One Fair Daughter
MR. REGINALD DORSEY not only recognized the unique distinction of being the father of such a girl as Edith, but he felt as well the responsibilities of the position. Mr. Dorsey had never taken any responsibility lightly. He carried a habit of high discretion into the least detail of his mental operations. It must be dazzling high noon before he would fully admit that the day was likely to be fine. He made no investment or purchase until he had permitted the sun to go down many times upon his indecision. His ultimate opinion was watched, waited for, and acted upon. Nine different corporations boasted that he was one of their directors, and that single circumstance made each enterprise known as both paying and safe, like that tower instanced by Dante which, firmly fixed, shakes not its head for any blast that blows.
Edith had been motherless since she was a child of three, and Mr. Dorsey had been left unaided to grapple with the crucial questions which rose at each stage of the girl’s development. He had not only to arrive at some solution of purely ethical and intellectual problems, but to meet the climbing wave of feminine evolution and to experiment with modern ideas. Should Edith go in for the higher education ? Should Edith attend dancing-classes ? Should Edith be permitted to learn to ride the bicycle ? Each of these questions had in turn to be met, looked at in all lights, and finally decided by a conscientious and consistent theory. Mr. Dorsey wished to preserve in his daughter what he recognized as her distinctive attributes: an old-time modesty, seriousness, and simplicity which raised her so far above vanity and caprice as to efface both. Still, although it was his duty, his function, the reason of his existence, to foster in her the tendencies he loved and believed in, what he tried to keep in mind was her ultimate good. She was not only his child, but the child of her age. Since she had been born in the last quarter of the century, he must meet its requirements for her. Thus Edith took the preparatory college course ; she rode the bicycle, but round dances she did not learn. She was brought up in almost conventual seclusion, and up to the age of nineteen, except her father and her professors, she had not one single acquaintance among the opposite sex. Nevertheless, Mr. Dorsey, who thought of every possible emergency for Edith, had thought of her marriage, — a marriage which was to crown a brilliant social career after her education was complete, — always with compressed lips and a knitting of the brows, which meant that no man would ever become Edith’s husband until he had been weighed in the balance and not found wanting, had gone through the needle’s eye, — in short, submitted to a series of rigid tests.
Thus when, soon after Edith’s nineteenth birthday, Mr. Dorsey received a proposal of marriage for his daughter, the effect upon his mind was abrupt and extraordinary. He had just returned from a journey, and, washed, shaven, and freshly dressed in his habitual suit of gray tweed, had sat down in his library to look over the letters which had arrived in his absence, when a card was brought to him, on which he read “ Mr. Gordon Rose.” Who Mr. Gordon Rose might be Mr. Dorsey was comfortably far from having any idea. A strange young man was ushered in, who met the glance of the tall, slim, clear-eyed gentleman almost like a culprit as he stammered out a few faltering words to the effect that Edith had accepted him, and that he had come to ask her father’s consent to their marriage.
“Your marriage to my daughter!” ejaculated Mr. Dorsey. He went on to observe that never in his life had he heard of such presumption. He glanced at the card which he had crumpled in his hands. Mr. Gordon Rose, he declared witheringly, was a perfect stranger both to him and to Miss Dorsey.
“ We have been together almost two weeks,” gasped Gordon.
Been together almost two weeks ! Fatal two weeks, spent by Mr. Dorsey most reluctantly in a trip to the Southwest with a party of railway magnates to look after the interests of a railroad which had fallen into their hands. For the period of his absence he had confided Edith to the care of his aunt, Mrs. Carmichael, an old lady, who, with an invalid daughter, lived at Lenox. For almost the first time in his life taken unaware, Mr. Dorsey proceeded to put question after question to his visitor. The situation became clear, painfully clear. Gordon Rose had been visiting at a place adjoining Mrs. Carmichael’s. He and Edith had met; he had taught her golf ; they had played it together. Just twenty-four hours before he had asked her to marry him, and she had told him her father was then upon the point of reaching New York, and that she could do nothing without his consent.
Without her father’s consent ? Of course Miss Dorsey could never become engaged without her father’s consent. She could never become engaged at all except by the gradual development of an acquaintance of long years, the result of thorough experience, a perfect congeniality.
“ There is the most perfect congeniality ! ” exclaimed Gordon in a tone almost of indignation. “We fell in love on the instant — it was ” —
“ Nonsense ! absurd ! ” said Mr. Dorsey testily, and proceeded to define his ideas of love and marriage, — no accident, no haphazard outcome of spending a few days in the same neighborhood, but the irresistible evolution of a logical situation, each step developed on a preconceived plan, — in short, inevitable.
“ This was inevitable,” declared Gordon, trying to assert himself against that freezing demeanor, that impenetrable face, that icy glance, that cold, critical tone which seemed not only unsympathetic, but final. “ We saw each other from morning until night; we ” —
“ A mere chance acquaintance,” Mr. Dorsey insisted, “ founded on no reason, leading to no sequence.”
“I wish to marry Miss Dorsey,” faltered Gordon. “ I can support her handsomely.”
“ I can support my daughter without the aid of any man alive,” said Mr. Dorsey.
Gordon murmured deprecatingly that he had no doubt of that. “ But,” he added, “ Edith likes me, and ” —
“She knows nothing, nothing whatever, on the subject. She has been carefully brought up. All her thoughts have been given to her books. Her education has hardly begun. She is to enter college next year. She has never gone into society. I consider twenty-three years of age the time for a girl to enter society. Edith is a mere child. If for a few days while I took a business journey, leaving her, as I supposed, carefully guarded and chaperoned ” —
“ She was chaperoned, — that is, Mrs. Carmichael had us always in view as we played golf ; she said she liked to watch us through her opera-glass,” Gordon explained.
“ I blush to think of an honorable man’s taking advantage of such innocence, such inexperience.”
Gordon blushed for himself. Up to this moment he had been inclined to accept a generous estimate of his circumstances and position, not to say his personal qualities, but he now felt himself dwindling to the vanishing point.
“ Knowing as I only can Miss Dorsey’s preëminence in family position, in social prestige, not to say in beauty, in intellect, in character,” pursued Mr. Dorsey, easily discerning the fact that the young man was each moment becoming more and more discomfited, “ naturally I have my own views regarding the alliance I shall deem fitting for her when she reaches the proper age.”
Gordon’s gaze fastened eagerly upon the gray, grim, well-shaven face.
“ I should like,” Mr. Dorsey continued, “to see her the wife of an English statesman, — of a man like Mr. Gladstone.”
Gordon’s whole face expressed intense passionate indignation. “ Mr. Gladstone is more than eighty years old ! ” he burst out.
“ I mean a man of that sagacity, that distinction, that trained ability, that tested character. The matter of age I should regard very little, unless possibly it was too absolutely disproportionate. To my mind, few men under fifty years of age are safe guardians of a woman’s happiness.”
Gordon uttered an expressive gasp.
“ Failing such a statesman as Mr. Gladstone,” Mr. Dorsey proceeded more and more blandly, “ failing some Englishman not only of high birth, title, ancestral estates, but of the most unblemished moral character, I should like her to become the wife of one of our ambassadors.”
“ An American ambassador ? ”
“ An American ambassador such as Mr. Motley or Mr. Lowell,” Mr. Dorsey explained.
Gordon looked bewildered ; he looked also in despair. “ But they are dead,” he murmured.
Mr. Dorsey did not gainsay the statement, nor the possible inference that what he demanded for Edith was something wholly out of reach. What he needed to do was to nip this presumptuous young fellow’s aspirations in the bud, and from Gordon’s look and manner this seemed successfully achieved. Sitting in his familiar library chair, an elbow on each arm, his hands raised, fingers extended as if ready to checkoff any damaging admission, Mr. Dorsey now began a series of categorical questions, and they were answered in this wise.
Gordon Rose was the son of a Scotchman, poor, but of good family, who had come to this country at the age of twenty, taken a position in a New England manufacturing concern, and five years later married the daughter of the chief partner. Both he and his wife had died early, leaving Gordon, their only child, to be brought up by his maternal grandfather, Elihu Curtis. Elihu Curtis had retired from business ten years before, and had settled down quietly in an inland city. He had now been dead almost a year, and had left all he possessed to his grandson. Had he, Gordon, been well educated ? Gordon, recalling how only by dint of being crammed by three different experts he had finally passed his examinations at Harvard, said diffidently that he was afraid Mr. Dorsey would not think so. Had he failed to take a degree ? Oh, he was a B. A., but no doubt the husband of Edith would be expected to have Ph. D. or LL. D. after his name. What was his age ? Twentyfour ; and the shake of the head showed that this was by far too young. What friends had he to vouch for him ? Gordon named half a dozen without receiving more than a cold stare ; but when he mentioned Bartram Van Kleeck, Mr. Dorsey was so good as to remark dryly that he believed Van Kleeck was engaged to marry a distant cousin of his own and a friend of Edith’s.
“ Bartram has known me all my life,” Gordon was now ready to announce, when Mr. Dorsey went on to add that Van Kleeck being, he feared, destitute of those qualities which command success, he was hardly in a position to permit his commendation to carry weight.
At this point it occurred to Gordon to interpose a plea for himself. He knew, lie said, that he was altogether unworthy of Miss Dorsey ; still —
Mr. Dorsey snapped at the admission as a hungry dog snaps at a bit of meat. He observed frigidly that he could not consent to his daughter’s accepting the attentions of a man who confessed himself unworthy of her, and he seemed so ready to conclude the interview that Gordon, bewildered, disappointed, chilled to the heart, with this denial reverberating in his heart and brain, got himself out of the house. Of course he was unworthy of Edith. It was not that he fell short of being Mr. Gladstone, an English peer, or an American ambassador, but because he was simply a man, while Edith was an angel. Hitherto Gordon had taken life only too happily ; he had not known the meaning of despair. Now his despair was great, and he poured it forth in three letters to Edith.
Mr. Dorsey had lost no time in going to Lenox and taking his daughter home to their country place on the North River, and these letters fell into his hands. They were written with convincing force and naturalness. He had seen Gordon, and knew the handsome, eager young face behind them, and they did not wholly displease him. In fact, in spite of the intense shock of feeling Gordon had given him, something in the way the young man had looked, listened, and spoken had touched the paternal chord. Mr. Dorsey had never had a son, but had always felt a vague yearning for one. Of course this foolish young fellow was not a suitable husband for Edith ; but then Mr. Dorsey did not desire any sort of a husband for Edith, not even an English statesman or an American ambassador, for at least ten years to come. He wished to keep his daughter to himself.
But alas, he found that Edith was pining, pining for the lover, the friend, her father had denied her. Mr. Dorsey set himself to the task of finding out all he could about Gordon Rose. Gordon had done as many foolish things as most other young fellows, but perhaps he had been led into them, and left to find his own way out of the scrapes. They were faults which a nervous, bilious, over-conscientious father might make out as big as a steeple, but they were still the sort of foibles which a man who longed to see his daughter cease pining could put in his sleeve. Mr. Dorsey sent for Bartram Van Kleeck and had a talk with him. Van Kleeck was conscientious to the core, and no mere feeling of camaraderie, of so to speak helping a lame dog over a stile, could make him say that he considered Gordon a model. To his thinking, Gordon was spoiled, had had too much of everything. No man amounted to much who had never borne the yoke in his youth, and no yoke had galled Gordon’s shoulders; indeed, old Elihu Curtis had said that he wanted to see how a young fellow would turn out who had always had a good time.
“ Too high spirits; he overdoes the thing,” said Van Kleeck. Still, when pressed for facts, he admitted that Gordon’s high spirits had not led him into anything worse than absurdity. “ If I had his money and his leisure for diversions, I should require them—huge,” said Van Kleeck. “ He is only a boy ; he may safely be forgiven a good deal.”
Mr. Dorsey decided to go to Gordon’s rooms and have a talk with him. It was such a pity, with his fortune, with his advantages generally, to throw away his chances without looking at them seriously. Life is full of opportunities for renunciation. Let him renounce. Let him apply to himself a series of rigid tests. Burning to impress these truths upon Gordon, Mr. Dorsey tapped at his door. He had chosen an unfortunate moment.
“It is all over,” Gordon said next day in a sepulchral voice, looking up as Bartram Van Kleeck entered his room. Van Kleeck had dropped in to tell some important news of his own, but, finding Gordon plunged in the depths of despair, was obliged to listen to an account of Mr. Dorsey’s visit.
“ It’s all over,” Gordon said again. “ He would n’t hear a word I told him. He simply ejaculated, ‘ This is incredible, this is incredible! Unless I had seen it with my own eyes, I could never have believed it! ’ ”
“I confess I can’t blame him,” said Van Kleeck. “ How a man deeply in love, and in love too with a girl like Edith Dorsey, as you profess to be ” —
“ Profess to be ? ”
— “ should lower his dignity by dancing a skirt-dance ” —
“ I was n’t dancing a skirt-dance.”
“ You just told me that when Mr. Dorsey entered the room he found you executing a pas seul.”
“ I explained to you how it happened, I explained to Mr. Dorsey, but neither of you will listen to me. It was Alexis Brown, who was coming to my rooms to take a lesson of Madame Bonfanti. She and her daughter had arrived. I heard the elevator, then a step in the hall. I supposed it was Alexis. I slipped on the skirt, raised one foot in air — the door opened ” —
“ And instead of Alexis Brown it was Mr. Dorsey,” said Van Kleeck, when Gordon paused and uttered a groan. “ He must have been surprised. He saw Madame Bonfanti ? ”
“ Saw her ? He looked at her as if she had been a cobra. You should have heard her after he had gone out. She went away in dudgeon, poor woman ! ”
“ She should n’t have come.”
“ No doubt she should n’t have come ; but Alexis wanted to dance the skirtdance at an entertainment he and some other fellows are getting up, and as he assured me there was n’t room to swing a cat in his quarters, I told him he might come to mine and welcome.”
“Certainly,” said Van Kleeck, with a shake of his grave, capable head, “ it was most unlucky.”
“ Unlucky ! If I could lay it to luck ! If I did not have to lay it to my being a fool! I had little or no hope before of winning Edith ; now I’ve lost her irretrievably, and the rest of life is nothingness and void, darkness and gnashing of teeth. I did it all myself, but yet I ’m not such an idiot as I seem. Bart, I give you my word of honor I ’m not.”
“ It ’s your confounded high spirits,” said Van Kleeck.
The two young men had been friends from their boyhood, but they were in all respects opposites. Van Kleeck had always been poor, while Gordon was rich. Gordon was fair, with golden-brown hair, a bright chivalrous face, his whole look and manner showing love of life and capacity for enjoyment. Van Kleeck was dark, sallow, saturnine, with deeply set gray eyes under pent-house brows, and a heavy jaw giving extra firmness to his proud, well-curved lip. Everything in his appearance suggested solidity ; that he was a decided fellow, never taken unaware ; with unerring judgment, determined aims, and developed capacities. He had made his way through college chiefly by gaining prizes and fellowships; but in spite of high degrees in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, at twenty - eight years of age he had found nothing more profitable than an instructorship. His phrase for two years had been, “ I must have money,” and his object in coming to-day was to tell Gordon of a golden opportunity at last presented. Self-denial and self-restraint had always been the law of Van Kleeck’s existence, and accordingly he offered his sympathy, and waited for his own chance to come.
“ It ’s your confounded high spirits,” he reiterated, sitting down opposite Gordon, and speaking with his usual air of understanding the whole subject.
“ High spirits ! ” repeated Gordon incredulously. “ If I had n’t been so utterly wretched, so utterly broken in spirit, I could n’t have permitted the thing to happen. It was a mere stop-gap.”
“ I confess I have sometimes envied you your high spirits,” Van Kleeck conceded, with an air as if his companion had made no disclaimer.
“ I shall never have any more high spirits. I’m out of conceit with existence. I understand to-day why men commit suicide. It’s the irony of life, of circumstances, that makes men cynical.”
“You have n’t the faintest notion of what cynicism means,” retorted Van Kleeck, who began to feel that he had done his duty. “ How do you suppose you would have borne what I have had to bear, what I shall have to bear for a long time yet ? ”
“ I consider you just the happiest fellow in the world, engaged to the girl you love, nobody and nothing to hinder! ”
“ Nothing to hinder, when we have been engaged for two years, and are still too poor to marry ! ”
“ Oh, the mere question of money ” —
“ The mere question of money ! It ’s the only question. Here it is driving me to a climate which may very possibly kill me.”
“ Have you really got that offer you were telling me about?
“ Got it, and accepted it. I sail for Southampton a week from to-day ; go to London for instructions, then to South Africa. I must have money, and this is the only chance I know of getting it.”
“ Are you going to be married, and take your wife with you ? ”
“ No,” answered Van Kleeck, knitting his brows. “ Cerise flung herself into the idea at first with her usual ardor; but her uncle objects, and, upon reflection, it seems the best thing for me to go out alone, make and save all I can, and wait another two years. Married life is so expensive.”
“It is hard,” said Gordon in a tone of commiseration. “ Still, if I knew I was sure to have Edith at the end even of two years, I should be willing to work like a galley-slave.”
“ I see you working like a galleyslave ! ”
“You don’t know what is in me,” Gordon declared. “Nobody except Edith knows what is in me. Edith could do anything with me. As Edith’s husband, I do believe even Mr. Dorsey would never have occasion to find fault with me. She could keep me straight. Without her I shall go to the devil.”
“ A man walking upright, and not a swine running headlong into the sea, has no business to talk in that way,” said Van Kleeck, with impatient disgust. “ Whether you marry Edith or don’t marry Edith, you are yourself answerable to your Maker and to society for your actions. If you could be a man with her, you can be a man without her. Besides, you do yourself injustice. I have told you that I said to Mr. Dorsey that if I were Gordon Rose with his money and his leisure, instead of being tied by the leg by poverty and overwork, I should have done twenty foolish things, not to say worse, where he has done one. The push is in me, only I have no money.”
“ Mr. Dorsey believes the worst of me, —you may be sure of that.”
“ Nonsense ! I will go and see him. If you really care about Edith, and she cares about you, this absurdity will not stand in the way. But show a little sense, a little discrimination ; prove to Mr. Dorsey that as his son-in-law ” —
“ He will never give me the chance. You should have seen his eyes, you should have heard his tone, as he said, ‘ I have come to return these letters, with the request that there shall be no more.’ It froze the very heart within me.”
“You had written to Edith ? ”
“ Naturally I had written to her. You don’t suppose I ” —
“ Did he intercept the letters ? ”
“ I dare say she handed them over to him. That’s Edith, — all honor, all devotion, all duty! She said to me that her father had only her, and that she had had only her father. Ah! the look she gave me as she said this, — the look which told me he was no longer everything to her ! It goes through me like a knife, — it is an actual physical pain. And now her father will tell her ” —
“Tell her you were dancing a skirtdance with a hideous old Frenchwoman.”
“ It was only a pretense. I was not dancing it.”
“ But you had on the skirt.”
“ I fancy, from certain things Cerise has dropped, that Edith is a little austere.”
“ No more austere than a woman ought to be. I want a woman austere. That’s why I love Edith, that’s why I long to marry Edith, —that she may be my conscience-keeper.”
“ I confess I prefer to take care of my own conscience, and my wife’s too,” said Van Kleeck. “ It’s the law of contraries that draws us,” he pursued philosophically. “ Now, you, who are perhaps too mercurial, need a woman to brace you up. I ’m a little dry and serious, and I require relaxation and amusement; Cerise is such a fascinating mixture of high spirits and submissive childlike simplicity, she just suits me.”
“ There is an infinite variety about Miss Gale, I should judge, from what little I have seen of her,” returned Gordon, willing to humor his friend. “ She may not be beautiful like Edith, but she is ” —
“ I consider her the most beautiful girl I know,” explained Van Kleeck, with warmth. “ Such a shimmer of radiance, such endless variety.”
“ Certainly most attractive,” Gordon conceded. “ I confess my ideal is of a woman who is always the same.”
Van Kleeck’s ideal was exactly the opposite. The subject was most suggestive. Each saw his beloved in the hues of his desire for her. Each tried to define to the other just where lay the overmastering charm. In the mere fact that the two girls were cousins (thrice removed) was some piquancy. Miss Dorsey offered a sense of tranquillity, of repose ; Miss Gale, on the other hand, stimulated. In Bliss Dorsey’s dress and manner were no lures, no traps to the imagination : her gowns were plain ; she wore no curl, no flower, hardly a ribbon. What especially bewitched Van Kleeck was that Miss Gale and her frizzes, her gowns, her ribbons, her laces, shoes, and gloves all played into each other, as it were. It was no easy matter to define what was chiffon and what the woman.
“ But, poor child, she will be terribly lonely in that dreary suburb,” said Van Kleeck. “ I do wish you would go and see her once a week or so, Gordon.”
“ It would be something to do,” said Gordon ; “ that is, if ” —
“ She can tell you about Edith.”
Where Van Kleeck was everything fell into order. He had rallied Gordon out of despair. Gordon had come to New York to study law. He was to have a desk in Judge Graham’s office and attend the law school, and now it was settled that he should apply himself with all his might and main, and show Mr. Dorsey there was stuff in him.
“ Just use a little judgment, a little tact,” insisted Van Kleeck. “ These rich men don’t yearn to hand over their money and their daughters to foolish young fellows who will take no care of either. Always be on your guard. Somebody is always watching you, weighing you. Now there was Macalpine, the capitalist, coming home from Mount Desert, and somewhere the party he belonged to missed a connection. Their tickets were limited, and either they had to pay two dollars extra, or sit down and wait for a couple of hours for their own train. ‘ I don’t know any easier way of making two dollars than sitting down here and waiting for two hours,’ said old Macalpine. But there was Linsley Crooke, who had been attentive to Mary Macalpine all that month at Mount Desert: he said he could n’t afford to wait two hours for two dollars, so jumped into the unlimited and went on. 'That young man is too high-priced an article,’ said Macalpine. And so it appeared, for, three days after, Mary Macalpine refused Linsley point-blank. There ’s a Providence that watches over these things.”
“ Good heavens,” murmured Gordon in a tone of awe, “ what pitfalls there are for fellows! With Edith along, I would sit down cheerfully and wait for a week; but otherwise— Yet really, now, Bartram, a business man might lose a small fortune by sitting down and waiting two hours.”
“ I know; I thought of that when I heard the story,” Van Kleeck admitted, wrinkling his forehead slightly, “ These distinctions are subtle. I simply wished to warn you to be on guard, study hard, gain the good opinion of solid men, and your chance will come. Edith will be faithful, like a rock, and finally Mr. Dorsey is likely to give in. Still,” Van Kleeck added, with a sudden far-reaching vista of thought, “ it’s a little singular how apt a man who has one only daughter is to sacrifice her. Look at Agamemnon.”
“ And Jephthah ! ” Gordon exclaimed, aghast.
“ Then there was the Merchant of Venice,” Van Kleeck pursued; “and just recall how Portia’s father limited her free choice by means of those caskets.”
“ And how that horrible old Polonius played with Ophelia! ”
“ It’s the instinct of a man, if he has one daughter and loves her devotedly, to sacrifice her, — no doubt of that,” said Van Kleeck. “ Perhaps it is just as well he should do so, for if he does not sacrifice her, she is likely to sacrifice him. Look at Desdemona, for example.”
Gordon tried to adjust these wide generalizations to personal particular meanings. Van Kleeck could reduce his own experience to a formula, but Gordon’s experience always seemed chaotic, defying fixed rules. In the present case, it turned out that at this very hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, while the two friends were discussing the best means of propitiating Mr. Dorsey, that gentleman and his daughter had already embarked for Europe. Before Gordon was aware of the fact, there were some hundreds of miles of “ unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea ” between him and Edith. What was she thinking of him ? What was she doing ? Talking to others, devoting herself to others, while he himself was rejected, condemned unheard, pushed out of sight, left to suffer. What was life worth under these circumstances ?
Van Kleeck, sailing just one week later than the Dorseys, bade Gordon study law and go to see Miss Cerise Gale.
Miss Gale was an orphan, and lived with her uncle and aunt, who had a pleasant place at Capua, fifteen miles from New York. To pay visits in the suburbs requires no little premeditation. It necessitates the study of time-tables ; it is a sacrifice of time, also of money ; but above all, it leads to intimacy by the shortest route. In town, a man rings his friend’s door-bell, enters, and stays ten minutes or an hour, as the spirit moves him. In a remote suburb, his first involuntary movement towards picking up his hat is met by the precise statement that one train has just gone, but that there will be another in thirty-seven minutes. Those thirty-seven minutes have altered the destiny of many a man.
The 4.03 train from town reached Capua at 4.31. To return by the 4.58 gave Gordon exactly sixteen minutes to spend with Miss Gale. Could this fraction of an hour have been devoted solely to inquiries about whether she had news from Edith and her answers, he might, after greedily snatching at this refreshment, have flown to the station and caught the last car of the 4.58. It was, however, essential that he should endeavor to console Miss Gale for the absence of Van Kleeck: thus he was obliged to prolong his stay for a whole hour.
“ I know what a sacrifice it is,” Miss Gale said, with appreciation. “ I tell Bartram, every time I write, what courage you show. You are the most devoted friend to him ! Actually, if any one has the supreme good fortune to live in town, I don’t consider life long enough to live in a suburb.”
“ Life seems pretty long to me just at present,” Gordon answered, with a sigh. “ It’s a distinct relief to come out here and ” —
“ Talk about Edith,” Miss Gale made haste to suggest, with her half-arch, halfpleading glance and smile. “ It’s just too awfully good of you. I know what an effort it is, for my whole life has been spoiled by the necessity of catching trains. I never expect to sit through a whole play or a whole concert; and if I go to a party, I miss the supper and the dances with the partners I really care about, for aunt whisks me away.”
Embarked on this subject, Miss Gale went on to describe the difficulties Bartram had found in the way of taking her to places of amusement, and how glad he had been to give it all up, declaring that a quiet talk before the fire and a good book were so much more satisfactory.
“We have learned to do things inexpensively,” she added, sighing. “ Bartram is always praising economy.” She confided to Gordon the pathetic fact that she cried herself to sleep every night. He naturally improved this chance of assuring her that it was sure to be a brief parting. Van Kleeck would make a fortune ; his salary was large, his chances for investment were good. If it were but a question of money which divided him from Edith!
Cerise had no alternative but to cheer up the despondent lover. Although cousin Reginald was jealous of every man who came near Edith, still he had actually but one wish, which was to make the dear girl happy. “ I have not the least doubt but that you and Edith will be married long before Bartram and I are ! ” she burst out, with strong feeling. “ We have been engaged already for two years.”
Gordon said that to be engaged, really engaged, must of itself be such a happiness; and he went on to quote Van Kleeck’s observation, that a long engagement was an admirable discipline.
“ It is,” returned Cerise. “ It makes one so sure of one’s own heart. Bartram said when he was going away, 4 If our love for each other were a thing of days, of weeks, even of months, I might tremble, but you have belonged to me for two years.’ ”
With delightful candor, she described the incidents of their love affair: her impressions of Bartram, his impressions of her; the gradual leading up of their acquaintance to their engagement. Gordon waited impatiently for her to finish, then gave the story of his thirteen days with Edith, — every day about sixteen hours long. Each lent an outward attention to the other, eager for a chance to pour out his or her personal revelations.
It is love’s instinct to halo the absent, and when Gordon wished to have Miss Gale sing the praises of Edith he would begin thus : “ Van Kleeck has none of the petty vices, the love of idleness and luxury, which undermine the character of most men.”
“ No, indeed. He says that most of us manufacture our own indigestion and laziness by eating bonbons. He does n’t approve of bonbons.”
“ What I admire in him is that he carries the same consistent economy, the same conscientious thrift and independence, into the least detail of his conduct. Now when I occasionally ask him to dine with me, he insists on ordering his own meal and paying for it. I should rather enjoy doing the thing handsomely, but it ends in our having each a chop or beefsteak, a boiled potato, and a glass of beer.”
“ He is not only abstemious himself, but he makes other people abstemious ! ” Miss Gale would exclaim, with admiration. “ I have given up everything I really like. I try to be a Spartan.”
“He will not want you to be a Spartan,” Gordon would insist. “ Quite the contrary. He stints himself to be lavish in other directions. He is always planning for a happy future. I said to him once, ‘ Van Kleeck, what do you do with your old clothes ? ’ and he replied, ‘ I wear them.’ Now I call that heroic.”
“ Is n’t it grand ? It’s what makes me adore him. I only wonder how he can stoop to care about poor little me.”
A compliment was of course dropped in here, just as a wise landowner pops an acorn out of his pocket into a vacant place on his estate, wishing it to grow and flourish for five hundred years. Gordon, however, improved the occasion simply to fill up the gap which yawned for it. He was not insincere, and there was a certain zest, even in his present state of desolation, in offering some mild form of flattery to Miss Gale. She took it with such artless joy. She seemed so surprised. Her whole face lighted up with such naïve childish pleasure. At first Gordon had coldly, critically said to himself, “ Of course she could never be pretty with that nose.” But after taking a liking to a woman, one can accept her nose, even when it spoils the outline of her face, as a circumstance over which she has no control. Edith Dorsey was faultlessly beautiful ; to compare Cerise to her would be doing the latter injustice. Yet there was, especially when she was happy and animated, a radiance, a shimmer about Cerise, an impression of color, which made one forget that she was plain. Her little head was set in a golden glory, as it were, for her hair was fluffy and of the most peculiarly beautiful shade, her cheeks were like the sunny side of a peach, her blue eyes were bright, and her slight figure was always charmingly arrayed.
Gordon having done handsomely by Van Kleeck, it was clearly Miss Gale’s duty to praise Edith. Edith, she said, was an angel; so lofty, so high-minded, so indifferent to what others of her age and sex were pining for. Once when cousin Reginald had taken both girls to Tiffany’s and bidden them choose each some pretty ornament, Edith had given Cerise the first choice ; then, making her own selection, had bestowed the jewel on Cerise. “ Take them both, dear,” she said. “ I have too many things already.” Edith had no vanity, no worldliness ; she was a saint.
“ She is two years younger than I am,” Cerise continued, bubbling with enthusiasm, “ but she seems to me ten years older. Don’t you look up to her with reverence and awe ? ”
“ Like Dante to Beatrice,” Gordon affirmed, with emotion. At Lenox, one rainy day, he had found her reading Dante. Of late she had forgotten her duty, she told him, but she always intended to read eighteen lines a day.
“ I held the dictionary for her,” said Gordon, deeply moved.
It was one of the coincidences which were all the time cropping up in the two very different love affairs that Van Kleeck and Cerise had also been reading the Divine Comedy together.
“ But not in Italian,” Cerise explained. “ It’s quite sufficiently hard in English. Bartram never told me I was like Beatrice,” in a tone of poignant regret.
Gordon said he was sure Van Kleeck wished her to resemble no one, — to be simply herself.
On the contrary, Van Kleeck was certain to find some trait in every heroine which he wished her to take example by, — all the girls in the Waverley novels, all Shakespeare’s women. Then there was Ethel Newcome, and Dorothea in Middlemarch. Finally he halted between Marcella and Trilby. Cerise had thrown herself with zeal into the former’s part, — had delighted in visiting slums ; but after she had brought home three different diseases to the children, her aunt objected. Then she tried to talk politics and humanitarianism, and her uncle objected ; and when one of the class of workingmen to whom she read Shakespeare took to bringing her flowers, Bartram objected. As to Trilby, Cerise had decided that the charm of Trilby lay chiefly in the environment; at least it seemed incompatible with the limitations of her aunt’s house. And Bartram, when he saw that she was trying to find an outlet and escape from every-day prosaic duties, was rather severe, — said it was the essential womanly charm of Trilby which a man longed for, and wished to enshrine in the woman he loved.
“ Essential womanly charm,” said Cerise, extending one taper finger, " Marcella’s lofty ideals and social earnestness,” a second finger joined the first, “ Dorothea’s belief in people, Ethel Newcome’s brilliance and fascination, then all Shakespeare’s heroines and Scott’s.” She paused. “ I can be one woman,” she pursued, “ I can be two women, I can, at a pinch, be three women, but I can’t be all the women in all the books, can I ? ”
“ That’s only Bartram’s love of high ideas. He likes the best, — ‘ the best that is known and thought in the world.’ I fancy it’s a phrase he picked up somewhere.”
“I’ve heard it,” said Cerise mournfully. “ Sometimes I feel such a failure, He always made a schedule of my time. I was to read so much, practice so much, sew so much. He insists that I shall get myself into orderly habits by keeping a list of my expenses. They never add up right, and I hate to see my mistakes glaring me in the face. Don’t you ? He wanted me to go to a cooking-school.”
“Oh, what a wife he has in training ! ”
“ But he said the dishes I learned to make gave him dyspepsia, and that, after all, we ought to be able to afford a good plain cook. Bartram has a way of sitting silent and wrinkling up his forehead, — chewing the cud of conversation, he calls it, —and then bursting out with a question: ‘ Cerise, have you any idea how much it costs to keep a table, a fairly generous table, you know, for a week, — say, coffee, chops or beefsteak, for breakfast, a dainty little luncheon for you, then a dinner with a good soup, a joint of meat, two vegetables, a salad, and a light dessert ? ’ I answered that I thought a hundred dollars ought to do it; but these figures gave him such a shock I made haste to say I fancied my estimate was too high, and that it might be done for five.”
“ Did that please him ? ”
“ Not at all. He was more unhappy than ever. We had a sort of quarrel. I told him I hated these sordid, practical considerations ; that I wanted a little room for imagination in the world.”
“ But you finally made up ? ”
“ Oh yes. When we quarrel, I always give way. That’s why I adore Bartram. He’s so strong. I worship force.”
“Yes, Van Kleeck is strong. I admire his force.”
“ So presently I tell him that I know I am all wrong, that he is right. ‘ I have the habit of being right before I begin,’ he answers, and so it is all made up.”
She brought the scene to Gordon; it was alive.
By the end of March it had become the chief social occupation of Gordon Rose to go to Capua twice a week. He had not been contented with a bare perfunctory performance of his duty towards his absent friend, but had tried to infuse into it something which should give relief from the flatness and ennui which a charming girl necessarily suffers when parted from the man she loves. Van Kleeck could very well discard trivial attentions ; could label bonbons as poisonous, cut flowers as unprofitable, and tickets for the theatre and opera as unsatisfactory. When Gordon carried these slight offerings to Miss Gale, he would say. " Van Kleeck can afford to despise these things, but then I am not Van Kleeck.” He felt, in fact, that he owed Cerise a debt of gratitude. Without this resource he would have been absolutely shut out of Edith’s world; but the two cousins wrote to each other occasionally, and thus he had news of the girl he loved. She was in London pursuing her studies; was to pass the coming examinations, and then decide what college to enter. Gordon pondered much on the question of whether he ought or ought not to break the silence between them. He had stuck indefatigably to his routine of work, both at the law school and in Mr. Graham’s office. He had begun to like it, not as a mere grind, but finding order, reason, logic, evolve out of what had seemed to him at first nothing but a wordy chaos. He had a sense that he was mastering difficulties. He had heard that Mr. Dorsey was obliged to be in New York in April, and Gordon began to feel that he could point to his winter’s record and ask if it might not balance that absurd mistake of the preceding autumn ; if it could not, indeed, atone for it and make promise for the future. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays the young man patiently glued his eyes to the pages before him, opened his ears to the wisdom imparted, and wrote as he was required, giving resounding phrase to commonplace and locking subtleties into impenetrable mystery. But on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays there was a sensible lightening in his whole demeanor. It has been observed by philosophers and naturalists, who like to stretch a simple fact until it covers a theory, that mules whose task it once was to draw street cars in certain towns became used to making five journeys from one end to the other of the route before they were released, and went four times contentedly, but setting out on the final track they brayed with joy. Thus Gordon, on these three days, was kindled with a sense of joyful expectation. Wednesday and Sunday he went to Capua. On Saturday it might be said that Capua came to him, for on the morning of that day Miss Gale almost invariably took the 11.58 train to town, and Gordon was almost certain to meet her, and, with the sort of paternal tenderness a mature young fellow of twenty-four can feel in giving pleasure to a sweet little girl of one-and-twenty, take her to some matinée performance of opera or play. There was a real satisfaction in thus answering the passion, the enthusiasm, the ardent curiosity which belonged to Cerise, which had been hitherto starved on meagre fare.
However, one Sunday night late in March, when Gordon was on his way back to town after spending six hours in Miss Gale’s society (for, as was not infrequent in these days, he had been invited to remain and partake of the evening meal of the family), his heart and conscience were both brought up suddenly by a sharp pull. It was a singular circumstance that neither he nor Miss Gale, in all those hours of intimate conversation, had once alluded either to Bartram Van Kleeck or to Edith Dorsey. Never had Cerise been so entertaining. On the Saturday before the two had had a very successful day together; she was in the highest spirits, and the piquancy and audacity of her criticisms, the felicity of her droll little hits, had made him put off any mention of the absent dear ones until it was too late, for he had been obliged to run for the train. This omission of Edith’s name and of Van Kleeck’s had happened once before, but Gordon now said to himself it must not happen again. It meant neither forgetfulness nor disloyalty, of course; perhaps it was the inevitable reaction after their early outpourings of confidence.
He recalled one significant circumstance which showed that it was actually Cerise’s generous disposition to make the best of things which kept her from harping on her desolate position. When, the week before, he had alluded to South Africa, she had exclaimed, with a sort of shuddering sigh, “ Don’t talk about South Africa ! ”
“ A fellow must have some subject,”he had replied. “ What shall I talk about? ”
“Talk about me,” she retorted, with her pretty childish air of petulance.
“ That’s a charming subject, I admit,” Gordon had observed inevitably.
He had noticed at times a sort of excitement in Cerise, and he had said to himself that she put on her blitheness for Van Kleeck’s sake. She wished to please his friend, to make the hours pass. The artless and spontaneous way in which she discussed her own characteristics, her impressions, her crying wishes, and her imperious needs was all a part of her devotion to Van Kleeck, came from the instinct to seem gay and happy and content. On Gordon’s side, it was his office to applaud the delightful little creature ; for Van Kleeck’s sake, to keep her up to high-water mark, not permit her to dwindle into dullness and low spirits. Yet on this particular Sunday, in spite of such a plain deciphering of duty, it seemed to Gordon flat disloyalty to his absent friend to have been sitting easy and comfortable, listening to Cerise talking of everything that came into her head, silent about her betrothed husband, who was toiling and sweating in a climate which exposed him to every sort of peril.
No, Gordon was not content, and when, on the following Wednesday, he presented himself at Capua, he carried in his hand a bunch of violets, together with some jonquils. He gave the latter flowers to Cerise, but retained the violets.
“They remind me of Edith,” he said. “ There was a shady spot at Lenox where they bloomed all summer.”
“ Oh,” said Cerise, “you are always thinking of Edith.”
“ Of course I am,” Gordon retorted; “ just as you are always thinking about Van Kleeck.”
“ Indeed I am not always thinking about Bartram. I think about a great many other things,” Cerise declared, with a vivid spot of color burning on each cheek. “Why should I not? He is thinking of all sorts of things and doing all sorts of things I know nothing about.”
“ But they all refer to you. I would wager a considerable sum that he thinks of you when he eats, when he works, when he sleeps. ‘Will Cerise like this? ’ ‘Would Cerise be able to stand that?’ ‘When shall I see Cerise?’” Gordon’s voice lingered on these questions. He asked them with a lover’s insistence.
She gave him a soft little glance. There was an odd droop at the corners of her lips.
“ A man is bound to attend to his business,” he resumed.
“ And is a woman not bound to attend to hers ? ” cried Cerise, smiting his argument with relentless logic. “ He is in South Africa, and I — I am in Capua.”
Her glance perplexed Gordon. It seemed almost to include him in this isolation, this separation from Van Kleeck. It seemed to say, “ You and I are here.”
“ His letters ought to account for a good deal of his time,” Gordon suggested. “ You say he writes you twelve pages twice a week.”
“ They are all statistics. I don’t care in the least about statistics. Bartram is so fond of giving information, and at least eleven pages of each letter are devoted to an account of the climate, productions, and inhabitants of the gold region.”
“ But the other page no doubt makes up for the rest.”
“ On the other page,”said Cerise blandly, “ he praises economy, tells how little he can live on in that climate, one requires so few clothes, and he hopes I like a vegetable diet, for it enables one to save so much.”
Gordon felt a rebellious rush of sympathy for Cerise. He had indeed experienced it more than once before. Van Kleeck was the noblest fellow in the world, but he overdid the thing. A man who loves a girl must not disregard the life, the passion, the aspiration, which are the essence of the creature. Certainly, if he, Gordon, had a chance to write to Edith, little enough of statistics and economies would he try to give her. Nevertheless, what he now observed to Miss Gale was : “ The truth is, money to Van Kleeck means his happiness. Two thousand a year is having you on the narrowest possible margin ; three thousand, with a little more comfort; five thousand and upward, with ease, elegance, luxury.”
“1 hate those material ideas. 1 don’t want to measure all the world by sordid considerations,” Cerise burst forth impetuously.
“ Bartram is never sordid. His practical forethought is all for you. His only wish is to have you for his wife.”
“ I don’t want to be his wife. I don’t want to go to South Africa.”
“ Do you mean ” — Gordon began ; then broke off aghast at the very suggestion of such perfidy.
“ Yes, that is what I mean,” she said, quite understanding.
“ He thinks you love him devotedly ! ”
“I did n’t like to hurt his feelings.”
Never in his life had Gordon experienced such wretched discomfort. The two were looking at each other intently, both flushed, both tremulous, both wearing an air of being a good deal frightened. But besides this half-terror Gordon was conscious of something else in the look and tone of Cerise, — of elation, of having found an outlet, an escape, from what had cramped and thwarted her. Her bright, fluffy little head was poised like a bird’s. He gazed at her with dire consternation, feeling in his heart some vibrating responsive chord answering her, and angry with himself for feeling it.
” You should n’t say such things ! ” he exclaimed, as if with intense indignation. “ on should stop and think.”
“ I don’t want to stop and think. You ought to have told me long ago to stop and think, Cerise retorted, also with an air of being exasperated to the last degree. “You have let me go on and on — you have brought me flowers — you have — I don’t want to stop and think. It would make me miserable. I have n’t thought for a long time. I have just put every idea away — except — except ”—
“ Except what ? ” demanded Gordon.
“ Except that you would be here, if not to-day, then to-morrow ; if not tomorrow, next day.”
Gordon sat as if stunned. He was conscious of a strong current of emotion through Ins veins, but could not define the different sensations which seemed to rush together and gather in a blow that stupefied him. He saw that tears filled her eyes and brimmed over. He pitied her with all the strength of his nature.
“ We — have — been — so — happy,” she faltered, bending forward and with her wet face near his, speaking in a tone which addressed his heart rather than his ear.
He jumped up, with a feeling of wrenching himself away from a position of extreme peril. “ You don’t think of Van Kleeck. You don’t think of Edith,” he said. Feeling had roughened his voice so that it was unrecognizable.
“ You did n’t think of Edith ! ”
“ I always think of Edith.”
“Were you thinking of her last Saturday, when we were going about together ? ” Cerise asked this eagerly ; then without waiting for him to answer she went on: “ You were not thinking of her at all. You have not thought of her of late. Why should you think of her ? There is nothing for you to think of. It is not as if you had actually been engaged to her. If I can give up Bartram — after — after being everything to him for two years, and he everything to me, why, it ought to be nothing, nothing in the world, to give up Edith, who does not really care for you, who never in her life cared for anybody but her father, who is wrapped up in binomial theorems, who ” —
“ Don’t, don’t, Cerise ! ” cried Gordon, raising his hand as if to ward off a blow.
“ She is cold — she is — But no, no, I will not be so unfair. She is greater than I am, sweeter than I am, but oh, Gordon, she does n’t care about you as I do.”
The charm, the tyrannous actuality of the real presence of a lovely girl close beside one, — her tearful eyes raised, her moist red lips quivering, her whole face, tone, gesture, eloquent alike! At such a moment a man’s heart must respond in some measure to what is so palpable, so absolute ; the absent must become more or less vague, shadowy, problematical.
“ And you don’t really care about Edith,” the voice went on in that terrible whisper. “I saw that long ago. If I had not seen it, if I had not known it was a fiction, a pretense, I could n’t have begun to feel that ” —
Her tone thrilled him ; her look drew him. Her quick sobbing breath — the tears on her cheek —
He hardly knew what had happened, but somehow his own face was wet. He felt as if blinded and scorched by pure flame. Yet in another moment he was out of doors, on his way to the station. Who knows whether destiny bade Mrs. Gale stand sentinel that day? Was it simply because for domestic or economical reasons a guest would have been unwelcome ? Or did she feel as if her niece’s tête-à-tête with the friend of her fiancé were somewhat unduly prolonged ? At any rate, this happy accident was the result of her glance at the clock. Harold, a lively boy of five, suddenly threw open the parlor door, and called at the top of his lungs, “ Mr. Rose, mamma says, if you want to take the 5.58 train, you will have to make haste!”
“ I feel absolutely stuck fast in the mire ! ” Gordon said to himself at least a hundred times in the course of the next forty-eight hours. Did this exclamation come from a feeling of being entangled, from a longing for deliverance ? And if so, a longing for deliverance from what? From Edith ? From Cerise’s snares and nets ?
That last interview remained a fixed impression, a speechless and sombre load upon his heart and sense. He could not shake it off. He could not understand what had happened, — why he felt wrenched away, separated from what he loved most. He put out his hands to meet Edith, but they fell empty. Hitherto, even with the ocean rolling between them, she had been near, her heart beating with his, her faith answering his. Now she was cold, remote : imagination flapped a leaden wing and could not soar: absolutely, it seemed to him he had forgotten Edith’s very look and features.
But close beside him, too importunate to be banished, too sweet, too seductive, to be denied, was Cerise, flattering his longing to be beloved, to love somebody. The pathos of the situation was so deep. Her cry for happiness, for freedom, for the emancipation which lies in having a hatful of money to spend, was one which he could answer so ungrudgingly. It was so pitiful that the charming little creature could not have free play, she had been so limited, so hindered ! They had already enjoyed so much together.
Yes, Cerise no doubt had come close, — irresistibly close. She had made everything so clear. Her sequences had been appalling in their logic. The idea that an imperative duty called him to her thrilled his heart and imagination, worked upon him like a spell, fevered him with a restless happiness. He felt himself to be a man pushed by destiny.
But there was not only Cerise in the world. He might argue that no tie bound him to Edith, that Edith could not accuse him of duplicity. There was Van Kleeck, and thinking of Van Kleeck, Gordon loathed his own hollow and hypocritical pretense of friendship.
“ I don’t think,” Gordon nevertheless argued to himself, with an effort at high moral indignation, “that a man ought to hand over his betrothed wife to another man’s keeping and go to the other end of the world. I don’t think it’s safe.”
Here the inward monitor took up the argument.
“ It is true it might be safe with a loyal, honorable fellow, and Van Kleeck supposed I was loyal and honorable.”
“ He thought I loved Edith, — that nothing would make me unfaithful to Edith.”
“ He believed Cerise, poor child, loved him.”
“ He had spoken of the discipline of a long engagement. He said it was the supreme test that ought always to be imposed. But then Van Kleeck is not a pendulum, vibrating first to the right, then to the left.”
These reflections did not pursue each other coherently ; rather, like the occasional bubble from the depths of a troubled pool, each welled up as by irresistible pressure. More than once, in the two nights which followed the Wednesday, he started out of his sleep, with some new, perverse, self-scrutinizing, nervous tremor over the dilemma he was in. When he was awake, his conscience was not so much his monitor as his accomplice ; it pointed to duty, but that duty was to Cerise. The sensations she stirred in him of inconsequent enjoyment, of pleasure in the lucky accident of their being together, of his marching to her orders and rather liking it, belonged to the reveries of his waking hours. In his sleep his soul made its claim ; it was then that his love for Edith asserted its power.
“ I told Van Kleeck that without Edith I should go to the devil,” Gordon would say to himself in despair. “ I have arrived.”
In spite of all his thinking, he grew hour by hour to know less and less what he really thought. He had postponed any absolute decision as to his future course of conduct until Saturday, for on that day he was to see Cerise again. In this interval of irresolution it was a relief to fasten with a fresh grip to his work. He liked the hard, cold, remorseless logic of the argument he was studying. What had heretofore been dry, colorless, pedantic, suddenly became infused with the decree of the fixed, the immutable ; it gave him intense satisfaction. A thing himself of shreds and patches, of ideas starting from no fundamental principle and leading to no conclusion, it was a comfort to find that human conduct is not to be based on sentiment, on taste, even on passion. He began dimly to feel that there must be a tribunal before which he might state his predicament and find some sort of deliverance.
On that Friday afternoon Gordon was sitting at his desk in Judge Graham’s office, working with a sort of fury at an abstract which he had been asked to prepare, oblivious of everything that was going on about him, when all at once there appeared on the sheet of foolscap over which he was bending a very small limber square of pasteboard, on which was engraved, " Mr. Reginald Dorsey, Gramercy Park.”
Gordon stared at the card, as if some inner spasm of feeling, of conscience, of memory, had suddenly taken visible shape and risen to accuse him. While he was trying his wits at the riddle, the clerk whispered in his ear. " Mr. Dorsey is in Judge Graham’s private office. He wants to see you.”
Gordon sprang to his feet. With a beating heart he strode down the long room, went out into the lobby, and, with a feeling of being confronted with some new trial whose difficulties he could not measure, turned the handle of the second door. Judge Graham was sitting talking to Mr. Dorsey as the young man entered.
“I must go,” the judge said, rising. “ I have been telling Mr. Dorsey good things about you, Rose. When you first took a desk here, I thought to myself it was a lucky thing for you you had n’t to make your living by the law. Now I 've changed my opinion; I have decided that with the requisite push of poverty you would go far.”
But Gordon heard nothing. Mr. Dorsey, shaking his hand and looking into his face, was puzzled. The young fellow was pale, but his eyes were burning ; his lips were compressed ; altogether he had an air as if bracing himself for a grapple with an enemy.
All he said in response to Mr. Dorsey’s greeting was, “ I supposed that you were in Europe.”
“ Graham cabled for me. There was important business. I came at an hour’s notice. I only got in last night.”
Gordon’s eyes had an eager question in them, his lips seemed ready to utter it; but then he dropped his glance to the floor, shut his mouth firmly, and said not a word. He had wanted to ask if Edith had come, but of course Edith had not come.
“ Are n’t you well. Rose ? ” Mr. Dorsey inquired.
“ Oh yes, I’m well; that is, physically.”
Mr. Dorsey’s instinct, sounding the young man through, discovered something amiss, something wanting. But after all, might it not be that Gordon had something to forgive ? Had not his claims been treated with ignominy? Had not his suit been dismissed, Edith carried off, and he himself left to eat out his heart with empty longing ?
“ Sit down,” said Mr. Dorsey. “ I want to talk with you. I decided last fall that if you were really in love with my daughter you ought to be able to endure a six months’ test. Afterwards when I went to see you —but we 'll pass that over ” —
“ I never wondered that you despised me,” Gordon broke in. “ I feel that if you told Edith how ” —
“ I did not tell her. I saw Van Kleeck in London, and he made it clear to me how it happened. Rose, my dear boy, I did not mean to be too rigid. But a father’s position is one of terrific responsibility. All Edith’s future happiness depends on the character of the man she marries.”
Gordon heaved a deep sigh, but for a long moment answered not a word.
Mr. Dorsey looked surprised, almost displeased. Something, everything he expected was lacking in the young fellow. After such a concession from the father of the girl he was prepared to love eternally, he ought not to stand dull, inert, staring as if at a blank wall; then, when aghast at the silence, answering in the most perfunctory way, “ Yes.”
“ It. is not yet six months,” observed Mr. Dorsey succinctly. “ since you presented yourself as Edith’s suitor.”
“ It was on the twenty-second day of last October.”
“ Precisely. — hardly more than five months. You told me then that you loved my daughter devotedly.”
“ I loved her with all my heart,” said Gordon, with an energy in his accent which suggested some bitterness of feeling.
“ Has there been any change in your regard for her ? ”
“ Any— change — in — my — regard — for — her ? ”
“ I mean, do you love her still ? ”
“ I adore her.”
“ You love her as you loved her then, with all your heart and soul ? ”
“ With all my heart and soul.” As he spoke a gleam crossed Gordon’s features. It was the first sign of the passionate gladness of the lover he had evinced to Mr. Dorsey’s disappointed eyes. But just as this belated instinct of manly feeling began to move him he pulled himself up, as it were. “ That is,” he added hastily, “ I should love her still with all my heart and soul unless ” —
“ Unless what ? ”
“ Don’t ask me, sir. To enter into explanations would lead to madness.”
“ Let me try to understand,” said Mr. Dorsey, endeavoring to command his baffled and wrathful temper. “ Do you wish me to believe that you still love my daughter ? ”
I never loved anybody else. — I never could really love anybody else,” said Gordon mechanically, all the fervor of a lover absent from his look and tone.
“ There is some one else,” said Mr. Dorsey sternly.
Gordon gave him a glance, — a wordless confession, but enough.
“ There is some one else,” Mr. Dorsey reiterated.
Gordon drew his hand across his forehead. “ I’m utterly stupefied at the position in which I find myself,” he murmured blankly.
“ Are you engaged to some one else ? ”
“ Oh no, sir, not engaged.”
“ Have you been making love to some one else ? ”
Gordon shuddered. His conscience was on edge. " Not intentionally,” he muttered ; " still ” —
“ You told me just now that you loved Edith.”
“ I do love her.”
“ Do you love — the other ? ”
Gordon drew a deep breath. “ If I did not. I should be the most ungrateful cur alive.”
“ It is impossible,” Mr. Dorsey now exclaimed in a tone of intense exasperation, “ for a man to be in love with two women at once.”
“ I used to think so,” said Gordon in a hollow voice.
“ It is, at any rate, impossible for a man to be married to two women at once.”
“ I know it,” Gordon conceded, with a sigh, “ and I have become convinced that most of the tragedies in life are due to that circumstance.”
Mr. Dorsey, confounded, gazed at the young man. The situation was inconceivable. Here had he come back from England feeling at last that the just and right thing to do was to let Edith have the lover she had not forgotten, whom she could not forget; who, in fact, Mr. Dorsey had gradually grown to believe, was the one man on earth whom he desired for her husband and his own son. He himself had hankered after the young fellow almost if not quite as much as had Edith. When he had heard how well Gordon was behaving, how he fastened to his desk like a bur, the older man’s heart had yearned over him. He had come to love Gordon; he repented his hardness on Gordon’s little naughtinesses and naturalnesses. Still, he had been right in the main. It was better that he should not have given his consent at once. Engaged to Edith, Gordon would not have shown the stuff that was in him.
So firm had been Mr. Dorsey’s faith, he had thought of no possibility except that, at the first mention of Edith, Gordon would be on fire with longing to see her.
“ If you have been false to Edith, if she is replaced in your affections,” the father now said, “ I will go away on the instant. If she is still anything to you, I have, I think, a right to understand ” —
“ I wish with all my heart you did understand ! ” Gordon burst out. “ If some one only knew just what has happened — how I am placed —
“ Tell me about it.”
“ I don’t know how. But I have just begun to say to myself, ‘ If there were but some one to whom I could go for counsel! *”
“ Why not to me ? ”
“ If I were the only one concerned ” —
“ But there is the other—the woman ?”
“ Two others ! ”
“ Two women ? ”
“ No, only one woman; the other is a man, my friend.”
It was an easy matter now to see that there was some form of fierce self-condemnation in the young man’s breast. Mr. Dorsey had not, in general, the faculty of reading the hearts and minds of other men, and it was this incapacity of swift insight which made him slow in making up his mind. But at this moment, shaping itself little by little out of various vague suggestions, came a tangible idea. He remembered his cousin Cerise. Three years before, he himself had been for about forty-eight hours under her spell. He had been a little bewitched, he had almost thought of her as a mother for Edith. Then espying in himself such possibilities, he had rubbed his eyes and awakened. He could recall now the fact that Edith had about six weeks before been a little downcast after receiving a letter from her cousin ; that since that time she had not mentioned the name of Cerise, — that is, not voluntarily ; but when he alluded to Cerise, she had spoken of her as so charming, so permeated with life and freshness, with audacity, with piquancy, with such an intense relish for life, she ought to have a chance to be happy, — since some people were born to be happy, just as for others were appointed renunciations. With instant divination, Mr. Dorsey now observed quietly, “ You have been seeing a good deal of toy cousin, Miss Gale?”
Gordon, sharply startled, assented.
“ Has she broken her engagement to Van Kleeck ? ” Mr. Dorsey inquired further. with clear significance.
“Not yet,” Gordon responded, the color rushing violently to his face, then ebbing, leaving him suddenly more pale than before.
“ I fancy I see your dilemma,” Mr. Dorsey said, as if musing. " The fact is, my cousin Cerise is a very charming girl: she is a girl, too, of unusual strength of mind, with plenty of will of her own. She has only one weakness, and that is a dislike to have any man near her who is not in love with her, — at least a little in love with her.” He said no more, his intuition telling him that discussion might kindle fires not easily extinguished. “ I want,” he added, rising, “ to have you tell me the whole story. This is not the place. It will be better for you to dine with me to-night.”
Gordon was in no state of mind to prepare his conversation skillfully. Still, in the interval between parting with Mr. Dorsey on Wall Street and presenting himself at the door of the house in Gramercy Park at twenty-five minutes past seven, he did try to decide what he himself sincerely wished, and what he needed to say to Mr. Dorsey. He had to reflect that Edith was well placed, happy, with a devoted father, every material thing she needed in the world within reach, loving her studies, ambitious to pursue them and excel. There was Cerise, who needed him, who was betrothed to a man not wholly congenial who had left her alone. If she actually wished to be released from her engagement to Van Kleeck, was it not Gordon’s duty to shield and serve her in this crisis ? He would entreat Mr. Dorsey to look at the matter dispassionately ; to weigh the right and wrong of it; to tell him whether it would be an unmanly breach of faith for him to marry the woman who had been for two years and more engaged to his friend. At least one grandiloquent, not to say pathetic phrase was to be pressed into service.
“ I can give up the woman I love, but ought I to give up the woman who loves me ? ”
This was the case in a nutshell.
The visitor was admitted, and, passing through the still dismantled hall, was ushered into the library, comfortably warmed and lighted. There was no one in the room, but easy-chairs were drawn up temptingly before the fire. He did not sit down. Comfort, ease, peace of mind, were not for him. He had an ominous vision of what Mr. Dorsey would say. Here in this room, which he had once entered with such very different feelings, conscience pinched him like an ill-conditioned garment. He would presently be sent away miserable, pining, again shut out as unworthy. The only consolation possible was that he, no matter how defeated in sacredest hopes and wishes, could at least insure the happiness of Cerise. Poor little Cerise, who loved him !
He heard a sound at the door. It was his host. It was also his censor, his judge, indeed his executioner. His heart was heavy with dread, but lie turned.
The room was only half lighted ; that is, all the lights were veiled. He saw a figure entering, but not that of the gentleman of the house. Instead it seemed an apparition, — a cloud of white that glimmered, that wavered, that hesitated to advance, that lingered in the far-off gloom. Was it a girl, — a beautiful girl in a white gown ? It was Gordon who advanced. It was Gordon who darted across the room, who approached, who stood as if overcome by the exquisite and unexpected bliss of the moment, then gasped out, “ Edith ? You here ? ”
i he two stood looking each into the other’s face. There she was, tall, slender, full of grace and dignity ; with that pure, proud, unspeakably beautiful face ; the candid brow, the wide-open eyes, the tender lips that smiled in the corners.
“ Have you actually remembered me all this time ? ” she asked, the little dimples playing in her cheeks.
There came over Gordon, as he took a hand of hers in each of his, such a poignant sense of happiness, of salvation, of deliverance, that he had but one resource, — to clasp Edith in his arms ; and that was what he did.
Mr. Dorsey presently followed his daughter. If he had used his wits to prepare a brilliant counterstroke, he had been successful. He had never before seen Gordon with Edith. Now that he saw them together, he felt that he wished never again to see them apart.
“ If,” he said with feeling, as Gordon rushed towards him, and wrung his hand over and over — “if — you — love — her ” —
“ Love her ? I worship her ! ” cried Gordon, and this time nothing of passionate gladness was missing in his look and tone.
“ She is all I have. I’m like the man in the play : —
The which he loved passing well,’ ”
“ You will have me,” said Gordon.
Later in the evening. Mr. Dorsey found a chance to ask. “ Did you tell Edith?”
“ There was nothing to tell her,” answered Gordon with decision, — “ nothing.”
“ I have a dislike for beginnings, but once begun. I want things never to end.”
“ This shall never end.”
“ And by the way,” said Mr. Dorsey, “ do you happen to know that Van Kleeck has sent for Miss Gale? He wants her to go to Paris with some friends who sail on the 6th of April. She will prepare her trousseau in Paris, and he will meet her there, and they will be married at the American minister’s.”
Ellen Olney Kirk.