This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks at the end of this file for those who may wish to sample the author’s ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES
By William Dean Howells
Not long after Lent, Fulkerson set before Dryfoos one day his scheme for a dinner in celebration of the success of ‘Every Other Week.’ Dryfoos had never meddled in any manner with the conduct of the periodical; but Fulkerson easily saw that he was proud of his relation to it, and he proceeded upon the theory that he would be willing to have this relation known: On the days when he had been lucky in stocks, he was apt to drop in at the office on Eleventh Street, on his way up-town, and listen to Fulkerson’s talk. He was on good enough terms with March, who revised his first impressions of the man, but they had not much to say to each other, and it seemed to March that Dryfoos was even a little afraid of him, as of a piece of mechanism he had acquired, but did not quite understand; he left the working of it to Fulkerson, who no doubt bragged of it sufficiently. The old man seemed to have as little to say to his son; he shut himself up with Fulkerson, where the others could hear the manager begin and go on with an unstinted flow of talk about ‘Every Other Week;’ for Fulkerson never talked of anything else if he could help it, and was always bringing the conversation back to it if it strayed:
The day he spoke of the dinner he rose and called from his door: “March, I say, come down here a minute, will you? Conrad, I want you, too.”
The editor and the publisher found the manager and the proprietor seated on opposite sides of the table. “It’s about those funeral baked meats, you know,” Fulkerson explained, “and I was trying to give Mr. Dryfoos some idea of what we wanted to do. That is, what I wanted to do,” he continued, turning from March to Dryfoos. “March, here, is opposed to it, of course. He’d like to publish ‘Every Other Week’ on the sly; keep it out of the papers, and off the newsstands; he’s a modest Boston petunia, and he shrinks from publicity; but I am not that kind of herb myself, and I want all the publicity we can get–beg, borrow, or steal– for this thing. I say that you can’t work the sacred rites of hospitality in a better cause, and what I propose is a little dinner for the purpose of recognizing the hit we’ve made with this thing. My idea was to strike you for the necessary funds, and do the thing on a handsome scale. The term little dinner is a mere figure of speech. A little dinner wouldn’t make a big talk, and what we want is the big talk, at present, if we don’t lay up a cent. My notion was that pretty soon after Lent, now, when everybody is feeling just right, we should begin to send out our paragraphs, affirmative, negative, and explanatory, and along about the first of May we should sit down about a hundred strong, the most distinguished people in the country, and solemnize our triumph. There it is in a nutshell. I might expand and I might expound, but that’s the sum and substance of it.”
Fulkerson stopped, and ran his eyes eagerly over the faces of his three listeners, one after the other. March was a little surprised when Dryfoos turned to him, but that reference of the question seemed to give Fulkerson particular pleasure: “What do you think, Mr. March?”
The editor leaned back in his chair. “I don’t pretend to have Mr. Fulkerson’s genius for advertising; but it seems to me a little early yet. We might celebrate later when we’ve got more to celebrate. At present we’re a pleasing novelty, rather than a fixed fact.”
“Ah, you don’t get the idea!” said Fulkerson. “What we want to do with this dinner is to fix the fact.”
“Am I going to come in anywhere?” the old man interrupted.
“You’re going to come in at the head of the procession! We are going to strike everything that is imaginative and romantic in the newspaper soul with you and your history and your fancy for going in for this thing. I can start you in a paragraph that will travel through all the newspapers, from Maine to Texas and from Alaska to Florida. We have had all sorts of rich men backing up literary enterprises, but the natural- gas man in literature is a new thing, and the combination of your picturesque past and your aesthetic present is something that will knock out the sympathies of the American public the first round. I feel,” said Fulkerson, with a tremor of pathos in his voice, “that ‘Every Other Week’ is at a disadvantage before the public as long as it’s supposed to be my enterprise, my idea. As far as I’m known at all, I’m known simply as a syndicate man, and nobody in the press believes that I’ve got the money to run the thing on a grand scale; a suspicion of insolvency must attach to it sooner or later, and the fellows on the press will work up that impression, sooner or later, if we don’t give them something else to work up. Now, as soon as I begin to give it away to the correspondents that you’re in it, with your untold millions–that, in fact, it was your idea from the start, that you originated it to give full play to the humanitarian tendencies of Conrad here, who’s always had these theories of co-operation, and longed to realize them for the benefit of our struggling young writers and artists–“
March had listened with growing amusement to the mingled burlesque and earnest of Fulkerson’s self-sacrificing impudence, and with wonder as to how far Dryfoos was consenting to his preposterous proposition, when Conrad broke out: “Mr. Fulkerson, I could not allow you to do that. It would not be true; I did not wish to be here; and–and what I think–what I wish to do–that is something I will not let any one put me in a false position about. No!” The blood rushed into the young man’s gentle face, and he met his father’s glance with defiance.
Dryfoos turned from him to Fulkerson without speaking, and Fulkerson said, caressingly: “Why, of course, Coonrod! I know how you feel, and I shouldn’t let anything of that sort go out uncontradicted afterward. But there isn’t anything in these times that would give us better standing with the public than some hint of the way you feel about such things. The publics expects to be interested, and nothing would interest it more than to be told that the success of ‘Every Other Week’ sprang from the first application of the principle of Live and let Live to a literary enterprise. It would look particularly well, coming from you and your father, but if you object, we can leave that part out; though if you approve of the principle I don’t see why you need object. The main thing is to let the public know that it owes this thing to the liberal and enlightened spirit of one of the foremost capitalists of the country; and that his purposes are not likely to be betrayed in the hands of his son, I should get a little cut made from a photograph of your father, and supply it gratis with the paragraphs.”
“I guess,” said the old man, “we will get along without the cut.”
Fulkerson laughed. “Well, well! Have it your own way, But the sight of your face in the patent outsides of the country press would be worth half a dozen subscribers in every school district throughout the length and breadth of this fair land.”
“There was a fellow,” Dryfoos explained, in an aside to March, “that was getting up a history of Moffitt, and he asked me to let him put a steel engraving of me in. He said a good many prominent citizens were going to have theirs in, and his price was a hundred and fifty dollars. I told him I couldn’t let mine go for less than two hundred, and when he said he could give me a splendid plate for that money, I said I should want it cash, You never saw a fellow more astonished when he got it through him. that I expected him to pay the two hundred.”
Fulkerson laughed in keen appreciation of the joke. “Well, sir, I guess ‘Every Other Week’ will pay you that much. But if you won’t sell at any price, all right; we must try to worry along without the light of your countenance on, the posters, but we got to have it for the banquet.”
“I don’t seem to feel very hungry, yet,” said they old man, dryly.
“Oh, ‘l’appeit vient en mangeant’, as our French friends say. You’ll be hungry enough when you see the preliminary Little Neck clam. It’s too late for oysters.”
“Doesn’t that fact seem to point to a postponement till they get back, sometime in October,” March suggested,
“No, no!” said Fulkerson, “you don’t catch on to the business end of this thing, my friends. You’re proceeding on something like the old exploded idea that the demand creates the supply, when everybody knows, if he’s watched the course of modern events, that it’s just as apt to be the other way. I contend that we’ve got a real substantial success to celebrate now; but even if we hadn’t, the celebration would do more than anything else to create the success, if we got it properly before the public. People will say: Those fellows are not fools; they wouldn’t go and rejoice over their magazine unless they had got a big thing in it. And the state of feeling we should produce in the public mind would make a boom of perfectly unprecedented grandeur for E. O. W. Heigh?”
He looked sunnily from one to the other in succession. The elder Dryfoos said, with his chin on the top of his stick, “I reckon those Little Neck clams will keep.”
“Well, just as you say,” Fulkerson cheerfully assented. “I understand you to agree to the general principle of a little dinner?”
“The smaller the better,” said the old man.
“Well, I say a little dinner because the idea of that seems to cover the case, even if we vary the plan a little. I had thought of a reception, maybe, that would include the lady contributors and artists, and the wives and daughters of the other contributors. That would give us the chance to ring in a lot of society correspondents and get the thing written up in first-class shape. By-the-way!” cried Fulkerson, slapping himself on the leg, “why not have the dinner and the reception both?”
“I don’t understand,” said Dryfoos.
“Why, have a select little dinner for ten or twenty choice spirits of the male persuasion, and then, about ten o’clock, throw open your palatial drawing-rooms and admit the females to champagne, salads, and ices. It is the very thing! Come!”
“What do you think of it, Mr. March?” asked Dryfoos, on whose social inexperience Fulkerson’s words projected no very intelligible image, and who perhaps hoped for some more light.
“It’s a beautiful vision,” said March, “and if it will take more time to realize it I think I approve. I approve of anything that will delay Mr. Fulkerson’s advertising orgie.”
“Then,” Fulkerson pursued, “we could have the pleasure of Miss Christine and Miss Mela’s company; and maybe Mrs. Dryfoos would look in on us in the course of the evening. There’s no hurry, as Mr. March suggests, if we can give the thing this shape. I will cheerfully adopt the idea of my honorable colleague.”
March laughed at his impudence, but at heart he was ashamed of Fulkerson for proposing to make use of Dryfoos and his house in that way. He fancied something appealing in the look that the old man turned on him, and something indignant in Conrad’s flush; but probably this was only his fancy. He reflected that neither of them could feel it as people of more worldly knowledge would, and he consoled himself with the fact that Fulkerson was really not such a charlatan as he seemed. But it went through his mind that this was a strange end for all Dryfoos’s money-making to come to; and he philosophically accepted the fact of his own humble fortunes when he reflected how little his money could buy for such a man. It was an honorable use that Fulkerson was putting it to in ‘Every Other Week;’ it might be far more creditably spent on such an enterprise than on horses, or wines, or women, the usual resources of the brute rich; and if it were to be lost, it might better be lost that way than in stocks. He kept a smiling face turned to Dryfoos while these irreverent considerations occupied him, and hardened his heart against father and son and their possible emotions.
The old man rose to put an end to the interview. He only repeated, “I guess those clams will keep till fall.”
But Fulkerson was apparently satisfied with the progress he had made; and when he joined March for the stroll homeward after office hours, he was able to detach his mind from the subject, as if content to leave it.
“This is about the best part of the year in New York,” he said; In some of the areas the grass had sprouted, and the tender young foliage had loosened itself froze the buds on a sidewalk tree here and there; the soft air was full of spring, and the delicate sky, far aloof, had the look it never wears at any other season. “It ain’t a time of year to complain much of, anywhere; but I don’t want anything better than the month of May in New York. Farther South it’s too hot, and I’ve been in Boston in May when that east wind of yours made every nerve in my body get up and howl. I reckon the weather has a good deal to do with the local temperament. The reason a New York man takes life so easily with all his rush is that his climate don’t worry him. But a Boston man must be rasped the whole while by the edge in his air. That accounts for his sharpness; and when he’s lived through twenty-five or thirty Boston Mays, he gets to thinking that Providence has some particular use for him, or he wouldn’t have survived, and that makes him conceited. See?”
“I see,” said March. “But I don’t know how you’re going to work that idea into an advertisement, exactly.”
“Oh, pahaw, now, March! You don’t think I’ve got that on the brain all the time?”
“You were gradually leading up to ‘Every Other Week’, somehow.”
“No, sir; I wasn’t. I was just thinking what a different creature a Massachusetts man is from a Virginian, And yet I suppose they’re both as pure English stock as you’ll get anywhere in America. Marsh, I think Colonel Woodburn’s paper is going to make a hit.”
“You’ve got there! When it knocks down the sale about one-half, I shall know it’s made a hit.”
“I’m not afraid,” said Fulkerson. “That thing is going to attract attention. It’s well written–you can take the pomposity out of it, here and there and it’s novel. Our people like a bold strike, and it’s going to shake them up tremendously to have serfdom advocated on high moral grounds as the only solution of the labor problem. You see, in the first place, he goes for their sympathies by the way he portrays the actual relations of capital and labor; he shows how things have got to go from bad to worse, and then he trots out his little old hobby, and proves that if slavery had not been interfered with, it would have perfected itself in the interest of humanity. He makes a pretty strong plea for it.”
March threw back his head and laughed. “He’s converted you! I swear, Fulkerson, if we had accepted and paid for an article advocating cannibalism as the only resource for getting rid of the superfluous poor, you’d begin to believe in it.”
Fulkerson smiled in approval of the joke, and only said: “I wish you could meet the colonel in the privacy of the domestic circle, March. You’d like him. He’s a splendid old fellow; regular type. Talk about spring!
“You ought to see the widow’s little back yard these days. You know that glass gallery just beyond the dining-room? Those girls have got the pot- plants out of that, and a lot more, and they’ve turned the edges of that back yard, along the fence, into a regular bower; they’ve got sweet peas planted, and nasturtiums, and we shall be in a blaze of glory about the beginning of June. Fun to see ’em work in the garden, and the bird bossing the job in his cage under the cherry-tree. Have to keep the middle of the yard for the clothesline, but six days in the week it’s a lawn, and I go over it with a mower myself. March, there ain’t anything like a home, is there? Dear little cot of your own, heigh? I tell you, March, when I get to pushing that mower round, and the colonel is smoking his cigar in the gallery, and those girls are pottering over the flowers, one of these soft evenings after dinner, I feel like a human being. Yes, I do. I struck it rich when I concluded to take my meals at the widow’s. For eight dollars a week I get good board, refined society, and all the advantages of a Christian home. By-the-way, you’ve never had much talk with Miss Woodburn, have you, March?”
“Not so much as with Miss Woodburn’s father.”
“Well, he is rather apt to scoop the conversation. I must draw his fire, sometime, when you and Mrs. March are around, and get you a chance with Miss Woodburn.”
“I should like that better, I believe,” said March.
“Well, I shouldn’t wonder if you did. Curious, but Miss Woodburn isn’t at all your idea of a Southern girl. She’s got lots of go; she’s never idle a minute; she keeps the old gentleman in first-class shape, and she don’t believe a bit in the slavery solution of the labor problem; says she’s glad it’s gone, and if it’s anything like the effects of it, she’s glad it went before her time. No, sir, she’s as full of snap as the liveliest kind of a Northern girl. None of that sunny Southern languor you read about.”
“I suppose the typical Southerner, like the typical anything else, is pretty difficult to find,” said March. “But perhaps Miss Woodburn represents the new South. The modern conditions must be producing a modern type.”
“Well, that’s what she and the colonel both say. They say there ain’t anything left of that Walter Scott dignity and chivalry in the rising generation; takes too much time. You ought to see her sketch the old- school, high-and-mighty manners, as they survive among some of the antiques in Charlottesburg. If that thing could be put upon the stage it would be a killing success. Makes the old gentleman laugh in spite of himself. But he’s as proud of her as Punch, anyway. Why don’t you and Mrs. March come round oftener? Look here! How would it do to have a little excursion, somewhere, after the spring fairly gets in its work?”
“No, no! Nothing of that kind; perfectly sincere and disinterested enjoyment.”
“Oh, a few handbills to be scattered around: “Buy Every Other Week,” Look out for the next number of ‘Every Other Week,’ ‘Every Other Week at all the news-stands.’ Well, I’ll talk it over with Mrs. March. I suppose there’s no great hurry.”
March told his wife of the idyllic mood in which he had left Fulkerson at the widow’s door, and she said he must be in love.
“Why, of course! I wonder I didn’t think of that. But Fulkerson is such an impartial admirer of the whole sex that you can’t think of his liking one more than another. I don’t know that he showed any unjust partiality, though, in his talk of ‘those girls,’ as he called them. And I always rather fancied that Mrs. Mandel–he’s done so much for her, you know; and she is such a well-balanced, well-preserved person, and so lady-like and correct—-“
“Fulkerson had the word for her: academic. She’s everything that instruction and discipline can make of a woman; but I shouldn’t think they could make enough of her to be in love with.”
“Well, I don’t know. The academic has its charm. There are moods in which I could imagine myself in love with an academic person. That regularity of line; that reasoned strictness of contour; that neatness of pose; that slightly conventional but harmonious grouping of the emotions and morals–you can see how it would have its charm, the Wedgwood in human nature? I wonder where Mrs. Mandel keeps her urn and her willow.”
“I should think she might have use for them in that family, poor thing!” said Mrs. March.
“Ah, that reminds me,” said her husband, “that we had another talk with the old gentleman, this afternoon, about Fulkerson’s literary, artistic, and advertising orgie, and it’s postponed till October.”
“The later the better, I should think,” said Mrs: March, who did not really think about it at all, but whom the date fixed for it caused to think of the intervening time. “We have got to consider what we will do about the summer, before long, Basil.”
“Oh, not yet, not yet,” he pleaded; with that man’s willingness to abide in the present, which is so trying to a woman. “It’s only the end of April.”
“It will be the end of June before we know. And these people wanting the Boston house another year complicates it. We can’t spend the summer there, as we planned.”
“They oughtn’t to have offered us an increased rent; they have taken an advantage of us.”
“I don’t know that it matters,” said Mrs. March. “I had decided not to go there.”
“Had you? This is a surprise.”
“Everything is a surprise to you, Basil, when it happens.”
“True; I keep the world fresh, that way.”
“It wouldn’t have been any change to go from one city to another for the summer. We might as well have stayed in New York.”
“Yes, I wish we had stayed,” said March, idly humoring a conception of the accomplished fact. “Mrs. Green would have let us have the gimcrackery very cheap for the summer months; and we could have made all sorts of nice little excursions and trips off and been twice as well as if we had spent the summer away.”
“Nonsense! You know we couldn’t spend the summer in New York.”
“I know I could.”
“What stuff! You couldn’t manage.”
“Oh yes, I could. I could take my meals at Fulkerson’s widow’s; or at Maroni’s, with poor old Lindau: he’s got to dining there again. Or, I could keep house, and he could dine with me here.”
There was a teasing look in March’s eyes, and he broke into a laugh, at the firmness with which his wife said: “I think if there is to be any housekeeping, I will stay, too; and help to look after it. I would try not intrude upon you and your guest.”
“Oh, we should be only too glad to have you join us,” said March, playing with fire.
“Very well, then, I wish you would take him off to Maroni’s, the next time he comes to dine here!” cried his wife.
The experiment of making March’s old friend free of his house had not given her all the pleasure that so kind a thing ought to have afforded so good a woman. She received Lindau at first with robust benevolence, and the high resolve not to let any of his little peculiarities alienate her from a sense of his claim upon her sympathy and gratitude, not only as a man who had been so generously fond of her husband in his youth, but a hero who had suffered for her country. Her theory was that his mutilation must not be ignored, but must be kept in mind as a monument of his sacrifice, and she fortified Bella with this conception, so that the child bravely sat next his maimed arm at table and helped him to dishes he could not reach, and cut up his meat for him. As for Mrs. March herself, the thought of his mutilation made her a little faint; she was not without a bewildered resentment of its presence as a sort of oppression. She did not like his drinking so much of March’s beer, either; it was no harm, but it was somehow unworthy, out of character with a hero of the war. But what she really could not reconcile herself to was the violence of Lindau’s sentiments concerning the whole political and social fabric. She did not feel sure that he should be allowed to say such things before the children, who had been nurtured in the faith of Bunker Hill and Appomattox, as the beginning and the end of all possible progress in human rights. As a woman she was naturally an aristocrat, but as an American she was theoretically a democrat; and it astounded, it alarmed her, to hear American democracy denounced as a shuffling evasion. She had never cared much for the United States Senate, but she doubted if she ought to sit by when it was railed at as a rich man’s club. It shocked her to be told that the rich and poor were not equal before the law in a country where justice must be paid for at every step in fees and costs, or where a poor man must go to war in his own person, and a rich man might hire someone to go in his. Mrs. March felt that this rebellious mind in Lindau really somehow outlawed him from sympathy, and retroactively undid his past suffering for the country: she had always particularly valued that provision of the law, because in forecasting all the possible mischances that might befall her own son, she had been comforted by the thought that if there ever was another war, and Tom were drafted, his father could buy him a substitute. Compared with such blasphemy as this, Lindau’s declaration that there was not equality of opportunity in America, and that fully one-half the people were debarred their right to the pursuit of happiness by the hopeless conditions of their lives, was flattering praise. She could not listen to such things in silence, though, and it did not help matters when Lindau met her arguments with facts and reasons which she felt she was merely not sufficiently instructed to combat, and he was not quite gentlemanly to urge. “I am afraid for the effect on the children,” she said to her husband. “Such perfectly distorted ideas–Tom will be ruined by them.”
“Oh, let Tom find out where they’re false,” said March. “It will be good exercise for his faculties of research. At any rate, those things are getting said nowadays; he’ll have to hear them sooner or later.”
“Had he better hear them at home?” demanded his wife.
“Why, you know, as you’re here to refute them, Isabel,” he teased, “perhaps it’s the best place. But don’t mind poor old Lindau, my dear. He says himself that his parg is worse than his pidte, you know.”
“Ah, it’s too late now to mind him,” she sighed. In a moment of rash good feeling, or perhaps an exalted conception of duty, she had herself proposed that Lindau should come every week and read German with Tom; and it had become a question first how they could get him to take pay for it, and then how they could get him to stop it. Mrs. March never ceased to wonder at herself for having brought this about, for she had warned her husband against making any engagement with Lindau which would bring him regularly to the house: the Germans stuck so, and were so unscrupulously dependent. Yet, the deed being done, she would not ignore the duty of hospitality, and it was always she who made the old man stay to their Sunday-evening tea when he lingered near the hour, reading Schiller and Heine and Uhland with the boy, in the clean shirt with which he observed the day; Lindau’s linen was not to be trusted during the week. She now concluded a season of mournful reflection by saying, “He will get you into trouble, somehow, Basil.”
“Well, I don’t know how, exactly. I regard Lindau as a political economist of an unusual type; but I shall not let him array me against the constituted authorities. Short of that, I think I am safe.”
“Well, be careful, Basil; be careful. You know you are so rash.”
“I suppose I may continue to pity him? He is such a poor, lonely old fellow. Are you really sorry he’s come into our lives, my dear?”
“No, no; not that. I feel as you do about it; but I wish I felt easier about him–sure, that is, that we’re not doing wrong to let him keep on talking so.”
“I suspect we couldn’t help it,” March returned, lightly. “It’s one of what Lindau calls his ‘brincibles’ to say what he thinks.”
The Marches had no longer the gross appetite for novelty which urges youth to a surfeit of strange scenes, experiences, ideas; and makes travel, with all its annoyances and fatigues, an inexhaustible delight. But there is no doubt that the chief pleasure of their life in New York was from its quality of foreignness: the flavor of olives, which, once tasted, can never be forgotten. The olives may not be of the first excellence; they may be a little stale, and small and poor, to begin with, but they are still olives, and the fond palate craves them. The sort which grew in New York, on lower Sixth Avenue and in the region of Jefferson Market and on the soft exposures south of Washington Square, were none the less acceptable because they were of the commonest Italian variety.
The Marches spent a good deal of time and money in a grocery of that nationality, where they found all the patriotic comestibles and potables, and renewed their faded Italian with the friendly family in charge. Italian table d’hotes formed the adventure of the week, on the day when Mrs. March let her domestics go out, and went herself to dine abroad with her husband and children; and they became adepts in the restaurants where they were served, and which they varied almost from dinner to dinner. The perfect decorum of these places, and their immunity from offence in any, emboldened the Marches to experiment in Spanish restaurants, where red pepper and beans insisted in every dinner, and where once they chanced upon a night of ‘olla podrida’, with such appeals to March’s memory of a boyish ambition to taste the dish that he became poetic and then pensive over its cabbage and carrots, peas and bacon. For a rare combination of international motives they prized most the table d’hote of a French lady, who had taken a Spanish husband in a second marriage, and had a Cuban negro for her cook, with a cross-eyed Alsation for waiter, and a slim young South-American for cashier. March held that some thing of the catholic character of these relations expressed itself in the generous and tolerant variety of the dinner, which was singularly abundant for fifty cents, without wine. At one very neat French place he got a dinner at the same price with wine, but it was not so abundant; and March inquired in fruitless speculation why the table d’hote of the Italians, a notoriously frugal and abstemious people, should be usually more than you wanted at seventy-five cents and a dollar, and that of the French rather less at half a dollar. He could not see that the frequenters were greatly different at the different places; they were mostly Americans, of subdued manners and conjecturably subdued fortunes, with here and there a table full of foreigners. There was no noise and not much smoking anywhere; March liked going to that neat French place because there Madame sat enthroned and high behind a ‘comptoir’ at one side of the room, and every body saluted her in going out. It was there that a gentle-looking young couple used to dine, in whom the Marches became effectlessly interested, because they thought they looked like that when they were young. The wife had an aesthetic dress, and defined her pretty head by wearing her back-hair pulled up very tight under her bonnet; the husband had dreamy eyes set wide apart under a pure forehead. “They are artists, August, I think,” March suggested to the waiter, when he had vainly asked about them. “Oh, hartis, cedenly,” August consented; but Heaven knows whether they were, or what they were: March never learned.
This immunity from acquaintance, this touch-and go quality in their New York sojourn, this almost loss of individuality at times, after the intense identification of their Boston life, was a relief, though Mrs. March had her misgivings, and questioned whether it were not perhaps too relaxing to the moral fibre. March refused to explore his conscience; he allowed that it might be so; but he said he liked now and then to feel his personality in that state of solution. They went and sat a good deal in the softening evenings among the infants and dotards of Latin extraction in Washington Square, safe from all who ever knew them, and enjoyed the advancing season, which thickened the foliage of the trees and flattered out of sight the church warden’s Gothic of the University Building. The infants were sometimes cross, and cried in their weary mothers’ or little sisters’ arms; but they did not disturb the dotards, who slept, some with their heads fallen forward, and some with their heads fallen back; March arbitrarily distinguished those with the drooping faces as tipsy and ashamed to confront the public. The small Italian children raced up and down the asphalt paths, playing American games of tag and hide and-whoop; larger boys passed ball, in training for potential championships. The Marches sat and mused, or quarrelled fitfully about where they should spend the summer, like sparrows, he once said, till the electric lights began to show distinctly among the leaves, and they looked round and found the infants and dotards gone and the benches filled with lovers. That was the signal for the Marches to go home. He said that the spectacle of so much courtship as the eye might take in there at a glance was not, perhaps, oppressive, but the thought that at the same hour the same thing was going on all over the country, wherever two young fools could get together, was more than he could bear; he did not deny that it was natural, and, in a measure. authorized, but he declared that it was hackneyed; and the fact that it must go on forever, as long as the race lasted, made him tired.
At home, generally, they found that the children had not missed them, and were perfectly safe. It was one of the advantages of a flat that they could leave the children there whenever they liked without anxiety. They liked better staying there than wandering about in the evening with their parents, whose excursions seemed to them somewhat aimless, and their pleasures insipid. They studied, or read, or looked out of the window at the street sights; and their mother always came back to them with a pang for their lonesomeness. Bella knew some little girls in the house, but in a ceremonious way; Tom had formed no friendships among the boys at school such as he had left in Boston; as nearly as he could explain, the New York fellows carried canes at an age when they would have had them broken for them by the other boys at Boston; and they were both sissyish and fast. It was probably prejudice; he never could say exactly what their demerits were, and neither he nor Bella was apparently so homesick as they pretended, though they answered inquirers, the one that New York was a hole, and the other that it was horrid, and that all they lived for was to get back to Boston. In the mean time they were thrown much upon each other for society, which March said was well for both of them; he did not mind their cultivating a little gloom and the sense of a common wrong; it made them better comrades, and it was providing them with amusing reminiscences for the future. They really enjoyed Bohemianizing in that harmless way: though Tom had his doubts of its respectability; he was very punctilious about his sister, and went round from his own school every day to fetch her home from hers. The whole family went to the theatre a good deal, and enjoyed themselves together in their desultory explorations of the city.
They lived near Greenwich Village, and March liked strolling through its quaintness toward the waterside on a Sunday, when a hereditary Sabbatarianism kept his wife at home; he made her observe that it even kept her at home from church. He found a lingering quality of pure Americanism in the region, and he said the very bells called to worship in a nasal tone. He liked the streets of small brick houses, with here and there one painted red, and the mortar lines picked out in white, and with now and then a fine wooden portal of fluted pillars and a bowed transom. The rear of the tenement-houses showed him the picturesqueness of clothes-lines fluttering far aloft, as in Florence; and the new apartment-houses, breaking the old sky-line with their towering stories, implied a life as alien to the American manner as anything in continental Europe. In fact, foreign faces and foreign tongues prevailed in Greenwich Village, but no longer German or even Irish tongues or faces. The eyes and earrings of Italians twinkled in and out of the alleyways and basements, and they seemed to abound even in the streets, where long ranks of trucks drawn up in Sunday rest along the curbstones suggested the presence of a race of sturdier strength than theirs. March liked the swarthy, strange visages; he found nothing menacing for the future in them; for wickedness he had to satisfy himself as he could with the sneering, insolent, clean-shaven mug of some rare American of the b’hoy type, now almost as extinct in New York as the dodo or the volunteer fireman. When he had found his way, among the ash-barrels and the groups of decently dressed church-goers, to the docks, he experienced a sufficient excitement in the recent arrival of a French steamer, whose sheds were thronged with hacks and express-wagons, and in a tacit inquiry into the emotions of the passengers, fresh from the cleanliness of Paris, and now driving up through the filth of those streets.
Some of the streets were filthier than others; there was at least a choice; there were boxes and barrels of kitchen offal on all the sidewalks, but not everywhere manure-heaps, and in some places the stench was mixed with the more savory smell of cooking. One Sunday morning, before the winter was quite gone, the sight of the frozen refuse melting in heaps, and particularly the loathsome edges of the rotting ice near the gutters, with the strata of waste-paper and straw litter, and egg- shells and orange peel, potato-skins and cigar-stumps, made him unhappy. He gave a whimsical shrug for the squalor of the neighboring houses, and said to himself rather than the boy who was with him: “It’s curious, isn’t it, how fond the poor people are of these unpleasant thoroughfares? You always find them living in the worst streets.”
“The burden of all the wrong in the world comes on the poor,” said the boy. “Every sort of fraud and swindling hurts them the worst. The city wastes the money it’s paid to clean the streets with, and the poor have to suffer, for they can’t afford to pay twice, like the rich.”
March stopped short. “Hallo, Tom! Is that your wisdom?”
“It’s what Mr. Lindau says,” answered the boy, doggedly, as if not pleased to have his ideas mocked at, even if they were second-hand.
“And you didn’t tell him that the poor lived in dirty streets because they liked them, and were too lazy and worthless to have them cleaned?”
“No; I didn’t.”
“I’m surprised. What do you think of Lindau, generally speaking, Tom?”
“Well, sir, I don’t like the way he talks about some things. I don’t suppose this country is perfect, but I think it’s about the best there is, and it don’t do any good to look at its drawbacks all the time.”
“Sound, my son,” said March, putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder and beginning to walk on. “Well?”
“Well, then, he says that it isn’t the public frauds only that the poor have to pay for, but they have to pay for all the vices of the rich; that when a speculator fails, or a bank cashier defaults, or a firm suspends, or hard times come, it’s the poor who have to give up necessaries where the rich give up luxuries.”
“Well, well! And then?”
“Well, then I think the crank comes in, in Mr. Lindau. He says there’s no need of failures or frauds or hard times. It’s ridiculous. There always have been and there always will be. But if you tell him that, it seems to make him perfectly furious.”
March repeated the substance of this talk to his wife. “I’m glad to know that Tom can see through such ravings. He has lots of good common sense.”
It was the afternoon of the same Sunday, and they were sauntering up Fifth Avenue, and admiring the wide old double houses at the lower end; at one corner they got a distinct pleasure out of the gnarled elbows that a pollarded wistaria leaned upon the top of a garden wall–for its convenience in looking into the street, he said. The line of these comfortable dwellings, once so fashionable, was continually broken by the facades of shops; and March professed himself vulgarized by a want of style in the people they met in their walk to Twenty-third Street.
“Take me somewhere to meet my fellow-exclusives, Isabel,” he demanded. “I pine for the society of my peers.”
He hailed a passing omnibus, and made his wife get on the roof with him. “Think of our doing such a thing in Boston!” she sighed, with a little shiver of satisfaction in her immunity from recognition and comment.
“You wouldn’t be afraid to do it in London or Paris?”
“No; we should be strangers there–just as we are in New York. I wonder how long one could be a stranger here.”
“Oh, indefinitely, in our way of living. The place is really vast, so much larger than it used to seem, and so heterogeneous.”
When they got down very far up-town, and began to walk back by Madison Avenue, they found themselves in a different population from that they dwelt among; not heterogeneous at all; very homogeneous, and almost purely American; the only qualification was American Hebrew. Such a well -dressed, well-satisfied, well-fed looking crowd poured down the broad sidewalks before the handsome, stupid houses that March could easily pretend he had got among his fellow-plutocrats at last. Still he expressed his doubts whether this Sunday afternoon parade, which seemed to be a thing of custom, represented the best form among the young people of that region; he wished he knew; he blamed himself for becoming of a fastidious conjecture; he could not deny the fashion and the richness and the indigeneity of the spectacle; the promenaders looked New-Yorky; they were the sort of people whom you would know for New-Yorkers elsewhere, –so well equipped and so perfectly kept at all points. Their silk hats shone, and their boots; their frocks had the right distension behind, and their bonnets perfect poise and distinction.
The Marches talked of these and other facts of their appearance, and curiously questioned whether this were the best that a great material civilization could come to; it looked a little dull. The men’s faces were shrewd and alert, and yet they looked dull; the women’s were pretty and knowing, and yet dull. It was, probably, the holiday expression of the vast, prosperous commercial class, with unlimited money, and no ideals that money could not realize; fashion and comfort were all that they desired to compass, and the culture that furnishes showily, that decorates and that tells; the culture, say, of plays and operas, rather than books.
Perhaps the observers did the promenaders injustice; they might not have been as common-minded as they looked. “But,” March said, “I understand now why the poor people don’t come up here and live in this clean, handsome, respectable quarter of the town; they would be bored to death. On the whole, I think I should prefer Mott Street myself.”
In other walks the Marches tried to find some of the streets they had wandered through the first day of their wedding journey in New York, so long ago. They could not make sure of them; but once they ran down to the Battery, and easily made sure of that, though not in its old aspect. They recalled the hot morning, when they sauntered over the trodden weed that covered the sickly grass-plots there, and sentimentalized the sweltering paupers who had crept out of the squalid tenements about for a breath of air after a sleepless night. Now the paupers were gone, and where the old mansions that had fallen to their use once stood, there towered aloft and abroad those heights and masses of many-storied brick- work for which architecture has yet no proper form and aesthetics no name. The trees and shrubs, all in their young spring green, blew briskly over the guarded turf in the south wind that came up over the water; and in the well-paved alleys the ghosts of eighteenth-century fashion might have met each other in their old haunts, and exchanged stately congratulations upon its vastly bettered condition, and perhaps puzzled a little over the colossal lady on Bedloe’s Island, with her lifted torch, and still more over the curving tracks and chalet-stations of the Elevated road. It is an outlook of unrivalled beauty across the bay, that smokes and flashes with the in numerable stacks and sails of commerce, to the hills beyond, where the moving forest of masts halts at the shore, and roots itself in the groves of the many villaged uplands. The Marches paid the charming prospects a willing duty, and rejoiced in it as generously as if it had been their own. Perhaps it was, they decided. He said people owned more things in common than they were apt to think; and they drew the consolations of proprietorship from the excellent management of Castle Garden, which they penetrated for a moment’s glimpse of the huge rotunda, where the immigrants first set foot on our continent. It warmed their hearts, so easily moved to any cheap sympathy, to see the friendly care the nation took of these humble guests; they found it even pathetic to hear the proper authority calling out the names of such as had kin or acquaintance waiting there to meet them. No one appeared troubled or anxious; the officials had a conscientious civility; the government seemed to manage their welcome as well as a private company or corporation could have done. In fact, it was after the simple strangers had left the government care that March feared their woes might begin; and he would have liked the government to follow each of them to his home, wherever he meant to fix it within our borders. He made note of the looks of the licensed runners and touters waiting for the immigrants outside the government premises; he intended to work them up into a dramatic effect in some sketch, but they remained mere material in his memorandum-book, together with some quaint old houses on the Sixth Avenue road, which he had noticed on the way down. On the way up, these were superseded in his regard by some hip-roof structures on the Ninth Avenue, which he thought more Dutch-looking. The perspectives of the cross-streets toward the river were very lively, with their turmoil of trucks and cars and carts and hacks and foot passengers, ending in the chimneys and masts of shipping, and final gleams of dancing water. At a very noisy corner, clangorous with some sort of ironworking, he made his wife enjoy with him the quiet sarcasm of an inn that called itself the Home-like Hotel, and he speculated at fantastic length on the gentle associations of one who should have passed his youth under its roof.
First and last, the Marches did a good deal of travel on the Elevated roads, which, he said, gave you such glimpses of material aspects in the city as some violent invasion of others’ lives might afford in human nature. Once, when the impulse of adventure was very strong in them, they went quite the length of the West Side lines, and saw the city pushing its way by irregular advances into the country. Some spaces, probably held by the owners for that rise in value which the industry of others providentially gives to the land of the wise and good, it left vacant comparatively far down the road, and built up others at remoter points. It was a world of lofty apartment houses beyond the Park, springing up in isolated blocks, with stretches of invaded rusticity between, and here and there an old country-seat standing dusty in its budding vines with the ground before it in rocky upheaval for city foundations. But wherever it went or wherever it paused, New York gave its peculiar stamp; and the adventurers were amused to find One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street inchoately like Twenty-third Street and Fourteenth Street in its shops and shoppers. The butchers’ shops and milliners’ shops on the avenue might as well have been at Tenth as at One Hundredth Street.
The adventurers were not often so adventurous. They recognized that in their willingness to let their fancy range for them, and to let speculation do the work of inquiry, they were no longer young. Their point of view was singularly unchanged, and their impressions of New York remained the same that they had been fifteen years before: huge, noisy, ugly, kindly, it seemed to them now as it seemed then. The main difference was that they saw it more now as a life, and then they only regarded it as a spectacle; and March could not release himself from a sense of complicity with it, no matter what whimsical, or alien, or critical attitude he took. A sense of the striving and the suffering deeply possessed him; and this grew the more intense as he gained some knowledge of the forces at work-forces of pity, of destruction, of perdition, of salvation. He wandered about on Sunday not only through the streets, but into this tabernacle and that, as the spirit moved him, and listened to those who dealt with Christianity as a system of economics as well as a religion. He could not get his wife to go with him; she listened to his report of what he heard, and trembled; it all seemed fantastic and menacing. She lamented the literary peace, the intellectual refinement of the life they had left behind them; and he owned it was very pretty, but he said it was not life–it was death-in- life. She liked to hear him talk in that strain of virtuous self- denunciation, but she asked him, “Which of your prophets are you going to follow?” and he answered: “All-all! And a fresh one every Sunday.” And so they got their laugh out of it at last, but with some sadness at heart, and with a dim consciousness that they had got their laugh out of too many things in life.
What really occupied and compassed his activities, in spite of his strenuous reveries of work beyond it, was his editorship. On its social side it had not fulfilled all the expectations which Fulkerson’s radiant sketch of its duties and relations had caused him to form of it. Most of the contributions came from a distance; even the articles written in New York reached him through the post, and so far from having his valuable time, as they called it, consumed in interviews with his collaborators, he rarely saw any of them. The boy on the stairs, who was to fence him from importunate visitors, led a life of luxurious disoccupation, and whistled almost uninterruptedly. When any one came, March found himself embarrassed and a little anxious. The visitors were usually young men, terribly respectful, but cherishing, as he imagined, ideals and opinions chasmally different from his; and he felt in their presence something like an anachronism, something like a fraud. He tried to freshen up his sympathies on them, to get at what they were really thinking and feeling, and it was some time before he could understand that they were not really thinking and feeling anything of their own concerning their art, but were necessarily, in their quality of young, inexperienced men, mere acceptants of older men’s thoughts and feelings, whether they were tremendously conservative, as some were, or tremendously progressive, as others were. Certain of them called themselves realists, certain romanticists; but none of them seemed to know what realism was, or what romanticism; they apparently supposed the difference a difference of material. March had imagined himself taking home to lunch or dinner the aspirants for editorial favor whom he liked, whether he liked their work or not; but this was not an easy matter. Those who were at all interesting seemed to have engagements and preoccupations; after two or three experiments with the bashfuller sort–those who had come up to the metropolis with manuscripts in their hands, in the good old literary tradition–he wondered whether he was otherwise like them when he was young like them. He could not flatter himself that he was not; and yet he had a hope that the world had grown worse since his time, which his wife encouraged:
Mrs. March was not eager to pursue the hospitalities which she had at first imagined essential to the literary prosperity of ‘Every Other Week’; her family sufficed her; she would willingly have seen no one out of it but the strangers at the weekly table-d’hote dinner, or the audiences at the theatres. March’s devotion to his work made him reluctant to delegate it to any one; and as the summer advanced, and the question of where to go grew more vexed, he showed a man’s base willingness to shirk it for himself by not going anywhere. He asked his wife why she did not go somewhere with the children, and he joined her in a search for non-malarial regions on the map when she consented to entertain this notion. But when it came to the point she would not go; he offered to go with her then, and then she would not let him. She said she knew he would be anxious about his work; he protested that he could take it with him to any distance within a few hours, but she would not be persuaded. She would rather he stayed; the effect would be better with Mr. Fulkerson; they could make excursions, and they could all get off a week or two to the seashore near Boston–the only real seashore–in August. The excursions were practically confined to a single day at Coney Island; and once they got as far as Boston on the way to the seashore near Boston; that is, Mrs. March and the children went; an editorial exigency kept March at the last moment. The Boston streets seemed very queer and clean and empty to the children, and the buildings little; in the horse-cars the Boston faces seemed to arraign their mother with a down-drawn severity that made her feel very guilty. She knew that this was merely the Puritan mask, the cast of a dead civilization, which people of very amiable and tolerant minds were doomed to wear, and she sighed to think that less than a year of the heterogeneous gayety of New York should have made her afraid of it. The sky seemed cold and gray; the east wind, which she had always thought so delicious in summer, cut her to the heart. She took her children up to the South End, and in the pretty square where they used to live they stood before their alienated home, and looked up at its close-shuttered windows. The tenants must have been away, but Mrs. March had not the courage to ring and make sure, though she had always promised herself that she would go all over the house when she came back, and see how they had used it; she could pretend a desire for something she wished to take away. She knew she could not bear it now; and the children did not seem eager. She did not push on to the seaside; it would be forlorn there without their father; she was glad to go back to him in the immense, friendly homelessness of New York, and hold him answerable for the change, in her heart or her mind, which made its shapeless tumult a refuge and a consolation.
She found that he had been giving the cook a holiday, and dining about hither and thither with Fulkerson. Once he had dined with him at the widow’s (as they always called Mrs. Leighton), and then had spent the evening there, and smoked with Fulkerson and Colonel Woodburn on the gallery overlooking the back yard. They were all spending the summer in New York. The widow had got so good an offer for her house at St. Barnaby for the summer that she could not refuse it; and the Woodburns found New York a watering-place of exemplary coolness after the burning Augusts and Septembers of Charlottesburg.
“You can stand it well enough in our climate, sir,” the colonel explained, “till you come to the September heat, that sometimes runs well into October; and then you begin to lose your temper, sir. It’s never quite so hot as it is in New York at times, but it’s hot longer, sir.” He alleged, as if something of the sort were necessary, the example of a famous Southwestern editor who spent all his summers in a New York hotel as the most luxurious retreat on the continent, consulting the weather forecasts, and running off on torrid days to the mountains or the sea, and then hurrying back at the promise of cooler weather. The colonel had not found it necessary to do this yet; and he had been reluctant to leave town, where he was working up a branch of the inquiry which had so long occupied him, in the libraries, and studying the great problem of labor and poverty as it continually presented itself to him in the streets. He said that he talked with all sorts of people, whom he found monstrously civil, if you took them in the right way; and he went everywhere in the city without fear and apparently without danger. March could not find out that he had ridden his hobby into the homes of want which he visited, or had proposed their enslavement to the inmates as a short and simple solution of the great question of their lives; he appeared to have contented himself with the collection of facts for the persuasion of the cultivated classes. It seemed to March a confirmation of this impression that the colonel should address his deductions from these facts so unsparingly to him; he listened with a respectful patience, for which Fulkerson afterward personally thanked him. Fulkerson said it was not often the colonel found such a good listener; generally nobody listened but Mrs. Leighton, who thought his ideas were shocking, but honored him for holding them so conscientiously. Fulkerson was glad that March, as the literary department, had treated the old gentleman so well, because there was an open feud between him and the art department. Beaton was outrageously rude, Fulkerson must say; though as for that, the old colonel seemed quite able to take care of himself, and gave Beaton an unqualified contempt in return for his unmannerliness. The worst of it was, it distressed the old lady so; she admired Beaton as much as she respected the colonel, and she admired Beaton, Fulkerson thought, rather more than Miss Leighton did; he asked March if he had noticed them together. March had noticed them, but without any very definite impression except that Beaton seemed to give the whole evening to the girl. Afterward he recollected that he had fancied her rather harassed by his devotion, and it was this point that he wished to present for his wife’s opinion.
“Girls often put on that air,” she said. “It’s one of their ways of teasing. But then, if the man was really very much in love, and she was only enough in love to be uncertain of herself, she might very well seem troubled. It would be a very serious question. Girls often don’t know what to do in such a case.”
“Yes,” said March, “I’ve often been glad that I was not a girl, on that account. But I guess that on general principles Beaton is not more in love than she is. I couldn’t imagine that young man being more in love with anybody, unless it was himself. He might be more in love with himself than any one else was.”
“Well, he doesn’t interest me a great deal, and I can’t say Miss Leighton does, either. I think she can take care of herself. She has herself very well in hand.”
“Why so censorious?” pleaded March. “I don’t defend her for having herself in hand; but is it a fault?”
Mrs. March did not say. She asked, “And how does Mr. Fulkerson’s affair get on?”
“His affair? You really think it is one? Well, I’ve fancied so myself, and I’ve had an idea of some time asking him; Fulkerson strikes one as truly domesticable, conjugable at heart; but I’ve waited for him to speak.”
“I should think so.”
“Yes. He’s never opened on the subject yet. Do you know, I think Fulkerson has his moments of delicacy.”
“Moments! He’s all delicacy in regard to women.”
“Well, perhaps so. There is nothing in them to rouse his advertising instincts.”
The Dryfoos family stayed in town till August. Then the father went West again to look after his interests; and Mrs. Mandel took the two girls to one of the great hotels in Saratoga. Fulkerson said that he had never seen anything like Saratoga for fashion, and Mrs. Mandel remembered that in her own young ladyhood this was so for at least some weeks of the year. She had been too far withdrawn from fashion since her marriage to know whether it was still so or not. In this, as in so many other matters, the Dryfoos family helplessly relied upon Fulkerson, in spite of Dryfoos’s angry determination that he should not run the family, and in spite of Christine’s doubt of his omniscience; if he did not know everything, she was aware that he knew more than herself. She thought that they had a right to have him go with them to Saratoga, or at least go up and engage their rooms beforehand; but Fulkerson did not offer to do either, and she did not quite see her way to commanding his services. The young ladies took what Mela called splendid dresses with them; they sat in the park of tall, slim trees which the hotel’s quadrangle enclosed, and listened to the music in the morning, or on the long piazza in the afternoon and looked at the driving in the street, or in the vast parlors by night, where all the other ladies were, and they felt that they were of the best there. But they knew nobody, and Mrs. Mandel was so particular that Mela was prevented from continuing the acquaintance even of the few young men who danced with her at the Saturday-night hops. They drove about, but they went to places without knowing why, except that the carriage man took them, and they had all the privileges of a proud exclusivism without desiring them. Once a motherly matron seemed to perceive their isolation, and made overtures to them, but then desisted, as if repelled by Christine’s suspicion, or by Mela’s too instant and hilarious good-fellowship, which expressed itself in hoarse laughter and in a flow of talk full of topical and syntactical freedom. From time to time she offered to bet Christine that if Mr. Fulkerson was only there they would have a good time; she wondered what they were all doing in New York, where she wished herself; she rallied her sister about Beaton, and asked her why she did not write and tell him to come up there.
Mela knew that Christine had expected Beaton to follow them. Some banter had passed between them to this effect; he said he should take them in on his way home to Syracuse. Christine would not have hesitated to write to him and remind him of his promise; but she had learned to distrust her literature with Beaton since he had laughed at the spelling in a scrap of writing which dropped out of her music-book one night. She believed that he would not have laughed if he had known it was hers; but she felt that she could hide better the deficiencies which were not committed to paper; she could manage with him in talking; she was too ignorant of her ignorance to recognize the mistakes she made then. Through her own passion she perceived that she had some kind of fascination for him; she was graceful, and she thought it must be that; she did not understand that there was a kind of beauty in her small, irregular features that piqued and haunted his artistic sense, and a look in her black eyes beyond her intelligence and intention. Once he sketched her as they sat together, and flattered the portrait without getting what he wanted in it; he said he must try her some time in color; and he said things which, when she made Mela repeat them, could only mean that he admired her more than anybody else. He came fitfully, but he came often, and she rested content in a girl’s indefiniteness concerning the affair; if her thought went beyond lovemaking to marriage, she believed that she could have him if she wanted him. Her father’s money counted in this; she divined that Beaton was poor; but that made no difference; she would have enough for both; the money would have counted as an irresistible attraction if there had been no other.
The affair had gone on in spite of the sidelong looks of restless dislike with which Dryfoos regarded it; but now when Beaton did not come to Saratoga it necessarily dropped, and Christine’s content with it. She bore the trial as long as she could; she used pride and resentment against it; but at last she could not bear it, and with Mela’s help she wrote a letter, bantering Beaton on his stay in New York, and playfully boasting of Saratoga. It seemed to them both that it was a very bright letter, and would be sure to bring him; they would have had no scruple about sending it but for the doubt they had whether they had got some of the words right. Mela offered to bet Christine anything she dared that they were right, and she said, Send it anyway; it was no difference if they were wrong. But Christine could not endure to think of that laugh of Beaton’s, and there remained only Mrs. Mandel as authority on the spelling. Christine dreaded her authority on other points, but Mela said she knew she would not interfere, and she undertook to get round her. Mrs. Mandel pronounced the spelling bad, and the taste worse; she forbade them to send the letter; and Mela failed to get round her, though she threatened, if Mrs. Mandel would not tell her how to spell the wrong words, that she would send the letter as it was; then Mrs. Mandel said that if Mr. Beaton appeared in Saratoga she would instantly take them both home. When Mela reported this result, Christine accused her of having mismanaged the whole business; she quarrelled with her, and they called each other names. Christine declared that she would not stay in Saratoga, and that if Mrs. Mandel did not go back to New York with her she should go alone. They returned the first week in September; but by that time Beaton had gone to see his people in Syracuse.
Conrad Dryfoos remained at home with his mother after his father went West. He had already taken such a vacation as he had been willing to allow himself, and had spent it on a charity farm near the city, where the fathers with whom he worked among the poor on the East Side in the winter had sent some of their wards for the summer. It was not possible to keep his recreation a secret at the office, and Fulkerson found a pleasure in figuring the jolly time Brother Conrad must have teaching farm work among those paupers and potential reprobates. He invented details of his experience among them, and March could not always help joining in the laugh at Conrad’s humorless helplessness under Fulkerson’s burlesque denunciation of a summer outing spent in such dissipation.
They had time for a great deal of joking at the office during the season of leisure which penetrates in August to the very heart of business, and they all got on terms of greater intimacy if not greater friendliness than before. Fulkerson had not had so long to do with the advertising side of human nature without developing a vein of cynicism, of no great depth, perhaps, but broad, and underlying his whole point of view; he made light of Beaton’s solemnity, as he made light of Conrad’s humanity. The art editor, with abundant sarcasm, had no more humor than the publisher, and was an easy prey in the manager’s hands; but when he had been led on by Fulkerson’s flatteries to make some betrayal of egotism, he brooded over it till he had thought how to revenge himself in elaborate insult. For Beaton’s talent Fulkerson never lost his admiration; but his joke was to encourage him to give himself airs of being the sole source of the magazine’s prosperity. No bait of this sort was too obvious for Beaton to swallow; he could be caught with it as often as Fulkerson chose; though he was ordinarily suspicious as to the motives of people in saying things. With March he got on no better than at first. He seemed to be lying in wait for some encroachment of the literary department on the art department, and he met it now and then with anticipative reprisal. After these rebuffs, the editor delivered him over to the manager, who could turn Beaton’s contrary-mindedness to account by asking the reverse of what he really wanted done. This was what Fulkerson said; the fact was that he did get on with Beaton and March contented himself with musing upon the contradictions of a character at once so vain and so offensive, so fickle and so sullen, so conscious and so simple.
After the first jarring contact with Dryfoos, the editor ceased to feel the disagreeable fact of the old man’s mastery of the financial situation. None of the chances which might have made it painful occurred; the control of the whole affair remained in Fulkerson’s hands; before he went West again, Dryfoos had ceased to come about the office, as if, having once worn off the novelty of the sense of owning a literary periodical, he was no longer interested in it.
Yet it was a relief, somehow, when he left town, which he did not do without coming to take a formal leave of the editor at his office. He seemed willing to leave March with a better impression than he had hitherto troubled himself to make; he even said some civil things about the magazine, as if its success pleased him; and he spoke openly to March of his hope that his son would finally become interested in it to the exclusion of the hopes and purposes which divided them. It seemed to March that in the old man’s warped and toughened heart he perceived a disappointed love for his son greater than for his other children; but this might have been fancy. Lindau came in with some copy while Dryfoos was there, and March introduced them. When Lindau went out, March explained to Dryfoos that he had lost his hand in the war; and he told him something of Lindau’s career as he had known it. Dryfoos appeared greatly pleased that ‘Every Other Week’ was giving Lindau work. He said that he had helped to enlist a good many fellows for the war, and had paid money to fill up the Moffitt County quota under the later calls for troops. He had never been an Abolitionist, but he had joined the Anti- Nebraska party in ’55, and he had voted for Fremont and for every Republican President since then.
At his own house March saw more of Lindau than of any other contributor, but the old man seemed to think that he must transact all his business with March at his place of business. The transaction had some peculiarities which perhaps made this necessary. Lindau always expected to receive his money when he brought his copy, as an acknowledgment of the immediate right of the laborer to his hire; and he would not take it in a check because he did not approve of banks, and regarded the whole system of banking as the capitalistic manipulation of the people’s money. He would receive his pay only from March’s hand, because he wished to be understood as working for him, and honestly earning money honestly earned; and sometimes March inwardly winced a little at letting the old man share the increase of capital won by such speculation as Dryfoos’s, but he shook off the feeling. As the summer advanced, and the artists and classes that employed Lindau as a model left town one after another, he gave largely of his increasing leisure to the people in the office of ‘Every Other Week.’ It was pleasant for March to see the respect with which Conrad Dryfoos always used him, for the sake of his hurt and his gray beard. There was something delicate and fine in it, and there was nothing unkindly on Fulkerson’s part in the hostilities which usually passed between himself and Lindau. Fulkerson bore himself reverently at times, too, but it was not in him to keep that up, especially when Lindau appeared with more beer aboard than, as Fulkerson said, he could manage shipshape. On these occasions Fulkerson always tried to start him on the theme of the unduly rich; he made himself the champion of monopolies, and enjoyed the invectives which Lindau heaped upon him as a slave of capital; he said that it did him good.
One day, with the usual show of writhing under Lindau’s scorn, he said, “Well, I understand that although you despise me now, Lindau–“
“I ton’t desbise you,” the old man broke in, his nostrils swelling and his eyes flaming with excitement, “I bity you.”
“Well, it seems to come to the same thing in the end,” said Fulkerson. “What I understand is that you pity me now as the slave of capital, but you would pity me a great deal more if I was the master of it.”
“How you mean?”
“If I was rich.”
“That would tebendt,” said Lindau, trying to control himself. “If you hat inheritedt your money, you might pe innocent; but if you hat mate it, efery man that resbectedt himself would haf to ask how you mate it, and if you hat mate moch, he would know–“
“Hold on; hold on, now, Lindau! Ain’t that rather un-American doctrine? We’re all brought up, ain’t we, to honor the man that made his money, and look down–or try to look down; sometimes it’s difficult on the fellow that his father left it to?”
The old man rose and struck his breast. “On Amerigan!” he roared, and, as he went on, his accent grew more and more uncertain. “What iss Amerigan? Dere iss no Ameriga any more! You start here free and brafe, and you glaim for efery man de right to life, liperty, and de bursuit of habbiness. And where haf you entedt? No man that vorks vith his handts among you has the liperty to bursue his habbiness. He iss the slafe of some richer man, some gompany, some gorporation, dat crindt him down to the least he can lif on, and that rops him of the marchin of his earnings that he knight pe habby on. Oh, you Amerigans, you haf cot it down goldt, as you say! You ton’t puy foters; you puy lechislatures and goncressmen; you puy gourts; you puy gombetitors; you pay infentors not to infent; you atfertise, and the gounting-room sees dat de etitorial- room toesn’t tink.”
“Yes, we’ve got a little arrangement of that sort with March here,” said Fulkerson.
“Oh, I am sawry,” said the old man, contritely, “I meant noting bersonal. I ton’t tink we are all cuilty or gorrubt, and efen among the rich there are goodt men. But gabidal”–his passion rose again” where you find gabidal, millions of money that a man hass cot togeder in fife, ten, twenty years, you findt the smell of tears and ploodt! Dat iss what I say. And you cot to loog oudt for yourself when you meet a rich man whether you meet an honest man.”
“Well,” said Fulkerson, “I wish I was a subject of suspicion with you, Lindau. By-the-way,” he added, “I understand that you think capital was at the bottom of the veto of that pension of yours.”
“What bension? What feto?”–The old man flamed up again. “No bension of mine was efer fetoedt. I renounce my bension, begause I would sgorn to dake money from a gofernment that I ton’t peliefe in any more. Where you hear that story?”
“Well, I don’t know,” said Fulkerson, rather embarrassed. “It’s common talk.”
“It’s a gommon lie, then! When the time gome dat dis iss a free gountry again, then I dake a bension again for my woundts; but I would sdarfe before I dake a bension now from a rebublic dat iss bought oap by monobolies, and ron by drusts and gompines, and railroadts andt oil gompanies.”
“Look out, Lindau,” said Fulkerson. “You bite yourself mit dat dog some day.” But when the old man, with a ferocious gesture of renunciation, whirled out of the place, he added: “I guess I went a little too far that time. I touched him on a sore place; I didn’t mean to; I heard some talk about his pension being vetoed from Miss Leighton.” He addressed these exculpations to March’s grave face, and to the pitying deprecation in the eyes of Conrad Dryfoos, whom Lindau’s roaring wrath had summoned to the door. “But I’ll make it all right with him the next time he comes. I didn’t know he was loaded, or I wouldn’t have monkeyed with him.”
“Lindau does himself injustice when he gets to talking in that way,” said March. “I hate to hear him. He’s as good an American as any of us; and it’s only because he has too high an ideal of us–“
“Oh, go on! Rub it in–rub it in!” cried Fulkerson, clutching his hair in suffering, which was not altogether burlesque. “How did I know he had renounced his ‘bension’? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t know it myself. I only knew that he had none, and I didn’t ask, for I had a notion that it might be a painful subject.”
Fulkerson tried to turn it off lightly. “Well, he’s a noble old fellow; pity he drinks.” March would not smile, and Fulkerson broke out: “Dog on it! I’ll make it up to the old fool the next time he comes. I don’t like that dynamite talk of his; but any man that’s given his hand to the country has got mine in his grip for good. Why, March! You don’t suppose I wanted to hurt his feelings, do you?”
“Why, of course not, Fulkerson.”
But they could not get away from a certain ruefulness for that time, and in the evening Fulkerson came round to March’s to say that he had got Lindau’s address from Conrad, and had looked him up at his lodgings.
“Well, there isn’t so much bric-a-brac there, quite, as Mrs. Green left you; but I’ve made it all right with Lindau, as far as I’m concerned. I told him I didn’t know when I spoke that way, and I honored him for sticking to his ‘brinciples’; I don’t believe in his ‘brincibles’; and we wept on each other’s necks–at least, he did. Dogged if he didn’t kiss me before I knew what he was up to. He said I was his chenerous gong friendt, and he begged my barton if he had said anything to wound me. I tell you it was an affecting scene, March; and rats enough round in that old barracks where he lives to fit out a first-class case of delirium tremens. What does he stay there for? He’s not obliged to?”
Lindau’s reasons, as March repeated them, affected Fulkerson as deliciously comical; but after that he confined his pleasantries at the office to Beaton and Conrad Dryfoos, or, as he said, he spent the rest of the summer in keeping Lindau smoothed up.
It is doubtful if Lindau altogether liked this as well. Perhaps he missed the occasions Fulkerson used to give him of bursting out against the millionaires; and he could not well go on denouncing as the slafe of gabidal a man who had behaved to him as Fulkerson had done, though Fulkerson’s servile relations to capital had been in nowise changed by his nople gonduct.
Their relations continued to wear this irksome character of mutual forbearance; and when Dryfoos returned in October and Fulkerson revived the question of that dinner in celebration of the success of ‘Every Other Week,’ he carried his complaisance to an extreme that alarmed March for the consequences.
“You see,” Fulkerson explained, “I find that the old man has got an idea of his own about that banquet, and I guess there’s some sense in it. He wants to have a preliminary little dinner, where we can talk the thing up first-half a dozen of us; and he wants to give us the dinner at his house. Well, that’s no harm. I don’t believe the old man ever gave a dinner, and he’d like to show off a little; there’s a good deal of human nature in the old man, after all. He thought of you, of course, and Colonel Woodburn, and Beaton, and me at the foot of the table; and Conrad; and I suggested Kendricks: he’s such a nice little chap; and the old man himself brought up the idea of Lindau. He said you told him something about him, and he asked why couldn’t we have him, too; and I jumped at it.”
“Have Lindau to dinner?” asked March.
“Certainly; why not? Father Dryfoos has a notion of paying the old fellow a compliment for what he done for the country. There won’t be any trouble about it. You can sit alongside of him, and cut up his meat for him, and help him to things–“
“Yes, but it won’t do, Fulkerson! I don’t believe Lindau ever had on a dress-coat in his life, and I don’t believe his ‘brincibles’ would let him wear one.”
“Well, neither had Dryfoos, for the matter of that. He’s as high- principled as old Pan-Electric himself, when it comes to a dress-coat,” said Fulkerson. “We’re all going to go in business dress; the old man stipulated for that.
“It isn’t the dress-coat alone,” March resumed. “Lindau and Dryfoos wouldn’t get on. You know they’re opposite poles in everything. You mustn’t do it. Dryfoos will be sure to say something to outrage Lindau’s ‘brincibles,’ and there’ll be an explosion. It’s all well enough for Dryfoos to feel grateful to Lindau, and his wish to honor him does him credit; but to have Lindau to dinner isn’t the way. At the best, the old fellow would be very unhappy in such a house; he would have a bad conscience; and I should be sorry to have him feel that he’d been recreant to his ‘brincibles’; they’re about all he’s got, and whatever we think of them, we’re bound to respect his fidelity to them.” March warmed toward Lindau in taking this view of him. “I should feel ashamed if I didn’t protest against his being put in a false position. After all, he’s my old friend, and I shouldn’t like to have him do himself injustice if he is a crank.”
“Of course,” said Fulkerson, with some trouble in his face. “I appreciate your feeling. But there ain’t any danger,” he added, buoyantly. “Anyhow, you spoke too late, as the Irishman said to the chicken when he swallowed him in a fresh egg. I’ve asked Lindau, and he’s accepted with blayzure; that’s what he says.”
March made no other comment than a shrug.
“You’ll see,” Fulkerson continued, “it ‘ll go off all right. I’ll engage to make it, and I won’t hold anybody else responsible.”
In the course of his married life March had learned not to censure the irretrievable; but this was just what his wife had not learned; and she poured out so much astonishment at what Fulkerson had done, and so much disapproval, that March began to palliate the situation a little.
“After all, it isn’t a question of life and death; and, if it were, I don’t see how it’s to be helped now.”
“Oh, it’s not to be helped now. But I am surprised at Mr. Fulkerson.”
“Well, Fulkerson has his moments of being merely human, too.”
Mrs. March would not deign a direct defence of her favorite. “Well, I’m glad there are not to be ladies.”
“I don’t know. Dryfoos thought of having ladies, but it seems your infallible Fulkerson overruled him. Their presence might have kept Lindau and our host in bounds.”
It had become part of the Marches’ conjugal joke for him to pretend that she could allow nothing wrong in Fulkerson, and he now laughed with a mocking air of having expected it when she said: “Well, then, if Mr. Fulkerson says he will see that it all comes out right, I suppose you must trust his tact. I wouldn’t trust yours, Basil. The first wrong step was taken when Mr. Lindau was asked to help on the magazine.”
“Well, it was your infallible Fulkerson that took the step, or at least suggested it. I’m happy to say I had totally forgotten my early friend.”
Mrs. March was daunted and silenced for a moment. Then she said: “Oh, pshaw! You know well enough he did it to please you.”
“I’m very glad he didn’t do it to please you, Isabel,” said her husband, with affected seriousness. “Though perhaps he did.”
He began to look at the humorous aspect of the affair, which it certainly had, and to comment on the singular incongruities which ‘Every Other Week’ was destined to involve at every moment of its career. “I wonder if I’m mistaken in supposing that no other periodical was ever like it. Perhaps all periodicals are like it. But I don’t believe there’s another publication in New York that could bring together, in honor of itself, a fraternity and equality crank like poor old Lindau, and a belated sociological crank like Woodburn, and a truculent speculator like old Dryfoos, and a humanitarian dreamer like young Dryfoos, and a sentimentalist like me, and a nondescript like Beaton, and a pure advertising essence like Fulkerson, and a society spirit like Kendricks. If we could only allow one another to talk uninterruptedly all the time, the dinner would be the greatest success in the world, and we should come home full of the highest mutual respect. But I suspect we can’t manage that–even your infallible Fulkerson couldn’t work it–and I’m afraid that there’ll be some listening that ‘ll spoil the pleasure of the time.”
March was so well pleased with this view of the case that he suggested the idea involved to Fulkerson. Fulkerson was too good a fellow not to laugh at another man’s joke, but he laughed a little ruefully, and he seemed worn with more than one kind of care in the interval that passed between the present time and the night of the dinner.
Dryfoos necessarily depended upon him for advice concerning the scope and nature of the dinner, but he received the advice suspiciously, and contested points of obvious propriety with pertinacious stupidity. Fulkerson said that when it came to the point he would rather have had the thing, as he called it, at Delmonico’s or some other restaurant; but when he found that Dryfoos’s pride was bound up in having it at his own house, he gave way to him. Dryfoos also wanted his woman-cook to prepare the dinner, but Fulkerson persuaded him that this would not do; he must have it from a caterer. Then Dryfoos wanted his maids to wait at table, but Fulkerson convinced him that this would be incongruous at a man’s dinner. It was decided that the dinner should be sent in from Frescobaldi’s, and Dryfoos went with Fulkerson to discuss it with the caterer. He insisted upon having everything explained to him, and the reason for having it, and not something else in its place; and he treated Fulkerson and Frescobaldi as if they were in league to impose upon him. There were moments when Fulkerson saw the varnish of professional politeness cracking on the Neapolitan’s volcanic surface, and caught a glimpse of the lava fires of the cook’s nature beneath; he trembled for Dryfoos, who was walking rough-shod over him in the security of an American who had known how to make his money, and must know how to spend it; but he got him safely away at last, and gave Frescobaldi a wink of sympathy for his shrug of exhaustion as they turned to leave him.
It was at first a relief and then an anxiety with Fulkerson that Lindau did not come about after accepting the invitation to dinner, until he appeared at Dryfoos’s house, prompt to the hour. There was, to be sure, nothing to bring him; but Fulkerson was uneasily aware that Dryfoos expected to meet him at the office, and perhaps receive some verbal acknowledgment of the honor done him. Dryfoos, he could see, thought he was doing all his invited guests a favor; and while he stood in a certain awe of them as people of much greater social experience than himself, regarded them with a kind of contempt, as people who were going to have a better dinner at his house than they could ever afford to have at their own. He had finally not spared expense upon it; after pushing Frescobaldi to the point of eruption with his misgivings and suspicions at the first interview, he had gone to him a second time alone, and told him not to let the money stand between him and anything he would like to do. In the absence of Frescobaldi’s fellow-conspirator he restored himself in the caterer’s esteem by adding whatever he suggested; and Fulkerson, after trembling for the old man’s niggardliness, was now afraid of a fantastic profusion in the feast. Dryfoos had reduced the scale of the banquet as regarded the number of guests, but a confusing remembrance of what Fulkerson had wished to do remained with him in part, and up to the day of the dinner he dropped in at Frescobaldi’s and ordered more dishes and more of them. He impressed the Italian as an American original of a novel kind; and when he asked Fulkerson how Dryfoos had made his money, and learned that it was primarily in natural gas, he made note of some of his eccentric tastes as peculiarities that were to be caressed in any future natural-gas millionaire who might fall into his hands. He did not begrudge the time he had to give in explaining to Dryfoos the relation of the different wines to the different dishes; Dryfoos was apt to substitute a costlier wine where he could for a cheaper one, and he gave Frescobaldi carte blanche for the decoration of the table with pieces of artistic confectionery. Among these the caterer designed one for a surprise to his patron and a delicate recognition of the source of his wealth, which he found Dryfoos very willing to talk about, when he intimated that he knew what it was.
Dryfoos left it to Fulkerson to invite the guests, and he found ready acceptance of his politeness from Kendricks, who rightly regarded the dinner as a part of the ‘Every Other Week’ business, and was too sweet and kind-hearted, anyway, not to seem very glad to come. March was a matter of course; but in Colonel Woodburn, Fulkerson encountered a reluctance which embarrassed him the more because he was conscious of having, for motives of his own, rather strained a point in suggesting the colonel to Dryfoos as a fit subject for invitation. There had been only one of the colonel’s articles printed as yet, and though it had made a sensation in its way, and started the talk about that number, still it did not fairly constitute him a member of the staff, or even entitle him to recognition as a regular contributor. Fulkerson felt so sure of pleasing him with Dryfoos’s message that he delivered it in full family council at the widow’s. His daughter received it with all the enthusiasm that Fulkerson had hoped for, but the colonel said, stiffly, “I have not the pleasure of knowing Mr. Dryfoos.” Miss Woodburn appeared ready to fall upon him at this, but controlled herself, as if aware that filial authority had its limits, and pressed her lips together without saying anything.
“Yes, I know,” Fulkerson admitted. “But it isn’t a usual case. Mr. Dryfoos don’t go in much for the conventionalities; I reckon he don’t know much about ’em, come to boil it down; and he hoped”–here Fulkerson felt the necessity of inventing a little–“that you would excuse any want of ceremony; it’s to be such an informal affair, anyway; we’re all going in business dress, and there ain’t going to be any ladies. He’d have come himself to ask you, but he’s a kind of a bashful old fellow. It’s all right, Colonel Woodburn.”
“I take it that it is, sir,” said the colonel, courteously, but with unabated state, “coming from you. But in these matters we have no right to burden our friends with our decisions.”
“Of course, of course,” said Fulkerson, feeling that he had been delicately told to mind his own business.
“I understand,” the colonel went on, “the relation that Mr. Dryfoos bears to the periodical in which you have done me the honor to print my papah, but this is a question of passing the bounds of a purely business connection, and of eating the salt of a man whom you do not definitely know to be a gentleman.”
“Mah goodness!” his daughter broke in. “If you bah your own salt with his money–“
“It is supposed that I earn his money before I buy my salt with it,” returned her father, severely. “And in these times, when money is got in heaps, through the natural decay of our nefarious commercialism, it behooves a gentleman to be scrupulous that the hospitality offered him is not the profusion of a thief with his booty. I don’t say that Mr. Dryfoos’s good-fortune is not honest. I simply say that I know nothing about it, and that I should prefer to know something before I sat down at his board.”
“You’re all right, colonel,” said Fulkerson, “and so is Mr. Dryfoos. I give you my word that there are no flies on his personal integrity, if that’s what you mean. He’s hard, and he’d push an advantage, but I don’t believe he would take an unfair one. He’s speculated and made money every time, but I never heard of his wrecking a railroad or belonging to any swindling company or any grinding monopoly. He does chance it in stocks, but he’s always played on the square, if you call stocks gambling.”
“May I, think this over till morning?” asked the colonel.
“Oh, certainly, certainly,” said Fulkerson, eagerly. “I don’t know as there’s any hurry.”
Miss Woodburn found a chance to murmur to him before he went: “He’ll come. And Ah’m so much oblahged, Mr. Fulkerson. Ah jost know it’s all you’ doing, and it will give papa a chance to toak to some new people, and get away from us evahlastin’ women for once.”
“I don’t see why any one should want to do that,” said Fulkerson, with grateful gallantry. “But I’ll be dogged,” he said to March when he told him about this odd experience, “if I ever expected to find Colonel Woodburn on old Lindau’s ground. He did come round handsomely this morning at breakfast and apologized for taking time to think the invitation over before he accepted. ‘You understand,’ he says, ‘that if it had been to the table of some friend not so prosperous as Mr. Dryfoos –your friend Mr. March, for instance–it would have been sufficient to know that he was your friend. But in these days it is a duty that a gentleman owes himself to consider whether he wishes to know a rich man or not. The chances of making money disreputably are so great that the chances are against a man who has made money if he’s made a great deal of it.'”
March listened with a face of ironical insinuation. “That was very good; and he seems to have had a good deal of confidence in your patience and in your sense of his importance to the occasion–“
“No, no,” Fulkerson protested, “there’s none of that kind of thing about the colonel. I told him to take time to think it over; he’s the simplest-hearted old fellow in the world.”
“I should say so. After all, he didn’t give any reason he had for accepting. But perhaps the young lady had the reason.”
“Pshaw, March!” said Fulkerson.
So far as the Dryfoos family was concerned, the dinner might as well have been given at Frescobaldi’s rooms. None of the ladies appeared. Mrs. Dryfoos was glad to escape to her own chamber, where she sat before an autumnal fire, shaking her head and talking to herself at times, with the foreboding of evil which old women like her make part of their religion. The girls stood just out of sight at the head of the stairs, and disputed which guest it was at each arrival; Mrs. Mandel had gone to her room to write letters, after beseeching them not to stand there. When Kendricks came, Christine gave Mela a little pinch, equivalent to a little mocking shriek; for, on the ground of his long talk with Mela at Mrs. Horn’s, in the absence of any other admirer, they based a superstition of his interest in her; when Beaton came, Mela returned the pinch, but awkwardly, so that it hurt, and then Christine involuntarily struck her.
Frescobaldi’s men were in possession everywhere they had turned the cook out of her kitchen and the waitress out of her pantry; the reluctant Irishman at the door was supplemented by a vivid Italian, who spoke French with the guests, and said, “Bien, Monsieur,” and “toute suite,” and “Merci!” to all, as he took their hats and coats, and effused a hospitality that needed no language but the gleam of his eyes and teeth and the play of his eloquent hands. From his professional dress-coat, lustrous with the grease spotted on it at former dinners and parties, they passed to the frocks of the elder and younger Dryfoos in the drawing-room, which assumed informality for the affair, but did not put their wearers wholly at their ease. The father’s coat was of black broadcloth, and he wore it unbuttoned; the skirts were long, and the sleeves came down to his knuckles; he shook hands with his guests, and the same dryness seemed to be in his palm and throat, as he huskily asked each to take a chair. Conrad’s coat was of modern texture and cut, and was buttoned about him as if it concealed a bad conscience within its lapels; he met March with his entreating smile, and he seemed no more capable of coping with the situation than his father. They both waited for Fulkerson, who went about and did his best to keep life in the party during the half-hour that passed before they sat down at dinner. Beaton stood gloomily aloof, as if waiting to be approached on the right basis before yielding an inch of his ground; Colonel Woodburn, awaiting the moment when he could sally out on his hobby, kept himself intrenched within the dignity of a gentleman, and examined askance the figure of old Lindau as he stared about the room, with his fine head up, and his empty sleeve dangling over his wrist. March felt obliged to him for wearing a new coat in the midst of that hostile luxury, and he was glad to see Dryfoos make up to him and begin to talk with him, as if he wished to show him particular respect, though it might have been because he was less afraid of him than of the others. He heard Lindau saying, “Boat, the name is Choarman?” and Dryfoos beginning to explain his Pennsylvania Dutch origin, and he suffered himself, with a sigh of relief, to fall into talk with Kendricks, who was always pleasant; he was willing to talk about something besides himself, and had no opinions that he was not ready to hold in abeyance for the time being out of kindness to others. In that group of impassioned individualities, March felt him a refuge and comfort–with his harmless dilettante intention of some day writing a novel, and his belief that he was meantime collecting material for it.
Fulkerson, while breaking the ice for the whole company, was mainly engaged in keeping Colonel Woodburn thawed out. He took Kendricks away from March and presented him to the colonel as a person who, like himself, was looking into social conditions; he put one hand on Kendricks’s shoulder, and one on the colonel’s, and made some flattering joke, apparently at the expense of the young fellow, and then left them. March heard Kendricks protest in vain, and the colonel say, gravely: “I do not wonder, sir, that these things interest you. They constitute a problem which society must solve or which will dissolve society,” and he knew from that formula, which the colonel had, once used with him, that he was laying out a road for the exhibition of the hobby’s paces later.
Fulkerson came back to March, who had turned toward Conrad Dryfoos, and said, “If we don’t get this thing going pretty soon, it ‘ll be the death of me,” and just then Frescobaldi’s butler came in and announced to Dryfoos that dinner was served. The old man looked toward Fulkerson with a troubled glance, as if he did not know what to do; he made a gesture to touch Lindau’s elbow. Fulkerson called out, “Here’s Colonel Woodburn, Mr. Dryfoos,” as if Dryfoos were looking for him; and he set the example of what he was to do by taking Lindau’s arm himself. “Mr. Lindau is going to sit at my end of the table, alongside of March. Stand not upon the order of your going, gentlemen, but fall in at once.” He contrived to get Dryfoos and the colonel before him, and he let March follow with Kendricks. Conrad came last with Beaton, who had been turning over the music at the piano, and chafing inwardly at the whole affair. At the table Colonel Woodburn was placed on Dryfoos’s right, and March on his left. March sat on Fulkerson’s right, with Lindau next him; and the young men occupied the other seats.
“Put you next to March, Mr. Lindau,” said Fulkerson, “so you can begin to put Apollinaris in his champagne-glass at the right moment; you know his little weakness of old; sorry to say it’s grown on him.”
March laughed with kindly acquiescence in Fulkerson’s wish to start the gayety, and Lindau patted him on the shoulder. “I know hiss veakness. If he liges a class of vine, it iss begause his loaf ingludes efen hiss enemy, as Shakespeare galled it.”
“Ah, but Shakespeare couldn’t have been thinking of champagne,” said Kendricks.
“I suppose, sir,” Colonel Woodburn interposed, with lofty courtesy, “champagne could hardly have been known in his day.”
“I suppose not, colonel,” returned the younger man, deferentially. “He seemed to think that sack and sugar might be a fault; but he didn’t mention champagne.”
“Perhaps he felt there was no question about that,” suggested Beaton, who then felt that he had not done himself justice in the sally.
“I wonder just when champagne did come in,” said March.
“I know when it ought to come in,” said Fulkerson. “Before the soup!”
They all laughed, and gave themselves the air of drinking champagne out of tumblers every day, as men like to do. Dryfoos listened uneasily; he did not quite understand the allusions, though he knew what Shakespeare was, well enough; Conrad’s face expressed a gentle deprecation of joking on such a subject, but he said nothing.
The talk ran on briskly through the dinner. The young men tossed the ball back and forth; they made some wild shots, but they kept it going, and they laughed when they were hit. The wine loosed Colonel Woodburn’s tongue; he became very companionable with the young fellows; with the feeling that a literary dinner ought to have a didactic scope, he praised Scott and Addison as the only authors fit to form the minds of gentlemen.
Kendricks agreed with him, but wished to add the name of Flaubert as a master of style. “Style, you know,” he added, “is the man.”
“Very true, sir; you are quite right, sir,” the colonel assented; he wondered who Flaubert was.
Beaton praised Baudelaire and Maupassant; he said these were the masters. He recited some lurid verses from Baudelaire; Lindau pronounced them a disgrace to human nature, and gave a passage from Victor Hugo on Louis Napoleon, with his heavy German accent, and then he quoted Schiller. “Ach, boat that is a peaudifool! Not zo?” he demanded of March.
“Yes, beautiful; but, of course, you know I think there’s nobody like Heine!”
Lindau threw back his great old head and laughed, showing a want of teeth under his mustache. He put his hand on March’s back. “This poy–he was a poy den–wars so gracy to pekin reading Heine that he gommence with the tictionary bevore he knows any Grammar, and ve bick it out vort by vort togeder.”
“He was a pretty cay poy in those days, heigh, Lindau ?” asked Fulkerson, burlesquing the old man’s accent, with an impudent wink that made Lindau himself laugh. “But in the dark ages, I mean, there in Indianapolis. Just how long ago did you old codgers meet there, anyway?” Fulkerson saw the restiveness in Dryfoos’s eye at the purely literary course the talk had taken; he had intended it to lead up that way to business, to ‘Every Other Week;’ but he saw that it was leaving Dryfoos too far out, and he wished to get it on the personal ground, where everybody is at home.
“Ledt me zee,” mused Lindau. “Wass it in fifty-nine or zixty, Passil? Idt wass a year or dwo pefore the war proke oudt, anyway.”
“Those were exciting times,” said Dryfoos, making his first entry into the general talk. “I went down to Indianapolis with the first company from our place, and I saw the red-shirts pouring in everywhere. They had a song,
“Oh, never mind the weather, but git over double trouble, For we’re bound for the land of Canaan.”
The fellows locked arms and went singin’ it up and down four or five abreast in the moonlight; crowded everybody’ else off the sidewalk.”
“I remember, I remember,” said Lindau, nodding his head slowly up and down. “A coodt many off them nefer gome pack from that landt of Ganaan, Mr. Dryfoos?”
“You’re right, Mr. Lindau. But I reckon it was worth it–the country we’ve got now. Here, young man!” He caught the arm of the waiter who was going round with the champagne bottle. “Fill up Mr. Lindau’s glass, there. I want to drink the health of those old times with him. Here’s to your empty sleeve, Mr. Lindau. God bless it! No offence to you, Colonel Woodburn,” said Dryfoos, turning to him before he drank.
“Not at all, sir, not at all,” said the colonel. “I will drink with you, if you will permit me.”
“We’ll all drink–standing!” cried Fulkerson. “Help March to get up, somebody! Fill high the bowl with Samian Apollinaris for Coonrod! Now, then, hurrah for Lindau!”
They cheered, and hammered on the table with the butts of their knife- handles. Lindau remained seated. The tears came into his eyes; he said, “I thank you, chendlemen,” and hiccoughed.
“I’d ‘a’ went into the war myself,” said Dryfoos, “but I was raisin’ a family of young children, and I didn’t see how I could leave my farm. But I helped to fill up the quota at every call, and when the volunteering stopped I went round with the subscription paper myself; and we offered as good bounties as any in the State. My substitute was killed in one of the last skirmishes–in fact, after Lee’s surrender– and I’ve took care of his family, more or less, ever since.”
“By-the-way, March,” said Fulkerson, “what sort of an idea would it be to have a good war story–might be a serial–in the magazine? The war has never fully panned out in fiction yet. It was used a good deal just after it was over, and then it was dropped. I think it’s time to take it up again. I believe it would be a card.”
It was running in March’s mind that Dryfoos had an old rankling shame in his heart for not having gone into the war, and that he had often made that explanation of his course without having ever been satisfied with it. He felt sorry for him; the fact seemed pathetic; it suggested a dormant nobleness in the man.
Beaton was saying to Fulkerson: “You might get a series of sketches by substitutes; the substitutes haven’t been much heard from in the war literature. How would ‘The Autobiography of a Substitute’ do? You might follow him up to the moment he was killed in the other man’s place, and inquire whether he had any right to the feelings of a hero when he was only hired in the place of one. Might call it ‘The Career of a Deputy Hero.'”
“I fancy,” said March, “that there was a great deal of mixed motive in the men who went into the war as well as in those who kept out of it. We canonized all that died or suffered in it, but some of them must have been self-seeking and low-minded, like men in other vocations.” He found himself saying this in Dryfoos’s behalf; the old man looked at him gratefully at first, he thought, and then suspiciously.
Lindau turned his head toward him and said: “You are righdt, Passil; you are righdt. I haf zeen on the fieldt of pattle the voarst eggsipitions of human paseness–chelousy, fanity, ecodistic bridte. I haf zeen men in the face off death itself gofferned by motifes as low as–as pusiness motifes.”
“Well,” said Fulkerson, “it would be a grand thing for ‘Every Other Week’ if we could get some of those ideas worked up into a series. It would make a lot of talk.”
Colonel Woodburn ignored him in saying, “I think, Major Lindau–“
“High brifate; prefet gorporal,” the old man interrupted, in rejection of the title.
Hendricks laughed and said, with a glance of appreciation at Lindau, “Brevet corporal is good.”
Colonel Woodburn frowned a little, and passed over the joke. “I think Mr. Lindau is right. Such exhibitions were common to both sides, though if you gentlemen will pardon me for saying so, I think they were less frequent on ours. We were fighting more immediately for existence. We were fewer than you were, and we knew it; we felt more intensely that if each were not for all, then none was for any.”
The colonel’s words made their impression. Dryfoos said, with authority, “That is so.”
“Colonel Woodburn,” Fulkerson called out, “if you’ll work up those ideas into a short paper–say, three thousand words–I’ll engage to make March take it.”
The colonel went on without replying: “But Mr. Lindau is right in characterizing some of the motives that led men to the cannon’s mouth as no higher than business motives, and his comparison is the most forcible that he could have used. I was very much struck by it.”
The hobby was out, the colonel was in the saddle with so firm a seat that no effort sufficed to dislodge him. The dinner went on from course to course with barbaric profusion, and from time to time Fulkerson tried to bring the talk back to ‘Every Other Week.’ But perhaps because that was only the ostensible and not the real object of the dinner, which was to bring a number of men together under Dryfoos’s roof, and make them the witnesses of his splendor, make them feel the power of his wealth, Fulkerson’s attempts failed. The colonel showed how commercialism was the poison at the heart of our national life; how we began as a simple, agricultural people, who had fled to these shores with the instinct, divinely implanted, of building a state such as the sun never shone upon before; how we had conquered the wilderness and the savage; how we had flung off, in our struggle with the mother-country, the trammels of tradition and precedent, and had settled down, a free nation, to the practice of the arts of peace; how the spirit of commercialism had stolen insidiously upon us, and the infernal impulse of competition had embroiled us in a perpetual warfare of interests, developing the worst passions of our nature, and teaching us to trick and betray and destroy one another in the strife for money, till now that impulse had exhausted itself, and we found competition gone and the whole economic problem in the hands of monopolies–the Standard Oil Company, the Sugar Trust, the Rubber Trust, and what not. And now what was the next thing? Affairs could not remain as they were; it was impossible; and what was the next thing?
The company listened for the main part silently. Dryfoos tried to grasp the idea of commercialism as the colonel seemed to hold it; he conceived of it as something like the dry-goods business on a vast scale, and he knew he had never been in that. He did not like to hear competition called infernal; he had always supposed it was something sacred; but he approved of what Colonel Woodburn said of the Standard Oil Company; it was all true; the Standard Oil has squeezed Dryfoos once, and made him sell it a lot of oil-wells by putting down the price of oil so low in that region that he lost money on every barrel he pumped.
All the rest listened silently, except Lindau; at every point the colonel made against the present condition of things he said more and more fiercely, “You are righdt, you are righdt.” His eyes glowed, his hand played with his knife-hilt. When the colonel demanded, “And what is the next thing?” he threw himself forward, and repeated: “Yes, sir! What is the next thing?”
“Natural gas, by thunder!” shouted Fulkerson.
One of the waiters had profited by Lindau’s posture to lean over him and put down in the middle of the table a structure in white sugar. It expressed Frescobaldi’s conception of a derrick, and a touch of nature had been added in the flame of brandy, which burned luridly up from a small pit in the centre of the base, and represented the gas in combustion as it issued from the ground. Fulkerson burst into a roar of laughter with the words that recognized Frescobaldi’s personal tribute to Dryfoos. Everybody rose and peered over at the thing, while he explained the work of sinking a gas-well, as he had already explained it to Frescobaldi. In the midst of his lecture he caught sight of the caterer himself, where he stood in the pantry doorway, smiling with an artist’s anxiety for the effect of his masterpiece.
“Come in, come in, Frescobaldi! We want to congratulate you,” Fulkerson called to him. “Here, gentlemen! Here’s Frescobaldi’s health.”
They all drank; and Frescobaldi, smiling brilliantly and rubbing his hands as he bowed right and left, permitted himself to say to Dryfoos: “You are please; no? You like?”
“First-rate, first-rate!” said the old man; but when the Italian had bowed himself out and his guests had sunk into their seats again, he said dryly to Fulkerson, “I reckon they didn’t have to torpedo that well, or the derrick wouldn’t look quite so nice and clean.”
“Yes,” Fulkerson answered, “and that ain’t quite the style–that little wiggly-waggly blue flame–that the gas acts when you touch off a good vein of it. This might do for weak gas”; and he went on to explain:
“They call it weak gas when they tap it two or three hundred feet down; and anybody can sink a well in his back yard and get enough gas to light and heat his house. I remember one fellow that had it blazing up from a pipe through a flower-bed, just like a jet of water from a fountain. My, my, my! You fel–you gentlemen–ought to go out and see that country, all of you. Wish we could torpedo this well, Mr. Dryfoos, and let ’em see how it works! Mind that one you torpedoed for me? You know, when they sink a well,” he went on to the company, “they can’t always most generally sometimes tell whether they’re goin’ to get gas or oil or salt water. Why, when they first began to bore for salt water out on the Kanawha, back about the beginning of the century, they used to get gas now and then, and then they considered it a failure; they called a gas- well a blower, and give it up in disgust; the time wasn’t ripe for gas