The Story of an Untold Love
March 10. For the remainder of my visit, it seemed as if your prophecy of friendship were to be fulfilled. From the moment of my confidence to you, all the reserves that had been raised by my slighting of your invitations disappeared, perhaps because the secret I had shared with you served to make my past conduct less unreasonable ; still more, I believe, because of the faith in you it evidenced in me. Certain I am that in the following week I felt able to be my true self when with you, for the first time since we were boy and girl together. The difference was so marked that you commented on the change.
“ Do you remember,” you asked me,
“ our conversation in Mr. Whitely’s study, when I spoke of how little people really knew one another ? Here we have been meeting for over three years, and yet I find that I have n’t in the least known you.”
It is a pleasure to me to recall that whole conversation, for it was by far the most intimate that we ever had, — so personal that I think I should but have had to question to learn what I have longed to know. In response to my slight assistance, to the sympathy I had shown, you opened for the moment your heart; willing, apparently, that I should fathom your true nature.
We had gone to dinner at the Grangers’ merely to please Mrs. Blodgett, for we mutually agreed that in the country formal dinners were a weariness of the flesh; and I presume that with you, as with me, this general objection of ours was greatly strengthened when we found Mrs. Polhemus among the guests. It is always painful to me to be near her, and her dislike of you is obvious enough to make me sure that her presence is equally disagreeable to you. It is a strange warp and woof life weaves, that I owe to one for whom we both feel such repulsion the most sympathetic, the tenderest conversation I have ever had with you.
I was talking with Miss Granger, and thus did not hear the beginning of my mother’s girds at you ; but Agnes, who sat on my left, told me later that, as usual, Mrs. Polhemus set out to bait you by remarks superficially inoffensive, but covertly planned to embarrass or sting. The first thing which attracted my notice was her voice distinctly raised, as if she wished the whole table to listen, and in fact loud enough to make Miss Granger stop in the middle of a sentence and draw our attention to the speaker.
— sound very well,” Mrs. Polhemus was saying, “ and are to be expected from any one who strives to be thought romantically sentimental.”
“ I did not know,” you replied in a low voice, “ that a ‘ romantically sentimental ’ nature was needed to produce belief in honesty.”
“ It is easy enough to talk the high morals of honesty,” retorted your assailant, “and I suppose, Miss Walton, that for you it is not difficult to live up to your conversational ideals. But we unfortunate earthly creatures, who cannot achieve so rarefied a life, dare not make a parade of our ethical natures. The saintly woman is an enormously difficult rôle to play since miracles went out of style.”
“ Oh, leave us an occasional ideal, Mrs. Polhemus,” laughed a guest. “ I for one wish that fairy rings and genii were still the vogue.”
“ But we have some kinds of miracles,” asserted Mrs. Granger. “ Remember the distich: —
Behold! two lawyers, honest men! ’ ”
“ With all due deference to Miss Walton’s championing of absolute perfection,” continued my mother, with a cleverly detached manner, to veil what lay back of the sneer, “ I find it much easier to accept the miracle of an honest lawyer than that of an absolutely uncattish woman,” — a speech which, like most of those of Mrs. Polhemus, drew a laugh from the men.
“ That’s because you don’t know Miss Walton ! ” exclaimed Agnes warmly, evidently fretted by such conduct towards you.
舠 On the contrary,” answered my mother, speaking coolly and evenly, “ I presume I have known Miss Walton longer and better than any one else in this room; and I remember when her views of honesty were such that her ideal was personified by a pair of embezzlers.”
You had been meeting her gaze across the table as she spoke, but now you dropped your lids, hiding your eyes behind their long lashes, and nothing but the color receding from your cheeks, leaving them as white as your throat and brow, told of what you felt.
“ Oh, say something,” appealed Agnes to me in a whisper. 舠 Anything to divert the ” —
“ And I really think,” went on Mrs. Polhemus, smiling sweetly, with her eyes on you, 舠 that if you were as thoroughly honest with us as, a moment ago, you were insistent on the world’s being, you would confess to a tendresse still felt for that particular form of obliquity.”
I shall recall the moment which followed that speech if it shall ever fall to me to sit in the jury-box and pass judgment on a murderer, for I know that had I been armed, and my mother a man, I should have killed her; and it taught me that murder is in every man’s heart. Yet I was not out of my head, but was curiously clear-minded. Though allusion to my shame had hitherto always made me dumb, I was able to speak now without the slightest difficulty; I imagine because the thought of your pain made me forget my own.
“ Which is better, Mrs. Polhemus,” I asked, with a calmness that I marveled at afterwards, 舠 to love dishonesty or to dishonestly love ? ”
“ Is this a riddle ? ” she said, though not removing her eyes from you.
“ I suppose, since right and wrong are evolutionary,” I rejoined, 舠 that every ethical question is more or less of a conundrum. But the thought in my mind was that there is something noble in a love so great that it can outlast even wrong-doing.” Then, in my controlled passion, I stabbed her as deeply as I could make words stab. 舠 Compare such a love, for instance, with another of which I have heard,—that of a woman who so valued the world’s opinion that she would not get a divorce from an embezzling husband, because of the social stigma it involved, yet who remarried within a week of hearing of her first husband’s death, because she thought that fact could not be known. Which love is the higher ?”
The color blazed up in my mother’s cheeks, and she turned from you to look at me, with eyes that would have killed if they could ; and it was her manner, far more than even the implication of my words, which told the rest of the table that my nominally impersonal case was truly a thrust of the knife. A moment’s appalling pause followed, and then, though the fruit was being passed, the hostess broke the terrible spell by rising, as if the time had come for the ladies to withdraw.
When, later, the men followed them, Agnes intercepted me at the door, and whispered, “ Oh, doctor, it was magnificent ! I was so afraid Maizie would break down if— I never dreamed you could do it so splendidly. You ’re almost as much of a love as papa ! Now, do you want to be extra good ? ”
“ So long as you don’t want any more vitriol-throwing,” I assented, smiling. “ Remember that a hostess deserves some consideration.”
“ I told Mrs. Granger that you did it at my request, and there was n’t a woman in the room who did n’t want to cheer. We all love Maizie, and hate Mrs. Polhemus ; and it is n’t a bit because you geese of men think she’s handsome and clever, either. Poor Maizie wanted to be by herself, and went out on the veranda. I think she’s had time enough, and that it’s best for some one to go to her. Won’t you slip out quietly?”
I nodded, and instantly she spoke aloud of the moon, and we went to the French window on the pretense of looking at it, where, after a moment, I left her. At first I could not discover you, the vines so shadowed your retreat; and when I did, it was to find you with bowed head buried in your arms as they rested on the veranda rail. The whole attitude was so suggestive of grief that I did not dare to speak, and moved to go away. Just as I turned, however, you looked up, as if suddenly conscious of some presence.
“ I did not intend to intrude, Miss Walton, and don’t let me disturb you. I will rejoin ” —
“ If you came out for the moonlight and quiet, sit down here,” you said, making room for me.
I seated myself beside you, but made no reply, thinking your allusion to quiet perhaps voiced your own preference.
“ It seems needless,” you began, after a slight pause, “to ignore your kindness, even though it was veiled. I never felt so completely in another’s power, and though I tried to — to say something — to strike back — I could n’t. Did my face so betray me to you all that you knew I needed help ? ”
“Your face told us nothing, so it seemed to me.”
“ But that makes it positively uncanny. Over and over again you appear to divine my thoughts or moods. Do you ? ”
“ Little more than any one can of a person in whom one is interested enough to notice keenly.”
“ Yet no one else does it with me. And several times, when we have caught each other’s eyes, we have — at least I have felt sure that you were laughing with me, though your face was grave.”
“ Who was uncannily mind-reading then ? ”
“ An adequate tu quoque, ” you said, laughing ; then you went on seriously: “ Still, to be frank, as now I think we can be, I have never made any pretense that I was n’t very much interested in you — while you — well — till very lately, I have n’t been able to make up my mind that you did not actually — no, not dislike — for I knew that you — I could not be unconscious of the genuine esteem you have made so evident — yet there has always been, until the last two weeks, an indefinable barrier, of your making, as it appeared to me, and from that I could only infer some — I can give it no name,”
“ Were there no natural barriers to a friendship between a struggling writer and Miss Walton ? ”
“ Surely you are above that! ” you exclaimed. “You have not let such a distinction — Oh no, for it has not stood in the way of friendship with the Blodgetts.”
A moment’s silence ensued, and then you spoke again : “ Perhaps there was a motive that explains it. Please don’t reply, if it is a question I ought not to put, but after your confidence of last week I feel as if you had given me the privilege to ask it. I have always thought — or rather hoped — that you cared for Agnes. If ” —
“ And so you married me to her in the novel,” I interrupted, in an effort to change the subject, dreading to what it might lead.
You laughed merrily as you said, “ Oh, I’m so glad you spoke of that. I have always wondered if you recognized the attempted portrait, — which now I know is not a bit of a likeness, — and have longed to ask you. I never should have dared to sketch it, but I thought my pen name would conceal my criminality; and then what a fatality for you to read it! What have you thought of me ? ”
“ That you drew a very pleasant picture of my supposed mental and moral attainments, at the expense of my ambition and will. My true sympathy, however, went out to the girl whom you offered up as a heart-restorer for my earlier attachment.”
“ I’m thankful we are in the shadow,” you laughed, “ so that my red cheeks don’t show. You are taking a most thorough-going revenge. ”
舠 That was the last thought in my mind.”
“ Then, my woman’s curiosity having been appeased, be doubly generous and spare my absurd blushes. I don’t know when I have been made to feel so young and foolish.”
“ Clearly you are no hardened matchmaker, Miss Walton. Usually matchmakers glory in their shame.”
“ Perhaps I should if I had not been detected, or if I had succeeded better.”
“You took, I fear, a difficult subject for what may truly be called your maiden experiment.”
“Did I not? And yet— You see I recognized potentialities for loving in you. You can — Ah, you have suggested to me a revenge for your jokes. Did you
舒 were you the man who coined the phrase that my eyes were too dressy for the daytime ? ”
“ Yes,”I confessed guiltily, “ but ” —
“ No, don’t dare to try to explain it away, you ordered. “ How could you say it ? We can never be friends, after all.”
Though you spoke in evident gayety.
I answered gravely : “ You will forgive me when I tell you that it was to parry a thrust of Mrs. Polhemus’s at you, and I made a joke of it only because I did not choose to treat her gibe seriously. I hoped it would not come back to you.”
“ Every friend I have has quoted it, not once, but a dozen times, in my presence. If you knew how I have been persecuted and teased with that remark !
You are twice the criminal that I have been, for at least my libel was never published. Yet you are unblushing.”
We both sat silent for a little while, and then you began : “ You interrupted a question of mine just now. Was it a chance or a purposed diversion ? You see,” you added hastily, “ I am presuming that henceforth we are to be candid.” “ I confess to an intention in the dodging, not because I feared the question, for a simple negative was all it needed, but I was afraid of what might follow.”
“ I hoped, after the trust of the other day — You do not want to tell me your story ? ”
“ Are there not some things that cannot be put into words, Miss Walton ? Could you tell me your story ? ”
舠 But mine is no mystery,” you replied. " It has been the world’s property for years. Why, your very help to-night proves that it is known to you, — that you know, indeed, facts that were unknown to me.”
“ Facts, yes ; feelings, no.”
“ Do you appreciate the subtilty of the compliment? You really care for such valueless and indefinable things as feelings ? ”
“ A bargain, then, while you are in this mood of giving something for nothing. Question for question, if you choose.”
“ You can tell your secrets ? ”
“ To you, yes, for you have told me your greatest.”
“ Then, with the privilege of silence for both, begin.”
“ Ah, you begin already to fear the gimlet. Yes. Nothing is to be told that — There again we lack a definition, do we not ? Never mind. We shall understand. You knew her in Germany ? ”
“ And she — You wear a mask, at moments even merry-faced, but now and again I have surprised a look of such sadness in your eyes that — Is that why you came to America ? She ” —
“ No. She was, and is, in so different a class, that I never ” —
“ You should not allow that to be a bar ! Any woman ” —
“ But even more, there are other claims upon me. which make marriage out of the question.”
“ And this is why you have resigned reputation for money-making ? Is there no escape ? Oh, it seems too cruel to be!”
“ You draw it worse than it is, Miss Walton, forgetting that I told you of my happiness in loving.舡
“ You make me proud to feel that we are friends, Dr. Hartzmann,” you said gently. “ I hope she is worthy of such a love ? ”
I merely nodded ; and after a slight pause you remarked, “ Now it is only fair to give you a turn.”
I had been pondering, after my first impulsive assent, over my right to win your confidence, with the one inevitable conclusion that was so clear, and I answered, “ I have no questions to ask, Miss Walton.”
“ Then I can ask no more, of course,” you replied quietly, and at once turned the conversation into less personal subjects, until the time came for our return to My Fancy.
When we parted in the upper hall, that evening, you said to me, 舠 I always value your opinion, and it always influences me. Do you, as your speech tonight implied, think it right to go on loving baseness ?”
“ It is not a question of right and wrong, but only whether the love remains.”
“ Then you don’t think it a duty to crush it out ? ”
“ No. All love is noble that is distinct from self.”
You held out your hand. “ I am so glad you think so, and that you spoke your thought. You have done me a great kindness, — greater far than you can ever know. Thank you, and good-night.”
March 11. When I left My Fancy, after my visit, Agnes had nothing but praise for me. “ I was certain that you and Maizie would be friends if you ever really knew each other,” she said triumphantly. Unfortunately, our first meeting in the city served only to prove the reverse. In one of my daily walks up town, I met you both outside a shop where you had been buying Christmas gifts for the boys of your neighborhood guild. You were looking for the carriage, about which there had been some mistake, and I helped you search. When our hunt was unsuccessful, you both said you would rather walk than let me get a cab, having been deterred only by the growing darkness, and not by the snow. So away we went, chatting merrily, through the elfin flakes which seemed so eager to kiss your cheeks, till your home was reached.
“ If we come in, will you give us some tea?” asked Agnes.
“ Tea, cake, chocolates, and conversation,” you promised.
“ I am sorry,” I said, “ but I cannot spare the time.”
I thought you and Agnes exchanged glances. “ Please, Doc— ” she began ; but you interrupted her by saying proudly, “We must not take any more of Dr. Hartzmann’s time, Agnes. Will you come in ? ”
“ No,” replied Agnes. “ I 'll go home before it’s any darker. Good-night.
I started to walk with her the short distance; but the moment we were out of hearing she turned towards me and cried, “I hate you ! ” As I made no reply, she demanded impatiently, “ What makes you behave so abominably ? ” When I was still silent she continued : “ I told you how Maizie felt, and I thought it was all right, and now you do it again. It’s too bad ! Well, can’t you say something ? Why do you do it ? ”
“There is nothing for me to say, Miss Blodgett,” I responded sadly.
“You might at least do it to please me,” she went on, “ even if you don’t like Maizie.”
I made no answer, and we walked the rest of the distance in silence. At the stoop, however, Agnes asked, “ Will you go with me to call on Maizie, some afternoon ? ”
I shook my head.
“ Not even to please mamma and me ? ” she questioned.
Again I gave the same answer, and without a word of parting she left me and passed through the doorway. From that time she has treated me coldly.
Another complication only tended to increase the coldness as well as to involve me with Mrs. Blodgett. In December, Mr. Blodgett came into Mr. Whitely’s office and announced, “ I’ve been taking a liberty with your name, doctor.”
“ What kindness am I indebted for now ? ” I inquired.
“ I ’m a member of the Philomathean,” he said, — “ not because I ’m an author, or artist, or engineer, or scientist, but because I’m a big frog in my own puddle, and they want samples of us, just to see what we ’re like. I was talking with Professor Eaton in September, and we agreed you ought to be one of us; so we stuck your name up, and Saturday evening the club elected you.”
“ I can’t afford it ” — I began ; but he interrupted with : —
“ I knew you’d say that, and so did n’t tell you beforehand. I ’ll bet you your initiation fee and a year’s dues against a share of R. T. common that you 'll make enough out of your membership to pay you five times over.”
“ How can I do that ? ”
“ All the editors and publishers are members,” he replied, “ and to meet them over the rum punch we serve on meeting nights is worth money to the most celebrated author living. Then you ’ll have the best club library in this country at your elbow for working purposes.”
“ I don’t think I ought, Mr. Blodgett.” He was about to protest, when Mr. Whitely broke in upon us, saying, “ Accept your membership, Dr. Hartzmann, and the paper shall pay your initiation and dues.”
I do not know whether Mr. Blodgett or myself was the more surprised at this unexpected and liberal offer. Our amazement was so obvious that Mr. Whitely continued : “ I think it 'll be an excellent idea for the paper to have a member of its staff in the Philomathean, and so the office shall pay for it.”
“ Whitely,” observed Mr. Blodgett admiringly, “you ’re a good business man, whatever else you are !”
“ I wish, Blodgett,” inquired Mr. Whitely, “ you would tell me why I have been kept waiting so long ? ”
“ Many a name’s been up longer than yours,” replied Mr. Blodgett in a comforting voice. “You don’t seem to realize that the Philomathean ’s a pretty stiff club to get into.”
“ But here Dr. Hartzmann is elected within four months of his posting ? ”
“Well, the doctor has the great advantage of being a sort of natural Philomath, you see,” Mr. Blodgett explained genially. “ He was born that way, and so is ripe for membership without any closet mellowing.”
“ But my reputation as a writer is greater than Dr.” —began Mr. Whitely ; but a laugh from Mr. Blodgett made him halt.
“Oh come, now, Whitely !”
“ What’s the matter ? ” asked my employer.
“ Once St. Peter and St. Paul stopped at a tavern to quench their thirst,” said Mr. Blodgett, “ and when the time came to pay, they tossed dice for it. Paul threw double sixes, and smiled. Peter smiled back, and threw double sevens. What do you suppose Paul said, Whitely ? ”
“ What ? ”
“ 'Oh, Peter, Peter ! No miracles between friends.’ ” “ I don’t follow you,” rejoined Mr. Whitely.
Mr. Blodgett turned and said to me, “I’m going West for two months, and while I’m gone the Twelfth-night revel at the Philomathean is to come off. Will you see that the boss and Agnes get cards ? ” Then he faced about and remarked, “ Whitely, I’d give a big gold certificate to know what nerve food you use ! ” and went out, laughing.
When I took the invitations to Mrs. Blodgett, I found you all with your heads full of a benefit for the guild, to be given at your home, — a musical evening, with several well-known stars as magnets, and admission by invitation as an additional attraction. Mrs. Blodgett said to me in her decisive way, “ Dr. Hartzmann, the invitations are five dollars each, and you are to take one.”
I half suspected that it was only a desire to get me within your doors, though every society woman feels at liberty to whitemail her social circle to an unlimited degree. But the fact that the entertainment was to be in your home, even more than my poverty, compelled me to refuse to be a victim of her charitable kindness or her charitable greed.
I merely shook my head.
“ Oh, but you must,” she urged. “ It will be a delightful evening, and then it’s such a fine object.”
“ Do not ask it of Dr. Hartzmann,” you protested, coming to my aid. “ No one” —
“ I’m sure it’s very little to ask,”remarked Mrs. Blodgett, in a disappointed way.
“ Mrs. Blodgett,” I said, in desperation, “ for years I have denied myself every luxury and almost every comfort.
I have lived at the cheapest of boardinghouses ; I have walked down town, rain or shine, to save ten cents a day; I have ” — I stopped there, ashamed of my outbreak.
“ I suppose, Dr. Hartzmann,” retorted Agnes, with no attempt to conceal the irritation she felt towards me, “ that the Philomathean is one of your ten - cent economies ? ”
Before I could speak you changed the subject, and the matter was dropped, — I hoped for all time. It was, however, to reappear, and to make my position more difficult and painful than ever.
At Mrs. Blodgett’s request, made that very day, I sent you an invitation to the Philomathean ladies’ day. It was with no hope of being there myself, since my editorial duties covered the hours of the exhibition ; but good or bad fortune aided me, for Mr. Whitely asked me for a ticket, and his absence from the office set me free. The crowd was great, but, like most people who try for one thing only, I attained my desire by quickly finding you, and we spent an enjoyable hour together, studying the delicious jokes and pranks of the artist members. The truly marvelous admixture of absurdity and cleverness called out the real mirth of your nature, and our happiness and gayety over the pictures strangely recalled to me our similarly spent days in Paris and elsewhere. You too, I think, remembered the same experience, for when we had finished, and were ascending the stairs to the dining-room, you remarked to me, “ I never dreamed that one could be so merry after one had ceased to be a child. For the last hour I have felt as if teens were yet unventured lands.”
I confess I sought a secluded spot in an alcove, hoping still to keep you to myself ; but the project failed, for when I returned from getting you an ice, I found that Mr. Whitely had joined you. The pictures, of course, were the subject of discussion, and you asked him. “ Are all the other members as clever in their own professions as your artists have shown themselves to be ? ”
“ The Philomathean is made up of an able body of men.” replied Mr. Whitely in a delightfully patronizing tone. “ Some few of the very ablest, perhaps, do not care to be members ; but of the second rank, you may say, broadly speaking, that it includes all men of prominence in this city.”
“ But why should the abler men not belong ? ”
“ They are too occupied with more vital matters,” explained my employer.
“ Yet surely they must need a club, and what one so appropriate as this ? ”
“ It is natural to reason so,” assented the would-be member. “ But as an actual fact, some of the most prominent men in this city are not members,” and he mentioned three well-known names.
The inference was so unjust that I observed, “ Should you not add, Mr. Whitely, that they are not members, either because they know it is useless to apply, or because they have applied in vain ; and that their exclusion, though superficially a small affair, probably means to them, by the implication it carries, one of the keenest mortifications of their lives ? ”
舠 You mean that the Philomathean refuses to admit such men as Mr. Whitely named ? ” you asked incredulously.
I smiled. “ The worldly reputation and the professional reputation of men occasionally differ very greatly, Miss Walton. We do not accept a man here because his name appears often in the newspapers, but because of what the men of his own calling know and think of him.”
“ And of course they are always jealous of a man who has surpassed them,” contended Mr. Whitely.
“ There must be something more against a man than envy of his confrères to exclude him,” I answered. “ My loyalty to the Philomathean, Miss Walton, is due to the influence it exerts in this very matter. Errors are possible, but the intention is that no man shall be of our brotherhood who is not honestly doing something worth the doing, for other reasons than mere money-making. And for that very reason, we are supposed, within these walls, to be friends, whether or not there is acquaintance outside of them. We are the one club in New York which dares to trust its membership list implicitly to that extent. Charlatanry and dishonesty may succeed with the world, but here they fail.”
“ You make me envious of you both,” you sighed, just as Mrs. Blodgett and Agnes joined us.
“What are you envying them ? ” asked Agnes, as she shook hands with you. “They were monopolizing you. How selfish men are ! ”
“ In monopolizing this club ? ”
舠 Was that what you envied them ? ” ejaculated Mrs. Blodgett. “ I for one am glad there ’s a place to which I can’t go, where I can send my husband when I want to be rid of him.” Then she turned to Mr. Whitely, and with her usual directness remarked, “ So they’ve let you in ? Mr. Blodgett told me you would surely be rejected.”
Mr. Whitely reddened and bit his lip, for which he is hardly to be blamed. But he only bowed slightly in reply, leaving the inference in your minds that he was a Philomath. How the man dares so often to —
The striking clock tells me it is later than I thought, and I must stop.
Good-night, dear heart.
March 12. Our talk at the Philomathean and Mr. Whitely’s tacit assumption of membership had their penalty for me, — a penalty which, to reverse the old adage, I first thought an undisguised blessing. When we separated, he asked me to dinner the following evening, to fill in a place unexpectedly left vacant; and as I knew, from a chance allusion, that you were to be there, I accepted a courtesy at his hands.
Although there were several celebrities at the meal, it fell to my lot to sit on your right; my host, who took you down, evidently preferring to have no dangerous rival in your attention. But Mrs. Blodgett, who sat on his other side, engaged him as much as she chose, and thus gave me more of your time than I should otherwise have had. If you knew how happy it made me that, whenever she interrupted his monopoly of you, instead of making a trialogue with them, you never failed to turn to me !
“ I have just re-read Mr. Whitely’s book,” you remarked, in one of these interruptions, “and I have been trying to express to him my genuine admiration for it. I thought of it highly when first I read it, last autumn, but now I am really an enthusiast.”
I suppose my face must have shown some of the joy your words gave me, for you continued, “ Clearly, you like it too, and are pleased to hear it praised. But then it’s notorious that writers are jealous of one another! Tell me what you think of it.”
I tried to keep all bitterness out of my voice as I laughed. “ Think how unprofessional it would be in me to discuss my employer’s book : if I praised it, how necessary ; if I disparaged it, how disloyal! ”
“ You are as unsatisfactory as Mr. Whitely,” you complained. “ I can’t get him to speak about it, either. He smiles and bows his head to my praise, but not a word can he be made to say. Evidently he has a form of modesty — not stage fright, but book fright — that I never before encountered. Every other author I have met was fatiguingly anxious to talk about his own writings.”
“ Remember in our behalf that a book stands very much in the same relation to a writer that a baby does to its mother. We are tolerant of her admiration ; be equally lenient to the author’s harmless prattle.”
舠 I suppose, too,” you went on, “ that the historian is less liable to the disease, because his work is so much less his own flesh and blood ; so much less emotional than that of the poet or novelist,” “ No book worth reading ever fails to be steeped with the spirit of the person who wrote it. The man on the stage is instinct with emotion and feeling, but does he express more of his true individuality than the man in real life ? The historian puts fewer of his own feelings into his work, but he plays far less to the gallery, and so is more truthful in what he reveals of himself.”
“ Your simile reminds me of a thought of my own, after my first reading of this book : that the novelist is the demagogue of letters, striving to please, and suing for public favor by catering to all its whims and weaknesses ; but the historian is the aristocrat of literature, knowing the right, and proudly above taking heed of popular prejudice or moods. I liked Mr. Whitely’s book for many things, but most of all for its fearless attitude towards whatever it touched upon. I felt that it was the truth, because the whole atmosphere told me that a man was writing, too brave to tell what was untrue. That evidently pleases you, again,” you laughed. “ Oh, it is horrible to see this consuming jealousy ! ”
When the ladies withdrew, the men, as usual, clustered at one end of the table ; but my host beckoned me to join him, and sat down apart from his guests.
“ Dr. Hartzmann, what is the matter at the Philomathean ? ” he demanded in a low voice.
“ Matter ? ” I questioned.
“ Yes. What is the reason they don’t elect me ? ”
“ I am not on the membership committee, Mr. Whitely.” I replied.
“ Are you popular up there ? Mr. Blodgett said that you were.”
“ I have some good friends,” I answered.
“ Then electioneer and get me put in,” he explained, revealing to me in a flash why he had volunteered that the paper should pay the expenses of my membership.
“ I am hardly in a position to do that.”
“ Why not ? ”
“ I am a new member, and my position under you is so well known that it would be very indelicate in me to appear in the matter.”
“ For what do you suppose I helped you, then ? ” he asked severely.
“ I did not understand till now.”
“ Well, then, drop your talk about delicacy, and get your friends to elect me.”
“ I do not think I can do that,” I answered mildly.
“ Then you won’t earn your pay ? ”
“ Mr. Whitely, when you made the offer, you put it on an entirely different ground, and it is unfair to claim that it involved any condition that was not then expressed.”
“ But you ought to be willing to do it. Have n’t you any gratitude about you ? ”
“ I understood that you wanted one of your staff a member of that club. Had you mentioned your present motive, I should certainly have refused to accept the offer ; and under these circumstances I decline to recognize any cause for gratitude.”
“ What is your objection to doing it. though ? ” he persisted.
“ Indeed, Mr. Whitely, I do not think I am called upon to say more than I have said.”
“ Do you want me in the club or not ? ” he demanded.
“ I shall certainly never oppose your election in any way whatsoever.”
“ But you will not work for me ? ”
“ Are you waiting to see how much I ’ll give?”
My hand trembled at the insult, but I made no reply.
“ Come,” he continued. “ are vou standing out in hopes I will offer you something ? ”
“ How much ? ” he asked. “ I have been elected to the Philomathean, Mr. Whitely, I said, concluding that an explanation might be the easiest escape, after all, “ and to it I owe a distinct duty. If you were not my employer, I should work against you.”
“ Why ? ” he exclaimed, in surprise.
舠 Is it necessary to say ? ” I answered. “Yes. What is your objection to me ? ”
“ Did you never read Æsop’s fable of the jackdaw ? ” I asked.
“ That s it, is it ? And you are opposing my election ? ”
“ By not the slightest act.”
“ Then why did Blodgett predict that I would surely be rejected ? I’ve a reputation as a writer, as a philanthropist, and as a successful business man. What more do they want ? ”
“ As I told Miss Walton yesterday,” I explained, “ a man’s true and eventual reputation depends, not on what the world thinks of him, but on what his fellow-craft decide. ”
“ Well ? ”
“ There is scarcely an author or editor at the Philomathean who is not opposed to your election, Mr. Whitely.”
“ You have been telling tales,” he muttered angrily.
“ You should know better.”
“ Then what have they against me ? ” “ Any man who works with his pen learns that no one can write either editorials or books, of the kind credited to you, without years of training. The most embarrassing ordeal I have to undergo is the joking and questioning with which the fraternity tease me. But you need never fear my not keeping faith.”
“ Yet you won’t help me into the Philomathean ? ”
“ So you ’ll make money out of me, but think your club too good ? ”
“ I owe my club a duty.”
“ I know,” he went on smoothly, “ that you ’re an awful screw, when there’s a dollar in sight. How much do you want? ”
My silence should have warned him, but he was too self-absorbed to feel anything but his own mood.
“ How much do you want ? ” he repeated ; and I still sat without speaking, though the room blurred, and I felt as it I were stifling. “ The day I 'm elected to the Philomathean, I 'll give you ” —
I rose and interrupted him, saying,
“ Mr. Whitely, if you wish me to leave your house and employment, you can obtain my absence in an easier way than by insulting me.”
For a moment we faced each other in silence, and then he rose. “ Hereafter, Dr. Hartzmann, you will pay those dues yourself,” he said in a low voice, as he moved towards the door.
I only bowed, glad that the matter was so easily ended ; and for nearly two months our relations have been of the most formal kind that can exist between employer and employed.
Far more bitter was another break. When the moment of farewell came, that evening, I waited to put you and Mrs. Blodgett into your carriages, and while we were delayed in the vestibule you thanked me again for the pleasure of the previous afternoon, and then continued : “ I understood why you did not feel able to please Mrs. Blodgett about the concert. But won’t you let me acknowledge the pleasure of yesterday by sending you a ticket ? I have taken a number, and as all my circle have done the same, I am finding it hard to get rid of them.”
“ That ’s all right, Maizie,” interjected Mrs. Blodgett, who had caught, or inferred from an occasional word that she heard, what you were saying. 舠 We took an extra ticket, and I am going to use the doctor for an escort that evening.”
“ I thank you both,” I answered, “ but I shall not be able to attend the concert.” “ Nonsense ! ” sniffed Mrs. Blodgett, as I helped her into her carriage.
“ You’re going to do as I tell you. ”
You did not speak in the moment we waited for your coupé to take its place, but as the tiger opened the door you looked in my face for the first time since my words, showing me eyes that told of the pain I had inflicted.
舠 I am so sorry,” you said quietly.
舠 I had thought — hoped — that we were to be friends.”
There was nothing for me to say, and we parted thus. From that time I have seen little of you, for when I meet you in society you no longer make it possible for me to have much of your society. And my persistent refusal to go to the concert with Mrs. Blodgett and Agnes completed their irritation against me, so that I am no longer asked to their home, and thus have lost my most frequent opportunity of meeting you. But harder even than this deprivation is the thought that I have given you pain ; made all the greater, perhaps, because so ill deserved and apparently unreasonable. I find myself longing for the hour when we shall meet at that far-away tribunal, where all our lives, and not alone that which is seen, will stand revealed. For two months I have not had a single moment of happiness or even hope. I am lonely and weary, while my strength and courage seem to lessen day by day. Oh, my darling, I pray God that thought of you will make me stronger and braver, so that I may go on with my fight. Good-night.
March 13. Last night, at the Philomathean, Mr. Blodgett joined me, and asked me why I had not dined with them lately. He returned only a few days ago, and was thus ignorant that I have not been inside his door for weeks. I hesitated for an instant, and then replied, “ I have been working very hard.”
“ What are you usually doing ? ” he asked, smiling. “ Come in to Sunday dinner to-morrow.”
“ I shall be too busy with a lot of manuscripts I have on hand, that must be read,” I told him.
“ Stop killing yourself,” he ordered. 舠 As it is, you look as if you were on the brink of a bad illness. You won’t get on a bit faster by dying young.”
There the matter rested, and I did not go to dinner to-day, being indeed glad to stay indoors ; for I very foolishly walked up town yesterday through the slush, and caught a bad cold. While I was trying to keep warm, this evening, a note was brought me from Mr. Blodgett, asking me to come to him at once ; and fearing something important, I braved the cold without delay, ill though I felt. I was shown at once into his den, which was so cheerful with its open fire that I felt it was a good exchange for my cold room, where I had sat coughing and shivering all the afternoon.
“ Twice in my life I’ve really lost my temper with the boss,” he began, before I had even sat down, though he closed the door while speaking. 舠 Never mind about the first time, but to-day I got mad enough to last me for the rest of my life.”
“ May I sit down ? ” I interrupted.
He nodded his head, and took a position in front of me, with his back to the fire, as he continued : “ Women are enough to make a man frantic when they get a fixed idea! Now, to-day, at dinner, I said I ’d invited you, and I saw in a moment something was in the wind ; so when we had finished I told them to come in here, and it did n’t take me long to find out the trouble.”
“ I did n’t like to ” — I began ; but he went on : —
“ And that was the beginning of their trouble. I tell you, there was Cain here for about ten minutes, and there were n’t two worse scared women this side of the grave, while I was ranting; for the boss remembered the other time, and Agnes had never seen me break loose. I told them they’d done their best to drive you crazy with grief; that if they ’d searched for ten years they could n’t have found a meaner or crueler thing, or one that would have hurt you more; that nine men out of ten, in your shoes, would have acted dishonestly or cut their throat, but that you had toed the chalkline right along, and never once winced. And I let them know that for five dollars they’d added the last straw of pain to a fellow who deserved only kindness and help from them.”
“ Really, Mr. Blodgett ” —I protested.
舠 Hold on. Don’t attempt to stop me, for the fit’s on me still,” he growled. “ They tried to come the surprised, and then the offended, but they did n’t fool me. I never let up on them till I had said all I wanted to say, and they won’t forget it for a day or two. When I sent Agnes upstairs, she was sobbing her eyes out, and the boss would have given her pin money for ten years to have escaped with her.”
“ It’s too bad to ” —
“ That’s just what it was ! ” he cried. “ To think of those screws trying to blackmail you, and then telling me you were a skinflint because you would n’t do what they wanted ! Well, after Agnes had gone, I gave the boss a supplementary and special dose of her own. I told her she could double discount you on meanness, and then give you forty-nine points ; and to make sure of good measurement, I added in the whole female sex along with her. I told her that if she knew the facts of your life, she’d get down on her knees and crawl round to your place to ask your pardon, and then she would n’t be fit to have it. I told her that when the day of judgment came, she ’d just go the other way in preference to hearing what the recording angel had written of her.”
舠 I am afraid my welcome will be scantier than ever.” “ Not a bit of it. I’m the master of this house, as they found out this afternoon, and I say who 'll come into it, and who ’ll not. I shan’t need to interfere in your case, for you ’ll get a warm welcome from both.”
“ You did n’t tell them ? ” I exclaimed, starting forward in my seat.
“ Not a word, though the boss nearly went crazy with curiosity. But I did say that you were making a splendid uphill fight, and if they knew the facts of the case they ’d be proud to black your boots. My word goes in this family about as well as it does on the street, and you ’ll get all the welcome you can stand from now on.”
“ You make me very proud and happy.”
“You have reason to be proud,舡 he asserted. “ I’m not a man who slobbers much, but I’m going to tell you what I think of you. When you first came here, I sized you up as rather a softy, your manner was so quiet and gentle. I got over that delusion precious quick, and I want to say that for pluck and grit you 're a trump, and there’s my hand on it.”
He went to the table, poured out a couple of glasses of whiskey and seltzer, and brought them to the fire. “ You need something for that graveyard cough of yours,” he said, handing one to me.
“ Well,” he went on, “ I did n’t bring you out such a night as this to tell you of my scrap; but after the row, the boss was so ashamed of herself that she trumped up an A 1 excuse (as she thought) for having treated you as she had, and that led to a talk, and that’s why I sent round for you. What do you suppose she has got into her head ? ”
“ I can’t imagine.”
“I need n’t tell you,” he remarked,
“ that women always know an awful lot that is n’t so. But just because they do, they every now and then discover a truth that can’t be come at in any other way. Now the boss thinks she ’s done this, and I ’m not sure that she has n’t. She says you are in love.”
“ I never knew a man that was n’t,” I replied, trying to smile. “ If it is n’t with a woman, then it ’s always with himself.”
“ But the boss thinks she knows the girl, and has a down on you because you — because you don’t try for her.”
I laughed bitterly, and said, “You needed no explanation for that.”
“ That’s what made the boss’s idea reasonable to me,” he explained. “ She could n’t conceive why you should keep silent, and so was ready to pitch into you on the slightest pretense. Women have n’t much use for a man who falls in love and does n’t say so. But of course I knew that your debt put marriage out of the question.”
I merely nodded my head, for even to him I could not speak of my love for you, it was so sacred to me.
He drew up a chair to the fire, and continued: “ There is n’t another man to whom I ’d care to say what I’m going to say to you, but you’ve got a heart and a head both, and won’t misunderstand me.” He finished his glass, and set it on the mantel. “ Now I don’t have to tell you that the boss is fond of you, and when I told her that I knew of a reason why you could n’t marry, she forgave you on the spot. What’s more, she first wished to learn what it was ; and failing in that, she then wanted to know if it could be remedied, so that you might have a chance to win the girl.”
“ She of course knows nothing of my position ? ”
“ No,” he said, “ but she knows something of your character, and she’s ordered me that, if it’s possible, I’m to help you get the girl you care for.”
“ But my debt! ” I exclaimed.
“ How much is it now ? ” he queried.
“ One hundred and eighteen thousand.”
“ Well, I ’ll lend Agnes’s husband one hundred and eighteen thousand dollars at three per cent, and leave her the note when I die. From what I know of marriage, I can only say that if she squeezes him for payment it will be his own fault.”
I sat speechless for a moment, too bewildered by the unexpected turn to even think.
“ I was as surprised as you look,” he went on, “ for although I had seen that you and Agnes ” —
“ Indeed, Mr. Blodgett,” I exclaimed hastily, “ I am no more to Miss Agnes than a dozen of her friends ! I ” —
“ So the boss says,” he interrupted. “ But that does n’t mean that you can’t be. Though to speak the truth, my boy,” he continued, resting his hand on my knee, “ this was n’t my plan. I had hoped that you and Maizie would take a shine to each other, and so kiss the chalk-marks off that old score. But when I spoke of the scheme to the boss, this evening, she told me there had never been a chance of it; that you did n’t like Mai, and that she is practically engaged to Whitely, and is only— Better have some more whiskey, or that cough will shake you to pieces.”
I could only shake my head in my misery, but after a moment I was able to say, “ Mr. Blodgett, I did not understand — I 舡 —
“ I want to tell you,” he broke in, 舠 before you say anything more, that I never believe in putting one’s fingers into love affairs, and I should n’t in this case if the boss did n’t feel so keen about it, but I don’t choose to be the one to stand in her way. And now I ’m not offering my daughter’s hand. You know as well as I that Agnes is n’t the kind of girl who needs a prospectus or a gold clause to work her off. If she dropped her handkerchief to-morrow, fifty men would be scrambling for it, eh ? ”
“Yes.” Then I added, “ And, Mr. Blodgett, I can’t find the words to tell how I thank you both for such a compliment. If” —
“ I knew you would n’t misunderstand me,” he went on. “ It’s a good deal of a start in life to be born a gentleman.”
“ But, Mr. Blodgett,” I said, “ there has been a mistake. I — it is hard to say, but ” — then I faltered.
He looked at me keenly for a moment. “So the boss was wrong? It’s only friendship, not love ? ”
“Just what she has given to me,” I answered.
“Very well. Then if you want to please the boss — and me — let that friendship grow into something better. But don’t misunderstand me. You must win Agnes, if she is won. We do nothing.”
“ Mr. Blodgett, should you be willing to let me try to win Miss Agnes, if I tell you that I do not love her as a man should love the woman he seeks for his wife ? ”
“ Marriage is a funny business,” he responded. “ Now there ’s the boss.
When I married her I thought she was so and so ; little by little I found she was n’t; but by the time I had found it out, I would n’t have swapped her for ten of the women I had thought she was. Some men have no business to marry unless they ’re pretty strongly attached, for they don’t run steady ; but you ’re a fellow that would keep in the traces no matter what happened, and before long you 'd find yourself mighty fond of Agnes. A sense of duty is about as good a basis to marry on, if there’s natural sympathy and liking, as all this ideal make-believe. I don’t think you dislike Agnes, do you ? ”
“ Indeed, no ! ” I exclaimed. “ Nobody could. She is too charming and sweet for anyone to do that. Miss Agnes deserves far more than I can bring her. What have I to give in return for all this ? ”
“ You can settle that with Agnes,” he laughed ; and then, as if to lessen my poverty in my own eyes, he kindly added, “ In the first place, I ’ll get a sonin-law chock-full of heart and grit and brains ; and I’ve had pretty good evidence that he is n’t fortune - hunting, which is Agnes’s great danger. But that is n’t all, and I want you to know I’m not a fool. I’m a big fellow down in Wall Street, and even on the Royal Exchange, but do you think I don’t know my position ? They kept me up over two years at the Philomathean, and you four months. After you 've worked ten years over books with your own name on them, you 'll be received and kotowed to by people who would n’t crook a finger to know me. You won’t be famous as I am, for the number of naughts I can write after a figure, but your name will be known everywhere, and will be familiar long after mine has been forgotten. Who were the bankers and rich men fifty years ago ? There is n’t one person in a thousand can tell you. But who has n’t heard of Thackeray and Hawthorne, Macaulay and Motley ? Don’t you see I’m doing my level best for Agnes, and making a regular Jew bargain ? ”
舠 Perhaps Miss Agnes will not agree.”
“ We’ve got to take that chance; but she likes you, and good women think a heap more of brains than they do of money. If you 'll let me tell her your story, it won’t be long before she ’ll take notice. I should n’t have had to ask the boss twice if I’d had any such trump card as you’ve got, and she was a sight less tender-hearted than Agnes! ”
舠 Mr. Blodgett,” I said, “ I can’t tell you the gratitude I feel, but I must be frank.”
“ Hold on ! ” he cried. “ I don’t want you to say anything now. You are to take a week on it, and not give me your answer till the end. If you have half the gratitude in you that you pretend, you ’ll do as the boss wants.”
I had manned myself to tell him of my love for you, but I bowed assent, for indeed I was too bewildered to think clearly, and was glad to have a respite. We shook hands without further parley, and I came back here, to cough and shiver while trying to think it all out. An hour ago I went to bed, but I was wakeful, and so sit here trying to write myself into sleepiness.
I have thought out what my course must be. If it is true, as indeed I know it to be, that Mr. Whitely has won you, Mr. Blodgett shall have the truth. I shall tell him that I will put you out of my heart, as perforce I must, and that if he is still willing I will go to Agnes, tell her too the whole truth, and promise her such love and devotion as I can give. So sweet a girl deserves far more, and I cannot believe that she will accept the little I can offer ; but if she does, it shall be the labor of my life to be to her a true and tender husband. And even if she were not what she is, the thought that through her I have made reparation for the wrong done you will make easy both tenderness and love for her.
For the last time, perhaps, I have the right to say, “ Good-night, my love.”
Paul Leicester Ford.