on the floor.
THE DEAR DAM-FOOL
"Dis place," said Emma Campbell, as the snaggle-toothed sky-line of
New York unfolded before her staring eyes, "ain't never growed up
natchel out o' de groun'; it done tumbled down out o' de sky en got
busted uneven in de fall."
Clinging to the bird-cage in which her cat Satan crouched, she
further remarked, as the taxi snaked its sinuous way toward the
quarters which a friendly waiter on the steamship had warmly
recommended to her:
"All I scared ob is, dat dis unforchunit cat 's gwine to lose 'is
min'. Seein' places like dis is 'nough to make any natchel cat run
Whereupon Emma relapsed into a colossal silence. She was fed up on
surprises and they were palling upon her palate, which fortunately
wasn't down. Things had been happening so fast that she couldn't
keep step with them. To begin with, Peter had preferred to come
north by sea, and although Emma had been raised on the coast,
although she was used to the capricious tide-water rivers which this
morning may be lamb-like and to-night raging lions, although she
had crossed Caliboga Sound in rough weather and been rolled about
like a ninepin, that had been, so to speak, near the shore-line.
This was different: here was more water than Emma had thought was in
the entire world; and she had been assured that this wasn't a
bucketful to what she was yet to see! Emma fell back upon silent
Then had come this astounding city jutting jaggedly into the clouds,
and through whose streets poured in a never-ceasing, turgid flow all
the peoples of the earth. And, more astounding than waterful sea and
peopleful city, was the last, crowning bit of news: _Peter was going
to be married_! And he didn't know the young lady he was to marry,
except that she was a Miss Anne Simms. He knew no more about his
bride than she, Emma, knew.
That was all Emma needed to reduce her to absolute befuddlement.
When food and drink were placed before her, she partook of both,
mechanically. If one spoke to her, she stared like a large black
owl. And when Peter had driven away in the taxi, leaving her for the
time being in the care of a highly respectable colored family, whose
children, born and raised in New York, looked upon the old South
Carolina woman as they might have looked upon a visitor from Mars,
Emma shut and locked her door, took the cat out of his cage, cuddled
him in her arms, tried to projeck,--and couldn't. The feel of
Satan's soft, warm body comforted her inexpressibly. He, at least,
was real in a shifting universe. She began to rock herself, slowly,
rhythmically, back and forth. Then the New York negroes heard a
shrill, sweet, wailing voice upraised in one of those speretuals in
which Africa concentrates her ages of anguish into a half-articulate
cry. In it were the voices of their fathers long gone, come back
from the rice-fields and the cane-brakes and the cotton-rows, voices
so sweet and plaintive that they were haunted.
"I we-ent out een de wilderness,
En I fell upon--mah--knees,
En I called upon--mah--Savior,
Whut sh-all I do--for--save?
Ma-ry, Mar-tha, _halle_--
"Good Lord!" breathed the oldest boy, who was a high-school scholar.
"How weird and primitive!" said the daughter, who was to be a
But the father's eyes narrowed, and the hair of his scalp prickled.
'Way back yonder his mother had sung like that, and his heart leaped
to it. If he hadn't been afraid of his educated and modern children,
he would have wept. Emma didn't know that, of course. She kissed the
big cat, placed him carefully on the bed, and lay down beside him in
the attitude of a corpse. She was resigning herself to whatever
Peter, upon telephoning his uncle, had been advised to prowl about
until noon, when they were to lunch together. Wherefore he found
himself upon the top of a bus, rolling about New York, seeing that
of which he had read. He didn't see it as Nancy saw it; the city
appeared to him as might some subtle, hard, and fascinatingly plain
woman whose face had flashes of piercing and unforgetable beauty,
beauty unexpected and unlike any other. Unlike the beauty of the
Carolina coast, say, which was a part of his consciousness, there
was here something sinister and splendid.
He got off at the Metropolitan Museum. He wished to see with his own
eyes some of those pictures Claribel Spring had described to him,
among them Fortuny's "Spanish Lady." He stood for a dazzled interval
before her, so disdainful, passionate, provocative, and so
profoundly human. When he moved away, he sighed. He wasn't wondering
if he himself should ever meet and love such a lady; but rather when
he should be able so to portray in a human face all the secrets of
the body and of the soul.
At lunch his uncle, remarking his earnest face, said regretfully:
"Oh, Peter, why couldn't you be content to be a rich man and play
the game according to Hoyle? Art? Of course! You could afford to buy
the best any of 'em could do, instead of trying to sell something
you do yourself. Art is a rich man's recreation. Artists exist in
order that rich men may buy their wares."
"Rich men were invented for the use of poor artists: it's the only
excuse they have for existing at all, that I can see," said Peter,
"But you'd have a so much better time buying, than selling--or
rather, trying to sell," said one of the rich men, smiling
"I'll have a better time working, than in either buying or selling,"
said Peter, and looked at his uncle with uncompromising eyes.
Mr. Chadwick Champneys sighed, face to face with Champneys
obstinacy. Peter would keep his promise to the letter, but aside
from that he would live his own life in his own way.
He had stared, and his jaw dropped, when he was calmly informed that
Peter intended to take old Emma Campbell and a black cat along with
him. Then he had laughed, almost hysterically, and incidentally
discovered that being laughed at didn't move Peter in the least; he
was too used to it. He allowed you to laugh at him, smiled a bit
wryly himself, and went right ahead doing exactly what he had set
out to do. This sobered Mr. Champneys.
"Peter," said he, after a pause, "allow me to ask you a single
question: do you propose to go through life toting old niggers and
"Uncle Chad," replied Peter, "do you remember how sweet potatoes
roasted in the ashes of a colored person's fire used to taste, when
you were a little boy?"
A reminiscent glow spread over Uncle Chad's face. He shaded his eyes
with his hand, and stared under it at Peter. Something quizzical
and tender was in that look.
"I see you do," said Peter, with the same look. "Well, Uncle Chad,
Emma used to roast those potatoes--and provide them too. Sometimes
they were all the dinner I had. Besides," mused Peter, "when all's
said and done, nobody has more than a few friends from his cradle to
his grave. If I've got two, and they don't want to part with me, why
should they have to?"
Mr. Chadwick Champneys spread out his hands. "Put like that," he
admitted, "why should they, indeed! Take 'em along if you like,
Nephew." And of a sudden he laughed again. "Oh, Peter!" he gasped,
"you dear dam-fool!"
Peter had a strenuous afternoon. Reservations had to be secured for
Emma, for whom he also purchased a long coat and a steamer rug. He
himself had to have another suit: his uncle protested vehemently
against the nice new one he had bought in Charleston.
At dusk he watched New York's lights come out as suddenly and as
goldenly as evening primroses. Riverton drowsing among its
immemorial oaks beside the salty tide-water, the stars reflected in
its many coves, the breath of the pines mingling with the wild
breath of the sea sweeping through it, the little, deserted brown
house left like a last year's nest close to the water--how far
removed they were from this glittering giantess and her pulsating
power! The electric lights winked and blinked, the roar of traffic
arose in a multitudinous hum; and all this light and noise, the
restless stir of an immense life, went to the head like wine.
The streets were fiercely alive. Among the throngs of well-dressed
people one caught swift glimpses of furtive, hurrying figures, and
faces that were danger signals. More than once a few words hissed
into Peter's ears made him turn pale.
It was nearing midnight, and the street was virtually empty, when a
girl who had looked at him sharply in passing turned and followed
him, and after a glance about to see that no policeman was in sight,
stepped to his side and touched him on the elbow. Peter paused, and
his heart contracted. He had seen among the negroes the careless
unmorality as of animals. There was nothing of the prude in him,
but, perhaps because all his life there had been a Vision before his
eyes, he had retained a singularly untroubled mental chastity. His
mind was clean with the cleanliness of knowledge. He could not
pretend to misunderstand the girl. She was nothing but a child in
years. The immaturity of her body showed through her extreme
clothes, and even her sharp, painted little face was immature, for
all its bold nonchalance. She was smiling; but one sensed behind her
deliberate smile a wolfish anxiety.
"Ain't you lonesome?" she asked, fluttering her eyelids, and giving
the young man a sly, upward glance.
"No," said Peter, very gently.
"Aw, have a heart! Can't you stand a lady somethin' to eat an' maybe
somethin' to drink?"
The boy looked at her gravely and compassionately. Although her
particular type was quite new to him, he recognized her for what she
was, a member of the oldest profession, the strange woman "whose
mouth is smoother than oil, but whose feet go down to death. Her
steps take hold on hell." Somehow he could not connect those
terrible words with this sharp-featured, painted child. There was
nothing really evil about her except the brutal waste of her.
"Will ten dollars be enough for you?" asked Peter. The wolfish look
in her eyes hurt him. He felt ashamed and sad.
"Sure! Come on!" said she, and her face lighted.
"Thank you, I have had my dinner," said Peter. But she seized his
arm and hurried him down a side street, willy-nilly. "Seen a cop out
of the tail of my eye," she explained, hurriedly. "They're fierce,
some of them cops. I can't afford to be took up."
When they had turned the corner, Peter stopped, and took out his
pocket-book. With another searching glance at her, he handed her one
five, and two ten-dollar bills. Perhaps that might save her--for a
while at least. He lifted his hat, bowed, and had started to walk
away, when she ran after him and clutched him by the arm.
"Take back that fiver," said she, "an' come and eat with me. If you
got a heart, come an' eat with me. I know a little place we can get
somethin' decent: it's a dago caffay, but it's clean an' decent
enough. Will you come?" Her voice was shaking; he could see her
little body trembling.
"But why?" he asked, hesitatingly.
"Not for no reason, except I--I got to make myself believe you're
real!" She said it with a gasp.
Peter fell in beside her and she led the way. The small restaurant
to which she piloted him wasn't pretentious, but it was, as she had
said, clean, and the food was excellent.
She said her name was Gracie Cantrell, and Peter took her word for
it. While she was eating she discoursed about herself, pleased at
the interest this odd, dark-faced young fellow with the soft,
drawling voice seemed to take in her. She had begun in a box
factory, she told him. And then she'd been a candy-dipper. Now, you
work in a lowered atmosphere in order not to spoil your chocolate.
For which reason candy-dippers, like all the good, are likely to die
young. Seven of the girls in Gracie's department "got the T.B." That
made Gracie pause to think, and the more she thought about it, the
clearer it seemed to her that if one has to have a short life, one
might at least make a bid for a merrier one than candy-dipping. So
she made her choice. The short life and merry, rather than the T.B.
"And has it been so merry, Gracie?" asked Peter, looking at the hard
young face wonderingly.
"Well, it's been heaps better than choc'late-dippin'," said Gracie,
promptly. "I don't get no worse treated, when all's said an' done.
I've got better clothes an' more time an' I don't work nothin' like
so hard. An' I got chanst to see things. You don't see nothin' in
the fact'ry. Say I feel like goin' to the movies, or treatin' myself
to a ice-cream soda or a choc'late a-clair, why, I can do it without
nobody's leave--when I'm lucky. You ain't ever lucky in the fact'ry:
you never have nothin', see? So I'd rather be me like I am than be
me back in the fact'ry."
"And do you always expect to be--lucky?" Peter winced at the word.
"I can't afford to think about that," she replied, squinting at the
red ink in her glass. "You got to run your risks an' take your
chances. All I know is, I'll have more and see more before I die.
An' I won't die no sooner nor no painfuller than if I'd stayed on in
Peter admitted to himself that she probably wouldn't. Also, that he
had nothing to say, where Gracie was concerned. He felt helpless in
the face of it--as helpless as he had felt one June morning long ago
when he had seen old Daddy Neptune praying, after a night of horror,
to a Something or a Somebody blind and indifferent. And it seemed to
him that life pressed upon him menacingly, as if he and Neptune and
this lost child of the New York streets had been caught like rats in
The girl, on her part, had been watching him with painful intensity.
"You're a new one on _me_," she told him frankly. "I feel like
pinchin' you to see if you're real. Say, tell me: if you're real,
are you the sort of guy that'd give twenty-five dollars, for
nothin', to a girl he picked up in the street? Or, are you just a
softy fool that a girl that picks him up in the streets can trim?
There's more of _him_ than the first sort," she finished.
"You must judge that for yourself," said Peter. "I may tell you,
though, that I am quite used to being called a fool," he finished,
"So?" said she, after another long look. "Well, I--what I mean to
say is, I wish to God there was more fools like you. If there was,
there'd be less fools like me." After a pause she asked, in a
"You expect to stay in this town long?"
"I leave in the morning."
"I'm sorry," said she. "Not," she added hastily, "that I want to
touch you for more money or anything like that, I don't. But
I--well, I'd like to know you was livin' in the same town, see?"
Peter saw. But again he had nothing to say. Young as he was, he knew
the absurdity of all talk of reform to such as Gracie. As things are
they can't reform, they can't even be prevented. He looked at her,
"I'm not only leaving New York, I'm leaving America to-morrow," he
said at last. "I wish there was something I could do for you."
She shook her head. Her little painted face looked pinched. There
were shadows under the eyes that should have been soft and dewy.
"You can't do nothin'. I'll tell you why. Somehow--I--I'd like you
And she sat there and told him.
"You see?" said she, when she had finished.
"I see," said Peter; and the hand that held his cigarette trembled.
The thing that struck him most forcibly was the stupid waste of it
"Look here, Gracie," he said at last, "if you ever get--very
unlucky--and things are too hard for you--sort of last ditch, you
know,--I want you to go to a certain address. It's to my uncle," he
explained, seeing her look blank. "You'll send in the card I'm going
to give you, and you will say I sent you. He'll probably investigate
you, you know. But you just tell him the truth, and say I told you
he'd help. Will you do that!"
She in her turn reflected, watching Peter curiously. Then she fell
to tracing patterns on the table-cloth with the point of her knife.
"All right," she said. "If ever I have to, an' I can find him, I
will--an' say you sent me."
Peter took out his pocket memorandum, wrote his uncle's name and the
address of the house in the Seventies which he was presently to
occupy, added, "I wish you'd do what you can, for my sake," and
signed it. He handed the girl the slip of paper, and she thrust it
into her low-necked blouse.
"And now," he finished kindly, "you'd better go home, Gracie, go to
bed, and sleep." He held out his brown hand, and she, rising from
her chair, gripped his fingers as a child might have done, and
looked at him with dog's eyes.
"Good-by!" said she, huskily. "You _are_ real, ain't you?"
"Damnably so," admitted Peter. "Good-by, then, Gracie." And he left
her standing by the table, the empty wine-glass before her. The
streets stretched before him emptily.--That poor, done-for kid! What
_is_ one to do for these Gracies?
"Mister! For God's sake! I'm hungry!" a hoarse voice accosted him. A
dirty hand was held out.
Mechanically Peter's hand went to his pocket, found a silver dollar,
and held it out. The dirty hand snatched it, and without so much as
a thank you the man rushed into a near-by bakery. Peter shuddered.
When he reached his room, he sat for a long time before his open
window, and stared at the myriads and myriads of lights. From the
streets far below came a subdued, ceaseless drone, as if the huge
city stirred uneasily in her sleep--perhaps because she dreamed of
the girls she prostituted and the men she starved. And it was like
that everywhere. If the great cities gave, they also took,
wastefully. Peter was tormented, confronted by the inexorable
"What am _I_ going to do about it?"
He couldn't answer, any more than any other earnest and decent boy
could answer, whose whole and sole weapon happened to be a
paint-brush. One thing he resolved: he wouldn't add to the sum
total; nobody should be the worse off because he had lived. So
thinking, the bridegroom fell asleep.
When he awoke in the morning, he lay for a moment staring at the
strange ceiling overhead; his mind had an uneasy consciousness that
something impended. Then he sat up suddenly in his bed, and clutched
his head in his hands.
"Lord have mercy on me!" cried Peter. "I've got to get up and get
By ten o'clock his luggage was on its way to the steamer. Dressed in
his new clothes, ring and license carefully tucked away in his
pocket, Peter took an hour off and jumped on a bus. It delighted him
to roll around the streets on top of a bus. He felt that he could
never see enough of this wonderful, terrible, beautiful, ugly,
cruel, and kind city. Everywhere he turned, something was being torn
down or up, something was being demolished or replaced. New York was
like an inefficient and yet hard-working housekeeper, forever
house-cleaning; her house was never in order, and probably never
would be, hence this endless turmoil. Yet, somehow, Peter liked it.
She wasn't satisfied with things as they were.
He stopped at Grant's Tomb, looked at the bronze tablet
commemorating the visit of Li Hung Chang, then went inside and
stared reflectively at the torn and dusty flags.
"It was worth the price," he decided. "But," he added, with a
certain deep satisfaction, "I'm glad we gave them a run for their
money while we were at it!" The Champneyses, one remembers, were on
the other side.
When he got back to his hotel the car that his uncle had sent for
him had just arrived. Deferential help brought out his remaining
belongings, were tipped, and stood back while the door was slammed
upon the departing one. The car was held up for seven minutes on
Forty-second Street, while Peter leaned forward to get his first
view of congested traffic. He had once seen two Ford cars and an
ox-cart tie up the Riverton Road.
Arrived at Emma Campbell's quarters, he found her sitting stiffly
erect, her foot upon her new suit-case, her new cloak over her arm,
and the bird-cage under her hand. The expressman who had called for
her trunk early that morning had good-naturedly offered to carry the
bird-cage along with it, but Emma had flatly refused to let the cat
get out of her sight. Even when she climbed into the car she held
fast to the cage.
"I don't say nothin' 'bout _me_. All I scared ob is, dat dis
unforchnate cat's gwine to lose 'is min' before we-all finishes up."
It was with difficulty that Peter persuaded her to leave the cage in
the car when they reached his uncle's hotel.
"Mistuh," said Emma to the chauffeur, "is you-all got any fambly
dependin' on you?"
"One wife. Three kids," said the chauffeur, briefly.
"I ain't de kin' ob lady whut makes threats agin' a gent'man," said
Emma, looking him unblinklngly in the eye. "All I says is, dat I
started whah I come fum wid dat cat an' I 'specks to lan' up whah I
's gwine to wid dat same cat in dat same cage. Bein' as you 's got
dem chillun en dat wife, I calls yo' 'tenshun to dat fac', suh."
The chauffeur, a case-hardened pirate, laughed. "All right, lady,"
said he, genially. "It ain't in my line to granny cats, but that one
will be the apple of me good eye until you git back. I wouldn't like
the missus to be a widder: she's too darn good-lookin'."
With her mind at ease on this point, Emma consented to leave
Satan in the car and follow Peter. Emma looked resplendently
respectable, and she knew it. She was dressed as well as if she
had expected to be buried. By innate wisdom she had retained the
snowy head-handkerchief under her sailor hat, and she wore her big
gold hoop-earrings. Smart colored servants were common enough at
that hotel, but one did not often see such as this tall and erect
old woman in her severe black-and-white. Emma belonged almost to
another day and generation, although her face, like the faces of
many old colored women, was unwrinkled. She had a dignity that the
newer generation lacks, and a pride unknown to them.
Peter and Emma went up in an elevator and were ushered into a
private sitting-room, where were awaiting them Mr. Chadwick
Champneys, a gentleman who was obviously a clergyman, another who
was as obviously a member of the Bar, and the latter's wife, a very
handsome lady handsomely and expensively panoplied. There was the
usual hand-shaking, as Peter was introduced, and the handsome lady
stared openly at Emma; one doesn't often see a bridegroom come in
accompanied by an old colored woman. Emma courtesied, with the
inimitable South Carolina bending of the knees, and then took a
modest seat in the background and faded into it. She had good
manners, had Emma.
Mr. Champneys glanced at his watch, and presently left the room. The
clergyman, book in hand, stepped into the middle of the floor, and
looked importantly religious. The lawyer smilingly invited Peter to
take his place beside him. Everybody assumed a solemn look.
And then the door opened and the bride appeared, leaning on her
uncle's arm. Emma Campbell, leaning forward, got one glimpse of the
face but slightly concealed by the thin, floating tulle veil pinned
on with a wreath of orange-blossoms, caught one gleam from the
narrowed eyes; and her own eyes bulged in her head, her mouth fell
open. Emma wished to protest, to cry, to pray aloud.
The bride was magnificently dressed, in a gown that was much too
elaborate for her angular and undeveloped young figure. It made her
look over-dressed and absurd to a pitiful degree, as if she were
masquerading. The hair-dresser whom she had called to her aid had
done her worst. Nancy had an unusual quantity of hair, and it had
been curled and frizzed, and puffed and pulled, until the girl's
head appeared twice its natural size. Through the fine lace of her
sleeves were visible her thin, sunburned arms. Her naturally dark
eyebrows had been accentuated, and there was a bright red patch on
each cheek, her lips being equally crimson. Out of the rouged and
powdered face crowned by towering red hair, the multitude of
freckles showed defiantly, two fierce eyes lowered.
As Peter met the stare of those narrowed eyes, to save his life he
couldn't keep from showing his downright consternation. His aversion
and distaste were so manifest, that a deeper red than rouge stained
the girl's cheek and mottled her countenance. Her impulse was to
raise her hand and strike him across his wincing mouth.
What Nancy saw was a tall, thin, shambling young fellow whose face
was pale with an emotion not at all complimentary to herself. He
didn't like her! He thought her hideous! He despised her! So she
read Peter's expressive eyes. She thought him a fool, to stand there
staring at her like that, and she hated him. She detested him.
She saw his glance of piteous entreaty, and Mr. Chadwick Champneys's
bland, blind ignoring of its silent reproach and appeal. And then
the long-legged young fellow pulled himself together. His head went
up, his mouth hardened, and his voice didn't shake when he promised
to cherish and protect her, until death did them part.
All the while Peter felt that he was struggling in a hideous dream.
That bride in white satin wasn't real; his uncle wouldn't play him
such a trick! Peter cringed when the defiant voice of the girl
snapped her "I do" and "I will."
The clergyman's voice had trailed off. He was calling her "Mrs.
Champneys." And Mr. Vandervelde and his handsome wife were shaking
hands with her and Peter, and saying pleasant, polite, conventional
things to them both. She signed a paper. And that old nigger-woman
kept staring at her; but Peter avoided meeting her eyes. And her
uncle was saying that she must change her frock now, my dear:
Peter's boat sailed within the hour, remember. And then she was back
in her room, tearing off the dress that only last night she had so
It lay on the floor in a shimmering heap, and she trampled on it.
She had torn the tulle veil and orange-blossoms from her hair, and
she stamped on those, too. The maid who had been engaged to help her
stood aghast when the bride kicked her wedding-gown across the room.
She folded it with shaking hands and smoothed the torn veil as best
she could. The beautiful lace-and-ivory fan was snapped and torn
beyond hope of salvage. Nancy tossed it from her. With round eyes
the maid watched her tear hair-pins out of her hair, rush into the
bath-room, and with furious haste belabor her head with a wet brush
to remove the fatal frizzings; but the work had been too thoroughly
done to hope to remove all traces of it so easily. Nancy brushed it
as best she could, and then rolled it into a stout coil on the top
of her head. Her satin slippers came hurtling across the room as
she kicked them off, and the maid caught them on the fly.
Back into the bath-room again, and the maid could hear her splashing
around, as she scrubbed her face. When she came out, it was
brick-red, but powderless and paintless. She got into her blue
tailored suit without assistance, and, sitting on the floor,
buttoned her shoes with her own fingers, to the maid's disgust. Then
she jerked on her hat, stuck a hat-pin through it carelessly,
snatched up gloves and hand-bag, and was ready for departure. The
expression of her face at that moment sent the maid cowering against
the wall, and tied her tongue; the bride looked as if she were quite
capable of pitching an officious helper out of a ten-story window.
"My God!" said the girl to herself, as Nancy, without so much as a
word or a look in her direction, slammed the door behind her. "My
God, if that poor fellow that's just been married to _her_ was any
kin to me, I'd have a High Mass said for his soul!"
The brick-red apparition that swept into the room put the final
touch upon Peter's dismay. He thought her the most unpleasant human
being he had ever encountered, and almost the ugliest. The
Vanderveldes had taken the clergyman off in their car, and only
Peter, his uncle, and Emma remained.
"I'm ready!" snapped the bride. She didn't glance at the bridegroom,
but the look she bestowed upon Emma made that doughty warrior quail.
Emma conceived a mortal terror of Peter's wife. She took the place
of the Boogerman and of ha'nts.
Chadwick Champneys had his hand on his nephew's shoulder, and was
talking to him in a low and very earnest voice--rather like a
clergyman consoling a condemned man with promises of heaven after
hanging. Peter received his uncle's assurances in resigned silence.
Two cars were waiting outside the hotel for the wedding-party. As
Emma Campbell stepped into the one that was to convey her and Peter
to the boat, Nancy saw her stoop and lift a large bird-cage
containing, of all things, an immense black cat, which mewed
plaintively at sight of her. It was the final touch of grotesqueness
upon her impossible wedding. The two Champneyses wrung hands
silently. The older man said a few words to the colored woman, and
shook hands with her, too.
Then the two cars were rolling away, Nancy sitting silent beside her
uncle. At the corner Peter's vanished. The bride hoped from the
bottom of her heart that she would never lay eyes upon her
bridegroom again. She didn't exactly wish him any harm, greatly as
she disliked him, but she felt that if he would go away and die he
would be doing her a personal favor.
Peter and Emma made their boat ten minutes before the gang-plank was
pulled in. A steward took Emma in charge, and carried off the
bird-cage containing Satan. Emma, who had been silent during the
drive to the pier, opened her mouth now:
"Mist' Peter," said she, "ef yo' uncle 's wuth a million dollars, he
ought to tun it over to you dis mawnin'. 'T ain't for me," said
Emma, beginning to tremble, "to talk 'bout Mis' Champneys whut you
done got married to. But I used to know Miss Maria. And dat 's
how-come," finished Emma, irrelevantly, "dat 's how-come I mighty
glad we 's gwine to furrin folkses' countries, whichin I hopes to
Gawd dey 's a mighty long way off fum dat gal." And Peter's heart
echoed Emma's sentiments so fully that he couldn't find it in him to
reprove her for giving utterance to them.
With a sense of relief, he watched New York receding from his sight.
Hadn't he paid too high a price, after all? Remembering his bride's
eyes, pure terror assailed him. No woman had ever looked at Peter
like that before. He tried to keep from feeling bitter toward his
uncle. Well! He was in for it! He would make his work his bride, by
way of compensation. For all that he was a bridegroom of an hour or
so, and a seeker bound upon the quest of his heart's desire, Peter
turned away from the steamer's railing with a very heavy heart.
A tall, fair-faced woman turned away from the railing at the same
instant, and their eyes met. Hers were brightly, bravely blue, and
they widened with astonishment at sight of Peter Champneys. She
stared, and gasped. Peter stared, and gasped, too.
"Miss Claribel!" cried Peter.
"Mrs. Hemingway," she corrected, smiling. "It isn't--Yes, it is,
too! Peter! Oh, that Red Admiral _is_ a fairy!"
HIS GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE
"It is rather wonderful to turn around and find _you_ here,
Peter,--and to find you so unchanged. Because you haven't changed,
really; you've just grown up," said Mrs. Hemingway, holding his
hand. Her face was excited and glad. "I should have known you
"I am told my legs are quite unmistakable. Some have said I appear
to be walking on fishing-poles," said Peter.
Mrs. Hemingway laughed. "They seem to be good, long, serviceable
legs," she said, gaily. "But it is your eyes I recognized, Peter.
One couldn't mistake your eyes."
Peter smiled at her gratefully. "The really wonderful thing is that
you should remember me at all," he told her happily, and his face
glowed. That her reappearance should be timed to the outset of his
great adventure into life seemed highly significant. One might
almost consider it an omen.
As if they had parted but yesterday, they were able to resume their
old sympathetic friendship, with its satisfying sense of comradely
understanding. Her heart warmed to him now as it had warmed to the
shabby boy she had first seen running after the Red Admiral in the
fields beyond the river swamp. No, she reflected appraisingly, he
had not changed. He had somehow managed to retain a certain quality
of childlikeness that made her feel as if she were looking through
crystal. She was grateful that no contact had been able to blunt it,
that it remained undimmed and serene.
Briefly and rather baldly Peter outlined his years of struggle,
dismissing their bleak hardships with a tolerant smile. What he
seemed chiefly to remember was the underlying kindness and good
humor of the folk back there in Riverton; if they had ever failed to
be kind, it was because they hadn't understood, he thought. There
was no resentment in him. Why, they were his own folks! His mother's
grave was one of their graves, his name one of their names, their
traditions and heritages were part and parcel of himself. The
tide-water was in his blood; his flesh was dust of the South
She saw that, while he was speaking. And against the vivid, colorful
coast background she caught haunting glimpses of a tireless small
figure toiling, sweating, always moving toward a far-off goal as
with the inevitable directness of a fixed law. She marveled at the
patience of his strength, and she loved his gentleness, his
sweetness that had a flavor of other-worldliness in it.
He was telling her now of Chadwick Champneys and how his coming had
changed things. But of the price he had had to pay he said nothing.
He tried not to think of the bride his uncle had forced upon him,
though her narrowed eyes, her red hair, her mouth set in a hard red
line haunted him like a nightmare. His soul revolted against such a
mockery of marriage. He could imagine his mother's horror, and he
was glad Maria Champneys slept beside the husband of her youth in
the cemetery beside the Riverton Road. She wouldn't have asked him
to pay such a price, not for all the Champneyses dead and gone! But
Chadwick Champneys had held him to his bargain, had forced him to
give his name, his father's name, of which his mother had been so
Peter smarted with humiliation. It was as if he had been bought and
sold, and he writhed under the disgrace of such bondage. He felt the
helpless anger of one who realizes he has been shamefully swindled,
yet is powerless to redress his injury; and what added insult to
injury was that a Champneys, his father's brother, had inflicted it.
Yet he had no faintest notion of breaking or even evading his
pledged word; such a thought never once occurred to him. He meant to
live up to the letter of his bargain; his honor would compel him to
fulfil his obligation scrupulously and exactly.
"And so my uncle and I came to terms," he told Mrs. Hemingway. And
he added conscientiously: "He is very liberal. He insisted upon
placing to my credit what he says I'll need, but what seems to me
too much. And so here I am," he finished.
"Yes, here you are. It had to be," said she, thoughtfully. "It's
your fate, Peter."
"It had to be. It's my fate," agreed Peter.
"And that nice, amusing old colored woman who kept house for
you--what became of her?"
"Emma? Oh, she wouldn't stay behind, so she came along with me. And
she couldn't leave the cat, so he came along, too," said Peter,
Mrs. Hemingway laughed as his uncle had laughed.
"There's an odd turn to your processes, Peter," she commented. "One
sees that _you'll_ never be molded into a human bread pill! I'm glad
we've met again. I think you're going to need me. So I'm going to
look after you."
"I have needed you every day since you left," he told her.
He didn't as yet know what deep cause he had to feel grateful for
Mrs. John Hemingway's promise to look after him; he didn't as yet
know what an important person she was in the American colony in
Paris, as well as in certain very high circles of French society
itself. And what was true of her in Paris was also true of her in
London. Mrs. John Hemingway's promise to look after a young man
hall-marked him. She was more beautiful and no less kind than of
old, and absence had not had the power to change his feelings for
her. As simply and whole-heartedly as he had loved her then, he
loved her now. So he looked at her with shining eyes. Reticence was
ingrained in Peter, but the knowledge that she liked and understood
him had the effect of sunlight upon him.
"He's as simple as the Four Gospels," she thought, "and as
elemental as the coast country itself. One couldn't spoil him any
more than one could spoil the tide-water.
"Yes, indeed! I'm going to look after you," she repeated.
He discovered, from what she herself chose to tell him, that there
had been some unpleasant years for her too. But that had all ended
when she married John Hemingway, then with a New York firm and later
sent abroad to represent the interests of the company of which he
was now a member. His chief office was in Paris, though he had to
spend considerable time in London. When she spoke of John Hemingway
his wife's face glowed with quiet radiance. The one drop of
bitterness in her cup was that there were no children.
"I hope you marry young, Peter, and that there'll be a houseful of
little Champneys," she said, and sighed a bit enviously.
At that the face of Mrs. Peter Champneys rose before her bridegroom
and the very soul of him winced and cringed. He averted his face,
"I know so many charming young girls," said Mrs. Hemingway,
musingly, as if she were speaking to herself.
"They don't come any prettier than they come in Riverton," Peter
parried. "And you're to remember I'm coming over here to _work_."
"I'll remember," said she, smiling. "But all the same, I mean you to
go about it the right way. I'm going to introduce you to some very
delightful people, Peter."
Then Peter took her to see Emma Campbell and the cat.
Emma would have crawled into her berth and stayed there until the
ship docked if it hadn't been for the cat. Satan had to be given a
daily airing; he had to be looked after by some one she could trust,
and Emma rose to the occasion. She crawled out of her berth and on
deck, where, steamer rug over her knees, her head tightly bound in a
spotless white head-handkerchief, she sat with her hand on the big
bird-cage set upon a camp-stool next her chair.
"I don' say one Gawd's word about _me_, dough I does feel lak I done
swallahed my own stummick. All I scared of is dat dis po'
unforch'nate cat 's gwine to lose 'is min' befo' we-all lan's," she
told Mrs. Hemingway, and cast a glance of deep distaste at the
tumbling world of waters around her. Emma didn't like the sea at
all. There was much too much of it.
"I got a feelin' heart for ole man Noah," she concluded pensively.
When they sighted the Irish coast, Emma discovered a deep sense of
gratitude to the Irish: no matter what they didn't have, they did
have _land_; and land and plenty of it, land that you could walk on,
was what Emma craved most in this world. When they presently reached
England, she was so glad to feel solid earth under her feet once
more that she was jubilant.
"Cat, we-all is saved!" she told Satan. "You en me is chillun o'
Israel come thoo de Red Sea. We-all got a mighty good Gawd, cat!"
They went up to London with Mrs. Hemingway, and were met by
Hemingway himself, who gave Peter Champneys an entirely new
conception of the term "business man." Peter knew rice- and
cotton- and stock-men, even a provincial banker or two--all
successful men, within their limits. But this big, quiet, vital
man hadn't any limits, except those of the globe itself. A tall,
fair man with a large head, decided features, chilly gray eyes,
and an uncompromising mouth adorned with a short, stiff mustache,
his square chin was cleft by an incomprehensible dimple. His wife
declared she had married him because of that cleft; it gave her an
object in life to find out what it meant.
Hemingway studied Peter curiously. He had a great respect for his
wife's nice and discriminating judgment, and it was plain that this
long-legged, unpretentious young man was deeply in her good graces.
Evidently, then, this chap must be more than a bit unusual. Going to
be an artist, was he? Well, thank God, he didn't _look_ as if he
were afflicted with the artistic temperament; he looked as if he
were capable of hard work, and plenty of it.
People liked to say that John Hemingway was a fine example of the
American become a cosmopolitan. As a matter of fact, Hemingway
wasn't. He liked Europe, but in his heart he wearied of its
over-sophistication, its bland diplomacy. His young countryman's
unspoiled truthfulness delighted him. He was proud of it. A man
trained to judge men, he perceived this cub's potential strength.
That he should so instantly like his wife's protege raised that
charming lady's fine judgment even higher in his estimation. A man
always respects his wife's judgment more when it tallies with his
The Hemingways insisted that Peter should spend some time in
England. Mrs. Hemingway was going over to Paris presently, and he
could accompany her. In the meantime she wanted him to meet certain
English friends of hers. Peter was perfectly willing to wait. He was
enchanted with London, and although he would have preferred to be
turned foot-loose to prowl indefinitely, his affection for Mrs.
Hemingway made him amenable to her discipline. At her command he
went with Hemingway to the latter's tailor. To please her he
duteously obeyed Hemingway's fastidious instructions as to
habiliments. He overcame his rooted aversion to meeting strangers,
and when bidden appeared in her drawing-room, and there met smart,
clever, and noted London.
Hemingway thereafter marked his progress with amusement not unmixed
with amazement. It came to him that there was a greater difference,
a deeper divergence between himself and Peter than between Peter and
these Britishers. The earmark of your coast-born South Carolinian is
the selfsame, absolute sureness of himself, his place, his people,
in the essential scheme of things. Wasn't he born in South Carolina?
Hasn't he relatives in Charleston? Very well, then!
In Peter's case this essential sureness had developed into a
courtesy so instinctive, a democracy so unaffectedly sincere, that
it flavored his whole personality with a pleasing distinctiveness.
The British do not expect their very young men to be too knowing
or too fatally bright; they mark the promise rather than the
performance of youth, and spaciously allow time for the process of
development. And so Peter Champneys found himself curiously at home
in democratically oligarchic England.
"I feel as if I were visiting my grandmother's house," he confided
to a certain lady next whom he was seated at one of Mrs. Hemingway's
"And where is your mother's house?" wondered the lady, who found
herself attracted to him.
"Over home in Riverton," said Peter Champneys. And his face went
wistful, remembering the little town with the tide-water gurgling in
its coves, and its great oaks hung with long gray swaying moss, and
the sinuous lines of the marshes against sky and water, and the
smell of the sea--all the mellow magic of the coast that was Home.
It didn't occur to him that an English lady mightn't know just where
"over home in Riverton" might be. She was so great a lady that she
didn't ask. She looked at him and said thoughtfully:
"I wonder if you wouldn't like to see an old place of ours. I'm
having the Hemingways down for a week, and I should like you to come
with them." And she added, with a charming smile: "As you are an
artist, you'll like our gallery. There's a Rembrandt you should
Peter's eyes of a sudden went deep and golden, and their dazzling
depths had so instant and so sweet a recognition that her heart
leaped in answer. It was as if a young archangel had secretly
signaled her in passing.
When the formal invitation arrived, Mrs. Hemingway was delighted
with what she termed Peter's good fortune. The invitations to that
house were coveted and prized she explained. Really, Peter Champneys
was unusually lucky! She felt deeply gratified.
Peter hadn't known that there existed anywhere on earth anything
quite so perfect as the life in a great English country house. He
thought that perhaps the vanished plantation life of the old South
might have approximated it. His delight in the fine old Tudor pile,
in its ordered stateliness, its mellowed beauty, pleased his hostess
and won the regard of the rather grumpy gentleman who happened to be
her husband and its owner. To her surprise, he took Peter under his
wing, and showed himself as much interested in this modest guest as
he was ordinarily indifferent to many more important ones. It was
his custom to take what he called a stroll before breakfast--a
matter of a mere eight or ten miles, maybe--and he found to his hand
a young man with walking legs, seeing eyes, and but a modicum of
tongue. He showed Peter that country-side with the thoroughness of a
boy birds'-nesting, as Peter had once showed the Carolina
country-side to Claribel Spring. They went over the venerable house
with the same thoroughness, and Peter sensed the owner's
impersonally personal delight in the stewardship of a priceless
possession. He held it in trust, and he loved it with a quiet
passion that was as much a part of himself as was his English
speech. Every now and then he would pause before some rusty sword,
or maybe a tattered and dusty banner; and although he was of a very
florid complexion, and his nose was even bigger than Peter's, in
such moments there was that in the eye and brow, in the expression
of the firm lips, that made him more than handsome in the young
man's sight. Through him he glimpsed that something silent and large
and fine that is England.
"And we're going," said the nobleman, pausing before the portrait of
a gentleman who had fallen at Marston Moor. "Oh, yes, we are
vanishing. After a while the great breed of English gentlemen will
be as extinct as the dodo. And this house will be turned into a
Dispensary for Dyspeptic Proletarians, or more probably an American
named Cohen will buy it and explain to his guests at dinner just how
much it cost him."
Peter remembered broken and vine-grown chimneys where stately homes
had stood, the extinction of a romantic plantation life, the
vanishing of the gentlemen of the old South, as the Champneys had
vanished. They had taken with them something never to be replaced in
American life, perhaps; but hadn't that vanished something made room
for a something else intrinsically better and sounder, because based
on a larger conception of freedom and justice? The American looked
at the cavalier's haughty, handsome face; he looked at the
"Yes. You will go," he agreed presently. "All things pass. That is
the law. In the end it is a good law."
"I should think it would altogether depend on what replaces us,"
said the other, dryly.
"And that," said Peter, "altogether depends upon you, doesn't it?
It's in your power to shape it, you know. However, if you'll notice,
things somehow manage to right themselves in spite of us. Now, over
home in Carolina we haven't come out so very badly, all things
"Got jolly well licked, didn't you?" asked the Englishman, whose
outstanding idea of American military history centered upon
"Just about wiped off the slate. Had to begin all over, in a world
turned upside down. Yet, you see, here I am! And I assure you I
shouldn't be willing to change places with my grandfather." With a
shy friendliness he laid his fingers for a moment on his host's arm.
"Your grandson won't be willing to change, either, because he'll be
the right sort. _That's_ what your kind hands down." He spoke
diffidently, but with a certain authority. Each man is a sieve
through which life sifts experiences, leaving the garnering of grain
and the blowing away of chaff to the man himself. Peter had garnered
courage to face with a quiet heart things as they are. He had never
accepted the general view of things as final, therefore he escaped
"They thought the end of the world had come--my people. So it
had--for them. But not for us. There's always a new heaven and a new
earth for those who come after," he finished.
The Englishman smiled twistedly. After a while he said unexpectedly:
"I wish you'd have a try at my portrait, Mr. Champneys. I think I'd
like that tentative grandson of mine to see the sort of grandfather
he really possessed."
"Why, I haven't had any training! But if you'll sit for me I'll do
some sketches of you, gladly."
"Why not now?" asked the other, coolly. "I have a fancy to see what
you'll make of me." He added casually: "Whistler used the north room
over the stables when he stayed here. You've seen his pastels, and
the painting of my father."
"Yes," said Peter, reverently. And he stared at his host,
"We've never changed the room since his time. Should you like to
look over it now? You'll find all the materials you are likely to
need,--my sister has a pretty little talent of her own, and it
pleases her to use the place."
"Why, yes, if you like," murmured Peter, dazedly. And like one in a
dream he followed his stocky host to the room over the stables. One
saw why the artist had selected it; it made an ideal studio. A small
canvas, untouched, was already in place on an easel near a window.
One or two ladylike landscapes leaned against the wall.
"She has the talent of a painstaking copyist," said her brother,
nodding at his sister's work. "Shall you use oils, or do you prefer
chalks, or water-colors?"
"Oils," decided Peter, examining the canvas. "It will be rough work,
remember." He made his preparations, turned upon his sitter the
painter's knife-like stare, and plunged into work. It was swift
work, and perhaps roughly done, as he had said, but by the miracle
of genius he managed to catch and fix upon his canvas the tenacious
and indomitable soul of the Englishman. You saw it looking out at
you from the steady, light blue eyes in the plain face with its
craggy nose and obstinate chin; and you saw the kindness and
delicacy of the firm mouth. There he stood, flat-footed, easy in his
well-worn clothes, one hand in his pocket, the other holding the
blackthorn walking-stick he always carried, and looked at you with
the quiet sureness of integrity and of power. Peter added a few last
touches; and then, instead of signing his name, he painted in a
small Red Admiral, this with such exquisite fidelity that you might
think that gay small rover had for a moment alighted upon the canvas
and would in another moment fly away again.
His lordship studied his painted semblance critically.
"I rather thought you could do it," he said quietly. "I usually
manage, as you Americans say, to pick a winner. You'll be a great
painter if you really want to be one, Mr. Champneys. Should you say
sixty guineas would be a fair price for this?"
"That's something like three hundred dollars, isn't it?" asked
Peter, interestedly. "Suppose we call this a preliminary sketch for
a portrait I'm to paint later--say when I've had a few years of
"You will charge me very much more than sixty guineas for a
portrait, two or three years from now," said the other, smiling. He
looked at the swiftly done, vivid bit of work. "_This_ is what I
want for my grandson; it is his grandfather as nature made him. It
is as true and as homely as life itself." And he looked at Peter
respectfully, so that that young man blushed to his ears. And that
is how and when Peter Champneys painted his first ordered picture,
signed with the Red Admiral; and how he won the faithful friendship
of a crusty Englishman. It was a very real friendship. His lordship
had what he himself called a country heart, and as Peter Champneys
had the same sort, and neither man outraged the other by too much
talk, they got along astonishingly well.
"He's deucedly intelligent," his lordship explained, with quiet
enthusiasm. "We'll tramp for miles, and I give you my word that for
an hour on end he won't say three words!"
Hemingway, to whom this confidence was given, chuckled. It amused
him to watch his wife's wild goose putting on native swan feathers.
Yet it pleased him, for he knew the boy appealed to her romantic as
well as to her maternal instinct. She handled him skilfully, and it
was she who passed upon his invitations. She wished him to meet
clever and brilliant men and women; and at times she left him in the
hands of young girls, pink-and-white visions who troubled as well as
interested him. He felt that he was really meeting them under false
pretenses. Their youth called to his, but he might not answer.
Between him and youth stood that unloved and unlovely girl in
Mrs. Hemingway watched him with the eyes of the woman who has a
young man upon her hands. His reactions to his contacts interested
her immensely. His worldly education was progressing with entire
satisfaction to her.
"I want him to marry an English wife," she confided to her husband.
They were to leave for Paris that night, and she was summing up the
results of his stay in London, the balance being altogether in his
favor. "A well-bred, normal English girl with good connections, a
girl entirely untroubled by temperament, who will love him tenderly,
look out for his physical well-being, and fill his house with
healthy children, is exactly what Peter Champneys needs. And the
sooner it happens to him the better. Peter has a lonely soul. It
shouldn't be allowed to become chronic."
Hemingway looked at her apprehensively. "Sounds to me as if you were
trying to make Peter pick a peck of pickled peppers," he commented.
And Peter coming in at this opportune moment, he grinned at the boy
"Peter," he smiled, "the sweet chime of merry wedding-bells in the
distance falls softly on mine ear; my wife thinks you should be
altar-broke. Charming domestic interior, happy fireside clime, flag
of our union fluttering from the patent clothes-line! Futurist
painting of Young Artist Pushing a Pram! Don't look at me with such
an agonized expression of the ears, Peter!"
But Peter had no answering smile. His face had changed, and there
was that in his eyes which gave Hemingway pause.
"Why, old chap, I was merely joking!" he began, with real concern.
"Peter!" said the woman, softly. "You have had--a disappointment?
But, my dear boy, you are so _very_ young. Don't take it too much to
heart, Peter. At your age nothing is final, really." And she smiled
A flush suffused the young man's forehead. He felt shamed and
miserable. He _couldn't_ flaunt his price-tag before these unbuyable
souls whose beautiful and true marriage was based upon love, and
sympathy, and mutual ideals! He _couldn't_ rattle his chains, or
explain Anne Champneys. He couldn't, indeed, force himself to speak
of her at all. The thing was bad enough, but to talk about it--No!
He lifted troubled eyes.
"I am afraid--in my case--it is final," he said, in a low voice.
And after a pause, in a louder tone: "Yes--please understand--it is
"Oh, Peter dear, I'm sorry! But--"
"You're talking nonsense. Why, you're barely twenty-one!" protested
Hemingway. "Much water must flow under the bridge, Peter, before you
can say of anything: it is final. You've got a long life ahead of
"Work in," finished Peter. "Yes, I know that. I have my chance to
work. That is enough." At that his head went up.
Mrs. Hemingway puckered her brows. She leaned toward him, her eyes
"Peter!" said she, mischievously, her cheek dimpling. "Peter, aren't
you rather leaving the Red Admiral out of your calculations?"
"NOT BY BREAD ALONE"
Mrs. Peter Champneys drove away from the scene of her wedding,
feeling as if boiling water had been poured over her. No man of all
the men she had ever met had looked at her with just such an
expression as she had encountered in Peter Champneys's eyes, and the
memory of it filled her with a rankling sense of injustice. He had
married her for the same reason she had married him, hadn't he? Then
why should he think himself a whit better than she was? It seemed to
her that all the unkindness, all the slights she had ever endured,
had come to a head in Peter's distressed and astonished glance.
Nancy had no illusions as to her own personal appearance, but it
occurred to her that her bridegroom left considerable to be desired
in that respect, himself. With his hatchet face and his outstanding
ears and his big nose--why, he was as homely as that dried old
priest in the glass case in the museum!--and him looking down on
people every mite as good as he was! That was really the crux of the
thing: Nancy had her own pride, and Peter had managed to trample
upon it roughshod. She felt she could never forgive him, and her
sense of injury included Chadwick Champneys as well. She hadn't
asked him to make his nephew marry her, had she? The suggestion had
come from the Champneys, not from her. Yet it was plain to her that
both these men considered her a very inferior person. She couldn't
She liked the furnished apartment she and Mr. Champneys were to
occupy until their house was ready, better than she had liked the
hotel, though the Japanese butler, Hoichi, overawed her. She wasn't
used to Japanese butlers and she didn't know exactly how to treat
this suave, deft, silent yellow man who was so efficient and so
ubiquitous. It was different where the maids were concerned; she who
had been so lately an unpaid drudge was afraid these trained, clever
servants might suspect her former state of servitude and she covered
her fear with a manner so insupportable that Mr. Chadwick Champneys,
who looked upon arrogant rudeness to social inferiors as a sort of
eighth deadly sin, was presently forced to remonstrate.
"Nancy," he ventured one morning, "I have been observing your
manner to the servants with--er--disapproval. A habitual lack of
consideration is a serious deficiency. It is really a lack of
breeding--and of heart. A lady"--he fixed his large dark eyes upon
her--"is never impolite."
He touched her on the quick. She _knew_ these Champneys didn't think
she was a lady, but for this old man to come right out and say so to
her face--"Say, I guess I know how to be a lady without you havin'
to tell me!"
"I am more than willing to be convinced," said the South Carolinian,
At that, of a sudden, Nancy flared. She lifted a pair of sullen and
mutinous eyes, and her lips quivered. He saw with surprise that she
"Say, you look here--I done what you told me to do, didn't I? I
ain't no more nor no less a lady than I was before I done it, am I?
What you pickin' on me for, then? What more you want?"
He sighed. Milly's niece was distinctly difficult, to say the least.
How, he asked himself desperately, was one to make a dent in her
appalling ignorance? She irritated him. And as is usual with people
who do not understand, he took exactly the wrong course with her.
"I want you at least to try to live up to your position," he said
with cold directness, beetling his brows at her. "I want you to do
what you're told--and to keep on doing it! Do you understand that?"
He felt that he was allowing himself to be more wrought up than was
good for him, and this added to his annoyance.
She considered this, sullenly. "I'm not exackly straight in my mind
what I understand and what I don't understand, yet," she replied.
"But I got this much straight: If I done what I done to please you,
I done it to please me, too!"
This was logical enough; it had even a note of common sense and
justice. But her crude method of expressing it filled him with cold
fury. The Champneys temper strained at the leash.
"Ah!" said he, a dark flush staining his face, "ah! Then get this
straight, too: you'll please me only _if_ you carry out your part of
our contract. What! do you dream I would ruin my nephew's life for a
self-willed, undisciplined minx? Nothing could be farther from my
thoughts! Nancy, _I_ made you Mrs. Peter Champneys: you will qualify
for the position--or lose it!" He tapped his foot on the floor, and
glared at her.
Nancy gave him glare for glare. "Yeah, you said it! You made me Mrs.
Peter Champneys, and all I got to do is to do what I don't want to
do, to hold down the job! What you askin' _him_ to do to please
_me_? How's _he_ qualifyin'? Is he so much I'm nothin'? Because
that's what he thinks! Oh, you needn't talk! I guess I got eyes, at
"I suggest that you use them to your own advantage, then," said he,
disgustedly. "Let us have done with such squabbling! You agreed to
obey. Very well, then, you will do so, or I shall take steps to put
you outside of my calculations. In other words, I will wash my hands
of you. Is that perfectly clear to you?" How else, he asked himself,
was he to make her understand?
She saw that he was in a towering rage, and she reflected that if
she had made Baxter that mad he'd have banged her with his fists.
For a long minute the two stared at each other. She was about to
make a defiant reply and let come what might, when a sort of spasm
distorted his face. His mouth opened gaspingly, his eyes rolled back
in his head like a dying man's. He seemed to crumple up, and she
caught him as he fell. Her terrified shriek brought Hoichi, who took
instant charge of the situation. He made the unconscious man
comfortable on a divan, applied such restoratives as were at hand,
and directed a frightened maid to telephone for physicians.
Nancy fled to her own room, and sat on the edge of her bed,
frightened and subdued. That quarrel and its serious effect made a
turning-point in her life, though she attached no blame to herself
for the man's illness. She had no love for him, but her heart was
not callous to suffering, and his distorted and agonized face had
terrified and shocked her.
The suddenness of the seizure made his words more impressive.
Suppose he died: what of her? She was not sure that any definite
provision had as yet been made for her. What, then, should she do?
Suppose he recovered: what then? She had cause for serious thought.
All this luxury and ease, this pleasant life of plenty, in which she
reveled with the deep delight of one quite unused to it, hung upon a
contingency--the contingency of absolute obedience. She was not
naturally supine, and her spirit rose against an unconditional
self-surrender to a hot-tempered, imperious old man, who would mold
her to his will, make her over to his own notions, quite as
high-handedly as if she'd been a lump of putty and not a human
being. Nancy tasted the bitterness of having no voice in the making
of her own destiny.
Well, but suppose she defied him? He was quite capable of washing
his hands of her, just as he had threatened. And then? Before that
possibility Nancy recoiled. No. She couldn't, she wouldn't go back
to that old life of squalid slavery--eating bad food, wearing
wretched clothes, suffering all the sodden and sordid misery of the
ignorant, abjectly poor, a suffering twice as poignant now that she
knew better things. She knew poverty too well to have any illusions
about it. The Baxter kitchen rose before her. Why! while she was
sitting here now, in this luxurious room, back there they'd be
getting ready for the noonday dinner. The close kitchen would be
reeking with the odor of boiling potatoes and cabbage, from which a
greasy steam would be arising, so that one saw things as through a
hot mist. One of the children would be screaming, somewhere about
the house, and Mrs. Baxter, in an unsavory wrapper, her face
streaming with perspiration, her hair in sticky strands on her hot
forehead, would be shrilly threatening personal chastisement: "You
shut up, out there! Just you wait till I get this batch o' biscuits
off my hands an' I bet I fix _you_! didn't I say shut up?" The
hateful voice seemed so close to Nancy's ear that the girl shrank
back, shivering with distaste.
She fingered the soft, fine stuff of the frock she was wearing. She
stared about the room,--_her_ room, which she didn't have to share
with one of the Baxter children, who squirmed and kicked all night
in summer, and pulled the bed-coverings off her in winter. She went
over to her dressing-table and fingered its pretty accessories,
sniffing with childish pleasure the delicately scented powder and
cologne. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, and scowled.
Then she began to walk restlessly up and down the room. She had to
think this thing out.
Why should she go, and leave the road clear for Peter Champneys? It
occurred to her that, seen from his point of view, her elimination
from the scene might be regarded somewhat in the light of
providential interference in his behalf. She flushed. It wasn't
fair! The thought of Peter Champneys was gall and wormwood to her.
Nancy wasn't a fool. Her honesty had a blunt directness, a sort of
cave-woman frankness. In her, truthfulness was not so much a virtue
as an energy. The hardness of her unloved life had bred a like
hardness in her sense of values; she was distrustful and suspicious
because she had never had occasion to be anything else. In that
suspicion and distrustfulness had lain her safety. She had no sense
of spiritual values as yet. Religion had meant going to church on
Sundays when you had clean clothes in which to appear. Morals had
meant being good, and to Nancy being good simply meant not being
bad--and you couldn't be bad, go wrong, if you never trusted any
man. A girl that trusted none of 'em could keep respectable. Nancy
had seen girls who trusted men, in her time. Nothing like that for
_her_! But she knew, also, the price the woman pays whether she
trusts or distrusts, and the matrimony which at times rewarded the
distrustful didn't appear much more alluring than the potter's
field which waited for the credulous. Anyway you looked at it, what
happened wasn't pleasant. And it was worse yet when you knew there
was something better and different. You had to pay a price to get
that something better and different, of course. The fact that one
pays for everything one gets was coming home to Nancy with
increasing force; the problem, then, was to get your money's worth.
She took her head in her hands, and tried to concentrate all her
faculties. She wasn't a shirker, and she realized that she must
decide upon her course of conduct now and stick to it. If she didn't
look out for herself, who would? And presently she had reached the
conclusion that when Mr. Peter Champneys reappeared upon the scene,
he must find Mrs. Peter Champneys occupying the foreground, and
occupying it creditably, too. She'd do it! When Mr. Chadwick
Champneys recovered, she'd come to terms with him. She'd keep faith.
She spent three or four anxious days, while specialists came and
went, and white-capped, starched, authoritative personages
relieved each other in the sick-room, their answers to all queries
being that the patient was doing quite as well as could be
expected. At the end of the fifth day they admitted that the
patient was recovering,--was, in fact, out of danger, though he
wouldn't leave his room for another week or ten days; and he
wasn't to be worried or disturbed about anything.
Satisfied, then, that he was on the highroad to recovery, and
having made up her mind as to her own course of procedure, Nancy
rather enjoyed these few days of comparative freedom. She supplied
herself with a huge box of bonbons, "Junie's Love Test" and "The
Widowed Bride,"--books begun long ago, but wrested from her untimely
by the ruthless Mrs. Baxter, on the score of takin' her time off:
her rightful work for them that'd took her in, and fillin' her red
head with the foolishest sort o' notions. She had had so much to do
that to have nothing to do but lie around in a red silk kimona and
nibble chocolates and read love stories, seemed to her the supreme
height of felicity.
She reveled in these novels. They represented that something
different toward which her untutored and stinted heart groped
blindly. Otherwise her mind, by no means a poor one, lay fallow and
untilled. The beauty and wonder of the world, the pity and terror of
fate, the divine agony of love which sacrifices and endures, did not
as yet exist for her. She merely sensed that there was something
different, somewhere--maybe on the road ahead. And so she wept over
the woes of star-crost lovers, and sentimentalized over husky heroes
utterly unlike any male beings known to nature, and believed she
didn't believe that disinterested and unselfish love existed in the
world. As she hadn't the faintest gleam of self-knowledge, in all
this she was perfectly sincere.
She did not see Mr. Champneys for two weeks or so. In his nervous
condition he evinced a singular reluctance to have her come near
him, although others saw him daily. For instance, Mr. Jason
Vandervelde appeared at half after ten o'clock every morning during
his client's convalescence, was immediately admitted to Mr.
Champney's room, and left it upon the stroke of eleven.
Nancy watched this man curiously. When he met her in the hall, he
spoke to her in a nice, full-toned, modulated voice, exceedingly
pleasing to the ear. His eyes were small but of a deep and bright
blue, and although he was heavily built he wore his clothes so well
that he gave the effect of strength rather than of clumsiness. He
was clean-shaven and ruddy, and his large, well-shaped mouth was
deeply curled at the corners. His hands were not fat and white, as
one might expect, but tanned and muscular, and slightly hairy. His
glasses gave him a certain precision, and his curled lips suggested
irony. Nancy liked to look at him. He discomfited her understanding
of men, for, she couldn't tell why, she both liked and trusted him.
There was nothing romantic about him,--a well-fed, well-groomed
lawyer-man in his late thirties, with a handsome wife in a handsome
house,--yet he had the faculty of making her wonder about him, and
wonder with kindness at that. She wished she knew just how much he
knew about her, her early upbringing, her sad lack of education.
What had Mr. Champneys told him? Or had he really told him anything?
When her uncle finally overcame his reluctance and sent for her, she
entered his room quietly and stood looking at him with an honest
concern that was in her favor. She was always honest, he reflected.
There was nothing of the hypocrite or the coward in those wary
gray-green eyes that always met one's glance without flinching.
The change in his appearance shocked her. His eyes were hollow, his
tall form looked meager and shrunken. He was growing to be an _old_
man. She said awkwardly:
"I'm real sorry you been so sick." And she made no attempt to
apologize for her share in the quarrel that had led to his seizure.
She ignored it altogether, and for this he was grateful.
"Thank you. I am getting along nicely," he said civilly. And with a
slightly impatient gesture he dismissed all further mention of
illness. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, the better
to collect his thoughts. He wished to make his wishes perfectly
clear to her. But she surprised him by saying quietly:
"I been thinking things over while you was sick, and I come to the
conclusion you was right. I got to have more education. There's
things I just got to know--how to talk nice, and what to wear, and
what fork you'd ought to eat with. Forks and things drive me real
"I had thought, at first, of sending you to some particularly fine
boarding-school--" he began, but Nancy interrupted him.
"If I was six instead o' sixteen, you might do it. As 't is, I
wouldn't learn nothin' except to hate the girls that'd be turnin'
up their noses at me. No. I don't want to go to boardin'-school.
I've saw music-teachers that come to folks' houses to give lessons,
and I been thinkin', why can't you get me a school-teacher that'll
teach me right at home!"
"As I was saying when interrupted,"--he looked at her
reprovingly--"I had at first thought of sending you to some
finishing school. I gave up that idea almost at once. I agree with
you that it is best you should be taught at home. In fact, I have
already engaged the lady who will be your companion as well as your
"I don't know as I'm crazy about a lady companion as a steady job,"
said Nancy, doubtfully. She feared to lose her new liberty, to
forego the amazing delight of living by herself, so to speak. "But
now you've done it, I sure hope you've picked out somebody _young_.
If I got to have a lady companion, I want she should be young."
"Mr. Vandervelde attended to the matter for me," said Mr. Champneys,
in a tone of finality. "He is sure that the lady in question is
exactly the person I wish. Mrs. MacGregor is an Englishwoman, the
widow of a naval officer. She is in reduced circumstances, but of
irreproachable connections. She has the accomplishments of a lady of
her class, and her companionship should be an inestimable blessing
to you. You will be governed by her authority. She will be here
"A ole widder woman! Good Lord! I--" here she stopped, and gulped.
An expression of resignation came over her countenance. "Oh, all
right. You've done it an' I'll make the best of it," she finished,
not too graciously.
"It is not proper to refer to a lady as 'a ole widder woman'."
"Well, but ain't she?" And she asked: "What else you know about
"Mr. Vandervelde attended to the matter," he repeated. "He is
thoroughly satisfied, and that is enough for me--and for you. I sent
for you to inform you that she is to be here to-morrow. See that you
receive her pleasantly. Your hours of study and recreation will be
arranged by her. She will also overlook your wardrobe. And, I do not
wish to hear any complaints."
"I can't even pick out my own clothes?"
"You lack even the rudiments of good taste."
"What's wrong with my clothes?" she demanded.
"Everything," said he, succinctly, and with visible irritation. He
remembered the wedding-gown, and his face twitched. She watched him
"Oh, all right. I said I'd obey, an' I will. I ain't forgettin',"
said she, wearily.
"Very well. I am glad you understand." He closed his eyes, and
understanding that the interview was at an end, Nancy withdrew.
Mrs. MacGregor arrived on the morrow. The attorney had been given
explicit orders and instructions by his exacting client, who had his
own notions of what a teacher for his niece should and shouldn't be.
Vandervelde congratulated himself on having been able to meet them