The Tenants: An Episode of the '80s by Watts, Mary S. (Mary Stanbery)
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An Episode of the '80s
MARY S. WATTS
New York The McClure Company MCMVIII
Copyright, 1908, by The McClure Company
Published, March, 1908
They were tearing down the old Gwynne house the other day as we drove past, and it was not without a twinge of sentimental regret that we beheld the spectacle. The old Gwynne house was what our newspapers delight to honour by referring to as an "historic landmark." In the huge, expensive, devastating, and reconstructing haste of a growing American town--a town of the middle West at that--any building twenty-five years of age is likely to be so described; but this must have numbered all of four-score. Many valiant notable deeds and people were associated with it; it went through a whole epic of adventures like--as one might whimsically fancy--a stationary Odysseus. At the latter end it fell to be that common drudge and slattern among homes, a boarding-house; reached the last sordid depth as a tenement; and now they are abolishing it utterly, and a new subdivision to be called, I believe, Gwynne Park Place, will presently flourish above the grave. Once upon a time there _was_ a park; it lay upon the utmost border of town, and brick walls bound with a ribbon of stone along the top, kept the house and its outlying lawns in a pompous seclusion. That was all swept away long ago; of late the ground has been reclaimed from slums and shanties and laid out in building-lots, curbed, sewered, gas-mained. But you may see here and there a single elm or buckeye, keeping yet amongst the spruce new flower-beds and within call of factory-whistles, some air of its antique dignity, remote and cool. In my time Doctor Vardaman's cottage, hard by where you used to turn into the Gwynne driveway, was the only other dwelling hereabouts; a great, spraddling, staring apartment-house covers the site of it now.
Governor Gwynne built his mansion--as he probably called it--in the year eighteen-thirty or thereabouts; and being an admirer of the classic and a wealthy man for those days, treated himself to a fine Parthenon front, with half a dozen stone pillars in the Doric taste springing from the black-and-white pavement of the veranda to uphold the overreach of the roof, "Governor Gwynne's Attic roof," as some wit of the mid-century once styled it; that wretched pun survives to-day in a kind of deathless feebleness; it will only pass from men's memories with the house itself. Much the same fashion of architecture is popular nowadays, but people pay more attention to comfort. The governor's pillars were ingeniously disposed so as to darken all the windows looking that way, whether in the double parlours on the first floor, the bed-chambers on the second, or the big ballroom over the entire house on the third. It was a rather gloomy splendour in which the old gentleman lived, I think. The rich, ponderous mahogany furniture, the dismal brocade draperies, the hair-cloth and brass nails, the ghastly white marble mantelpieces carved with mortuary-looking urns and cornucopias spilling out cold white marble fruits, with which he embellished his abode, were yet to be seen when I was a child. The hall was decorated with a wall-paper setting forth the wanderings of Aeneas, wherein he and his companions marched, fought, and sailed progressively all about the walls and up the stairs, ending--entirely innocent of any irony--with the descent into hell, and the awful waves of Phlegethon flaming on either side of the double-doors into the ballroom, on the top landing. The sternness of the subject somehow subdued or dominated its brilliant colouring; and I have never been able to divest my mind of that incongruous association. For me the pale helmsman still steers toward that ballroom door; and it is beside Governor Gwynne's ancient black walnut newel-post that I shall always behold the splendid figure of the hero lusty and living amongst the exiguous shadows. In the library the Governor's law-books paraded along the shelves in close order behind the securely locked, shining glass-and-mahogany doors; in the dining-room there stood a grim old mahogany wine-cellaret like a short upright coffin; it was difficult to imagine any sort of good-cheer proceeding from that forbidding receptacle, but out of it Governor Gwynne had entertained Andrew Jackson, Captain Marryat, Henry Clay, a whole long register of celebrities. And I believe--under correction, for the date is cloudy in my recollection--that he was preparing to entertain the Prince of Wales with its help, when that young gentleman visited this country, had not humanity's oldest and best-known guest called upon him earlier. They used to show you the exact spot in the vast darkling front parlour on the south side where his body had lain in state a September afternoon in 1851, and Chase had pronounced the funeral oration over him. There was a full-length portrait of him scowling at a scroll of legal cap, with a big double-inkstand on the table beside him--"handy so he could shy it at you in case you disagreed," Gwynne Peters used profanely to suggest--hanging on the parlour wall just opposite the long mirror between the windows; the chairs and sofas were always shrouded in white linen covers; white net bags swathed the ornate gilt-and-glass chandeliers. It was a ghostly place, that room, with a clock mounted in a kind of Greek temple of alabaster under a glass dome on the mantel sepulchrally ticking out the irrecoverable hours, and Governor Gwynne eyeing you sternly from his elevation. He looked not too well pleased with his canvas immortality and considering what he must see, it was no wonder.
He was born some time during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and therefore must have been upwards of sixty before the day when Chase sonorously reminded his hearers in the south parlour that--"The history of Samuel Gwynne's life was, in very truth, the history of his native State, so closely was he associated with her struggles, her vicissitudes, and her achievements.... If zeal, if integrity, if courage and ability in the discharge alike of public and private duties can establish a claim upon the grateful remembrance of posterity, _then_, fellow-citizens, we may well point with pride.... _This_ was the noblest Roman of them all," etc. A neat pamphlet containing the address and the Resolutions of the Bar Association was afterwards printed and distributed; it was only the other day that I came upon a copy of it, very yellow and dusty, but bearing no marks of ever having been tampered with by a reader--indeed, some of the leaves were yet uncut--among other essays and orations of a like nature blushing unseen in the darkest corner of a second-hand book-shop. From it I extracted the rhetorical gems just cited, and it is doubtful if they will ever see the light again, yet I am confident that the old gentleman deserved much that was said of him, and would have been the first to deprecate any "pointing with pride." He was an upright judge, a temperate and God-fearing man; he amassed a handsome fortune, and served his particular section of the country through two terms as Governor, rather fancying himself, I believe, in the role of statesman, and all unwittingly laying the foundations of that intolerable, absurd, and tragic Gwynne family pride; it beset all his descendants and all the countless kindred of Gwynnes like a curse. No more arrogantly self-righteous set of people ever existed; and no more hysterically clannish. The Governor's memory held them all together for forty years after his death; only recently, with the introduction of new blood, has that strange, intangible bond dissolved. Samuel died and was gathered to his fathers; and Samuel, his son reigned in his stead, and busily drank himself to death in as short a time as that agreeable result could be compassed; he was not the first nor the last of the family to make thus the easy Avernian descent. I have heard some of the Gwynnes themselves comment upon the familiar fate and character of great men's sons, as exemplified by Governor Gwynne's with a kind of melancholy complacence. The Governor left a queer, unjust, and wrong-headed will--realising, perhaps, how queer, unjust, and wrong-headed were some of his prospective heirs--tying up a part of his property to the third generation, devising what seemed an unfair proportion to his brothers and sisters, of whom it might be said that their name was legion--Lucien Gwynne, David Gwynne, Charlotte, Eleanor, Marian; I have never known anyone who could accurately catalogue all the Gwynnes--and bequeathing the house and furniture to all his children in succession, as if he had a premonition that none of them would enjoy it long. There was a son who had run away to sea and was never heard of again; no provision was made for him in case he should reappear, although he was the oldest. Then came Sam, that died in a fit of delirium tremens; then Arthur. Him they found hanging to a beam under the "Attic" roof one summer morning not long after he had succeeded to the kingdom of the Gwynnes; and I suppose there was a horrid silence in the attic, and presently wild, pale-faced women and running and hurry and horses' hoofs churning the gravel before the door. The body was laid in the same south parlour and Governor Gwynne stared over his scroll at the suicide. Arthur left two daughters, young women grown; by the time I put on long dresses they were two old maids and lived narrowly, doing their own work, in a little cheap house at the other end of town. They were always clad alike in the last bombazine that was ever seen among us, I am sure, and wore their hair in the ringlets of eighteen-sixty, with knobs of black satin ribbon at the temples. They had the name of being queer, but then all the Gwynnes were queer.
After Arthur, a daughter, Harriet Peters, went to live in the house; she was a widow, Donald Peters having gone into the army--about '62 or '63, I think--and died of typhus in Libby Prison. One would have thought the house held out very slender attractions for the remaining Gwynnes, by this time; but all the heirs were pretty well straitened in means, and Mrs. Peters probably welcomed any way of reducing expenses. No one, least of all the heirs themselves, ever seemed to know, or be able to explain what had become of the Gwynne fortune; but it is certain that ten years after the Governor's death it was almost entirely dissipated, except what was held in trust or otherwise secured. This included the house, which could not be sold, as I have been told; at any rate Mrs. Peters had it for her life rent-free. I dare say she had pleasant enough memories of old days when she was a child and played about the pillars with her brothers and Caroline; she had two children, two little boys of her own, and she liked the idea of bringing them up in what she called without the least notion of being affected, her ancestral home. All the Gwynnes loved their dreary inheritance; they had as great a fondness and reverence for their name as if everyone that ever bore it had lived and died in the odour of sanctity; and doubtless regarded the house with something akin to the sacred affection of the Israelites for the Temple. I remember Mrs. Peters when she lived there, a tall woman with the thin, aquiline features and red hair of the family, going about with her black skirts and solemn face. Being constantly treated by her friends as a broken-hearted heroine, the daughter of one departed patriot and widow of another, I believe the pose became not distasteful to her as years went on; I have heard her refer to herself in sounding and mournful phrase as "the last of the Gwynnes,"--whereas, Heavens knows there were enough Gwynnes to stock a colony! She must have meant that she was the last of the Governor's immediate descendants--and so she was, excepting Caroline.
It was at this time that I began to know the house; as I think of those days, I suffer a sharp return of that feeling which Mr. Andrew Lang has somewhere most touchingly and truly called "the _heimweh_ of childhood." When I was a young lady of eight years or so, they used to pack me into our elderly phaeton and send me out to the country to spend the day playing with Gwynne Peters. I wore my white embroidered piqué, with a pink sash; and the brilliant red-and-green plaid stockings in which at that period it was the fashion to encase the legs of little girls. All glorious without was I; the feminine mind recalls these details with a photographic minuteness. Gwynne was a gentle little boy about my own age and not very strong, which was one reason why they asked me, a girl, to play with him. Another, which, with an elegant modesty, I refrained from mentioning first, was that Gwynne was very devoted to me--I was Juliet in my plaid stockings! Romeo wore baggy little trousers that buttoned on a yoke about his manly waist, if I recollect aright. I had in my possession until a short while ago--I gave it to Gwynne's eldest daughter the last time she visited me, finding her screaming with laughter over it and the other contents of an old desk--a solid and rumpled document reciting that: "This is to say that i Gwynne Peters do love you Mary Stanley, and we will be marrid when we grow up in witnes whareoff i have sined this with my bludd yours respektifly Gwynne Peters." It is painfully printed on a leaf of thick cream-coloured paper with a high gloss; we tore it out of an old photograph-album we found in the attic. That was a charming playground, crowded with the most fascinating assortment of rubbish, that a nimble imagination could convert into almost any kind of stage "property." There were broken-down chairs and tables, mildewed old pictures, carpetbags, bandboxes covered with flowered wall-paper, saddle-bags and holsters, a round-topped hair-trunk studded with nails, with mangy bare patches upon its flanks that conferred an air of reality on it when it figured romantically as a horse, camel, or other beast in our dramas. We spurred into Araby on that hair-trunk, we fought with Moslems, we carted off bales of treasure. When fancy flagged we could turn to two chests of mothy, mouse-eaten old books that stood under the eaves; no one ever opened the cases in the great gloomy library downstairs, notwithstanding our pleadings. Gwynne, who has always been of an affectionately reminiscent disposition, said to me not so long ago: "I should like to go back and be eleven years old again, just to read 'Ivanhoe' the first time. Don't you remember?" Indeed I remembered very well two children huddling by the low attic window with the book between them; sometimes it is in the chilly twilight of a winter's afternoon, with eerie shadows hovering in the corners, and a landscape all in sharp blacks and whites like an India-ink drawing, outside; sometimes the warm, hasty summer rain switches on the roof; sometimes there is a fresh chorus of birds beneath our window, and mating sparrows flit about the chimneys. "Hound of the Temple--Stain to thine order--Set free the damsel!" "Bois-Guilbert, notwithstanding the confusion of the bloody fray, showed every attention to her safety. Repeatedly he was by her side, and neglecting his own defence, held before her the fence of his triangular steel-plated shield." "That's the way I'd take care of you," says Gwynne, not grasping the point of Bois-Guilbert's assiduities about Rebecca. "Let's play it, and we'll play the trunk's Zamor, the good steed that never yet failed his master." We could be as noisy as we chose in the attic, for the whole lofty barn-like ballroom beneath us intervened to deaden all sounds. There was no other place about the house where we were allowed to run and shout, and even outside we must go decorously. We longed to play Robin Hood under the beautiful old beeches and in the alleys of the garden, but someone was forever hushing us. Mrs. Peters would come out on the veranda, where, standing between the columns at the top of the steps in her flowing black she looked exactly like Medea in the big steel-engraving of "The Marriage of Jason and Creusa" over the sideboard in the dining room: "Gwynne, my son, I am astonished. Don't you know you may disturb your Aunt Caroline?"
No one ever saw Gwynne's Aunt Caroline. She lived in one of the large bedrooms towards the front of the house--a bedroom with iron bars at the windows. "Why are those rods there?" I once asked. "It used to be a nursery--that's a place where they put babies, you know," said Gwynne, flushing oddly; he had the singularly delicate, fair skin common to all red-haired people, and a change of colour showed brilliantly on his ordinarily pale face. "The bars were put there to keep them from falling out." I was satisfied; it would never have occurred to me to doubt Gwynne, who was even touchily truthful. But Miss Clara Vardaman, the doctor's old-maid sister, who kept house for him, overhearing us, frowned impartially on us both and shook her head. "Gwynne, child----" she began severely; then checked herself, and turning upon me with a severity even greater, in that it was, as I felt, unjust: "You shouldn't ask so many questions," she said. "Little girls should be seen and not heard." This was perplexing behaviour in Miss Clara, who, in general, was the gentlest and tenderest of souls. She cried when the doctor chloroformed their old cat; I think she would have cut off her hand rather than spank either one of us, although we must sometimes have tried her sorely. She used to invite us in and fill us with doughnuts or other deleterious sweets when she caught us trespassing in their garden. I remember a transient and rather resentful wonder at the pained look on her face when she thus reproved us; and she was afterwards, illogically enough, very gentle with Gwynne, and gave him a notably larger share of cake than mine.
It would not have been possible to keep me in ignorance forever about Aunt Caroline, of course, but the enlightenment came with a sort of ferocious suddenness. It is one of a good many unpleasant recollections of mine connected with Gwynne's brother, Sam Peters. Sam was the elder by two or three years, a cold, surly, hulking lad of whom I was very much afraid--with reason, for he used his superior strength to browbeat and bully us. That the two brothers should be eternally at odds is not surprising; every nursery has its tyrant, and, remembering our own childish days, we must all be uneasily aware that our youngsters fight like small savages amongst themselves, and, as in most primitive communities, might makes right, and the battle is generally to the strong. Gwynne had a high spirit in his poor little weak body, and he invariably got the worst of it, yet never gave in. Every way but physically he had the advantage of his brother, who was a dull boy--and, I believe, liked Gwynne no better for being cleverer than himself. "Smarty" was one of his favourite names for him; I have known him to pummel his junior unmercifully upon some boyish difference; yet he would sometimes come cringing to both of us for help with his grimy slate and pencil. It would be hard to say in which posture I most disliked and feared him; but I have a fancy now that there was always something uncanny about Sam Peters in his fits of stubborn silence, of unprovoked anger, of repellent and fawning submission. He was most often to be found about the stables, and when his mother's commands--she had scarcely any control over him, and he treated her alternately with insolent indifference, and with a kind of wild affection--or the servants' persuasions brought him indoors, came scowling in upon our mild little games, kicking Gwynne's toys right and left. He took away our "Ivanhoe" and kept it for days, in mere spite, for he was not reading it himself--that I could have understood and almost pardoned; but I never saw him with a book. He invented various fantastically brutal ways of torturing the pet animals; and enjoyed beyond measure our frantic tears and expostulations. Sam never abated his tramping and whistling out of deference to Aunt Caroline; he stormed through the house when and how he chose, and on Gwynne's offering a remonstrance one day: "You shut up!" said Sam coarsely. "Aunt Caroline's crazy, and when I grow up I'm going to send her to the place where they put mad people so she won't be a bother any more."
Gwynne's thin face went white; he doubled his feeble fists and struck out at his brother in a blind and futile indignation. "Don't you believe him, Mary," he gasped. "It's a lie! How dare you say that, Sam? How dare you tell?"
The cook and gardener rushed in, hearing the uproar of this battle and separated the combatants, or rather the persecutor and his victim, for Gwynne was helpless under his elder's hailing blows. They were old servants, for the Gwynnes possessed among other ill-assorted traits, a faculty for enlisting the lifelong fidelity and affection of their underlings.
"My Lord, Mr. Gwynne, whatever is the matter?" said the cook; she took him on her knee and staunched his bleeding nose with her apron. "Mr. Sam, for shame! You'd oughtn't to hit your little brother."
Gwynne would not explain the cause of the quarrel, nor, for that matter, would Sam; he went off whistling harshly. "He said Miss Gwynne was crazy," I volunteered.
"It's a lie," blubbered Gwynne. "It's a lie, ain't it, Hannah?"
"S-h-h, you mustn't say that naughty word--there now--now," said the cook soothingly, and she and the gardener exchanged a meaning glance.
 Judge Lewis, whom I have quoted more than once in this history, had a way of saying with prodigious gravity that the Gwynnes as a family were not without some of the weaknesses of genius; a remark which they innocently liked to repeat until Gwynne Peters, the only one of them all who ever discovered the slightest sense of humour, pointed out its ambiguity.--M. S. W.
 Caroline, poor woman, only died the other day, at nearly ninety, I think; she must have outlived the "last of the Gwynnes" upwards of thirty years.--M. S. W.
Mrs. Peters died rather suddenly the spring of the Centennial year. That, or the fact that hers was the first funeral I ever went to, has served to fix the date in my memory. Gwynne, who would be seventeen his next birthday, came home from college; Sam came home too, of course, but not from college. He never showed much aptitude for learning, nor stayed longer than six months in any of the numerous schools to which he was sent one after another. At the time of his mother's death he was away on a fishing-trip in Canada, they said. The boys came home, there was a gathering of the Gwynne clan; that sombre south parlour, dedicated to such ceremonies, was once more opened, the white covers came off the chairs, revealing them stark and stiff bluish rosewood and black horsehair. Otherwise the house seemed nowise different; it was never a cheerful place. We drove out to the funeral with Mrs. Oldham, who could not afford either to own or hire a carriage herself, and was always benevolently remembered by her friends on these occasions. In spite of, or it may be, because of a gift she had of rich and spicy talk, Mrs. Oldham was one of the people whom no one ever forgets or overlooks.
"Harriet Peters would be alive this minute," she remarked "if it hadn't been for Caroline. Taking care of Caroline just about killed Harriet. Think of having to live with _that_ in the house all the time! I do think the Gwynnes are too funny; anybody else, any other set of people under the sun would have sent Caroline to an institution long ago. All these years they've talked about 'poor Carrie,' and made believe she was just an ordinary invalid, when everybody _knew_, and they _knew_ they knew that she's as crazy as a loon." "Oh, no, she isn't that, you know, Kate," said my grandmother mildly. "She's just melancholy." "Fiddle-de-dee, what's the difference? She's as crazy as Arthur; they're all queer, you know it. The Peters boy, Sam, you know, is queer; Clara Vardaman told me so, she's known those children ever since they were born. What do you suppose they'll do with Caroline _now_? There's nobody left, particularly, to look after her; for all their sniffing around about 'poor Carrie,' they'll none of 'em take her, you'll see. I suppose Governor Gwynne's will must have made some provision for her--but then, nobody expected her to outlive all the others. People like that always live forever somehow." Here, as we passed another carriage, Mrs. Oldham's face, which had been wearing a very bright and lively expression, suddenly darkened to one of decent sadness, touched with satisfaction--that expression sacred to the sympathetic friends who gather about at funerals. We have all seen it, and, I dare say, worn it ourselves, more than once. Mrs. Oldham bowed gravely to the other vehicle, and immediately upon its passage, turned to my grandmother with a lightning vivacity. "That was Lulu Gwynne--Lulu Stevens, you know," she said. "How old she's beginning to look, isn't she?"
I remember listening to Mrs. Oldham with a shocked wonder; she would not greatly surprise nor offend me nowadays, I am afraid. I have gone a long way and witnessed funerals a-many since that day, and I have learned to know that she was no indifferent scoffer, but in her way, a good-hearted enough woman. She even cried a little at the funeral, perhaps recalling old times when she and Harriet were girls together; I thought her, so unsparing is youth, a hideous hypocrite--yet I cried heartily myself, although I did not care in the least for poor Mrs. Peters! But who, indeed, young or old, is not somewhat moved by the brave and sad and beautiful words of the Service? From my place I could look across at Gwynne sitting quietly with a weeping female Gwynne on either hand, and marvelled that he shed no tears. He stared sternly ahead; and I caught myself with shame noting that he seemed stronger, and was plainly outgrowing his clothes; his wrists stuck out distressingly, his feet were too large. And Sam--was Sam "queer"? He did nothing "queer" at the funeral at any rate. Doctor Vardaman was one of the pall-bearers. We all came away as cheerfully as if it had been a wedding, it seemed to my severe young mind; I did not know that everyone is always cheerful coming away from a funeral. The carriages trot; the hearse-driver pulls up at a wayside watering-trough; he is a merciful man and merciful to his beasts; by a remarkable coincidence there is a road-house somewhere in the background, whence he presently issues, and resumes the reins, wiping his mouth. He hails a friend: "Hi, Joe, want to ride?" "Don't care if I do." The pall-bearers exchange cigars and smoke in their carriage. There is a gentle rain beginning to fall; the shadows lengthen; people comment on the fact that the cemetery is a long, tiresome ride from town. And as we roll along, Mrs. Oldham enlivens the journey by sprightly guesses at what on earth will be done with all the things in the old Gwynne house.
She would probably have keenly appreciated my opportunities; for, being asked out to stay with Miss Vardaman--who, innocent old schemer that she was, undoubtedly had certain sentimental ends in view, regarding Gwynne and me--at about this time, I was a rather shy and reluctant witness to what Doctor Vardaman grimly denominated the division of the spoils. There was so much coming and going of Gwynnes visible from Miss Clara's sitting-room windows that that simple spinster, who passed her life in a monotony of neat and even pretty little duties, became feverishly excited. She forgot the canary, neglected the doctor's socks, let the rubber-plant in the dining-room languish for want of water while she gazed and speculated. It is true that on one occasion Miss Clara retreated from her conning-tower with a scared, serious face, and asked me, fluttering a little, please to lower the shade. "We oughtn't to seem to be staring, or to notice at all--it's awful--awful!" she said incoherently, and kept to the other side of the house the rest of the afternoon. A closed carriage drove into the park, and after a space, drove out again--that was all. But I knew they were taking poor Caroline Gwynne to "the place where they put mad people," that Sam had promised her so long ago. We wondered under our breaths whether it was Sam who had ordered it; whether the two boys had agreed or quarrelled; and what the other Gwynnes had said or done. The unspeakable isolation of insanity that converts a human being into a kind of dreadful chattel hung about Caroline; we did not dare to ask a question. Doctor Vardaman knew all about it, but--"I'm afraid to say anything to John," whispered Miss Clara. "He wouldn't tell anyhow, you know. Doctors never do. Poor Carrie! I knew her when we were both young, before--you know. But she never was quite like other girls. Poor Carrie! It's thirty years----"
By the next day, however, Miss Clara had recovered spirits and interest; and when a furniture-van slouched up Richmond Avenue, and turned in between the old brick pillars at the entrance to the park, she could contain herself no longer. "Mary, come here, do look--you don't seem to notice anything. That's Zimmermann's wagon, I know it, and I do believe that's young Charlie Gwynne, Horace's Charlie, you know, the little one, not Gilbert's Charlie, he's at Harvard, on the seat telling the driver where to go. Nobody ever knows the way out here. Now isn't that like Jennie Gwynne? She does just love to boss and manage everybody. I _knew_ something was up when I saw her coming out every day--she's not so devoted to the boys as all that, you may be sure. She just wants to tell 'em what to do and how to do it, and which, and where, and when, and why--some people beat everything. Not but what Jennie _is_ a good manager, I'll say that for her. I suppose they're going to divide the things--well, of course, they've got to be divided, but I do wonder if poor Gwynne will get anything worth having. The boy's so gentle and quiet, he won't ever think of speaking up, and saying, 'I ought to have that, Cousin Jennie.' It would be just like her to--there goes another wagon. Well, _will you look_? It's one of those nasty, dirty people, those Bulgarians that keep the second-hand shops down on Scioto Street--well, if that doesn't pass everything! The idea of selling anything out of Governor Gwynne's house to those people--Bulgarians! It's enough to make him turn in his grave."
The doctor, who was a very tall, lean man, laid down his book, arose, and gravely looked over his sister's head, out of the window at the procession.
"I don't think that's a Bulgarian, Clara," he observed solemnly.
"What, it isn't? Well, John Vardaman, your eyes are failing, that's all! There, I can see the name on his ramshackle old cart. Am--Am--Amirkhanian--there, now, what do you think of _that_?"
"I think he's an Armenian," said the doctor, with no abatement of his gravity. "I think they're all Armenians--Armenian Jews----"
"Oh, well, tease if you want to! Armenians or Bulgarians it's all one; those countries where the men wear petticoats, and everybody drinks sour milk--horrid! The idea of Jennie Gwynne clearing out the house for _them_! I don't see how the others can let her run things that way; I don't believe she knows anything about it. Do you suppose she has ever heard that those blue India-ware plant-tubs, those great big elegant things were intended to be given to Lucien's wife? Harriet herself told me she had found a memorandum of it in her father's desk."
"Well, she can't very well sell 'em to the Armenians," said Doctor Vardaman, with an air of profound consideration. "No Armenian that ever lived would want to drink his sour milk out of a plant-tub. And besides they have holes in the bottom, and he couldn't!"
"Oh, you may talk, John, but it's important for somebody to remember all these things. Jennie Hunter--Jennie Gwynne, I mean, ought to be told that somebody besides those two forlorn helpless boys knows about it, and she can't have everything her own way----"
"Better not interfere, Clara," said the doctor, really serious this time. And Miss Clara who knew very well herself that she ought not to interfere, was silenced for a while. All the morning she seethed, watching one van after another trudge away from the house, laden, apparently, with old mattresses, stove-pipes, and table-legs; for, such is the irony of circumstance, that, let a house be ever so richly supplied otherwise, these useful and universal but singularly uncomely articles always occupy the positions of most prominence on a furniture-wagon. Their view fed without appeasing the fire of Miss Clara's curiosity; she exhausted herself in conjecture. And Doctor Vardaman had not been gone half an hour on his afternoon's round of visits when she called me excitedly.
"Get your hat and coat; I'm going up there right away. You can't tell what Jennie Gwynne may be doing. I saw something sticking out of the back of the last wagon, and I won't be positive, of course, but it looked _very much_ like the top of one of the mahogany posts to that big four-post bed in Harriet's room; they are solid mahogany, you know, Mary, carved all the way up with a kind of pineapple-shaped thing on the top. If Jennie Gwynne's gone and given away that bed that was poor Gwynne's own mother's, I just won't stand it, that's all! She won't stop till she's stripped the boys perfectly bare. What's that? Maybe it's being sent to storage? Oh, pshaw, she'd never do that, it's too handsome! For a minute I thought it was the bed in the spare-room, but I remember now that has helmets carved on top of the posts, not pineapples. Is my bonnet straight? You know, of course, Mary, I don't think Jennie would do anything dishonest," she added hastily, her kind old face suddenly perturbed. "I wouldn't for the world have you think I meant that. But she's always run everything and everybody. I don't believe Horace Gwynne dares to say his soul's his own--why, you _know_ that, you've been there. Jennie just can't help it--she's always perfectly sure she's right, and she never will listen to anybody, or consider anybody else's opinion worth anything."
It occurred to me that, in that case, there was not much use of Miss Clara's rushing in with remonstrances, where much more angelically-minded persons than she might well have feared to tread; the Gwynnes were not a family to brook outside interference. But, being brought up in the seen-and-not-heard tradition, I passively followed in the old lady's wake. Miss Vardaman's bark was, I knew, a great deal worse than her bite; and I could hardly fancy her facing down that ready, cock-sure, and energetic little Mrs. Horace Gwynne. In fact, as we neared the house, it was obvious that Miss Clara's courage was going the road of Bob Acres'. She walked slower, commented casually on the beauty of the spring foliage, and paused in an uneasy hesitation when we caught sight of another lady--_not_ Mrs. Horace Gwynne--descending the steps with a bundle in her arms.
"It's Lulu Stevens," she said in an undertone. "I didn't know _she_ was out here. _Cormorants!_ Harriet couldn't bear her."
"Do you suppose I'll ever get home with this thing?" Mrs. Stevens greeted us cheerily. The last time I had seen her had been at the funeral, where she listened as attentively as any of us to the great and awful words in which we are warned that man walketh in a vain shadow and disquieteth himself in vain; he heapeth up riches and cannot tell who shall gather them. "I came out on the cars--next time I'll take the carriage. It's the old French china punch-bowl--you know--the one that used to stand on top of the wine-cabinet in the dining-room. Cousin Jennie said she thought I might as well take it, she didn't believe anybody else wanted it. Cousin Jennie's the oldest, you know, and she has so much _judgment_. Those are those two old cut-glass decanters I just wrapped up and put inside. Goodness, it's as heavy as lead! You ought to see the house, Clara, you just ought to _see_ it! It's cram-full of everything under the sun, I wouldn't have believed there was all the truck in it."
"It won't be there long, I think," said Miss Vardaman, with unnatural dryness, glaring at the punch-bowl.
"Well, I don't know," said Mrs. Stevens, quite unconscious of any sarcasm, which was the last thing in the world one would have looked for from Miss Clara Vardaman. "It'll take another week to clean it all out, I believe, though Cousin Jennie is awfully quick and thorough. The old garret is packed to the eaves, the things there haven't been touched for twenty-five years. You know poor Harriet never was much of a housekeeper. Just think, we found eighteen pairs of old shoes stuck away in a closet--_eighteen_! Some of 'em had rubbers to match. And there was that pair of crutches one of the boys had when he broke his leg, and a whole great pile of daguerreotypes taken in the year One--pretty near everybody in this town--oh, I know it's perfectly awful to laugh, but you can't help it to save you--old Mrs. Duval, you know, Clara, in a lace mantle, and corkscrew curls, and a thing like a tart on a band around her forehead! And some little girl that I think _must_ be Sallie Gwynne in pantalettes with a poke-bonnet--oh, there're ever so many we can't place--there's nobody alive now that remembers 'em. There're two or three trunks of old clothes, and Donald Peters' old uniform and sword, and about a million medicine-bottles, and a set of false teeth--_false teeth_! Think of it! I'd as soon have expected to find a coffin-plate."
"What are they going to do with things like that?" asked Miss Clara, shamefacedly interested.
"Why, Cousin Jennie sent down to some of those second-hand people on Scioto Street. She says it's a great deal better to sell the things and get a little money for them that can be divided up among the heirs, than to try and give them away and have everybody dissatisfied. Cousin Jennie's so _sensible_."
"It's a shame," Miss Clara commented in a fierce whisper, as the other went off, radiantly. "That's that beautiful old punch-bowl with the deep gilt rim and wreath of roses. Daniel Webster's had punch out of that bowl. And I did so want Gwynne and you to have it in your house--that is, I--I--I had set my heart on Gwynne's having it, you know, my dear. Well," she added reflectively, making the best of the situation, "after all, a good many of the Gwynnes have taken to drink, so perhaps it's just as well. Only I don't believe Gwynne ever will. She didn't say a word about the Governor's law-library. Well, now, Gwynne's going to have that, or I'll know the reason why! I do think it would be an outrage to give those books to anybody but him--Governor Gwynne's only grandson--that is, of course, there's Sam. But if Jennie sets out in that high-handed way to give them to somebody else, I'll just let her know I'm here, that's all! Mercy, what a noise!"
There was an unusual colour in her cheeks as we climbed the steps; her lips moved, rehearsing the biting speeches with which she meant to confound Jennie Gwynne. That lady was upstairs superintending the removal of one of the enormous carved wardrobes with full-length mirrors in the doors; we could hear her shrill voice pitched high in command, and the men grunting and shoving. All the doors and windows were wide open, the daylight flaunted shamelessly about the grave, gloomy, reticent old house. A constant bickering of hammers filled the air; they were taking down and boxing the pictures. Half a dozen of the huge line-engravings that used to hang in an orderly row about the walls, "Signing of the Declaration" over one bookcase, "Sistine Madonna," over another, "Jason and Creusa," "C'est Moi; Scene in the Prison of the Conciergerie during the Reign of Terror"--all these artistic treasures, I say, were down and standing about the rooms awaiting their turn. The Governor's portrait leaned against the white marble mantel, and you might see the dust-webs festooning the space where it had hung. "Poor Harriet, she didn't know a thing about keeping house!" sighed Miss Clara, observing them. In the library all the books were piled on the floor, and there stood Gwynne, knee-deep amongst them, in his shirt-sleeves, looking a little helpless and worried. A youngster whom I recognised for one of the Lawrence children was playing on the floor in a corner with a quantity of those small square flat morocco cases decorated with a sort of bas-relief all over the outside, in which daguerreotypes were once enshrined. Mrs. Lawrence was haranguing Gwynne excitedly, yet in a subdued voice, with one wary eye on the stairs.
"Of course, I don't say that Cousin Jennie doesn't _mean_ it all for the best, Gwynne, but if she would _only_ consider a little! She's positively _insisted_ on my taking the mahogany hat-rack with the deer's antlers mounted on it, you know--and even after I _said_ to her, 'Why, Cousin Jennie, I'm sure its awfully nice of you to want me to have it, but I'd be afraid to put that thing in my house, the hall's so little, and the stairs come right down by the front door, so there's hardly any room, and I'd be afraid all the time the children would fall down the steps and put their eyes out on those prongs--it's a perfect death-trap!' Now, Gwynne, that's every word I said, and I didn't say it in a disagreeable way at all, I just said, 'Why, Cousin Jennie, I'd be afraid to take that thing in my house; and I _told_ her on account of the children and all, just as nicely as I could, and she got just as mad as could be, and said she supposed I'd like to have the handsomest thing in the house, the dining-room set, or something like that, and you _know_, Gwynne, I never _thought_ of such a thing, and I just wish you'd speak to her----"
"I'm sorry, Cousin Charlotte," said Gwynne, harassed and weary. "I--it's really none of my business, you know, the things belong to the estate, and I suppose Cousin Jennie's the best one to divide them--oh, Miss Clara!"
He broke off to come and shake hands eagerly; he was glad to see us, I think. He had grown tall, and older-looking; his voice plunged from unnatural heights to unexpected depths with a startling and, I dare say, rather ludicrous effect. Wouldn't we sit down? "It's--it's all mussed up," he said, casting an anxious glace around. He called to the carpenters to stop their racket; it was warm, wasn't it? He'd have Hannah get us something, some lemonade, wouldn't we like it? No, he wasn't busy, just packing books, he'd be glad to rest. Sam? Why--why--Sam had gone--had gone back to Canada, didn't we know it? There wasn't really anything for Sam to do, you know. Cousin Jennie was seeing to everything.
"Jennie has so much _judgment_, you know," Mrs. Lawrence put in. "We couldn't have anybody, any legal person coming in here to appraise and divide, that would be simply _horrid_--dear old Uncle Samuel's things. And Jennie is a perfectly ideal person--so sensible and just. But then we aren't the kind of family to have any fussing anyhow."
("Now wasn't that _Gwynne_ all over?" said Miss Clara afterwards. "She'd just been giving Jennie _Hail Columbia!_ But they might fight like cats and dogs among themselves, they'd never let an outsider know it. There's Gwynne Peters, the best boy that ever lived. He'd die rather than tell a lie, or take what didn't belong to him--and there he sat, just pleasantly smiling and pretending that everything was all right, when he was nearly worn out with the fuss and worry!")
Mrs. Horace Gwynne came downstairs in the rear of the leviathan wardrobe, ordering and exhorting. As the men staggered down the front steps with it, she turned into the library. "I suppose your Cousin Charlotte has been telling you about the hat-rack, Gwynne," she began in an acid voice. "All I have to say is--oh, how do you do, Miss Clara. Mercy, Charlotte, tell Marian to come away from those books! Come here to Cousin Jennie, dearie; what have you got there? Don't hurt that nice book."
"It ain't a nice book," said the child resentfully. "It's Revised Statutes of the State of Ohio--it says: 'Forcible entry does not c-o-n-con-s-t-i-constitute trespass.' What's 'forcible entry,' Cousin Gwynne?"
"Put it down, dear, never mind," said Mrs. Horace kindly. "I want Gwynne to have all his grandfather's library," she explained, turning to Miss Vardaman. "It's only right, you know. He's Governor Gwynne's only grandson--except Sam, of course. But I said to all the family in the beginning that Gwynne Peters should have those books, it would be outrageous to give them to anyone else."
Poor Miss Clara! I could have laughed at the blank expression with which she beheld this stealing of her thunder.
"I'm sure you're quite right, Jennie," she said tamely. "You've always had a great deal of _judgment_. Gwynne, dear, how did you get that great black bruise on your forehead?"
"I ran into something," Gwynne said, flushing.
"Oh, Cousin Gwynne, oh, what an awful story!" Marian piped in her sharp treble. "It's where Cousin Sam threw the boot at you when he got mad at you the other day. Cousin Sam had a queer spell, I heard Hannah say so."
"Marian!" cried her mother savagely.
"Hannah's getting into her dotage, and imagines things," said Mrs. Horace Gwynne, reddening to her forehead. "I don't know what we're going to do with the poor old thing----" They all talked on desperately. It was a ghastly moment for everybody. The skeleton rattled its grisly bones in the Gwynne family closet, and there was something foolishly and pitiably heroic in the gallant effort they made to silence that hideous activity. Mrs. Lawrence and Mrs. Horace, the one Gwynne by blood, the other by adoption, forgot their private feud in the common defence. To your tents, O Israel!
"You might look over those old daguerreotypes, Miss Clara," Mrs. Gwynne said. "Marian, run and get them for Miss Vardaman. I don't know who some of the people are, maybe you'll recognise them."
Gwynne opened a case. "This one is all going to pieces," he said, as the little pad of faded green brocade in the lid fell out; behind it was a slip of yellowed paper. "Oh, look here, it has 'John to Louise, June, 1839,' on it, 'John to Louise'--who was that, do you suppose?"
"Let me see it," said Miss Clara.
"Louise? Maybe that's Louise Andrews--she was a Gwynne, you know," said Mrs. Lawrence frowning in an effort of recollection. "I can't think of any other Louise. Is there a picture of her? She was a great beauty."
"Did you ever see her, Cousin Charlotte?"
"Goodness, no, she's been dead I don't know how long."
"I remember her," said Miss Vardaman. "I'm so much older than any of you. She married Leonard Andrews, she didn't live very long. Yes, she was very pretty. That's John's picture. Yes, I suppose it _does_ look funny, but that's the way they all dressed, you know, in those days. They were engaged and then they quarrelled about something--oh, dear me, it's years and years ago."
"You'd better take that picture, Miss Clara," said Mrs. Horace Gwynne briskly. "Maybe Doctor Vardaman would like to have it, and--oh, I was going to speak to you about something. You know I'm managing everything and it's an awful responsibility; I've counted all the towels and sheets and measured all the pieces of goods I've found--nothing ought to be wasted or thrown away, you know. There're a whole lot of medicine-bottles upstairs, over three hundred--do you think the doctor could use them? They're very good bottles, you know, no corks of course--I thought maybe the doctor----"
"John wouldn't have any use for them, I thank you, Jennie," said Miss Clara, stiffening.
Gwynne's eyes met mine. "The wistaria on the dining-room porch is going to bloom, don't you want to see it?" said he, biting his lips.
We retreated to the wistaria, and both of us, propped against the dining-room wall, gave away to hysterical laughter, all the more violent because we must smother it. Gwynne's nerves, I think, were a little unstrung by all he had been through the last melancholy week. "I--I can't help it----" he gasped. "I know it's all wrong, but I can't help it. They're so funny!"
We were presently visited with retribution for our ungodly merriment; for, as we stood there, an Armenian--or Bulgarian--gentleman came around the corner of the house with a wheelbarrow heaped with the spoil of the garret, and after him another bearing on his shoulders our old hair-trunk. Hardly any hair was left upon it, now; but there it was long and low and round-topped with rows of brass nails black with verdigris. It was going away on the Armenian shoulders--going out of our lives forever like those childish days. Gwynne looked at me with a rather tremulous smile.
"'Ha, Saint Edward! Ha, Saint George!' exclaimed the Black Knight, cutting down a man at each invocation," he quoted. "Don't, Mary!" For I am ashamed to say that I sat down on the top step and cried openly, while the boy tried to comfort me.
Herewith began another volume in the saga of the old Gwynne house. After nearly fifty years of Gwynnes, it must now pass to other ownership. The thing happens every day, and should be no great tragedy; few Americans are born and live and die in the same house, and a building of any sort rarely remains the property of one family for more than a generation. But the Gwynnes, one and all, mourned aloud and refused to be comforted. Governor Gwynne's house, Uncle Samuel's house, the house that great man planned and built, whose hospitalities had been enjoyed by the very best and highest in the land! Why, the State ought to buy that house! The State was of a different opinion, although the house was offered at a ridiculously low price, not more than twice what it was worth. None of the Gwynnes, it appeared, could afford to buy it in, or even rent it, the expense of living there was so terrifying. At that distance from town, one must keep a horse and carriage, the street-cars being so far away; the care of the park and garden required one man's whole time; and there was the huge old house itself. It had at least sixteen rooms, and with its high ceilings, and long rambling hallways, took as much coal to heat it in our winters as three ordinary houses. Besides, it had--ahem--undeniably run down somewhat during poor Harriet's administration, and was in need of costly repairs. No, alack and alas! the house must be sold or leased--dreadful profanation! The furniture was at last cleared out; the Governor's portrait went down to the State-house, and you may see him there at this moment, in line with all the rest of the governors, but in a rather obscure corner--such is the notorious ingratitude of republics. All the Gwynne establishments in town blossomed out with relics, brass andirons, branch candlesticks, horse-hair sofas--people confided to one another that, on the whole, Mrs. Horace Gwynne had made a pretty fair division; she herself sternly declined to take anything but the alabaster clock in the south parlour. That mausoleum-looking engine now ticks out the time from the middle of a charming white wood mantel in her eldest son's "colonial" residence. It long since ticked out eternity for Mrs. Gwynne, as for some of the other friends we met in the last chapter. The Armenians finally accomplished the dismantling of the attic and cellar; the contents, Gwynne Peters once told me, brought just seventy-two dollars. "That was a little less than four dollars all around," he said with a grin. "I spent my four on my first box of cigars, and got awfully sick on the very first one I tried to smoke, I remember--as if it were for a judgment on me!" He went back to college. Old Hannah went, whimpering, to live in the country with a married niece. The windows were boarded up, the old iron gates chained across; and, for a while, an advertisement appeared in our papers, and, I believe, in some of the big New York and Chicago ones: "FOR SALE OR LEASE--Commodious mansion built by the late Governor Gwynne, delightfully situated in the suburbs, within easy walking-distance of two lines of cars. Large grounds, fruit and shade trees, stable, dairy, etc. House of twenty rooms in perfect order with all modern improvements. Suitable for a young ladies' seminary or summer-hotel. For further particulars address Virgil H. Templeton, Agt. for the Gwynne Estate."
There is a peculiar fascination in these artless notices; one may read whole columns of such Paradises awaiting tenants, every morning in the journals. They are so rich in promise, so fertile in pleasant suggestion, it seems as if a person might spend a happy lifetime in the simple pursuit of renting and moving into them one after another. But, strange to say, for many months Mr. Virgil H. Templeton piped and nobody would dance! The causes of both health and education suffered serious neglect; nobody showed the least anxiety to teach young ladies in the commodious mansion built by the late Governor Gwynne; nobody wanted to establish a summer-resort within easy walking-distance of two lines of cars. Once in a while someone would come in, get the keys, and go out to inspect the place; but invariably "they laughed as they rode away," like the false knight in the ballad. It is possible that the disadvantages connected with living in it which the family had noticed, were, by some strange chance, apparent to would-be tenants also. Templeton did his best; he placarded the brick walls of the park; he changed and re-worded his advertisements; he even lowered the terms and promised repairs! All these measures were looked upon with strong disfavour by the family; and it is safe to say that no real-estate dealer before or since has ever come in for the share of bullying and badgering that that well-meaning man received. The two old Misses Gwynne, Arthur's daughters, put on their two old bonnets, and went down to Judge Lewis' office, where the unfortunate agent had a desk, declaiming loudly against the vulgarity of advertising their noble ancestral residence in the _common_ papers where every ragamuffin might read their names shamelessly printed. "Want me to go 'round and whisper it to everybody, I s'pose," said Templeton in a rage, when they had left. He was an excitable little man. Mrs. Horace Gwynne visited him with the information that she, for one, would never consent to the house being rented for less than two hundred. "Cents or dollars, ma'am?" asked Templeton politely sarcastic. "You're quite as likely to get one as the other." Steven Gwynne, as "queer" a body as one commonly sees at large without a keeper--he was a Southern sympathiser, and never cut his hair or beard after the fall of Vicksburg--ambushed Templeton in Judge Lewis' own room, to tell him roundly that what was good enough for Governor Gwynne was good enough for any damned upstart that wanted to rent his house, and that not one square inch of new wall-paper should go on those walls, so help him, if he, Steven Gwynne, had to camp on the doorstep with a shot-gun! The judge witnessed these passages-at-arms with mingled annoyance and amusement; it was a nuisance of course, he said; he was minded to evict Templeton a dozen times--but how it did enliven the dull legal round! The Gwynnes and their agent furnished that jolly and kind-hearted jurist with material for some of the best after-dinner stories he ever told. "By George," he used to say, "it got so that whenever one of my clerks came in and found a Gwynne lying in wait for Templeton and breathing fire and slaughter, he'd post somebody in the hall, and when Templeton came along: 'Hey, go slow, Temp., the enemy's poisoned the well!' and Templeton would shin for the street so fast you could play checkers on his coat-tail!"
The fact is the poor old house was going to rack and ruin as rapidly as so solid and substantial a structure could go; the wonder was that Mrs. Peters had managed to get along at all in that comfortless monument to the Gwynne family-pride, but living there was probably a point of honour with her, that fantastic standard of honour, to which all the race of Gwynnes clung with a fanatic tenacity. No single member of the family could afford to spend any money on the house, and concerted action among fifteen or twenty Gwynne heirs was, as their agent speedily found out, next to an impossibility. The only thing about which they were in entire concord was the glory past, present, and to come of their name; they saw desecration in laying hands upon the torn and mildewed wall-paper, the blistered varnish, the leaking roofs of Uncle Samuel's shrine. It would have taken twelve or fifteen hundred dollars to put the place in order, at the least; and indeed as time went on, it promised to take more. The viewless forces of destruction invade an empty house, and lay it waste like a devastating army. "If they would just let me shingle the roof anyhow," said Templeton in despair. "But the only one of 'em all that has any sense is that young Peters fellow--not the queer one, you know, the one that's on the ranch in New Mexico, but that other, that nice tall red-haired boy. Trouble is, he's a minor. You just wait a couple of years or so till he's twenty-one and through college, and I'll bet he makes 'em all stand 'round!"
The stout, excitable little man displayed more penetration than one would have supposed he possessed. Gwynne did make them stand 'round. When he came home on his vacations, you might see him prowling about the place with a delegation of unwilling relatives, arguing, explaining, persuading. Being a Gwynne himself, the boy knew how to get at his kin, upon what side to take them without offence. There was very little boyishness about his weary, anxious, gently humorous face, and the family all knew, that, young as he was, he already had one grave and bitter care. Perhaps that made them respect him; there are some people that never grow up, and, conversely, there are some who never seem to have any youth. When Gwynne came home, the estate's property all at once took on a smiling look of change. Sidewalks were mended and shutters painted; the grass was cut in the park and the rubbish cleared away; he even got them to consent to putting a furnace in the house! Templeton went about in jubilant relief at having someone to share his responsibilities. "Told you so! That boy has a _head_! All Peters and mighty little Gwynne, that's what _he_ is!"
In spite of their efforts, however, the house, as Templeton pointed out with a solemn wagging of the head, "was not a paying proposition." Going away to boarding-school at this time with Kitty Oldham and others of about our age, we heard and saw less and less of it. Nobody of our acquaintance would risk the experiment of living in it; it was only strangers who fitfully came and went as tenants of the old Gwynne house. Sometimes there would be curtains at the windows, and smoke hanging from the chimneys; on our next return it would be again shut and deserted. Those people? Oh, yes, they were in some railroad position, and they've been moved to Indianapolis. No, no one called on them, it's so hard to get out there, you know, and they were only here a few months. Once the tenants scuttled out in a dreadful state of scare, declaring that Arthur Gwynne's ghost came down and paraded the ballroom o' nights, with his head on one side, and the rag of sheet dangling from his twisted neck! "I do hope poor Cousin Eleanor and Cousin Mollie won't hear that story," said Gwynne, in concern, and painstakingly invented and retailed to them another excuse for the sudden cessation of rent. Once, in the summer vacation, the Board of Lady Managers of the Home for Incurables gave a lawn-party on the grounds for the benefit of their charity. There were booths set up and Japanese lanterns swinging under the beeches, and a deal of noise beneath Caroline Gwynne's windows where we children had been obliged to go so sedately in the old days. People who had no carriages came in long weary procession from the Lexington and Amherst Street cars--within easy walking-distance--bearing their contributions of bowls of salad and chocolate-cakes shrouded in their oldest napkins. The house was opened, and the ladies of the committee heated coffee on the crippled old built-in range in Hannah's kitchen. They every one agreed in buzzing whispers that the place was a perfect rattle-trap, and they could not imagine how any people could move out leaving a house so dirty as the last inmates had done. The young men gaily took turns drawing water from the ancient clanking pump outside the kitchen-door, and bringing in armfuls of firewood. Children raced and romped with a thunderous uproar in the big echoing rooms. In the evening there was a curtain rigged between the Parthenon pillars, and a play was given in which Teddy Johns appeared and sang the kind of topical song popular in those days, of which I remember one verse:
"The gloaming one day was beginning to gloam, That's all, that's all! When I heard someone say 'The Incurables' Home? That's all, that's all!
He told me of servants they had more than eight, And he thought that the one poor old battered inmate Must certainly live in magnificent state, That's all, that's all!"
A humorous effort which was received with great applause, the paucity of Incurables, and the disproportionate energy of their Lady Managers being a standing joke in our community. Mrs. Oldham was rumoured to have remarked acutely upon being applied to for a donation to the Home, that the only thing incurable about it was the idiots who ran it. Teddy sang and swaggered through his part in a very amusing fashion; he was good at that sort of entertainment. The fête--anything carried on out-doors was a fête in those days--was a success, netting _the_ Incurable the handsome sum of fifty-one dollars twenty-seven cents, according to Mrs. Lewis' report. And the next day everyone in town was circulating the story of how some blundering or malicious person actually went up to poor Gwynne Peters and asked him where Sam was and what he was doing!
After this the house went again into one of its periods of eclipse, so to call them. No one even cared to look it over any more; and few people visited the neighbourhood at all since dear old Miss Clara Vardaman died and the doctor gave up practice. If it had not been for Gwynne I believe the house would have fallen down, and he must have had a hard pull getting the rest of them to contribute their share of the taxes and insurance. It was offered for sale at gradually diminishing terms; they had one chance to dispose of it to a German gentleman who proposed to convert it into a place of entertainment for the masses to be called Silberberg's Garden. Templeton was enthusiastically in favour of this plan, but figure the indignation of the two old Misses Gwynne! Even Gwynne, while he laughed, was a little ruffled. "Think of a band-stand and merry-go-round in the park," he said. "German waiters in their shirt-sleeves dashing from the house with beer-glasses and plates of wienerwurst, plumbers' apprentices and their girls waltzing and perspiring in our old ballroom, with a free fight thrown in now and then by way of variety! And how Doctor Vardaman would relish it! Picnic parties, sardine-cans, paper napkins, beer-bottles, sentimental couples spooning, band scraping and tooting 'Die Wacht am Rhein,' and 'How can I leave thee?' under his windows all day long--his property would be absolutely unsalable. We can't do it, I guess; no, not even for Silberberg's twenty-five thousand dollars!" I told him he was like the Arab who wouldn't part from his steed, in the poem at the back of the Third or Fourth Reader. "My beautiful, my beautiful----" he says; "Avaunt, tempter, I scorn thy gold!" And, springing on the horse's back, vanishes into the desert. Thus did all the Gwynnes turn up their noses--in the vernacular--at Silberberg. Templeton was very doleful. "You're missing the only chance you'll ever have to get rid of that damned old white elephant, Mr. Peters," he said. "Why not let the Dutchman have it? Lord, what difference does it make to you whether he turns it into a beer-garden or a cemetery? It's had its day." But, for once in his life, the little real-estate agent was at fault; for, on a sudden, without notice, fully five years after the house came on the market, when it had weathered through nearly every vicissitude known to houses, and its fortunes were at the dregs, the wheel took another turn--spun clean around--came full circle, in fact. Time and the hour run through the roughest day.
 Easy walking distance! It was between five and six squares on a very indifferent plank sidewalk, as I have cause to know!--M. S. W.
Many warm-hearted people felt a great sympathy for Doctor Vardaman in his isolation and solitude after Miss Clara's death; I suspect that had the doctor been an old maid instead of an old bachelor, he would not have received so much attention. There is something in the spectacle of an elderly unattached male being, no matter how independent he may be, or how capable of taking care of himself, that at once engages the solicitude of all his friends, men and women alike. Everybody felt sorry for him; everybody wondered how he got along. Doctor Vardaman was a hale old gentleman verging on seventy, it is true, but still vigorous of mind and body, and with pronounced notions of his own on the subject of diet, hygiene, and the conduct of life generally. No one could have needed benevolent supervision less; but he might well have prayed with the antique worthy to be delivered from his friends. At Christmas he used to describe himself as blushing to his very heels and retreating in shamed confusion before the stern gaze of the expressman who unloaded case after case of expensive wines and spirits before his door; that he already had a whole cellar-full partly of his own collecting, partly inherited from his father, a man of means and discernment in such matters, made no manner of difference to these eager and generous givers. If he had smoked as diligently as a factory-chimney, he could not have vanquished the army of cigars he received yearly. A centipede would not have accommodated all the doctor's pairs of knit and crocheted slippers; he solemnly avowed that there were bales of smoking-jackets and pen-wipers stored in his garret. He could have paved his walk with paper-weights, yet I never saw him use but one--a glass globe with a remarkable cameo-looking head encircled by a wreath of flowers mysteriously embedded beneath the surface, which Gwynne and I, clubbing our pennies, had presented to him the first Christmas after we were enlightened on the Santa Claus subject. He used to laugh and make little jokes about his being an "universal favourite" like certain patent medicines; yet he had a sentiment for all this trash, and would not allow it to be thrown or given away, except when kindness took the form of sending some perishable delicacy for his table, a frequent occurrence after Miss Clara's death, as it was known he had some trouble in getting competent "help." It would have been physically impossible for the doctor to get through all the aspic jelly, mango-pickle, and fruit-cake bestowed on him, and he said that it went against his medical conscience to give these rich dainties away, yet that must be done sometimes.
I myself have laboriously carried out little trays of orange-marmalade tumblers which I am sure never did any good to anybody but Mrs. Maginnis' children, who used to come bare-legged, with their tousled heads, freckles, and blue eyes to fetch the doctor's wash. It took no slight gymnastic ability to carry a basket or waiter of such unmanageable articles as marmalade-glasses, change cars twice, and pick one's way across the ankle-deep mud of Richmond Avenue, and along the wooden sidewalk full of loose uncertain boards, as far as Doctor Vardaman's house. On a gusty April day with a promise of rain in the air, one must go cumbered with an umbrella and overshoes; only fancy what that was to a young woman clad in the fashionable costume of eighty-one, to wit: a skin-tight navy-blue silk "jersey" waist, a navy-blue bunting skirt kilt-pleated with a voluminous round overskirt, and a pocket with purse and handkerchief securely concealed somewhere amongst the folds in the rear; French-heeled shoes, tan-coloured suède "Bernhardt" gloves, and a tremendous erection of velvet and feathers that we called a "Gainsborough hat" over all! These modes have mercifully gone out; but not more, I think, than the simple and kindly custom of sending glasses of jelly about to one's friends; I should not presume to ask one of my young acquaintances to perform so unseemly an office; no one either makes jelly or sends it as a present any more. Fortunately I fell in with Gwynne Peters on the last lap of the journey, that is, the Lexington and Amherst cars.
"Here, let me take that thing," said he, and as I thankfully gave up to him my burden of sweets--my wrists, not too loosely cased in the tan-coloured "Bernhardts" fairly aching with the weight--he went on: "What do you think? I believe we've got the old place rented at last! Templeton's going to have some people out there this afternoon and I'm to meet them. But they've been out two or three times already, and he says they've taken a fancy to it. The man--he's a Colonel Pallinder from Mobile or New Orleans or somewhere--says it reminds him of his old home in Virginia, 'befo' the wah,' you know, that's the way he talks."
"Are they nice? I mean--anybody we'd _know_?"
"Why, I don't know--yes, I guess so. They're Episcopalians, they were asking Templeton about Trinity Church. I haven't met them yet, and you can't go much by what Templeton says--a fellow like that doesn't know anything except whether people are respectable or not. They're all grown-ups, no children. I think there's a young lady; Templeton's lost in admiration of Mrs. Pallinder--told me two or three times, 'She's an elegant lady, Mr. Peters, very lah-de-dah manners, you know, stylish as she can be!' Doctor Vardaman's met them; but there's no use asking the doctor anything, he just grinned when I mentioned the Pallinders, and said he didn't doubt they'd be a great addition to the neighbourhood."
Templeton's "livery-rig" was standing at the foot of the wide shallow steps leading up to the Parthenon portico as we came in sight of it from the road. The shutters were open; feet and voices went to and fro inside. A tall slim girl in a red waist (it was a "jersey," I thought) and hat came out to the carriage and gave the driver some order. The agent appeared from the back of the house between two more tall people, a lady and gentleman. Templeton gesticulated, he flourished toward the grounds, he flourished toward the façade of Doric columns. The gentleman pulled his beard, which he wore in a long sharply pointing tuft on his chin, and listened with his head at an angle. "Jiminy! I'm glad I got that chimney fixed!" ejaculated Gwynne thoughtfully. "You know I'd like to take away those old iron stags and things from the front lawn, but Cousin Steven would fall down dead if I touched 'em."
"Oh, I don't know, Gwynne, somehow they seem to suit the old place, they've been there so long. Wouldn't it be nice if these people turned out really--really _nice_, so that the house would be the way it was in your grandfather's time?"
"It would _so_!" Gwynne agreed heartily. He looked about. Some way it seemed as if the thing were not wholly improbable; the fresh hopefulness of spring was in the air; pockets of new grass showed an excellent green, the trees were faintly rimmed with colour. All the thickets piped with birds. There were Arcadian vistas of many smooth mottled trunks and loftily stooping branches; the old house with its absurd classic front and assemblage of iron flocks and herds still became the landscape well. "It _is_ pretty, isn't it?" said the young man, earnestly. "I should think anybody'd like it, wouldn't you?"
As he spoke, Templeton, an odd enough herald of good tidings, came scrunching hastily down the gravel drive from the house. He was too excited to notice my presence. "By gummy, Mr. Peters," he exclaimed breathlessly, as soon as he got within hearing distance, "I've landed 'em! You come on up to the house. Three years' lease--you come on up--privilege of purchase--you want to come right up and meet 'em--by gummy!"
Gwynne came grinning to us afterwards, as Doctor Vardaman and I stood in the old gentleman's porch, to describe the interview.
"I went up to the house," he said, "and here were Colonel Pallinder, looking like the Count of Monte Cristo, or the Chevalier de Maison Rouge, in a low-cut vest and a turn-down collar and black string-tie, and Mrs. Pallinder--by Jove, Templeton was right, she's an awfully handsome woman, and the _youngest_ looking, she might be her own daughter! She was one of their Southern belles, I suppose, only she's quite fair, light hair and a beautiful complexion--have you noticed her complexion, doctor?"
"Mrs. Pallinder's complexion is remarkably well cared-for, I should say," said the doctor judicially.
"Yes, I've always understood these Southern women don't do much but eat candy and fix themselves up. Anyway, she's very striking-looking, much more so than the daughter. She's a very tall girl, I noticed her eyes were almost on a level with mine--big black eyes and she kind of rolls 'em around, you know----"
"What did they have on, Gwynne?"
He paused; he meditated. "They were all dressed up," he said at last, with the air of one conveying a piece of valuable information, the result of close and prolonged study. Again he meditated. "Well, they were both all dressed up, you know. What's that thing you've got on, that tight jacket thing--or is it a--a waist? Hers was red, with little curlycues all over it."
"You mean it was braided?"
"Yes, that's it, braided--they were both all dressed up, you know. Well, then Templeton introduced us, told the colonel who I was, that is, and he welcomed me as if I had been his long-lost brother with the strawberry-mark. Called me 'my dear boy' right off--I don't much care about that sort of thing," said Gwynne, shrugging. "But I suppose it's his way. Everybody was very cordial, and there was so much hands-all-round and hurrah-boys, you never would have thought we'd just met for the first time. It's not the way we're used to up here, but on the whole, doctor, it's rather nice--they're very interesting people, and they've got such pleasant Southern voices, and they're gay, somehow, gay and kind," said Gwynne, who, poor young fellow, had had little enough either of gaiety or kindness in his experience of life. "The colonel presented me to the ladies with the grandest flourish you ever saw, and said he understood this was my ancestral home, and he knew just how I felt at seeing strangers in it, but I mustn't cease to look upon it as my home just the same, and that he hoped I would come there whenever I felt like it; and he didn't know how _I_ thought about it, but for _his_ part, it seemed to him there was nothing like having a gentleman for a tenant and a gentleman for a landlord. Right there," said Gwynne, with a grin, "I might have sprung it on him that he was going to have quite a few gentlemen and some ladies for a landlord, but I only said, 'The house belongs to an estate, you know,' and something about our being so fortunate to have them in it--I _had_ to say something after all their cordiality. And he went right on, without paying much attention, 'Ah, indeed?' he thought it quite possible he might buy it, he wanted to settle down somewhere, he was tired of travelling about, and he had got his business in such shape that he _could_ settle down at last."
"What is his business, Gwynne?" interrupted the doctor suddenly.
"Why, he's a broker, and Templeton says he's agent for a big syndicate of Eastern capitalists that have some kind of railroad or mining interests all over the West. He's rented an office in the Turner Building. I was going to bring up the subject of repairs, but it seems Templeton and he had got that all settled already. Pallinder's going to do a lot himself, about the bathroom and kitchen, and Mrs. Pallinder doesn't like the wood-work painted white that old-fashioned way, so they're going to change it, grain it to look like quartered oak or mahogany. I suppose Cousin Eleanor and the rest of them will go into fits, and I kind of hate to see the old white wood-work changed myself," added Gwynne regretfully. "But if the colonel buys the place, and I'm pretty sure he's going to after putting out all this money on it, why, it doesn't make any difference what they do to it. The whole thing's almost too good to be true."
"It _is_," said Doctor Vardaman, rubbing his chin. "Being agent for an Eastern syndicate must be a very profitable walk of life--most people aren't so willing to spend their money on a rented house. Somehow or other I fear, I very much fear the Danai bringing gifts. Did you meet the old lady--Mrs. Botlisch? Was she with them?"
Gwynne began to laugh. "I was going to tell you about her. After we had gone through the whole house, and the colonel had pointed out what he meant to change, for instance: 'Those old mirrors over the parlour-mantels will do very well,' says he, pointing with his cane. 'The frames want a little----' 'Put a lick o' gilt paint over the bare spots,' says Templeton in a mortal stew for fear they were going to ask for something expensive. 'That'll make 'em look all right.' 'Exactly--a lick of paint over the bare spots,' said Pallinder, listening politely and without a smile. 'Mr. Templeton is quite right.' And with that Mrs. Pallinder began: 'I've been thinking I'll have the front parlour on the south side done in peacock-blue and old-gold, Mr. Peters. I saw a lovely paper with the blue ground and large gilt fleur-de-lys on it downtown that would just suit.' Templeton turned green. 'Well--er--um--I don't know----' says he. 'Oh, I'll have that done, Mr. Templeton,' said the colonel--and this time he did laugh, and winked at me over the little man's head. 'You're a very conscientious agent, sir,' says he. 'But don't worry. I wouldn't expect you to gratify a whim like that. I'll let you into a secret, gentlemen, I'm a terribly hen-pecked man, and being the only one in the family, the odds are so heavily against me, three to one, that I always jump and do whatever's wanted without any discussion.' 'I guess it's pretty hard to refuse Mrs. Pallinder anything,' said Templeton, coming out strong in a way that nearly floored me; the lady gave him a sweet smile, and Miss Pallinder laughed outright. 'I'm going to have a paper with pink roses all over it, and pink curtains to match in my room, if Papa will let me, Mr. Templeton,' says she, and worked her eyes around at him like this. 'Now can't you say something nice to _me_?' 'I would, but I'm afraid Mrs. Templeton would hear of it,' said Templeton, and be hanged if he didn't roll _his_ eyes around at her," said Gwynne, writhing with laughter. "And then you ought to have seen Miss Pallinder laugh! We finally got around to the kitchen, and while the two ladies and Templeton were inspecting the closets, Colonel Pallinder mysteriously beckoned me outside. The man had driven Templeton's hack back there so as to stand in the shade, and I thought I saw somebody sitting on the rear seat, but I just glanced at it, for the colonel said: 'Ahem--Mr. Peters, you recall perhaps what the governor of South Carolina said to the governor of North Carolina? In my section of the country, sir--he pronounced it, 'suh'--we don't consider a bargain closed until we've--ahem--poured out a libation to--ah--um--Morpheus.' And upon that he fished out a very handsome silver-mounted flask from his hip pocket, with a little silver top that unscrewed and telescoped into a cup. 'If you'll partake, sir----?' says the colonel, pouring it full, so we partook, I out of the cup, and he out of the bottle, and I must say if the colonel's a poor student of the classics, he's a mighty good judge of whiskey," said Gwynne, with all the air of a connoisseur. "Only it was a pretty stiff drink. I believe my moustache smells of it this minute," he added with concern, fingering that exiguous growth tenderly. "While we were 'partaking,' somebody snorted out so suddenly that we both jumped and nearly dropped the sacrificial vessels, 'Say, Billie, I don't mind if I do myself. It's pretty dry work settin' out here.' And I looked and saw the old woman leaning out of the carriage----" Gwynne paused, and eyed the doctor inquiringly.
"Mrs. Botlisch. Doctor Vardaman, how--in--thunder, now--_how_--_in_--_thunder_ do you suppose they came to have that--that----?"
"She's Mrs. Pallinder's mother, I believe," said the old gentleman.
"Yes, I know, the colonel introduced us right off, and handed over the flask and cup just as if it were the most natural thing in the world. 'Here's how, bub!' the old woman said, winked at me, turned the whiskey off like an expert, handed the things back, and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. Mrs. Pallinder's mother! It's inconceivable! Doctor, I swear you could have knocked me down with a straw. The Pallinders don't seem to make anything of it--but that pretty, delicate-featured woman, and that slender spirited-looking girl, both of them so beautifully dressed, and their manners really charming, Doctor--a little different from what one sees ordinarily, maybe, but charming for all that! Why, the old woman might be their cook--I can't understand it! They take it just as a matter of course."
"Well, I don't know how else you'd have them take it," said the doctor. "She's Mrs. Pallinder's mother, and that's all there is to it. But Mrs. Pallinder did say something to me about the old lady being 'queer'--eccentric, as she put it. That's like charity--it covers a multitude of strange doings."
"Yes, 'queer' accounts for a good deal," said Gwynne, his face sobering. Doctor Vardaman looked at him with regretful tenderness. He walked with us as far as the street, and patted Gwynne's shoulder gently as we parted--an unusual display of feeling from the doctor, who was anything but a demonstrative man.
Doctor Vardaman's house was called, in the day when it was built, a Swiss cottage. It was a story and a half high, with a steep-pitched roof, garnished with a kind of scalloped wooden lambrequin pendant from the eaves all around. There were casement-windows with arched tops, and the whole edifice was painted a dark chocolate-brown in accordance, no doubt, with the best Swiss models--at least we never questioned the taste of it. It is possible that the charming and faithful Swiss cottage of to-day may be as much of an offence to the landscape in twenty-five years--so does the old order change, giving place to new. Yet it will always be true that a house derives some curious character from its tenant; the doctor redeemed his cottage; he was the soul of that misbegotten body. It was shabby and down-at-heel, if you like, but it was not bourgeois. There was a charm in his unkempt garden, in the slouching ease of his worn old furniture and carpets, his multitudinous loose-backed books, his dim family portraits in chipped gilt frames. He met all hints at alteration or renewal with an indulgent ridicule. "Fresh paint?" he said. "It would make the house look like a servant-girl dressed for Sunday!" Or: "Better is a horse-hair sofa with brass nails than a plush platform-rocker and veneering therewith!" When the Pallinders moved in, trailing a procession rich as Sheba's past his little iron gate, the doctor viewed it with an indecipherable smile. It was in April, a day of light gusty winds, flashes of sunshine and flashes of rain; and Doctor Vardaman, in his shirt-sleeves, was trowelling amongst his young plants with what he frequently denounced as a frantic and futile energy. "I don't know why I do it," he would say soberly. "Nothing ever grows the better for it; very often nothing grows at all. The Irishman, the negro, the very Chinaman whom for my sins I am constrained to employ about the house, have achieved triumphs in the way of lilies of the valley and young onions that leave me gasping in defeat. They are ignorant, unwashed, dissolute pagans. Ling Chee was a spectre soaked in opium; Erastus absconded with all my clothes, my most cherished razors, and whatever money he could get at--yet they had but to scratch the ground and lo, the desert blossomed like the rose! You may see therein the constant allegory of Vice ascendant and unrewarded Virtue."
He leaned on his spade in an ironically rustic attitude to watch the Pallinder household goods go by--goods, not gods, for everything, as he observed, was of a transcendant and sparkling newness. Most of us live in unacknowledged bondage to certain kind, familiar, sooty, and begrimed, utterly useless hearthstone deities. We cling shamefaced to our rickety old relics. The pair of vases that used to stand on mother's mantelpiece--hideous things they are, too,--the little high chair that was Johnny's--he died in '87, you remember--who has not seen this pathetic lumber voyaging helplessly about from house to apartment, from town to country and back again, hobnobbing peaceably on the rear of the wagon with flower-stands and the gas-range, retiring at last to the garret, but somehow never getting as far as the junk-shop? _Sunt lacrimæ rerum_--as Doctor Vardaman would have said, being somewhat given to Latin tags after the taste of an older generation. His own house was crowded with these touching reminders; the Pallinders went to the other extreme; either they sternly repressed the mushy sentimentalism that would cherish outworn sticks and stoneware for the sake of auld lang syne, or they never had had any to cherish. "They brought nothing into the town with them, and it is certain they took nothing away," said the doctor afterwards in an awful and irreverent parody. An aroma of fresh packing-stuff and varnish hung about the caravan; bright new mirrors swayed and glanced; and, since the fashions of eighty-one were more or less flamboyant, you might see from afar the roses, poppies, and what-not that bloomed upon the Pallinder rolls of new carpet, the gilt and veneered scrolls, knobs, and channellings of the Pallinder furniture, the Pallinder Tennessee-marble table-tops, carefully boxed, yet--as one may say in a figure--hallooing aloud for admiration of their size and costliness. There was one van filled with hogsheads packed with china; it was whispered that many of the things had been ordered from New York, but most of them were got in town at prices that kept the shop-keepers smiling until their bills were sent in--I am anticipating. The doctor espied the ladies in a carriage at the end, and bowed with the rather exuberant courtesy taught in his youth.
Miss Pallinder returned the salutation; Mrs. Botlisch shouted a jovial "Howdy, Doc.!" Mrs. Pallinder drew back impulsively in a momentary embarrassment; she emerged almost instantly and recognised him, triumphantly gracious. But the doctor resumed his digging, inscrutably grinning at the next shovelful. The fact is, this casual passage vividly recalled his first encounter with these ladies a few weeks earlier, upon one of the occasions when they had driven out to inspect the Gwynne house, before the bargain was closed. Doctor Vardaman, in a sleeve-waistcoat, for the day was cold, was busily spading up his beds, when a carriage drew in beside the iron palings.
"I looked up," the old gentleman used thus to recount the incident, "and saw an exceedingly homely old woman with her bonnet awry; a moderately good-looking young one with hers as straight as Nature intended it, and the rest of her clothes, so far as a man may judge, directly calculated to inspire all other women with despairing envy; and a very uncommonly handsome middle-aged one, whose clothes made positively no difference at all, so much did her looks eclipse them. I saw all these people craning out of their carriage, I say, and in the distance a cavalier on horseback dashing along after them in a military style. 'Say, you----' began the homely old one. 'My good man,' says the middle-aged one, with an ineffable sweet patronage in her tone. 'Will you take this card in to your master and tell him----' And at that moment up comes the outrider. He took me in at a glance, jumped off his horse, splashed through the mud, uncovered with a very gallant and engaging deference to my years, and: 'Doctor Vardaman?' says he. 'I'm sure this _is_ Doctor Vardaman, I'm happy to make your acquaintance. We're going to be your neighbours, I hope, and by gad, sir, you set us a good example! We find you like--ah--um--Quintilius among his cabbages. Sir, my name is Pallinder; let me present----' the fellow's manner was perfect; for the soul of me I couldn't help warming to him. And if you think it's a poor sort of gratification to be known for a gentleman, consider how very uncomplimentary it is to be taken for a servant! 'Lord--_ee_, Bill!' screeched out the old woman. 'Mirandy thought he was th' hired man! That's one on _you_, Mirandy! Called him 'my good man,' she did! and went into a choking and gurgling fit of laughter. Mrs. Pallinder's face turned purple. 'Madame,' says I, anxious to relieve an unpleasant situation. 'I answer to the noun, but I'm a little doubtful about the adjective!' We parted in the end with great protestations on both sides; but Mrs. Pallinder was still red as they drove off. Sir, she had made a mistake, and she never would forgive _me_ for it!"
This was the first appearance of the Pallinder family upon our stage. They had figured brilliantly on a good many others already, as was discovered some two years later, when occurred their exit; San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Louisville, to say nothing of a score of minor cities knew them, birds of passage. I believe they came from Memphis in the beginning, that is, if they can be said to have come from anywhere, or been native to any place. They were emphatically citizens of the world and called all skies home. I find, upon comparing recollections with friends of those days that the measures by which the Pallinders established themselves in our society are, in that phrase dear to the sedate historian of far weightier matters, shrouded in the mists of--of antiquity, the historian would say. Yet it is only twenty-five years, and no one now remembers, or perhaps took note at the time, exactly how these people who came from everywhere and nowhere, whom nobody knew, got themselves in the space of six months, known, liked, and invited far and wide. I fear that solid unornamental worth such as--let us be frank--yours or mine, would not have accomplished so much in as many years. Mrs. Pallinder must have done a deal of social campaigning in those other centres of enlightenment and culture which I have mentioned, to have become so apt and able; that little slip with Doctor Vardaman was the only one I ever heard recorded against her. She never referred to her life and acquaintance elsewhere, nor traded upon her experiences to advance herself with us; yet she never seemed to be pushing. She built, as it were, from the ground; and I have heard very kind and intelligent persons who were not in the least snobs, comment with astonishment on the headway she contrived to make coming wholly unknown as she did, and handicapped by such a mother. The spectacle of wealth allied to feminine beauty, talent, and virtue, struggling for notice is one with which we are all tolerably familiar.
It is likely that prehistoric woman in the jungle--not prehistoric man, for man seems always to have been a creature slothful in social duties, dull, and democratic in his tastes--demurred at mingling with the same set as the jungle-lady next door; would not allow the children to play with the little cave-dwellers across the way; wanted to move to the choice and exclusive neighbourhood of the Probably-Arboreals, where she would have better opportunities for meeting those elect gentry. Nowadays, her grand-daughter goes to church with a praiseworthy devotion, she subscribes to all the charities, she sends her children to the most fashionable schools--they are always the best--she takes courses in French literature, in Current Events, in bridge-playing, in cooking, yes, she would take them, decent woman as she is, in bare-back riding and ballet dancing, in everything and anything under the sun, that will bring her into contact with the charmed circle. She endures unnumbered snubs, or what is worse, the soul-blighting frigid politenesses of present-day Probably-Arboreals; she sheds tears in secret, she nearly drives her husband to drink, or the poorhouse. And she "gets there," she always gets there, and gleefully proceeds to visit upon the next aspirant some of the treatment she herself received. The strange thing is that you, who have been "there" all your life, who cannot understand her frantic desires, who are disposed to laugh or sneer at her, you will find her no hustling and elbowing vulgarian as you imagined, but a very charming woman, as clever and well bred as you or any of your native-born residents of the purple. She only wanted to get "there"; already she has forgot that mean struggle. As high-minded as you are, you too must at least a little admire Success; and she has displayed as much courage and perseverance on her shabby battlefield as it takes to conquer a citadel.
All this is by way of calling attention to the really remarkable fact that Mrs. Pallinder employed none of the tactics just recited; classes in bridge and Current Events were unknown in her day, and she went to church neither more nor less than other people. She succeeded, I make bold to say, as no one ever has before or since. And this, in spite of the rather unfavourable impression which she and her daughter had made at the start. I, for one, did not much fancy Gwynne's description of Miss Pallinder--her name was Mazie--ogling and making fun with a man like Templeton; I thought her behaviour distinctly _common_. And that business of taking Gwynne behind the house for a drink of whiskey--out of the _bottle_, at that!--which does not shock me at all now, was anathema in my eyes then. These opinions were shared by everybody who heard the circumstances; what made us change our minds? That is the mystery. I think now that the Pallinders won upon us by that very frank gaiety and kindliness that had so touched and attracted Gwynne; nothing else can account for their popularity. Of course at the end of their stay everyone simultaneously discovered a number of disagreeable things; the usual wiseacres went about uttering the usual wisdom of "I-told-you-so." Colonel Pallinder had always been a man to distrust; Mrs. Pallinder and her daughter undeniably painted and were too lively in their manners; there was more poker and mint-julep going freely behind the Parthenon portals than one ever saw in the best houses; and Mrs. Botlisch was perfectly intolerable. To be just, however, no one had ever pretended to think Mrs. Botlisch other than intolerable; some people even went so far as to say that it was greatly to the Pallinders' credit that they did not shake off that terrific social drawback altogether.
The colonel was a big man, with thick flowing grey hair under a wide-brimmed soft hat; he wore his clothing with a slashing military picturesqueness--d'Artagnan in a long-skirted black broadcloth coat; and limped a little from a bullet in the thigh at Missionary Ridge. He had a handsome office downtown, and was always enthusiastically busy over the syndicate's affairs; maps of railroads, of iron, salt, coal and "phosphate" territory in Arkansas and elsewhere adorned his walls; circulars and prospectuses gushed forth from his place of business as from a living fountain. Who went up and drank at that sempiternally flowing spring--who, in plain language, invested with Colonel Pallinder? Nobody knew; but it was easy to see that investment with him paid; the Pallinders lived in the spacious ease of an unlimited income.
I suppose his profession was that of promoting--a pursuit which has since been compactly described to me as selling you a cullender for a wash-basin. Socially he took no hand beyond inviting young men to the house, and within an incredibly short time he did not even have occasion for that. They went, of their own motion, in droves, like all the rest of the world. And I will say here, speaking for our youth, that in spite of the cards and cigarettes and champagne, the over-eating and over-drinking, the general lax gaiety of that meteoric two years, I do not believe any of us were materially harmed. We sincerely liked the Pallinders; we did not merely hanker for their flesh-pots. And even now, after twenty-five years, and knowing all the mean and dingy side of their career, I still cherish a fondness for those hearty, happy, self-indulgent, irresponsible adventurers.
The old Gwynne house now underwent a transformation the nature and extent of which can best be realised when it is learned that poor old Caroline Gwynne's room became Miss Mazie Pallinder's; the roses of Mazie's wall-paper climbed all over that tragic apartment; lace-edged muslins and flowered cretonne festooned the windows. What with a pillar obscuring the east window, and a heavy growth of wistaria matted on a frame in front of the south, you had to feel your way about at broad noon; and were liable to be suddenly assaulted on the tenderest part of the shins or ankles by some dastardly rocking-chair, lurking in the gloom like a Thug, and inadvertently set in motion. Surprises were pretty frequent in that room; it was not unusual to put your foot down in a box of chocolate-cream drops or through the parchment vitals of Mazie's banjo abandoned on the floor. And when you came face to face with a pale glimmering phantom in a corner it might be either your own figure reflected in one of the full-length mirrors liberally distributed around the walls, or Miss Pallinder herself in an embroidered French night-dress, her favourite afternoon wear. The other decorations were mostly photographs of Mazie in an astounding variety of costumes, and her numberless real or supposed conquests. Young men in regimentals, army or navy; young men in fancy dress, striking attitudes with a sword, or making a leg in silk tights; young men with the painfully close-fitting trousers and upright brush of hair fashionable in the eighties--it was a noble array, that gallery of Mazie's, particularly when she began to enrich it with certain more familiar likenesses. There you might see "J. B." Taylor--everybody called him "J. B."--with the cap and gown he had worn at his last Commencement; Teddy Johns laughing and showing all his teeth--Teddy had fine teeth and knew it; Bob Carson, with something written on the back of the photograph that Mazie made an affectation of not allowing us to read--we had all seen it nevertheless, and used to wonder if Bob were really in earnest; Gwynne Peters, whose fair hair did not come out very well in the photograph, looking startlingly like his grandfather's portrait, with the same long thick flourish of the pen under his name as used to adorn the Governor's. "Yours truly, Gwynne Peters," and the _s_ streeling off in a comet's-tail like the final _e_ of old Samuel Gwynne's signature. All these young fellows frequented the house; on summer nights they could be heard as they strode away down Richmond Avenue, proclaiming at the tops of their several sets of lungs to a smiling world that the moon shone bright on their old Kentucky-y-y ho-ome, or lamenting in concert that Alas, they were no swimmers, so they lost their Clementine! Doctor Vardaman heard them as he sat smoking the pipe of peace in his porch. "God bless the boys!" the old man used to say to himself with a sigh. Sometimes they stayed over night, and came yawning downtown to their desks in the morning, sheepishly evading the paternal scowl, victims of Colonel Pallinder's strenuous hospitality. If Mazie had no scalps strung at her belt, she at least displayed the spoils of the vanquished; gloves, bangles, and bon-bons were hers in profuse supply; when she went away on a visit she corresponded with all of them, and was reported to be engaged three deep, to our horrified delight. It is a mistake to suppose that girls envy one another these light successes; we all admired, and I am afraid some of us tried to imitate Miss Pallinder. It was to be noticed that she herself showed an entire impartiality; when no one else was convenient, she did not hesitate to keep her hand in on Doctor Vardaman, half in fun of course. The old gentleman made an open joke of it. "This is the first time I have given away my picture in forty years," he said; and wrote at the bottom of the card in his neat, clear, physician's hand: _"Non sum qualis eram_----"
"What does that mean, Doctor?" Mazie asked him suspiciously.
"It is a plaint--the plaint of an elderly sentimentalist like me," he answered gravely. "'I am not what once I was in thy day, oh dear Cynara,' he remarks--in effect. Shall I write the English?"
"No, don't. I think it's ever so much cuter this way. Who was Cynara?"
"Huh! Bet she wasn't any better than she'd ought to be!" grunted old Mrs. Botlisch sceptically; whereat the doctor, after a momentary struggle, laughed so immoderately that we all more than half suspected she was right.
If Gwynne Peters had supposed at the outset that the new tenants would remain long unacquainted with their set of erratic landlords, the "quite a few gentlemen and some ladies" whom he had tactfully refrained from mentioning, he would have been profoundly mistaken; but in fact he supposed nothing of the sort. He knew his kin too well; and perhaps shared tacitly Templeton's openly-expressed and most devout hope that none of them would say or do anything to put the Pallinders out of the notion of buying the property when the lease should expire. "They'll want thirty-five or forty thousand, if not more, I'll bet a doughnut," the agent would say in moments of gloomy confidence; "and you know, Mr. Peters, the place ain't worth--at least it can't be sold for--a dollar over twenty-eight, the way times are. I might screw the colonel up to twenty-nine-fifty--he seems to be a free spender, and the ladies like the house so much, he'd do anything they want. But, like as not, just as I've done that and got everything good and going, Mr. Steven Gwynne will come in with some objection and knock the whole deal higher than Gilderoy's kite. And when I think of what it will be to get 'em all combed down and willing to sign--and those children of Lucien Gwynne's out in Iowa, you know, they've got to quiet the title--and Mrs. Montgomery over in Chillicothe, she's another--well, I suppose there's no use crossing that bridge till we've come to it, but I tell you sometimes it keeps me awake nights worrying." The family had fallen into the habit of leaving all the business connected with THE GWYNNE ESTATE--it must be written thus to furnish some idea of the proportions it assumed in their minds--to Gwynne's management. He had just been elevated to the bar; from thence to the bench, and to whatever corresponds to the woolsack in our judicial system was, according to them, a short step for a Gwynne. The mantle of his grandfather had fallen upon his shoulders; they were proud of him in their extraordinary fashion, which combined hysterical and wholly unmerited praise with equally hysterical and undeserved blame. For a while even Gwynne, who had a tolerable sense of humour, took himself with amazing seriousness. He sat in his office surrounded by that copious library of the old gentleman's, now grown somewhat out of date, to be sure, but still impressive by sheer weight and numbers; there was a photographed copy of the Governor's portrait, inkstand and all, over his desk, and a massive safe in one corner. It contained at this time, as Gwynne long years afterward acknowledged to me, with laughter, nothing but some of the old family silver, forks, trays, ladles, and what-not blackened with age and neglect sacked up in flannel wherein the moth made great havoc. "Sam's share, you know," said Gwynne, his face clouding a little, when his laugh was out. "I had to take care of it, of course."
Into this august retreat came daily one or another of the young fellow's connection with inquiries about that property which everyone of them called in all honesty and simplicity "my house"; and, after much futile advice, took their leave, commenting on the fact that he strongly resembled his grandfather, and adjuring him to "remember that he was a Gwynne." There were so many of them they gave the place a false air of bustle and business, to which Gwynne used, half in fun, to attribute his later success--"looked as if I was all balled up with work, you know, 'rising young lawyer,' and all the rest of it." But, indeed, I am afraid there were not many affairs of importance going forward among the calf-bound volumes, and Gwynne defaced more than one sheet of legal cap., with gross caricatures and idle verses. If the family took an interest in the fortunes of the house before, it was redoubled now. To have the place rented at all was a novelty; but to have it rented to personages of such opulence and distinction as the Pallinders satisfied the most exact standards; and the colonel's somewhat vague allusions to his design of ultimately buying it filled these sanguine souls with delight. Let me do them justice: they would one and all have indignantly refused thousands from people whom they deemed unworthy. Have we not seen them rejecting poor Silberberg's offer with contumely? But Colonel Pallinder with his Virginia accent and his large manner recalled a generation contemporary with Governor Gwynne himself, and the traditions of an antique and formal gentility. The Pallinders were the only people so far who had succeeded in residing in, and dispensing the hospitalities of the old Gwynne house without offence to its owners; I think the Gwynnes took a kind of vicarious pride in the spectacle. One after another, the entire family called upon them, appraised them, patronised them. They drank the colonel's fine sherry: they covertly eyed Mrs. Pallinder's suave beauty, and Mazie's bewildering toilettes; they were at first repelled and then overpowered by the rich tasteful changes in the ancient rooms; the peacock-blue plush and old-gold satin in the south parlour; the crimson wall-paper embossed with gilt figures the size of a cabbage in the dining-room; the grand piano in the north parlour and piano-lamp glorious with onyx slabs and pendant glass icicles of prisms--the Gwynnes saw all these things with an Indian stolidity in the presence of their tenants, but they came away pleased to the core. They went down to Gwynne's office--yes, even Mrs. Horace Gwynne went!--and both figuratively and literally patted him on the back. They were actually civil to Templeton! Old Steven Gwynne, who had been violently alarmed at first, supposing that these improvements and furnishings must be paid for by himself and the rest of the heirs, magically recovered his tranquillity so soon as he heard that Colonel Pallinder was doing it all out of his own pocket; he pronounced the wall-paper and new graining to be in the best of taste, although hardly the equal in appearance or cost of what Governor Gwynne would have provided. Such was the Gwynne enthusiasm that I am convinced it must have contributed largely to the success of the Pallinders with our society; for, after all, as unstable as they themselves were, the Gwynne position with us was of the most stable; our city had known them for fifty years. A family whose men were rigorously confined to the professions--all except Horace Gwynne, who was in the wholesale grocery business,--a family which numbered among its members a governor of a State--even if it also numbered one or more "queer" people--such a family held, unquestioned, the highest social rank. And Mrs. Horace Gwynne--she was a daughter of old Bishop Hunter, which may be supposed in a measure to set off the grocery business--frankly considered herself arbiter not only of her husband's family, but of society in general as well; and never doubted that in the matter of assigning people to their caste and station one blast upon _her_ bugle-horn was worth a thousand men.
She performed her first visit in state and ceremony in her well-ordered barouche--the Horace Gwynnes were fairly well-to-do, owing, people said, to Mrs. Horace's implacable thrift--and eying the approaches to the old house, as she drove up in a highly critical and examining mood. Her sharp glance noted every change; the carefully-weeded sweep and circle of the drive, the close-cut lawn and pruned shrubbery pleased her like an incense to the Governor's memory. The place had not looked so since his day. There was a length of red carpet down over the flagged veranda and stone steps such as used to adorn the sacred threshold thirty years before when she was a young bride just entered into the family; this trivial thing moved her inexplicably as such things do, and she descended at the door in a temper of less severity. It augured well for the pair of ladies within, profanely peering through their exceedingly high-priced lace curtains and wondering who on earth the funny little old lady in the chignon and her best black silk was.
Mazie, as soon as her acquaintance became more extended and intimate, entertained us with a picturesque and I have no doubt entirely accurate account of this and other Gwynne visits. If they amused her she was by far too sharp to let it be seen; not thus do people attain popularity. Mazie knew when, and in what company, and of what sort of things to make fun; no gift can be more valuable to the social aspirant. No, Miss Pallinder, curled up on her flowered-cretonne sofa, nibbling caramels, and telling us about the Gwynnes, might have posed for the model of the ingénue, girlish, inexperienced, and youthfully gay. "We didn't know there was such a large family of Gwynnes," she explained. "Are any of you related to them? No? They're perfectly lovely people, aren't they? They've all called on us, and you know I think that's so kind when we came here such strangers; we were awfully lonesome for a while. If it hadn't been for Doctor Vardaman, I don't know what we'd have done. Isn't he the _dearest_ old gentleman? Mamma fairly fell in love with him at first sight; we have him up to dinner all the time, now. You know it's such a terrible job for him to get a good servant--I'm sure I can't see why. I told him he could hire me any day. I suppose it's because it's a little lonely, and his house must be so quiet. We don't have any trouble, but then we have such a gang of them they keep each other company. But you know we were so surprised after people began to call on us to find out there were so many Gwynnes! Mr. Peters had said something about them--I think he's _lovely_, don't you? but we hadn't any idea there was such a big connection; the house belongs to all of them--did you know that? At least they all call it their house. Such a dear old lady came--well, maybe not so very old, but dressed in rather an old-fashioned way--Mrs. Horace Gwynne, of course you all know her. She was just _sweet_, and took _such_ an interest. She told mamma the piano ought to be on the other side of the room, because there was so much better light by that window, and that was where it always was when Governor Gwynne lived here. And she wanted to know if we had noticed that those big cut-glass chandeliers in the centre of the ceilings downstairs were an exact copy, only smaller, of the one in the State-House--that was being built at the same time as this house, and the Governor had the copies made, he admired the design so much. Isn't that _interesting_? And then mamma had one of the servants bring some hot coffee and little cakes, the way we always do, you know, and Mrs. Gwynne told us about some kind of cookies she has made that are the best she ever ate, so mamma asked her for the recipe right off--mamma can't cook a bit, and don't go in the kitchen once a month, but she's ever so much interested just the same. And when Mrs. Gwynne went away she said she'd had a _lovely_ time--wasn't it nice of her? and was going to have all her family call on us--wasn't that kind? And she sent us a card to her reception; and right the very next afternoon Mrs. Lawrence called--she's another Gwynne, isn't she?--and asked us to Marian's coming-out party, _so_ sweet. And, oh, girls, two such dear funny little old mai--I mean elderly, and they aren't married, you know--Miss Gwynne and Miss Mollie Gwynne came--what are you all laughing at, what's the joke? Well, I think you're real mean not to tell me! _I_ thought they were _nice_--well, of course, maybe they did seem kind of queer, but--well, it _was_ a little funny," said Mazie, yielding to the laughter with apparent reluctance; "we took them all over the house, because we thought, you know, they'd be pleased to see the way we'd fixed it up. And they _did_ seem rather tickled; Miss Gwynne said she thought they had never had any tenants in their house before that appreciated it as we did. And when we got to the south parlour Miss Mollie wouldn't go in, and Miss Gwynne took us in and said in an awful whisper that everybody in the family had been laid out in that room, but she'd try to get Miss Mollie in to look at the chandelier which was an exact copy of the one in the State-House--and Mollie hadn't been in the house for so long, maybe it would refresh her, and take her mind off the funerals, you know. So Mollie came in," went on Mazie, who by this time was openly laughing like everyone else, "and she took one look and covered her eyes like this, and said 'Oh, Sister Eleanor, I can't--I can't,' and Sister Eleanor said, 'Look up, Mollie, look up'--just as if it was Heaven, you know--'don't you remember the chandelier?' And then Miss Mollie said, 'Oh, yes, I remember--shall I ever forget--boo-hoo!--it cost three hundred and twenty-five dollars--boo-hoo!--every one of 'em cost three hundred and twenty-five dollars!' But, honestly, girls, it's all very well to laugh, but it gives me the creeps to think of that room since I've known; I can't go into it without seeing a coffin spread out right where our centre-table is; and you know there's that lovely bisque monkey climbing up a cord that mamma has hanging from the chandelier--think of that dangling down over a--B-r-r! I didn't know about so many Gwynnes dying here. There's enough left to keep the family going anyway, I should think. Was Mr. Peters' brother one of 'em that died in the house? Eh? What! _Mercy!_ isn't that _awful_? Why, I thought somebody said Sam Peters was in Honduras or Alaska or somewhere--is it the same one? _Isn't_ that awful! Isn't it safe to have him---- Horrors! Oh, girls, I think that's awful! And Mr. Peters is such a dear, isn't he? So _nice_! But don't you tell him I said that--now please don't, girls, I'd be ready to fall down dead I'd be so ashamed if he knew I said he was a dear. I'd never look him in the face again," said the ingenuous Mazie, knowing perfectly well--who better?--that Gwynne would be miraculously informed of this damaging admission before the next twenty-four hours were over.
The Pallinders were not quit of their landlords, for a few episodes such as those Mazie described; but, as it happens, I never heard her tell of Steven Gwynne's visit; and only learned the details afterwards in a roundabout way from Doctor Vardaman and Gwynne, both of whom were witnesses of that momentous event. Steven was about the age of Doctor Vardaman and looked twenty years older; they had been boys together. When Steven came in town--he lived in a weird little tumble-down cottage with a ragged little farm to match it, several miles out in the country--he always went to see the doctor, whom he called Jack, and of whom he grew touchingly and somewhat embarrassingly fond towards the last of his life. I remember him a tremulous old man with wild grey hair and beard in clothing worse than shabby, and coarse boots, walking with the aid of a ferocious-looking cane, a forlorn and fantastic and rather alarming figure; yet he was really nothing to be afraid of, although I suppose he was just not quite crazy. When you came to know about him, poor old Steven filled one with pity and that strange baseless remorse with which the view of weakness or suffering sometimes afflicts us. The gifts are so unjustly portioned out; simple flesh-and-blood rebels at the shame of it. These are whole, prosperous and victorious; these maimed, mad, dull, helpless, or hopeless--and who is to blame? It is none of our fault; none the less, the sight galls us to the quick; and there are moments when the spectacle of a string of navvies moiling soddenly in a ditch seems an outrage on humanity. Something of this used to go through Doctor Vardaman's mind as he sat in his library listening patiently and most humanely to his old-time playfellow's endless rambling talk. Steven was a profuse talker; he picked up crumbs of misinformation with a kind of squirrel-like diligence; all his life he had been beginning something--law, medicine, divinity, what had he not tried? He never learned anything; he could hardly spell; he used to declaim heatedly against the tyranny of schools, and had a great taste for phrases such as "Nature's gentlemen." Even our tolerant society could not stand Steven Gwynne; it was said that he was not stupid, and not much queerer, after all, than some of the other Gwynnes, but--nobody could stand Steven Gwynne. When he had nearly run through his patrimony, the Governor, who was his cousin, took him in hand, regulated his affairs, and exiled him to that little farm I have mentioned. Steven was upwards of thirty at this time, but he obeyed the family great man peaceably enough; and there he had lived ever since; indulging--theoretically only, by good luck--in extraordinary beliefs about State Rights--during the Civil War--about Science and Religion, about Property, about Marriage, about everything and anything under the sun, harmless, distressing, and annoying. Young Gwynne had inherited him along with the other responsibilities of the GWYNNE ESTATE; and when, rumours of the new tenants having reached him, the old gentleman appeared in the office, Gwynne must take him to call upon them. "I would not wish to be lacking in etiquette," said Steven elaborately. "And I'm told that Colonel Pallinder's family belong to our circle. It is the duty of every one of the owners, and I trust that it won't be forgotten that _I_ am one of the heirs to the Gwynne estate," he added, eying the reluctant young man with some harshness, for Steven was tenacious of his rights: "to--to hold out the right hand of fellowship to--to the stranger within our gates."
"You never did before," Gwynne objected. "We've had two or three tenants that you've never even seen. I don't really think it makes the least difference----"
"I've never had this kind of tenants before," said Steven--which, indeed, was an unanswerable argument. "Why, they've been there six months! You don't understand about these social matters, Gwynne. It's diplomacy. They're in Governor Gwynne's house, and it's natural they should expect the Gwynne family to recognise them. Why, they might take offence and leave! Besides, it's the part of kindness for us to introduce them around, it--it gives 'em a place at once. People say: 'There's So-and-so, he's a friend of the Gwynnes.' That--that _settles_ it, don't you see? Why, now, to give you an example: Jake Bennett was at my house the other day, and I told him I'd pay him as soon as the rent from my property came in. He says: 'That's all right, Mr. Gwynne, I know I can trust you. A Gwynne's word's as good as his bond,' he says. That just shows. 'A Gwynne's word's as good as his bond,' he says. 'I know _you_, Mr. Gwynne; you're Governor Gwynne's cousin, and that's good enough for me, or anybody----'"
"Who's Jake Bennett?" asked Gwynne abruptly.
"Why, he's a man I buy a load of manure from once in a while. He's a little queer in the upper story, you know," said old Steven, tapping his own forehead with a wise nod. "But the poor fellow's heart's in the right place. 'A Gwynne's word's as good as his bond,' he says----"
"You oughtn't to be owing that man, Cousin Steven," interrupted Gwynne. He turned to his desk. "Here, this is the nineteenth, but I'll give you yours now, and then you can pay him when you get home. Now, you sign a receipt for this seven-fifty, and I'll tell Templeton I advanced it, so he can hold it out of yours next month. Now you're getting your December money in November, see? There won't be anything coming to you from the house the first of December, understand? Seven dollars and a half--sign here. And you pay that manure-fellow as soon as you get home, will you?"
Steven would, he said. He folded the money together and crammed it into his tattered old pocket-book; he handled it a little eagerly, never having had much to handle. "We'd better start out to see them, the Pallinders, you know--right away, hadn't we?" he said, glancing at the clock.
Gwynne looked at him with a sinking heart. Of course he was not ashamed of his kin. What! Ashamed of Cousin Steven! Gwynne would have knocked down the man who hinted it. Nevertheless, it must be allowed that Cousin Steven was more lax in matters relating to his personal appearance even than became one of Nature's gentlemen. He did not shave; he chewed tobacco; his boots manifested some acquaintance with Jake Bennett's unpaid-for wares. We all know that these things really do not count; a man's a man for a' that. It would be a shoddy soul that would condemn him for not blacking his boots, or cavil at the fashion of his coat. Still, we are conscious of a curious confusion within us on the point; we muddle the clear stainless water of our theories with the cloudy dye of our conventions; and to most of us, the quality of gentleman seems somehow inextricably associated with clean linen. Gwynne was no snob, but----
"Suppose we stop in to see Doctor Vardaman first and ask him to lend you a collar and tie--you know that kind of high black stock he wears?" he suggested weakly. "And then you--you might wash your hands, you know, and, and--clean your nails. I should think your hands would be cold this weather, Cousin Steven; don't you want to buy a pair of gloves?"
"Gloves?" said Steven contemptuously. "You're too delicate, Gwynne. You've got all effeminated, living the way you do. Gloves! D'ye suppose Adam, the great father of mankind, wore gloves? You want to get out and live next to grand old Nature, and old Mother Earth. Those Pallinders are kind of dressy people, hey? Well, I don't care how dressy they are; they can wear all the gloves they damn please. I'll let you know, sir, that a Gwynne in his undershirt would be enough too good for any Pallinder that ever lived--yes, or anybody else either!" A mottled flush appeared on his old face; he raised his voice; he made wild hasty gestures, thumping with his cane. "You want me to spend money on gloves--drivelling ostentation! Gold's the curse of this country, and you want me to----" Gwynne was a little alarmed at these signs of excitement.
"All right, Cousin Steven, never mind," he said soothingly. "I--I just wanted you to be comfortable, you know. You'd just as lief go and see Doctor Vardaman, wouldn't you?"
Steven was readily mollified--or perhaps, diverted would be the better word. Jack? Yes, he wanted to see old Jack--he wanted to talk to him about something. Jack Vardaman was a man of sound sense, if he could be brought to the right views. "He's been cramped by--by his career, and his profession," said the old man, gesticulating with one hand as they walked. "I tried it, studying medicine, you know--but it's not broad enough, Gwynne, not broad enough. Jack finds it hard to grasp any new ideas. I said to him the last time I was in: 'John, this money trouble we're labouring under all proceeds from--from--from the circulating medium. Why have any? Why have any circulating medium? Poverty is a lacking in the essentials of life because of waste on the superfluities through the use of money--circulating medium; you want to rid yourself of the--the--the economic compulsion to wrong-doing--I've been studying a pamphlet by William P. Drinkwater that goes to the heart of the financial situation in this country.' I say, get rid of the circulating medium. Gwynne, do away with it utterly, fall back on exchange of the--the products of labour, and an era of prosperity will set in such as this country has never seen!"
Gwynne reflected with a wry smile that it would be interesting to hear an expression of opinion from Jake Bennett on the subject; times were hard in eighty-one, as some of us remember, and in these disjointed arguments, Gwynne recognised some echo of the political agitations of the day. To be fair, Steven Gwynne was no more astray in speech or manner than many of the William P. Drinkwaters; the exasperating thing about him was that constant appearance of being able to control himself, if he only would, which seems to be one of the specific symptoms of unsoundness.
"You will find that the lack--I mean the absence of a medium of coinage," said Steven, as they climbed on the car--"By George! It _is_ cold, isn't it?" he interrupted himself, "I guess I'll put my mitts on." And, to Gwynne's surprise, he produced those symbols of ostentation and effeminacy from the pocket of his overcoat, and began to adjust them with every display of comfort. They were a bright "Maria-Louise" purple. "Knit worsted, you know," said Steven. "I got 'em at Billy Sharpe's at the corners, for seventy-five cents----"
"You're getting effeminated, Cousin Steven," said Gwynne, soberly. "Mittens! The idea! Do you suppose Adam wore mittens?"
"Well, I understand Adam didn't wear breeches either," said Steven, with an unexpected flash of humour. "I'm not luxurious, anyhow, like you with your kids. But you're young--you'll learn." He laid his hand on Gwynne's arm affectionately. "You're a good boy, Gwynne, if you do get kind of stuck-up notions, you're a good boy," he said with earnestness--and the young man's heart smote him.
He found his cousin so tractable on the journey out that he began to have hopes of persuading Steven to the collar and wash-basin, with Doctor Vardaman's help. "I'd rather Mrs. Pallinder saw him looking clean, anyhow--she's so dainty herself," thought Gwynne, with a burning change of colour. Alas! No such good luck! As they neared the Swiss cottage, they beheld the lady tripping out from the door, exquisitely trim and gracious, smiling and showing all her pretty white teeth, with Doctor Vardaman escorting her to his gate, in his pleasantly formal old way. Mrs. Pallinder dimpled, and flashed her clear grey eyes under their amazingly black lashes and brows at Gwynne; she was en-haloed in rich furs and soft scrolls of ostrich-plumes; she rustled and fluttered with an enticing suggestion of dainty womanliness, and there was something even in the frail absurdity of her little, thin, high-heeled and pointed-toed boots that appealed to the masculine sense almost touchingly. Old Steven Gwynne himself felt this jewelry-box charm; he looked at her with open, child-like, rather frightened admiration. Wealth and luxury for which in the abstract he had--or believed himself in all sincerity to have--so vigorous a disdain, exhibited thus concretely, stunned the old man; Mrs. Pallinder, to the ordinary view merely an unusually handsome and well-dressed woman, somehow represented to Steven that material power, confident, lucky, successful, to which he had long ago bowed down in the person of Governor Gwynne; and, if it had not been for the uplifting consciousness of being that great man's cousin, Steven would have shuffled and stammered before her like any school-boy.
"Mr. Peters," said Mrs. Pallinder, delightedly. She withdrew a hand from her coquettishly fashionable little muff--we wore them very small in those days, a mere cuff of fur--and gave it to Gwynne, who was oddly nervous, with soothing self-possession. The readiness with which she set herself to the business of putting Steven at his ease was a grateful thing to see; she accepted his purple mitt, and shed on him a smile as winning as if he had been the most desirable acquaintance in the world. These courtesies, we have been assured, are, in reality, nothing but small evidences of a kind heart; yet I never thought Mrs. Pallinder a kind-hearted woman. Her elegant cordialities were not spontaneous; she spread the conversation with a thin glittering varnish of smiles, agreeable speeches, pretty conventionalities; one sometimes felt uneasily that her tact was almost aggressively brilliant, her good manners too flawless. But Gwynne, having in mind, maybe, this very incident, was quite enthusiastic about her to his intimates; Mrs. Pallinder was so kind, so considerate, a--a--a really sweet woman--sweet-tempered, he meant, of course, wasn't she? As for Steven, he proclaimed her without exception the most polished lady he had ever met. Doctor Vardaman--but one could not always be sure of what Doctor Vardaman thought. "Mrs. Pallinder was an uncommon sort of woman," he used to say with an unreadable expression. "I admired her very much--almost as much as I wondered at her. When we met at my gate she contrived to look at us three men, as if every one severally were _the_ man in the world in whom she was most interested. Are ladies taught these things from their cradles? I am told so; but I never saw one of them do it so well as Mrs. Pallinder. It's a tolerably stiff job to listen to poor Steven discourse on the circulating medium. _Experto credite!_ I've done it myself for hours at a stretch that I piously hope will count for me when I get to the Place of Punishment. But I'm sure I never could have done it with so perfect a grace as Mrs. Pallinder. We went up to the house, she walking the whole way with Steven, Gwynne and I following in the rear, humbly grateful and admiring. 'You're not a married man, Mr. Gwynne?' says Mrs. Pallinder, snatching at a change of topic in one of the pauses of Steven's eloquence. 'I've met so many charming Mrs. Gwynnes----' 'Madame, I am not,' said Steven. 'Do you know why the eagle is called the bird of freedom, Mrs. Pallinder?' Here," said the doctor, with a malicious grin, "I thought I detected a sort of crooked sequence in Steven's thoughts, but Mrs. Pallinder was as nearly gravelled as I ever saw her; and you must admit the subject was somewhat abruptly introduced. 'A--er--why, I must give it up, I am afraid,' she said. 'It's a riddle, isn't it? I'm not very good at riddles.' 'Because it never mates in captivity, ma'am,' says Steven profoundly. 'That's the way I am; the chains of _gold_, the circulating----' and I suppose he was going to intimate by a delicate allegory that he couldn't afford a wife and family, but we reached the house at that moment, and the changes in its appearance switched him off, as it were."
The old man was, in fact, rather pathetically overawed by all the Pallinder sumptuousness; he looked down at his boots doubtfully, and trod with caution on the velvet moss-roses and lilies of the south parlour. It required the telling of the cut-glass chandelier story to revive his spirit; and Mrs. Pallinder further smoothed matters by asking his opinion of the new wall-paper with a caressing deference. Afterwards, it is true, Steven went away in a mood of gracious approval, and bragged freely with no little satisfaction about his tenants in his house; but at the first moment, he was both startled and unhappy. There were gilt mirrors all about that gave back a pitiless reflection of the party, and of them all, I believe that Doctor Vardaman was the only one who was not faintly ill at ease. The situation was actually relieved by the entrance of old Mrs. Botlisch, as incongruous a figure in the scene as Steven himself. "And somehow or other," said the doctor, "I am sure the look of her for once was a kind of comfort to Gwynne; it seemed as if she and poor Steven were a--well, a stand-off, with the balance in favour of Steven. You know Mrs. Pallinder was always saying in a gentle regretful way that her mother was 'eccentric.' She was, in fact--ahem!--I am informed by the ladies of my acquaintance," Doctor Vardaman would say, with another grin, "that she was a dreadfully 'common' old person who drank and swore like a trooper, but was as sane as anybody. Whereas, we all know that whatever Steven's faults, he was not--was not entirely responsible."
"That old Gwynne feller's crazy, ain't he?" the old woman said to him as the doctor sat at the Pallinder dinner-table that evening. There were a number of other guests, for the colonel's hospitalities were already well known; it was a pleasing picture of evening-coats, white shoulders, brilliant glassware, and cutlery; and Mrs. Pallinder at the head, lent the table a distinction like that of some expensive ornament or flower. Across the way sat her mother, shovelling in French peas on the blade of her knife, that being one of the phases of her eccentricity, and disposing of everything from soup to sweets with an audible gusto. "It's astonishing!" said the doctor to himself, his glance travelling from one woman to the other. "Pardon me, Mrs. Botlisch, you were saying----?"
"I say that old Gwynne feller's crazy," said Mrs. Botlisch. "He ain't dangerous, is he?"
"What? Steven?" said the doctor, and although she was very nearly right, he recoiled inwardly. "Why, no, he's not crazy, he's a little--a little eccentric," he finished, conscious of a wretched irony in the phrase.
"Pooh, pshaw, don't you tell _me_, Doc., he's as crazy as a bedbug," said Mrs. Botlisch coolly. "It's a pity about that young Peters' folks being that way, so many of 'em, ain't it?"
It will be seen that, by the close of their period, Doctor Vardaman had grown to be pretty familiar in the Pallinder household. Mazie professed a prodigious admiration for him. "He does say the cutest things!" she remarked enthusiastically. But Mazie's attitude toward the other sex was never anything but that of complete appreciation. I have seen her turn her eyes on the coloured butler when commanding a fresh relay of waffles with an expression to draw from him rubies, let alone waffles! Her liking for the doctor was perhaps as sincere a sentiment as she could harbour; who could forbear a fondness for that genial, tolerant, grey-headed satirist? In him were to be found all the strangely dissonant yet most manly qualities of his generation. In the early eighties there was still extant a tribe of hearty old gentlemen who wore black silk stocks, swore freely, and knew Henry Clay. You may see their strong humorous faces, shirt-frills, and waving forelocks upon scores of cracked canvases in how many Middle-Western homes! Grandfather rode circuit with Swayne and Tom Ewing; he sat in Congress with that Southern statesman of whom it was said that when he took snuff all South Carolina sneezed. Perhaps he remembered Chapultepec and the heights of Monterey; it is likely that he surveyed the first turnpike, designed the first Courthouse, performed the first mastoid operation in the State, in the country. In all things I think he played a man's part, and maybe something more, without any heroics; I knew many of him, and it cannot be denied that he would sometimes get a sheet in the wind's eye, and tell robustly indecorous stories after the second glass of whisky-punch sitting around the hearth of a winter's evening. There was that one about the English visitor at Niagara, who, being conducted around the place by the guide, out to the little tower on Table Rock, and down on the _Maid of the Mist_ like everyone else, wrote his name in the guests' book, and a conundrum: "Why am I like Desdemona? Because----" But, at this point, by an ingenious manoeuvre, someone invariably called me from the room! And, strange to say, I was not suffered to return; Desdemona was in the nature of a prelude, I suspect. We have changed all that; who so plain-spoken as the lady-novelist of to-day, whom everybody reads, and, what is more, discusses? Who so wise as our young people? Nobody would be at the pains to banish them from the room. They would not laugh at or with grandpa; they would only wonder a little and pity him. They are all gone, all these humane old lads with their whisky-punches, their dreadful old fly-blown anecdotes, their extraordinary, innocent coarseness of mind. The type has vanished from among us, extinct like the dinosaur, dead as Desdemona! It is hard to figure them pacing beneath the cloudy porticos of that rather shoddy gilt Heaven in which they stoutly believed; but do they then wander the empty house of Dis, the idle, idle land? That were a doom at once unkind and unjust; rather let me fancy them beside the cheerful hearth in some comfortable limbo of good companionship and honest material pleasures; and if that too be a heresy and interdict, may the sod rest light where they sleep!
Doctor Vardaman differed signally from his contemporaries in being not at all disposed to punch and pruriency. He would have reddened like a winter apple at Desdemona; and I am bound to say that here Colonel Pallinder met him on equal ground. It would be worth a moralist's while to inspect that stout piece of goods which is men's modesty beside the curiously flimsy fabric we call the modesty of women. "It's funny about men," Kitty Oldham confided to me once. "They can be as bad as they want to, and so, when they're good they seem an awful lot better than we are!" That may be the root of the matter; Kitty was undeniably astute and observant in various small and eminently feminine ways. "Nobody's all good anyhow," was another of her sayings, "nor all bad either. I know by myself!" Colonel Pallinder was an example, too, had we been aware of it. I have heard since from many indignant sufferers that he was a swindling adventurer; yet Bayard himself could not have walked more circumspectly in certain paths. He believed with all his heart that his wife and daughter were beautiful and gifted above the ordinary lot of mortals; I think they never had a wish ungratified. That hand of his which they tell me was so ruthlessly busy about other peoples' pockets, was forever emptying his own for the satisfaction of his womenkind; the trait does not make any the better man of him, but I am sure there have been worse. His behaviour toward Mrs. Botlisch was a lesson in forbearance and good manners. He did more than endure her; he showed her precisely the same chivalric deference as the rest of us. Perhaps he was a little florid in the Southern style, and as became a military man, but I think he was never ridiculous. It happened one day that an ill-advised or maybe merely ill-bred young man having blurted out some joke, high-flavoured, derogatory to Mrs. Botlisch, over one of those famous juleps in the Pallinder dining-room, the colonel rose up and with a severe countenance, laid his hand upon the joker's arm and jerked him upright without much ceremony. "Don't mind him, Colonel," interposed an onlooker. "He--he's not used to ladies' society, you know." "Sir," said the colonel sedately, "I should have said he was not used to the society of gentlemen!" and with that bundled the offender out of the room and the house. Nor did the action make him enemies; the rest of the male company expressed an unqualified approval.
"I was a little afraid that he might want to resort to the 'code' as practised in Virginia or Mississippi, or wherever he hails from," said Doctor Vardaman, commenting on this occurrence, "and call upon my services as surgeon; but he was too shrewd, or in his way, too large-minded for that. On the whole Pallinder was the most attractive as well as the most diverting humbug I ever knew or can imagine. I liked him against my will. He was generous to the last penny--with money that was shadily come by, to be sure, but what would you have? He might have been as tight as the bark on a tree. He was a brave man and had borne himself gallantly on the field, and I am sure uncomplainingly in defeat. There was no sham about that limp of his at any rate. But he never spoke of these things, nor ever flourished the Lost Cause in your face, that I know of. Maybe it was all part of his policy, but I like better to think that he had the qualities of his defects."
It is to be supposed that Colonel Pallinder returned the doctor's regard. The old gentleman was their nearest, in fact almost their only neighbour, and the colonel used to dilate in comic vein upon the advantages of having a physician next door, and keeping on good terms with him. "'Hang it all, Miranda,' I said to my wife the other day, 'what do you want to call in young Sawbones--Pellets--whatever his name is, the doctor-lad you had here last week for, when you can have twice his experience and ten times the gumption he ever had or will have, by merely going as far as your own front gate? Pellets is a homoeop., anyhow. I don't like homoeops. Give me the old school; they knock you on the head with their whacking doses and kill you or cure you, put you out of your misery any way, while the others are still measuring out their infernal four dips of this and two swallows of that. When Mazie there was three years old she ate a whole bottle of sugared pills while the nurse wasn't looking. If it had been Doctor Vardaman's medicine, we'd have had to send for him and the undertaker and let 'em fight it out, and I'd back the doctor every time. As it was--never feazed her! Day before yesterday, my coachman came to me: 'Don' know what's the matter with me, boss. Feel mighty bad.' I asked him if he'd been to the doctor. 'Yes, sah, he give me this. I'se got to take fo' dips every hour.' 'Look here, James,' says I. 'I want you to notice just one thing. You're a big man, and that's an almighty small bottle. Do you think four dips of that is going to cure six-foot-two of nigger? It don't stand to reason. When I'm sick,' says I, 'I go to Doctor Vardaman. I want a _doctor_ to take care of _me_. Quit practice? Oh, pshaw, pooh! Any doctor will always pull an ass out of a ditch on the Sabbath day--what's that they say about the letter of the law killing the spirit? Now you better go to him, too,' says I, 'if you know what's good for you. You hear _me_?' 'Lordy, Mistah Pallindah, you wouldn't tu'n me off for not gwine to yo' doctah?' 'No, James,' says I. 'I'd turn you off for not having any sense!' I believe he did go to you, doctor, and I'm much obliged. Of course you'll send the bill to me. I'm not like some people that think anything's good enough for a nigger--I want the poor devils that work for me to have the best that's going. When a man's brought up on a Virginia plantation with three or four hundred of 'em around, and knows he owns 'em all, and is responsible in a way to his Maker for every one of those black souls--why, sir, you can't get over the feeling all at once. Here, you, George, Sam, one of you bring another bottle of that twelve-year-old Bourbon and a syphon of soda. I won't have any whisky in the house, sir, under seven years old, and preferably ten--preferably ten or twelve. It comes a few dollars higher a bottle, but when you're getting a thing, you might as well get it good, and if whisky's not properly aged it's raw stuff, firewater, worst thing in the world for the stomach. My wife sometimes accuses me of extravagance in the table, but I always say: 'Well, Miranda, we've got to _live_, haven't we?' As long as Phosphate preferred keeps soaring skywards, and dividends keep rolling in without my having to do a lick of work to get 'em, _I_ don't see that we're living too high. We keep within bounds, I guess. Within bounds. I don't intend to spend all my income just because my principal is invested in something as solid as a rock. By George, sir, I always save up a little wad every year--I can do it without straining myself, and manage to scratch along in tolerable comfort besides--so as to buy whatever Phosphate I can lay hands on, but it's getting scarce, mighty scarce. It's been pretty well gobbled up by the big fellows with money that always get hold of all the good things; only I'm what you might call on the inside, you know, and that gives me a chance to help myself or let in a friend once in a while. But it's no use showing the figures to Madame there, she can't make head or tail of 'em, women never can; she says they give her the headache. Now last week, I let out inadvertently--for I try never to bring my little business anxieties home--that I stood to lose fifteen thousand if Ozark Field went off another point. Gad, sir, she laid awake all night--thought we were going to the poorhouse right off! Couldn't help laughing, though I did feel sorry for her, too. Nothing I could say would reassure her--women are funny. Well, I wasn't just longing to lose my fifteen thousand either, a man don't like to be inconvenienced that way, even temporarily. Fifteen thousand means something to me, though it wouldn't be much to the people I'm thrown with all the time. I tell you, sir, those big capitalists, their money kind of scares you, and yet it gives you a mighty secure feeling to know that they're behind these enterprises. All their millions are made up of thousands after all, and they're not going to put a single thousand where they can't keep an eye on it, and see it breed. Fortunately Ozark Field went up to a hundred and seventeen instead of declining--I had confidence in it from the first. I bought at eighty, you know, so I'm pretty easy in my mind just now. If anybody were to ask me, though, I'd advise 'em to buy right now, for it won't ever take another drop, and I expect it'll be out of sight by the first of the year. Sam, chopped ice to Doctor Vardaman, and give Mr. Lewis a fresh glass."
Archie Lewis sat looking into his tumbler with a rather queer expression as the waiter put it down before him after sundry dexterous operations with lemon-peel and bitters. Perhaps he was thinking that, for a man who made a point of never bringing his business-affairs home, it was truly remarkable how inevitably Colonel Pallinder worked around to them in the course of a conversation, no matter what the subject with which it started. Phosphate preferred, Lone Star common, Ozark Field--I could not begin to enumerate the "enterprises" in which the colonel and his capitalist friends were interested. The jargon of the market-place will always be jargon to me; I dare say I have not even quoted it aright. To this day I have never been able to find out what Phosphate was; it may have been mined, assayed, and smelted; or strained out of a river, or compounded with retorts and crucibles for all of me. But, although nobody knew anything about it, it was, as I have said, easy to see that Phosphate, in Templeton's formula, was a paying proposition. Look at the Pallinders; people couldn't live that way for nothing; this we said to one another, thinking it clinched the argument, and not knowing that people live "in magnificent state," for nothing. Who is so care-free, so luxurious in his habits, so open-handed and open-hearted as the man who never pays his debts? I know of no one more to be envied. One of the things the Pallinders did was to wall in with glass the large porch of the dining-room, install a heating-apparatus, and make a conservatory of it; this, too, although they had leased the Gwynne house for three years only, and Mrs. Pallinder was constantly complaining of their cramped and inconvenient quarters. "Of course," she said languidly, "one can't expect much of a house at such a low rent, but the colonel and I have _always_ had separate dressing-rooms. I thought I could make one do, for a while; but we're too crowded for any peace or comfort. The colonel wants to buy this house and add to it--but the end of it will be we'll have to build. The colonel keeps telling me to go to an architect or send for one--I shouldn't trust to anyone in this little town, you know. We'd have to select the building-lot, and get some man from Boston or New York to come out and look at it, and make the designs accordingly. But I'm so awfully lazy I can't make up my mind to all that bother and worry."
Such a low rent! Kitty and I exchanged a glance in spite of our manners. Archie Lewis had told us that Templeton, whom he saw every day in his father's office, had told _him_ he had made the lease at a hundred and seventy-five a month; we did not think that a very low rent, we who lived contentedly enough in houses at one-fifth that amount, like by far the greater number of our friends. But the Pallinders plainly did not measure by our standards. Mazie had a fresh dress for every party; she wore almost as much jewelry as her mother, and when Mrs. Pallinder came out in all her diamonds, she was the most resplendent spectacle our society ever witnessed. Will anyone ever forget her appearance as _Astarte_ at the Charity Ball? She twinkled all over with jewelled stars, serpents, rings, ear-drops, gew-gaws any _Astarte_ might have been proud to own--"goddess excellently _bright_!" as Doctor Vardaman said. The ball took place during the Christmas holidays--the Pallinders' second Christmas with us--just before Mazie went to Washington, and, to quote the _State Journal_, "it was an event long to be remembered in the social annals of our city." Odd-Fellows' Hall was "a fairy-like dream of beauty," the same masterpiece of descriptive rhetoric reported. Mazie deferred her visit so as not to miss it, and went as _Folly_ in a white dress with spangles--glittering fringes of white beads half a yard deep. Kitty Oldham appeared as _Diana Vernon_--"I can wear the big hat with feathers afterwards, you know," she thriftily remarked; she looked exceedingly trig in a scarlet waistcoat with her little chin cocked up on a white lawn stock. There was the usual supply of Watteau shepherdesses--I was one of them--toreadors, Continental soldiers in buff-and-blue, Queens-of-Hearts, Pierrots, and so on. Mrs. Pallinder's diaphanous and low-cut magnificence, heavily hung with jewelry, outshone everybody, and was a target for considerable unkind comment. A woman of her age! It was startling, to say the least. She could have gone as Queen Elizabeth or Lady Macbeth, but this was almost too theatrical; of course, she was a beautiful woman, and looked scarcely older than her own daughter, still----! "The reporters will describe every square inch of Mrs. Pallinder's costume," some young fellow said to Kitty Oldham. "They won't have to say much," retorted Kitty, with an oblique glance--a remark which, backed by her mother's well-known acidity of tongue, made Kitty's, reputation as a wit in our circle. The one person whom it did not seem to amuse was Gwynne Peters; and he listened with a singularly grum and discomposed face, and afterwards stalked off without a word, although he was in general, genial enough. Something must have gone at cross-purposes with Gwynne that night; he wore a Charles Stuart dress, and stood about in gloomy attitudes, with his sword, black velvet, and lace collar, looking the part to perfection; and he went away quite early after showing no attention to anyone except Mrs. Pallinder herself. But, indeed, the young men were about her constantly, and _Astarte's_ popularity was not greatly increased thereby.
I remember driving home with Mazie to luncheon a day or so later, and coming unexpectedly upon a decent-looking young man sitting timidly amongst the gilt legs and peacock-blue upholstery of Mrs. Pallinder's parlour, waiting to "interview" that lady. He represented the _State Journal_, he said; and wanted to know if it was true that Mrs. Pallinder had worn her five-thousand-dollar diamond necklace at the ball, and if she would allow the _Journal_ to publish a photograph of her in the costume.
"La me, _I_ don't know; you'll have to ask her yourself," said Mazie in her gay drawl. And presently Mrs. Pallinder came in, very tall, sweeping and elegant in a long red broadcloth coat with black fur and braid, and "dolman" sleeves; and a black and red _capote_, as we called them. Laugh if you will; that was the way we dressed the winter of eighty-three--when we could afford it! The photograph appeared duly; and a picture of the necklace, too, with several more strands and pendants than belonged to it, so that we concluded the artist had drawn on his imagination or some representation of the crown-jewels of England, in order to be more effective.
"Pooh, that necklace never cost five thousand dollars, I don't believe it," Kitty said afterwards. She was a sharp little creature, as I have hinted; and her critical view of our Southern friends may have been shared by others, to judge by a remark young Lewis made to Doctor Vardaman, as they approached the latter's gate on their way from the Pallinders'. "You've got to take a long breath and get a good hold of something when the colonel's around," said Archie, knocking the ash from his cigar on the wrought-iron scroll along the top of the fence. He eyed the doctor enigmatically.
"I don't understand?"
"If you don't you might be blown away."
It seemed written, foreordained, Gwynne Peters used to say, half in amusement, half in distaste, that his grandfather's house should forever be either completely retired from notice, or else figure gaudily in the limelight of a publicity that would have caused its dignified founder untold wrath and mortification. "All that newspaper gabble about the Pallinders and the diamond necklace is to blame for this!" said Gwynne, when he read in the _State Journal_ a week after the Charity Ball, a circumstantial account under flaming headlines of how "the mansion of the late Governor Gwynne, the historic landmark in the suburbs of our city, on Richmond Avenue, not far from the junction of the Lexington and Amherst car-lines, now occupied by the well-known society leaders, Colonel and Mrs. William Pallinder, was the objective-point of a burglarious attack last night about 12 P. M." It appeared that the burglarious attack had failed! the diamonds were still safe--as, indeed, the thief whom "our vigilant and efficient Chief of Police, Captain O'Brien, in spite of every effort, had not yet been able to locate." Friends of the family would be relieved to hear that Mrs. Pallinder's venerable mother, Mrs. Jacob Botlisch, had experienced no ill effects from this exciting midnight episode; Mrs. Pallinder herself, on the contrary, was quite prostrated, and could not see one of the innumerable reporters who besieged the house. "It's a perfect persecution," Gwynne announced with unwonted heat, having called the next day to inquire, and been ushered into a parlourful of these gentry. "Here were all those fellows roosting about like vultures--and the greatest racket and confusion! Just as if poor Mrs. Pallinder hadn't been lying upstairs sick with the fright and worry. She--she's a very delicate, sensitive woman, you know," said the young man, with the easy flush that showed so over his thin, fair-skinned face. He left his card, and not long after the florist's boy came to the back door, having received express instructions not to ring the bell and annoy Mrs. Pallinder, with one of those large pasteboard boxes, wherein for all their prosaic look, so much romance is carted about the world. Truly a red-faced lad with a cold in the nose, and patches of alien materials applied to prominent parts of his trousers, is an odd figure to be employed upon these sentimental errands--yet such are all florists' boys. A reporter pounced on this one as he strolled jauntily around the house, whistling in a high and cheery fashion under his burden. "What you got there, Johnny?" said this inquiring gentleman. "Vi'lets." "Who for?" "S'Pallinder." "Well, who from then?" "Dunno. They're five dollars a hundred." The maid took them in, and doubtless Mrs. Pallinder's delicate and sensitive nature was greatly soothed by the tribute.
The colonel showed himself most genial and accessible. Interviews a column in length and photographs of everything and everybody concerned graced the front pages of the _Journal_, the _Record_, the _Evening Despatch_. A complete history of the old Gwynne house up to date was "featured." The reporters even approached Gwynne for a "few words." Templeton saw himself in print to his huge gratification: "Mr. Virgil H. Templeton, who has controlled the destinies of the Gwynne property for many years, was seen at his office No. 16a Wayne Street, and says----" Templeton bought an armful of copies of the paper and sent them about with blue pencillings around the paragraph. "_His_ office! Well, I like that!" said Judge Lewis, in mock indignation.
"Thank you, I thank you for your kind inquiries, gentlemen," said Colonel Pallinder, as he received the newspaper cohorts. "Mrs. Pallinder is resting easily, and will be recovered in a few days, I think, from the nervous shock. It was what I may call a nerve-racking adventure for a woman. My daughter, I am thankful to say, is in Washington, visiting some relations of ours, the Lees and Randolphs. I have telegraphed her not to worry when she sees the papers. She left last night on the nine o'clock train; as it happened, two of our young friends, Mr. J. B. Taylor and Mr. Johns, had driven down to the depot with her to see her off, after dining here, and came back in the carriage at my request to spend the night. We had all retired, when about midnight my wife, who is a sufferer from severe neuralgic headaches, got up, feeling one coming on, and went into our daughter's room, in search of some bromide which generally gives her relief. She did not light the gas, and was groping for the bottle in the dark when she felt a strong draught of cold air from an open window. She says her only thought was: 'How careless of Mazie to leave that window open! Now my head will be worse than ever!' and was going toward the window to close it, when, with a scuffle, up jumps this scoundrel directly in front of her! She says it was as if the floor had opened and belched him up at her feet. She screamed--I trust, gentlemen, I shall never hear such another cry of terror as my wife gave!" said the colonel fervently. "I sprang out of bed, and rushed to the spot just in time to see the fellow scrambling through the window. Most unfortunately, I had no weapon, or I think I may safely say that would have been the last time he ever went hunting for diamond necklaces. The window is on the south side of the house; as you observe there is a vine growing on a frame directly in front of it all the way up to the roof, by which he climbed up and down. We found his tracks all around in the damp ground at the bottom, but lost them in the turf at a short distance from the house. Nothing but the very strong sentiment I have for the owners of the place, which, I need hardly remind you, belongs to one of the finest old families in the State, and especially for my dear young friend Mr. Peters, whose boyhood days were passed here--nothing but that feeling prevents me from having the vine uprooted and the trellis torn away. The family, as is natural, are very much attached to everything about their old home. Well, as I was saying, in as short time as we could manage, the young men and I got our clothes on, called the cook and housemaid to look after my wife and her mother, and young Taylor and I set out to explore the grounds, leaving Mr. Johns here to protect the house. We searched high and low without success, and down by the gate fell in with Doctor Vardaman and his man Huddesley just starting out on a tour of exploration on their own hook. It seems that the doctor's man had waked some little while before, thinking he heard a noise in their hen-house; and as you know we are a little uncomfortably near Bucktown here--my own servants are coloured, for that matter--Huddesley thought he'd better investigate. He told us he got up and looked out of the window, and distinctly saw a man walking rapidly away from the rear part of the doctor's lot where it joins the Gwynne property, in the direction of this house--or, at any rate, making for the park entrance, with something under his arm which Huddesley is positive was a chicken, but which was much more likely, I think, to have been a kit or bundle of burglars' tools. Well, then, gentlemen," Colonel Pallinder continued, pulling at his goatee with a sly smile, "Huddesley got himself partly dressed, and started out very courageously with the kitchen poker; but, getting as far as the gate, the park looking pretty gloomy and forbidding, and the night rather dark, he concluded discretion was the better part of valour, and turned back and aroused the doctor. We joined forces and fairly raked the premises, but to no purpose--the rascal had made too good use of his time, and we, of course, had had some unavoidable delays. I wrote a note to the Chief of Police, and sent my coachman down with it, and we all went to bed again. As you see, it's a very simple story, and hardly deserves your trouble. My own theory is that the thief, probably some well-known criminal whom they will have no trouble in catching, passing through town, or perhaps, making a casual stay here--that sort of gentry never have any home--read about Mrs. Pallinder's jewels in the papers, and thought he might make a good haul.
"Now I consider that you gentlemen are partly to blame for that, and I bear no malice, only I wish you'd be a little more particular. Now if you'll just correct one report: Mrs. Pallinder's necklace did _not_ cost five thousand dollars. It cost--ah--well, gentlemen, it was a present to my wife on our last wedding anniversary, and to let the cat out of the bag, it was bought with the surplus of a little flyer in Phosphate I took--now I beg you won't say anything about that in the papers--you might say, with entire truth, that it did _not_ cost five thousand dollars. The necklace and earrings together came to more than that, and I believe I bought her some other trinket at the time, a brooch or something--but the whole business was not more than eight or nine thousand, and no one item was quite as much as five. Now if you'll just revise that statement, I'd be obliged. Sam, bring the whisky."
J. B., reading the colonel's version slightly condensed, with the truth about the diamonds carefully set forth, chuckled freely. "Well," he said. "That was about the way it happened. But you ought to have heard old Mrs. Botlisch! She indulged in very meaty language, I never heard meatier, not even from a darky roustabout on the levee at New Orleans--you know somebody said she'd been cook on a canal-boat, and I declare I shouldn't wonder if that were true. She was mad at being waked up, mad at 'Mirandy,' mad at 'Bill,' mad at Teddy and me, and the thief and the diamonds and everything else. But let me tell you about Pallinder. We started out to ransack the park; you know how it was last Tuesday, a cold, sleety January night, without any snow falling, or we could have followed the fellow's tracks. As it was we just had to go prowling around the walls, and into the shrubbery. I had an old bird-gun of the colonel's, that hadn't been fired for years. It was a muzzle-loader, with a kind of sawed-off barrel, and I'll bet it would scatter like a charge of bribery in the State Legislature. Pallinder hadn't anything but one of these little light rattan canes. When we got down to the gate, somebody bounced out of hiding and ''Alt!' says he, in a shrill voice. ''Alt!' That fellow Huddesley is English, you know, and drops his _h_'s; he's an awfully funny little chap. Well, I ''alted.' I was taken by surprise, and I didn't want to let fly with my blunderbuss without knowing what it was all about. But what do you think Pallinder did? Walked right up to him, took him by the collar and pulled him out--yes, sir, that's what the colonel did, without hesitating one instant. Pretty cool, I call it, for a man of his age, practically unarmed, with a lame leg. Of course, I wasn't frightened; there was nothing to frighten anybody, and besides I had a gun; but I wasn't sharp and ready like the colonel; I hesitated. But Pallinder walked right up, collared him and pulled him forward. 'Come out o' that!' says he. 'Who are you?' 'Oh, Lord, Colonel Pallinder, sir, is it you?' says Huddesley, trembling all over. He was the worst scared man you ever saw. 'Hi didn't know you. The doctor will be 'ere in two twos, sir. 'E told me to 'alt hanybody Hi saw.' And then along came Doctor Vardaman with a lantern. 'What on earth is all this?' he said. 'Is this your chicken-thief, Huddesley?'
"As we went back to the house, I said to the colonel: 'That was rather startling, wasn't it, being shouted at to halt that way?' He laughed and said yes, it reminded him of a time he rode head foremost into the Yankee pickets one night--'when both armies were manoeuvring around the Potomac basin--not very long before Chancellorsville, you know. I was carrying despatches,' he said. I asked him what he did. 'Well, I guess I did about two-forty, and it wasn't over a very good track either!' he said and laughed again. 'I lit right out. They shot my horse. I wasn't lame then, though.' And I couldn't get another word out of him. I wish he'd talk simply like that all the time," the young man added, thoughtfully. "Instead of gassing around so much."
J. B. himself declined to be interviewed--amiably enough, but still he declined. And Doctor Vardaman was another to whom the reporters appealed in vain. "The circumstances are exactly as Colonel Pallinder related them," he said to the only one whom he would consent to see. "And there is really nothing for me to say. I had gone to bed when my man Huddesley pounded on the door and called me. I got up and found him breathless, and very much excited; he was half-dressed, had been out of doors, and as I could see, was badly frightened. One cannot expect heroic behaviour in a man of his calibre, and on the whole I think he showed a very good spirit. As soon as I understood what he had seen, I ordered him to go outside and wait until I got my clothes on, and to challenge anyone he might see about the park gate, for I immediately suspected that my chicken-house would not offer much inducement to a thief alongside of Mrs. Pallinder's diamonds. The man has been quite sick since from exposure and excitement. I wish you a very good-day, sir."
And with this the _Journal_ man and others had to be content. Huddesley himself would doubtless have been more expansive, but the honest fellow went to bed with a serious sore throat and cold the day after the attempted robbery, and could not leave his room for a week. Mrs. Maginnis held sway in the doctor's kitchen, dispensing unlimited tea and gossip to the grocers' men, milkmen, postmen, even the baffled reporters and "plain-clothes," or uniformed detectives that called in shoals for days. "The docthor won't see yez," she told the latter, "so it's no use askin'. An' as for Misther Huddesley, he's on th' flat of his back, an' can't raise his voice above a whisper. Annyway, he says he couldn't swear to th' man, if it was to save his immorrtal sowl. It was too dark, an' he only saw 'twas a man gallivantin' around where he'd no business. It's a foine-spurted bye he was to go afther that thievin', murderin' divil with th' poker, an' I'm glad th' docthor's got him instid of that drunken spalpeen he had befure; him that got on a tear, I mane, an' wint up to th' big house with a knife yellin' an' swearin' he'd cut th' hearrt out of iverybody--bad scran to him! It's turrible lot of men th' docthor's had intoirely."
She was right; it _was_ a terrible lot of men the doctor had had. The picturesque ruffian of whom she spoke had been dismissed by the old gentleman a fortnight before at the close of a spree in which he had taken it into his drunken head to invade the Pallinder kitchen, menacing the panic-struck maids with a cleaver and demanding more liquor. To him succeeded Huddesley; I never saw the latter except on one occasion, but he became a familiar figure to most of us, and Doctor Vardaman was rather fond of telling how he acquired the only good servant he ever had. The doctor (according to his own narrative) after having at great expense of time and trouble and some personal risk, got rid of the highly emotional person with the cleaver who was haled off screeching and shackled in a patrol-wagon; and after having gone downtown and seen the wretch cared for in Saint Francis' Hospital, inserted his usual advertisement in the _State Journal_, "Wanted--by a physician (retired) living in the suburbs, an unmarried man to take entire charge of his house and garden. Must be experienced in cooking and indoor-work. References required. Dr. John Vardaman, 201 Richmond Avenue. Take Lexington and Amherst Street cars."
The clerk in the _Journal_ office who took it in grinned at sight of him. "Guess we'll have to give you a rebate on your subscription, Doctor," he said cheerfully. "This is the third time this has gone in since last July. So long! Happy New Year!"
A day or so later the doctor was sitting in the homely disorder of his library, reading a new book, when the washerwoman who came in by the day during these periods of storm and stress, stuck her towelled head around the door. "Doc'thor, yer honour!"
Doctor Vardaman did not answer, did not even hear; he was in an enchantment, his lips moving unconsciously as he read. The beauty of the lines stirred him with an almost painful sense of enjoyment.
"Ah, thin, Docthor, asthore!"
"'When you and I behind the Veil are passed, Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last!'"
read the doctor aloud. He looked up vaguely, still under the spell. "What is it, Mrs. Maginnis?"
"Here's a man to see yez about th' pla-ace."
Doctor Vardaman clapped Omar shut briskly. In the phrase of a poet as yet unknown to the world, he turned a keen, untroubled face, Home to the instant need of things. "Send him in." The man came in, closed the door quietly, and stood at attention while the doctor examined him. It was evident that he was a little nervous, yet respectfully anxious to conceal it.
"What is your name?"
"James Huddesley, sir."
"You have a reference?"
Huddesley produced a worn letter and handed it over. The doctor read it through carefully. It certified that the bearer of this, James Huddesley, was honest, sober and capable; he had lived with the writer four years as butler, and fifteen months as valet and general man.
"This is dated two years back," said the doctor, as he returned it. "Was that your last place?"
"For steady work--yes, sir."
"Why did you leave it? And what have you been doing in the meantime?"
"If you please, sir," said Huddesley, looking down. "Hi've 'ad misfortunes. Hi left 'is lordship, thinkin' to better myself by settin' hup in a small way--in a pub., sir. It was no go, sir, Hi 'adn't 'ad the experience, and Hi didn't like the life. Hi lost my money, hall Hi'd saved hup, and--and----" He hesitated, fingering his hat. "And 'a little that was my wife's, if you'll hexcuse me mentioning my haffairs, sir. Then she went back to 'er people, and--Hi just come away, Hi couldn't stand it."
"I didn't want a married man," said the doctor reluctantly.
"It's just the same as bein' single, sir, beggin' yer parding," said Huddesley, staring out of the window. "She won't never come back to me no more--she said so. And there wasn't any children--'e died, the baby did."
The doctor was touched oddly by this sordid little romance of the kitchen and backstairs. Perhaps certain long, long dead and buried hopes, dreams, disappointments of his own stirred, faintly responsive beneath their graves; oh, that grim, arid little cemetery walled off in some corner of every heart! Ghosts walk about it, and we call them Regrets.
"What have you been doing since?" the old man asked gently.
"Nothing much, sir--hodd jobs, waitin' in heating-'ouses, and such-like," Huddesley answered openly. "'Tain't what Hi've been used to, but Hi can turn my 'and to most anything. Hi saw the paper, and Hi thought Hi'd like to get with a gentleman again; there was hanother hadvertisement in from the big 'ous hup there with the pillars, that Hi hinquired habout--but Hi found they don't 'ave nobody but coloured."
Mrs. Pallinder recalled this circumstance afterwards, with some regret. "He was here quite a while," she said. "The cook told me making inquiries in the kitchen--but I didn't see him. Such a pity--the coloured servants wouldn't have minded, but you can't expect a white man to sit down with them, you know. Well," she would conclude with her charming smile, "if I couldn't have him, I don't know of anybody I'd rather see him with than Doctor Vardaman." The doctor put a few more questions for form's sake, and ended by engaging Huddesley on the spot. "As to his references," he said, "I never troubled to look them up. A man like that is his own reference. Lord What's-his-Name of Berkeley Square, London, and What's-his-Name's Hall, Yorks, was a trifle too far off for me to bombard him with letters about a servant whom he had probably entirely forgotten. I'll risk Huddesley."
The event justified him; never had the doctor lived in such comfort--never, that is, since the death of his spinster sister, some years before. His boots and broadcloth showed the ex-valet's ministrations; the old gentleman gave choice little dinners; it was his turn to send dainties about amongst his friends. The only fault he ever found in Huddesley was a certain sour aversion to society for which, as Doctor Vardaman remarked, the man could hardly be blamed. "He never takes a day out, and won't look at a woman," said the doctor. "Most men of his class, after such an experience, take for a while at least to drink, or other reprehensible courses. And indeed I suspect that Huddesley didn't put in all of that dismal two years in the chaste occupations of waiting in heating-'ouses, and hother hodd jobs. But I don't want to push the inquiry. After all, he's had a pretty hard time for a young man--he's not over thirty, I think--what would you have? We're none of us saints."
 This was a negro settlement, a survival of old "Underground Railroad" days, full of bad characters, about half a mile off, towards the river. It has been improved away of late years.--M. S. W.
Mazie Pallinder's visit to her relatives, the Lees and Randolphs, was prolonged until the Easter holidays, which came the last week in March that spring. It is a fact, verified by solid paragraphs of "newspaper gabble," that she _was_ visiting people of those high-sounding and brilliantly suggestive names, and moving amongst the elect. The family must have been well connected on the Pallinder side at any rate--who or what the Botlisch clan were, no one would like to think. We missed Mazie. Mrs. Pallinder went about alone to teas and receptions, smiling steadily in her beautiful clothes that she wore with so dignified a grace, and reporting that she and the colonel were having a kind of ridiculous honeymoon time of it by themselves, no one calling, no banjos humming in the parlour, no impromptu little dances, no hordes of girls doing one another's hair, and munching nougat all day long in Mazie's room, no prowling about the ice-chest at midnight for chicken salad and champagne. "The house is as quiet as a funeral," she humorously complained. "All our young men have deserted us, except Mr. Peters, who comes, I think, out of sheer humanity. My mother goes to bed very early, and there the colonel and I sit by the fire like two old fogies until we fall asleep in our chairs. The other night we actually went to bed at nine o'clock. Sometimes Doctor Vardaman comes up and we have a game of cribbage. Positively I don't know why we don't take root where we sit, and grow fast to the spot like plants. On the whole this restful time may be good for the colonel. He's been so immersed in business and those Eastern men, those rich, grasping creatures, do _drive_ him so. I often say to him, 'Oh, William, never mind the money. Haven't you made enough by this last deal in Phosphate to satisfy you _yet_?' I never ask any more how much he _did_ make--I don't know anything about business, and it frightens me to think of him handling such big sums, and taking such risks and responsibilities. He gave me this ring the other day, though, so I know that whatever it was, the venture turned out all right. Isn't it a beauty? Of course, I'm not sorry he's making money, but, oh, Mrs. Lawrence, our husbands work too hard--all our men work too hard--it's not worth it. A few thousands less would content us, and what we want more than anything else in the world is to have them in good health. Shall I put you down here? Oh, I'm pleased you like this little brougham; I had it lined with the dark green cloth because, to tell the truth, I thought I would look better with my fair hair against a dark green background than if it were maroon or deep blue. Don't laugh, my dear, there're tricks in all trades, and it's a woman's trade to look her best. Home, James!"
Colonel Pallinder, however, never went to his office until ten o'clock in the morning, and might be seen posting home any day at about half-past three in the afternoon--"after banking-hours," he used to explain, when one met him; "there's really nothing to be done--nothing, in _my_ office, at any rate." And his gesture somehow indicated wider horizons than ours and a vista of great affairs. For all that, he had no appearance of a man harried by cares; and it may be, too, that his home was not quite so quiet and restful as it was represented. "I understand that Mrs. Pallinder is trying again to get a maid for her mother," said Doctor Vardaman, half thinking aloud, half speaking to Huddesley as the latter brought him the morning paper, in company with his breakfast on the old silver-plated tray with which a previous generation of Vardamans had been served; the copper of its foundation showed through here and there under Huddesley's vigorous care; the delicate etched arabesque around the heraldic device and motto in the centre were almost worn away. Doctor Vardaman liked to fancy he could see his mother's thin, fine hands fluttering about above the cups and saucers on this tray; she, too, had had a habit of harmless and somehow perfectly dignified familiarity with her staid old servants over this one meal. The doctor opened his paper, turning at once--as everybody invariably does--to a certain concise, ominous column in the lower left-hand corner of the inside page where might be read, framed in undertakers' advertisements, and notices that So-and-So's mortuary sculptures were the best in the market, the names of yesterday's dead. Close by, another column offered you a list of marriage-licenses with a fine indifference to the fitness of things; and not far away appeared the "Help wanted--Male--Female." "I see Mrs. Pallinder's advertising for a maid," said the doctor. "And here, in another place, she wants a cook, too. She's had a great deal of trouble with servants this winter. There's a pair of us--_arcades ambo!_" He grinned into his coffee-cup. "Only I'm very well-off now at least. This coffee's very fine, Huddesley. It's a pity Mrs. Pallinder's having such a time."
"Yes, sir," said Huddesley respectfully. "That kind generally does have trouble, sir."
He caught the doctor's eye and coughed discreetly.
"The house is large and there must be a great deal of work," said the doctor, considering with vast satisfaction how comfortable he was in his little den.
"Nobody minds doin' work that 'e's paid for, Hi've noticed," said Huddesley. "It's when you 'ave trouble colleckin' wages that you're liable to break hoff relations haltogether--speakin', hof course, sir, as a man in my position, not as a gentleman in yours."
"The deuce!" ejaculated Doctor Vardaman inwardly. "Is _that_ it? Well, I don't know why I'm surprised--I might have suspected as much--in fact, I _have_ suspected as much off and on."
"Hof course coloured people are very precarious, sir, very precarious; you don't know 'ow they live, nor you don't want to," said Huddesley, arranging the dishes. "Their servants is hall coloured, sir, you know. Hi halways think 'Like master, like man'--that's the hold sayin', sir."
"I must stop him," thought Doctor Vardaman guiltily. "It's disgraceful listening to a servant's gossip this way--Ahem! Who was that I heard you having such a squabble with at the kitchen door yesterday afternoon, Huddesley?" he asked abruptly.
"A fellow peddlin' shoe-strings and collar-buttons, sir--Hi didn't like 'is looks and Hi hordered 'im hoff pretty sharp. Hi'm sorry you heard the--the haltercation, sir, but they're very 'ard to get rid of."
"And you aren't any too plucky," said the doctor to himself with some amusement, remembering Huddesley's not over-heroic behaviour on the occasion of the burglary. "Why, I saw him going up the avenue towards Colonel Pallinder's afterwards, and I thought he looked like a respectable man," he said aloud.
Huddesley paused a moment before answering; he was folding the tablecloth with an elaborate neatness; the operation required his undivided attention. Then: "Beg parding, sir, that wasn't 'im you saw," he said calmly. "That was the gent that collecks for Barlow & Foster, goin' hup to see if 'e couldn't get something on their coal-bill; I persoom you know it ain't been paid yet. There was hanother there yesterday from Scheurmann--the fourth or fifth time for _'im_, Hi've lost count, there's been so many of 'em lately."
Doctor Vardaman retreated to his library, somewhat out of countenance. "Good Lord!" he thought, "it's worse than I supposed--a deal worse! These servants see or smell out everything. It's not safe to let them talk to you; _I_ don't want to know anything about the Pallinders' affairs." Nevertheless he smiled a little as he sat smoking by the fire. "'The haltercation,'" he quoted. "Huddesley certainly is a character. He reminds me of that valet of Major Pendennis' in the novel, that fellow Morgan--only Morgan turned out to be a rascal, the head villain of the story, if I remember." He took down the book--it was a first edition with Thackeray's own clumsy yet spirited illustrations--and sat reading the rest of the morning.
As reluctant as he was, however, the doctor, like the rest of the world, could not always keep his eyes and ears closed against those embarrassing things which we should all so much rather not know. There are bits of gossip which seem to be common and not altogether undesirable property; and there are ugly rumours which we feel it to be the part of decency to hush up. We hear, underhand, that Jones is wont to skulk at home for a fortnight dead drunk, that Smith's latest financial venture was curiously involved and cloudy; even if true, and even if we disapprove of Jones' and Smith's conduct in the abstract, it yet in no way concerns us. We are none of us saints, as the doctor himself said; we dislike especially the pose of holier-than-thou. Jones and Smith may not be model citizens, but let us give them the benefit of the doubt and continue to accept their dinner-invitations. Doctor Vardaman, an upright man who would as soon have taken a horse-whip to a servant as cheat him out of a penny, found himself averse to believe what was under his eyes every day, and obscurely whispered here and there by people in other ranks of life than Huddesley's. What if the Pallinders were besieged by duns, and their servants unpaid? That was none of his business; at the suggestion the old gentleman felt an irritation for which perhaps some mocking inner self was partly to blame. He found excuses for them; they were notoriously and amusingly careless, extravagant, free-handed--er--er--_Southern_, in a word; the colonel might be a rogue, as he undoubtedly was a wind-bag, yet of his own knowledge, the doctor could say nothing. Nobody had ever tried to trick _him_; he saw no reason why he should suddenly cold-shoulder the Pallinders; their house was the pleasantest he knew.
Thus the doctor reflected uneasily, trying to hush that ironic sprite within; and presently he was left with fewer defences still against its sly unwelcome jeers, for the business which he took such comfort in assuring himself was not his, became his in spite of him! He was a little surprised, when, in the late afternoon of the same day, Huddesley deferentially opened the library-door to announce "Mr. Gwynne Peters." This formality of entrance was imposed on everybody by the new man, and there was an old-world flavour about it that agreed well with the doctor's house and character. Huddesley, who would have been an ordinary flunkey in such an establishment as the Pallinders', was already that endearing person--a trusted and trustworthy servant--at Doctor Vardaman's. Gwynne came in, ruddy from the thin brisk March air, eager and confident of his welcome, bringing to the doctor's mind what kind memories of old days; of times when he used to come with a top, a kite, a lame kitten, and filled the childless house with childish confusion. Now he was as tall as Doctor Vardaman, and the latter noted with an odd pang that his young face was settling into the harder lines which recalled to so many his grandfather's portrait; perhaps the anxiety that never entirely forsook him had made its mark on Gwynne. At any rate it was very apparent as he said, glancing about, after Huddesley had taken his hat and overcoat, and gone silently and most respectfully out of the room: "Cousin Steven hasn't been here, has he? I asked Huddesley, but he didn't seem to know."
"Come to think of it, I don't believe Steven has been in to see me since I've had Huddesley--that's about two months, you know," said the doctor. "He knows nearly everyone now, and never seems to get the names and faces mixed up. If he'd ever seen Steven, he wouldn't have forgotten him----" ("I wish I hadn't said that!" he added inwardly). But Gwynne only frowned absent-mindedly, and began to feel along the mantelpiece for matches. "Were you looking for him?"
"He's in town; he was in the office, but I had gone out. Then afterwards I met Templeton on the street, and he told me he understood Cousin Steven to say he was coming out here. You--you haven't seen him going up to the Pallinder's, have you?"
"Why, no. But he'll be along in a little while, I dare say," said the doctor easily--and wondered within him what Steven was about _now_? He said nothing more, having in perfection the gift of companionable silence; and for almost five minutes Gwynne himself did not speak, blowing a soothing cloud of smoke by the doctor's fire. Then he said abruptly, not looking at his old friend, as if trusting him to follow up his thought.
"I went out to see Sam the other day."
"Ah? Was he----"
"Just the same. He didn't know me--never does. Perhaps it's just as well. The attendant spoke as if he thought Sam was in very good shape--physically, you know. 'He'll probably live for years, Mr. Peters,' he said to me. 'He's stronger than you are this minute.' They treat him all right, I think. It's always on my mind a little, you know, that maybe they wouldn't if it wasn't for my having an eye on them all the time. I go out about once a month, but they never know when I'm coming. But you can't tell what happens in those places--even the best of them."
"Sheckard is a reliable man; I've known him for thirty years. He's always very careful about the attendants, as far as I've noticed; even the patients that haven't any money, the ones he takes for a merely nominal sum, or whatever their people can scrape up, are just as well cared-for, I think. And of course that isn't the case with Sam----"
"It takes all Sam has," interrupted Gwynne gloomily. "Every cent."
"You can't blame them. But I wouldn't worry about him, if I were in your----"
"I'm not worrying. I'm simply trying to do the best I can," said Gwynne sharply.
The doctor caught the note of uneasy irritation in his voice with surprise. Nothing could have been farther from his mind, or indeed, more unjust, than to accuse Gwynne of shirking his duties, yet the young man was plainly nettled--on the defensive. "I must have been too sympathetic," thought the doctor, remembering the miserably touchy Gwynne pride. Doctor Vardaman was the one person on earth, hardly excepting his own family, to whom Gwynne would have mentioned his brother. For everybody else, Sam Peters was away in California, in Algiers, in Timbuctoo--the devices by which Sam was kept in the background would have afforded material for a pitiful farce, if they had not been concerned with so pitiful a tragedy; there was about these lies a kind of wretched courage that went near to rendering their folly dignified. Gwynne knew that his brother's misfortune was in no sense a disgrace; but he could not bring himself to regard it as a thing to be thought or spoken of like any other illness. Too much of his life had been passed in the grimly fantastic environment of Gwynne family traditions for him to be completely emancipated at twenty-four.
"I want to do the right thing as much as anybody," said Gwynne; he scowled into the fire, chewing the end of his cigar. "Only it's not always easy to say what _is_ the right thing. In real life right and wrong aren't laid down in black and white the way they are in those Tommy-and-Harry books we used to have when we were children; they sort of shade off into each other. You've got to--to make compromises. You can't take any satisfaction in being right--abstractly _right_--when you're being hard and--and cruel."
"What on earth is the boy arguing with himself about?" thought Doctor Vardaman; these not very original remarks had, for all their emphasis, the air of being offered in advocacy of some doubtful cause; there was a trace of temper and self-consciousness in them, and even the speaker himself appeared unconvinced. "He's been having trouble with Steven, I suspect," the doctor concluded, remembering how capable Steven was of making trouble, and how difficult it was to manage him without recourse to a tyranny from which Gwynne would recoil.
"That may be a good frame of mind for a lawyer, Gwynne," he said pleasantly. "That disposition, I mean, to allow a certain amount of right on every side. The question of expediency----"
"That's what _I_ think," Gwynne interrupted eagerly. "It's as much a point of what's _best_ to do as of what's rigorously _right_ to do. But you can't make people see that; now people like----"
"Mr. Steven Gwynne!" said Huddesley, opening the door. And even in the uproar of Steven's entrance--he could do nothing quietly, and had a voice of thunderous volume--Doctor Vardaman had time to observe Gwynne's start and changing colour. Huddesley withdrew, taking Steven's "artics" with a manner conveying his fixed belief that they should be handled with tongs; but the doctor, who generally viewed this comic by-play with profound amusement, for once let it pass unnoticed. As his guests fronted each other, the old gentleman felt a sudden menace in the air; something had gone wrong, had gone very wrong, indeed; that much was easy to read in the two lowering faces. He looked from one to the other in apprehension; he tried to relieve the situation by a gust of what he inwardly characterised as "futile patter," offering chairs and comments on the weather. That his unoffending parlour should be made the scene of a Gwynne family squabble did not strike him as outrageous; he felt too genuine and humane an interest in both parties. At the back of his mind the thought was busy that Steven must have been stirring up some kind of mischief with his confounded vapouring communistic and anarchistic theories, his "circulating medium," or Heaven knew what other foolishness; and how was Gwynne, or for that matter anybody else, to deal with him? The poor old fellow was not--not responsible; yet he could not be bullied like a slave, or put aside like a child; that would only make him worse! "It would be better, it would absolutely be better, if Steven would go stark mad and be done with it (Lord forgive me for saying so!)" he thought. "Then, at least, he could be cared for properly. As it is, you can't excite him, you can't reason with him, you can't control him!" An acute sympathy for both of them possessed him--for Steven as for a baby from whom one should tear away some dangerous beloved plaything--for Gwynne because he must do this really humane thing, perforce, inhumanely. The job was obviously distasteful; Gwynne wore, the doctor thought, a reluctant, even a sort of hang-dog air; and it was Steven who began, ruffling and reddening in blotches over his wildly bearded face and down to his grooved and corded old neck: "You--you got my letters, Gwynne?"
"I got them, Cousin Steven," said Gwynne sullenly.
"You didn't answer 'em, sir."
"I don't think we need to discuss this before Doctor Vardaman, Cousin Steven," said the young man. It was a dignified and temperate speech; yet, strangely enough, it conveyed to the doctor less consideration for himself than desire to avoid the interview altogether. Something, either in Gwynne's tone or manner, struck a false note, and Doctor Vardaman looked at him perplexed.
"I don't see why we shouldn't talk before old Jack," said Steven trustingly; he at least was sincere; there was no complexity about Steven; his mind worked with the directness of a child's. "I'd have asked his opinion anyhow--I meant to--that's what I'm here for----"
"You haven't been to the Pallinders' then?" interrupted Gwynne, in evident relief. "You haven't been there yet?"
"No, but I'm going." Steven's eyes were uncomfortably bright as he faced the other, with all the desperate obstinacy of a weak character. "You can't stop me doing that, Gwynne--you _can't_. I'm one of the heirs--I've got a _right_----"
"Cousin Steven, if you'll just listen a minute," Gwynne began with an effort.
"You can't stop me--I've got a _right_--I'm not a minor," cried the old man; the words might have been ludicrous but for his pitiful earnestness. "I'm going to know where my money's gone to--I'm going to have an accounting. That Pallinder fellow----"
"I say you shall _not_ go there," said Gwynne doggedly. "Your money's all right. If you'll only have a little patience, I'll attend to it, and you'll get your share----"
"You said that before--you've said it two or three times," said Steven, his face working. He was evidently striving with all his might for self-control; there was a painful dignity in the effort. Doctor Vardaman was strangely touched to observe him; it seemed as if the battle were too one-sided, whatever its cause; as if the strong and sane young man had too much the advantage. "I'm tired of hearing that, Gwynne. You don't know how to get the money, or you don't try. 'If you want your business done, go and do it yourself; if not, send!' That's a pretty good motto, seems to me. I'm going to attend to this now, myself----"
"Cousin Steven, you can't possibly do anything--you'll only make matters worse. Ask Templeton, ask anybody----"
"It's no use asking _you_, that's plain," said Steven bitterly. "I want my money." In spite of him, his voice raised and cracked on the last words. He turned to the doctor pleadingly. "John," he said, "it ain't right--it ain't right. You'll say it ain't right, when you hear. Tell him it ain't right, John, _tell_ him it ain't." He pointed to Gwynne with his shaking hand. The younger man scowled back with a resentment touched by some feeling not far removed from shame; Doctor Vardaman looked at him in open inquiry, and was confounded to see that Gwynne avoided his eye.
"You'd better sit down here quietly, Steve, old man," he said kindly. "Now what is it you want me to tell Gwynne? Let's thrash it all out. We'll put it straight in five minutes, I've no doubt." He shook his head warningly at Gwynne behind the other's back; and Gwynne set his lips ominously and looked away.
Old Steven began to fumble in his pockets; in his excitement he could not command his stiff trembling fingers, and cursed with impatience as he sought. "I've got it here--I've got a statement, Jack," he explained twice or thrice. "I put it all down. I may not be a pin-headed, pettifogging little know-it-all attorney," he said with a withering side-glance at Gwynne standing against the mantelpiece in a morose silence. "But I guess I can add up a column of figures and make it come out right just the same." Doctor Vardaman might have laughed at another time; but now he was too concerned for the outcome, feeling instinctively that, at its core, this was no laughing matter. The presentiment chilled him into gravity as he watched Steven turn out a collection of rubbish such as any schoolboy might have owned--broken bits of slate-pencil, a disabled toothbrush, hanks of cotton string, a handful of Indian corn and one of loose tobacco, numerous buttons, a large red apple--"I brought that for Gwynne, but now I'll give it to _you_, John," said the old man severely. Finally from the midst of this dunnage he produced a creased and soiled paper and spread it out triumphantly. "There, Jack, there, I wrote it all out. 'William Pallinder, Esquire'--no, I'll be damned if I call him 'esquire,' it's too good for him--lend me your pen-knife, Jack, I'll scratch it out when I get through reading--'William Pallinder in account with Steven Gwynne _et al._--I remember that out of the books when I was studying law--_et al._, for house-rent due from November, 1881, to March, 1883, sixteen months, at one hundred and fifty dollars a month, twenty-four hundred dollars--ain't that correct? And there's twenty of us, you know, John, counting Eleanor and Mollie's share as one, twenty goes into twenty-four once and four over--I put that down on another piece of paper--I can't find it, but I remember anyhow--twenty into twenty-four once and four over, twenty into forty goes twice, and ought's ought, and _ought's ought_. That's a hundred and twenty apiece that's coming to us, John, ain't that correct?" He looked into the doctor's face eagerly; momentarily it seemed as if the gravity of the scene were about to evaporate in a cheap burlesque. In the variegated patchwork of Steven's mental processes, theories about the superfluousness of money, and laboured calculations as to how much was coming to him found an equal place, and were matched side by side with no sense of incongruity.
"Yes, that's perfectly correct, Steven," said the doctor, somewhat illuminated.
Steven eyed Gwynne vindictively. "I guess I can figger all right if I ain't a pin-head----"
"Nobody's saying your figures aren't right," said Gwynne, with a weary patience. "The colonel owes the estate that much, and if you'll let things alone, it'll be paid."
"Oh, yes, it'll be paid. I'll make it my business to _see_ that it's paid," said Steven, nodding. He turned to the doctor, confident of his support. "Ain't I right, John? Gwynne there won't do anything--won't lift his hand--just lets the rent keep on piling up and piling up. Calls himself a _lawyer_, and won't do _anything_--I've written him time and time again authorising him to--to sue--to sue for our rent--haven't I, Gwynne? Did I, or did I not write you, answer me that?"
"Oh, yes, you wrote me," said Gwynne drily.
"There, you see, you _see_, John," said Steven despairingly. "That's the way he acts--just that indifferent and shilly-shally. It's seven dollars and a half a month we ought each one to have been getting all this time--seven dollars and a half," his voice cracked again--"we haven't had a cent--not a _cent_, for over a year, and he won't _do_ anything! He ought to sue, oughtn't he, John?"
"Why, Lord bless me, Steven, _I_ don't know," said the doctor, at once relieved yet remotely disquieted to learn the cause of the trouble, worried over Steven, and slightly amused at this seven-dollar-a-month melodrama. "I'm not a lawyer, you know. I suppose there's some way of getting at tenants that won't pay their rent--some way other than evicting 'em bodily, I mean--you'd hardly like to do that, you know, to people like the Pallinders----"
"Don't see why not," said Steven, seizing upon this new idea with a very disconcerting readiness. "_I'd_ bring 'em to time, if _I_ had the doing of it." He directed a vindictive glance at Gwynne. "'Pay or quit,' that's what I'd say----"
"Oh, come now, Steven, you wouldn't want to see the Pallinders' bureaus and bedsteads out on the sidewalk. It would be a kind of discredit to the property--_your_ property--Governor Gwynne's house," said the doctor, struggling with an inconvenient tendency to laugh, yet diplomatically approaching Steven on his most vulnerable side. "You wouldn't treat Mrs. Pallinder that way--she's a very polished lady--I've heard you say so a dozen times myself."
"There's no occasion to bring in Mrs. Pallinder's name at all, I think," said Gwynne, in so savage a voice that Doctor Vardaman started with astonishment. Their eyes met. "She has nothing to do with this," said the young man constrainedly, averting his gaze almost at the instant. "We're all gentlemen, I hope, and we don't have to talk about a woman."
Doctor Vardaman rubbed his chin. "Steven," he said thoughtfully, "I think maybe you'd better let Gwynne manage it his own way----"
"But I _have_--I have for a year, and look how he's managed it!" cried Steven; he looked from the doctor to Gwynne in an exasperated bewilderment. "We aren't as well off now as we were a year ago! There's that much more owing us--and he said just the same thing then, to let things alone. Damn it, we've let 'em alone, and see where we are!"
There was a devious justice in this argument that, taken with Gwynne's more or less disingenuous behaviour, was not without its effect on the doctor; of course, he told himself, the young fellow's inactivity was capable of some perfectly reasonable explanation; everyone knew that the direction of the Gwynne affairs was a fearfully complicated task, and Doctor Vardaman was not desirous of going further into its details, even if Gwynne had wanted to enlighten him--still he would have been better satisfied if the boy had shown himself more frank and not quite so sulky. It occurred to him, with a fine irony, that here was probably one of Gwynne's cases where there was some right on both sides. The main thing at the moment, he realised, was to get Steven quieted.
"I'm sorry, but I--really I can't advise you, Steven," he said in his most moderate voice. "Have you talked to Mr. Templeton? He's your real agent, you know; he does the collecting, doesn't he? I'm sure if he and Gwynne both think----"
"_Templeton!_ He's a--a _creature_ of Gwynne's!" cried Steven angrily. "He's no better than a--a mercenary--a--a hired bravo!"
Gwynne had to smile. The idea of fat little spectacled Templeton in the rôle of chief-villain's handy-man, be-cloaked and be-daggered as we are accustomed to figure those romantic gentlemen, was irresistibly comic. But Steven saw the smile and turned purple; he got up, choking and trembling.
"Very well, young man, very well!" he said, not without dignity. "I suppose you can afford to laugh--you have the upper hand. It's very funny, no doubt--but _I_ wouldn't laugh at anybody in trouble--not at my own kin anyhow--blood's thicker than water. Oh, yes, I'm very funny, of course; I'm nothing but an old man that don't know anything--and--and a--a kind of a nuisance, I suppose, and and--I don't dress stylish, and it's real funny for me to want my money--oh, yes! You needn't worry, Gwynne, I'm not going to trouble you any more about it--I'll attend to my own affairs after this. Jack, where're my gum-shoes, please? _You_ can let things alone, if you choose, Mr. Peters, but _I'm_----"
"What are you going to do?" said Gwynne harshly--the more harshly, perhaps, because he was touched and a little shamed, against his will.
Almost involuntarily, he moved between his cousin and the door.
"I'm going to my house, to _my_ house, to see Pallinder myself," said Steven, frightened yet obstinate.
Gwynne made a gesture of angry impatience. "He won't be at home at this time of day. Cousin Steven, if you'll _only_ wait a little----"
"I've done all the waiting I intend to, Mr. Gwynne Peters. If he ain't at home, I mean to see _her_----"
"Oh, good Lord, Steven, you can't do that--you can't talk to a woman about things like that!" interposed Doctor Vardaman, shocked. "Now I'll tell you what, you stay here quietly with me, and take dinner and let Gwynne see to it. Gwynne'll fix it all right if you----" if you will give him time, the doctor was about to add, when the weakness of that already well-worn plea struck him.
"I don't trust him, I tell you--he ain't to be trusted. I can attend to my own affairs and I _will_!" said Steven fiercely. The question had by this time become to him not so much that of recovering his money as of having his own way; they would conspire against him, would they? They would keep him from having a voice in his own proper affairs? Somebody had been meddling with him that way all his life; _he_ would show them, he, Steven Gwynne! "I won't have him interfering with me any longer--he don't suit me--I'll run my affairs to suit myself, without any leave from you, Mr. Gwynne Peters--call yourself a lawyer--I wouldn't trust you 'round the corner with a cent of _my_ money--I wouldn't have you try a case for my dog, I wouldn't----"
"Then get some other lawyer that you do trust!" shouted Gwynne above the other's shouting. "But right now you're not going near Mrs. Pallinder, d'ye hear me? It's shameful; she shan't be persecuted this way!"
"I'll go where I damn please, sir. Get another lawyer! Precious good care you've taken that I _can't_ get another lawyer! Where's the money? where's my hundred and twenty dollars, Gwynne Peters?"
"If you'll come down to the office, I'll give you your infernal hundred and twenty now," said Gwynne, steadying himself as best he could. "I'll give it to you myself out of hand, and then you can go and employ ten lawyers if you like. But if you think I'm going to turn Mrs. Pall--the Pallinders out of doors, or hound them about the rent, you're mistaken. Why, it's my money just as much as yours, and am _I_ worrying? The colonel's good for it, and even if he isn't, the house and furniture are there; they aren't going to fly away--if you'll be patient and act sensibly, I'll get your money. If you won't I'll wash my hands of the whole business. You can----"
"For God's sake, Gwynne," ejaculated the doctor in an undertone, "don't make things worse than they are! Steven can't control himself, but _you_ can!"
"Why, I'm not a brute, Doctor Vardaman, I'm not a--a Jew! I won't allow Mrs. Pallinder to be made wretched because of this--this--it's bad enough for me to have to stand it; but she--she----" The young man caught himself; he was on the edge of saying "she's an angel," but even in that moment of excitement some saving sense of humour mercifully restrained him. "She don't know anything about business. You can't go to _her_ for your rent! It's--it's inhuman to harry a woman like Mrs. Pallinder about _rent_. Leave _her_ out of it at any rate, it's the least you can do."
"You, sir, get me my gum-shoes," said Steven determinedly, as the door once more swung to admit Huddesley. It is possible that this discreet and admirably trained individual had been improving his knowledge of Doctor Vardaman's acquaintances, just outside the key-hole; he overlooked Steven's orders, and went up to the doctor with a perturbed countenance. "Doctor Vardaman, if you please, sir----" there followed a whisper charged with meaning.
"Oh, the _devil_!" said the old gentleman desperately. He looked around. "Steven, Gwynne, do sit down, both of you--why, yes, of course, Huddesley, certainly you can bring her in--and--and here's the key of the wine-cellar, Huddesley;" he was quite flustered. The others forgot their excitement a moment to wonder at him. "Bring her in, Huddesley, don't keep a lady standing," said the doctor, speaking testily in his confusion. Huddesley was keenly alive to the dramatic aspect of the meeting; he went ceremoniously out and ceremoniously returned, spreading the door with a flourish.
"Mrs. Pallinder!" he announced.
It was a _coup-de-théâtre_, falling as pat as if prearranged, an unthinkable accident; the melodrama was becoming entirely too melodramatic, according to Doctor Vardaman's notion. "Good Heavens!" he said to himself, irritated; "this sort of thing doesn't _happen_--it has no business to happen!" He had what is perhaps the best tact in the world, the tact of a kind heart; but a plain man's experience does not prepare him for moments of such awkwardness, and the doctor's self-possession for once left him in the lurch. He advanced to meet Mrs. Pallinder, blunderingly putting on his eye-glasses, and blunderingly dropping them again to the length of their black silk ribbon, stuttering out a welcome, apprehensive of Steven's next move, out of patience with the whole grotesque and intolerable situation, and fearful that he showed it. Mrs. Pallinder could hardly have failed to overhear something of what was going forward; Steven's loud voice had been raised almost to its furthest pitch, and Gwynne's, if he was more self-contained, was still forcible and distinct enough. Neither one could at once adjust his threatening brows to a placid, scarcely even a natural expression, and, for that matter, the silence betrayed as much as their speech. She would have needed to be blind or deaf not to know that her presence came amiss--and blind and deaf Mrs. Pallinder promptly became! It was a feat; her assumption of unconsciousness was too perfect, but, if Gwynne and the doctor were undeceived, they were still profoundly grateful, and Steven was reduced to a kind of pathetic diffidence. The old man felt, in his dim way, that he had no arms against this dazzling feminine creature; her manners, her dress, even her delicate and finished beauty frightened him; he might as well plan to sue a fairy for rent as this detached and brilliant personage. "Gwynne could have let the poor old boy go in peace," thought Doctor Vardaman, observing Steven's altered bearing; "he never would have faced Mrs. Pallinder--I doubt if he could have stood up to the colonel!"
"Don't get up, gentlemen, don't stand for just _me_!" said Mrs. Pallinder, looking around on everybody and beginning to loosen her furs. "Oh, Mr. Gwynne, what a nice surprise to find you here! Doctor Vardaman, you didn't tell me you were expecting Mr. Gwynne. You see I'm an old story to the doctor, Mr. Gwynne, I drop in almost every day--I wonder he doesn't run at the sight of me--it must be a relief as well as a pleasure to him to have you come in once in a while. Why don't you come to see _me_, ever? We're so lonely out here--the colonel and I depend on the doctor. Nobody ever comes to see two rusty old creatures like us. Nobody but you, that is, Mr. Peters, you treat us with the respect due our age." She gave him a laughing glance; Gwynne knelt down, reddening and incoherent, to take off her overshoes. The doctor had space to reflect that a pretty woman, be she never so well or so long married, seldom wholly ceases to be a coquette. And all this while Steven stood, spellbound into silence, waiting for someone else to sit down. He would have liked to be gallant, cynical, daring, epigrammatic; Steven's notions of society were founded on Bulwer-Lytton's novels, with a dash of Reade, Disraeli, and Charles Lever. He had revolved more than one graceful yet stinging speech for the humbling of the Pallinders, figuring them brought down to a species of admiring submission. Lo, the hour was arrived, but where was the man? All his eloquence had stolen away; he was taken at unawares, tongue-tied in an awkwardness that at once incensed and humiliated him. He almost envied Gwynne his uncalculated ease.
"I had a letter from Mazie this morning, doctor," said Mrs. Pallinder, resolutely keeping the conversation going, and including Steven, as it were, by main force. "My daughter, you know, Mr. Gwynne. You've been at your country-place all winter, haven't you?" It was thus that Mrs. Pallinder picturesquely referred to Steven's ramshackle residence; and on her lips the phrase had a richness that pleased him ineffably. "Then you don't know that my daughter has been away nearly two months--she went a little after the holidays--and, oh, Mr. Gwynne, did you hear about the robbery?"
"_She_ don't have to make talk about the weather--trust a woman!" said the doctor inwardly, both satirical and admiring. He had an instant of suspense, wondering what use Steven would make of his opportunity--and Steven was as mild as a lamb! He cleared his throat, and said yes, he had heard about the robbery--they didn't get anything after all, did they? He understood--that is, the paper said--he hadn't been in town to talk to anybody--that they were after Mrs. Pallinder's diamonds. There had been a picture in the paper of the necklace--he was glad they hadn't got anything.
"Why, I didn't know you approved of diamonds, Mr. Gwynne, I wouldn't have dared to wear mine before you," said Mrs. Pallinder, tempting Providence. "Everybody says you're so severe and critical--and--and like all the rest of you men--you laugh at us poor women shamefully, yes, and tyrannise over us, too, you know you do!" she went on, displaying a discernment for which nobody would have given her credit.
"Madame," said Steven, highly flattered; "you mistake me--beauty unadorned----"
"Oh, but Mr. Gwynne, I'm not in that class! Now come up to dinner to-night, and I'll put on every diamond I have, and you'll see I'll look the better for it." She raised her hand. "But don't involve me in an argument--I can't hold my ground with you, you know--you're too clever for me--I remember the last time, when you demolished me utterly--you told me we didn't need money to get along--think of that, Doctor Vardaman, he actually told me we didn't need to use money at all, 'the circulating medium,' wasn't that what you called it, Mr. Gwynne? See how well I remember! And, Doctor, before he got through, he persuaded me, sure enough, that we didn't need money--I believed him--at least I had nothing to say!"
Now how, how, I ask the unprejudiced and fair-minded observer, how could any gentleman--of the name of _Gwynne_--come at so winningly simple a woman as Mrs. Pallinder with a low question of rent? "Pay or quit" indeed! The thing was inconceivable, the moment inappropriate.
"You _will_ come to dinner, won't you, Mr. Gwynne? Mr. Peters, I've a crow to pick with _you_, for never bringing him. Oh, I know you hate society, Mr. Gwynne, but just for once----"
Steven faltered; he would have accepted the invitation in another moment--and if he had, who knows how this story might have ended?--but Doctor Vardaman intervened briskly.
"Steven's got to stay here, madame, I asked him first," he said, and clapped the other on the shoulder. Perhaps the doctor was a shade more cordial even than his nature prompted; he felt a great pity for Steven, and a certain shame at the cheap and flimsy devices by which his poor old friend could be overpowered. Mrs. Pallinder made a little mouth at him.
"You always have your way, Doctor, you've gotten the better of me ever so many times. _You've_ got Huddesley, for instance," she said, not disdaining to bestow an _oeillade_ on the servant as he stood before her, offering sherry in the doctor's little old trumpet-shaped glasses; he acknowledged the compliment by a respectful grin. "And _I'm_ simply having the most _awful_ time--you don't know of a good cook, do you, Huddesley?"
"No, ma'am. Hi don't know hanybody 'ere, ma'am," said Huddesley, with a faintly superior air; and passed on to Gwynne with his silver tray. It was true; he held himself apart from, and rather above, other servants. The doctor had often remarked it with an amused sympathy.
"_Don't_ you? Isn't that a pity--I want so much to get settled in the kitchen before Mazie comes home--well, if you hear of anyone, you'll remember me, Huddesley, won't you?" Mrs. Pallinder held her glass in one hand, and shook a letter out of her muff with the other. "Mazie's letter, Doctor Vardaman--she'll be back in a week--she's going to bring a friend--the most _English_ name--one of those hyphenated names, you know. Her father's one of the secretaries at the Legation. Where--oh, here it is. 'Muriel' _isn't_ that _English_? But just listen to the rest of it!--'Ponsonby-Baxter.' Her father is Sir Julian--no, it's Lucien--no, Mr. Peters, I believe my eyes are failing--can you make out what that word is?"
Gwynne, after a solemn inspection, pronounced it to be Llewellyn.
"I notice all these young men read my daughter's handwriting a great deal better than I can, for some mysterious reason, Mr. Gwynne," said Mrs. Pallinder pointedly, to Steven, with her pretty laugh. And Steven actually laughed, too! Where was his animosity? Where his anathemas? He was at ease, mild, pleased, interested. In fact, Mrs. Pallinder, looking hardly a day over thirty-five, with her fresh voice, her softly bright eyes, her trim and supple figure, was an impossible sort of person for the rôle of mother. There was a charming absurdity in her continual half-humorous, half-sentimental allusions to her years and infirmities. "When they get here, I'm thinking of having a little company in the house, Mr. Peters," she went on, with a confidential glance that magically comprehended everybody in the room. "Some of the girls, like Kitty Oldham, for instance, and your cousin Marian, of course, if her mother will let her come--I always say, Mr. Gwynne, that it's no wonder all the girls in your family are so well-bred and have such lovely manners--_Gwynne_ manners, Colonel Pallinder calls them--it's no wonder they're all that way, they've had such careful mothers, and _such_ training! It's my despair--I'll never make Mazie that way! I should like to go to school to Mrs. Horace Gwynne myself for a while, only she wouldn't have an old thing like me around, trying to copy those beautiful, finished ways she has--the most _elegant_ woman I know! I think a little party in the house like that will make it pleasant for Miss--Miss Baxter, I suppose we'll call her--the whole name's a little too much--_Ponsonby-Baxter_! And now the colonel says he'll have to have some men in the house in self-defence. Such a houseful of women! It bores a man, I really think--oh, now, you needn't look that way, Mr. Gwynne, you _know_ it bores men sometimes to have too many women around. So we want to have some of the young men, too--of course you, Mr. Peters, and do you think Mr. Lewis would come? And then there's Mr. Taylor--the one you all call J. B., I mean. There're those three large rooms in the wing at the back, and the small one over the hall--plenty of room, don't you think so, Mr. Gwynne? You ought to know how many the house will hold."
Steven looked important and considered. He remembered when Governor Gwynne had entertained the Whig Campaign Committee in--in--he forgot the year, but it was when Van Buren was elected; every room in the house had been occupied, and cots in the library--you could put ten cots in the library--oh, easily ten, end to end, you know----
"Cots! Oh, I don't think we'll need cots, you know, with young ladies in the party----"
Steven did not hear her. He was launched on an accurate description of the festivities, to which Mrs. Pallinder listened with a caressing attention. How much had she overheard? Or how much guessed? Possibly she would have been as painstakingly gracious to Steven in any event; to look her best, to act her best, was Mrs. Pallinder's trade, and you may trust me it was not always an easy one. "_So_ interesting, isn't it? Oh, it's all very well for you to smile, Doctor Vardaman, you remember all this, and it seems very ordinary to you, no doubt. But it's rarely one hears such reminiscences--you've met so many celebrated people, Mr. Gwynne--the Governor knew everybody, of course, in his position, and then he was a famous man himself. Oh, now I'm here, and have a chance at last, I want you to tell me again about that time the Governor gave away the crimson velvet waistcoat with gold bees embroidered on it--don't you remember, you told it to me the first time we met, and I tried to tell it to the colonel afterwards, but I got it all mixed up. He gave it to Tom Corwin, didn't he? And then the darky waiter got hold of it somehow, and wore it to the party? I laughed so when I came to that part, I couldn't go on with the story----"
Doctor Vardaman listened between relief and a singularly unreasonable resentment; the business of pacifying Steven seemed ludicrously easy, now. His weaknesses and the adroitness with which they were approached, were alike contemptible. Anything, of course, he admitted unwillingly, anything was better than having a scene; they should be thankful they were so well past that danger. Yet he wondered privately what Gwynne thought of this dexterous jockeying; a woman's performances in what she chooses to consider the art of diplomacy unveiled, seldom fail of moving the masculine onlooker to mingled wonder, scorn, and pity. The creature has the cunning of her feebleness; how she does juggle with honour and decency! How lightly she trips it along the unstable wire! What capital she makes of her toy emotions, her sham beliefs and unbeliefs! There is even something admirable in her serene assurance that the end always justifies the means.
Steven may not have talked himself, or been talked, into a complete forgetfulness of his errand; but at least the evil hour was a while postponed. He saw Mrs. Pallinder leave the house escorted by Gwynne through the falling dusk, with genial unconcern; and reiterated to the doctor as they sat at table that evening his conviction that Mrs. Pallinder was a very polished lady! Thus did the afternoon finish; never was there a tamer sequel to a more alarming prelude. If the doctor had received some disquieting revelations, he could still put them from his mind as no affair of his; and if a vexed anxiety about Gwynne lurked within him, it needed no great effort to stifle or banish that, too, momentarily, at any rate. The boy knew what he was about--_laissez faire!_ he thought, and surrendered himself to a long evening of Steven and the circulating medium with thankfulness and even some amusement.
"You--you're ever so kind to poor old Cousin Steven, Mrs. Pallinder," Gwynne said to her, with a good deal of feeling, as they parted in the shadow of the Parthenon front. His voice trembled a little; and perhaps the lady let him hold her hand a trifle longer than etiquette prescribes.
"My dear boy," she said with gentle emphasis, "my dear boy, don't _I know_---- If there is any way I can think of to make a person like that happier, wouldn't I gladly do it? That seems to me a very small thing--a woman's duty--what else are we for? I would do it for _you_ anyhow, even if I didn't feel so sorry for him." She melted into the house without waiting to gauge the effect of this touching speech, and the young man went off down the avenue with his head in the stars.
All very wrong and very improper, no doubt! But, on the whole, Gwynne's conduct, it seems to me, was most edifying--a pattern for any youth in his position. If Mrs. Pallinder had been the angel he thought her, he could not have borne himself toward her with more respect. A young man's first love, or let us call it, his first amorous fancy, is free from grossness. There was something spiritual and exalted in Gwynne's devotion; I believe he figured himself, foolishly and egotistically enough, her knight, faithful without hope of reward, and gloried in his anguish. If he stood between her and the all-too-righteous exactions of his relatives and co-heirs, if he shielded her from the vials of their wrath, at the cost of some squirmings of conscience, still I am loath to blame him.
There was, of course, no excuse for him, yet---- Mrs. Pallinder was old enough to be his mother, and married to boot; but she was a very beautiful woman, and he was softhearted and sentimental, and had had a harsh and loveless life. How can I sit in judgment on him? Was I so wise at twenty-four? For Mrs. Pallinder herself, I say and stick to it, she was a perfectly good woman; having discovered that she could twist Gwynne around her finger, she cannot be blamed, in the circumstances, for twisting him. The men may well sneer at our tools, but we must even use the tools you let us have, gentlemen, and sometimes you thrust the haft into our hands. No woman can make a fool of a man, I think, unless the man lends himself whole-heartedly to the job. And there are times when she goes at it with little relish.
Was it pleasant for Mrs. Pallinder to blarney Gwynne into forgetfulness? Did she enjoy listening to old Steven's dreary, everlasting talk? I think that mean necessity galled her at times as much as it would have the highest-minded reader of this page. We must suppose she loved her swindling rascal of a husband, for I detect a dingy loyalty in her method of supporting him. So he cleaves to her and cherishes her, a woman cares not a jot whether her husband be honest or not; she will uphold him by such sorry arts as he himself will look upon with disfavour. So terrific is her moral obliquity that she will lie, wheedle, cozen, cheat, with an unruffled mind to protect or further him; displaying a distorted integrity of purpose that compels our grudging admiration. Let anyone who doubts these statements ask the wives and mothers who unsparingly condemn Mrs. Pallinder's line of conduct, what they would have had her do? Give up the game, and so betray her husband's interests, or engage in a little harmless flirtation to put off the hour of his reckoning? You will find that these virtuous ladies will dodge the question utterly. They will indignantly and scornfully reject either course--yet they will not be able to think of any other, and therein you have your answer. I remember once hearing Doctor Vardaman solemnly declare and vow that he believed nine-tenths of the shiftless, incompetent, scoundrelly men in the world were kept going in their profitless or criminal careers solely by the co-operation of some fool of a woman--"an honest woman, at that!" he added, with a laugh.
Gwynne walked away in a state of exaltation that obliterated from his mind all such sordid and petty considerations as twenty-four hundred dollars of rent in arrears. At the end of the avenue he turned to look back, and saw a light spring up in the bedroom window he knew to be Mrs. Pallinder's; he walked on slowly, watching it with what high-coloured and high-flown fancies! Miranda, I am afraid, is a name that defeats the muse; but Gwynne continued in this Romeo attitude and meditation until he crashed into a weary, homing labourer, a resident of Bucktown, most probably, faring along through the twilight with a whitewash bucket and brushes.
"Hy-yah! Keerful, cahn't yo'? Yo' 'd oughta look whar yo's g'wine, boss!"
Gwynne started at the words; he ought to look where he was going! He went on, slowly, frowning a little, with his head bent.
Lent dragged or slipped or scurried along according to the varying tempers of those that watched it go; of late years the speed of its passage has increased noticeably, it seems to me; successive Lents shove one another off the stage with an alarming celerity. But most of us voted it dismally slow in those days. A church entertainment was given, in which Mrs. Pallinder figured in tableaux as _Ruth_, with white draperies, her hair bound up with fillets, and a sheaf of wheat (it was really pampas grass) in her beautiful bare white arms. She looked, undoubtedly, as much like _Ruth_ as she had like _Astarte_; that is to say, not at all. But people were unfeignedly delighted this time, and not without reason; the curtain had to be rung up repeatedly on "Ruth and Boaz." I thought, to be truthful, that her features seemed hard and sharp in the strong calcium-light; perhaps she was a little too old to impersonate a character like Ruth. But Teddy Johns assured me vehemently that she was ideal. "Beau'ful creature, Mis' Pallinder--_hic_--s'prisin'--Ruth--'Starte--Greek Slave--no, no, didn't mean that, of course--_hic_--Greek statue--always doin' somethin'--Pallinders, somethin' new, all time!" he said, meeting me in the passageway of Trinity Parish House, where the entertainment was given. I do not know where he had been; it is generally difficult to draw young men to church-tableaux, and there were not many there. Teddy had an air of surprise at finding himself in the audience; his face was very much flushed, he laughed loud and inappropriately; and Judge Lewis came with a grave face, and took him by the arm and pulled him away, muttering some apology to me. Judge Lewis was a vestryman; I saw him talking to some of the others afterwards, and their grey heads wagged solemnly; the judge could not have been telling one of those humorous anecdotes for which he was so celebrated.
It was not long after this that Mazie at last came home; and she lived up to the reputation that Teddy had given the Pallinders of always doing something new. Doctor Vardaman assured her gallantly that she was like the angel that came down and stirred up the Pool of Bethesda--"we were all stagnating," said the old gentleman, in his kind mock-serious manner; and Mazie smiled and lifted her eyes at him, without, I dare say, understanding in the least where or what the Pool of Bethesda was. She brought with her Miss Muriel Ponsonby-Baxter; and, following upon their arrival, Mrs. Pallinder collected her house party. Most of the young people she asked caught eagerly at the invitation; you may laugh, or perhaps jeer, but house parties were not then the affair of everyday occurrence they have since become--not in our corner of the world, certainly. We all felt, delightedly, as if we were living in an English novel--one of "The Duchess'" for choice.
"You know we're going to have private theatricals in the ballroom," Mazie told everybody. "The girls and men in the house will all be in it, so we can have rehearsals any time. And papa is going to have a stage built with footlights and a curtain. We'll ask everyone, of course, and dance afterwards. I bought the favours for the german in New York coming home, you know. They're simply too sweet for any use."
("I baought the favuhs foh the juhman in New Yawhk, yuh knaow. Theah simply too sweet foh any use," was the way she said it, but I shall not attempt to reproduce Mazie's speech. It had a kind of drawling vivacity; and the final sentence was in the slang of the day--very fresh and spirited it sounded then, too!)
Mazie Pallinder was not a pretty girl; she was too tall and lank; and, except when she got her cheeks touched up, too pallid with her ink-black hair. But she had a certain air of lazy distinction, helped out by a real talent for dressing herself, and an unlimited purse--maybe an unlimited indifference to bills and tradesmen would be a better way of putting it.
"The first thing on the programme is to be 'William Tell,'" she said. "That's to have just men in it, you know. I think it's always best to have a lot more men than girls, and make them stand around. That's the way it is in the South, New Orleans, or Charleston, or anywhere I've ever been. You see them lined up all around the room waiting a chance, at dances, you know. All the girls have to split every waltz."
Bewildering dream of bliss! Somebody, recovering from the contemplation, wanted to know what "William Tell" would be like with only men in it?
"Oh, I've talked that all over with J. B." said Mazie. "It was his suggestion, you know. They gave it at college, his senior year, and, of course, all the parts were done by men. He said it was simply great. It's a take-off of the real 'William Tell.' What do you think? Doctor Vardaman asked if it was the real 'Tell,' and he said there was a beautiful _adagio_ for the horn in the overture! I simply screamed--I laughed till I nearly fell over. You see the funny thing is there _is_ a horn--but it's a dinner horn! Archie Lewis comes on with it when he sings his topical song. Archie's to be 'Tell,' you know. He's got a hit on everyone in town--they'll all be here in the audience, of course. It begins:
"'I'm a horny--horny--horny-handed SON OF TOIL! From Maine to California You couldn't find a hornier, And--and--I'm----
I can't remember the rest of it. He and J. B. wrote the verses--it's awfully funny, don't you think, Muriel? We've seen them go over parts of it."
"Yes," said Muriel tepidly. We all looked at her with some curiosity; lying back in one of Mazie's profuse rocking-chairs, she seemed very large by contrast with the rest of us. She had long round arms, long sloping thighs, long hands and feet, a great deal bigger than any of ours, but well-shaped, in so just a proportion one hardly noticed their size. I think I never saw so beautiful a woman. Beside her large classic calm, we were as a tribe of little gesticulating marionettes. She listened to our facile laughter, our high, excited voices, with a grave and rather wondering tolerance; no one ever saw _her_ laugh. We decided it was a pose with her, thinking she was conscious, very likely, that outright mirth or any other visible emotion would somehow become her ill. You cannot imagine the Bartholdi Liberty laughing. Such regularity of features, such steadfast, intrepid eyes had Muriel; and so did she oppose to passing people and events, silence and an unmoved brow. I give the idea that she was dull; it was not so. She thought as much and as much to the point as any of us; she only lacked our fevered sprightliness.
Mazie went on expounding: "Teddy Johns is to be Mrs. Gessler, and Gwynne Peters is Mrs. Tell, or Matilda, I forget which, and J. B.'s young 'Tell.' In the play his name's _Jemmy_, of all things I do think that's the funniest--Jemmy! J. B. said when they found that in the libretto, they said it would be a shame to change it. I believe in the original opera, a girl always sings the part. J. B.'s all the time wanting someone to hear him speak his piece, or give him a drink of water--things like that, you know, as if he were about four years old. And he gets lost and says to the policeman that he's Jemmy Tell--I don't know why you want to laugh, but it's so silly you can't help it. He must be six-feet-two if he's an inch, and he's going to wear a little white piqué kilt to his knees with a sash and short socks and ankle-ties, and a red apple fastened on his head kind of skew-wow over one ear, with an elastic under his chin. Simply too funny for any use!"
"I don't see how he can do it," said Muriel. "Fancy! A kilt! I think it's horrid!" She spoke with unexpected energy; the lovely English rose in her cheeks suddenly deepened. Every other girl in the room wondered what it was that had waked her up; and Mazie, who was manicuring her nails (she introduced that art among us), paused with the polisher suspended, and gave her friend an acute fleeting glance.
"I don't believe J. B. minds, or he wouldn't get himself up that way," she remarked airily. "We can stand it if he can. He's got an awfully good figure. After all, the kilt isn't much different from a Roman costume--like what John McCullough wears in 'Virginius,' you know. J. B.'s on to his own good points; he's not going to make a guy of himself--catch a man doing that. 'Tell's' sort of comic opera, and do you know, girls, honestly, I can't see but that it's every bit as good as 'Olivette'--you haven't seen that yet. They'll have it out here by next winter, I suppose; it's always a year before things get West from New York. We thought we'd have the other play afterwards--they aren't either of them long. That will give all the men a chance to get into their dress-clothes before the dancing begins. Teddy and J. B. are both in the second one, too. It's called 'Mrs. Tankerville's Tiara."
"Where did you get it? Public Library?"
"Oh, gracious, no. I shouldn't have known what to ask for, you know; why, there've been millions and _millions_ of plays written--did you know that? Just _millions_! No, Doctor Vardaman lent me the book; I went down to the house and looked over ever so many with him. You ought to see the doctor's library; I'd never been in it before; I believe where we've got one book, he has twenty at the very least. They go all around the room in shelves with the busts of people on top, Shakespeare, I suppose, and--and--well, Shakespeare, you know, and men like that. And he has funny old stuffed birds sitting up between the busts. You wouldn't think that would be pretty, would you, just books, and mothy old birds, and no curtains at the windows; it isn't a bit stylish, but somehow it looks like Doctor Vardaman. Well, we looked at the greatest pile of books of plays, and I told the doctor I thought we oughtn't to attempt anything but farce, so that we'd be sure of entertaining people. But he said if we really meant to be funny, we'd better be serious; he'd guarantee everybody would be much more entertained. Doctor Vardaman does say such queer things--you never know whether he's laughing at you, or with you. But he's lovely about hearing us rehearse (he's seen it on the stage, you know), and suggesting _business_--that's when you have to stand in a corner and make believe to be doing something when it isn't your turn to talk. Isn't it funny you never see actors standing still, and looking stumped for something to do? They're always walking around, or they've got something in their hands to fuss with, or----"
"Well, that's _business_, isn't it?"
"Yes, but I don't see why they can't sit still just the way we are now--but if they did, it probably wouldn't look right on the stage. Only how do they think up all the things they do? _Business_ is a lot harder than talking, anyhow. Muriel's the leading lady, she's got an awfully long part. J. B. has to make love to her, you know, and when the butler steals the diamonds, and they think Muriel did it, he goes right away and proposes to her, to show that _he_ trusts her anyway----"
"I don't like all that spoony part," said Muriel, colouring painfully.
"He don't either, I guess," said Kitty. "Men don't like being made to look ridiculous."
Kitty was undoubtedly a cat, but---- "You're in the play, too, aren't you, Miss Oldham?" Muriel asked her.
"Yes. I'm Mrs. Tankerville's maid. I've only got about two words to say."
"Oh!" said Muriel in her pleasant low voice. "Oh!" That was all. But she had got even, to our surprise. I believe we all liked her the better for it.
"We'll all have to copy out our parts," continued Mazie rather hastily. "It's comedy, except where Mrs. Tankerville's diamonds are stolen; Teddy Johns is 'Jenks,' the butler; in the last act he's shot, while he's hiding behind a screen, and then they find the diamonds on him, and it all comes out right, of course. And oh, girls, it opens with a ballroom scene, and we'll all have to be dressed up to the nines--wouldn't mamma be raging if she heard me say that--she thinks slang's simply _awful_!"
"Was that slang?" asked honest Muriel, opening her eyes. "It doesn't seem to have any sense. But then one doesn't notice it, because so much of your talk is like that, in the States!"
"Never mind, you'll learn as you go along," said Kitty encouragingly. "It may take a good while, but you're bound to learn _some_ time. Everyone gets used to our slang in the end, even the very slowest ones!"
Mazie again intervened to shunt the conversation on a safer track; she kept on with the question of dress for the forthcoming dramatic performance; and as there were a good many changes for everybody, the scene being laid in the present day, before long she had us all in smooth water once more. Mazie was her mother's own daughter, deft as a juggler among the uncertain knives and balls of social favour; she was fully awake to the difficulties of managing that most unmanageable of bodies, a set of amateur actors. But during the fortnight or so that "William Tell" and "Mrs. Tankerville's Tiara" were in preparation, she and Mrs. Pallinder must have been taxed to the utmost, adroit as they were, to keep things going smoothly, or indeed, going at all. Teddy Johns, who was somewhat given to hyperbole, or, as he himself would have said, to "tall talk," once confided to me that he had a feeling we were "all dancing on top of a volcano--like the What-d'ye-call-'ems over the Thingumbob, you know," he said, gloomily. "I've read about 'em somewhere. Lucky if it don't go off under us!" It _did_ go off, after a fashion, but not quite as Teddy had expected.
Teddy Johns displayed more real talent--to call his small gift by a very large name--for the stage than any of us. He was not a clever young man--he had one lamentable failing; but he could control his sallow, solemn face, and ungainly body into expressions and attitudes that would have won laughter from stocks and stones. When Archie Lewis in his character of "Tell" came tearing across the stage, clamouring wildly in the highest style of high tragedy, "Me che-ild, me che-ild! Must I spank me own che-ild?" Teddy could say, "Do Tell!" in an accent of vacuous astonishment that reduced one to helpless and I suppose perfectly senseless merriment. Teddy was our sheet-anchor. Unquestionably without him the whole thing would be a "fizzle."
About this time all the papers were giving considerable attention in the columns which they headed variously: "Social Doings," "Among the Four Hundred,"--a phrase just then coming into notoriety,--"The Society Calendar," etc., to Mrs. Pallinder's house-party. That lady herself, her establishment, her clothes, her diamonds had provided us with gossip, as I have endeavoured to show, for the past two years. But if we were inured to Mrs. Pallinder, Miss Muriel Ponsonby-Baxter was something new. Everyone entertained for her; it was a matter of pride with us to give our English girl-visitor an unapproachably "good time," to prove to her how much the best country in this best of all possible worlds America was for the young, well-born, well-mannered, good-looking, and happy--ourselves, in short. Not one of us had the slightest acquaintance with English society; but we were confident our own was immeasurably better. Twenty-five years ago, it must be remembered, there was a chillier feeling between the two countries; and, of course, our provincialism accented it. The eagle ramped upon his perch; the lion suffered a deal of tail-twisting; hands across the sea were not quite so fervent in their clasp then as now. Our demagogues flung about dark hints concerning the machinations of the "Cobden Club." American protectionists, American free-traders bellowed themselves purple in the face from the stump in defence of their several creeds, and strangely enough, found in England equally an awful example, and a beacon-light of progress! The last, for obvious reasons, was a very unpopular view; in those Arcadian days the main diversion of a certain class of our politicians was the ferocious baiting of perfidious Albion. The Oriental-war scares, the race-problems, the anti-trust, and anti-railroad agitations of to-day must cause these amiable jingoes--a name, by the way, which they never heard--to turn in their graves. Bless thee, Bottom, how art thou translated! In that year, the Pendleton Civil-Service Reform Bill was the most important measure before the two Houses; and "to the victors belong the spoils," was the cry most frequently raised against it. That admirable argument, at once so condensed and so forcible, what respectable person would dare to utter it to-day? Blaine was alive; Tilden was alive; Ben Butler was governor of Massachusetts, he of fragrant memory, house-cleaner of New Orleans, promulgator of Regulation 19--or was it 29? Iram indeed is gone with all his rose, and Ben and all the rest along with him; and we have ceased, at a woeful expense, to be provincial. We were not bothering our heads _then_, about tropical canals and the Philippines--oh, all-but-forgotten Golden Age!
We were not always certain what sort of impression we were making on Muriel; and, however eager we might have been to find out, there are some questions any girl would go to the scaffold rather than ask. But I know that on one point we were intolerably vain; perhaps that vanity was the most honest, creditable, endearing quality we possessed; and something of the same feeling stirs me even now. Where, where on this globe, we asked ourselves triumphantly, would Muriel find anything to match the ready deference, the kind, half-humorous, wholly charming devotion of the American man to his womankind? Indeed, it was plain to see she was unused to this Sir Walter Raleigh attitude; she was as much puzzled as pleased by it. I think we were somewhat disposed to patronise her; and Kitty Oldham declared openly she didn't believe Miss Baxter had ever had an offer in her life. She was an exceptionally handsome girl; she must have had a far wider social experience than ours; but, for all that, and in spite of her size and the splendid unconscious ease of her bearing, we detected in her a curious timidity. It suited her. Had she attempted to imitate the brisk, fearless, autocratic American girl, she would have been merely a big hoyden. There was, after all, something sweet in her naïve tactlessness, her awkward conscientious efforts at adapting herself to ways she could not understand, and perhaps at heart, did not really like. To one of us, at least, the association was not without profit. I used to feel that someone ought in conscience to explain Mrs. Botlisch to Muriel, to apologise for that really terrible old woman; the irritating thing was that Muriel accepted her without comment, exactly as she accepted the rest of us--as if, I thought with annoyance, we were all freaks together! "Mazie's grandmother is not--well--er--she's not at all--you know?" I said, feeling, notwithstanding this public-spirited effort, a little embarrassed under Muriel's direct, serious gaze. "Mrs. Botlisch is--well, she's really not--er--very good style, nobody else here is like her--you must have noticed it. She's awfully _common_--of course, we didn't know much about the Pallinders before they came here--nobody knows how they--they got _in_, you see----"
"I shouldn't think you'd come to the house so much if you feel that way," said Muriel. "I wouldn't."
She did not mean it as a rebuke; she was only saying, as usual, precisely what she thought. But all at once, with the uncompromising harshness of youth, I saw and denounced myself inwardly for a petty groundling, eating people's bread with a covert sneer, and parading their shortcomings before a stranger. No, Muriel would not have done it. _Noblesse oblige!_
The Pallinders, to their honour be it said, never seemed to be ashamed of Mrs. Botlisch. They had their notions of _noblesse oblige_, too, strange as that may sound. Reflecting upon it now, I see certain a heroism in the respect they paid that dreadful, screeching, vile-tongued old termagant. I have known prosperous, reputable families, who paid the butcher and thought it a sin to play cards, wherein the unornamental older members were not treated with one-half the consideration these kind-hearted, conscienceless outlaws bestowed on Mrs. Botlisch. She was a fat harridan of seventy with a blotched red face, a great, coarse, husky voice like a man's and thick hands, the nails bitten down to the quick. She liked to go about without corsets or shoes in a shapeless gaberdine she called a double-gown--not too clean at that. She kept a bottle of whisky on her mantelpiece; she had a disconcerting habit of whisking out her teeth and laying them down wherever she chanced to be; you might come upon them grinning amongst Mazie's music on the piano, or under the sofa-cushions. She frankly enjoyed a loose story, and made a point of telling them in mixed companies of young people. She alternately bullied the servants and gossiped with them in the kitchen; once I most inopportunely happened upon Mrs. Botlisch engaged in a battle-royal with one of the chambermaids over some trifle--a broken dish, perhaps--in the pantry. Fortunately, I could not understand one word they uttered; and after a little, Mrs. Pallinder came, looking quite grey over her handsome resolute face, and took her mother away still shrieking hideous abuse. "Ma is so eccentric," she said to me afterwards, with a ghastly smile; and some feeling, of mingled horror and compassion, withheld me from reporting the wretched scene. In most households, these undesirable parents can be thrust, gently or not, into the background; in fact, very many parents retire thither of their own accord. But Mrs. Botlisch was not of that type.
"I like to set in the parlour an' see the young folks," she said. "Mirandy she don't want me to, but I says to her, 'Mirandy,' says I, 'don't you worry. I'm goin' ter keep my uppers an' lowers in, 'less I git a fish-bone er a hunk o' meat under the plate at dinner, an' I ain't a-goin' to no bed till I git sleepy,' says I. She says, 'Ma, I'm afraid you won't be comf'ble with your--you know--on all evenin'.'" (Here she gave J. B. a poke in the side and dropped her left eyelid). "'Lord love you, don't set there lookin' so innercent like you'd never saw a woman undress in yer life--don't come that over _me_, young feller. She says, 'Ma, I'm afraid you'll feel kinder tight an' uncomf'ble with 'em on all evenin' 'long as you ain't used to wearin' 'em much in the daytime,' she says. 'Land!' says I. 'Mirandy,' I ain't squoze inter my cloze by main stren'th the way Mazie is. 'F I feel uncomf'ble, I'll just undo the bottom buttons of my basque an' I'll be all right, you see.'"
And there she sat, true to her word, creaking in her black silk and bugles (with the bottom buttons undone!), perspiring greasily over her fat red face; and shouting rough, humorous, and frequently shrewd criticism at our amateurs during rehearsal until midnight, when we went out to the dining-room for oysters, egg-nogg, and the too lavish entertainment of Colonel Pallinder's sideboard. The first time this occurred Teddy Johns retreated precipitately from the table, and, being sought, was discovered at last, pallidly reclining on the library lounge.
"I'm all right, old man," he said feebly. "Just a minute, please. I couldn't stand seeing old Mrs. Botlisch wallop down those oysters, that's all."
There lies before me now a square of rough paper (designedly rough), with jagged edges (designedly jagged), tinted in water colours an elegant cloudy blue, with a butterfly, or some such insect, painted in one corner, and a slit diagonally opposite through which we stuck a single rosebud, as I remember. Slanting across the sheet in loose gilt lettering I read "Programme," and a date beneath. This confection represented days of effort and ingenuity on the part of those young ladies among my contemporaries who painted china, or were otherwise "artistic." Some of them took the "Art Amateur," at a ruinous expenditure; that publication has long since gone the way of all flesh and most print, in company, it would appear, with the amateurs for whom it was destined. Nobody is either "artistic" or amateurish any more. We did the jagging with a meat-saw, I believe--what a spectacle for our accomplished posterity!
If I reverse the sheet, I find upon the other side, in a correct angular hand (it may well be my own, for angularity was much the fashion in those days; and the inartistic ones let what aid they could to the task of programme-making), I find, I say, the
CAST OF CHARACTERS
An Opera in Two Acts.
William Tell Mr. Archer Baldwin Lewis Arnold von Winkelreid Mr. James Hathaway Walter Furst Mr. Julian Todd Melcthal Mr. Appleton Wingate Gessler Mr. James Smith Rudolph Mr. John Porter Ruodi Mr. Joseph Randall McHenry Leuthold Mr. Henry Barnes Smith Matilda Mr. Gwynne Peters Mrs. Tell Mr. Oliver Hunt Mrs. Gessler Mr. Theodore E. Johns Jemmy, Tell's son Mr. Junius Brutus Breckinridge Taylor Chorus of Peasants, Knights, Pages, Ladies, Hunters, Soldiers, etc. Mr. Robert Carson
Scene: The Schactenthal Waterfall.
The uninformed might very well inquire, as did Doctor Vardaman, what under Heaven Arnold von Winkelreid was doing in this _galère_? He appeared among the other historical personages with a baseball-catcher's padded guard tied about his chest, and stuck full of enormous arrows; at one time or another every young man in the cast, including Jimmie Hathaway himself, was overheard laboriously explaining to Muriel that it was "all just nonsense, you know; of course Winkelreid didn't have anything to do with Tell--but there was an Arnold in the cast of the real opera--and then there was that funny old piece about Arnold von Winkelreid in McGuffey's Reader, you know: 'Make way for liberty, he cried, make way for liberty, and died!' and he somehow seemed to fit in pretty well with the rest of the foolishness. They had thought of having Casabianca, too, but gave it up," and so on and so on.
"Don't pay any attention to their excuses, Miss Baxter," said the doctor fiercely, yet shaking with laughter. "It's all miserable horse-play--vandalism--desecration. 'Guillaume Tell' is a beautiful opera, the creation of a great musical genius. I've seen Sonntag and Lablache in it; it ought to be sacred from these barbarians--you hear me, boys, barbarians!" He menaced them with a closed fist; and they went on shamelessly:
_Gessler_ (_in a loud voice_)--Who are these fellows?
_Rudolph_--My lord, these are Swiss.
_Gessler_ (_louder, pointing to Tell_)--Who's that fellow with the freckles?
_Rudolph_--My lord, that is a dotted Swiss.
_Gessler_ (_louder still_)--Take away that dashed Swiss!
_Rudolph_--My lord, I said _dotted_.
_Gessler_ (_very loud_)--Well, I said _dashed_----
It took little enough to make us laugh, for we thought all that very funny indeed. And an interesting point might be made of the fact that "William Tell," whether the men had greater abilities, or easier parts, or from whatever reason, was, as a whole, far and away superior to the play in which the girls appeared. Doctor Vardaman, for all his old-time gallantry, betrayed his preference more than once; but it sometimes seemed to me as if the old gentleman took a malign satisfaction in viewing our performances, theatrical and otherwise, as one who should stand by and observe the antics of so many apes with an amused detachment.
"Of course, of course, I enjoy the comedy. Don't you want me to enjoy the comedy?" he said when I taxed him, and eyed me sidelong with his discomfiting grin. The doctor was a queer old man; not the least evidence of his queerness was the interest he displayed in our affairs. He watched us drill for "William Tell" and "Mrs. Tankerville's Tiara," day by day, appearing to find therein unfailing entertainment. To be sure he had little else to do; he had long retired from practice, and, as he said of himself, was the weak-minded victim of his own whims. With all his oddities, we were fond of him; and his advice and suggestions were a real help to such of us as took ourselves and our parts seriously. The stage was one of his many hobbies; he had collected a huge library of books relating to it; had seen all of the celebrated actors of his day and known not a few of them; and could recall Laura Keane in the very rôle which Muriel was now essaying.
"Do you remember what she wore, Doctor?" Mazie asked him, characteristically enough, by the way.
"White gauze, I think," said the old gentleman, considering. "Yes, it was white gauze, and a touch of green about it somewhere."
"Huh! Touch o' green was a fig-leaf, I s'pose--hope so, anyhow!" said Mrs. Botlisch, and "wallopped" down another oyster. She _was_ a terrible old woman.
"I don't know what we'd do without you, doctor," said Mazie precipitately. "You know so much about it--what we ought to do, I mean, and how the whole thing ought to go. It's ever so kind of you----"
"Not at all--the kindness is on your side," said the doctor. He glanced about with a smile in which there lurked a whimsical melancholy. "I don't aspire to the post of guide, philosopher, and fr----"
"Talkin' o' guides," old Mrs. Botlisch interrupted him. "Ever hear that story 'bout the English feller that went aroun' Niagry Falls with a guide, out to Table Rock an' Goat Island, and down under th' Falls an' everywheres, an' when they got through, he took an' wrote in th' visitors' book, 'Why am I like Desdemona?' That's th' white girl that married a nigger in one o' these here plays, you know. He took an' wrote, 'Why am I like Desdemona? Becuz----'"
"Ahem!" interrupted Doctor Vardaman, with extraordinary vehemence. "You were asking me for the address of the man that sells make-up boxes, one of you the other day. I meant to bring it with me to-night, but forgot. Any time you want, you can stop at my house, and in case I'm out, ask Huddesley, I left it with him. It's Kryzowski--bowski--wowski--some such unpronounceable Russian name, and his shop is somewhere on Sixth Avenue, I think, but I can't exactly remember."
All of which speech the doctor delivered in a rapid and vigorous outburst of words, not pausing until he was quite out of breath; and even then he had the air of one skirting by a hair's-breadth some desperate verge.
"I'll stop in to-morrow," said J. B. "Huddesley isn't likely to get mixed up about it, is he?"
"Huddesley? Oh, no, trust _him_. Besides I'll leave it written down. But Huddesley is perfectly reliable--a remarkable man, that--never had a such a servant is my house--he's really unusual."
"Snake in th' grass--don't tell _me_!" Mrs. Botlisch grunted. She had taken a bitter prejudice against the doctor's man-servant; partly, no doubt, because although he was a good deal about the house, coming and going on the doctor's errands, he had managed to avoid both her bullying and her patronage. There is nothing more offensive than the servant whose manners are better than our own. And Huddesley's manners were perfect in his degree; he was English, we supposed from the short fragment of his history we had heard, and had not been long enough abroad to lose the insular standard of domestic service, and the insular traditions of class.
"Huddesley'll get spoiled if you don't look out, Doctor," Colonel Pallinder warned him. "None of my affair, of course, but, pardon me, too much notice and perhaps too much pay----"
"I know some of 'em that ain't sufferin' from _that_ anyhow!" growled the old woman pointedly.
"I believe ma thinks we ought to give all these lazy darkies as much as we spend on ourselves," said Mrs. Pallinder with an indulgent laugh. "As if they weren't eating us out of house and home already! But William's right, doctor, Huddesley will be spoiled if we're not all more careful. A white servant can't stand petting and familiarity the way black ones do; sooner or later he'll presume on it. Did you know that all these boys have been going down to your house to get Huddesley to hear them their parts?"
"It's my fault, I began it," J. B. explained, reddening. "I said to Ted that if he wanted to know how an English butler behaved he'd better get a few pointers from Huddesley. Huddesley'd make an ideal 'Jenks,' you know, as far as looks go, I mean. He's the real thing in butlers. And it's funny, he's got ever so many good ideas about _business_, you know, and all that. But we won't do it any more if you'd rather not, Doctor."
"Pooh, you can't spoil a man like that," the doctor said. "Reverence for class is born in 'em; it runs in the blood. That's what I admire about these English servants--their perfect self-respect, and idea of the dignity of their own position, without presuming on yours."
"It's awfully convenient having him to prompt anyhow," said Mazie, who needed a great deal of prompting. "Nobody wants to sit and hold an old prompt-book and watch for mistakes. What bothers me is all those funny little pairs of letters '_r.u._' and '_cross over_' and '_sits right_' scattered all through your speech like hiccups. I don't know what _r.u._ means, anyhow."
"Huddesley says it means _retire up_--walk toward the back of the stage, you know."
"Well, but I thought you oughtn't _ever_ to turn your back on the audience."
"Depends on yer figger, I guess," said Mrs. Botlisch. "Some girl's backs and fronts ain't no different--they're flat both sides like a paper doll!"
"Huddesley has aspirations," said Doctor Vardaman briskly. "I discovered that some time ago. At first I thought he wanted to study medicine; he used to be forever poking about my little room, pretending to dust and arrange the bottles, and asking all manner of questions. But since this business of your plays has come up, he's been tremendously interested in them. The fellow has some education, you know. I've found him two or three times reading in my library, with the feather duster under his arm--perfectly absorbed. He was very mortified the first time I caught him at it, and humbly begged my pardon. 'Hi can't resist a book, sir, sometimes,' he said. 'Hi wouldn't wish to be thought to presoom, but Hi've tastes hother than my lot can gratify; and Hi've 'ad 'opes--but,' says he, with a sigh, 'that's hall hover and gone, now.'"
"Kind of stagey, wasn't he?"
"Yes, of course, he must have got that out of some book. Once in a while, he uses very fine language, indeed, and then I know he's been reading. I said, 'Well, Huddesley, it's a pity, if feeling that way, you can't raise yourself as high as you choose here in America.' I only said it to draw him out, you know. He shook his head mournfully. 'No, sir,' says he, 'Hi won't never be anything but a butler--a servant pourin' out wine an' blackin' boots for the rich and light-'earted like yourself, sir.' I asked him what he would like to be if he could begin over again. 'A hactor, sir,' said he respectfully. 'Hi feel the stirrin' of Hart within my buzzom.' 'That's where we commonly feel 'em, Huddesley,' says I. 'Hi don't mean 'eart, sir, beggin' your parding, Hi mean Hart--with a Hay, sir--that's what Hi feel, but they'll never 'ave no houtlet, sir, Hi'm a butler--the die is cast----' and then I escaped into the garden to laugh."
"That isn't all funny--it's pathetic too," said J. B. thoughtfully. "Poor devil!"
At least two people in the room looked at the young man with a quicker interest--Doctor Vardaman and Muriel, the doctor with an odd and pleased surprise in his keen quizzical face. As for Muriel, she and J. B. looked at one another pretty often, as I remember. Mrs. Botlisch raised her hard old features from a close inspection of her empty, swept and scraped platter, and fixed the doctor with a little twinkling porcine eye.
"How long you had him anyway, Doc.?"
"Three months, or so, I believe."
"Oh, no, it's not that long, Doctor," exclaimed Mazie. "I remember Huddesley came after the holidays, just as I was starting to Washington. That was a little after the Charity Ball. I put off going so as not to miss it. I remember about Huddesley because you had just got rid of that awful man that had d.t's and came up here with an axe wanting to kill somebody."
"Huddesley's arrival raised the tone of our neighbourhood appreciably," said the doctor, with a laugh. Doctor Vardaman's men were a byword in the community. Men of every colour and nationality had drifted through his hands; it was a long procession of lazy, drunken, thieving rascality, or honesty so abysmally stupid and incompetent as to be equally worthless. "I'll never let him go, now I've got him," said the old gentleman. "I have a fellow-feeling for all you ladies that keep house. Rather than lose him, I'd give him everything I own even unto the half of my substance."
"He'll git more'n that 'fore he's through with ye," said Mrs. Botlisch. "You young Taylor feller,"--she always called J. B. and in fact all the young men that frequented the house, by the last name--"you'd better git that bottle o' rye away from Johns. He's had about enough, 'f _I'm_ any jedge--an' I reckon I'd oughter be, all th' drunks I've handled----"
"Pioneer times, pioneer times," said the colonel, hastily. "Er--um--the ice to Mr. Johns, Sam."
"When Mirandy's pa useter came home loaded," pursued the old woman, unmoved, "many's the time I've shet him in th' woodshed, him hollerin' bloody murder--'Let him holler!' says I. Time mornin' come I'd git him under th' pump--oh my, yes, I've had lots of experience."
"Pioneer times," said Colonel Pallinder again desperately. (But J. B. _did_ take the bottle away from Teddy's neighbourhood.) "Pioneer days! Good God, gentlemen, when I think of what men and women had to contend with then, I'm ashamed, yes, ashamed of the luxuries we live in. You were saying, Doctor----"
"About--ahem--oh--ah--yes, about Huddesley," said the doctor, who had not been saying anything. "I can't always make the fellow out--I'm rather puzzled----"
"Speakin' o' puzzles," said old Mrs. Botlisch, "I was goin' to tell ye that one 'bout th' English feller that the guide was takin' 'roun' Niagry Falls. After they had gone down under th' Falls, an' out to Goat Island, and everywheres else, ye know, he took an' wrote in th' visitors' book, 'Why am I like Desdemona?' (That's the white girl that goes off with a nigger in th' play, ye know). He wrote just that: 'Why am I like Desdemona?' Th' answer is: 'Becuz----'"
This time, in spite of an outburst of coughing that threatened serious results to Doctor Vardaman, in spite of a fusillade of loud irrelevant talk from the colonel, in spite even of Teddy Johns' quite unintentionally falling over a chair, this time, I say, we all heard the answer!
Not long since I had a visit from Gwynne Peters' oldest boy. The little fellow is twelve, and, as I abstained from any embarrassing and inconvenient demonstrations of affection or even friendship, we became quite intimate, and I believe he enjoyed himself after a fashion. He is not like his father, neither so delicate in body, nor so gentle and winning as I remember the elder Gwynne--but, in truth, I do not know if I ever found the way to his heart, with all my diplomacy; the unconquerable barrier of age divided us; childhood looks with so solidly-rooted a suspicion on our efforts to approach it; it guards its quaint jungles, its enchanted gardens with so jealous a care that we may well despair of ever touching hands. And for that matter I sometimes think we are all strangers more or less to the end, and our nearest intimacy only a painful interchange of signals in a fog. Little Gwynne tolerated me, and I soon ceased to ask anything else. He approved of cookies and the works of Mr. Alger; as these latter immortal productions do not form a part of my library, we were obliged to call upon the Carnegie one a few squares distant, whence he requisitioned them at the rate of a new Alger volume about every twenty-four hours until the supply was exhausted, when we began on Mr. Henty. This fell out very luckily, as I had discovered him asleep in a corner over "Ivanhoe," and I should not have wished him to carry away so unfavourable an impression of my resources in the way of entertainment. But what I most observed in him was an indifference to, or ignorance of, his family history and traditions that seemed abnormal in a Gwynne, however remotely descended. I asked him if he had ever been to see his great-grandfather's portrait in the State-House? The moment was ill-chosen, as he was profoundly occupied with a new variety of top, but he absently answered: "Yep."
"What did you think of it?"
"Nothin'," said this renegade, with astounding callousness, bending himself to the top; it was warranted to spin five minutes at a stretch, and when he had got it started, and was timing it by my watch, he felt his mind released from cares enough to volunteer indulgently: "Father's got a big photograph of it in his office. It's all yellow and fly-specky, because it's so old, you know. I guess it's 'most as old as father--or maybe _you_."
"Doesn't your father ever tell you about him--what a great man he was, and all?"
"What!" said I, then, unable to believe my ears. "Doesn't he ever talk to you about Governor Gwynne? Doesn't anybody ever tell you to remember that you're a Gwynne?" The top was reeling to its fall, and he was very busy, and, as I could see, justifiably annoyed at my persistence, but this question caused him to look up sharply with the quick suspicion of his twelve years.
"Aw, you're in fun!" he said, eying me shrewdly. "Father wouldn't talk guff like that! And anyway my name's Peters--Gwynne's just my given name--so it wouldn't be true, see?" Guff like that! These were his sacrilegious words. Nothing could have more stingingly brought home to me the lapse of years, or better illustrated the changes in men's minds. And I might here insert some valuable reflections on the vanity of human achievement, and the hollow and transitory character of fame, if I were not uneasily conscious that Governor Gwynne's renown, even in his heyday, was not of a kind to fill the four corners of the universe; it was only in the opinion of his family that it reached those magnificent proportions. Now he and his deeds are forgotten, even by them; the fires are all dead on that fantastic altar which the Gwynnes tended for so many years with so much misplaced zeal. It is not likely, I think, that little Gwynne will ever be troubled by the problems confronting his father in March of the year of Grace, 1883.
In fact, during this time, Gwynne might have been seen any day pondering gloomily before his empty desk, under his grandfather's grimly searching scrutiny, by the hour. The Pallinder business had reached a stage when he could no longer ignore it; yet he could not bring himself to any active measures. Gwynne knew as much as anybody about the colonel's affairs; he had heard certain subdued but very disagreeable rumours. Templeton himself had brought them to him months earlier with a countenance of fright and perplexity. It had not cleared much when he left the office; the little agent could not understand what ailed his patron. He had never known Gwynne to be so indifferent, so careless of the rights and feelings of the other heirs; it was clean out of his character, and Templeton felt with dismay that his surest prop had been removed. If Mr. Peters was becoming as queer as the rest of them, Templeton was almost ready to resign from the management of the Gwynne estate; single-handed, he could not "hold up his end," as he phrased it. In the years of their association he had conceived something like a real affection for the young man, and this change obscurely alarmed and distressed him. Gwynne, about everything else so open, so resourceful, so patient in the control of his difficult kindred, so genially shrewd, would not allow any discussion of the Pallinder delinquency; he shifted the subject, or turned upon Templeton with a manner of such forbidding reticence that the agent shrank discomfited. "Oh, well, Mr. Peters, I--I guess I'd better leave you alone to run your tenants and the family," he would say humbly, reaching for his hat in an apologetic confusion. "I--I ain't ever made such a success of it that I've any call to argue, or advise _you_ how to do," and so would shuffle meekly from the room, leaving the young man, had he known it, in a miserable humiliation. Time and again, Gwynne had made the resolve to have it out with the colonel; and time and again had turned aside from the act, like a hunter refusing the leap. He bargained with himself, loathing his own weakness; he would go and see Colonel Pallinder on such a day at such an hour; he would say to him thus and so. The day came and the hour--why was it that something invariably prevented him? Once he even got so far as the door of Colonel Pallinder's office--and it was locked. The office was closed for the day: it was late Saturday afternoon, and in his heart Gwynne knew the office would be closed--knew it before he left his own. He turned away in a flash of angry contempt of himself--of Pallinder--of the whole shabby business. Yet the colonel was safe for that day; you cannot scour the town for a man, like a bailiff; and Gwynne certainly was not going to follow him to the house, and dun him under the very roof where he himself had received so many hospitalities, such unfailing courtesy and kindness, within hearing of the fellow's innocent wife and daughter! What had Mrs.--ahem!--what had those two poor women done? Very likely they knew nothing whatever about Pallinder's indebtedness; they were both of them touchingly ignorant of money matters. This was strictly an affair for men--he would see Pallinder Monday. And so Gwynne strode away home, to dinner and a change of dress, and thence, by the most natural sequence in the world, to the Lexington and Amherst cars, and out to the Pallinders'! In one of his spasms of conscience he had refused their urgent invitation to the house party--the irony of his position was apparent, even to him; but he balanced the scales by going out night after night to the rehearsals of "William Tell," wherein he bore his part with a feverish enthusiasm that surprised his friends.
It might have been noticed, but, as a matter of fact, I am sure hardly anybody did notice, that Gwynne was the only one of the family who figured in the theatricals, or, in the pungent everyday phrase, had anything to do with the Pallinders. Marian Lawrence had been asked to the house party, and had eagerly promised to come, but in a day or so Mrs. Pallinder received a charming, apologetic, and graceful little note from Mrs. Lawrence, declining on Marian's behalf, for some vague reason. The truth is, Mrs. Horace Gwynne, on hearing of the plan, had once again ordered out her barouche and driven over to the Lawrences', upright and stern, with the stark face of Doom. And after a heated conference with the mother, the note had been despatched; Mrs. Lawrence sat down and cried heartily with the disappointed girl when that dire act had been performed--but neither of them thought of disobeying Cousin Jennie. When they met Mrs. Pallinder face to face coming out of church next Sunday morning they were both a good deal flustered; they flinched before Mrs. Pallinder's steadily radiant smile, and were devoutly glad, I think, to escape from her neighbourhood into the crowd. Archie Lewis walked home with Marian, and raised his hat as a carriage spun by--"That was the Pallinders with Miss Baxter," said Archie, observing with a passing surprise that his companion made no sign of recognition. "Was it? I didn't see them," said Marian stoutly, looking straight in front of her with very red cheeks. Not so long before, Mazie had been one of her most intimate friends. Look on that picture, and now on this! What was the matter with all the Gwynnes? Little old Eleanor and little old Mollie, on seeing the colonel less than half a square off, advancing upon them, already uncovered, courtly, bland, with outstretched hand--the two old sisters, I say, fairly took to their heels up a side street, with scared and shrinking faces. They gathered up their virgin skirts and fled shudderingly as from contamination. Mrs. Horace Gwynne, alone of them all, possessed the courage of her convictions. Erect in her barouche, she encountered and returned Mrs. Pallinder's smile with a salute so casual, so perfunctory that it suggested the recognition she would have bestowed upon her cook in event of a public meeting with that functionary. Mrs. Pallinder bit her lips; she reddened through her rouge--and the next moment was gaily bowing to another acquaintance as if life meant nothing to her but this pleasant exchange of civilities. "Of course I never would deliberately _cut_ anybody," Mrs. Horace explained later; "that sort of behaviour is childish and ill-tempered. But I flatter myself I know as well as anyone how to put people in their proper place, and intimate my opinion of them, without talking or acting like a washerwoman. I wanted Mrs. Pallinder to understand that while I was absolutely indifferent to such a matter as the back-rent she owed me and every one of us, I did not approve of the _principle_ of the thing. She knew perfectly well what I meant. And at receptions or wherever she happened to be in the same company with me afterwards, I simply didn't see her at all! I was always talking to someone else, or had my back turned. She understood--a _person_ like that!" I dare say Mrs. Pallinder did understand; she was not without some previous experience, and it is likely deserved every snub and stab which Mrs. Horace, with the just severity of a good and upright woman, inflicted on her. So must we all lie upon the beds we make.
This was the secret of the Gwynnes' altered demeanour; it was, of course, not the failure to pay them their rent to which they objected, but the appalling _principle_, or lack of principle, it indicated. At least, that is what they all and severally declared afterwards. At the time, with characteristic Gwynne reticence, they kept their troubles to themselves; no set of conspiring revolutionists could have been more close-mouthed. Their behaviour in this instance was of a piece with the futile pride that prompted their efforts to distract the public mind from Caroline--from Steven--from Sam Peters. What! Drag their noble name through the mud and riot of a Common Pleas suit? Associate their house and the memory of Governor Gwynne with a debasing scandal about Money! I should not care to reveal the arts by which Gwynne put off the hour of retribution for the Pallinders, playing upon these familiar strings with a skill he himself despised. Even he, in the end, sounded the note once too often, as we have seen in the case of old Steven, to whom the sum, small as it was, meant more than to the other members of the family. For Steven, once away from the blandishments of Mrs. Pallinder, naturally reverted in the shortest possible space of time to his previous mood of brooding indignation. He had parted from Doctor Vardaman with a confused notion that everything was going smoothly--that Gwynne would settle with the Pallinders in a few days--a week, perhaps, at furthest. It had not been stated in so many words; none the less Steven carried away these ideas planted within him either by Mrs. Pallinder's soothing flatteries, or by the doctor's well-meant efforts at comforting and diverting him. He waited a day or two, eagerly inspecting every mail; he spoke grandly of his expected remittances to his tolerant country neighbours, and alluded to Gwynne with a large air as his man of business. But as the days passed and his man of business made no sign, Steven's slender allowance of patience gave out once more. He wrote to Gwynne, and waited a fevered while for an answer. Wrote again, and with the letter, addressed and stamped, in his pocket, abandoned his design, and took the first train for town. It was with a fierce and resolute face that he stalked into the office that afternoon--and Gwynne had gone out! This delay, to speak in high metaphorical terms which would have delighted Steven's own taste, did not arrest the falling of the levin-brand; it only increased its momentum. In proportion as the moments lapsed, his wrath gathered head. As it happened, he found himself in appropriate company, with his grievance; when he entered the room there sat his cousins, the two Misses Gwynne, with their pale, furtive, startled faces framed in curls and satin rosettes, in their rigid bombazine skirts, Miss Gwynne tremblingly clasping an umbrella, Miss Mollie fingering a foolscap document whereon, if Steven had cared to look, he might have seen some arithmetical calculations similar to his own. They started up, fluttering and ejaculating at his appearance; then sank down disappointed, yet, probably, a little relieved. The two not only dressed, but thought and acted in couples; either one was helpless without the other; and both now wore an air of terrified resolution such as a pair of mice, a pair of pullets might have presented in some desperate crisis of the trap or butcher's knife. Even in their day, a day which recognised but one career for respectable women, which knew not women's colleges or bachelor-maids, or what we call the professional equality of the sexes, Eleanor and Mollie were caricatures of spinsterhood; we looked upon them with as much pity as amusement, I believe. This was a tremendous step for them to take; and horror laid a throttling hold on both at the idea (occurring to them simultaneously) that Cousin Steven might think them indiscreet or unladylike. But Steven was much too preoccupied to spare a thought to their confusion. "Huh, girls!" said he, sat down in Gwynne's revolving-chair, and glowered absently out of the window, beating a tattoo on the desk, and framing the sentences in which he would open his arraignment. "Waiting to see Gwynne?" he inquired, rousing himself with a momentary curiosity after a while.
The twins murmured inarticulately, looking at each other.
"So'm I," said Steven, scowling, and they might all three have proceeded to some explanations, but at that moment, upon this amiable family-group, strolled in Archie Lewis, on some errand from his father's office, debonair, whistling his song from "William Tell," and very much taken aback at sight of the company into which he had stumbled. "It was a perfect nest of Gwynnes," he said, graphically describing the episode. "I felt like Daniel in the lions' den."
"Oh--ah--Mr. Gwynne--er--Miss Gwynne----" said he, stopping short in embarrassment. "Ah--um--Gwynne's gone out, I see."
"He'll be back in a few minutes," stammered Miss Eleanor, after a moment of fearful indecision.
"The office-boy said so," added Miss Mollie faintly. "It's almost half-an-hour now."
"Well, I guess I won't wait--if you'll be so kind as to tell him I was here? And I'll just put this on his desk under the paperweight--he'll understand when he sees it," said Archie, depositing his bundle of papers on the desk as he spoke, and very ready to beat a retreat. But Steven, eying him, suddenly growled out, "You're Judge Lewis' son, ain't you?"
"Why, yes--you know my father, of course--I've often heard him speak of you," said Archie, conventionally, edging off.
"Sit down," said Steven, imperiously motioning. "Gwynne'll be along in a little. You ought to be a lawyer, young man--your father's a lawyer. I haven't seen him for years--I guess he's a good deal changed. Law kind of changes people; it's seldom a man takes it up and stays honest. Sit down; Gwynne'll be here presently."
("And so," said Archie, "I sat down. The fact is, the old fellow looked sort of queer, and though I never heard of his _doing_ anything, I didn't much like to leave him alone with those two old ladies--you never can tell, you know.")
"I'd like to see the judge," said Steven.
"Why, I'm sure father'd be very pleased----"
Steven waved an impatient gesture. "I'm not particular about seeing _him_," said he--and Archie used to repeat this part of the story in his father's presence with infinite relish--"But I'd like to have his _opinion_, in a matter of--a matter of _debt_!"
The two sisters exchanged a horrified glance; they knew what Steven's errand was, now, and thought he was about to reveal the awful secret, and tarnish the name of Gwynne forever. But that was by no means Steven's intention; he was as tender of the family honour as they, but much more confident of his own knowledge of the world and diplomatic abilities. Archie, upon whose youthfully sharp wits none of this by-play was lost, sat wondering what was to come next.
"This debt--or--er--this indebtedness," said Steven elaborately, "is--er--it should be, in short, collected--that is--er--measures should be taken by which it--could be, in short, collected." He fixed a profound look on the young man, pausing while he considered in what other roundabout terms he could present the situation.
"Is the fellow that owes you responsible--solid, I mean, you know?" asked Archie, beginning to be interested. "If he's on a salary, or got a good business you might attach----"
"I--I--I'm not prepared to state," said Steven, appalled at the briskness of Archie's deductions. "I'm just supposing a case, you understand."
"Oh!" said Archie, suppressing a grin. "Well--ah--are you supposing it to be a large sum, Mr. Gwynne?"
"A debt's a debt," said Steven, with magnificent brevity; he could not resist a sidelong glance at Eleanor and Mollie, commanding their admiration.
"Yes, of course, Mr. Gwynne, but there's a difference between a debt of five dollars and one of five hundred," said Archie peaceably. "If you can come to some kind of compromise, it's generally a great deal better than going to law; you may get a little less than you're entitled to, but you save time and trouble and worry. I suppose I've heard my father say that to a hundred clients."
This view appeared to strike Eleanor and Mollie favourably; something in the half-a-loaf policy appeals with a subtle power to the feminine mind. But Steven's old face reddened; he darted a vengeful glance at this Laodicean councillor.
"Compromise--_nothing_!" he snarled. "I'll see him da--I'll see him farther before I'll compromise!"
"All right--all right, I was just saying that's one way of settling these things," said Archie hastily. "Of course you know what you want, Mr. Gwynne. Trouble is, you go into court with a case, and you never know how long it will take to wind it up--maybe two or three years--that's perfectly irrespective of the rights of the case. Whereas, if you accept some kind of settlement, you--well, in general, you come out ahead of the game," said Archie, falling back on the vernacular.
Oh, wise young judge! The two Misses Gwynne listened to Archie's exposition with respectful awe. I have heard him say with a laugh that at no time in his subsequent career--which has been one of considerable distinction--has he ever felt himself to be exerting so much influence, no, not in his most sustained and vigorous flights of oratory. "I might have been the Almighty, instead of a smart-Alecky boy, by the way those two poor old women were impressed--it was funny--funny and pitiful," he says, and shakes his grizzling head.
"It's--it's very awful to have someone in debt to you, Mr. Lewis," Miss Mollie took courage to say falteringly.
"Not so bad as being in debt to somebody yourself, though," said Archie genially. This well-intended levity was a serious mistake; they shrank--they withered before the dreadful suggestion.
"We--we aren't _that_, Mr. Lewis," cried both old maids in scared chorus. "It's not we that are in debt--it's somebody that owes us----"
"That owes the GWYNNE ESTATE," said Steven ponderously. He had forgot all about his supposititious case, and Archie, who, as he himself might have said, was not born yesterday, had already made a shrewd guess as to the identity of the debtor.
"A debt's a bad business, anyway you fix it," he said easily. "Reminds me of that story father tells of himself when he was a boy borrowing money of their old coloured man to go to the circus with. 'Chile,' says old Mose, 'you's got to 'member this; er debt that ain't paid stahts er _roorback_! You owe me, an' I owe Pete, an' Pete he owes that wall-eyed niggah oveh at the liv'ry-stable, an' lakly Mistah Walleye, _he_ owes somebody else, an' 'twell one of us stahts the payin', nobuddy cyahn't pay--an' thar's your _roorback_!'" Archie laughed. He laughed alone, for this sprightly tale, although he had recited it in a careful imitation of Judge Lewis' best manner, apparently failed to amuse anybody but himself. Perhaps it went too near the truth to be wholly agreeable. "I never realised until that moment," he used to say with a certain naïveté, "what an awful job poor Gwynne Peters had for years with those people. I'll bet nobody knows or ever will know what he put up with!"
His new sympathy put a greater warmth into his greeting when Gwynne at last came in, a few minutes later. Archie, as he explained his errand, noted inwardly that his friend's face was drawn and tired; nor did he wonder much at the grim look Gwynne cast around the waiting family-circle.
"You're late, Gwynne," said old Steven, fierce-eyed under his shaggy brows.
"I know it," said Gwynne, in a harsh voice. "I had to go out to the country this morning, and that put me back with everything."
"You mean to the house? You've been out to the house?" Steven asked eagerly. "You've talked to Pall----?"
Gwynne looked at him steadily. "No, I haven't. I've been out to see Sam. Will you please let me have my chair, Cousin Steven? I want to make a note of this for Judge Lewis."
"It's no matter," said Archie hurriedly, anxious to escape as much on the Gwynnes' account as on his own. ("I was afraid they were in for a regular family-row and I wanted to get out," he said. "Why, you might have known something was wrong with Gwynne, by his coming out about Sam that way. That was the first time I ever knew him to do anything like that!") "Never mind, Gwynne--father said you could keep them as long as you wanted. I'll stop in some other time. You're--you're busy now."
"I wish you'd stay, Arch," said Gwynne desperately. The others sat in a ghastly silence, even the old man. He got up and surrendered the chair to Gwynne without a word. The sisters hardly dared look at each other, in the trepidation produced by the mere mention of Sam's name. Thus carelessly or rashly to flaunt Sam in the public view, and invite attention to him seemed to them nothing less than a profane assault on the temple of the Gwynne reputation--that edifice propped and shored through so many years by what profitless sacrifices, what wrong-headed devotion, what pitiful and heroic subterfuge! At this rate Gwynne might say something about his Aunt Caroline, they thought in quaking panic. The veil of the sanctum was rent in twain--what would he do or say next?
He did nothing; and after Archie had taken his leave, it was Eleanor who quavered, frightened, yet with a real sympathy for him stirring at her elderly maiden heart: "Is anything the matter, Gwynne? With--with Sam, I mean?"
"Yes, Dr. Sheckard sent for me. They think he'll have to be taken away--sent to some other place. He's--well, restless, you know."
"That'll take money, Gwynne," said Steven abruptly. Now that Archie's restraining presence had been removed, he was eager to get to the business in hand, and designed by one or two tactful remarks of this nature to lead up to it. Eleanor and Mollie shrank a little; they were genuinely and self-forgetfully interested in their unfortunate kinsman.
"I'll manage it, somehow," said Gwynne briefly. He put aside his domestic tragedy without much effort; to the observant mind the facility with which we get used to our lives is the one great everyday miracle. Let them visit us with what trials they will, we defeat the gods by our submission. Gwynne addressed himself to the task of the moment with no further thought of Sam. "You wanted to see me about something, Cousin Eleanor?" he asked, foreseeing drearily what the answer would be. But in spite of all their preparation, the direct question startled them; the neat and perfectly ladylike speeches in which Eleanor and Mollie had coached each other for days vanished from their minds--from their one mind, I might almost say. They looked at him with stricken faces. "There is something you wanted to see me about, Cousin Mollie?" repeated Gwynne--and could have cried "For shame!" at the forbidding coldness of his own voice.
"Oh, Gwynne," said Miss Mollie, trembling a good deal, and thrusting her paper at him. "I--we--Eleanor and I don't want you to think that we are unappreciative, or--or that we've any fault to find with the way you've managed our property--you've done everything you could, we _know_ that, Gwynne, and you're always so good to us." Her voice broke, but she went on resolutely. "But I--we don't know whether you've noticed anything lately, or whether any of the others have told you--you're so busy--and we know a woman oughtn't to interfere, or ask questions about her money, Gwynne--and--and we oughtn't to come to your office, we _know_ that--it's no place for a lady--but we're--we're so worried, we couldn't help it. You don't mind our being here, do you? We thought at first we'd write, only it takes so much longer----" here poor Miss Mollie broke down completely and began to cry in a noiseless and unimpeachably ladylike manner into her black-bordered handkerchief. Miss Eleanor took up the thread, having conquered her own tears:
"We thought perhaps you didn't know, Gwynne, if Mr. Templeton hadn't told you, but the Pallinders--that is, Colonel Pallinder, you know, they haven't paid us any rent for our house for over a year--it's on the paper, we added it up--I know it's right, because we did it by long division, and then multiplied to make sure--and it's a hundred and twenty dollars they're owing us, Gwynne, and--and we thought you'd do something, if you knew----"
"Well, you needn't worry--he _won't_!" said Steven, savagely satirical. Both handkerchiefs were going now; but the two old maids scarcely heard Steven; they regarded Gwynne with a heart-breaking confidence.
"Why--yes--I knew about this, Cousin Eleanor," the young man began, with a wretched feeling of humbug. "The only thing about commencing proceedings to recover--bringing suit, you know--is the--the publicity--you might have to appear in court and testify--and it would all be in the papers, like a--a scandal----"
"Oh, scandal--bosh!" cried Steven wrathfully. Eleanor and Mollie were looking at Gwynne with affrighted eyes over their handkerchiefs; but Steven's masculine mind, even if none of the strongest, could not in nature be always wrought upon so easily. These arguments were old to him and their effect was dulled. "Scandal! There's no scandal about going to law to get your money!" he said impatiently, and with justice. "And as for publicity, you could fix all that, if you wanted to, Gwynne, you know it. They could--they could make oath before a notary, couldn't they?"
"We--we wouldn't have to do anything, if he could just get us a _little_ of it--the--the way Mr. Lewis said, you know, Mollie," Eleanor faltered.
"Arch? Did you tell him about this?" Gwynne asked, disturbed.
"No harm if we had," said Steven, contentiously. But Mollie looked at Gwynne in dread. "No, no--we didn't say a thing--we didn't say a word, Gwynne--but he just happened to say that debts were sometimes compromised--you took some, not all, you know, but you didn't have any lawsuit----"
"If we could get a little----" said Eleanor anxiously.
"A _little_! That's like a woman!" said Steven in strong disgust. "A _little_! Don't you pay any attention to 'em, Gwynne!"
"Do you need money, Cousin Eleanor?" asked Gwynne gently.
Mollie began to cry hysterically again.
"We don't want you to advance any, Gwynne," said old Eleanor, trembling and turning very pale. "You've done that before, and--and now you will need all your money for poor Sam. And--and besides, Gwynne, I--I--we're not fit to be trusted with money--I--I was going to tell you, only it's so hard--but we're--we're--we've been very wicked women!" She burst out sobbing. Gwynne might have smiled at this lurid statement from two such timid, plaintive and abjectly respectable old maiden ladies if the circumstances had left him any heart for smiling.
"Why, what's the matter, Cousin Eleanor?--don't cry that way!" he said, distressed. "It's not your fault, you know. Now I promise you I'll see about it--I'll get your money for you--these things are bound to take a little time, you know----"
"Huh! You said that before--you've said it a dozen times!" said Steven. He looked at Gwynne with open suspicion. "Will you come with me over to Pallinder's office now?"
"No, no, don't do that; wait till I've told him everything, Steven--wait a minute Gwynne!" cried Eleanor, laying her damp hands and handkerchief on the young man's arm. "Gwynne!" she said tragically, "it's quite true--we're wicked, wicked women! We took--Mollie and I took all our money--it was that thousand dollars that we got when Cousin Lucien died, you know, that we'd always put away to use if we were sick--or, or got married--or anything, and some besides that we'd saved up--it was last year--and we thought the rent would be coming in all the time, and we counted on that--you know we were quite sure, Gwynne, or we wouldn't have done it--and--and--we'd heard about so many people making money in stocks--Caleb Spicer--that's the vegetable-man we've taken from for ever so long, and I _know_ Caleb's honest--he told us about his brother-in-law--only Caleb didn't tell us about _this_ stock, Gwynne, it wasn't Caleb's fault at all, I wouldn't have you think that--his brother-in-law's stock was some other kind, I don't remember what now. And we--we bought some stock, Gwynne--it was 'Phosphate'--a mine, or was it a well, Sister Mollie? We--we've never had any money, Gwynne, I mean much, you know--and we--we've had to save so, and go without a girl and all--and make our own clothes--and we did so want to have a little more--and we thought it would get to be worth double or treble in the least little while, the way those things do--the way Caleb's brother-in-law's did--and besides Colonel Pallinder said it would----"
"_What!_" said Gwynne. He got up. His face blanched; the likeness to old Samuel Gwynne leaped out upon his features so strong, so lowering, that Eleanor and Mollie involuntarily drew back, appalled. They supposed the confession had angered him. "We didn't know anything about it, Gwynne," they both began. "We didn't know--we didn't mean to do anything wrong!"
"You didn't do anything wrong," said Gwynne, with an effort. "Go on. What has happened?"
"It was all my fault, Gwynne," said Eleanor, generously. "I put it into Mollie's head--it was my fault, all of it."
"It doesn't make any difference about that, Nellie," said Mollie. "I was just as much to blame--you couldn't have done it without me. We--we've found out a terrible thing about 'Phosphate,' Gwynne--it's--it's not going to double at all. We thought we'd get some money right away, and we didn't--and then we waited--and we didn't get any--and we were afraid to ask Colonel Pallinder, for fear it would look as if--as if--we didn't believe in him--don't, Gwynne, don't look that way! And then at last we went down to the Third National where our money used to be; we got Mary to go with us, because we were afraid to go by ourselves, and besides it's not ladylike; she knows your friend, Mr. Taylor, that great big tall young man that's in there back in the brass-wired-off place, you know, Gwynne. And Mary wasn't a bit afraid; she just asked for him, and he came out and took the paper--it's a certificate, isn't it?--and looked at it, and then went back into the president's room, and we heard some men laughing, Gwynne. And then Mr. McAlpine himself came out after a while, and he came up and said he knew we'd believe him, because of his being president, and he was sorry to have to tell us, but that stock wasn't worth the paper it was printed on, and he wanted to know whose advice we had acted on in buying it. So he and Mary and Mr. Taylor and you are the only people that know anything about it, Gwynne, and--and--if it don't go any farther than that, it won't--it won't be a disgrace to you or the family," said poor old Mollie with tears.
Gwynne looked at them helplessly. That these two shy, fearsome, frugal, penny-wise old gentlewomen could have ventured their all upon one reckless stake like the worst and wildest gambler that ever tossed his last dollar on the cloth, was well-nigh inconceivable--but the thing had happened! It was not merely unexpected, it was impossible--and it had happened! If he had been asked to name the members of his family who might most safely be trusted to hoard and watch over their lean inheritance, he would have pitched upon Eleanor and Mollie; he would have supposed them impregnable behind their barrier of timorous ignorance, entrenched forever in the habit of grinding economy--and lo, that very childish inexperience, that thriftless parsimony, had been their undoing!
"Well, but whose advice _did_ you take?" he asked. "You surely asked _somebody_ besides Caleb What's-his-name? Why didn't you come to me--or Cousin Jennie?"
"But Jennie wouldn't have let us do it, you know," said Eleanor, with entire simplicity. "There wouldn't have been any use asking _her_. And we were so _sure_--we thought Colonel Pallinder's advice was enough--we knew you wouldn't go to the house so much if you didn't think he was to be trusted--you wouldn't go where anybody was dishonourable. But I don't believe he _is_ honourable, Gwynne; of course, he's had misfortunes with 'Phosphate' like ourselves, but if he were really honourable, he'd pay our rent."
The young man was silenced; anger and shame surged together within him. The most expert of fencers could not have pricked him closer home than Eleanor with her simple earnestness of belief. Their faith blackened him in his own eyes; their affection stung; their tremulous apologies scourged.
"Never mind, Cousin Mollie--don't cry--I'll take care of you," he said, huskily, at last. "Now let me get a carriage and send you home--and don't worry about your money, nor the rent--I'll get it back for you some way or another----"
Mollie and Eleanor cried harder than ever; mingled with their ghastly visions of ultimate destitution, and much more concretely awful, had been the fear of what Gwynne would say, of what he would think when he heard the shameful news. Their tears comforted them; and I dare say that many a real sinner has touched thus the utter depth, and found there a like unexpected peace.
"Oh, Gwynne, you're so good to us--and with poor Sam on your mind all the time, too--but you never think about yourself at all!"
Gwynne almost smiled. Sam? What care had he given to Sam or Sam's interests of late? And of whom had he been thinking, if not solely of himself?
"Now promise me you won't worry," he said, urgently kind. "I'll fix it all right----"
"You've been saying that a good while to _me_, and nothing's come of it so far," said Steven distrustfully. "Hope you ain't forgetting that it's Sam's money, too, you've been letting go all this year and a half?"
"I'm not forgetting it, Cousin Steven," said Gwynne, turning his haggard eyes on the other. "I won't forget Sam."
After they had gone, Gwynne went back to the office and sat a long while with his set face staring at that other face on the wall, under whose shadow he had lived his whole life, without, as it would seem, profiting much by the association. There he sat--and I think we may very well refrain from spying on him. Doubtless he did full justice upon Gwynne Peters that spring afternoon, alone with his condemning thoughts; doubtless every selfish lie, every mean evasion rose up and confronted him; doubtless he took himself to task more sternly than he deserved, and fancied he sat, a broken man, amongst the ruins of a dishonoured life. Hardly, I am sure, at his present age, can Gwynne look back upon that hour with an equal mind; when it recurs to him, the taste of his folly must yet be bitter on his tongue. He is to-day a successful man, greatly liked, greatly respected. Mrs. Gwynne Peters, I believe, is a very happy wife and mother, not at all jealous, and having no cause to be. But has Gwynne ever mentioned Mrs. Pallinder to her? He might do so without a blush, but he probably feels that it would be an unprofitable business; let the old ashes lie, and let the lost corners grow up with weeds and be forgot. Wives and husbands, if they be wise, will not go prospecting in the remote places of each other's hearts, lest they chance upon some of these disquieting ruins--ugly little cairns, decrepit old tombstones. The days were lengthening, yet it was twilight as Gwynne walked home; street-lamps burned dimly through the foggy spring air, and the newsboys were crying the last edition.
Doctor Vardaman was not a wealthy man; he occupied what he considered the golden mean, the "neither poverty nor riches" of the Preacher; enough to live in a simple, uncalculating ease. His chief pastime, as he used to describe it with some amusement, was the practising of certain small economies whereby he accumulated enough to indulge himself once in a while with an expensive new edition, or rare and equally high-priced old one. Like most professional men, he had no turn for affairs, and no temptation ever assailed him to "take a flyer in Phosphate," or anything else. It was, therefore, without any idea of investment that he scaled the stairs leading to Colonel Pallinder's office a few days after the Misses Gwynne had visited Gwynne's to explain their operations in finance. He was, in fact, bent on an errand that took him past the colonel's door, and into the rear of the Turner Building, where the City Superintendent of Parks and Gardens had a retiring, little, unfrequented room. The doctor wanted to file objections against the setting up of several monumental bill-boards and advertising signs on the vacant lots along the west side of Richmond Avenue, facing number 201. "As a physician in good standing, sir," he expounded vigorously, yet not without a smile, to the City Superintendent, who was an old acquaintance and ex-patient. "I dislike to be confronted every time I open my front door with 'Geary's Purple Pills' for various disorders not commonly referred to in polite society. And as a patriotic citizen, I don't want to see our town disfigured by any such monstrosities!"
Coming away with his point half gained, he once more passed Colonel Pallinder's office door. At that time the Turner Building was at the very core of our business district. There was a bank on the ground floor, the old Third National--J. B. had some position in it, assistant bookkeeper, perhaps. One used to catch fleeting glimpses of the young fellow's big shoulders in shirt-sleeves, and sleek, dark head on an altitudinous stool behind gilt wire screens, through the plate-glass windows on the Market Street side. On his last visit he told me that he had gone down Market Street and walked past those old windows in a sentimental mood, recalling the brave days when he was twenty-one. "I got sixty a month," he said, "and thought I was doing first-rate! It's hard to believe that that old rookery was the best office building in town. We hadn't the beginnings of an idea about fire-proof construction; but there was an elevator, and the bank had a floor of black and red tiles, remember? The passages were so dim the gas had to be kept burning at noon-day. The steam-heating apparatus must have been one of the first put in; anyway it never did very well, and was forever breaking down. I've worked in my overcoat many a time, with a blue nose, figuring away with my stiff fingers. Harvey Smith--you know, Jim's brother--had a law-office with some other young chap, I've forgot who, now, on the third floor, and they set up a sheet-iron cannon-stove to keep from freezing to death. There wasn't much business coming Harvey's way in those days--we used to wonder how he made out."
That part of town is now given over to warehouses and junk-shops. The dirty, draughty hallways of the Turner Building are very empty and melancholy. They used to be handsomely carpeted with cocoa-matting, and in the odd corners one came upon little pyramids of tin spittoons piled up handily by the janitor, either just washed or in need of washing. The place was as busy as an anthill that morning when Doctor Vardaman paced along the cocoa-paths on his way out. Near the top of the stairs--which were generally preferred to the elevator--he encountered Colonel Pallinder ushering from his office somebody with a shawl and bonnet and fat black umbrella, whose outlines in the semi-obscurity appeared vaguely familiar to the old gentleman's casual glance.
"Is that you, Doctor? Come in, come in, sir," said the colonel, promptly relinquishing his client ("In point of fact, he dropped her like a hot potato," the doctor said afterwards), when he saw who was approaching. And, overriding the doctor's demurrer, "Oh, nonsense, I say come _in_, sir! Why, we've got a little business together, forgot that, hey?" He smote Doctor Vardaman a light, humorous, affectionate blow on the shoulder and pushed him into the office. "I don't want to interrupt you----" the doctor began, accepting at last the handsome leather chair his host pulled forward. He glanced about curiously, rolling the colonel's excellent Havana between his fingers. The Pallinders possessed the secret of a delightful spontaneous and whole-souled hospitality; the stranger within their gates was unaffectedly welcome to the best they had--and the best they had was very good indeed; self-denial was a virtue they never needed to practise, apparently. The atmosphere of their house was always kind, gay, care-free, and they themselves highly ornamental. Colonel Pallinder bustled about the doctor with a dozen pleasant little attentions, yet contrived somehow never to be officious. It is a strange thing, and a depressing instance of the inborn tendency to evil of the human race, that it has been within the experience of everyone of us, I think, to lodge with and suffer the kindnesses of many virtuous families to whom the name and the habits of the Pallinders would be anathema--and we shrink from remembering how incredibly we were bored thereby!
The office was a rich, comfortable place. Everything was new; the colonel's mahogany roll-top desk, the leather lounge, which, Doctor Vardaman noted inwardly, had the air of being pretty constantly in use, the brilliantly glazed maps of "Phosphate" territory gleaming on the walls. A great accumulation of mail loaded the desk; the colonel's correspondence was evidently something colossal. There were numberless pamphlets, circulars, prospectuses, and newspaper clippings with rows of figures accompanied by at least half-a-dozen ciphers printed conspicuously at the top. "_The ARKANSAS CONSOLIDATED PHOSPHATE, COAL, AND IRON COMPANY, CAPITAL AND SURPLUS $4,455,000.00._" "_EL PASO & RIO GRANDE EXTENSION_ is the _BEST ZINC STOCK_ on the market at the price. _EL PASO MINES_ have paid over $172,000,000.00 in dividends. We strongly recommend this _STOCK for INVESTMENT_. Ballard & Co., Wall St., N. Y. William Pallinder, Agt." Doctor Vardaman surveyed these and like documents with a kind of satirical interest. "Of course," he used to explain, "I had had more than a suspicion for a good while that 'Phosphate' and 'Zinc' and the colonel's capitalist friends were all more or less mythical. You can't be as intimate as I was with a man like that for two years and not 'get a line on him,' as the boys say. And then there was Steven and that terrific flare-up he had with Gwynne about the rent in my own library. Latterly I had begun to have a pretty well-defined notion that Pallinder was in a tight place--getting near the end of his rope in our town, at least. Along in the fall sometime he had borrowed fifty dollars of me on some pretext; and I not unnaturally supposed that he wanted to corner me into lending him another fifty, or maybe thought that with my hazy ideas about business he might make a sale of 'Phosphate.' I was a good deal interested to see how he would go about it; I'd quite made up my mind not to do either, you know--lend him the fifty, or buy any stock, I mean."
What then was the doctor's astonishment when Colonel Pallinder impressively brought out an elegant dark green Russia-leather purse and card-case combined, with "W. B. P." intertwined in a gold monogram on one side, and from a thick layer of greenbacked bills therein selected a fifty-dollar one and laid it on the old gentleman's knee! Doctor Vardaman stared at it as if it had been a specimen from the flora of another planet.
"Now, now, now, no objections! I _insist_," said the colonel, rather unnecessarily in view of the doctor's dumb surprise. "It's a matter of principle with me, even about such paltry sums as this, that short settlements make long friends," he continued, conveniently oblivious of the fact that he had been in the other's debt for this particular paltry sum more than six months. "Never could understand, sir, how a man can go on owing and owing people simply because he knows they're his friends and won't dun him. That's a queer idea of honesty, seems to me," said the colonel, looking Doctor Vardaman in the eye with a frank and open smile. "You don't come down this way very often, Doctor. I suppose you think all this--" he waved his hand around--"market-place--beasts at Ephesus, hey?"
"I'm a--I'm a little out of place, I fear," the doctor stammered, still in a confusion. "I hope I didn't drive your client away."
Colonel Pallinder threw back his head in hearty amusement. "Oh, Lord, that wasn't a client, Doctor, that old creature--what was her name now, MacGonigal, MacGilligan, MacSomething? No, I was trying to get rid of her as gently as might be without hurting her feelings. For after all people like that have feelings, you know; they are worthy of some consideration; hang it, a gentleman has only one kind of manners. I'm glad she came in while my clerks were all out, and saw me instead of any of them--you know what Jack-in-office is. Why, sir, you have no conception of how we are bothered by that kind of person. They watch the stock market for a while, or get to talking with their friends, and then the first thing you know they come in here all agog with their savings--a hundred, two hundred, perhaps three hundred dollars, wanting to _invest_! It's the hardest thing in the world to make them understand that we can't handle little dabs like that; they're twice as much trouble as other people's tens of thousands. Your small investor is eternally writing and making inquiries about this stock and that stock, wanting to change, wanting to transfer, wanting to sell, wanting to buy, wanting to be reassured perpetually at the slightest fluctuation of the market. 'Do you think my stock is all right? Will it go any higher? Will it go any lower?' Like as not he sees some perfectly worthless stuff advertised broadcast and promptly sit down and writes me, all on fire: 'William Pallinder, Esq., Dear Sir: Would like your opinion about the enclosed clipping relating to Timbuctoo and South Pole Railway shares. Hadn't I better take my dime's worth of Phosphate Preferred and put it into T. &. S. P.? Yours truly, Jack Ass.' Oh, you may laugh, Doctor, but it's no joke. And then, Doctor Vardaman, there's another side to it that I never lose sight of," said the colonel, leaning forward and tapping the old gentleman on the hand with a grave look. "That, sir, is the question of _moral obligation_. Take the case of that old woman. 'Why, Mrs. Mac-What's-your-name,' says I, 'if I understand you, this is all the money you have'--it was four hundred and odd, I believe--'and you want to put it into Lone Star common. Now,' says I, 'of course that's a perfectly safe investment, solid as United States bonds, non-taxable, pays nine per cent., and will double in value in the natural course of events before another six months; and what you say is quite true, that you will never have another opportunity of getting it as low as forty-five'--she was really a shrewd and intelligent woman for her class, and for a minute I was almost tempted to let her have her way, for, of course, there wasn't the slightest risk. 'Now,' said I, 'if you had two or three thousand or even one thousand to spare, mind you, I say _to spare_, I should say to you, go ahead, by all means. But,' says I, 'I can't take the responsibility of letting you invest your last cent this way, just on my say-so. I've got my own money in it, but my money and your money are two very different propositions. Go and consult your lawyer, get the advice of your friends, go to another broker for that matter, if you choose. All I would urge is, _do it soon_, or you may lose a great chance, such as don't come along every day.' She was very reluctant, but I finally persuaded her; she was just going as you came along. Oh, of course, I know very well, nobody better after all my experience, that she may have gone straight off to some other broker as I suggested, and _he'll_ get the commission, not being so--well, so squeamish as I am, but William Pallinder isn't that--kind, Doctor; we can't help the way we're made, and I'm--not--that--kind!"
He spaced the last words out, emphasising them by a gentle blow with a ruler on the palm of his hand, and leaned back, surveying his companion through a haze of cigar smoke, with the expression of one who might have added, were it necessary: "Behold in me a monument of integrity!"
Doctor Vardaman gazed at the El Paso and Rio Grande circulars with a new respect. Was it possible, he asked himself, that he ought to revise his opinion of Pallinder? To be sure, Huddesley had hinted--but what does a servant's chatter amount to? And then there was that business of the unpaid rent--but Gwynne had not seemed to take that very seriously, and surely he should know. As to that flourishing manner of the colonel's, we are prone to associate it with--well, with buncombe, in plain words; yet it was, in fact, entirely natural, the direct result of certain traditions, early environment, and upbringing. He had reached this point in his reflections, smoking silently, when the colonel was most unfortunately inspired to remark:
"I see you're looking at that map of Phosphate territory in Arkansas. It's a wonderful thing the way the Southwest is opening up, wonderful! All due to Northern enterprise and vigour, sir, every bit of it. We'd be nowhere without you. You'll find few men from my section of the country that will acknowledge it, but it's _so_. I never did believe in keeping up that spirit of mutual distrust and jealousy--waving the bloody shirt and all that; let bygones be bygones, I say; let's all work together for the common good, and give honour where honour is due. Why, sir, it was a Northern man--Lewis Sheister, from some little town up in New York State, that discovered and worked the first phosphate vein in Arkansas. The people down there in the Ozarks were ready to run him and his men out of there with shotguns when he started in--and now I guess they bless the day Sheister turned up. He's worth five hundred thousand dollars to-day, and he's been a factor in enriching that whole State. Yes, sir, there's millions right here." He rose, and, drawing a pencil from his waistcoat pocket, defined a small circle on the shining brittle surface of the map. "Right in that little zone, sir, millions for anyone, even with a very limited capital--ten for one, sir, ten for one is what dozens of my clients are drawing at this moment," said the colonel, pointing with his pencil, like a teacher of mathematics demonstrating at the blackboard, and eying the doctor profoundly. "Ever think of investing, Doctor?" he added, indifferently, resuming his seat, and picking a thread from his coatsleeve as he spoke.
Alas, the gentleman had protested too much! "You'd find me one of your troublesome small investors, I am afraid," said the doctor, wishing uncomfortably that he could believe in Pallinder. "It's rarely a professional man lays up any money, you know."
"Oh, you'd be a different pair of shoes," said Colonel Pallinder genially. "I'd rather handle a couple of hundred for a man like you than a couple of thousand for some others I could mention. Now I always contend that stocks such as I deal in are a Heaven-sent boon to the man of moderate means. Say you only have a hundred or so. You put it into Ozark Field or--well--yes, you _could_ get half-a-dozen shares of Lone Star. I know a man, a banker in New York, a personal friend, you understand, that I think I could persuade into parting with a little block like that, although they hate to like the devil--but I believe he'd do it for me. Now these things advance so rapidly that in a month or six weeks you could sell out to great advantage--if you didn't want to wait for your dividends, or found the speculation kept you lying awake o' nights," he interpolated, with jovial sarcasm. "Of course, Doctor, I hardly need to tell a man of your intelligence and breadth of view that--um--ah--'there's a tide in the affairs of men,' you know--the time is coming when nobody but the kings of finance will be able to buy and control these shares, they're going up so fast; but if you were already _in_ the _ring_, as I may say----"
"I doubt if the kings of finance and I would hit it off very well," said the doctor soberly. Colonel Pallinder laughed uproariously. He slapped his knees and laughed, and wiped his eyes and laughed again. Never had the doctor's dry humour received such appreciation; and not being acutely conscious of having been humorous, he observed the colonel's manifestations of delight with a good deal of interest.
"You talk in a rather disparaging vein about the business ability of professional men, Doctor," he said, when his mirth had somewhat subsided. "But the fact is, I've met with just as much shrewdness among them as anywhere else. A successful lawyer, a widely-known and successful physician like yourself--why, he's _got_ to be very much above the average in intellect and education both. A man like you can take hold of anything, no matter whether he's had any previous experience or not--he can take up anything and do well at it. Now, look at you! I suppose you've hardly ever been in a broker's office before in your life, and you come in here, and with scarcely a word of explanation from me, grasp the whole subject at once! I tell you what, I'd like you to meet Sheister, and just hear him talk Phosphate once. He's a self-made man, Doctor, no gentleman-of-the-old-school such as you, but for that very reason I think you'd find it an interesting experience. He'll talk by the hour about his early trials and struggles--it sounds like a romance. He has the whole history of Phosphate at his finger-ends. Of course _I_ can't talk about the stuff except in a business way--I only know that it's been a gold mine for Sheister and the men he got to go in with him. Sir, I knew that fellow when he hadn't but one shirt in the world, and he didn't know where his next meal was to come from--and now he's travelling round in his private car with a valet and a cook! I've done pretty well in Phosphate myself," said the colonel, with becoming restraint; "but I'm not a patch on Sheister. Really, I'd like you to see Mrs. Sheister's diamonds, just for a curiosity. My wife can't bear her--thinks she's _common_, and all that--you know how women are--but I tell her she's down on Mrs. Sheister just because she's jealous of her diamonds."
"Mrs. Pallinder has no cause to be jealous of anybody's diamonds, I think," said the doctor smoothly. "Our young people will be giving their entertainment in a few days now," he added, thinking it high time to change the subject. And the colonel glided away on the new tack as gracefully as if the manoeuvre had been of his own suggestion.
"Yes, and what do you think that daughter of mine said to me the other day? It seems they have to make a great show of jewelry in the second play--what's the name of it--'Mrs. Tinkleton'? Mazie's '_Mrs. Tinkleton_,' and she's going to pile on all her own and her mother's too. So she comes to me: 'Oh, papa, wouldn't it be nice if we could have a real tiara? We've got to fix ma's necklace to look like one, but I think those little coronets they have at Tiffany's are just too utterly sweet.' That's the way the girls and boys talk nowadays, Doctor, 'too utterly too,' 'too intensely all but,'--can't understand half the gibberish they're saying; but I grasped the meaning of _that_! 'Why, good heavens, my child,' I said, 'do you think I'm _made_ of money? There's your mother's necklace cost me thirty-five hundred--the papers made it five thousand, but you know, Doctor, they always blow around and talk big--not so very long ago, not more than two years, I believe, and now _you_ want a tiara.' 'Well, papa, you know you said ma's necklace was just bought out of that rise in Phosphate, and it was like getting it for nothing, and you'd never miss the money because the dividends were so much more than you had expected. Won't something else take a rise?' And in fact, Doctor," continued Colonel Pallinder, pulling at his goatee with a ruefully comic grin, "she rather had me there. It was just as she said, the stock having gone up beyond my wildest expectations. I realised treble what I'd been looking for, and I always like to make my wife some little gift when anything of that sort happens. But a tiara at Tiffany's! I couldn't quite go _that_. Must you be going? Well, good-bye. When you feel like looking into Phosphate a little farther, drop in. I've some figures I think would interest you."
Doctor Vardaman took his way from the Turner Building, walking fast in a brown study; such was his preoccupation that twenty steps from the entrance he collided with a young man carrying a green cloth bag, weighted with books or papers, heading for the stairs.
"Hello, Doctor!" he began to apologise. "I didn't know it was you. Why, it's great to see you down here. Come up and take a look at my office."
"I've just been up in the building, Harvey," said the old gentleman, recognising him. "I ought to be home sitting down to my luncheon this minute. Huddesley would discharge me if I were not on time. I went up to see Ogden about those signboards on Richmond Avenue." He paused and then some indefinable feeling prompted him to add: "Fine office Colonel Pallinder has, hasn't he? The building is certainly very complete and well-equipped; you ought to have seen the two-story frame shanty where I first hung out my shingle. It was over a grocery with an outside stairs leading up to it."
Young Smith eyed him with a certain apprehension in his keen boyish face. "Oh, yes, the Turner Building is said to be one of the finest in the West; but I understand they are going to put up some in Chicago that'll beat us all hollow. Pallinder's a great friend of yours, isn't he, Doctor?"
"We are neighbours, you know," said Doctor Vardaman, diplomatically, and smiled, meeting the other's eye. "Don't be uneasy. I haven't been investing."
"Why--I--I----" Harvey stammered, crimsoning in his confusion, yet plainly a little relieved. "I just couldn't help wondering if you had, you know. The Colonel's a great old blatherskite, isn't he? Of course, I don't mean--that is, I mean----"
"Harvey, Harvey," said Doctor Vardaman, wagging his head solemnly, "I'm afraid that's not the way counsel for the defence should open his remarks."
"Well, it's _so_, you know, anyhow," said the young fellow ingenuously. "Jim sees a lot of them; he goes out there all the time. He's in that shindy they're going to give on the twelfth. Say, have you heard that about Gwynne Peters?"
"No, what was it--Oh, here's my car--never mind, Harvey. I don't need any help."
Fate, who, as Doctor Vardaman's favourite classic assures us, calls, equal-footed, upon carpenters and kings, must surely have laid a directing hand on the old gentleman's shoulder that morning; not yet were his adventures over, even when he reached his own door. The Lexington and Amherst Street car crawled with him laboriously as far as the corner of Amherst and Richmond, where he must disembark and trudge the remaining five blocks of board sidewalk to number 201. The trolley whisks you out there in five minutes now. Not long ago I saw in somebody's back yard, a back yard of the proletariat, next door to a tenement, one of these dilapidated old horse-cars, pygmy ancestor of a race of giants, thrown aside, weather-worn, ancient as the palæolithic period, serving as a play-house for the proletarian youngsters. The windows were all out of it, even the purple glass lights overhead; but you might dimly discern the legend: "No. 5. Lexington and Amherst. No. 5." along its battered sides. The thing was as romantic as a derelict galleon; sentimental melancholy possessed me as I looked at it; all my youth rode in that decrepit chariot, if not with comfort, at least with tolerable satisfaction. Will the rising generation treasure so picturesque a memory? I think not. In cold weather there was a layer of straw, doubtful-tinted, breathing strange odours, in the bottom of it, thoughtfully provided by the street-car company to protect its patrons' feet. It was lit by two oil lamps, in two niches, fortified by wire-work, one at either end of the car. These vehicles were banded about the body with a wide stripe in various colours to distinguish the various lines, an amazingly ingenious idea if people had only been able to see after dark, like cats; and, as the spectrum had been exhausted by the time the builders got around to the Lexington and Amherst line, they designated these cars, in a creditable burst of originality, by a sash of black-and-red squares, like the Rob Roy plaid. Immediately arose some genius with an equally fertile invention and baptised them "the checker-board cars," a title which they wore to the end. There was one very steep hill at the foot whereof it was the custom to hitch on an extra team of mules; I know of no more gallant spectacle than that furnished by a quadriga of mules nobly breasting Wade Street hill, with a checker-board car plunging in the rear. When it got off the track, as not infrequently happened, all the male passengers got out and helped push it back. We were firmly persuaded that this was rapid transit! Yet spare your merriment, youth of to-day; impartial Fate is waiting for your admired institutions, too, your Twentieth Century Flyers, your automobiles, your seven-league-boots. In twenty-five years, how will your sons and daughters deride you; with what longing, with what amused tenderness, will you not look back to these kind, simple days!
Doctor Vardaman, then, with Destiny stalking viewless at his side, swung off the checker-board car, and began the homeward walk. Some way ahead of him he saw a figure diminished by distance, plodding through his yard toward the kitchen door; and as he drew nearer, two more figures emerged from his front porch. The doctor recognised Bob Carson, and in the over-tall, lankily-graceful young woman, Mazie Pallinder, in an extremely modish tan-coloured cloth coat with dark brown plush collar and pocket flaps. Mazie's sleeves were about as tight as Bob's trousers--that is to say, they were as tight as human skill could make them, or human arms and legs endure. Thus were we clad in the eighties.
"Oh, hello, Doctor," said Bob, dropping Mazie's hand--I suppose he had been fastening her glove--and addressing the old gentleman with unusual vivacity and a notable increase of colour. "Ah--we--we've just been getting Huddesley to hear us our parts--in 'Mrs. Tankerville,' you know."
"I hope you have mastered yours," said Doctor Vardaman, without a smile. Bob's part, as he and everyone else knew, might have been omitted altogether without materially damaging the performance; he was a footman in "Mrs. Tankerville," and his lines were hardly more than "Yes, sir," and "No, sir," stated at the proper intervals. He got redder than ever under the doctor's grave survey, and affected to be busy knocking invisible mud from his boot heel with his cane as they stood by the gate. Mazie did not blush--for the best of reasons. Her face was too carefully arranged to permit of it. And, besides, what was there to blush about? Bob changed colour almost whenever she looked at him; but then Bob was a quiet and rather shy youth.
"Huddesley's simply _fine_!" she said with enthusiasm. "I asked him how he came to know so much about the stage, and he says he was dresser for an actor once when he was right young, and used to be behind the scenes a lot. Come home and take lunch with us, won't you, Doctor?"
"I can't very well to-day. I was just about to ask you to stay here. Huddesley, you can get us up something, can't you?"
"Bit of 'am and a glass of porter, sir," said Huddesley deferentially, holding the door open. "Beg parding, Doctor Vardaman, sir, but Mrs. Maginnis is 'ere with your wash."
"I guess we'd better not stop so long's I've got so much company in the house," said Mazie. "Good-bye, Doctor; you'll come up this evening, anyway?" And as they walked away, the doctor heard Bob say, "Isn't Huddesley _immense_, though? 'Bit of 'am and a glass of porter.' Sounds just like Dickens, don't it?"
The doctor, still squired by unseen Fortune, went upstairs to his bedroom--and there, it may be presumed, the goddess left him, having executed her appointed task. Mrs. Maginnis awaited him, and Huddesley was already laying the doctor's shirts out of the basket. The laundress generally performed this rite herself, but to-day she stood watching the man with an oddly flustered manner, twisting the fringes of her old shawl between her fingers. Her bonnet, that feathered and beribboned structure indigenous to washerwomen, had worked askew a little; her face, with its premature wrinkles, its sunken mouth, was flushed with exercise or excitement. The doctor, observant as all physicians from lifelong habit, looked at her in some surprise. It crossed his mind that at some prehistorically distant time, when Mrs. Maginnis was a fresh barefoot girl, running the green swards of Connemara, she might have been pretty; her Irish blue eyes, faded with years, with toil, with sickness, with care, were quite bright to-day. A kind of tremulous happiness, an anxious joy, irradiated her; she was like a child to whom one should have given a new toy, scarcely daring to be glad yet in its possession.
"Got change for a fifty-dollar bill, Mrs. Maginnis?" said the old gentleman jocosely.
"Yez will have yer joke, now, won't ye, Docthor?" she retorted with gaiety, and tossed her head with the upstanding plumes in a roguish manner. "Niver moind. Some day I'll change ut for yez aisy enough. 'Taint much longer I'll be comin' 'round for me dollar and a half, at all, at all."
"Has Tim got well? Is he going back to work?" asked the doctor, beginning to fish for the required sum amongst the loose silver in his pockets. He spoke of her husband.
Tim was what Doctor Vardaman called a "non-combatant." To say that he was a washerwoman's husband describes him. Who ever heard of a washerwoman with a husband that was worth anything?
"Naw, it ain't that, Docthor," said Mrs. Maginnis, looking momentarily a little dashed. "Naw, Tim's awful bad with rheumatics this spring. But it's meself that's afther ma-akin me fortune in--in stocks. Yez didn't see me in the Turrner Buildin' th' marrnin'?"
Doctor Vardaman's hand paused, rigidly suspended over the money spread on his palm. "What--what's that you say?" he asked abruptly.
"I was goin' to ask yez to spake a wurrd to me characther wid Misther--I mane Meejor Pallinder," went on Mrs. Maginnis, happily unconscious. "But he seemed to be in a hurry, an' says I to meself, 'Betther not worry him, Nora Maginnis. Th' Meejor's thrustin' yez anyhow, an' ye're thrustin' him an' iverythin's fair an' square an' aboveboord. 'Taint as if yez were a gurrl goin' to ta-ake a new pla-ace, ye goose,' says I. So I just held me tongue, an' walked off. It's a grand gintleman th' Meejor is intoirely," she finished enthusiastically.
The doctor looked at her through a mist. "What have you been doing?" he said at last, striving to speak in his natural voice. He might have spared the trouble; Mrs. Maginnis was only too proud and pleased at his interest, at her own importance.
"Ah, thin, I've been investin'--investin' in stocks--or is it shares, I dinnaw?" she said eagerly, lifted her skirt, and drew out a paper, carefully hoarded, from a pocket in her petticoat. She held it toward him. "I got a letther about thim in th' mail, a printed letther, an' ut says: 'Dear Madame, we want to call your attintion----' like that ut begun, Docthor. I can't raymimber th' rest of ut, but yez ought to hear me little Danny, he's got ut by hearrt. Anyway, I was to call on or com-communicate with William Pallinder, Turrner Buildin', like what ut says there. They was iver so many on our sthreet got th' sa--ame, th' Hogans 'crost th' way, an' th' Schwartzes nixt dure but wan, but they ain't anybody wint but me, an' th' Meejor says it's a grreat pity, an' they'll all git left, for they won't be anny more shares or stocks, whichever ut is, sold so low. An' it's just loike pickin' money off of trees, he says, yez git tin for wan. That's four thousan' I'll git, Docthor, for it's four hundred I'm ta-akin out o' th' Buildin' an' Loan, where we been puttin ut for th' last tin years--an' weary wurrk ut is, too, savin' so slow, nothin' loike this, where yez just put in yer money, an' set back an' twiddle yer thumbs! It kapes goin' higher ivery breath yez draw purty near, th' Meejor says. An' whin I give him th' money, he wrote off a grand pa-aper, a receipt, he called ut, an' says he: 'I congrat'late yez, Mrs. Maginnis,' says he. 'It's th' smarrt woman yez arre, an' plucky, too,' says he. 'Nothin' venture, nothin' have, yez may have hearrd th' sayin',' he says. 'That's the way I begun meself,' says he. 'I had just a little, 'twasn't be half so much as yours, an' I put ut in, an' ut kep' a-goin' up an' a-goin' up, an' there I was, like a big fool'--that's what he said, Docthor--'shiverin' an' shakin' an' layin' awake noights, for fear somethin' would happen to ut, an' whin ut doubled, I fair et up th' road gittin to th' office to sell out--an' th' very nixt day it was thribbled already! But I'm all over thim days now,' he says, laughin' that way he has, 'an' yez can see wid wan eye shut how I live, Mrs. Maginnis. Well, all that come from that little lump o' money not be half so big as yours, as I was just afther tellin' yez, an' that's where yez'll be, too, inside of a year, if yez'll be guided by me,' he says. Indade, it's th' foine gintleman he is, an' th' koind man, to be doin' all that for th' loikes of me, an' so I tould him."
For the second time that day Doctor Vardaman gazed silently at "El Paso & Rio Grande," "$172,000,000.00 in dividends," until the characters swam before his eyes.
"At least you'll want your dollar and a half in the meantime, Mrs. Maginnis," he said finally with an effort, and counted the money into her hand. She had on a pair of black worsted gloves, the fingers too long for her own, crooked, hardened and disfigured with work. She took the coins clumsily, and some of them dropped and rolled about the floor.
"Troth, what'll I do whin I'm a la-ady, settin' in me kerridge, wid kid gloves on, I wondher," she said with a laugh. "I'm that awkward wid these, I'd betther be learnin', I think. I'm goin' to have Maggie ta-ake pianny lessons, Docthor, an' I'm goin' to git a pair of va-ases for th' parlour mantelpiece, an' a wheel chair for Tim. That's what I'm goin' to do whin th' firrst o' th' money comes in. I made up me moind to that as I was walkin' along wid yer wash th' marrnin', an' thin all to oncet, I says to meself. 'An' what'll th' docthor be doin' for somewan to clear-starch his shirrts th' way he loikes? An' to do up thim white lawn cravats that's all cut on th' bias, an' sthretches somethin' awful--thim stocks yez call 'em, Docthor. Faith, there's stocks an' _stocks_, think o' that, now?" She laughed a little, hysterically, gulping at her own joke. "Yez wouldn't belave ut, Docthor, for all I was so happy, I cud ha' set right down an' cried to think that somewan might git hould o' thim, some naygur, mebbe, that 'ud ruin 'em!" The tears came into her faded blue eyes. "It's th' good man yez arre, Docthor Varrdaman, an' it's koind yez have been to me all these harrd years, an' I'll niver forgit ut. Whin I'm settin' in me parlour, wid th' pitchers an' th' Rogers Group like I mane to have ut, rockin' in me chair, an' listenin' to Maggie play, I'll be thinkin' of yez often an' often, Docthor, an' of th' ould days, whin I was sthrugglin' along at th' tub an' yez helped me."
Doctor Vardaman mechanically twisted his features into a smile. "I wish you luck with all my heart, Mrs. Maginnis," was all he could say; but the Irishwoman was too emotionally wrought up to heed the strangeness of his manner. Her sky was radiant with dreams.
"Sure, I kin have thim masses said for me mother--rest her sowl!" she said, crossing herself fervently; and the next moment, in gleeful anticipation: "An' buy me a black silk, Docthor, a black silk dhress, me that hasn't had a new rag to me back for eight years!"
She went; and Doctor Vardaman sat down before his table. He took out the colonel's fifty-dollar bill--the colonel's! It was Mrs. Maginnis', like all the rest of the bills in that handsome Russia-leather case! The doctor was as sure of it as if it had been sworn to in his presence. He stared at it miserably. Of course, he told himself, he had known all along that Pallinder was a humbug, had known in a sort of way that he was a scamp. But the truth is, you and I, even the most experienced, even the wisest and worldliest and most wary of us, knows very little about scamps. The doctor had lived his seventy years with such vicissitudes as fall to the lot of the ruck of mankind, and had encountered no greater rascality than that of some patient who ignored a bill or refused to pay it--an offence which he himself was the first to excuse or condone. By nature a humane and sympathetic man, he had learned in his profession a large charity, a habit of making allowances which he now denounced savagely for a contemptible shirking of responsibilities. _Laissez faire_, indeed! And one-half the world, not knowing how the other half lives, need not care! Yes, Pallinder was a scamp; but Doctor Vardaman found, with a wretched surprise, that he had had no real comprehension of what the word meant--the thing it denoted. This was its meaning, this shabby trickery, this cheap deceit; the discovery came upon him like a blow. There is an extraordinary bitterness to any generous mind in beholding the uncovered shame of a friend; we hate to see the feet of clay; the pain is two-edged and strikes us either way with the sense of his unworthiness, of our own folly. The doctor had liked Pallinder; liked him still--liked him and despised him. He sat wondering at his own weakness. "If it had been me," thought the old gentleman, "if it had been me that he had cheated, fleeced, bamboozled in this way, or anyone of my class, I could almost say the game was fair and have my laugh at the dupe; it's our business to know better. But that poor old woman, that poor, ignorant, faithful, trusting creature, that honest, simple drudge!" He thought of her tired, work-worn hands in those pitiful gloves with a throb of pain and unreasoning self-reproach. Colonel Pallinder's hands were large, white, and very well-kept; a seal ring in pretty taste, _simplex munditiis_, adorned his little finger, the only piece of jewelry he wore. It was paid for, if at all, the doctor reflected grimly, out of the pocket of some other Mrs. Maginnis. The flavour of the colonel's cigar was yet on his lips; what washerwoman, what widow, what patient, laborious wage-earner's little savings had paid for _that_? He got up and walked the floor restlessly. There was a kind of irony in the thought that he, John Vardaman, must suffer this travail of spirit, while the guilty one himself pursued his way unmoved, tranquil, eating and sleeping in triumphant ease. "After all," said the doctor inwardly, "am I my brother's keeper? No. But I have sat at Pallinder's table, smoked with him, drunk with him, laughed with him, sanctioned and encouraged him. All the while I knew he was a rogue; I did it open-eyed; I shared the spoil--it's late, late in the day, Jack Vardaman, for you to cry Fie on the thief! Dozens of others are daily doing the same thing; why not? The Pallinders amuse them. Of what stuff are we all made?" His glance fell on the bill again; he picked it up and smoothed it out mechanically, wondering what had prompted Pallinder to pay him out of all the people he owed. It was certainly not from any warm friendship, for Colonel Pallinder liked everybody equally well; his cordiality, his generosity emulated the very sunshine in their wide diffusion. If he stole meanly, he gave away magnificently--after his own desires were indulged. He was quite capable of picking Mrs. Maginnis' pocket one day, and relieving her distress with coal and warm blankets the next; and it is more than likely that he would have paid the first comer, whether Doctor Vardaman or somebody else, if the matter had occurred to him, and if the sum were not inconveniently large.
Huddesley, coming in with the tray of luncheon, was astonished at the doctor's haggard look; he moved about noiselessly, disposing the dishes to the old gentleman's liking, and once or twice sending a sharp glance into his face unobserved.
"Shall you be going up to Mrs. Pallinder's to dinner this evening, sir?" he asked at length respectfully. "Miss Pallinder said something about you----"
"No," said Doctor Vardaman sternly. "No. I shan't be going there again."
Huddesley looked at him with singular blankness. "Beg parding, sir, did you say----?"
"I said I was not going there again," repeated the doctor with deliberation. He thought a moment. "I'll write a note and ask the younger gentleman here to dinner next Friday night, Huddesley, and you can take it up to Mrs. Pallinder. It's the night of their party; we shan't see much more of them," said Doctor Vardaman, checking a sigh. He would not acknowledge to himself how much he should miss the careless jollity, the youthful fun and freedom of the last two years. Huddesley was leaving the room when the doctor abruptly called him back: "Huddesley!"
"I--I seldom interfere in the affairs of my servants, Huddesley," said Doctor Vardaman, hesitating. "I realise that I have no more right to meddle with your business than you with mine. But I--I should like to ask you if you have ever had any business dealings with Colonel Pallinder? If you--you have ever bought any of his mining or 'Phosphate' stocks, in short?"
Huddesley, after a moment's puzzled silence, so far forgot his usually impeccable manners as to utter a queer unpleasant sound between a sneer and a laugh. "Me?" said he. "Not much. Think I'd be roped in by any such con game as that? I guess _not_--bet your bottom dollar!" He caught the doctor's startled look, and faltered. "Hi--Hi 'ope you'll hexcuse me, sir," he said in genuine and very alarmed confusion; "Hi 'ear so much rough talk sometimes, Hi can't 'elp picking it hup----"
"Never mind," said Doctor Vardaman kindly. "I thought you were too shrewd a man and had seen too much of the world to--to be taken in, as you say. I should be sorry to think of your losing money--especially through over-confidence in--in any friend of mine. I wouldn't like to feel that you were influenced in that way," the old gentleman concluded rather sadly.
The servant eyed his downcast face with an unfathomable expression. He fumbled with the door-knob; then he cleared his throat and spoke with something of an effort. "You're mighty kind to me, Doctor Vardaman," he said huskily. "You treat me mighty white--and I won't forget it."
It was the second time within the hour that Doctor Vardaman had received this agreeable assurance. "'Mighty white,'" he quoted to himself, almost smiling, as the door closed. "I'm afraid Huddesley is becoming Americanised."
Among the forgotten fashions of the years from eighteen-eighty to eighty-five was that of giving our parties, evening or afternoon, for young people or old, of whatever kind, in short, in our own homes; the easy hospitality of clubs or fashionable hotels was not yet known. Houses with double-parlours and a dining-room back were considered ideal for any sort of entertainment; and, of course, such an architectural triumph as the old Gwynne house with that splendid ballroom on the third floor, was _hors concours_. There was not another home in town to compare with it. Mrs. Pallinder could entertain without disturbing a single piece of the peacock-blue and old-gold furniture; she meant, however, to have the whole place floor-clothed the night of the twelfth. "I can't risk my Moquette carpets with a mob of young people tearing around all over the house, you know, my dear," she said with a smiling pretence of severity; and her guests, eying the rich scrolls and garlands underfoot, gravely acquiesced. Everywhere else, all the movables, except the bookcases and piano, were marshalled upstairs or out on the back porch. The little sofas in our parlours generally went into retirement under the stairs at the rear end of the hall. In the afternoons we were just beginning to have progressive euchres, and what we actually called "high teas." It is doubtless impossible for the mind of to-day to conceive of a society so devoid of education and good taste as to call any species of entertainment a "high tea," but such is the appalling fact. You may pick up a _Journal_ or _Evening Despatch_ of that date, and read not one but many notices such as this:
"At Mrs. Henderson P. Gates' high tea on Monday in the fashionable crush were observed:
Mrs. Colonel Pallinder in a toilet of ottoman silk and silk plush in two shades of electric blue, with garniture of chenille and pearl fringes, and a capote of feathers en suite.
Miss Pallinder in wine-coloured surah with sleeves and draperies of spotted silk grenadine.
Miss Ponsonby-Baxter wore a redingote of crushed-strawberry pekin opening over a brocaded front in shades of the same, with panels of----"
No, I have not the heart to go on with the gaudy details of Muriel's panels and passementerie. But I remember that dress well, and, believe it or not, she looked as nobly and placidly beautiful in the crushed-strawberry redingote as had she been draped like the Winged Victory. Mrs. Gates continued her party with a dance that same evening. "The house was all torn up anyhow," Lily Gates told us; "and mamma thought she might just as well go ahead."
Muriel and J. B., or Mr. Taylor, as she decorously called him,--he was only J. B. to college mates or others who knew him well,--were sitting out a waltz on the top step of the Henderson P. Gates' stairs. It was a long flight, turning sharply at a little landing to reach the upper hall; and the musicians penned in the alcove behind the steps on the first floor were discoursing "A Medley of Popular Airs," with admirable command of rhythm and expression. "Wh-i-te Wings," "Swee-ee-t Vi-o-_lets_," the sounds travelled up to them as through a chimney. There was a smothering scent of lilacs--the house had been decorated with them--and in pauses of the noise one could hear the window-panes shuddering to the assaults of successive blasts of wind and rain commingled. The spring was early that year. A discreet twilight on the top step held out opportunities for flirtation which Mazie Pallinder never would have neglected in the world; but neither J. B. nor Muriel had any notion of taking advantage of them. The girl was absorbed in a certain dilemma; her even delicate brows were slightly drawn as she studied the pattern of her fan, and wondered how she could lead, draw, drag the conversation around to the desired point. And J. B. was thinking that "Pretty Pond-lilies" was a good waltz, and if it hadn't been so hot, and Miss Baxter something of an armful to pull around--and she couldn't reverse--he would have suggested a turn. He looked at her. It would be desirable, I suppose, to record minutely what Muriel wore that night; I refer you to the columns of the _Journal_; but does anyone remember that full dress in the eighties--in common with dress for all occasions--comprehended those two aids to beauty, "bangs," and "bustles"? Muriel's pretty copper-brown hair was arranged in the fringe down to the eyebrows, the knot low on the nape of her neck, to which a famous stage-beauty had lately given her name; and I am afraid her black lace skirts were crinolined in the height of the fashion. But the young man thought she looked like Juno--Juno with a bustle! They had been talking about Doctor Vardaman.
"The doctor's really awfully fond of his queer old things," J. B. remarked. "If you show the least interest--and it's not put on with me, I _am_ interested--he'll take you around, and explain to you who all the big-bugs, his ancestors in the portraits were, and what they did, and tell you about his first editions, and the old wine he's got laid away, and the autograph-letters to his grandfather from Benjamin Franklin and all the rest of it."
"How odd!" said Muriel.
"Yes, I suppose it's funny to you, but you see over here we don't have all that the way you do. People aren't used to seeing it about them all the time. I expect that's the reason Huddesley fits in with the doctor so well; he cares for everything and understands--the way old family-servants do in novels you know. He's so English----"
"No, he isn't," said Muriel decidedly. "You think so, but none of you _know_. Nobody talks like that at home."
"Well, not nice people of course, but servants----"
"No, not servants either. He's no more like a real servant at home than our stage-Yankees are like you."
"You've never come into contact with his class much, I guess," said J. B., remembering that the treatment accorded servants varies widely. "Everything is different with us; now the doctor likes to make him talk. We're all going down there to dinner Friday night, did you know it?"
"What, all of us? Why, that's the night we----"
"No, only the men, I mean. The doctor told Mrs. Pallinder he'd like to have us, and he thought maybe she'd just as lief we were out of the house, while all of you were getting ready for the performance. There are so many of us, you know, for 'William Tell.' Some of the fellows have sent their clothes out to his house, and are going to dress there."
Muriel looked at him timidly. He was unconsciously opening a door for the entrance of that all-important topic; she was not quick, however, and besides she was in doubt whether--whether it would be quite proper for her to speak to him about it at all! Next moment the opportunity was gone.
"If we get everybody in a good humour with the first performance, they won't care if 'Mrs. Tankerville' _is_ a little rocky," J. B. observed sagely. "Teddy isn't so good as _Jenks the butler_. He's not--not convincing. Ted doesn't look as if he could steal a potato, let alone a hatful of diamonds. And then he hasn't the chances to be funny there are in 'Tell.' Nobody knows their part yet, and here the thing's set for Friday!"
"I'm rather sure of myself all except one place," Muriel said. "We've been going so we haven't had much time to study."
"I know. It's an awful rush this season. The girls can stand it, of course; they rest in the daytime. But a fellow's got to go to business. Somebody said to Arch. Lewis the other day, 'Oh, never mind. They don't need you at the office.' He said, 'Yes, but hang it all, I don't want 'em to find that out!'"
Muriel listened and assented vaguely; she was not accustomed to young men who had businesses and offices. Time was passing, and they were no nearer the point than they were ten minutes ago. She hesitated; and J. B. admired, yet a little wondered at, the swift changes of colour in her cheeks. "These English girls beat everything at blushing," he said to himself; and then removed his eyes with a sudden guilty flush over his own face as he realised that he had been staring too hard. But, Jove, what a beauty she was!
"You all think Mr. Johns is very good in his part, don't you?" said Muriel, nervously conscious that they had been silent too long. American men, she had noticed, expected the girls to do the most of the talking; and, somehow, the girls did.
"Why, yes, especially in 'Tell,' don't _you_?"
"Well, I--I don't always understand, you know. And the last night we rehearsed, after we went to that dinner at the Ellises', I couldn't even make out some of the words he said, he spoke so----"
"He--he wasn't very well--we had to call the rehearsal off, you remember?" interrupted the young man hastily. Muriel was surprised to see him redden and avoid her eyes. There was an awkward pause--the kind of pause that, had Muriel been an American girl, with their uncanny sharpness of intuition, she would not have allowed to occur. But, had Muriel been an American girl, this history would have remained forever unwritten. But for her visit to the Pallinders' there would have been no 'Tell,' no 'Mrs. Tankerville,' no dinner at Doctor Vardaman's--who can say what might have happened instead?
"Ted can imitate Billy Rice first-rate," said J. B., anxious to steer gracefully away from an uncomfortable situation. "We had a minstrel-show one time, and he made up to look like Rice and sang that song of his:
"Arthur, they say, will em-i-grate,"
"Then all the rest of us had to shout, you know,
"WHEN?" "Bye-and-bye! Into the ma-tri-mo-ni-al state." "WHEN?" "Bye-and-bye!"
"They're all the time getting off something about the President marrying again, you know. Teddy was as good as Rice any day."
"Billy Rice?" repeated Muriel. She had not thought the fragment of comic song very comic (and therein I dare say she was right), and she knew no more who Billy Rice was than--than the average reader of these lines. Time has dismissed that fat, jolly troubadour. Upon what bank of misty Acheron does he now perform his melodies? And where are the snows of yester-year?
"He's a big fat fellow--a white man, you know. They're all white, but blacked up, in the minstrel-shows," J. B. explained patiently.
"Fancy! What do they do?"
"Why, sing and dance; buck-and-wing, and all that. It's rather knock-down-and-drag-out fun, some of it; and some's pretty good."
"I don't believe I'd understand the jokes," said Muriel forlornly. "It's so different at home--it's quite simple. Everyone always knows when to laugh. But you know that song you sing in 'Tell,' 'The Maiden on the Icy Plank,' that first verse--would you mind explaining? You know where it says:
"The maiden on the icy plank Showed conduct quite surprising, She went and got a cake of yeast-- Then fell instead of rising!"
I--I don't quite see it--the--the point, you know."
"Oh, that's just nonsense, you know--it's just silly. The fact is--_yeast_, you know, _yeast_, well, it makes things _rise_, and she _fell_----'
"Oh, she _ate_ the yeast?" said Muriel with a charming smile. "Oh, that's very droll!" She almost laughed. "It didn't say that, you see. That's why I didn't understand. But she _ate_ the yeast!"
"Yes, she _ate_ the yeast," said J. B. resignedly. "One can't quite explain a thing like that somehow. It's only meant to be silly."
"Most of your American jokes are like that, aren't they? I mean they have to be explained. At first I thought it was because I was slow--but you say such _queer_ things--and one can't ever be certain whether you're in fun or earnest."
"I suppose it _is_ hard for a stranger. Is there anything else--any other joke, I mean, that you'd like to get at the true inwardness of?"
Muriel recognised the opportunity she had sought.
"I--I wish you'd tell me, if you don't mind, you know that costume you wear in the play, that kilt--why do you wear that, Mr. Taylor?"
J. B. surveyed her perplexed.
"Why do I wear the kilt and all the rest of it? Why--why to make a little fun, you know."
"I _thought_ that was it," said Muriel earnestly. "But, you see, it's really not funny."
"Oh, isn't it?"
"Not a bit," Muriel assured him; and then her heart dropped dismally at the expression on his face.
He did not looked pleased somehow.
"I--I didn't mean that _you_ aren't funny, you know, I mean _it_ isn't funny."
"I'm afraid I don't catch the distinction," said the young man a little drily. Bitter is the cup of the unappreciated joker.
"I mean--I--I----" quavered Muriel miserably. "Maybe it's because I'm not used to your fun--I don't see things--it's always really funny at home--so different from here--so much easier. But--I--I think you're too--too nice to wear a kilt!"
The tears came into her eyes; tears of embarrassment and perhaps some deeper unanalysed feeling. Amazement encompassed J. B. What on earth was the matter with her? It was not possible she thought the kilt indecent!
"And--and that little red apple on the corner of your head!" faltered Muriel. "It all makes you look so foolish--not at all funny. And you're not foolish--really and truly not the least bit foolish--and I think it's a shame for you to make yourself look so!"
At the moment J. B. looked exceedingly foolish. Her interest was gratifying, of course; there was something almost maternally sweet in it. But it put him, as he phrased it to himself, in an awful box.
"You--you're not vexed, are you?" said Muriel, holding her chin steady by an effort. The young man glanced at her, and surprised an expression that caused him to look away, crimsoning. The next instant he inwardly cursed himself savagely for a despicable cad. Couldn't a nice girl look at him without his imagining----!
"Oh, I wouldn't get mad about a little thing like that, Miss Baxter," he said heartily. "I'm feeling pretty stuck-up about your--your speaking of it at all, you know. Of course, it _is_ a Tom-fool costume, but I've let myself in for it now, and I can't very well back out, and leave them without anybody at the last minute. And I won't look any sillier than the others--not so silly as Ted for instance, in women's clothes."
"Oh, he doesn't make any difference!" said Muriel, almost with impatience.
"Well, he thinks he's pretty important, anyway," J. B. said, wondering privately what they would have done without the comparatively safe and conservative ground of Teddy Johns' character and abilities for a retreat, when the conversational horizon grew overcast. "In the second play especially--making away with peoples' diamond coronets and things! Mrs. Pallinder's going to let us have all hers. She's got some sparklers, you know, regular headlights; you've seen her wear them? Tell you, if I were in Ted's place, I wouldn't want to have 'em in my charge, even for a few minutes--and it's all through the last two acts--until the place where they drag him out from behind the screen, after I'm supposed to shoot him, remember?"
"Yes, where you say: 'Don't put the handcuffs on a dead man, men!'"
"And Billy Potter says: 'He ain't dead; you can't kill that kind with a blast o' dynamite. I guess these here's your tiary, lady.' Ted's going to have it all done up in a package in his inside pocket. He says he's going to keep the things in his clothes the whole time. There are so many servants around, and the carpenters to fix the scenery, and the caterer's men--you can't be too careful. 'Twouldn't do to leave a five-thousand-dollar diamond necklace lying around loose; everybody in town knows about that necklace, I guess."
"Do you suppose Mr. Potter really looks at all like a detective?"
J. B. laughed. "No. He cocks his hat over one eye, and acts that tough way, just to give the part a kind of snap--a little go, you know. But the only detective I ever knew was a very quiet, gentlemanly sort of fellow. We had a little trouble at the bank once, and had this chap--his name was Judd--there for a couple of weeks, in plain clothes, you know. He didn't look like Vidocq either--not a bit. He looked like--like--well, a nice young fellow clerking in a shoe-store, say."
The music achieved its final chord; and the stairs promptly filled with resting couples. Mrs. Gates came out of the parlour with an armful of gilt shepherds' crooks and wreaths of tissue-paper roses. She looked up at the long slant of young people, nodding and signalling; and went back to speak to the musicians. The "juhman" was about to begin.
"I do think it's too funny for any use," said Kitty Oldham across her late partner to the nearest girl, "the way Britannia throws herself at _somebody's_ head. Simply monopolises him the _whole_ time."
"Oh, they were just sitting out one dance," said the man with her, displaying an unexpected acuteness. "Never mind looking at me that way, Miss Kitty. I know whom you were talking about. J. B. just didn't want to dance it, I guess."
"No wonder. Self-preservation's the first law of nature," said Kitty with undaunted pertness.
"Funny they don't teach 'em to _dance_, on the other side, isn't it?"
"Oh, she thinks she's dancing," said Kitty, lazily scornful. "It's a delusion they all have, I suppose. J. B.'s the only man around big enough for her--except Gwynne, and he's tall, but he's too slim. He's dropped out of the play--did you know?"
"Why, no--what for?"
"I don't know. If he'd been here to-night, I'd have asked him. He just walked off, and nobody said anything, for fear of putting their foot in it. I guess there never was a thing of the kind yet, that there wasn't a lot of fighting about. It's bound to be that way, you know. Nobody will be on speaking-terms before it's over."
"Have they got someone to take his place?"
"I believe Joe McHenry is going to do Matilda, and they're going to leave out Joe's old part--it wasn't much anyway, and somebody or other can take his speeches. Pretty nearly every man in town that can sing or act at all is in it already, you know. Archie says he doesn't know what they'd do, if anyone were to be taken sick."
"But why do you suppose Gwynne----?"
"Goodness knows! It's a bother, we'd fixed up all the programmes with his name on, and there isn't time to make a whole new lot now. You can't tell anything about it--there's a queer streak in all the Gwynnes, you know."
Doctor Vardaman's house wore something of a festive look on Friday night when the "all-star cast," as some ribald jeerer had christened them, of "William Tell," began to arrive. It was partly due to the appearance of Huddesley in his worn evening-clothes, carefully brushed and pressed. How he contrived to get the dinner--and it was a good dinner--cooked and ready for serving, and yet present himself in the doctor's little oil-clothed entry to open the door whenever the bell tinkled, clean, cool, and unhurried, ready to take charge of overcoats and hats--how Huddesley did all that, I say, would have been a mystery to any woman. Even some of the young men spoke of it afterwards with enthusiasm. As I have already stated, it happened that I never saw Huddesley except once, later in this same fateful Friday evening, as we shall presently hear, so that I am unable to describe him; but he achieved a certain measure of immortality in much better-known and more widely-read columns than mine will ever be. And in fact there could not have been much about him to describe; I think he was undersized and lean, a decent-looking, temperate, capable creature. But nothing in his appearance, they tell me, would have moved one to a second glance at him; and perhaps it was that very neutrality of face and figure that adapted him so well to his position. That, and his manners, prudently balanced between respectful reticence and respectful interest. He had contributed in no small share to the coaching of everybody in the all-star cast; he knew these young men as well as any subordinate can know his superiors--yet he took their coats in sedate silence, recognising them only by his grave "yes, sir," and "no sir," and retiring to his kitchen as soon as his services were no longer needed. Just once did J. B. imagine that he detected a faint flavour of--call it irony or covert impudence in the man's bearing; and he presently dismissed the idea from his mind as too fantastic. It was when Huddesley was hanging up Teddy Johns' coat alongside the others on the old-fashioned iron hat-rack, wrought in the semblance of a grapevine with tendrils and bunches of fruit that decorated the hall between two life-size oil-paintings of the doctor's "big-bugs."
"Who's that, Huddesley?" asked Teddy affably, indicating by a nod the one to the right. "The respectable-looking party in the knee-breeches, I mean."
"That's Doctor Vardaman's grandhuncle, I believe, sir; 'e's dead."
"No, you don't say? Tst, tst! Too bad! That's the first I've heard of it. When?"
"Habout heighteen-twelve, Hi hunderstand, Mr. Theodore," said Huddesley, paying the tribute of a deferential smile to the other's jocularity.
"Well, well, in the midst of life--the doctor's bearing up tolerably, however, I see. Do you suppose it was a good likeness? What a terrific big red nose the old boy had, didn't he?"
"Hi'm hafraid 'e was haddicted to the bottle, sir," said Huddesley respectfully. "That's what comes of the 'abit hoften."
"Hey? The bottle?"
"Yes, sir--'e took a drop too much, I dessay," said Huddesley without the slightest change of expression. "But a great many gents did in those days compared to what does now, Hi'm told. Heverybody's very temperate _now_, sir, as you must 'ave noticed. 'E probably began hearly, the hold gent yonder; you might say 'e was brought hup on the bottle."
J. B. eyed the man as Teddy, colouring a little, turned hastily into the parlour; but Huddesley's face was guileless. It was impossible to guess how much the fellow knew or meant to hint, though, indeed, it would have required no great penetration to discover poor Teddy's weakness. The wonder was that Huddesley, the silent, the discreet, should have allowed himself to touch upon the subject at all. It struck J. B. that he was almost too innocently humorous; he wondered if they had spoiled Huddesley, as Colonel Pallinder had predicted, by their unthinking familiarity. Muriel's words recurred uncomfortably to the young man's mind: "You think he's English, but you don't _know_." "He's no more like a servant at home than our stage-Yankees are like you." But the idea of his being anything else, of his perpetrating an elaborate hoax extending over two months and involving disagreeable manual labour, for no conceivable end, was too preposterous. The thought, hardly more than half-formed, floated across J. B.'s mental horizon, and vanished like a shred of cloud before the wind. Yet his confidence in Huddesley was oddly shaken; he halted, wavering at the fulfilment of a plan he had had in mind but a moment earlier. To say: "Look here, Huddesley, I wish you'd not fill Mr. Johns' glass as often as the rest of us, and never quite full anyhow"--surely that would have been a small matter, and no disloyalty to his friend, rather a kindness. And Huddesley was discreet--yes, that was just it, confound his wooden-faced discretion! All at once it savoured to J. B. of slyness. This uncertain mood was new to him, and while he hesitated in a kind of irritated wonder at his own lack of resolution----
"Beg parding, Mr. Breckinridge, sir, did you want to speak to me?" said Huddesley.
That settled it. J. B. felt as if those respectful eyes had bored through into his thoughts.
"No," he said shortly; and followed Teddy into his host's presence.
Doctor Vardaman's guests sat down some ten or twelve strong, the doctor at the head of his table, in a dress-coat the fashion of which antedated even Huddesley's, with his iron-grey hair brushed forward in a tuft over each ear; with a black stock such as he had worn since the year '40; his eyeglass on a black ribbon aslant across his shirt-front like an order; and a pair of Labrador-stone buttons in his cuffs, dark watery-green with a crumb of fire eerily visible in the depths of them. These cuff-buttons signalised the dinner as a gala-occasion; the doctor marked the day with a Labrador-stone. He only wore them when the event was of enough importance to justify such a display--a queer sentimental tribute to certain queer sentimental recollections. They had been given him who knows how long ago, and by whom? So do we all in secret offer some absurd and pathetic oblation before the shrines of the past. I dare say when the doctor opened the top drawer of his high-shouldered mahogany bureau and took his Labrador-stone buttons out of their dingy little green morocco case, for one moment the breath of a vanished spring saluted him, and the roses still bloomed by the calm Bendemeer. Thus did the old gentleman preside, invested with the kind dignity of his age and character, and of his noble and beautiful profession; and I have no doubt his ancient bachelor heart warmed a good deal at this exercise of hospitality, at the brave sight of the double row of young men's faces before him, and the deep and pleasant sound of their laughter. The other end of the table was held by Mr. J. Breckinridge Taylor, as the journals persisted in reporting him; and Huddesley brought in the soup. The doctor served it himself from a tub of a tureen, with a silver ladle not less than a yard long, both of which had graced the tables of his mother and grandmother--there were giants in those days!--as had all the other furnishings of this memorable dinner.
"There was one of those three-story-high cut-glass things, with tiers of cups on circular platforms--I don't know what you call 'em--filled with shaky jelly stuff and cream all foamy on top of it," one more than commonly observant young man told me afterwards. "That was in the middle of the table. And two silver castors with red Bohemian glass bottles full of vinegar and oil and things like that, you know, on each side of it; you could whirl 'em around, and pick out the bottle you wanted. And there were shallow glass dishes with jelly and two tall ones like big champagne-glasses, with kind of thick sticky preserves--they had lids, the tall ones. After the soup, everything came on at once, game, prairie-chicken, at the doctor's end, and just plain John Smith chicken roasted, about the middle, and boiled leg of mutton with this white sauce that has hard-boiled egg and little green things like pickled shoe-buttons"--he meant capers--"all through it, for J. B. to carve, and oysters and a ham, and four or five vegetables all over the table. There were the funniest old steel knives with ivory handles, and thin old silver forks and spoons with the doctor's crest, and a motto, '_Foy tiendrai_,' whatever that may mean, on the backs. Everybody had half-a-dozen wine-glasses; and to begin with there were four decanters of sherry, one at each corner of the table, and when we'd finished those--well, you _had_ to have a lot of liquor to get through a dinner like that, you know--Huddesley brought out three other kinds."
J. B. conscientiously carving the joint at his end of the table, viewed the shrinkage in the decanters with considerable uneasiness. There was nothing prim or kill-joy about J. B. He had no idea of affecting the virtue that denies to another man his cakes and ale. But he was a hard-headed young fellow, not given to self-indulgence of any kind; and although in the State of his birth and earlier years over-drinking was anything but uncommon, he confessed to a sort of contemptuous impatience with the man who did not know when he had enough. It seemed as if one or two of the present company had nearly reached that desirable condition; and still Huddesley travelled about the table, impartial as Fate herself, leaving no glass unfilled; or even half-full. J. B. could see Doctor Vardaman's face but imperfectly around the erection of custard-cups in the centre, but he thought an anxiety equal to his own appeared and vanished there by turns. Once or twice the old gentleman seemed on the edge of signalling Huddesley to hold his hand, but some feeling rooted, most probably in his old-fashioned notions of hospitality, must have restrained him.
"Tell you what," said J. B.'s next neighbour confidentially, "Johns is about as full as I like to see him; it don't take much, you know. He's just good and jolly now, but if he gets much more----" He shook his head dubiously. "Say, have you heard anything more about the colonel? I saw Gwynne Peters on the street to-day----"
"Hock or madeira, sir?" said Huddesley in J. B.'s ear. "Hock, sir? Yes, sir."
"It seems the Pallinders--I don't care, hock, I guess. What's the difference anyhow? I don't know one of these wines from the other."
"What about the Pallinders _now_?" asked J. B.
At that very moment, the length of the table away, Archie Lewis was saying, "Suppose you've heard that about Gwynne Peters, Doctor?"
Doctor Vardaman set down his glass with unusual emphasis. "That's the third or fourth time this week that I've heard 'that about Gwynne Peters,'" said he. "And in spite of it, I've never found out yet what 'that about Gwynne Peters' is!"
"_What!_ Didn't you _know_? Why, I thought somehow you knew all about the Gwynnes. Haven't you heard about the fuss with Pallinder and all?"
The doctor shook his head, and motioned to Huddesley for fresh glasses. "Never saw anything like the way the boys are getting through the wine," was his inward comment. "And how warm they all look!" Then aloud: "So _that's_ the reason Gwynne dropped out of the play; I thought it a little odd when he declined my dinner," he said, fixing a thoughtful gaze on Archie. "There's been a fuss with the Colonel, has there? What was it about?" He fully expected to hear Archie say, "Why, you know old Steven Gwynne----" had done this or that. But the young man only looked at him inquiringly.
"I thought you always knew all there was to know about the Gwynnes," he repeated. "Templeton, their agent, has a desk with us--do you know _him_?"
"No--yes, I've seen him. He's short and stout and wears spectacles, doesn't he?"
"Yes, that's Templeton. You must have heard father's stories about him and the Gwynnes; he has this little real-estate business, and scratches along somehow, I believe the Gwynne estate's the biggest part of it. Father says it's no trouble at all now compared to what it was before Gwynne Peters took hold; father says there were two or three years when Gwynne was away, before he got through Harvard, you know, when Templeton's life wasn't worth living."
"Well, I never understood that Gwynne managed the estate personally," said the doctor, recalling, however, a recent scene in his library with considerable interest.
"No, he don't. He--well, he manages the family--I guess that's about the size of it. Gwynne's getting a pretty good law-practice, you know; he couldn't take his time to run around looking at roofs and down-spouts. That's Templeton's job. When he leased the house to Colonel Pallinder, you ought to have seen Templeton! I'll bet he was the happiest man in Washington County. He's a nervous, excitable little fellow anyhow. He said Pallinder leased it for three years at a hundred and fifty a month, and it was a perfect miracle; the house is awfully old, and it was all out of repair and hadn't any modern improvements, except a furnace. Why, you remember what it was like, Doctor. Well, then, the question of repapering and putting it in order came up, and he told the Colonel flat he couldn't allow but just so much (one month's rent, I think) for repairs. It was too funny, Doctor, to hear him telling father about it. 'You know there's about twenty of the Gwynne heirs, Judge Lewis,' says he, 'and nobody's got any money, and everybody's got a say; and I simply _couldn't_ promise to do all the Colonel wanted. Every time I paint a porch or fix somebody's sink, those two old Miss Gwynnes take to their beds!' You just ought to have seen Templeton telling all this, doctor, with those big glasses shining, and his Adam's apple kind of working up and down the way it does with nervous men. I guess it's not all pie attending to the Gwynnes' affairs, even now. They're all so queer--except Gwynne Peters, _he's_ all right. Finally the Colonel said he rather expected to buy the house anyhow, and if they had no objection he'd go ahead and fix it to suit himself, _at his own expense_. This is Templeton's side I'm giving you, you know; I guess it's as near the truth as we'll ever get. Seems to me Templeton was pretty careless, not to have it all in writing. Anyhow, you know what they did, Doctor; built that little conservatory, and put in all new plumbing, and had the house painted and papered and grained from top to bottom--the Lord knows what all the bills will come to--the Lord knows and He won't tell! But somebody else will," said Archie with a grin.
"Well, what's happened?"
"Everything," said Archie concisely. "The wonder is, it didn't happen before. In the first place, the plumber turns up in our office the other day with his unpaid bill for six hundred and sixty-four dollars and eight cents. He can't get anything out of Pallinder--Pallinder cannily refers him to the owners of the property. He comes in with fire in his eye, wanting to sue Templeton or the estate--father says he's got a case, too. The plumber's a German, and pretty excitable, and I told you Templeton was excitable, so you can imagine what it was like. We tried to smooth 'em down, but we all got so full of laugh, we made it worse, I think. One of the boys in the office says: 'Oh, come now, Mr. Scheurmann, let him down easy, knock off the eight cents, won't you?' 'I vill nodt gompromise! I vill haf my money! I vill nodt knock off von pfennig!' I tell you the office was a lively place for about two minutes, with Scheurmann jumping up and down and shaking his fists on one side, and Templeton jumping up and down shaking his on the other!"
"Well, but what's all this got to do with Gwynne?"
"Why, he came in after a while with some papers that I'd taken over to his office a day or so before, when I found that old Gwynne fellow that lives out on the farm, you know, and the two little old Gwynne twins sitting around like crows waiting for Gwynne to come in--I told you about that, didn't I? I was pretty sure right then that there was going to be some kind of trouble. Anyway Gwynne came into our office, and Templeton and the plumber left off jumping on each other to light into him. As if Gwynne had had anything to do with it! I never felt so sorry for a man in my life; he's the kind that always shoulders all the responsibility and gets blamed for everything, somehow. He takes the whole business terribly to heart; he'd been to see Pallinder, and I guess they'd had it hot and heavy. He was all broken up over it. He told father there was a poor devil of a gardener that had done some work about the greenhouse, and came to him with a bill for twelve dollars; his wife was sick, and he wanted Gwynne to see if he couldn't get the money out of the colonel. Gwynne didn't say so, but I know he paid that fellow out of his own pocket--he's that sort. He told father if he could he'd rake and scrape and pay the whole thing himself rather than have such a miserable scandal connected with the family. He seems to feel as if it all kind of came back on him--over sensitive, _I_ call it. You'd think it was all his fault."
"I think I can understand the feeling," said the doctor. "I'm afraid we've all bowed ourselves in the house of Rimmon."
"Hey? The house? Oh, yes, I was going to tell you about that, it all comes out now, the rent hasn't been paid, not one cent, since the first six months! Gwynne's going to bring suit. He said he wouldn't do it on his own account, but he's Sam's guardian--you knew about Sam being out at the asylum, or whatever Sheckard calls his place?--and he was responsible for Sam's money. I guess he had a devil of a row with Pallinder--he wouldn't talk about it. You'd think anyone could have seen all along that the colonel was nothing but an old bunco-steerer, but I suppose Gwynne actually thought he was all right until this came up!"
"The idea of accepting the Pallinders' hospitality doesn't sit heavy on your conscience at any rate," said the doctor. Archie looked up, surprised; then he flushed a little and laughed.
"Why, no, why should it? Pallinder's debts aren't worrying me any. And as for talking about him, why, Doctor, it's been all over town the last three days."
The doctor's wine and the Pallinder's affairs circulated in about equal proportion; and there was a good deal of speculation as to how long the present state of things would last--how long the colonel could hold out. "I hope nothing's going to happen--not while that Miss Baxter, that nice English girl is here, that's all--the papers always go for anything of that kind tooth-and-nail," said J. B.'s neighbour. "And you know, after all, in his way, he's been kind of pleasant to know--I've had some awfully good times up there."
"So have I. It seems low-down talking this way, but everybody does," said J. B.
The other let his eyes rest on J. B. a moment, half-amused, half-inquisitive. "I wonder--I do wonder what she thinks of us anyway."
"Why, Miss Baxter."
"Pretty small potatoes, I guess," said J. B. absently, one eye on Teddy.
"She thinks _you're_ all right, old man."
"Bosh!" said J. B., resenting the tone more than the words.
"She told me the other day she thought Breckinridge was a beautiful name. 'Why, Miss Baxter,' I said, 'you ought to go to Kentucky; that's J. B.'s old home. It's so full of Breckinridges, you can't throw a stone without hitting one of 'em!' 'Really?' she says, just like that. 'Really?' She thought I was in earnest!"
"Every Breckinridge you hit would have a gun in one hip-pocket and a flask in the other," said J. B., turning the talk from Muriel as best he could. "Bad men to throw stones at, on the whole----"
"No! Good Heavens, do you suppose the doctor expects us to eat all that pudding and jelly stuff, and fruit and nuts and cheese into the bargain? It's--what d'ye call it?--Homeric, that's what it is--a Homeric feast!"
"Whash savin' up for, J. B.?" Teddy shouted from his seat; and J. B.'s face darkened. He directed a meaning look at Teddy's nearest neighbours; but by this time all the young men were beginning to be somewhat flushed, whether from too much eating or too much drinking, and there was an amazing amount of loud talk and hilarity. Teddy repeated his question: "Why'n't you drinkin', J. B.? Huddesley, you've lef' out Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor's _my_ frien', Huddesley. All my frenge here----" He made a sweeping gesture, and knocked over a preserve-dish with a stunning clatter, gazed at the ruin a minute, then burst into a yell of laughter, in which, sad to relate, he was joined by more than one at the table. Teddy suddenly straightened up and looked around with profound gravity. "Somebody's makin' great deal noise!" said he, with elaborate distinctness of utterance. And then returned to the charge: "Why'n't you take some champagne, J. B.? Free's air, doctor's champagne. You do' wan' hurt doctor's feelingsh, J. B.?" he inquired pathetically.
"I want to be so I can sing my part," said J. B. good-humouredly. "It's hard to sing on top of a big dinner like this, you know, Ted. Better look out, hadn't you?--For Heaven's sake, somebody tell Huddesley not to give him any more!" he added in a whisper to his neighbours, and tried to catch the servant's eye. But Huddesley was bending all his energies to scooping up with exemplary method and expedition the mess of syrup and broken glass; it seemed impossible to attract his attention. And in another tour of the table he filled Teddy's glass again, no one remembering, or perhaps noticing at all, J. B.'s telegrams of consternation. "Well, damn it, I'm not his keeper!" said the latter to himself, in a rage. "Everybody's forgotten that Ted's pretty near the whole show, and they're letting him drink himself blind drunk. He won't be able to stand up after this--I've done _my_ best anyhow," and in a spirit of savage recklessness, he swallowed his own champagne at one gulp, and turned to find Huddesley at his elbow with another bottle. Caution returned upon him.
"Say, Huddesley, didn't you see me shake my head when you gave Mr. Johns that last glass? He's had all that's good for him already. Now you quit it, you hear me?" said J. B., conscious of some confusion in his own head where _his_ last glass was apparently hurrying to and fro uneasily. He spoke with huge severity; the more as Huddesley met his eye with disconcerting intelligence.
"Oh, Lord love you, Mr. Breckinridge, 'e ain't 'ad enough to 'urt," said he soothingly. "Hi won't let 'im get hout o' hand, sir."
J. B. all at once found himself standing up. Why was he standing up? The occasion somehow seemed to require it.
"You mind what I tell you. He's got a very impartont port--I mean a perry veportant imp--I say a very important-part-in-the-play-and-I-don't-want-him-to-be-too-drunk -to-speakstinctly," said J. B. painstakingly.
"That's all right, Mr. Taylor, you just sit right down in your chair--it's a nice chair; you just sit right down, now won't you?" said Huddesley still soothingly--too soothingly by far to suit J. B.
"Don't you give me any impudence," he said darkly. He sat down surveying the assembly with scorn shading into pity. _He_ wasn't drunk, anyhow. But now Doctor Vardaman had risen in his place at the head of the table, and was asking silence at the top of his lungs--not the best way in the world of getting it, to the mind of a disinterested onlooker, but, as nobody was so far gone yet as not to heed the host of the evening, he was finally obeyed, after Teddy, under the mistaken impression that he was being called on to give his justly famous rendition of the farmer about to kill a turkey, had been quelled.
"Gentlemen," said the doctor, casting a look of some anxiety over his table-full, "let us not forget, that, however much we may be enjoying the present hour--I speak for myself"--here a number of voices assured him heartily, "So are we! You bet!" and so on--"I say, gentlemen, we must not forget that time is passing, and we are due for the entertainment of our friends at nine o'clock. It would never do, I think, to keep the ladies waiting. And, having their convenience in view, I propose that we drink a final glass--" said the doctor, unable to avoid a slight stress on the adjective--"a _final_ glass to the success of the performance and adjourn. Reversing what seems to have been the practice of Scriptural times, I will offer you a very rare and choice old vintage--you will pardon the conceit that calls attention to its excellence--a wine that was laid down by my father, gentlemen, in eighteen-fifteen, the year of the battle of New Orleans, the Waterloo year, and, as it happens, the year of my birth. He obtained it--for it has its history--of a Dutch merchant in Cadiz, and we have since called it, not knowing in truth what its real name should be, Mynheer Van der Cuyp's wine. Huddesley----"
Here Huddesley stepped forward, and set before the doctor with something of a flourish two thick black bottles, dusty as to the shoulders, with the corks drawn, and a tray of the smallest variety of glasses--rather miserly provision, it might appear, for such a company, but Doctor Vardaman, not without considerable show of embarrassment, proceeded to explain: "I--I find myself obliged to warn you, gentlemen, inhospitable as it seems, that Mynheer Van der Cuyp's wine, what with age and the richness of its ingredients, is of an unexampled potency. It is at once smooth and heady, and--and I would not have you taken at unawares. In short, boys," he added earnestly, abandoning his formal manner, "it's the very deuce to go to one's head, and you all have to be careful. Huddesley----" Again that invaluable person began to circulate.
Doctor Vardaman did not get through his little speech (which he delivered in a style quaintly reminiscent of the after-dinner orators of his youth, in an attitude with one hand beneath his coat-tails) without some uproarious interruptions; the momentary pause that followed had the surprising effect of clearing the brain of at least one in his audience. Whatever the others felt, J. B. suddenly realised, as he afterwards put it, that "he had reached his limit." He knew when _he'd_ had enough, and the trepidation visible in the doctor's face as Mynheer Van der Cuyp's wine went on its devastating way, was repeated in his own. If the truth were known, the old gentleman had been congratulating himself on bringing off what he considered a tolerably clever _coup_ to end a sitting which promised disaster to some of the company; and doing it without offence. But alas! for the best-laid plans of mice and men! The catastrophe had occurred; some, perhaps most of the men were a little the worse for liquor; a few minutes of cool night air would cure them; but Teddy Johns, their prime performer, the peg upon which hung all their hopes of success, Teddy was hopelessly drunk. No night air, no applications of crushed ice and wet towels would cure _him_. Teddy was very good-natured; he sang, he winked, he joked, he told stories, he lavished endearments on his "frenge." Even in his worry, the doctor found time for the reflection that wine in, truth out is the most solid of maxims; liquor puts nothing into a man's nature that was not there already, it can but reveal him naked; and if he will be a brute in his cups, it is odds but you shall find him a brute at heart out of them. There was nothing brutal about poor Teddy; you could no more be angry with him than with a child. Too late the doctor regretted his hospitality, too late he lamented the love of good cheer and youthful company that had prompted him to this inordinate abundance. He was in the frame of mind to write a temperance tract; and a sarcastic grin fled across his features as he pictured what that celebrity of his earlier years, Mr. T. S. Arthur, would have made of the scene--the moral he would have drawn therefrom.
Once I myself had the privilege of tasting the wine of Mynheer Van der Cuyp. It was a dark and heavy liquor, pouring like oil, rich of aroma, searching the veins with subdued fire. Perhaps few of Doctor Vardaman's guests could appreciate that marvellous flavour; at any rate Teddy was the only one to express a clamorous approval:
"Pretty goo' for ol' Chickencoop! Give us s'more, Huddesley!"
And Huddesley stolidly gave him some more, oblivious to signs. It is with great reluctance that this historian enters a record of the disgraceful scene--but the thing must be done. The horrid tale of Mynheer Van der Cuyp's wine cannot be omitted. Of course, no man who reads about Doctor Vardaman's banquet has ever so far forgot himself as to get drunk, not even when he was a boy; he always had the strength of character to resist that beastly temptation. And any woman knows very well that instead of an assemblage of fairly decent and manly young fellows, the doctor's guests were all low, swilling louts and boors. So be it; it is true that they turned out, as years went on, to be tolerable citizens most of them, good husbands, fathers of families for whom they toiled honestly and provided handsomely--but all that has nothing to do with the matter in hand.
J. B. bounced up with great, even unnecessary vigour, crying out: "Oh, this has got to be stopped--one of you fellows take it away from him!"
"No use now, Breck," said Archie dolefully. "That jag will last till morning."
"Jag yourself!" said Teddy epigrammatically, if somewhat indistinctly.
"Take away his glass, I say!"
"Shan't either," said Teddy, grasping it unsteadily. "J. B., for shame! You're drunk----" He got to his feet wavering; everybody was up by this time. "Doc' Vardaman, 'pol'gise--J. B.'s condition--sorry----" He tried to carry the glass to his lips, failed, and it crashed on the floor. Teddy stood swaying, he smiled benevolently upon the doctor, "Sorry," he murmured.
"Look out! Hold him up!"
"Here--hold on----!" A chair went over. Huddesley sprang to the rescue.
"Sorry," repeated Teddy sleepily, "lead horsh to water--can't make him stop drinkin'--sorry." He drooped on Huddesley's shoulder.
"'Old hup, Mr. Theodore," said the latter amiably. "Lord! 'E 'as 'ad a leetle too much, ain't 'e? Never mind, gents, Hi'll get 'im hupstairs, Hi've 'andled 'em before."
"Here's a nice how-de-do, now what's to be done?" said J. B. despairingly as Teddy was dragged off. He looked around on the suddenly sobered and very shame-faced group. Mr. T. S. Arthur could not have pointed a moral half so well as did the spectacle of that drunken lad; for somehow every man there felt himself at fault.
Dr. Vardaman was not a little downcast; he saw himself in the unenviable posture of an old Silenus, leading boys astray. "I am to blame for this, boys," he said, glancing about in genuine distress. "I--I----"
"No, you aren't, Doctor, we were all taking too much," somebody said. "And we're old enough to know better. We ought to have looked out for Ted."
"What I want to know is, what are we going to do now?" repeated J. B. And in the silence of blank looks that followed, Huddesley came back.
"'E'll do nicely now, gents," he announced cheerfully. "Hi'll go hup and get the rest of 'is clothes hoff hafter a while. 'E was a _leetle_ fractious habout being' hundressed, but Hi persuaded 'im 'e was goin' to put on 'is costoom for 'William Tell,' and 'e let me take 'is coat like a lamb."
"'William Tell,' hey?" said Archie grimly. "It's all up with 'William Tell' now."
"Sir?" said Huddesley aghast.
"Worse than that--it's all up with 'Mrs. Tankerville,' too."
"Five minutes to nine! We ought to be there now."
"Well, we'll just have to tell them that he's been taken sick----"
"Everybody knows what that means," said J. B. impatiently. "Might as well tell the truth."
"Good Lord! What will the girls think? And Miss Baxter, too--what will _she_ think? What will everybody say? We'll never hear the last of it! Can't anybody--can't one of you fellows take his part? Here, Ollie Hunt--or you, Joe?"
Vain hope! "I'm doing Gwynne Peters' part as it is," said Joe, helplessly. A hurried canvass revealed the dire fact that the one or two men who were of a size to wear the dress either were already provided with parts of too much importance to be left out, or could not sing the music allotted to _Mrs. Gessler_. Nobody remembered the dialogue in either play; but that was a small matter, if only someone could be found, a dummy, a straw man, anybody to appear on the stage and read the lines. Things looked black--and already the carriages of prompt arrivals were beginning to roll into the Pallinder gate.
"Couldn't you give him some stuff--something strong that would bring him around, Doctor?" it was asked as the old gentleman returned from a look at his guest. "They won't be surprised at an amateur performance being late--and an hour might straighten him out."
The doctor shook his head. "Nothing I know of in the whole range of medicine," said he briefly. "He's sound asleep, stupefied, dead drunk, or whatever you choose to call it--as if he'd been drugged. Mynheer Van der Cuyp's wine was the last straw--terribly strong stuff."
"I guess there's no way out of it--we'll have to give the thing up or postpone it," said Archie gloomily. "Nice job for the Pallinders, isn't it? Think of the staging and lights----"
"And the house all floor-clothed and decorated----"
"And the orchestra----"
"_I'm_ waiting to hear what old Botlisch will say, that's all!"
"We'll have to stand from under when _she_ begins, I guess."
"Can't be helped now, fellows, we'll have to take our medicine. But who's going to tell 'em?"
"Beg parding, Mr. Breckinridge, sir, but you ain't goin' to give hup the plays on haccount of Mr. Theodore, are you?" Huddesley inquired with a face of consternation.
"Have to, Huddesley," said the doctor. "There's no one to take his place, you know."
"But, beg parding, sir, 'ow'll you hexplain?"
"Why, somehow--anyhow--get up some kind of story."
"Doctor Vardaman, sir," said Huddesley, wagging his head solemnly. "Murder will hout. Wotever story you get hup, you'll 'ave--if you'll hexcuse my saying it--you'll 'ave the devil's own time."
"Well, we've thought of that, but----"
"You 'aven't thought hof heverything, sir," said Huddesley in a melodramatic undertone. "THE PAPERS, sir!" (and nothing but the largest capitals will express the curdling whisper with which he brought out the words). "'HAWFUL HORGIES HAMONG THE FOUR 'UNDRED! PRIVATE LIFE OF HEMINENT PHYSICIAN REVEALED! DAYS HOF HANCIENT ROME RECALLED! HEXTRY! HALL HABOUT THE SCANDAL IN 'IGH LIFE!' That's what it will be sir, as sure as fate!" His face and gestures were vividly pictorial; headlines such as he suggested in letters half-a-foot high on the first page of the morning journals loomed upon everyone's mental vision. J. B. looked at the man and again suspicion awoke within him.
"Any editor that publishes lies like that will get a horse-whipping," said he deliberately (J. B. was not born a Kentuckian for nothing). "And if any story of the kind gets out, the man that starts it will get another. If you want to be bought off, Huddesley, you've come to the wrong people."
"I wasn't thinking of that, Mr. Breckinridge," said Huddesley, cringing. "I only wanted to save trouble."
"Save trouble how?"
"Why, if it isn't presuming too much, sir, I--I could do Mr. Johns' parts, I've heard him often. I don't want to be putting myself forward, sir, but I gave him some suggestions about the _business_, and you yourself were so kind as to say that they were good ones."
J. B. and the doctor stared at first incredulously, then with a glimmer of relief. The servant was plainly in desperate earnest. His forehead was wet, there was colour in his sallow cheeks, he twisted the napkin in his hands. But J. B., as he afterwards confessed, paid little enough attention to the changes in Huddesley's manner, singular as they were; he was too much occupied with this possible way out of their difficulty. If Huddesley _could_ do it, the day might yet be saved. No one but the performers need know it; in the _Mrs. Gessler_ make-up Teddy was unrecognisable from the front, as also when he appeared as _Jenks the butler_ in mutton-chop sidewhiskers. They were all men in "William Tell"; in the second play, his rôle would not bring Huddesley into offensive contact with the girls; they would have to be told, but trust Mazie Pallinder to carry off a situation like that! If Huddesley could manage to get through, some excuse could be found for his non-appearance afterwards; nobody would suspect anything, and when the truth did come out, gossip would have been staved off for a little while at least, and people rarely halloo long on a cold scent. J. B. questioned the doctor with a glance; then called to the others:
"I say, you fellows, come here a minute, I want to talk about something!"
When I meet some fellow-performer in the Pallinder theatricals nowadays we seldom fail to hark back to that noteworthy occasion before we have had out our talk. There were many of us and we have since scattered wide to widely differing lives, yet, I think for most this episode of the eighties probably bulks largest in the dun landscape of our respectable careers. This is no tragedy; we all married--or by far the greater number of us--and lived happily at times, at times unhappily, as people do, ever after. But we never came nearer to adventure. Reviewing that night with a friend, I am always amazed at the stirring events that took place within the notice of only one or two persons; we each cherish a different recollection. So much seems to have happened to us individually, it is after all not surprising that something tremendous should have happened to us collectively. Not long since, as we were discussing it in a company, someone said: "Wasn't it awful when I fell over the jardinière right out by the footlights?" Nobody else remembered the shocking occurrence! This heroine is now a comfortable matron of forty-odd with two daughters at Bryn Mawr; she has a handsome establishment, and an excellent dressmaker; her only anxiety, I believe, is her youngest son, who is a delicate child. It is strange to think of this sensible middle-aged woman, who, like all the rest of us, has lived out her romance, seen the world, suffered who knows how many griefs and disappointments, and yet had her share of happiness, it is strange to think of her harbouring all these years the stinging memory of how she fell over the jardinière. The mind has a vexatious pet-animal trick of picking up and storing away trivialities; what would we not all give to remember what is worth remembering--and to forget!
I said we were many; for, besides the cast of "Tell," "Mrs. Tankerville's Tiara" demanded a practically unlimited number of young people in full dress for the ballroom scene. I have since suspected that Mazie, the diplomatic, selected the play for that very reason. She asked all the débutantes, and every one else who was "anybody"; and, no matter what we said, we were all sufficiently tickled to figure so publicly in a new dress, even if only for a few minutes, and in what I have seen aptly ticketed a "thinking part." Such was my own, and I was divided between a feeling of relief that I had no speeches to remember and deliver in the hollow expectant silence of the audience-room, and an inward conviction that had I been cast for a leading rôle, I should have done much better than anyone else. The performance was, of course, late in beginning; but everybody expected that, and although people had been invited for nine, many did not arrive until long after. To this day I can remember the look of the ballroom, very high, wide, and chilly, rows of empty chairs drawn up across the floor, spirals of smilax twisted around the pillars--it was a hard place to decorate, so big and bare--and Mrs. Pallinder erect by the door, with a grove of potted plants behind her. She had to receive by herself, as Mazie took part in the second play, and did not care to dull the effect of her first costume by letting it be seen prematurely. Mazie had a fine idea of dramatic proprieties, and a certain sense of climax. The colonel did not show for some reason; I believe he was downstairs, welcoming the men as they came in, to the punchbowl on the sideboard. Mrs. Botlisch had providentially gone to bed with a bilious attack; she had entertained us with a particular account of her symptoms, remedies, and their results at luncheon. So Mrs. Pallinder received, looking rather haggard, I thought, in spite of her rouge; perhaps it was because she was not wearing those famous diamonds, and one missed their generous brilliance. Jewels were eminently suited to Mrs. Pallinder; her fair hair and clear stone-grey eyes seemed to gain a needed lustre from her necklaces and pendants, and she was the only woman I ever saw who could wear an earring gracefully. That barbaric ornament set her ear like a drop of dew on the petal of a flower--there was no hint of mutilation about it; and I believe she could have sported a stud in her nostril without offence. She was placed to the utmost advantage; her delicately classic head and white shoulders were detached upon the background of dark foliage with a charming cameo-like effect. But she was all one faint exquisitely-faded colour in an ashes-of-roses silk, and that or something else more subtle made her look strangely older. She had surrendered her diamonds with many playful-serious cautions to _Mrs. Tankerville_, that is, Mazie; and that young woman was decorating her languid Oriental person with them in the depths of her den of rocking-chairs and mirrors.
The Chorus of "William Tell" arrived a long while ahead of the stars, who, as we have seen, were dining with Doctor Vardaman. Even by the time the Chorus had finished dressing--there was only one of him, as I believe I have intimated elsewhere, a tall fair young man, who wore eye-glasses in private life and was a great admirer of Mazie's,--the rest of the cast had not yet put in an appearance. I suppose if we could have known what was going forward in the Swiss cottage we would have been much exercised; but we had no apprehensions, and no quick means of communication, if any doubts had assailed us. Few private houses had a telephone in those days, not even the Pallinders--which was, no doubt, owing in large part to the inconvenient habit prevailing among telephone-companies from the earliest times of demanding quarterly payments in advance, and removing the instrument if they were not forthcoming. So far from worrying, however, we found some pleasurable excitement in the long wait behind the scenes, and stealthy peeps through the eye-hole. The setting for "Tell" was the same throughout its two acts as I recall, a Swiss picture with Alps in the background, canvas trees and foliage to the front, and a "practicable" well with a gigantic sweep, whence they brought up pails of water and diluted the contents of _Tell's_ milk-cans--he was a dairyman in the burlesque; this was the _Schactenthal Waterfall_, and was the subject of many noble apostrophes from all the actors; even _Gessler_ and _Jemmy_ had something to say about it. There was a trap-door in the floor of the stage and a servant stood to hand up buckets as they were needed.
"Most people," the Chorus remarked to me, "would have had to put up a lot of money for all this. The colonel got a carpenter from the Grand Opera House, not the head man, I suppose, but some second-best fellow they could spare, to plan and oversee it all, so that everything would be safe. That's the man over there now; he told me the bill for the lumber alone would be thirty-five or forty dollars--and it's good for nothing but kindling-wood after to-night, you know."
We were sitting together on a green baise-covered mound, very much in the way, doubtless, as we watched the men getting things in position. I had no business to be there at all, but I was dressed and ready for my part, and so alive with curiosity and excitement, I could no more stay in one place sedately than a young kitten or puppy. The stolid professionals at work on the scenery endured our presence on the principle, perhaps, that bids us to suffer fools kindly.
"The Pallinders must be awfully well off," I said. My companion eyed me soberly. The Chorus was a serious and practical young fellow; at the present time he is conducting a great milling business somewhere up in Michigan. They make two or three kinds of breakfast-foods, I think, and have been extraordinarily successful. But we were not dreaming of that the night we perched together on the make-believe mound behind the swaying drop-curtain; rather must his thoughts have been occupied with Mazie Pallinder, her long serpentine figure, and sprightly drawl. For I noticed how his eyes wandered constantly in the direction whence she might appear.
"I wish the boys would get here," he said, wrinkling his brows. "It's half-after already. They're beginning to crowd in pretty thick--last time I looked all the first fifteen rows were taken. Is--ah--is Miss Pallinder going to come and help her mother receive? I didn't see her. But if she is, I--ah--I really ought to go and speak to them."
He coloured furiously at the mere mention of her name; and it struck me as exquisitely humorous that his goddess was probably at that instant producing just such a blush on her own well-tried cheeks by what mysterious agency! Pink nail-paste and talcum-powder had a good deal to do with it, I believe.
"She isn't there, and you shouldn't go in costume anyhow. Nobody ought to be seen beforehand--Mazie says so. She's all dressed and sitting in her room until 'Mrs. Tankerville,' begins. How did it happen you didn't go to dinner at Doctor Vardaman's with the others?"
"Why, I had to go down to the train to meet Susie; she's coming on from New Haven with the two children to make us a visit. Her train was due at eight, but it's five hours late--stalled at a washout just this side of Pittsburgh, the fellow at the ticket-office told me. He said all the Pan-Handle and B. & O. trains were coming in anywhere from one to nine hours behind the schedule-time. Freshets, you know; the Ohio's on a boom. They're having an awful time in Cincinnati, they say, biggest flood in years. There, isn't that J. B.'s voice?"
I beat a hasty retreat for Mazie's room, where the entire feminine cast of "Mrs. Tankerville" was by this time collected. We had to be bestowed in some place where we could talk in safety; and no talking could be allowed "behind" while the plays were in progress, even such a scatter-brained crew as we were, knew that. But from time to time one of us would steal out to the wings, watch the familiar antics, listen to the familiar jokes a while, and bring back a report. I believe we enjoyed this excited hour or two more than anything that went before or after. In Mazie's room the gas flared high; the chairs, the lounge, the bed were heaped with finery. We pulled a big pink silk screen in front of the door so that the arriving audience, taking off its wraps in the other bedrooms, might not see us. There was a green-room atmosphere (we thought) of flowers, candy, perfume, acid gossip; and now and again we could hear one of the men rushing through the hall outside to their quarters in the wing, for a change of clothes; or a thunderous burst of laughter, "like a dam giving away," Kitty said, when the dining-room door in the hall below swung open.
"It's going all right," she reported, returning from one of these expeditions with very bright eyes and flushed cheeks. She looked distractingly neat and coquettish in her black frock, cap, and short ruffled apron as the maid; and I was afterwards told that one of the men had caught and kissed her in a dark corner behind the prompter's chair. They all seemed to be in wonderfully high spirits. "Only it's so funny the audience sometimes laugh in places where we didn't expect 'em to at all! You ought to see J. B. Taylor. He looks perfectly _immense_ in that kilt; I didn't _know_ he was such a big man; great big round pink arms like this! And the kilt kind of peaks down right in the middle of the back; Harry Smith called him Doctor Mary Walker; and _Gessler_ said he ought to have a bustle--right out loud so that the people could hear! They call that _gagging_ the part." She sent a glance of sparkling malice, suggestive, somehow, of a file of small new pins, toward Muriel. "J. B.'s the _silliest_--you can't help laughing to save your life."
"Did they laugh at Teddy?"
"Like everything! He's a little husky, or else it's too much dinner, his voice sounds kind of queer, but I guess that will wear off in a minute." She added in a rapid whisper, as Mazie's back was turned, "Girls, it's _rich_! He's got himself up to look about as fat as Mrs. Botlisch in an old gingham wrapper without corsets, you know, and he's sort of taking her off, he's simply _splendid_, people just roll over and laugh every time he opens his mouth."
"Is Doctor Vardaman there?"
"What, behind? No. He's not here at all, one of the men told me. He had to go and sit up with some sick person, or something. Don't you want to see J. B., Muriel?"
"No," said Muriel flatly. She was looking acutely distressed, like a large sorrowing Madonna. "I think Mr. Johns must look a great deal sillier," she said with a kind of defiance. "Or that other--what is his name?--the one that pretends to be the Chorus, just one of him--he's _very_ silly!"
"How is Bob doing?" Mazie asked.
Bob was the Chorus. He was no actor; but the part only required someone with a voice, and he had a really beautiful high sweet tenor. All he must do was to appear in season and out of season and jodel, which he did to admiration, with a perfectly grave face, for as I have said, he was of a sober disposition, and to tell the truth saw nothing comic in it. But about the seventh or eighth jodel the audience fell into paroxysms of laughter and so continued whenever the Chorus came on. Bob made one of the hits of the evening, to his own great confusion and the frank surprise of everyone else in the cast.
"Bob? Oh, all right. But that's one of the things they're laughing at; isn't that funny?"
"Why not, if he's funny?" said Muriel, puzzled.
"Oh, I don't mean funny _that_ way, you know, I mean _funny_. Why don't you come and look on a while, Maze? Bob'll do better if you're there."
"Oh, I guess I don't care to," said Mazie with indolent emphasis. "I'd tear my dress or something. It's all full of ropes and nails and pegs behind there." She leaned back in her rocker, contemplating the sweeping breadths of her dull red silk train, spangled with jets; the front of her low corsage darted light from innumerable facets of jet and diamonds. In the absence of an actual tiara, her mother's diamond necklace had been fastened on a symmetrical frame of silver wire, and gleamed abroad from Mazie's dead-black hair, arranged in a forest of bangs. Without a single pretty feature, she wrought a curious illusion of dark and brilliant beauty; and Kitty gave her the tribute of an unwilling admiration. A girl, and not a handsome girl at that, who was too lazy or too stiff-necked to walk half-a-dozen steps to show herself when she was looking her best to a man, who as we all knew was in love with her, and who would be no poor match either--such a girl, I say, commanded all the respect of which Kitty's small soul was capable.
Then I adventured again, alone; and harvested a sensation. For, while I was standing in the left wings, between two blocks of scenery, with my skirts furled as close as the fashion of the day would allow, to avoid casual tacks, Teddy Johns came off, followed by a gratifying, yet somehow a little awesome, burst of applause. He stood close beside me breathing hard, for his humour was largely acrobatic, and dabbing the perspiration from his forehead and cheeks with a corner of handkerchief, daintily so as not to mar his paint. And the audience clamoured a recall. I suppose there were not more than a couple of hundred people in the ballroom, yet the noise they made was deafening in so contracted a space; there was something formidable and pitiless in that great insistent voice. Sudden comprehension of what stage-fright might be came to me, and I looked at Teddy with admiring wonder. What must it be to face that hydra of a creature, that thing of many souls fused into one unthinkable whole out there beyond the footlights!
"Weren't you frightened?" I whispered.
He turned towards me--and it was not Teddy Johns at all! It was a man I had never seen before.
I was so startled I could only gasp and stutter; the light was good enough, yet I thought it must have misled me, and peered into his face anxiously, expecting his familiar chuckle. His features were a mask of paint, apparently laid on at random, but as I know now, with real skill and knowledge of effect; he wore false eyebrows and a wig with a grotesque "slat" sunbonnet pushed halfway off, and held by the strings knotted under his chin. His body was padded shapelessly. And while I strove to find Teddy under this disguise, he suddenly bestowed on me a grin so vicious and repellent, that I almost screamed aloud. Whether that expression of amusement was involuntary on Huddesley's part, or whether he feigned it out of deliberate deviltry, I have often wondered. I must have uttered some sort of queer noise, for he said in a biting whisper: "Hold your tongue, you--fool!" and in the same breath was back on the stage, bowing to the tumult. He made the leader of the orchestra a sign, the instruments crashed out the opening bars of his song, and he began over again.
I did not faint or go into hysterics, for I was a healthy and after all a tolerably sensible young woman; but it is impossible to convey any idea of my bewilderment. Fortunately it lasted only a moment or so. Huddesley made his second exit to the right, for the sake of variety, maybe; and the Chorus, crossing the stage, stationed himself in the wings almost at my side, that he might be heard jodeling "off," in stage-phrase.
"No, that isn't Teddy," he whispered, in answer to my excited murmur. "Yo-de-la-_hee-ho_!--Teddy's sick, that's the doctor's man--La-he, la-he, la-he, ho!--Huddesley, you know; they got him to take Ted's place, mighty lucky he can, too--Yo-de-la--_hee_-ho, yo-de-la-a-a!"
 It was the last time I saw it; in fact, I doubt, on thinking it over, if any of us were ever inside the old Gwynne house again.--M. S. W.
Doctor Vardaman viewed the departure of his guests with mingled relief and chagrin; the evening had not ended quite according to his expectations, and he could not decide whether the disaster was his fault or theirs; perhaps on the whole, they were lucky the outcome was no worse. The young men of this generation lacked the self-control or the physical fibre of their sires, he told himself irritably; and then a queer smile twitched his lips as he remembered his own father saying the same thing. To every age its own faults, and also its own standards of judging them. In his day people used to speak tolerantly enough of a man who drank; it was held a contemptible, but hardly a disgraceful weakness. Are we grown better, or only more prudent? We go to church less, but we certainly bathe a deal oftener. The creed of keeping one's health is no such poor creed, when all is said; a man will diet to save his mortal body with twice the vigour and conviction than he will pray to save his immortal soul--and who shall say that it is not right, or at least expedient for him to do so? For after all the health of his soul is his own affair, but the health of his body vitally concerns the welfare of others. Thus the doctor, moralising a little far afield from the events of the evening; and he shrewdly suspected that to the rest of the young fellows, Ted's drunkenness was not so unforgivable an offence in itself, except for the monstrous inconvenience of it. "And I am afraid I _am_ responsible for that," he said with half a sigh. "If I had married and brought up a family, I should have known better how to manage the lads. Eh, Louise?" He uttered the last words aloud with a pensive glance at his Labrador-stones, and started at the eerie sound of his own voice raised in sentimental monologue beside his empty hearth. "I'm getting maudlin myself, now!" he thought, and went to close the hall door swaying and creaking dismally in a rush of damp, chilly air. It was raining pitilessly; it had rained for nearly two weeks. The doctor, standing in his doorway, beheld the arrowy slant of water shining against the dark where the hall light irradiated it; amongst the irregularities of his brick-paved walk small puddles showed an unsteady glistening surface. The bushes in half-leaf on either side drooped and shone. Farther away there was an incessant rumour of wheels, and he was aware of the measured approach and passage of carriage-lamps in pairs, directed toward the Pallinder gate. Doctor Vardaman watched them absently for some time, while the swift wind refreshed his house; then he remembered Teddy, whom he had refused to leave alone, slammed the door and went upstairs.
The young man was sleeping heavily, spread out upon the doctor's staid old four-post bed; not in years, if ever, had that respectable piece of furniture witnessed such a spectacle, and the doctor had a quaint fancy that it withdrew itself shudderingly from the contamination. It had been his mother's, and a kind of feminine severity appeared in its starched and ruffled valance, as of indignant petticoats. He leaned over and scanned Teddy's face, holding his own chin in his hand, with knotted brows; then he felt the sleeper's pulse, listened to his thick breathing, shook his head with a perplexed look, and began mechanically to gather up the clothes thrown here and there about the room. He went back and surveyed the bed again. "Very strange," said Doctor Vardaman. And again: "Very strange!"
He went downstairs, and, not without a sardonic grin, brought up a pitcher of ice-water, and placed it in readiness on the little old mahogany candle-stand at the sufferer's right hand. The dining-room was a woeful picture as he re-entered it. In the middle of the table, the pyramid of jellies and cream had partly dissolved and trickled down to mix with a waste of crumbled cake, cigar-stumps and ashes, nut-shells, soiled napkins, shattered china--the doctor sat down amid the desolation, likening himself to Marius among the ruins of Carthage. There was a dreary odour--an odour? A _stench_, Doctor Vardaman vigorously characterised it--of stale wine, stale coffee, stale tobacco. Fragments of cheese swam in pudding-sauce; spent bottles cumbered the sideboard; the door was open into the kitchen, affording a vista of plates piled in tottering heaps, pots and pans crowded on the cold range, a bowl of dishwater crowned with scum in the sink, half-eaten meats and vegetables stiffening grimly in lakes of discoloured gravy. "Faugh!" said the doctor in strong distaste, and closed the door on the depressing scene. He sat down in his place at the head of the table. Huddesley would have a job of cleaning up this squalid hole on the morrow, he thought, and wondered how the man was getting on in his new sphere; smiled, too, as he reflected that the dream of Huddesley's life was being fulfilled. He had wanted to be a "hactor," and indeed he had some turn that way, poor creature! It was strange to think how unequally the gifts of Fate are distributed: now there was Huddesley, an honest man, not at all a dull man, who, if he had been born in any class but the servant class, even in a less respectable one, might have made more of himself! That inherited attitude of servility was a greater bar to his advancement than dulness or vice; in America it might have been different; we have no definite classes, and no traditions of behaviour. But in England a man who habitually says "sir," and drops his _h's_--here the old gentleman came bolt upright in his chair, upon a sudden moving recollection. Huddesley had not dropped a single _h_ nor added one on, since assuming Teddy's character! During all the talk that had followed his proposal, and when he had hurriedly recited for them a number of Teddy's speeches, his accent had nowise differed from their own. The fact, noted in some obscure corner of the doctor's brain, now in the silence of the vacant room, obtruded itself with an unwelcome insistence. It was a slight thing, yet of a curious significance; a person could not thus at will abandon the habit of a lifetime. Say it were not such a habit, what then? Why, then the dialect was put on, like a garment; and for what reason? If that was the case, Huddesley was by far too much of a "hactor" to be officiating in the doctor's kitchen. We do not look for, nor somehow relish so much versatility in one of Huddesley's degree. Doctor Vardaman's thoughts hardly proceeded in so orderly a sequence as they have been here set down, but by vague speculative turns and windings they reached the last conclusion. He began uncomfortably to review the manner of his engaging Huddesley, and was startled to realise how little he actually knew of the man, how haphazard had been his methods of hiring servants. "I'll write to that Lord Whatever-his-name-was to-morrow," he told himself--and then had to smile a little at this access of belated caution. The whole thing, of course, was capable of some very simple explanation, he thought impatiently, unwilling to own himself baffled; there was not necessarily a dark, bloody mystery about a person's speaking in dialect one moment and in the queen's English the next. It might be that Huddesley was the exiled black sheep of some decent, even gentle family--well, perhaps, not a black sheep, but at least a brindled one, not good enough for the station to which he had been born, too good for that to which he had sunk; stranger things than that have happened. He had told a perfectly straight story; even if it were an invention, that, so long as the man behaved himself, was no concern of Doctor Vardaman's. "And when he misbehaves," said the doctor inwardly, "why, then, like Dogberry, I'll let him go, and thank God I am rid of a knave! I don't believe he _is_ a knave, but certainly I've always had an idea he was no ordinary man. Maybe I'd better have a talk with him to-morrow."
Now that suspicion, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, a kind of doubting curiosity, had been aroused in the doctor's mind, it would not down; a dozen instances of slips or inconsistencies in Huddesley's conduct thronged upon him. He sat a long while, frowning in uncomfortable recollection; then got up at last, and halfway to the mantelpiece to get a cigar, paused again in puzzled meditation with his gaze on the floor. At his feet there lay the broken bits of Teddy's final glass in a sticky morass of Mynheer Van der Cuyp's wine, that calamitous beverage, seeped into the nap of the carpet. Doctor Vardaman gathered up the largest pieces gingerly, and tried to fit them together; that set of glasses had been his mother's when she went to housekeeping. It was beyond mending, however, and he was on the point of tossing the shards into a waste-basket, when a fresh discovery restrained him. He sniffed at them, sniffed his fingers, got down on all-fours and laboriously sniffed the stained carpet. He rose; "Teddy didn't drink that glass," he said aloud. "He only drank the first one Huddesley gave him. But he had been drinking all evening." He smelled at some other glasses standing near the young man's place, but apparently could make nothing of them. He went hesitatingly toward the door of a little room opening upon the hall, and at the very threshold wavered in indecision. "Oh, this is all foolishness," he said. "How could Huddesley--what possible motive----?" He opened the door. It was a dark, windowless place, little more than a closet, which the doctor had put to all sorts of uses, experimenting with chemicals, photographic plates, raising mushrooms, the hundred-and-one devices of industrious idleness. Everything there was in a kind of handy masculine disorder, and he often boasted that he could go there in the dark and pick up whatever he wanted without a moment's hesitation. But now he struck a match, and ran an anxious eye along the shelves; he breathed a little freer when he discerned the bottle he sought in its accustomed place with contents undisturbed; it was colourless stuff. "All fancy! I'm getting as notional as an old woman," he said to himself, and was turning away, when some second thought prompted him to reach the bottle down from the shelf. His match had gone out; the doctor went into the parlour, where all the gas-jets were burning wastefully high, and some red tulips he had bought that afternoon to decorate his banquet flagged miserably in the old French china vases. He deliberately removed the cork, smelled it, hesitated, touched the bottle to his tongue. "Well, I'll be----," he ejaculated, facing his own pale and perturbed image in the old-fashioned gilt mantel-glass.
Doctor Vardaman did not finish saying what he would be, but with a mechanical precision, poured the rest of the liquid into a vase of tulips. "There wasn't enough there to hurt him," he said thoughtfully. "I _thought_ he didn't seem like a plain drunk somehow. He'll be pretty sick when he comes to, but he'd be that anyway." He sought a cigar, and sat down by the fireless grate with his hands on his knees. "The question is, what next?" said he. "What is the bottom of all this? And what on earth ought I to do?"
The old gentleman smoked his cigar out with his queries unanswered, and sat staring intently at the mantel-board, his mind travelling up and down in a fog of doubt and futile conjecture. The mantel-board exactly fitted the opening of the fireplace, and was covered with pale green wall-paper, having an arabesque border in white and gold all around the edges, and in the middle a design of a Watteau gentleman and lady kissing beside a fountain at the foot of a flight of marble steps with a temple in the background. Clouds, roses, swans, butterflies and turtle-doves contributed to the scene, and on a ribbon scroll beneath one read: "_Dolce far niente._" It was an interesting mantel-board and at least fifty years old. The doctor stared so long and so hard that presently he experienced no surprise at finding himself on his way to morning-service at the temple with a bunch of tulips in one hand and a bottle of Mynheer Van der Cuyp's wine labelled somewhat erratically "CAUTION. POISON. _Antidote, very strong black coffee_," in the other. He was obliged to take passage in a boat with old Mrs. Botlisch, and when Huddesley came around to collect the fare, discovered to his mild annoyance that he had omitted to put on his trousers--a lapse from conventionality which nobody else noticed, however. There arose a terrific storm of thunder mainly, and someone began to be very seasick--and--and----
And then the doctor waked up, with a jerk and the well-known but perfectly indefinable feeling of lateness in the air. He looked around blinking. Certain dismal sounds from the bedroom overhead accounted for one feature of his dream, and a fusillade of knocks on the front door supplied the thunder. "Why, I believe I've been asleep!" said Doctor Vardaman, slowly collecting his faculties. A pause, and then more knocking; voices muttered together, feet went to and fro on his porch, somebody fumbled for the bell-handle, struck a match and found it, and directly the bell sent forth a shattering broadside of sound in the waste and deserted kitchen. "I'm coming!" shouted the doctor, adding a brief anathema under his breath, and went to the door. Outside the rain had ceased, but a wet wind shook and tip-toed among the trees. There was a ghostly twilight abroad; it was possible dimly to descry the outlines of the landscape. Stationary before his gate the lamps of a carriage burned dimly. It was dawn! The doctor repressed an exclamation of surprise and turned to his visitors. There were three of them; one was a policeman in a shining waterproof cape-coat; he was a head and shoulders above the others, and stood back from them deferentially as one in the presence of his superiors. Before a word was spoken Doctor Vardaman observed confusedly that all three drew together, and closed up in front of the opening door, and the policeman shortened his grasp on the baton he carried.
"Somebody hurt?" inquired the doctor, following up the first idea suggested by this apparition. He was met by a counter question.
"Doctor Vardaman?" said the foremost. The doctor looked at him. He was a commonplace man in commonplace clothes, stoutly-built and active, with rather hard features and quick black eyes. The other might have been his twin, save for a certain youthfulness in his alert gaze; he leaned against the door-post chewing the fag end of a dead cigar. There was a vague hostility in the appearance of these people; in the unbecoming light of early morning, everyone wore a haggard and unkempt air, except the burly fresh-faced policeman in his trim wet-weather gear.
"I am Doctor Vardaman," said the old gentleman. "Is anyone hurt or sick?"
"No, it's all right, Doc., take it easy, nobody's needin' you," said the first speaker. "Sorry to knock you up this time o' night, but it couldn't be helped. If my train had 'a' got in on time, I'd 'a' been here not much after supper; but we're just in, I come right up from the deepo. I gotta hump myself, or I wouldn't 'a' thought o' disturbin' you. Here's my card. Say, you got a man named Huddesley, ain't you?"
"Huddesley?" echoed the doctor, in helpless bewilderment. During the above speech, which had been delivered in a brisk, authoritative, but carefully lowered voice, the speaker had walked in without the ceremony of waiting to be asked, and now stood in the middle of the hall, apparently inventorying everything in it with a swift and practised eye. His subordinates followed, the policeman halting at the door-mat and respectfully wiping his shoes.
"Yes, Huddesley, had him about eight or ten weeks, ain't you? Little dark, stocky fellow; talks like he was English; says he was butler to the nobility over there--ain't that him? Is he in the house now?"
"I don't think so," said the doctor, at once disturbed and resentful. "He had to go out this evening. If you will oblige me with your name, sir, and the object of this visit----?"
"You got it there on the card," said the other. "Take your time, Doc., don't go off at half-cock. I know it's kinder sudden, and I'm sorry, but I guess I'll have to pinch your man. Where is he? Where'd he go? Don't you know whether he's in or not? Who's that upstairs?"
"That is a guest of mine who is ill," said the doctor with rising irritation. "If you will please to explain, sir----"
"I gotta hump myself, or I wouldn't 'a' bothered you, Doc.," said the man, civilly enough. "Soon's you've got the sleep outa your eyes, you can just look at that card I give you. We ain't goin' to make _you_ any trouble, you know, any more'n we can help, that is. Where's his room? Upstairs? To the back? Go up there and look, Judd. Here, you, one-o'-the-finest, what's your name?"
"Clancy, sor," said the policeman, and put a finger to his helmet.
"Go 'round to the back, and keep your eye out. I'll stay here. Is there any other outside-doors, Doc.?"
"No," said the doctor shortly. "Is--ah--is this your card, sir?"
"Keep your shirt on," said the other soothingly. "You're comin' along by the slow freight, but you'll get there directly. Go easy, and when you're through readin' let me know."
The doctor, diverting his astounded mind from the spectacle of a strange man of uncouth appearance and no manners giving orders in his house, and another strange man going upstairs seemingly to search it, adjusted his glasses and bringing them to bear on the card which the leader had thrust into his passive hand, read:
JOHN P. HOPPLE, Collector. Mercantile and Commercial Protective Association.
D. B. stands for Dead Beats. B. D. stands for Bad Debts. We collect Bad Debts from Dead Beats everywhere for everybody. We can collect yours. We collect regardless of Lodge, Politics, or Religion. Do business with us and we will both make money.
_Some people don't like us._
"Ain't nobody up there," said the ancient, returning from the exploration of Doctor Vardaman's upper rooms. "Except the sick dude in the front room. Say, maybe he ain't been on a bat, ain't he? Oh, no, I guess not!"
"Do I understand that Huddesley has got himself in trouble owing someone?" asked Doctor Vardaman, finding the situation somewhat illuminated. "It appears to me, Mr.--er"--he glanced again at the card--"Mr. Hopple, it appears to me that your methods of collecting are unduly--shall I say vigorous? To rout people out at this hour--I've no doubt the man would have paid you without all this to-do. What is the amount, if I may----"
"Say, ain't you barking up the wrong tree?" interrupted the other, eying him in perplexity. "Or--here--say, that's funny, I give you the wrong card. Excuse _me_, Doc., my mistake. That's a man's business-card I met in the smoker coming from N'Yawk. This is _me_. Just read that, will you? It's all square, Doc., I've got a reference--and Judd here's from your own p'lice headquarters anyhow."
Again the doctor applied himself to a card and found thereon the following legend:
WILLIAM O. GRIMM. Paterson Detective Bureau. "We never sleep."
It was hardly reassuring, in spite of the last statement; but before Doctor Vardaman had sufficiently collected himself to ask for further enlightenment, the policeman appeared in the doorway.
"Why--er--say," he remarked, "there's a party in a hack outside here wants to know the way to Colonel Pallinder's. I told him that there big house standin' back with them big pillows up the front, ain't that right?"
"That's the place," said the doctor, half-listening.
"An' why--er--say, he said he see by the papers they was a party at Colonel Pallinder's to-night and do you guess they've gone to bed yet, becos he's met a lot o' kerridges comin' away from this di-rection like it was over, an' he'd like to get there, becos he's gotta hump, he says."
"Blamed if that ain't Hopple!" exclaimed the detective, in admiring wonder. "Well, don't that beat the Dutch!"
"They ain't but that one Pallinder in town, is there?" asked the policeman. "He says if they's anybody up yet, he's going to hump right along and ketch 'em."
"Somebody may not have gone to bed yet," said the doctor, sparing a moment from his own muddled affairs to wonder what this late arrival, and energy of pursuit might mean. "In fact it seems my man Huddesley has not got back from there yet. Tell him to drive straight on and turn to the right at the gate. Did you say you were looking for Huddesley, Mr. Grimm? What for?"
"Why, for a number o' things, Doc., bustin' up a safe at the Farmers' an' Traders' Bank o' Sharontown, Missouri, an' makin' a get-away with the specie, thirty-two hundred dollars in coin an' greenbacks, for one thing. That was in July, 1881. If he's the man I'm looking for, his name's Tuttle, or Cohen, or Jimmy the Toff--he goes by all of 'em--and he's wanted in Boston besides for a jewelry-shop job last year."
Doctor Vardaman gazed speechless. Mr. Grimm's words, delivered in a dry, curt, and entirely unsensational manner, fairly rattled about the old gentleman's ears like hail. He was conscious of anger, of resentment, and in the same breath of a ghastly and growing conviction.
"Impossible!" he gasped; and then felt involuntarily for his cuff-buttons. "Jewelry-shop job! You mean Huddesley's a thief!"
"Put it there," said the detective, nodding encouragingly.
"Good Lord! Why--I--I can't believe it. He's been in my house for over two months, and I've never missed a thing!"
"I guess you didn't have nothing worth while," said Grimm, casting the glance of a connoisseur about him. "He thought it was a good place to hide, or else he was fixing to bring off some other job."
"That's what!" said Judd briefly.
"I--I--it don't seem as if it _could_ be! Don't you think there's some mistake?"
"Not likely," said Judd, without emotion. "I spotted him that time I come up here peddlin' collar-buttons--t'ain't more'n two weeks ago--an' I'll bet anything he spotted me, too. He's pretty fly, that fellow."
Mr. Grimm produced a bundle of papers from the inside pocket of his coat, fished out a bit of pasteboard and held it before the doctor's eyes. "That him?" he queried.
Doctor Vardaman surveyed it a while in silence. "I'm afraid so," he said at last, with a sigh. "This is clean-shaven, and Huddesley wears mutton chop side-whiskers, but it's the same face, undoubtedly."
The detective nodded with a satisfied air, and returned the photograph to its place. He repeated his former question. "Did you say he'd gone out? Was it to this party to-night? How'd that happen?"
"The--the circumstances are a little peculiar," said the doctor. "Won't you sit down, Mr. Grimm? The fact is the young gentlemen of the party--it's an entertainment, private theatricals--were dining with me, and one of them was taken sick----"
"The feller upstairs, hey?" interposed Mr. Judd, smiling slightly.
"Ahem--yes. Well, then, Huddesley, who knew his part, volunteered to take his place in the play, you understand. It was a great accommodation----"
"Hold on a minute. Didn't it strike you as kinder queer he should 'a' been so well up in the stage-business? Fact is, he _has_ been an actor, he's been pretty nearly everything, but you didn't know that of course. But didn't you ever have any suspicions?"
"Well, I had always thought the man was rather--rather unusual--a little above his station, perhaps. But _this_! It never occurred to me. You may have heard that there was an attempt at robbing the Pallinder residence this winter, and Huddesley was one of the first to discover it, and rouse the----"
He paused, seeing the two detectives exchange a meaning glance. "Told you so," said Judd. He got up, walked to the door, spat into the porch, and returned to his seat. "I was _on_--not right off, but pretty soon," said he. "Go ahead, Doc., you say Huddesley took your friend's part in the play----"
"I suppose he had seen these young men go through their parts a dozen times. It didn't seem at all odd to us; it would be a long story to go into all the details, but we--we found it most fortunate that he could supply the sick man's place. I wish to say, Mr. Grimm, that I have no cause, personally, to complain of Huddesley. His conduct since he has been with me has been most exemplary, I have never observed anything suspicious----"
The doctor came to a dead stand-still, for at that moment his discovery of the evening flashed into his mind with inconvenient abruptness.
"You're a kind-hearted man, sir," said Grimm, with warmth, "to say what you can for the fellow, but I've got his record. It's queer he ain't back yet." He looked at his watch. "They keep it up pretty late, don't they? It's after three." He got up briskly. "I guess we'd better leave Clancy here, Judd, an' go on up to the house. Looks to me like that'd ought to be our next move. All ready?" He stood a moment frowning over some new thought. "This here party, Doc., I guess it was goin' to be pretty swell, wasn't it? I mean ladies all diked out with diamond earrings an' breast-pins, hey?"
Doctor Vardaman, gripping the arms of his chair hard, stared at the detective transfixed. If the various revelations which had visited the old gentleman during the last moment had assumed the concrete, tangible form of so many successive clubbings, he could not have been more stunned. And in the ensuing short silence, Teddy's voice could be heard upstairs mournfully requesting more ice-water for God's sake.
"Got himself good and tanked, didn't he?" said the detective, grinning.
"Mr. Grimm," said the doctor, with difficulty, "I have reason to believe that my young friend has been drugged. I think Huddesley found something among some few medicines I keep--it was a preparation of chloroform--and put it in his wine. I happened to examine the bottle, and it had been filled up with water. And the young man's glass smelled perceptibly of the stuff--I was at a loss to account for it--why Huddesley should want to drug him, I mean, but I--I am beginning to understand. And--wait a minute!" he interposed as both of the others opened their mouths on a question. "In one of the plays which they were to perform, there is a question of some diamonds being stolen--the plot turns on that episode, in fact. Jewels were loaned for the young people to use--very costly ones. I am told Mrs. Pallinder's necklace alone is valued at----"
"Told you so!" shouted Judd, starting to his feet. Grimm quieted him with a gesture. "Well?" he said.
"Teddy's part--the part Huddesley contrived to get himself substituted in, was that of a butler who steals the diamonds----"
"Well, sir, he would have them on his person, in his possession, at his mercy, for the last two acts, the better part of an hour----"
"_And he ain't back yet!_" screeched Mr. William O. Grimm. He made a frantic gesture. "Have they got a telephone? Where's your telephone?"
"I have none," said the doctor, feeling as if he were confessing to arson. "The nearest is the drug-store corner of----"
Mr. Grimm uttered an oath direct and brilliant as a lightning-stroke. Then he commanded himself with an effort. "Judd!" he bawled, making for the door, and even in headlong flight, discharged a shaft of melancholy satire: "No telephone! Say, Doc., it's a good ways to Broadway, ain't it?" said he, and waved a farewell. "So long! Many thanks! See you later!" He flashed forth from the house, his retainer at his heels. The doctor saw their tumultuous passage down the walk, saw them scramble, clamber, struggle into the waiting hack, saw it hurl upon its way with vociferations--and silence fell like a blow. There stood Doctor Vardaman and the policeman staring at each other in the empty porch.
"That fellow can hump, can't he?" said Clancy admiringly. "You just _gotta_ where he comes from. Tell you, New York's th' place!"
Before "William Tell" was half over it became evident that Teddy's place was more than filled. There were those among the audience who assured me later that they had penetrated the disguise early in the performance; but, if so, they exhibited rare powers of self-control, for they did not remark upon it at the time, nor indeed until the whole calamitous story had come out and been town-talk for days. Some queer _esprit de corps_ kept the girls from spreading the miserable truth about Teddy. Sick! We knew only too well what was the matter with him; but that was no reason why we should proclaim it to the world. We entered into the conspiracy of silence, partly from a real generosity of spirit and desire to shield the poor fellow, and partly because, as Mazie sagaciously pointed out, talking about it would certainly discredit a girl (in a manner of speaking) with the other men. Mazie undoubtedly possessed some of the qualities of a born leader, among them that of getting herself listened to, without being either disagreeable or ridiculous; no one of us, not even Kitty, would have questioned her knowledge of men and their ways. We knew a dozen who were prettier, better bred, cleverer, and kinder than Mazie Pallinder, but, when it came to influence, they were nowhere beside her. Even now, I believe if she came into my life again, with her sallow, paint-touched face, her slip-shod pronunciation, her odd flat black eyes, her ineffably appropriate and beautiful clothes--I say, even now, I should probably follow and imitate her as I did then!
But when the curtain went up on "Mrs. Tankerville's Tiara," and the moment arrived when Huddesley must appear as Teddy with no disguise save that of a livery and false whiskers, we trembled for the success of the deception. We might have spared our worry; Huddesley came on in the ballroom scene with which the play opened, handing a tray of ices--and he was so like Teddy in face and movements that even upon the stage where the devices of his make-up could be studied close at hand, the effect was startling. _Plus roi que le roi_, he was; he passed his tray not like a butler imitating a gentleman, but like a gentleman imitating a butler; he dropped his _h's_ and stumblingly forgot to drop them with all Teddy's humorous self-consciousness. He managed his double part so well, no light task even for a finished actor, that he achieved a kind of equality with us; we forgot that he was Doctor Vardaman's servant. The thing was so much a matter for gratulations that I think we scarcely remembered it was also a matter for wonder. If J. B. or the other men felt any uneasiness they did not reveal it; but, so ingenuously self-centred is youth, it is probable we were much too deeply interested, everyone in his own appearance and the impression he was making, to be genuinely concerned about anybody else.
The audience about whom I had had such fearsome fancies must have been singularly lenient, even more so than such audiences usually are to such performers. My recollection is that, excepting Huddesley, we were too bad even to be funny. "Mrs. Tankerville" is a good stirring comedy-drama, of the type Boucicault and Tom Taylor made so popular during the quarter-century succeeding 1850; there is an abundance of vivid dialogue, with plenty of "points," and plenty of "situations." But what it all became in our hands is a dire memory. Mazie, it is true, made a splendid figure on the stage, and was quite dashing and theatrical, but she forgot two-thirds of her lines, and in the great scene where she accused Muriel of the robbery, had to be prompted at every other word. And Muriel--well, there was no blinking the fact, Muriel was a "stick." She was so big and gentle and honest-looking that no sane person in stage-land or out of it, could have suspected her for a moment of anything more criminal, say, than hopping into bed to say her prayers because her feet were cold! The excitement flushed her so that it was visible through her paint, and she did not look so statuesquely calm and finished as usual; nervousness, which is unbecoming to everybody, set particularly ill on a person of her weight and inches. She knew every word of her part, and recited it with the conscientiousness which she would have shown to the Catechism--and with much the same expression! She replied to Mazie's halting tirades in the tone and with the air of someone declining a cup of afternoon tea. "Will you drive me into the street?" she remarked amiably, and her manner suggested: "Well, all right, just wait till I get my hat on!" Kitty mimicked her in the bedroom, until the rest of us were feeble with laughter. Owing to Colonel Pallinder's forethought, the machinery of the curtain and footlights worked perfectly, and the stage-settings were orderly and accurate; but aside from these, every accident known to the production of amateur theatricals befell us. At one juncture, when there should have been a "loud crash" behind the scenes, none occurred, no one in particular having been entrusted with that feature of the performance; and, in the midst of a dead silence, Jimmie Hathaway found himself obliged to exclaim, "Good Heavens! What is all that infernal din about?" To make matters worse, some over-zealous person immediately thereon made a "loud crash," and Jimmie, lacking the presence of mind to repeat his former remark, went on with the next speech: "Everything is quiet as the grave, now. What could it have been?" The general verdict was that J. B. did very well, even in the love-scenes where we had thought he would make a failure of it; but J. B. was deservedly popular anyway. He triumphed by sheer force of personality. The young fellow was so kind and hearty and good-looking he could not but be pleasing. Whatever applause "Mrs. Tankerville" brought forth (and that of a sadly feeble and perfunctory nature, I fear) went to him, and none of us grudged it.
The play has three acts, and our much-enduring audience had sat through two of them, when Huddesley waylaid Mazie behind the scenes as she was rushing back for one of her numerous changes of costume. These afforded a species of entertainment that was "not in the bill," as some humourist observed; "Mrs. Tankerville's" clothes were one of the few points of real interest about the performance.
"Miss Pallinder?" said Huddesley, timidly halting in her way.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Here's the di'monds," said Huddesley, presenting the box, done up for the sake of stage-effect in a rather large and lumbering parcel. "I've been carrying 'em around like you told me to, so they'd be safe. I didn't want to give 'em to hanybody but you, and I've got to go now. You know I don't have to show again, except where Mr. Taylor comes in and sees me in the mirror, and plugs me over with the pistol-shot, and then they drag me out from behind the screen. And I thought anybody could put on the clothes for that, as long as the audience don't see anything but just a body----"
"Yes, but what's the matter? Why can't you finish?" asked Mazie, a little startled. She took the box mechanically, and edged toward her room.
"If you please, ma'am, I ain't feelin' very well. I think maybe it's the wet cold night. It's just come over me--I've got a kind of bad turn on the stomach and----"
"Oh, I'm so sorry," interrupted Mazie, fearful from his manner that Huddesley was about to enter on some embarrassing details. "Better go down and ask my father for some whisky--he's in the dining-room--tell him I sent you. But what shall we do--oh, Mr. Carson?"
The enslaved Chorus, who figured in a small part in "Mrs. Tankerville," approached; he was always hanging around whenever Mazie went on or left the stage, in hopes of a word. But the girl now saw him, to her surprise, in overcoat and hat.
"You're not going?" she asked, with a pang of regret; she wished, momentarily, that she had been "nicer" to him. Whether a woman cares for a man or not, she never sees him leave her without dismay. "You're not going?" said Mazie, directing a troubled and wistful smile upon him.
"Can't help it, Miss Pallinder," said Bob, warming to the very marrow at her glance. "I--I hate to awfully. But it's getting late, you know, and I've got to meet my sister; her train will be in about midnight."
"Oh, it's not that yet."
"But, Mr. Carson, I don't know what we--I don't know what I shall do without you. I haven't anybody to go to but you. Such a pity about Mr. Johns, isn't it--his being taken sick, I mean--it's upset everything dreadfully. Here's Huddesley----"
Huddesley explained volubly--"And if you, or somebody of the young gentlemen could just put on the clothes, Mr. Robert, the audience will never know the difference; they don't see anything but the body when they drag me out after Mr. Taylor's shot me. I've got a bad turn on my stomach and----"
"All right," said Bob hastily. "Is that package the diamonds? They have to find 'em on you, don't they? Here, I'll do it--I guess I can make the train anyhow. Come along and get the costume off, Huddesley, you want to hurry."
Mazie stopped him, with a hand on his arm. "Oh, Mr. Carson, we--I ought to give Huddesley something, oughtn't I? For coming this evening? It was very accommodating, you know, he isn't like a darky servant. What ought I to give him? Five dollars? Ten dollars?" she whispered, with a manner of special confidence that was like a caress to the young man.
"Never mind, Ma--Miss Pallinder," he said, absurdly tremulous and excited. "I'll see about it--don't worry--it's like you to think of it--you're so--that is----" words forsook him. "I'll fix Huddesley, you know," he faltered, chafing privately at the limitations of etiquette and the English language. Mazie rewarded him with a long look, and walked off.
By this time, in the crowded area behind the scenes, what with gas-jets burning full head on, the smell of cookery coming up the back stairs, sawdust, recent paint, cut flowers, innumerable other odours perfectly impossible to classify, the air had grown well-nigh unbearable. Everybody was overheated and out of temper; the play dragged on stupidly. I went down to the second landing for a breath of fresh air, and was standing there by the open window, in, I suppose, the only quiet and cool spot in the whole house, when someone came with a rush down the stairs. It was Huddesley. I remember being struck, as I turned and saw him, with the sharp rigidity of his features; devoid of paint and false beard, they resembled a parchment mask. There was an animal swiftness in his movements, yet he stopped short as we faced, taking the last three steps with an air of leisure, and a certain reckless and impudent triumph in his glance. He had something in his hand, and I recall the jaunty motion with which he tossed and caught it--it was a gold coin--and thrust it deep in his pocket; Bob's money, no doubt, but I knew nothing of that, and seeing the man pause, looked at him inquiringly "Why, if there ain't little tootsie that I made a face at!" he said. "Sorry I scared you, toots! Bye-bye!" And while I yet stood in a helpless stupor of surprise, passed an arm around my bare shoulders, twitched my chin into his hand, and--he was gone with a laugh, out of the house, and out of our lives! I may fairly say that of all that company I was the last to have any dealings with Huddesley; and I took care, as may be imagined, that no one else should know the picturesque circumstances of his departure. Fortunately my testimony was not necessary, was not even asked. He went, and the night received him into its dark world of wet and wind and tossing branches. No exit could have been more appropriate, more typical.
A moment later the thunderous rumble of chairs and outburst of voices overhead announced that "Mrs. Tankerville's Tiara" had at last run its disastrous course. It was very late; "William Tell" had not begun until nearly ten o'clock, and the encores had taken up a good deal of time. The second play had not been prolonged by undue enthusiasm from the audience, at any rate; yet I doubt if they were as weary of it as we. It hung on in spite of us; the speeches that we had heard till flesh and spirit fairly recoiled from the sound of them (and yet no one knew his own!) simply would _not_ get themselves said. We had reached the mood when we hated the smooth and conscientious politeness of our hearers.
"Up at the 'Peoples' they'd guy this thing off the stage," one young man said to another. "And serves us right, too!"
"I wish to goodness we'd stopped with 'Tell,' the audience wouldn't have been so tired----"
"Audience! It's a congregation!" said Kitty Oldham savagely. "And I'm glad the obsequies are over. 'Mrs. Tankerville' is dead and buried--for mercy's sake, don't anyone mention her name to me again!"
"You did awfully well, Miss Kitty--you reminded me of Lotta."
"Of course," said Kitty with neat sarcasm. "Now go and tell Muriel she reminded you of Bernhardt!"
"She looked more like Mrs. Langtry, didn't she?" said her companion diplomatically. "But Miss Pallinder now did have a kind of likeness to Bernhardt, she's so tall and thin. I thought she was stunning in that red dress and the diamonds--why didn't she put them on again? Right at the end there, where they find them, I mean?"
"I don't know, unless she wanted to shorten up the last scene, and get through. She said she was going to give them back to her mother as soon as it was over."
"Mrs. Pallinder's not wearing them, though. What became of Huddesley toward the last there?"
"Mazie said he had to go, the doctor had sent for him or something, I didn't catch what it was. That was Bob in his clothes, you know."
"Say, Teddy's had a lot of substitutes this evening, hasn't he? Do you suppose anyone suspects?"
"Nobody's said anything to me anyhow."
"Hello, here's Capoul!"
"Oh, Capoul--Rats!" said Bob, reddening with vexation. He had a secret conviction that a tenor voice lacked manliness, and mistook the felicitations of his friends for artfully disguised raillery. "People will be poking that 'La-_hee_-ho' business at me from now till doomsday, I suppose."
"We were just wondering if anyone knew about Ted."
"Guess not; I haven't heard anybody say a word about it."
"Look here, how do you happen to be here yet, my son? I thought you said you had to go and meet Susie."
"Well, I do, but not right away. I got one of the cab-drivers outside--there's about fifty of 'em, you never saw such a jam in your life--to go down to the drug-store and telephone, and they say the train from New York won't be in till two o'clock or after. Tell you, the telephone's an institution, isn't it? It's like Jules Verne coming true; they say they'll have 'em all over in private houses and everywhere before long. Have you seen Miss Pallinder? I've got this next waltz--oh, there she is with her mother."
He drifted off, and Kitty gave her partner a meaning look. "Bob means business, I guess," said the latter, returning it.
His hostess welcomed the young man with a wan vivacity. "How do you do, Mr. Carson? This is the first chance I've had to congratulate you. Everybody did _so_ well. You were especially good at the last."
Undoubtedly Mrs. Pallinder was not her usual suave and confident self that night; her attention wandered. She had forgot what part Bob took, and there was no graciousness in her fixed smile; it might have been painted on her face like some of her other adornments.
"The last was the best part of the whole performance, I guess, for the audience," said Bob, grinning. "That was me they dragged in from behind the screen, you know. It's not everybody that can make believe to be dead as artistically as I can. I'm the second-assistant-deputy-Ted Johns. Miss Pallinder told you about Huddesley, didn't she? She said you knew."
"Yes--very unfortunate, wasn't it?" said Mrs. Pallinder, smiling mechanically. "I mean fortunate, of course--that he could take Mr. Johns' part, that is. Did you--have you got my necklace, Mr. Carson?"
"Me? Why, no," said Bob, in surprise. "They were supposed to find the jewels on _Jenks'_ body, you know, in a bundle, and Miss Pallinder took them. Don't you remember where she says: 'Oh, my tiara! That poor child! What has become of her?'"
Mrs. Pallinder ought to have remembered it, for Mazie had begun with: "'Oh, my child! That poor tiara, what has become of it?'" so that a number of the audience and nearly all the actors had been extinguished in giggles. But she only said vaguely, "Oh, ah, yes, I believe there was something of the kind said. Mazie, honey, I've just been asking Mr. Carson what he had done with the tiara, the necklace, I mean--I reckon he thinks _I_ think he's stolen it!"
"Oh, I didn't even undo the parcel," said Mazie languidly. "I just pretended to on the stage. I couldn't worry around with the thing. That play's too long anyhow; I cut it short right at the end there on purpose. We had the necklace all twisted up on wires, you know. I just pitched it into the bureau-drawer and locked it up. It's safe."
"I'm afraid you're tired," said Bob, as Mrs. Pallinder, with a return of her accustomed tact, moved unobtrusively away. "I'm afraid you're worn out," repeated the young fellow tenderly. "You had the hardest part of anybody."
 Happening to mention Capoul the other day, I discovered that none of my hearers remembered that dashing _Faust_, _Count Almaviva_, _Romeo_ of twenty-five years ago. "And who was Capoul?" their blank looks seemed to ask. _Sic transit gloria!_--M. S. W.
It was over at last--the party was over; like everything else in life, things had turned out neither quite so good nor quite so bad as we had expected. "Mrs. Tankerville" was a failure--but then "William Tell" had been a success, so the score was even. The curtain had gone down on both of them, and was about to descend upon another little drama, if we had known it. Everyone said the evening was a great success, one more feather in the Pallinder crown; downstairs, under the colonel's benevolent supervision, limitless champagne flowed; the supper was a triumph; the german one of the prettiest ever danced. Muriel led with J. B., and some of the older people stayed to see it, and talked for days afterwards about the favours Mazie had brought from New York; the figure where the men got little silver pencil-cases and the girls painted gauze fans; and that other figure where they all looked so pretty with Japanese parasols and paper lanterns; and the figure where they had the Easter eggs--that was charming! But it was all over at last; blank dreariness and silence settled upon the ballroom, the last carriage rumbled away, the musicians sacked and boxed up their instruments and disappeared, featureless and unremarked, along with the caterers' men rattling their dishes, and banging amongst their folding chairs--"into the dark went one and all." They left behind a tired and not too good-tempered mob of young people; on the stage and behind it everything was in a frenzied disorder; and when in the pinched and colourless small hours, we went yawning to our beds, those useful articles of furniture were hardly to be found cumbered as they were with wreckage. There were hats, dresses, damp towels, artificial flowers and withering natural ones, slippers and odd stockings, soiled and tumbled veils, handkerchiefs, gloves, fans, the gilt and tinsel scraps of favours--it was a wilderness where the most amazing things turned up in the most amazing places. Somebody found a comb in a box of candy; a pair of corsets wrapped carefully together with some fine damask table-napkins, and sticking upright in a water-pitcher (an empty one by good luck); and old Mrs. Botlisch's teeth (the lower set) jammed firmly between the strings of a guitar that had been used in "Tell"--these were some of the discoveries. We were too tired to be amiable, and there were some sharp wrangles over lost nightdresses, and the ownership of tooth-brushes in the girls' quarters before we settled down for what was left of the night--the morning, rather. We were two in a bed, one on the lounge, and always three or four in a room according to the Pallinders' happy-go-lucky style of hospitality. The men, very likely, retired with even less formality; they had some big rooms in an ell running out from the main building at the back given over to their use.
It seemed as if I had no more than closed my eyes (and, as I afterwards found, it had actually only been about ten minutes since the last door locked and the last gas-jet was turned off) when the consciousness of disturbance somewhere about the house roused me. Someone was shouting out of a window, and being answered from below. The sash slammed; and presently there was the sound of stockinged feet padding downstairs. Kitty waked up, and crossly suggested that one of the guests had forgot something, and come back for it. "Of all things at this time of night!" she snapped. "Might have waited till daylight, seems to me. Some people have no sense!"
The bolts of the front door rattled, the hall-gas flashed up, sending a dim shaft of light through our transom; and a rumble of voices arose. Then the feet padded back, and there was some stir in Mrs. Pallinder's room.
"Oh, bother! Whatever it is, they'll never find it to-night in this mess," said Kitty vigorously. She sat up in bed. "Why don't they tell 'em to go home, and let us have a little peace and quiet?"
That simple expedient, however, did not seem to occur to anyone else. One of the girls awake in the next room called in that somebody must have lost some money or jewelry--"they couldn't be coming back for anything else." Again the feet padded down. The rumbling talk increased in volume. We distinctly heard Colonel Pallinder's voice, raised in explanation or argument, it was impossible to guess which; Mrs. Pallinder or someone in skirts went rustling along the hall. Apparently she paused to lean over the banister and listen a while. Lights began to start up elsewhere in the house; there was some movement among the men in their reservation; and old Mrs. Botlisch challenged raucously from her room at the end of the passage to know what was the matter. No one answered her, and after a moment there came a tap at our door. I got out of bed and opened it, full of uneasy wonder. There stood Mrs. Pallinder in a flowered blue silk tea-gown flung on anyway over her nightdress, and flowing about her in a huddle of lace and ribbons; she clutched it together at the throat; thin wisps of straw-coloured hair hung around her face. There was something indefinably alarming in the very haste and carelessness of her appearance, she who was always powdered and corseted to a fashion-plate correctness. She looked the scared ghost of her everyday self, immeasurably older, and a surprising likeness to Mrs. Botlisch came out on her harassed features.
"So sorry to disturb you, my dear," she said, with a tortured smile. "But can you wake Mazie--I want to speak to her."
"Nobody's sick, is there?" I asked, startled.
"Is it a telegram? It's not bad news for anyone, is it?" Kitty cried out apprehensively from the bed.
"No, no, it's nothing--really nothing at all," repeated Mrs. Pallinder--and this was so palpably false that even I could see through it. "Tell Mazie to come here, please, I want to speak to her."
"I'm coming," said Mazie drowsily, beginning to fumble in the dark for her slippers. And somebody, Muriel, I think, scrambled out of bed and lit the gas.
"You mustn't get up, don't any of you get up," said Mrs. Pallinder excitedly. "I tell you it's only Mazie I want to speak to. All of you go back to bed and go to sleep. Shut your doors and go to bed!" Her usually soft voice broke shrilly; she laid a hot trembling hand on my shoulder and pushed me back within the room. By this time, however, everybody was broad awake, staring, listening, and wondering. And Mrs. Botlisch began again:
"What's the matter? Is it fire? Mirandy, where are you? Is the house took fire?"
"No, it ain't, ma. Shut up, will you?" said Mrs. Pallinder roughly. Astonishment struck us all dumb; never before had we heard her speak so to the old woman. Mazie, looking very long and limp in her white gown with strands of black hair sailing down her back, came to the door, and her mother dragged her outside, slamming it on us sharply. More low-voiced confusion ensued. Mazie gave a high exclamation, and Mrs. Pallinder hushed her violently. All the girls congregated in the room, in wild array of curl-papers and "Mother Hubbards." In the hall one of the men could be heard asking what was the matter, and excuse him, but could he be of any use?
"What on earth do you suppose has happened?" said Kitty, no longer out of temper, but on edge with curiosity; before anyone could offer a guess, Mazie came back. She did not look at any of us; she did not speak; she walked straight to the bureau in her room, took a package from its top drawer, and walked straight out again. For so simple an act it was the strangest bit of pantomime that can be imagined; so quick and purposeful were her movements in contrast to her ordinary languor, that no one had a chance to ask questions, even if we had dared; but I believe we were all a little frightened by the unexplained change in her bearing and her mother's. There was a controlled menace about the girl; she dominated us to the last; and when she went out, closing the door not fiercely as her mother had done, but with a resolute gentleness, we should not have been surprised to hear the key turn in the lock. The scene was not without its ludicrous aspects; there we were eight or ten night-gowned girls, shivering in the draughts, perched here and there amid the rich, fantastic disorder of that room, while mystery whispered in the hall outside. We did not talk; we were all openly listening, and such was the tension that when Muriel said suddenly: "There's a carriage coming!" everyone in the room started violently. A girl by the window put the blind aside and peeped out cautiously. "Why, there's one here already!" she said, and then: "There're two men in the other; they're just getting out----"
Upon the words, a strange voice, a man's voice, cried out in the hall below, with mingled anger and surprise, "Damnation!" it shouted, "What d'ye mean by _this_?" Mrs. Pallinder screamed harshly like a strangling animal, and with a truly melodramatic fitness, the door bell began furiously to ring!
That was too much for us. I don't know who was first in the hall; it seemed as if we were all there at once. The immediate person I saw was Mazie standing against the opposite wall. She had snatched up some kind of shawl or blanket and wrapped it around her over her nightgown; her face was white, but she was laughing in a hysterical way. At the head of the stair Mrs. Pallinder clung to the newel. From the hall there arose a clamour of excited voices, punctuated by peal after peal on the bell like the knocking at the castle-gate in the awful scene of the murder from "Macbeth." The door of Mrs. Botlisch's room was open, and there was the old woman sitting up in bed, a tremendous figure in her red flannel nightdress, roaring out questions to which no one paid any attention.
"Oh, do go back, girls, do go back, here 're the men!" said Mazie, still giggling feebly.
"Men!" cried her grandmother, catching the word. "Time enough! I'd like to see someone with some sense. Where's that Taylor feller?"
"Taylor--what Taylor?" said I, bewildered. I thought, for an instant, the old woman had suddenly gone crazy, and wanted to be measured for a pair of breeches. Anything seemed possible in the hurly-burly.
"Here I am," said J. B., presenting himself in trousers and a night-shirt, one red sock and one polka-dotted blue one, and his suspenders trailing in the rear. "He went the kilt one better, didn't he?" said Kitty, recalling his appearance later, and she wondered what Muriel thought. But if the men were a weird crew, what were we?
"Here I am," said J. B. "What's the matter? Can I do anything?" He afterwards said that everything under the sun that could have happened went through his mind, from fire and murder to the reappearance of Arthur Gwynne's ghost--everything that could have happened, except the inconceivable thing that _had_ happened!
Mazie ran to the banisters. "Do somebody open the door! Can't you hear the bell?" she screamed.
"Find out who it is first! Find out who it is--don't let them in without finding out!" Mrs. Pallinder called out desperately.
"You Taylor, for the Lord's sake, see what it's all about!" cried Mrs. Botlisch. "Mirandy, gimme my teeth----"
A fresh outbreak of voices downstairs announced that the door had finally been opened. Mazie came running back as Colonel Pallinder limped up the stairs. "There! _Huddesley!_" she exclaimed and burst into shrill laughter. "They're asking for him. The minute that man opened the package I thought about Huddesley. Never mind, ma, they can't come on _us_ for anything. Huddesley's got the laugh on everybody!"
Mrs. Pallinder all at once broke into sharp crying. "I can't stand it, I can't stand it any longer!" she screamed out, and beat her hands together. "I can't stand this life, I tell you, I can't stand it!"
"All right, honey, you shan't have to," said the colonel, trying to soothe her. "I'll take care you shan't."
She pulled away from him furiously. "Oh, _you_!" she said with fierce scorn. "Oh, _you_!" And then in some strange and violent revulsion: "No, no, I didn't mean that, Willie, I didn't mean that, my dear!" and began to cry wildly in his arms. It was horrible.
I relate these circumstances as faithfully as I remember them; but it is difficult to give any idea of the mirthless farce, the grotesque tragedy of that night. It was at this moment, I believe, as we were all standing in a miserable embarrassment, and irresolution and (speaking for the girls, at least) something not unlike fright, that one of the strange men whom we had heard, came up the steps. He paused as his head rose above the landing, and he caught sight of us. Well he might! We must have been a fearsome picture.
"Sorry to intrude, ladies and gents," said he, hastily dropping back a little, and removing his hat. "But I gotta hump----"
J. B. came to the head of the flight, and, as it were, took command of the situation. He was no great figure of a hero with his suspenders slapping at his heels; but for all that he looked a manly and masterful young fellow, and I think we were all both grateful and relieved at his assumption of responsibility. No one else seemed equal to the needs of the hour.
"Look here," said J. B. quite pleasantly and firmly. "You can't come up here. These ladies must not be disturbed any more, do you understand? Now who are you and what do you want?"
"That's business," said the other frankly. "I'm a detective. My name's Grimm. I've got another plain-clothes man from your police headquarters downstairs, if you don't believe me, ask him----"
"Mr. Taylor--isn't that Mr. Taylor?" said someone from below. "Don't you remember me--Judd--don't you remember me at the bank?"
"That's all right," said J. B. "I remember you. Go ahead, Mr. Grimm, what do you want?"
"Well, say," said another voice a little farther down, "young fellow, if you're bossing this, my name's Hopple, and I----"
"One at a time," said J. B. forcibly. "Go on, Mr. Grimm."
"Right you are, sir," said Grimm fervently. "I thought I'd struck an asylum full of lunys at first, but I guess it ain't so after all. I'm looking for a man named Huddesley--that is, he called himself Huddesley here--that's wanted for several crooked jobs all over the country. I've been after him for six months. It's a dead cinch Huddesley's the man--Judd here's had an eye on him for six weeks----"
"That's what!" said Judd, with emphasis.
"----he was in the house to-night. Is he here now, do you know?"
"Huddesley has been here," said J. B., commanding his surprise. He turned his face towards us, and hushed us with a gesture. "Huddesley has been here, but he left the house some time ago, I don't quite know when. Miss Pallinder, do you remember when he went?"
He had to repeat the question twice before Mazie could get herself together enough to answer it. "When he went?" she said vaguely. "When he went?" Someone else said it was before midnight; at last Mazie exclaimed that it was three hours, oh, yes, she was sure it must be quite three hours since he had gone.
"He said he was sick and was going home--that is to Doctor Vardaman's, where he is employed," said J. B. "If you will go there, you may find him, the house is----"
"Find him the hell!" interrupted Mr. Grimm with dismay in his face. "When he's had three hours' start!" He made a gesture of finality. "It's all off!" said he. "Why, I've been to Doctor Vardaman's, mister, how'd you s'pose I happened to come here?"
"Somebody's tipped it off," said Judd, below stairs.
"That's what you get for peddlin' collar-buttons, sonny," said Grimm. "He was onto you from the word Go!"
"If he's not at the doctor's, I suppose he got wind of you somehow, and skipped out," said J. B., overriding these cryptic remarks, and anxious to end the business. "Anyhow that's none of our affair. Is that all you wanted to know, Mr. Grimm? For we're all tired and we'd like to go to bed."
"Here, wait a minute--" said Hopple, vigorously, and the detective, sweeping us with a comprehensive glance, spoke at the same moment: "Hold on, young man, no affair of yours, hey? Well, I ain't so sure about that. The old gent said he would likely have the handling of some valuables, a necklace or something. Will you kindly ask all those ladies if they'll take account o' stock and see if they're missing anything?"
The unseen Mr. Hopple uttered a strong exclamation. Every girl made a movement toward her bedroom, or nervously grabbed at some part of her person as her own particular treasures occurred to her. Every girl but Mazie, that is; and her next words, pronounced with entire calm, by the way, were comparable in effect to the explosion of a bomb amongst this singular company.
"Oh, mercy-me!" she said. "How slow you all are! Can't you _see_? Why, I saw it right off! I believe he's got the necklace!"
There was an instant of appalled silence. Then:
"Told you so! Always said he was a rascal!" cried Mrs. Botlisch triumphantly.
"Huddesley got the necklace?" said J. B. aghast. "Why, how could he? He gave it back to you. Bob Carson had it, didn't he?" Everybody spoke at once. The detective whistled, swore softly, then he stooped to mutter with Judd. "That's what!" said the latter vehemently. Two or three of the coloured servants had collected on the third-floor landing above us, and hung over the banisters, giggling and nudging. In the darkness their faces were nothing but shining teeth and eyeballs, reminding me, oddly enough, of a picture in "Alice in Wonderland," of the Cheshire Cat's grin materialising; Gwynne and I had had the book when we were little. I cannot think why I should have thought of it then, of all times; or, indeed, why the incongruous memory abides with me now. Mazie was speaking in a high, strained voice. "I never opened the package," she was saying. "Why, you know I didn't. I just took it from him and I never opened it. After 'Mrs. Tankerville' I locked the thing up and never thought of it again. I wouldn't have dreamed of suspecting Huddesley; why, he's been in and out of the house all day long for _weeks_, hasn't he, ma? Hasn't he, girls?" There was a kind of defiance in her voluble explanation. "Tell that Hopple man, will you?" she urged the detective, forgetting that "that Hopple man" was almost within arms' reach of her. "He'd better go after Huddesley if he wants his necklace--_we_ haven't got it. Huddesley must have banked on my not opening the package; but anyhow, he was out of the house and gone long before I had a chance to----"
"Who's Bob Carson, and who's Mrs. Tankerville, and what package are you talking about?" Grimm inquired succinctly.
"Well, this is the package, I guess," said Hopple's voice, and two hands reaching up delivered to Mr. Grimm a crumpled piece of wrapping-paper, and about a ladleful of carpet tacks.
"There's your diamond necklace," continued the voice in hoarse satire. "Leastways there's what was given me for a diamond necklace. I don't know Huddesley from Adam's off ox, but it's a pretty slick sort o' story, seems to me."
What Mr. Hopple looked like, I cannot say, for none of us saw the gentleman. He made a movement to ascend the stairs, but J. B. looming very large and square on the top step intercepted him.
"Are you another detective, sir?" asked J. B. in his mild and steady voice.
"No, I ain't," returned Mr. Hopple, sulkily, yet not uncivilly this time.
"Then," said J. B. with increasing mildness, "perhaps you will be good enough to explain what you are doing here?"
"I'm collecting a bill for Goldstein Brothers--that's my business, collecting. I know it's a little bit late at night, but I can't help that. I've got to hump myself; I thought I might find somebody up on account of the blow-out----"
"It's an outrage, sir, an outrage which no Southern gentleman----" said Colonel Pallinder, turning from his wife. "I repeat, sir, no Southern gentleman----"
"If we had the money, don't you suppose we'd pay your old bill?" cried Mrs. Pallinder, in a kind of hysterical screech. Her face was red and swollen with crying; her fair hair hung in strings. She ran to the banisters and shook her slim fist at the man, a tousled virago, unrecognisable in her rage. "Why don't you believe us? As if anybody _wanted_ to owe you--as if anybody _liked_ to owe you! It's too silly--you act perfectly crazy! We'd have given you the necklace if we'd had it, but we haven't _got_ it--Huddesley's stolen it. What are you staying around here for? We haven't got the money and we haven't got the necklace, I tell you! Why don't you go away? You haven't any right here--you're a cheat, trying to collect for that necklace when we haven't got it. Make him go away, Willie!"
"That's right, Mirandy, you talk to him like a Dutch uncle!" said old Mrs. Botlisch with keen enjoyment.
"I don't care--I'm glad Huddesley _has_ got it!" said Mazie fiercely.
"Owing to circumstances--a temporary shortage of funds, sir," said Colonel Pallinder, addressing J. B., blandly, "I have been unable to satisfy this fellow's monstrous, his preposterous demand. But if--Mr.--ah--Mr. Hopple will come around to my office to-morrow at half-past eleven _sharp_, I----"
Mr. Hopple's voice invited him to teach his grandmother to suck eggs. "This here bill's been owing three years, and I'm going to collect it, don't you worry--I'll be at the office. I'm going to collect if I've got to hang around this town till the cows come home!"
"You can't get blood out of a turnip," said Mr. Grimm philosophically. J. B. interrupted this lively exchange of metaphor.
"Mr. Grimm," said he, "it's pretty plain, I think, that the criminal you want, this Huddesley, has got away with the diamond necklace. Why we never suspected him seems strange enough now; I can think of a dozen things that should have put us on our guard, but the fact remains we never did. If you'll just step downstairs, and wait until I can get some clothes on, I'll tell you all that we know about him. Mr. Hopple, you can see for yourself that there's nothing to be done here now. Your business can very well hold over until to-morrow--until daylight, that is--it's none of my business, of course"--he interrupted himself, glancing inquiringly at Colonel Pallinder, and as that gentleman remained silent, went on--"but I think it's about time you went to your hotel, and let these people go to bed----"
"Huh! I don't take my orders from you, young fellow!"
"Oh, don't be a fool, Hopple," said the detective impatiently. "He's right. Go along; you can't do anything here."
J. B. descended a step. "You don't have to take my orders, Mr. Hopple," said he gently. "But I should think you'd rather take an order than a kick."
"Noble boy!" ejaculated Colonel Pallinder, much affected. "There spoke a son of old Kentucky!" The collector retreated with sundry mutterings. J. B. came back, dusting his hands lightly together.
"Sir," said Colonel Pallinder, holding his wife with one arm, and stretching out the other in a fine gesture. "Your hand! A Southern gentleman, sir----"
"Oh--er--that's all right," said J. B., embarrassed. He turned a kind troubled glance upon us. "I wish all you girls and everybody would go to bed. It's--it's all right, you know. I'm going to see those fellows, and they'll go away presently."
"You're A Number One, that's what you are, Taylor," said old Mrs. Botlisch, in high approval. "You got more gumption in your little finger than all the rest of 'em in their whole bodies, d----d if you ain't!"
Mrs. Pallinder dried her eyes, and began to arrange her dishevelled dress with fluttering hands. "You mustn't mind ma, girls," she said, resuming her smile. "She's really awfully eccentric."
Next day the crash came. The papers revelled in it; the Pallinders' affairs occupied the place of honour (or at least of supreme notoriety) in the first column of the first page; the Pallinders' creditors assembled and filled the air with thunder; Muriel was incontinently recalled to Washington; excited Gwynnes rushed upon the scene. And when at last the smoke of conflict lifted, where were the Pallinders? Nobody knew; nobody cared--except Scheurmann and Goldstein Brothers, and perhaps a few others. Within a fortnight there was a red flag, flaunting garishly on the lawn among the budding lilacs and faintly greening beeches. Templeton had out sandwich-men and yard-long posters announcing an auction in the house--"everything without reserve to the highest bidder."
The Armenians reappeared, and various other greasy-looking, dark-skinned birds of prey flocked through the rooms, rapping on the mirrors, testing the peacock-blue and old-gold draperies between their dirty talons. I met Mrs. Maginnis coming out of Doctor Vardaman's yard, boo-hooing and calling on all the saints to bless him, with a tribe of little Maginnises at her heels. What had the doctor done? I do not know. The old gentleman went quite shabby that summer in an old linen duster we had not seen on him for years; and it is certain he bought no more first editions for a long while.
And here closes the episode--for episode it truly was, and no story, as must have been discovered by this time. A story, properly conceived and executed, must have a beginning and an end, and this lacks both; it even lacks a hero and heroine. Fiction would have demanded, and a conscientious storyteller would have supplied, a much more picturesque and appropriate final act. The diamonds should have been restored, and (let us hope) the bill paid; Muriel should have married J. B.; Bob should have married Mazie; the curtain should have gone down on the lovers embracing and everyone else shaking hands. I have not been a novel-reader all these years for nothing, and nobody need remind me how a romance should end; if this narrative finishes in open defiance of all the proprieties, I can only offer the mean apology that it is all, or nearly all, true. _Pars minima fui!_ Some of it I saw, some heard, some merely guessed, and alas, none of the beautiful things mentioned above came to pass! Looking back on it now, with the compliant wisdom of forty-odd, I am satisfied it is as well those marriages did not take place. Muriel would hardly have been a success transplanted; and the Pallinder connection would inevitably have proved disastrous to poor Bob.
As for Huddesley, I cannot sincerely say I was ever sorry that that entertaining and original scoundrel escaped; in other and more gallant days, he and the Pallinders alike might have figured as a sort of pirates, differing in degree and methods perhaps, hardly at all in kind. There is humour in the spectacle of one of them preying on the other. And, for the soul of me, I cannot be angry with either. _Bon voyage_, oh ye adventurers! What shores have you not coasted, and what men essayed in all these twenty-five years! At least I did not suffer by you, and therefore, with a noble generosity, I wish you well!
I fell in with J. B. the other day, after a long interval; and he had a good deal to tell me in the pleasant hour we spent of, "Don't you remember----" and "Whatever has become of----?" J. B. goes up and down the world, and knows many men and their cities these days; he is getting a little bald and massive, yet is still a notable figure, not greatly changed; and, "What do you think?" he said, "I've seen Huddesley, and he knew me at once! It was the year of the St. Louis Fair; that's the last time I was West, you know. I went from there to the town of Joliet, Illinois, where you know the Government runs an elegant home for ladies and gentlemen whose society and services the community doesn't need all the time.
"I went out there--voluntarily," he added, with a chuckle. "It was the Fourth of July and blazing hot, and I had three hours to put in before my train left. The man I went to see told me I'd find the Pen 'very instructive.' But when I got there, they were giving all these wretches a holiday, in honour of Uncle Sam's birthday, and I tell you they were a pretty hard-looking set. The guard was showing me through a yard, when suddenly one of these jolly, cursing, sky-larking parties in stripes dropped out of a bunch of them, and, says he, getting in the way, and staring hard at me: 'Mr. Breckinridge, don't you know me?' I didn't at all, for a minute, although really, considering his age, and the kind of life he must have led, he hasn't changed much. Then: 'Will you 'ave 'ock with your hoysters, sir?' said the scoundrel with a wink--and it flashed on me who he was! 'Huddesley!' I shouted out. The attendant was perfectly petrified; he thought I must be some old pal of Huddesley's--I had to explain before he would let us talk. Eh? Why, _sure_! As the children say, _sure_! I talked to him, and he asked after everybody with the greatest interest. He even got quite autobiographical and confidential after a while; told me he was up for five years this time (for a little trouble he got into in New Orleans, he said delicately), but he had served two-thirds of the sentence, and would be out in six months, his time having been shortened for good behaviour. 'There's nothin' to it, anyway, Mr. Breckinridge,' says he, in a serious manner. 'I guess I ought to know, I've tried both ways. It's me for the simple life after this; my eyes are kind of troubling me, and I'm getting along in years. I'm goin' to square it after I get out this time----' He meant he was going to live honestly, you know. 'In all I've spent eighteen years in the stir'--that's slang for the prison, it seems--'with a sentence here and a sentence there, since the first time of all in Pentonville, 'long back in '72. That's a good while out of a man's life that ain't but fifty-five years old. I'm going to cut it out after this. I begun pretty young and I'm through now.' He told me he was London-born, Seven Dials, some slum, I suppose--'That's where Hi got the haccent,' he said, grinning again. He had a chequered career before we knew him, footman, errand-boy, sneak-thief, actor, preacher, insurance-agent, confidence-man--it would be hard to say what he hadn't been. There was an interval when he was apprentice to a pastry-cook--I think he was honest then, for about a year, until the till was left open one evening. He said that was where he learned the trade of cook--'But I was always was one to pick up things quick, _you_ know that, Mr. Breckinridge,' he said with a funny swagger. I asked him if he had had an eye on Mrs. Pallinder's diamonds from the first, or whether he just took the chance when it came. He gave me an odd look. 'Say, you don't mind asking questions, do you?' he said. And then, quickly with a half-laugh: 'Oh, well, Mr. Taylor, you're straight, I know you wouldn't throw me down, and it's twenty years, anyhow.' He went on to say that he had landed in town just about the time of the Charity Ball, when the papers were full of the diamonds--you remember, don't you? The Pallinders were It then. 'I thought I might get the job of butler at the house, and applied,' he said. 'Nothin' doin'--their help was all coloured. The very next day Doctor Vardaman's advertisement came out; say, I was right there with the goods. He was easy, the old gent was. I hadn't spieled my little spiel five minutes before I saw it was 'M' lud, the carriage waits,' for mine. And let me tell you, Mr. Taylor, I was wise to the Pallinder game from the start; I knew Pallinder was due to blow up any day, and your Uncle James would have to hustle to get those diamonds, or somebody else would. That's why I went after 'em by the Romeo-and-Juliet route, 'stead of taking it slow and easy, and getting to be like a son of the house like I'd planned. Well, you know that deal fell through owing to Mrs. Pallinder's neuralgia; if you and the colonel and everybody else had stepped a little livelier, you'd 'a' nipped me. As it was, I just barely had time to get back home; and then what does the faithful, devoted, all-to-the-square-dealing Huddesley do but wake up Doctor Vardaman, and lodge an information against himself----' 'What?' I cried. 'You were the burglar?' To tell the truth, I hadn't quite been able to follow Huddesley's flights of metaphor for the last few sentences, until all at once it come over me what he meant. 'You mean you were the burglar all the time?' I asked him. He grinned with a queer kind of pride. 'Sure I was. But, say, didn't I play it smooth? Couldn't I give Hen. Irving cards and spades, though? Next day I _did_ have a sore throat--I'm subject to 'em--but I wasn't sick like Doctor Vardaman thought. I kept up the game--stayed in bed and passed up the cops and the high-brows with the stylographic pens--I couldn't risk seein' 'em, you know. I don't know how that fellow Judd got on the trail--I guess he had a little more grey matter than the rest of 'em. Of course they had photos and descriptions of me all over the country. Anyway, when he turned up, peddlin' collar-buttons about six weeks later, I was next right off. I knew I'd better beat it for the tall and waving--but I did hate like poison to go without those rhinestones--after all the trouble I'd took, too.' The fellow's persistence and patience were something astonishing," said J. B., with wonder. "Enough to have insured his success at any honest undertaking, you'd think. He told me it was very hard to keep up the rôle. 'Sometimes I'd forget--about the talk, and all, you know,' he said. 'And then I'd lay awake at nights in a cold sweat for fear somebody had noticed it. Yes, sir, I'd been studying and studying, making myself solid with everybody, and playing the faithful-and-devoted racket until I was sick of it--and no diamonds in sight yet! Then "Mrs. Tankerville" came up, and all at once I began to see a ray o' light. But just as things was going like greased rollers on a toboggan-slide, hanged if the doctor didn't sour on the Pallinders! Said he was never going there again. 'Stead of shooting the chutes, looked like I was due to bump the bumps.'
"'In the end, that was the best thing that could have happened--because, you know, the old gent invited you all to dinner, and the minute he did that, I saw the chance. I knew Johns was a good deal of a lusher, and if I could get him stewed good and plenty, why, I could turn the trick. If some of the rest of you got a little how-come-you-so, not batty, you know, just a little googleish, it wouldn't hurt. But I wasn't taking any chances on Johns; I fixed him with some kind of rock-a-bye-baby dope out of the doctor's closet. You remember what happened after that. Say, I enjoyed it--honest-to-goodness I did; I liked all you boys first-rate. Say, if I'd been different, if I'd been born and brought up like you, for instance, I'd have cut a pretty wide swath, now, wouldn't I? It's all in the start a man gets, ain't it?'"
J. B. paused.
"I dare say Huddesley could imitate me better than I can him," he said. "But wasn't that last a funny thing for a man like that to say? He was in earnest, proud of his peculiar talents, and a little regretful. I didn't know what to say, but I knew better than to sermonise."
"Do you suppose he really did 'square it' after he got out?"
"Not likely, I think. Good resolutions aren't very lasting with that class. I've no doubt he meant it at the time. He asked about Doctor Vardaman. I told him, and do you know the fellow's face clouded over for a second. I believe he really was pained.
"'Well,' he said. 'The doctor was an old man, and of course it wasn't to be expected he could live very much longer. I might have known. But it makes me feel bad, Mr. Taylor. I kind of expected to go and see him when I got out this time, and tell him I was going to finish out on the square. He was the whitest man I ever knew. I never took the value of a cent from him, though I had plenty of chances; yes, sir, he was the real thing, that old gent was.' And, just as I was leaving he said: 'I'd like mighty well to know who that nice little trick was that I kissed on the back stairs when I was dusting out with the necklace. I didn't know her name, I guess she didn't ever come to rehearsals when I was around. Kind of a fat little girl, with brown eyes--she was too surprised to squeal; it was a fool thing to do, but I felt pretty good, and she was just my size in girls.' I couldn't place her for him, but I shouldn't wonder if it was Kitty. It would be like Kitty to keep quiet about it." I agreed with him that it would be much like Kitty; her eyes are blue, by the way, but J. B. had forgot that.
His face was a little sober as he answered some of my questions.
"I met the colonel in New York not long ago," he said. "He looks pretty old and seedy and shifty-eyed these days. He talked just the same; had a few shares to sell--just a few, you know, they were soaring up in price and in a week would be unobtainable for love or money, but he wanted to let me in on the ground floor--in a gold mine down in Eastern Tennessee.
"Don't laugh; it wasn't funny. He was too anxious to be so fluent and convincing as he used to be in the old days; he reminded me of a poor, hungry, eager old dog. I bought some of the shares, for the sake of auld lang syne--I couldn't help it. And there was something sordidly pathetic in the air of affluence he put on after he'd gathered the money up in his trembling old hands. I suppose he hadn't handled so much in months; yet the sum was not large. He insisted on my going home to dinner with him; they were in a dingy boarding-house over in Brooklyn. It gave me a start to see Mrs. Pallinder; I actually thought for a minute it was the old Botlisch woman, although she died years ago, the colonel told me. Mrs. Pallinder's got to looking exactly like her, but she has more manner, you know; she put on a lot of 'side' for my benefit. The boarding-house people were very much impressed. I shouldn't wonder if my visit bolstered up the Pallinder credit a good deal--I'm so solidly respectable. But do you know, I'm sure, that aside from any motives of self-interest, the Pallinders were honestly glad to see me; they talked about old times the same as you and I are doing now--just as if they hadn't left owing everybody and under a cloud generally! I wouldn't have opened my mouth about the diamond necklace, and that last night, but Mrs. Pallinder brought it up right away; she rather flourished it before the other boarders. Huddesley and her jewels, and what she said, and what So-and-So said--it was rather diverting to hear her version."
"Mazie wasn't with them, was she?"
"Oh, no, Mazie's married. Married an army-officer, and they're living in the Philippines. Mrs. Pallinder told me the name, but I've forgotten it."
"We used to think that Bob Carson----"
"Yes. Bob's never married--he was awfully in earnest. Remember what a sweet voice he had? They used to get him to sing 'Comfort ye, my people,' in Trinity the last Sunday in Advent, don't you remember? Poor old Bob!"
"Rich old Bob, you'd better say! He's made a lot of money. Susie's children will get it all, most likely. He's very fond of them; he sent the youngest girl to Europe last year to study music, somebody told me. Maybe, if Mazie knew, she'd be sorry she wouldn't have him. But it's better so; they wouldn't have been happy. Do you suppose he ever asked her, though?"
"Well, a man don't--one isn't likely to know about things like that," said J. B. somewhat embarrassed. "But I believe he did--right after the party, in the midst of the rumpus when the Pallinders were getting it right and left from everybody."
"And she refused him? I think it was fine of Bob to ask her. Like you and Muriel, wasn't it?"
"Hey?" said J. B., very much startled. A sudden flush appeared on his amiable, middle-aged countenance; he goes clean-shaven now, he who was so gallantly moustached in eighty-three--such are the mutations of fashion.
"I mean in the play--in 'Mrs. Tankerville,'" I added hastily.
"Oh, the play--oh, yes, I remember." He looked down meditatively, fingering the stem of his wine-glass as we sat at luncheon. Muriel would not have refused _him_, had she been asked in good earnest; I wondered if he knew it--but I think he was at once too gallant and too simple--honest, kindly J. B.!
"I saw her when I was over this last time," he said. "She's the Countess of Yedborough now, you know. She's got eight children! The oldest girl looks something like her, but not so handsome as her mother was at her age--oh, not to compare. She was the handsomest woman I ever saw."
"Has she changed much?"
"Well, these big women--she's got awfully fat--fine-looking still, of course, but she's too fat." Then, catching my eye inadvertently directed on his own not inconsiderable expanse of light waistcoat, he grinned good-naturedly. "Guess I'd better be careful how I throw stones around here," said he. "I'm living in a glass house myself."
"Did Muriel ask after any of us?"
"Oh, yes, wanted to know about everyone--even Ted Johns. I told her they'd found out that Huddesley put some drug in Ted's wine that night, so that it wasn't liquor that was the matter with him. I thought I'd save his reputation that much, if I could. Poor Ted, how he did waste his life! No man ever had better chances at the beginning, but he was his own worst enemy."
"You might say that of all of us."
"Yes, I suppose so. But we don't all drink like fish. Kind of sad about Teddy; he got some appointment in the commissariat when our troops went to Cuba, and died of the fever at Siboney in '98--you knew that? He ought never to have risked going to that climate; he couldn't have had any constitution left by that time."
I assented, and we paid Teddy's memory the tribute of a moment's silence; yet I dare say we were not thinking so much of him and his career, as of our own youth and the inevitable years.
"Well, this has been very pleasant, but I must go," he said presently and rose. "Next time I come West I'm going to bring my wife; I want her to meet everyone here--the old set, I mean. She's heard me talk about you so much. I wish we could meet a little oftener, but living so far apart--you know----"
Well, _fuit Ilium_! _Fuimus Troes!_ J. B. will find both the old set and the old town changed greatly (for the better, no doubt) when he returns. The coming generation--nay, the generation that has already arrived, will not remember the look of things as they were in my time. As I was saying, they were tearing down the old Gwynne house the other day.
+-------------------------------------------------+ |Transcriber's note: | | | |Obvious typographic errors have been corrected. | | | +-------------------------------------------------+