A Strategic Movement
IT was a saying of Nora Chilton’s that, if given the choice, she would always prefer the sting of a thousand ungratified wishes to a surfeit of contentment. The demand of her intellect and heart was to feel themselves alive. She asked not so much to enjoy as to try her own strength. She liked the gay, gaudy, fashionable world, with its shifting and multiplying needs and resources, its endless comedy, its power to radiate life as from a centre of light and heat. Still, she was poor, and the accomplishment of living so well upon a small income that no sharp dividing line appears to separate one from rich people must necessarily be a very negative success, or the result of a large evasion. She was a woman of opposite moods. There were days when to reset her furniture in her suite of rooms high up in the Eugénie ; to contrive new and mellow blendings of color in her cushions and curtains ; to give a tea, luncheon, or dinner; in short, to carry out with effectiveness and charm whatever she undertook, was almost enough to satisfy her. Again, by no glamour could she make this side of her life seem other than futility and failure. To do everything at second hand, to be the imitator of richer people whom she half derided, when what she longed for was to spend her strength in answering some call upon her highest powers! She was in such a mood when, one February morning, this note was brought her:
— MADISON AVENUE, Thursday.
MY DEAR NORA, — Now do not dare to tell me that you are engaged to-night, for you must dine here. Sebastian has telephoned me that he has at last got hold of Marmaduke Douglas, and says I must ask you to come and help entertain the great man. Whether he is young or old, married or single, whether he will come in war-paint and feathers or in a sombrero and buckskin tights, I have no idea. I only know that he is to be propitiated. He represents the Quadrilateral, and the Quadrilateral is what has spoiled Sebastian’s peace of mind for six months. To make terms with it means somehow millions to the Transmontana. I need you to talk ranchos, cañons, silver mines, to the millionaire, and I shall send the coupé for you at a quarter before seven.
Nora scribbled a line in return : “ You may count on me.”
What she quarreled with in herself was a sense of elation at the lucky accident of being asked to eat her dinner with the Eustaces. All the morning she had been, as it were, sweeping and garnishing her belongings, and now this worldly little Lucifer had come in and taken possession. She had experienced an inexplicable discontent, and had set to work to try to analyze the spirit of unrest within herself. A childless widow of less than thirty, she needed, she declared, some loyal, self-forgetting work for others. She was about to set herself some hard task, when Fanny Eustace, by a happy dexterity, had put her in touch with what was trivial, every-day, material. But then the season was Lent, the weather was inclement, and, having for a week felt lonely and outside the world, she was in a mood for companionship.
Thus, five minutes after seven o’clock, that evening, she entered Mrs. Eustace’s little rear drawing-room, and completed the partie carrée. Mrs. Eustace was a large, handsome blonde, languid in manner, slow of speech, but with a comprehensive smile which atoned for lack of effort. Her husband was small, dark, wiry, with jet-black eyes of gimlet sharpness. He was a broker, and lived, breathed, and had his being in Wall Street. Mr. Marmaduke Douglas, the representative of the Quadrilateral, was, as Mrs. Eustace had predicted, not in conventional evening dress, but wore an ample frock coat tightly buttoned up, with one of the flaps turned back, to admit of his putting his left hand into his trousers pocket. This attitude, although unusual at New York dinner parties, may have helped to create an effect of something serene, selfcentred, individual, in the man. Compared with Sebastian Eustace, he was impressive. He had a massive forehead ; heavy overhanging brows with deeply set blue eyes ; a dreamy gaze; a generally half-listless expression on his clean-shaven face, yet withal a look indicating that he was not asleep, not unobservant, but ready, — not to be trifled with. He held out his disengaged hand to Mrs. Chilton when he was introduced, and said, “ Madam, I am proud to make your acquaintance.”
“ We are all here,” said Sebastian Eustace ; and five minutes later the two guests sat down facing each other across the broad table, of which the sole decoration, except the silver and crystal at each plate, was a large oval mirror surrounded by a bank of snowdrops and white crocuses, and over whose polished surface tiny red figures in the shape of fiends and gnomes — clever Parisian knickknacks — seemed to be skating. So far we have not described Mrs. Chilton, but Marmaduke Douglas had observed that she had a step like a nymph, that her gown was more symmetrical than the gowns of other women, and that she moved and spoke with nobility and naturalness. Now he had a good view of a clearly cut, brilliant face, eyes and hair of the darkest, a beautiful airy forehead, and a flexible, piquant pair of lips. How old she was he did not decide on the instant. She looked old enough to have passed through many experiences, yet young enough to put mere youth at a disadvantage.
Mr. and Mrs. Eustace were not fluent talkers, and their deficiency explained their need of Nora Chilton, who possessed a happy knack of entering into the tone of others, a just and accurate sense of character, and could take what other people got angry or bored with as a humorous part of the nature of things. She addressed her vis-à-vis unhesitatingly. She asked him if he liked New York. He said a great many people thought New York was like the kingdom of heaven, but that he should think twice about accepting even salvation on no better terms. She inquired how he amused himself. He replied that so far he had made no attempt to amuse himself, but had tried to find out what these highly civilized Eastern people found amusing. He had, accordingly, been to the best theatres. Did he like the theatre ? He had not always at first, he confessed, been able to make out the meaning of the play, but finally, by dint of study, he had decided that in general it meant nothing, — just simply nothing at all. Still, the scenery was often ingenious, and he liked to look at the audience. He thought that perhaps he preferred the opera. It was more earnest. He liked to feel that people were in earnest; and a man or woman has to be deeply in earnest before committing himself or herself to a high note. However, he was a mere looker-on. What he did chiefly was to sit in his office and read the newspaper. Did he then enjoy reading newspapers ?
“ Of all honest occupations on the face of the earth,” said Marmaduke Douglas, “ I consider it the very poorest.”
“ I wish you would tell me what you do really like, Mr. Douglas,” said Nora.
“ I’ll tell you, Mrs. Chilton,” said Sebastian Eustace. “ He likes upsetting the universe, and then making a cool million or two out of the fragments.”
“ Oh, no,” said Mr. Douglas, letting his words drop in a deliberate, gentle way, and in a manner of such uniform bland melancholy that the effect was a little puzzling. “ The real excitment is in losing money. While you are piling it up you can’t help feeling sad. What is money ? you say to yourself. It is the root of all evil, and what good can it do us ? It can’t buy a friend, not even a relation. It can’t preserve your life a day when the fiat has gone forth. ‘ Man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain ; he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.’ You eat too good dinners and get indigestion and laziness, and feel very unhappy indeed. You long to go about and lecture before Christian associations on the blessings of poverty, or settle down on a desert island and take time to think whether life is worth living. But just get a hint that an enemy wants to topple over something you have been building up, and you feel alive down to the tips of your toes.”
“ I suspect,” said Sebastian Eustace, laughing, “ that you never had much experience of that sort of thing ? ”
“ Not so much as might be good for me,” said the millionaire plaintively; “but the first time I got hold of something profitable I suffered. It was when Benswanger and I struck a vein of silver. I was only nineteen, but Benswanger had faith in me, and wanted me to come East and get hold of a company. So I came East. Benswanger said it was necessary to make a good impression, that I must do the thing handsomely; so I engaged a bridal compartment in a parlor car. That was the way I first got satiated with loneliness and splendor. When I reached New York, I took a suite of rooms at the Windsor, and there I fairly reveled in luxury; they were upholstered in pink satin, and set round with mirrors.”
“ I don’t believe you were so lonely after you came to New York,” Sebastian suggested.
“ No,” said Mr. Douglas, with a sigh. “ People in Wall Street were most friendly, most helpful. They just laid themselves out to save me trouble. They knew what was best for me. I did n’t understand at the time what was good for my soul, and I thought I had fallen among thieves. Now I realize that the luckiest thing that could have happened to me was to have to go back to Colorado like a pitcher broken at the fountain.”
“ Did you return in a palace car ? ” asked Nora mischievously.
“ No, not in a palace car.”
“ You did not conquer New York that time,” Sebastian observed, with a little nod. “ You waited till you came again.”
But no, Mr. Douglas explained, he was not so ambitious as he had been eighteen years before. Nowadays he preferred to take a back seat; not perhaps from modesty, not altogether from a sordid spirit of economy, but because he liked to see the world turn round. Now there were people, he went on to say, who declared that money could buy everything in New York. He wondered whether they spoke the truth.
“ Why not ? ” exclaimed Nora. “ Money will buy you a house, equipages, a box at the opera, good dinners, a handsome wife ! A man must have a great many needs if what money will not buy cannot satisfy them all.”
Mr. and Mrs. Eustace accepted her words as a tribute to themselves. There was nothing in America, nothing in Europe, nothing in the universe, which money could not buy, and to New York was offered the cream of everything.
“ Best markets in the world here,” said Sebastian, — “ everything that can tempt the appetite.”
“ Except the appetite,” Nora murmured.
“ I am a pilgrim and I am a stranger,” said Mr. Douglas. “ They might not take me in.”
“ You can take them in,” suggested Sebastian, with a chuckle. “Just have a house in New York, a cottage at Newport, a lodge in the mountains, a country place within easy reach, and make yourself really comfortable.”
“ To be really comfortable is to be always packing up to go somewhere else,” explained Nora. “ It is impossible, nowadays, to stay in any place more than three months.”
“ A yacht is a good thing,” Sebastian put in. " A man likes at times to get away from the telegraph and the telephone.”
“ Oh, we trust such casualties will not happen to anybody here ! ” Nora cried. Her eyes were dancing with fun, and so were those of Mr. Marmaduke Douglas. His glance was apt to rest on her; he watched her brilliant, changeful face as he followed the discussion with an intent, sometimes puzzled look, as he tried to separate the grain from the chaff.
“ We have the handsomest houses and the best pictures in the world,” Sebastian went on. “ People in Europe give up trying to compete with New York and Chicago millionaires when they want a picture.”
“ Now there is the Angelus,” said Nora. “ Experts say that in Paris it was worth, say, ten thousand dollars. Here we paid more than one hundred thousand.”
“ And musicians,” pursued Sebastian. “Just as soon as they achieve a European reputation, we are ready to offer five hundred dollars an evening for a private entertainment.”
“ I gave a luncheon the other day, and had an author read scenes from his own works afterwards,” said Mrs. Eustace. “ We command the very best art and literature in the world.”
“ We like,” said Nora solemnly, “ anything that is expensive. That is, I mean socially expensive, and mentally inexpensive.”
“ Mentally inexpensive ? ” repeated Mr. Douglas, with a twinkle in his eye. “ I see, a man needs to be middling rich in order to be rich enough to buy the universe.”
“ It ’s good to have the apples hang high,” said Sebastian. “ A man never ought to feel that he has got all he wants in the world.”
“ No danger,” Mrs. Eustace observed, with a sigh, as she and Mrs. Chilton rose from the table. “ No matter how many figures there are in one’s income, it is never quite large enough.”
Naturally, Mrs. Eustace poured into Nora Chilton’s ear all she had heard about Marmaduke Douglas and his wealth-amassing career. He had come East to effect a “ deal,” she explained vaguely: the Quadrilateral and the Transmontana, after fighting each other for two years, were finally to lie down together. He had been in Sebastian’s way, but now all was to go well. Sebastian admired the great capitalist, although he sometimes called him names. Every accident of the man’s career had helped him. He had plenty of original force, and in whatever he undertook he created a monopoly; crushing everything and everybody who came in his way. His ambition was to dominate. He was a searching judge of men. There was in him an unsleeping insight, a sagacity, an invincible courage, a repose, an equipoise, at the same time a readiness for a spring that was terrible. Whoever was against him dreaded him, and had reason to dread him.
“ I hate that brutal force ! ” cried Nora, with anger and scorn. “ I hate those sordid, successful men ! I wish the heavens would fall and grind them to atoms.”
Nora’s friends were used to these outbursts, and found them piquant. Everybody had some fad, and Nora’s was unworldliness. It was the more amusing to hear her declaim against wealth and luxury because she possessed such tact and aptitude in social matters ; dressed so well, and interfused so much brightness into her dull little segment of the great circle, that it was easy, even while she declared that she would rather be poor than rich, to see where her real tastes lay. Her mother, Mrs. Haven, had been an ambitious woman, and had married Nora, her only child, at the age of nineteen, to Livingston Chilton, one of the heirs to the great Chilton property. Livingston had died within two years, and Nora, losing her child at the same time, forfeited all claim to the estate. Thus the marriage for which Mrs. Haven had schemed came to nothing, and she died of the disappointment. Yet, left a widow, Nora might more than once have redeemed this failure, and her best friends could not account for her conduct in refusing one good match after another. Perhaps Nora could not have accounted for her own conduct. Once she had married without love; then, when she had lost both husband and child, she had had to make her peace with the Unseen towards which she groped in bitter sorrow and remorse. This grief, this self-reproach, left their effect in a finer nerve, a keener insight, in a fresh sense of the distinction between great and little things, in a new choice of responsibilities, in a sudden recognition of her own identity. Along with these came an unexpected blessedness in a wider instinct of human fellowship. These impulses had not spent themselves in caprice. She studied nursing, and at times had lived among the poor and nursed the sick. Perhaps her feeling of the insoluble nature of the human problem had not been dispelled by these enterprises ; still, if she effected little, she at least understood better something of the starvation struggle going on in the world. Gradually certain forces gathered in her mind, and shaped themselves into a definite intention. To test the efficacy of a certain scheme, she had longed to have larger means at her disposal. Thus it was perhaps not strange if, after meeting Mr. Marmaduke Douglas, Nora’s thoughts should concentrate themselves on his gift, beyond that of necromancy, for making money; and, with this starting-point, that her conscience, at first in arms against him, should modify itself in answer to her need, and rouse in her the wish to bend his sordid faculties dexterously to carry out her own ends.
Certain tricks of individuality in the man she had had a relish for; they conveyed to her the secret of his sense of humor, his good nature in general, his modesty, his conscientious desire to conform to the usages of the dinner table and offend no fastidious taste. If she had gained no impression of him except as a financier possessed of curious secrets and living in a sphere of rich possibilities. in spite of her confidence in his power to offer her a short cut to wealth she could hardly have ventured to approach him. But he had given her glimpses, suggestions, almost it might be said a master key to something held in reserve ; at least, by some feminine casuistry, she believed that she saw in him something with which she could put herself in touch. Thus it was no difficult matter to write and ask if he could suggest a safe and paying investment for a small sum of money which was lying idle at her banker’s.
The answer was delivered by private messenger.
— BROADWAY, February 21.
MY DEAR MADAM, — Perhaps you will do me the honor to call to-morrow at eleven.
Yours with respect,
Just as St. Paul’s clock was striking eleven, on the following day, Nora accordingly crossed the threshold of the great white building on Broadway, was met by a clerk, escorted to the elevator, and, after an ascent to the third story, was ushered into a large room, the floor of which was covered with a Turkey rug, while round the long table in the centre were set twelve armchairs upholstered in red leather.
Nora, from her first mood of boundless curiosity and no fear, had declined to one of trepidation; but the sight of the great man standing awed, expectant, evidently strung up to a high pitch of interest, ready to receive her, threw a gleam of humor over the situation and helped to restore her self-possession.
“ You are the centurion : you said to me ‘ Come,’ and I came,” she exclaimed. “ You are very good to let me take up your time, Mr. Douglas.”
“ Mrs. Chilton,” returned Marmaduke Douglas, as solemnly as if assisting at some high function, “ you do me very great honor.” He took her hand, led her to a seat by the window, and himself sat down opposite. “ Now about this money you wish to invest,” he began at once. “ How much is it ? ”
“ Eighteen hundred dollars.”
“ Oh, eighteen hundred dollars ! ” There was an intonation of surprise in his voice for which she could not account.
“ Is it too small a sum to do anything with ? Of course, to you it must be insignificant ; but to me, Mr. Douglas, it represents a considerable fraction of all I possess in the world.”
He bent a singularly vivid look upon her.
“ A great deal can be done with eighteen hundred dollars,” he made haste to say. “ You give me full discretion ? ”
“ The fullest discretion,” returned Nora, with her pervasive gayety of look and tone and manner. “ Buy a railroad, or a township, or a silver mine, only ” —
“ Double it, treble it, quadruple it, for you,” he said with energy, “ I will. That’s all I’m good for.”
“ I hear that everything you touch turns to money,” she went on, with that soft archness which was her distinctive attribute. “ I am poor, I have always been poor, yet I have had to hear so much about money that I hate it. I think the world would be better off if there were no such thing as money. But invariably, just as I get hold of some beautiful symmetrical theory which can mend the universe, some obstinate fact crops up and spoils everything. And now I need a little more money to carry out a scheme dear to my heart. This amount has already been lying idle for four weeks. My uncle says I must wait for him to find some safe investment, and he also declares there are no safe investments that pay more than four per cent.”
Mr. Douglas, gazing at Nora’s charming face, all gayety and sweetness, insensibly melted under the summer warmth of her influence. His own face relaxed, beamed ; unconsciously he tilted back his chair, pushed aside the lapel of his coat, and inserted his left thumb in the sleeve of his waistcoat.
“ There are no safe investments beyond four per cent,” he returned, with a smile on his well-cut lips and in the corner of his eye, while he accented his meaning with his wagging right forefinger. “ Not even four per cents are safe. What’s this earth, anyhow, but a thin crust of soil over a centre of fire ? Earthquakes, volcanoes, upheavals, going on all the time, while we whirl along through space at the rate of sixty-eight thousand miles an hour, contriving to hold on only by the attraction of gravitation. The whole solar system is as rotten as the state of Denmark. Spots on the sun, moon and other planets burned up, comets threatening us on every hand ! Safety ? There ’s no safety anywhere ! ”
“ You mean that one has to accept some measure of risk,” observed Nora, a trifle embarrassed by his ease of attitude.
His alert sense discovered the slight coldness of her tone. He pulled himself up, as it were, put his chair on its four legs, and clasped his hands together.
“ There are just two classes of men to trust in money matters,” he now remarked, “ fools and wise men. What you have to dread is half fools and half wise.”
“ It does not seem quite civil to call my uncle a fool,” said Nora ; “ still " —
“ Oh, I ‘m the fool,” said Mr. Douglas. “ Don’t mind calling me names. I will take your money and rush in where better men might fear to tread. However, don’t fear. You are safe.”
She was opening a little bag of silk and lace, and now produced the check.
“ I trust you,” she said.
“ You may.” He called a clerk, asked for a blank form, filled it out, and gave her the acknowledgment. “ Don’t go,” he said entreatingly, as she was about to rise. “ I have nothing to do until a quarter before twelve. You might give me a quarter of an hour. You are my client, you know. We must talk over things.”
She had half risen, but now sat down.
“ Since I put my affairs in your hands, I ought to try to make you take a friendly interest in me.”
“ No difficulty whatever about that. What I should like,” he added, with a half sigh, “ would be to make you take a friendly interest in me. I dare say you have heard all sorts of things about me, not all to my good ? ”
“ The Eustaces say you are very successful; and when they say a man is successful, it is very high praise.”
“ Now you don’t care for success as the Eustaces do.” He was sitting bent a little forward, and his eyes regarded her with a penetrating glance.
“ I seem to believe in your success,” returned Nora. “ I never before in my life asked such a favor of any one. It shows, Mr. Douglas, that I believe not only in your enormous strength, but in your magnanimity, that I venture to make such a request. I could not have gone to ” —
“ To Sebastian Eustace ? ” said Mr. Douglas, with a twinkle in his eye. “ You flatter me. Business is business. It is quite right for you not to call me your friend until I have proved myself one. Five minutes after I had met you, I understood that you had looked out of your own eyes, observed things for yourself, did not express yourself in second-hand terms and give the result of other people’s foolish thinking.” He rose, and she felt that she was dismissed.
“ The centurion says to me ‘ Go,’ and I go,” she observed, holding out her hand.
He shook it warmly.
“ Obedience is a very good thing, Mrs. Chilton,” he said, and opened the door.
This was Tuesday. The following Friday, at two o’clock, Nora had just returned from a morning’s shopping with Mrs. Eustace, and entering her little reception room, and throwing off her mantle, bonnet, and gloves, she began to open the parcels which had come in and were piled on the divan. All at once she looked up from the litter of silk, lace, and muslin, and saw Mr. Marmaduke Douglas standing inside the portière, in his favorite attitude, one hand in his trousers pocket, and the other swinging his hat. Unusual as the hour was for calling, there was something in his look suggestive of youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm. He was dressed with faultless elegance, and in his buttonhole was a stalk of lily of the valley.
“ Oh, Mr. Douglas ! ” exclaimed Nora. “ How you startled me ! ”
At this confession of surprise the visitor paused, blushed rosy red, and faltered in a curiously deprecatory manner.
“ I am afraid I intrude. Perhaps it is not the right time of day. You see, Mrs. Chilton, I’m so ignorant.”
“ It is exactly the right time of day,” returned Nora, who had started up, and was now shaking hands with him. “ I have just come in from shopping, and am pining for some friendly person to admire my things.”
“ Beautiful, beautiful ! ” murmured Mr. Douglas in a tone of awe. She was establishing him at the end of the divan against a pile of cushions. “ I suppose you have had a happy time ?" he continued. “ I have heard that shopping makes every woman perfectly happy.”
“ Some man said that,” retorted Nora. She wore a black cloth gown trimmed with fur, and now sat down in a low chair with yellow silk cushions. “ If being bewitched, tempted, tantalized, tormented, made to covet the opportunities of one’s richer neighbors in general, and in particular to feel envious of Fanny Eustace, who, when she sees anything she takes a fancy to, drawls to the shop-people, ‘ Send me that, please,’ while I have to fit my needs to my purse, and buy only what I cannot go without, — if that is your idea of happiness ” —
“ If you long to be richer,” said Mr. Douglas, “ I have good news for you. I’ve made some money for you.”
“ So soon ? In three days ? ”
“ I have sometimes made ten times as much in three minutes. Dull times these! Nothing booming. What I should enjoy doing for you, Mrs. Chilton, is to let loose the dogs of war, swoop down and destroy the enemy, then bring you the spoils.”
“ Don’t do that. I have some conscience,” said Nora.
“ So have I,” affirmed Marmaduke Douglas ; “ and sometimes it will not let me slumber nor sleep till I have put a pinhole in somebody’s balloon. But nobody is hurt by this little transaction. I’ve simply doubled your money.”
“ Doubled my money ! And in three days! I cannot understand it.”
“ No ? Well, I dare say not,” said Mr. Douglas soothingly. “ I 'll make it clear.”
He began a long explanation, interrupted by frequent digressions : he alluded to the resources of a great country, to the laws of expansion, to the dynamic force behind things; he said all thrifty men liked to make three blades of grass grow where there had been only two before ; he told how the old Lord Collingwood, when he went round his estate, used always to have his pocket full of acorns, and would pop one into any vacant place. Mr. Douglas made here and there a convincing gesture, and altogether his statement seemed luminous. The effect of this broadly painted picture upon Nora’s mind was to make her feel that her eighteen hundred dollars, being put upon the market at the right moment, had given a vital impulse to enterprise and had become the germ of great events.
“ If it is all right, I am delighted,” she said when he paused. “ I wanted a little more money.”
“ It’s all right,” he returned. “ Trust me for that. Should you object, Mrs. Chilton, to my keeping it a little longer, just to see what I could roll it up into ? ”
“ You are sure it is not too much trouble ? ”
“ Trouble ! It works off some of my surplus energy.” He crossed over to her desk, wrote a few words on a paper, and asked her to sign it and to return his former receipt.
“ Now shall I go away ? ” he asked, with the air of a child.
“ No, indeed. Sit down.”
He obeyed her, and began to finger the pretty trifles which lay beside him on the divan. “ I have seen just such odds and ends in the shop windows,” he remarked. “ They look harmless, like the piles of cannon balls lying about in forts and navy yards. But if a man has got feeling, he thinks what execution those missiles can do. Now, for example, that! ” He indicated a piece of flamecolored silk.
Nora jumped up and twirled it about a lamp globe.
“ It is for a shade,” she explained.
“ Is that all ? ” he said, as if disappointed. “ I supposed you were going to wear it.”
“ I may wear this,” she said nonchalantly, and arranged some yards of fleecy chiffon on her shoulders.
He surveyed her critically, his head on one side.
“ Now, should you mind,” said he, “ just throwing that black lace over your head ? ”
She adjusted the black lace mantillawise, took a few steps away, then turned and looked back at him, with a mischievous smile on her lips and in her dark eyes.
He thumped the down cushion beside him.
“ That is it!” he cried. “ You are Spanish in your style. I have seen Mexican women look out from behind their jalousies with just that air, as I rode past.”
“ As you rode past ? ” she repeated archly.
“ As I rode past.”
“ You rode past such attractions, and did not stop ? ”
“ I always had a talent for going on,” said Mr. Douglas naively. “ I observed, at a very early age, that the men who stopped lost a good deal of momentum, to say nothing of valuable time. I have generally made it a point to have an important engagement just ahead. It’s safest. Then, too, I’m fastidious. I’ve heard men, when asked what kind of woman they preferred, answer, ‘ The nearest.’ Hitherto I’ve been apt to say, ‘ The farthest.’ ”
Some suppression, some vagueness, made this figure of speech not wholly displeasing, although it was suggestive, and seemed subtly calculated to bring into distinct shape the speaker’s shifting and developing phases of consciousness, modified and centralized by the realization of an inward ideal.
Nora’s intuitions were not at fault; a woman readily understands the intimations of a floating flower or a weed drifting up from landward.
“ Here you live,” he went on. “ Here you live all alone ! ”
“ There are five rooms,” she said, “ small but ” —
“ But then, like Mr. Dick, you do not wish to swing a cat,” suggested Mr. Douglas, evidently a man versed in literature.
“ But I always long to swing a cat,” retorted Nora. “ I detest everything that cramps and hinders me. The contrast between my large desires and my limited opportunities, the necessity of obeying centripetal forces when I long to launch off into the wildest curve of the centrifugal, — that is what spoils my chance of a contented mind ! Here is my dining-room ; only six people can sit down at once, — no dinner of twentyfour covers for me ! Beyond is my bedroom, smaller yet. The kitchen would remind you of a doll-house. Still, my maid contrives; and if inside I am limited, outside there is all the sky, all the horizon.” She pushed aside the curtains. “ I have the sunsets, — that is something.”
“ I have knocked about the world, hungered and thirsted, fainted in the wilderness,” said Mr. Douglas, “ and I like to look round here and see how a woman like yourself lives. There is a certain charm about it. ‘ That is where she sits and reads,’ I say to myself.
‘ She arranged those flowers.’ ‘ That is her place at the head of the table.’ Still,” he added, with an intent look, “ I ’m glad it does not absolutely content you. Now I myself have rather a yearning for wildness.”
“ Who is without yearnings ? ” she returned. “ But you ought to enjoy your present taste of the cream of civilization.
I read in the paper that you were to be given a great dinner at Delmonico’s tonight.”
“ There are so many dinners,” said Marmaduke Douglas with a sigh. “ They are all monstrous polite, — so polite I get tired. It is n’t safe for me to open my lips, — all these men think I leak wisdom. They watch me and listen to me, hoping some of my secrets will spill over. I’ve heard of a humorist,” he went on plaintively, “who complained that everybody at table laughed if he only asked his neighbor to pass the mustard. Just so, if I say there is a storm brewing, they make a note of it, and it’s sure to be in the papers next day. Of course it’s flattering, but I have a pained sense all the time that I 'm a humbug. But even if I am a humbug, I know something about the hollowness of this adulation. It’s no secret to me what they want of me. I may have made some money, I may know a thing or two about making some more; but when they think omnipotence is my forte and omniscience my foible, they exaggerate. When I do say anything, I try not to furnish material for controversy. The fact is, New York does n’t seem to me the place to show versatility and audacity. Out West I dare spread myself out over all creation, but New York keeps one within bounds. Why, Mrs. Chilton, I used to find life not worth living unless I could put my feet on the table.”
Nora’s dancing eyes traveled round the room.
“ Do you see any table of the height which seems convenient ? ” she inquired.
“ You don’t know me, Mrs. Chilton,” returned Mr. Douglas. “ I never lounge now. I have not even tilted back my chair since that day you did me the honor to call at my office. I saw how it struck you. I just simply took myself between my two hands, just as General Ethan Allen did when he went to a dinner party, and, in an unguarded moment, accepted an olive. Having got that olive, at first he did n’t know what to do with it. It was green to the eye, slippery to the touch, and mighty unpleasant to the taste. But he tackled it; for, says he within himself, ‘ I 'm General Ethan Allen ! I took Fort Ticonderoga, and — me, I will eat this little green plum.’ So he bolted it.”
“ Ah, you men who conquer the world know how to conquer yourselves ! ” said Nora.
Mr. Marmaduke Douglas proceeded : “ The very next morning after I met you at the Eustaces’, Mrs. Chilton, I went to a Fifth Avenue tailor, and said to him:
‘ Sir, I want you to fit me out with whatever a man needs. I don’t mean a dude, I don’t even mean a fine gentleman. What I want are the garments of commonplace decorum and good taste.”
“ The result is very successful,” said Nora, with a bright little nod. “ The garments of commonplace decorum suit you admirably.”
“ Do you really think I should pass muster among a crowd of New York men ? ” he asked, with such manifest eagerness that Nora exclaimed on the instant, —
“ I know very few men who possess your natural advantages.”
His delight was so naive that Nora realized that, lured on by her passion for saying something acceptable, she had paid him an overwhelming compliment. However, she had not been inexact, and she did not surrender her position, but went on: —
“ As to what a man wears, the thing is not so much to like his clothes as not to dislike them. Tell me about yourself, Mr. Douglas. I think you were born here at the East ? ”
He had been born, he explained, at Rochester, New York. Losing his parents, he was brought up by his father’s brother, who gave him, until he was sixteen, a chance of education. Then, this uncle dying, he was thrown on his own resources, and went to Indiana and taught school, still working at his studies. His health broke down, and he drifted to the West, looking for some out-of-door work, and found a chance to herd sheep for a Texan farmer.
“ I began in March, just after the lambs were born,” he went on. “ I used to go out in the morning with my flocks on the prairie, which rolled gently up to high hills. The grass was full of spring flowers ; the old sheep, and the frisky lambs a few weeks old, and the little tender shaky new ones would scatter about, flecking the green with bits of white ; all sorts of birds flew by and around me; rabbits scudded across the open, and many a pretty wild creature. I liked it. I felt as if I had dropped out of time into eternity, for I was sick and tired, and needed the rest. Then I grew strong, and began to feel my heart beat. I got hold of books and newspapers, and grew restless. There was the great far-off world going on without me. I longed to be in it, struggling, asserting myself. Just then my employer wanted somebody to drive a flock of cattle fifty miles, to ship them to Chicago. I offered to do it, and that ended my quiet life. Still, I always like to think of the prairie and the sky and the little dots of white wool on the hillside.”
Nora, naturally pleased to elicit these confidences, would have led her visitor on to higher flights ; but at this moment her maid began to set out the table for afternoon tea, and Mr. Douglas, looking at his watch, remembered that he had to meet a man at the Fifth Avenue at half past four. But he waited for a cup of tea, and munched a biscuit with it. Nora suspected, however, that, unused to that mild form of feminine festivity, he was appalled by the meagreness of the entertainment.
He had asked her if she liked flowers, and she had answered that she loved them so well she hated to have them cut ; she delighted in growing things. The next day, returning after a brief absence, she found her rooms decorated as if for a wedding, with palms, azaleas, acacias, orchids, lilies, and jonquils. Her first impression was of delight; then came a little interfused sense of misgiving, of presentiment, which led her to sit down and write a note hardly so much of thanks as of protest. She said she was certain this profusion, this costliness, this splendor, was a mistake. A few hours later, Mr. Marmaduke Douglas drove up to the Eugénie in a carriage, and ascended to her apartment with the haste of a doctor sent for in a case of life or death. Had he presumed too far ? he demanded. Had he then offended past forgiveness ? He flung himself about in a frenzy of eloquence, deploring his ignorance, his innocence, his stupidity. He had simply told the man to send a few flowers to Mrs. Chilton at the Eugénie. Delicately skirting the question of the exact amount paid, he said he had given the florist a small sum of money, and left the choice of plants to his discretion. The mistake lay, Mr. Douglas explained unblushingly, in his supposition that exotics were dear, whereas, as events proved, they cost nothing, simply nothing at all. He begged Nora to overlook the error. Perhaps the garbage-man would remove those she did not want.
Nora allowed herself to be propitiated. After all, millionaires are used to illimitable views of things, and, in spite of the gorgeousness of the first effect, she liked an Eastern landscape, and the palms made a picturesque background for her Oriental divan, her rugs, cushions, and draperies.
Mr. Douglas’s next approach was more insidious. He obtained the lease of a box at the opera for the remainder of the season from some people who were going South, and asked Mrs. Eustace to consider it hers, and to invite Mrs. Chilton occasionally. Hundreds of pairs of eyes were focused upon the capitalist as he sat modestly in the background of the box, while the ladies of the party lolled in front with wonderful bouquets of blush and cream roses. These were the nights of the Nibelungen series. Mr. Marmaduke Douglas found something akin to himself in the simplicity and largeness of the themes; his imagination reveled in the mingling of the beautiful and the grotesque, in the weirdness and uncanniness of the situation, in the climaxes of high emotion. He enjoyed the forging of Siegfried’s sword; his joy in the dragon was that of a child. Nora told him she was certain that he longed to tackle that dragon in the spirit of General Ethan Allen. The eerie note of the Valkyrs, the fire-guarded sleep of Brunhilde, charmed him, and these experiences brought him such a rush of feeling and so many things to say that he was under the necessity almost every day of seeking Mrs. Chilton and pouring himself out to her. Was she not his client ?
Nora accepted the position, perhaps a little flattered that she knew how to draw the monster’s teeth and claws and tame him into a useful animal. Indeed, Mr. Marmaduke Douglas’s bold and unexpected tactics left her nothing else to do but to accept the position.
But a word of Sebastian Eustace’s disturbed the suavity of this intercourse. She had never liked Sebastian, who had a knack of saying brutal things when he was in a pet, and he was now beginning to discover that the Quadrilateral and the Transmontana were not likely to lie down in peace together like the lion and the lamb. Thus, himself nettled, he displayed some adroitness in spoiling Nora Chilton’s peace of mind. He congratulated her on her conquest; and when she said that Mr. Douglas had kindly undertaken to invest a little of her money, he laughed, pressed inquiries, and told her that if she had Marmaduke in her toils she might as well get a hundred per cent and make her fortune at once. Certainly there was nobody else in New York in whose favor the great man would turn over sixpence.
Once alarmed, all Nora’s pride was on the alert. She wrote and begged Mr. Douglas to call the following day at noon, and received him with a magnificence of demeanor which she had hitherto held in reserve.
“ I am going to ask you for the eighteen hundred dollars I put in your hands,” she said. “ I find that I have need of it.”
“ Your nine thousand odd dollars,” he replied.
She laughed slightly.
“ That was a pleasant little fiction,” she said. “ Nothing increases and multiplies by miracle.”
He looked disturbed.
“ Why do you no longer believe in me ? ” he asked.
“ I have suddenly got a little arithmetic into my head,” she said archly. “ A woman does occasionally see into things.”
“ Into a man’s motives ? ”
She hardly wished to impugn his motives. She saw that she had roused something in him that was not calculable. He seemed to have grown taller; his voice sounded deeper; his intonations were more measured. Something in his eyes seemed unveiled. She could not tell what these portents meant, and she turned a woman’s weapon upon him.
“ I know that it is unusual for you to undertake this sort of brokerage,” she murmured. “ And I could not have it said that I was profiting by your generosity.”
“ Who says it? Sebastian Eustace ? ”
“ Nobody has said it. Nobody must have a chance of saying it. You see I stand alone. I need to be very wise. You will understand that you ought not to put a defenseless woman in a false position. I have no one to defend me.”
“ I can defend you against Sebastian Eustace,—that wriggling tadpole, little more than a stomach with a tail to it ” —
“ Never mind Mr. Eustace. I am not afraid of him.”
“ Do you then need anybody to defend you against me, Mrs. Chilton ? ”
“ But now, candidly,” she asked, “ did you double my money in three days, or was it a mere pretense ? ”
The situation was girt about with prickly difficulties for Mr. Marmaduke Douglas. He was taken by surprise. To indicate his good intentions without admitting the possibility that he had acted out of magnanimity required the aid of tact, address, and an unlimited number of polished sentences, and not one could he think of.
“ Mrs. Chilton,” he was forced to say, “ I cannot do more than ask that my word should be accepted. I never before needed to protect myself against suspicion.”
“ I only suspect you of being so generous that you put me in the wrong,” said Nora.
“ What you accuse me of, Mrs. Chilton, is the presumption of trying to do something for you.”
“ Of permitting me to accept advantages which do not fairly belong to me.”
“ Men often consider me more dangerous than I am,” said Marmaduke Douglas, — he was standing before her, holding in one hand his hat and gloves, while the other was extended in supplication, — “ but nobody ever before accused me of trying to do good by stealth.”
“ I do not call it good ; I do not like an act of charity,” said Nora, with spirit.
“ Mrs. Chilton,” he cried, “ you force my hand! I must commit myself. I must throw reserve to the winds. If I seem to you in brutal haste, if I offend your pride, will you not admit that you have made it necessary for me to produce my credentials ? My credentials are a wish, a deep, honest, and fervent wish, to serve you ; if possible, to please you, to touch your generous feeling. Mark me, I did not expect to do this easily. What I should have tried to do, if I had been given time, was to make you associate me with comfort, with efficient aid, with untiring usefulness. I wanted to prove my trustworthiness by a whole series of delicate efforts in your behalf.”
He had by this time thrown down his hat and gloves, and stood before her with both hands extended. His face showed a strange earnestness ; his eyes were soft; his intonations were deep and solemn.
“ If you had just simply given me some advantageous investment,” said Nora, holding on to her grievance by a distinct effort.
“ Just realize, Mrs. Chilton, that the moment I saw you I said to myself, ‘That woman is a queen; everything ought to belong to her.’ Then you came and told me you were poor. I had hugged myself with delight when your note offered me a chance of seeing you again, and now your poverty made my opportunity. Here was a woman, young, beautiful, husbandless, childless, and of her own accord she gave me a chance to serve her.”
Marmaduke Douglas always possessed a dignity beyond that of most men; added to it now was a contagious cordiality, a warmth of feeling which moved Nora in spite of herself.
“ I see your kindness,” she returned. “ There is a sort of chivalry in it, but that sort of chivalry is not possible. Civilization and society have their fixed laws. Some obligations cannot be accepted.”
“ I did not wish to impose an obligation. I did not expect you to think of me at all—except, that is, as a faithful man of business, a screen from the brutal, knock-about world — until I had proved myself; until you had grown used to stretching out your right hand and finding me always there; until you finally woke up to realities, as it were, and said to yourself, ‘ Why, this rough, untaught man is strong, he is kind, he is necessary to me, — above all others necessary.’ ”
“ What is necessary to me is my selfrespect,” murmured Nora, foreseeing a blow, and ready to parry it.
“ Self-respect ? ” He shook his head. “ Mrs. Chilton,” he went on, “ if, on that evening I first met you, Sebastian Eustace had told me you had a husband who worshiped and guarded you, I should still have felt that something had caught fire in my brain, and as if all I had hitherto looked forward to and believed in had scattered to the four winds. I should have said to myself, ‘I am a lone and childless man; I must always be a lone and childless man.’ As it was, Sebastian Eustace told me you had no husband, no child. A few days later, you yourself told me you were poor. How, then, could I help longing to gather you under my wing as a hen gathereth her chickens ? ”
“ Nobody was ever half so good to me,” she said, with a half laugh. “ I realize it, but ” —
“ You might marry me,” he said, the blood rushing to his face, and speaking in a hushed voice, as if he were in church. “ I give you my word of honor I did not intend to broach the matter now. I know that I am not up to the standard of your fastidiousness; that I compare ill with the men you are used to ; that unless you had needed me you would never have come near me; that I am simply an accident in your career. However, accidents will happen, and here I am. I’m not worthy of you. Still, I am, so to speak, rich, and that might count for something.”
“ No, no, no! ” she cried out sharply, “ that counts for nothing at all ! ”
“ You say you have a thousand tastes you never had a chance to gratify. I ” —
He had taken a step towards her. She put up her hand and seemed to hold him off.
“ It is not strange,” she said more quietly, “ that you consider me mercenary. It is my own fault. I take the tone of the world I live in. I remember that I told you, the first night I met you, that money would buy a man anything, even a wife ; but, in spite of my ambitions and my vanities, I am not to be bought.”
“ Bought! ” he repeated mournfully, with instinctive dramatic art assuming an attitude of limp depression, as if she had launched at him a monstrous accusation.
“ I long ago gave up the idea of ever marrying again,” she proceeded. “ I am not a woman to marry. It had hardly occurred to me to wonder if you were or were not married.”
“ You were not certain that I had not a wife somewhere ? ”
“ You interested me in a different way,” she explained. “ I was curious to see the kind of man you were.”
“ Now what kind of a man am I, Mrs. Chilton ? ” he asked in a wheedling tone.
“ You are one of those men who, when half the world is engaged in a losing struggle with starvation and misery, build up a colossal fortune for themselves, no matter what suffering they cause to innocent people. Oh, forgive me for saying it! ” she cried, for the blood had rushed to his face, and he raised his hand as if some missile threatened him. “ Is it not true ? ” she asked in a soft voice.
“ True ? ” He bent his head ; he seemed to be questioning his conscience.
“ If I speak frankly,” she said hurriedly, “ it is that I wish you to understand me clearly. I have permitted you to misjudge me. If I have aspirations, they are not to have every real need stilled, and every fault in my nature stimulated by ease and luxury. I believe more and more every day that one reason the world grows worse instead of growing better, that all sorts of insoluble social problems confront us, is that women are so in love with elegance, with splendor, with idleness ; because they demand of men that they shall be successful; and that a great fortune, no matter how gained, is the outward and visible sign of a man’s success in the world. Why, Mr. Douglas, all that is worth your caring about in me scorns wealth, scorns mere money-getting, and hates the selfish greed which makes it possible for a man to build up great monopolies.”
He had listened to her intently.
“ You see wrong where I see a duty,” he said, as if the other side of the subject had for the first time been presented to him. “ I did not set out with any particular ambition to be a rich man,” he went on. “ I liked to be inside of things, I liked hard work ; and somehow, in those new places, when it happened that a man was suddenly and imperatively required to fill a post in a moment of difficulty, it was very often I who naturally and inevitably was called on to fill that position. Whether it was a new township, a new railroad, a new company, there I was. It never occurred to me that there was any particular distinction about it. The only distinction I asked for was the distinction of taking the hardest work and the heaviest share of the responsibility. If I got on in the world, my advantages seemed a mere unimportant adjunct of the hard work and the responsibility.” His speech was of the nature of a soliloquy. He seemed to be rehearsing the matter for his own satisfaction rather than for another’s arbitration. “ I have never had many enemies,” he resumed. “ Naturally, no man likes to see another man grow rich, any more than the tigers in a menagerie like to see the lions’ meal carried past their cage while they have to wait. There is sure to be a roaring. Somebody has prejudiced you against me, Mrs. Chilton, and I suppose,” he said in a different tone, “ that if I were to talk a week I could n’t convert you to the belief that I am the man you are in search of.”
Nora did not try to repress a smile.
“ I am not in search of any man, Mr. Douglas.”
“ Of course my expression was figurative.” He sighed. “ I wish I knew what sort of a man you were likely to accept.”
“ I told you I did not think of accepting any man,” said Nora, who had regained her elasticity and archness of manner. “ Still, I may as well say that if I were to marry again I should demand a great deal. To begin with, I could not marry a man whom I did not love and who did not love me.”
He took a stride towards her. “ Prove your own case,” he said quickly. “ Do not try to prove mine. I could do that, if you gave me the chance. Have I not said that from the moment I saw you I had no resource but to love you ? And I have loved you. I do love you.”
She seemed not to hear him, and went on : " He must be my superior in moral and intellectual attributes.”
“ That crushes me,” he said, and, with an air of being crushed, sank down on the divan. “I take it to heart,” he murmured sadly. “ I know I am not intellectual, and you say, Mrs. Chilton, that I am not moral.”
“ I hardly meant to say that.”
“ I see,” he said, with a dismal face; “ what you like is a literary fellow.”
“ Possibly,” returned Nora, with nonchalance. “ I am certain he would not be rich. I have a prejudice against overrich people.”
“ I wonder if you would like me better if I were poor and out of pocket ? ”
“ Infinitely ! ” cried Nora.
He looked at her for a moment thoughtfully, then rose.
“ Do you really want your money back ? ” he now inquired.
“ My eighteen hundred dollars.”
“ Eighteen hundred dollars ? How is a man to put back the bird into the egg and the plant into the seed ? ”
“ By the way,” she said, “ I ought to tell you why I wanted to make a little money. I am interested in a free kindergarten, and I found that, with a thousand dollars or so, we could buy a little plot of ground and make gardens for the children to work in.”
He came up to her and took her hand.
“ I see,” he said, “ you dislike me. You despise me altogether.”
“ Do not say that. It is not true.”
“ Had you trusted in me in the least degree, you would have asked me to give something to your kindergarten. Even if you considered me and my money a blind, brutal, destructive force, you might have used it for good.” He was still holding her hand. “ Mrs. Chilton,” he cried, “ why won’t you take me and make something out of me ? ”
“ You are too strong, too successful, too rich. I like odd corners of things, to make much out of little ; I like somebody who needs me, and whom I can do for, — unlucky, beaten people.”
“ Well,” he said, with a sigh, “ goodby. I have to think this matter over.” He looked at her with a benevolent glance, seemed about to speak, then went away, his final thought unuttered.
“ I have always heard,” Mr. Marmaduke Douglas said sadly to himself as he gained the pavement, “ that it is as easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle as for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. I never before believed it.”
He carried on this soliloquy for the greater part of the next twenty-four hours.
“ What does a man do, then ? ” he asked the unseen monitor. “ Sell all his goods and give to the poor ? ”
It may be gathered from this analysis of the situation that, though cast down, he was not destroyed. Certainly he had encountered a rebuff, but that very rebuff had brought him closer to Mrs. Chilton than he had been hitherto. He had not invaded her territory of thought and feeling for nothing ; she had yielded up some of her secrets to a clever enemy. Before, she had represented for him not only the bloom of civilization, but custom, convention, and the world’s opinion. Now he found in her divinations of a larger orbit; with her freshness, spring, and energy she wanted something to do, something to suffer. She was to be approached only on her nobler side. It had been the lifelong dream of Marmaduke Douglas to crown his life with the personal happiness he had hitherto missed. Remote, cloistered, he had kept this ideal before him, and the curious felicity with which Mrs. Chilton had dropped into his existence made him feel that he had not dreamed in vain. He could not resign her; rather would he squeeze camel-wise through a needle’s eye.
Any one who saw him walk up and down his office, hour after hour, during the four or five ensuing days, would have seen him in an attitude which betokened absorption and concentration. His hands were in his pockets ; his head, with a puckered brow, was bent forward and down, with a suggestion of being ready to drive home his argument by physically butting some enemy. Was something being planned, plotted, and prepared ? Was he laying a train ? It was said by men who liked to invest him with a subtle kind of terrorism that when he wished to achieve a victory he left nothing to chance. All these six months that he had spent in New York he had endeavored modestly to keep himself in the background, and had laughed at the idea that he had any plans and calculations. But now his rôle of looker-on was over. It began to be buzzed about in financial circles that he was coming to the front, that he was startled by signs of a decline in Quadrilateral securities. With Marmaduke Douglas’s finger on the button, however, it was declared that they had touched their lowest, and would come up with a bound.
Nora Chilton, sitting in her rooms on these lengthening spring days, found herself turning eagerly to the money column in the newspaper. She had not been of late in her usual spirits. She was dissatisfied with herself. She felt that she had posed before Mr. Douglas as a better woman than she was, not to say as a Pharisee. She had been uncompromisingly candid, and in being candid she had been ungrateful. But then the moment he began to plead for himself he had penetrated her with an invisible, intangible influence which must be resisted. It was a sense of warmth, fullness, light, kindness, life. To surmount it, to cut through it, she had seized the first weapon which came to hand, and what was it but Fanny Eustace’s slander ? He had hung his head like a scolded child, had blushed like a criminal found out; and whatever plea for indulgence he presented had been, not on account of any actual good services achieved, but for his good intentions. What had he done to displease her except to reveal his good nature, his magnanimity, his generosity ? If he had finally encroached a little, was it not because she had challenged him, — forced him, as he said, to produce his credentials? She blushed to recall how she had bade him “ Stand and deliver,” as if she had been suspicious that he was defrauding her.
The truth was, Sebastian Eustace’s innuendo that she was coquetting with Mr. Marmaduke Douglas, and that her coquetries struck a commercial note, had pierced Nora Chilton in a vital part. Yet it was not her conscience that took the alarm. The great man actually interested her more than others ; he had more to tell her. She experienced a woman’s unquenchable desire to find out what was behind this vigorous, distinct, and entertaining personality. To have lower motives imputed to her made her cross not only with Sebastian Eustace, but with Mr. Douglas; worse still, cross with herself, for she knew the world and its foibles. But when she had summoned Marmaduke Douglas to the tribunal, and he had stood before her in his largeness, his integrity; when, in his easy, direct way he had told her he had tried to be absolutely and austerely faithful to his inner sense of right, she had felt herself and her grievance shrink and dwindle into nothingness.
It was ten days after this interview that she received this note: —
— BROADWAY, April 29.
MY DEAR MRS. CHILTON, — I send you the check. The full amount belongs to you; but should you still feel any scruples of taste, bestow the superfluous amount upon your kindergarten, which Heaven prosper ! It seems safest to hand over the money. I am not fond of predicting catastrophes, but I begin to think there are signs of an earthquake. New York always brings me disaster. Your friend Sebastian has come down like the Assyrian. I hope soon to get away from this place. I do not seem very much to care what becomes of me. After all, a man does not accept his destiny ; he simply undergoes it. But I am Always yours faithfully,
She wished, she wished with all her heart, that she had not to accuse herself of unkindness. She said it to herself twenty times a day, for she had no one else to whom to utter her regrets. Certainly she could not confess them to Fanny Eustace, who with radiant mien came to impart the news that things were looking badly for the Quadrilateral. Sebastian had, she declared, held out the olive branch as long as he had had patience. With identical interests the Quadrilateral and the Transmontana had before them an almost illimitable future. Separate, alienated, acting by the dictates of a selfish instinct to perpetuate its own claims, the Quadrilateral was being pushed to the wall. There had been a further drop in prices; according to Sebastian, the bottom had dropped out.
“ And Mr. Douglas!” cried Nora breathlessly.
“ Mr. Douglas is ruined,” said Mrs. Eustace unhesitatingly. “ The Quadrilateral is Marmaduke Douglas, and Marmaduke Douglas is the Quadrilateral.” There was a hint of vindictiveness in the tone with which she went on to explain the financier’s injudicious moves by which he had hastened the inevitable. He had held great advantages, but had played with them too long. His had been the easy scorn of Goliath when his attention was called to the challenge of the stripling. Now that Sebastian had slung his pebble and the giant was toppling from the pride of his strength, it was an easy matter to point the moral, and Fanny Eustace pointed it. She made it clear that merciless fate had overtaken the great man, and that he was gnashing his teeth under the humiliation.
In spite of visible gaps, the revelation was full enough to make the general fact of Marmaduke Douglas’s imminent failure clear to Nora, and she made no effort to parry these feminine and egoistic deductions. To his wife, of course, if Sebastian were saved, all was saved; but to Nora Sebastian was a subject of indifference, except that she was ready to accuse him of unfaith, of disloyalty. She believed now that a germ of treachery had all the time lurked behind his trucklings of subservience to Marmaduke Douglas. The whole history of the Quadrilateral and the Transmontana was for her full of mysteries and contradictions. Her questions could not be answered, and speculation revolved in a circle which spent its curves in profitless orbits and never perfected itself. What she comprehended of the present situation was something felt rather than reasoned. She knew that Sebastian Eustace was small enough never to forgive or forget a slight. Her vivid insight spent itself in picturing what Marmaduke Douglas must be enduring in experiencing defeat, and that too at the hands of the man he had despised. She was tossed in spirit. She longed to do something, — what, she hardly knew ; but she needed action of some sort to meet and satisfy the unrest which was like an aching thirst in her. She chafed at the bonds of the conventional. She must play a woman’s part; she could not seek the man, yet she yearned to see him, almost to ask forgiveness on her knees for her transgression. Perhaps she felt that in rebuffing him she had driven him out to sea without chart, compass, or pilot.
Rumors of disaster thickened. She read the papers with a great trouble on her mind. They recounted the history of the man who had stood by the Quadrilateral upright as a sentinel, and Would fall with its fall ; applauded and lamented, and by a double scale of praise and blame kept before her mind the whole idea of his ambition and its failure.
Suddenly a new idea smote her. Indeed, had she not a duty to perform ? Once impelled by this suggestion, she could scarcely restrain her impatience. She wrote a note, posted it; but the mails were too slow. He had told her he should leave New York ; he might be on the point of setting out for the West. She sent him a dispatch by wire, asking him to come and see her.
He obeyed at once. He entered her rooms with a pale face ; his whole figure had an eagerness and an alertness as if he were still thrilling under the excitemeat of the struggle, and had no time to waste.
“ I was afraid,” she cried, advancing towards him, “ that you would be leaving New York.”
“ You heard, perhaps, that things were going badly with me ? ” he said, looking at her intently, but not trying to take her hand.
“ That I am a smoke-wreath, an airbubble, the burned-out stick of a rocket ? ” he continued.
“ It is hard for you,” she said, with earnestness ; “ but once over, it is over. The worst is that you have to endure the publicity; but no matter. Let it go. You have cared about better things than money. Your real heart was never in your wealth. It was the feeling of a task imposed that drove you on. Your chief wish was to do your duty and have done with it.”
His face grew paler still as he looked at her.
“ You have felt for me! ” he faltered.
“ These days have been terrible to me.
I could realize what you were feeling.”
“ I was afraid you would be thinking I deserved it all, — that it was a quill from my wing that was doing the business for me. If you have a kind thought for me, though all is lost, nothing is lost.”
“ I have more than a kind thought,” said Nora, with a half laugh and a half sob, and she held out a scrap of paper.
Without taking it from her he stooped and looked at it.
“ Oh, that check ! ” he murmured.
“ I want you to take it back.”
“ Take it back ! Oh, my dear child ! ”
“ It might be of some little use.”
“ No doubt. The least thing you gave me out of sympathy, out of feeling, out of love, would be of great use to me.”
“ Take it, then.”
The two stood silent for a moment as she pressed the paper into his palm. The glance they exchanged was as quick a glance as might be. It lasted no longer than a flash of lightning, but it illuminated everything as a flash of lightning may. Then her eyelids fell. His fingers had closed upon her hand.
“ Oh, I will take it,” he said, — “ I will take it willingly ; only I must have the other, too.”
“ The other ? ”
“ This little hand.” By this time he had grasped the other hand, too. He drew her to him. “ I am insatiable ! " he cried. “ I must have you all. I am bold, — yes, I know that I am bold. But how dared you send for me, Mrs. Chilton, how could you mock me with your sweetness, unless you right up and down liked me ? ”
“ You see too far into things. It touched my heart that ” —
“ That I was ruined ? ”
“ That you had dreamed of having so much out of the world, and had got so little.”
“ Let the world go by,” he said solemnly. “ I have got you.”
His coveted moment had come. The woman he had idealized, loved, and defied fate to win was there close beside him, softened out of her pride; saying to herself that this was the first man in all her life who had actually touched her heart, not afraid of being duped, grandly magnanimous. Yet it threw him into a terrible dilemma to look into her eyes, He wanted to be honest; he must be honest. With incisive brevity and sad sincerity he told her that of late business had not been business with him ; it had been tactics. He blamed himself ferociously. He accused himself of crimes. It seemed a luxury of relief for him to show Nora how unworthy he was of her.
“ But you see,” he added in extenuation, “ I forgot my thirty-eight years, I forgot my reputation, I forgot my obligations. I wanted you; I had to make you feel sorry for me, and here I am.”
Perhaps for a moment he was in danger of losing her. But he had uttered words whose passionate meaning had gone deep. Stirred and roused by them, a boundless sympathy filled her for the man; she was moved by a hallowing rush of simple mother pity. What supervened in the intricacy and subtlety of the situation was the heart of the woman herself. What did this confession mean but that he needed her to urge him to a nobler aim ? Her duty was easy and simple. This new friendship counted for too much in her life not to be worth some sacrifice.
Everybody had predicted that the financial storm would burst on the day following, and everybody was shuddering at the thought of what terrible things were likely to happen, when Mr. Marmaduke Douglas came up, smiling and inquiring who was hurt. Not the Quadrilateral, he explained. That was all right, having secured a ninety-nine years’ lease of the — Terminal, which settled all complications, ended the anxieties of the Transmontana, and put it out of the competition. It is true there had been some uncertainty for a few days, but now, like tardy rain falling on parched pastures, the good news had come. He had had time to find out who was for the Quadrilateral and who was against it. Vengeance on anybody ? Oh, no, he wished to have no revenge upon anybody. He was just now the happiest man on earth, and liked to reserve a few privileges for some moment less felicitous.
Ellen Olney Kirk.