The Common Lot

I.

FROM time to time the door opened to admit some tardy person. Then the May sunlight without flooded the dim, long hall with a sudden radiance, even to the arched recess in the rear, where the coffin was placed. The late-comers sank into the crowd of black-coated men, who filled the hall to the broad stairs. Most of these were plainly dressed, with thick, grizzled beards and lined faces : they were old hands from the Bridge Works on the West Side, where they had worked many years for Powers Jackson. In the parlors at the left of the hall there were more women than men, and more fashionable clothes than in the hall. But the faces were scarcely less rugged and lined. These friends of the old man who lay in the coffin were mostly life-worn and gnarled, like himself. Their luxuries had not sufficed to hide the scars of the battles they had waged with fortune.

When the minister ceased praying, the men and the women in the warm, flowerscented rooms moved gratefully, trying to get easier positions for their cramped bodies. Some members of the church choir, stationed at the landing on the stairs, began to sing. Once more the door opened silently in the stealthy hands of the undertaker, and this time it remained open for several seconds. A woman entered, dressed in fashionable widow’s mourning. She moved deliberately, as if she realized exactly the full effect of her entrance at that hour among all these heated, tired people. The men crowded in the hall made way for her instinctively, so that she might enter the dining-room, to the right of the coffin, where the family and the nearest friends of the dead man were seated. Here, a young man, one of Powers Jackson’s nephews, rose and surrendered his chair to the pretty widow, whispering : —

“ Take this, Mrs. Phillips ! I am afraid there is nothing better.”

She took his place by the door with a little deprecatory smile, which said many things at the same time : “ I am very late, I know ; but I really could n’t help it! You will understand, won’t you?”

And also: “You have come to be a handsome young man ! When I saw you last you were only a raw boy, just out of college. Now we must reckon with you, as the old man’s heir, — the heir of so much money! ”

Then again : “ I have had my sorrows, too, since we met over there across the sea.”

All this her face seemed to speak swiftly, especially to the young man, whose attention she had quite distracted, as indeed she had disturbed every one in the other rooms by her progress through the hall. By the time she had settled herself, and made a first survey of the scene, the hymn had come to an end, and the minister’s deep voice broke forth in the words of ancient promise, “ I am the Resurrection and the Life ”...

At these words of triumph the pretty widow’s interruption was forgotten. Something new stirred in the weary faces of those standing in the hall, touching each one according to his soul, vibrating in his heart with a meaning personal to him, to her, quite apart from any feeling that they might have for their old friend, in the hope for whose immortality it had been spoken. . . .

“I am the Resurrection and the Life ” ... “yet in my flesh shall I see God ”...

The words fell fatefully into the close rooms. The young man who had given his chair to Mrs. Phillips unconsciously threw back his head and raised his eyes from the floor, as though he were following some point of light which had burst into sight above his head. His gaze swept over his mother’s large, inexpressive countenance, his cousin Everett’s sharp features, the solemn, blank faces of the other mourners in the room. It rested on the face of a young woman, who was seated on the other side of the little room, almost hidden by the roses and the lilies that were banked on the table between them. She, too, had raised her face at the triumphant note, and was seeing something beyond the man’s eyes, beyond the walls of the room. Her lips had parted in a little sigh of wonder ; her blue eyes were filled with unwept tears. The man’s attention was arrested by those eyes and trembling lips, and he forgot the feeling that the minister’s words had roused, in sudden apprehension of the girl’s beauty and tenderness. He had discovered the face in a moment of its finest illumination, excited by a vague yet pure emotion, so that it became all at once more than it had ever promised. The tears trembled at the eyelids, then dropped unnoticed to the face. The young man looked away hastily, with an uncomfortable feeling at beholding all this emotion. He could not see why Helen Spellman should take his uncle’s death so much to heart. The old man had always been kind to her and to her mother. She had been at the house a great deal, for her mother and his uncle were old friends, and the old man loved to have the girl about the house. Yet he did not feel his uncle’s death that way ; he wondered whether he ought to be affected by it as Helen was. He was certainly much nearer to the dead man than she, — his nephew, the son of his sister Amelia, who had kept his house all the many years of her widowhood. And, — he was aware that people were in the habit of saying it, — he was his favorite nephew, the one who would inherit the better part of the property. This last reflection set his mind to speculating on the impending change in his own world. The new future, which he pleasantly dreamed, would bring him nearer to her. For the last few days, ever since the doctors had given up all hope of the old man’s recovery, he had not been able to keep his imagination from wandering in the fields of this strange, delightful future which was so near at hand. . . .

“ There is a natural body,” so the minister was saying solemnly, “and there is a spiritual body. . . . For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”

The young man tried to curb his imagination, to feel the significance of the fact before him in some other way than as it might affect his own material fate. . . .

When the clergyman began his remarks about the dead man’s personality, he roused the tired people and brought them back to their common earth. What could he say ? The subject was full of thorns. Powers Jackson had not been a bad man, take his life all in all, but he had been accused, justly, of some ruthless, selfish acts. His morality had never quite satisfied the ideals of his neighbors, and he could not be called, in any sense of the word known to the officiating minister, a religious man.

Yet there was scarcely a person present to whom Powers Jackson had not done some kind and generous act. Each one in his heart knew the dead man to have been good and human, and forgave him his sins, public and private. What did it matter to old Jim Ryan, the office porter, who was standing in the corner with his son and grandson, whether Powers Jackson had or had not conspired with certain other men to capture illegally a great grant of Texas land ! He and his family had lived in the sun of the dead man’s kindness.

While the minister was saying what every one agreed to in his heart, — that their dead friend was a man of large stature, big in heart as in deed, strong for good, as for evil, — his nephew’s thoughts kept returning to that glowing, personal matter, — what did it all mean to him ? Of course, his uncle had been good to him, had given him the best kind of an education and training in his profession ; but now he was about to give him the largest gift of all, — freedom for his whole lifetime, freedom to do with himself what he pleased, freedom first of all to leave this dull, dirty city, to flee to those other parts of the earth which he knew so well how to enjoy ! . . . The pretty widow beside him fidgeted. She was exceedingly uncomfortable in the close, stuffy room, and the minister’s skillful words only roused a wicked sense of irony in her. She could have told the reverend doctor a thing or two about old Powers! She threw back her jacket, revealing an attractive neck and bust. She had scanned the faces of most of those in the rooms, and, with great rapidity, had cast up mentally their score with the dead. This handsome young nephew was the only one that counted in her own estimation. What was he going to do with the old fellow’s money ? She threw a speculative, admiring look at him. . . .

Across the room the girl’s face had settled into sober thought, the tears drying on her cheeks where they had fallen. In that glorious promise of Life Everlasting, which was still reverberating in her soul, she felt that the only real Life which poor human beings might know was that life of the “spiritual body,” the life of the good, which is all one and alike! To her, Powers Jackson was simply a good man, the best of men. For she had known him all her life, and had seen nothing but good in him. She loved him, and she knew that he could not be dead !

Finally, the minister rounded out his thought and came to the end of his remarks. The singers on the stairs began to chant softly, “Now, O Lord, let thy servant depart in peace ! ” And the tired faces relaxed from their tense seriousness. Somehow, the crisis of their emotion had been reached and passed. Comforted and reassured, the men and women were leaving this house of mourning. An old man, childless, a widower of many years, who had done his work successfully in this world, and reaped the rewards of it, — what can one feel for his death but a solemn sense of mystery and peace! Perhaps to one only, the girl hidden behind the lilies and the roses in the dining-room, was it a matter of keen, personal grief. He had left her world, who had stroked her head and kissed her, who had loved her as a father might love her, who had always smiled when she had touched him.

On the sidewalk outside the people gathered in little knots, speaking in subdued tones to one another, luxuriating in the riotous spring air. Then they moved away. After the house was pretty well emptied, those mourners who had been in the dining-room appeared, to take carriages for the cemetery. Mrs. Phillips came first, talking to young Jackson Hart. She was saying : —

“ It was all quite what the dear old gentleman would have liked and such good taste, — that was your part, I know! ”

As he handed her into her carriage, she leaned toward him, with a very personal air: —

“ It is so different from the last time we met! Do you remember ? You must come and see me, now that I am back in this place for good.”

As the young man turned away from her, he met Helen Spellman descending the long flight of steps. She was carrying in her arms a great mass of loose flowers, and his cousin Everett was similarly burdened.

“ Are you going on ahead of us ? ” Jackson asked anxiously.

“Yes. I want to put these flowers there first; so that it won’t seem so bare and lonely when he comes. See! I have taken those he liked to have in his library, and yours and your mother’s, too ! ”

She smiled, but her eyes were still dull with tears. Again she brought his thoughts back from self, from his futile, worldly preoccupations, back to her love for the dead man, which seemed so much greater, so much purer than his.

“ That will be very nice,” he said, taking the flowers from her hands and placing them in a carriage that had driven up to the curb. “ I am sure he would have liked your thought for him. He was always so fond of what you did, of you.”

“ Dear uncle,” she murmured to herself. Although the dead man was not connected with her by any ties of blood, she had grown into the habit of calling him uncle, first as a joke, then in affection.

“ He always had me get the flowers when he wanted to give a really truly dinner! ” she added, a smile coming to her face. “I know he will like to have me take these out to him there now.”

She spoke of the dead in the present tense, with a strong feeling for the still living part of the one gone.

“I should like to drive out there with you! ” the young man exclaimed impulsively. “ May I ? ”

“Oh no! You must n’t,” she replied quickly. “ There’s your mother, who is expecting you to be with her, and then,” — she blushed and stepped away from him a little space, — “I had rather be alone, please ! ”

When the heavy gates of the vault in Rose Hill had closed upon Powers Jackson forever, the little group of intimate friends, who had come with him to his grave, descended silently the granite steps to their carriages. Insensibly a wave of relief stole over the spirit of the young nephew, as he turned his back upon the ugly tomb, in the AmericanGreek style, with heavy capitals and false pillars. It was not a selfish or heartless desire to get away from the dead man, to forget him now that he no longer counted in this world ; it was merely the reaction from a day of gloom and sober thought. He felt stifled in his tali silk hat, long frock coat, patent-leather shoes, and black gloves. His spirit shrank from the chill of the tomb, to which the day had brought him near.

“ Let’s send all the women back together, Everett,” he suggested to his cousin, “ and have a smoke. I am pretty nearly dead! ”

As the three men in the party got into their carriage, Jackson took out his cigarette-case and offered it to his cousin; but Everett shook his head rather contemptuously and drew a cigar from his breast pocket.

“I never got in the habit of smoking those things,” he remarked slowly. There was an implication in his cool tone that no grown man indulged himself in that boyish habit.

He never liked cigarettes either, — would n’t have one in the house,” Jackson commented lightly.

The other man, Hollister, had taken a cigar, and the three men smoked in silence while the carriage bumped at a rapid pace over the uneven streets of Chicago. Hollister, so Hart reflected, must know what was in the will. He had been the old man’s confidential business man for a good many years, and was one of the executors. Everett Wheeler, who was a lawyer with a large and very highly paid practice, was another.

Perhaps this cousin was to get the bulk of the property after all, though their uncle had never displayed any great fondness for Everett. The lawyer had always done the best that was expected of him. He had entered a law office from the high school, preferring to skip the intermediate years of college training, which Powers Jackson had offered him, and he never ceased referring to his success in his profession as partly due to the fact he had “ fooled no time away at college.” So far as his business went, which was to patch together crazy corporations, he had no particular use for a liberal education. He had no tastes whatsoever outside of this business and a certain mild interest in politics. His dull white features, sharpened to a vulpine point, and his large nose betrayed his temperament. He was a silent, cool-blooded, unpassionate American man of affairs, and it would be safe to say that he would die rich. Thus far he had not had enough emotion to get married. No ! his cousin reflected, Everett was not a man after old Powers Jackson’s heart! Their uncle was not a cold, passionless man. . . .

Those two men opposite him knew what was the fact in this matter so momentous to him. They smoked, wrapped in their own thoughts.

“ I wonder who was the joker who put up that monstrous Greek temple out there in the cemetery ! ” Jackson finally observed, in a nervous desire to say something.

“ You mean the family mausoleum ? ” Everett asked severely, removing his cigar from his lips, and spitting carefully out of the half-opened window. “ That was done by a fellow named Roly, and it was considered a very fine piece of work. It was built the time aunt Frankie died.”

“ It’s a spooky sort of place to put a man into! ”

“ I think the funeral was what your uncle would have liked,” Hollister remarked. “He hated to be eccentric, and yet he despised pretentious ceremonies. Everything was simple and dignified. The parson was good, too, in what he said. And the old men turned out in great numbers. I was glad of that! But I was surprised. It’s nearly two years since he gave up the Works, and memories are short between master and man.”

“ That ’s a fact. But he knew every man-jack about the place in the old days,” Everett observed, removing his silk hat as if it were an ornamental incumbrance.

“ Yes,” said Hollister, taking up the theme. “ I remember how he would come into the front office on pay days, and stand behind the grating while the men were signing off. He could call every one by a first name. It was Pete and Dave and Jerry and Steve, — there were n’t so many of those Hungarians and Slavs, the European garbage, then.”

“ But he was stiff with ’em in the strike, though,” the lawyer put in, a smile wrinkling his thin, pallid lips. “He fired every one who went with the union, — never’d let ’em back, no matter what they did. Those there to-day were mostly old ones.”

The two older men began to exchange stories about the dead man, of things they had seen while they were working for him, — his tricks of temper, whims of mind. The older man spoke gently, almost tenderly, of the one he had worked with, as of one whose faults were flaws in a great stone. The lawyer spoke literally, impassively, as of some phenomenon of nature which he had seen often and had thoroughly observed.

Young Hart lit another cigarette, and he thought of the girl’s face as he had seen it that day, utterly moved and transfixed with a strange emotion of tender sorrow that was half happiness. She was religious, he believed, meaning by that word that she was moved by certain feelings other than those which affected him or Everett or Hollister, even. And this new thought of her made her more precious in his eyes. He looked for her when they reached the sombre old house on Ohio Street, but she had already driven home.

As Hollister was leaving, he said to the young man : —

“ Can you come over to Everett’s office to-morrow about four? Judge Phillips will be there, the other executor. We are to open the will. They have suggested that I ask you to join us,” he added hastily, with an effort to be matter-of-fact.

“ All right, Hollister,” the young man answered, with an equal effort to appear unconcerned. “ I ’ll be over ! ”

But his heart thumped strangely.

II.

“ Get all ready before you start,” Powers Jackson had said, when his nephew, after four years at Cornell and three years at a famous technical school in the East, had suggested the propriety of finishing his training in architecture by study in Paris. “ Get all ready, — then let us have results.”

He had been getting ready. He had chosen to go to Cornell rather than to a larger university, because some of the boys of his high school class were going there. With us in America such matters are often settled in this childish way. The reason why he chose the profession of architecture was, in the first place, scarcely less frivolous. A “ fraternity brother ” at Cornell, just home from Paris, fired the college boy’s imagination for “ the Quarter.” But, once started in the course of architecture at the technical school, he found that he had stumbled into something which really interested him. For the first time in his life he worked.

At the Beaux Arts he worked, also, though he did not forget the amenities of life. The two years, first talked of, expanded into two and a half, then rounded to three. Meanwhile the generous cheques from the office of the Bridge Works came with pleasant regularity. His mother wrote, “ Powers hopes that you are deriving benefit from your studies in Paris.” What the old man had said was, “How’s Jackie doing these days, Amelia?” And young Hart was “ doing ” well. There were many benefits, not always orthodox, which the young American, established cosily on the Rue de l’Université, derived from Paris.

The day of preparation came to an end, however. Those last weeks of his stay in Europe he was joined by his mother and Helen Spellman. Powers Jackson had taken this occasion to send them both abroad. Mrs. Spellman being too much of an invalid to take the journey, Mrs. Amelia Hart had been very glad to have the girl’s companionship. Jackson met them in Naples. After he had kissed his mother and taken her handbag, to which she was clinging in miserable suspicion of the entire foreign world, he turned to the girl, whose presence he had been conscious of all the time. Helen was not noticeably pretty or well dressed ; but she had an air of race, a fineness of feature, a certain personal delicacy, to which the young man had long been unaccustomed. Perhaps three years of student life in Paris had prepared him to think very well of a young American woman.

So their six weeks in Italy had been very happy ones for all three, — six golden weeks of May and early June. The beautiful land smiled at them from every field and wall. Each fresh landscape in the panorama of their little journeys was another joy, a new excitement that burned in a flush of heightened color on the girl’s face. One of their last days they spent at the little village of Ravello, on a hilltop above Amalfi, and there in the clear twilight of a warm June day, with gold-tipped clouds brooding over the Bay of Salerno, they came for the first time upon the personal note. They were leaning over the railing of the terrace in the Palumbo, listening to the bells in the churches of Vetri beneath them.

“Would n’t this be good for always ? ” he murmured.

He was touched with sentimental selfpity at the thought of leaving all this, — the beauty, the wonder, the joy of Europe ! In another short month instead of this there would be Chicago, whose harsh picture three years had not softened.

“ I don’t know,” the girl replied, with a long sigh for remembered joy. “ One could not be as happy as this for months and years.”

“ I ’d like to try ! ” he said lightly.

“ No ! Not you,” she retorted with sudden warmth. “ What could a man do here ? ”

“ There are a lot of fellows in Europe who manage to answer that question somehow. Most of the men I knew in Paris don’t expect to go back yet, and not to Chicago anyway.”

Her lips compressed quickly. Evidently they were not the kind of men she thought well of.

“ Why ! ” she stammered, words crowding tempestuously to her tongue. “ How could you stay, and not work out your own life, not make your way in the world like uncle Powers ? How it would trouble him to hear you say that! ”

He was a trifle ashamed of his desire to keep out of the fight any longer Hers, he judged, was a militant, ambitious nature, and he was quick to feel what she expected of him.

After they had sat there a long time without speaking, she said gently, as if she wished to be just to him : —

“ It might be different, if one were an artist; but even then I should think a man would want to carry back what he had received here to the place he was born in, — should n’t you ? ”

“Well, perhaps,” he admitted, “if it were n’t just — Chicago ! ”

And these simple words of the girl spoken in the garden of Ravello were a tonic for other moments of regret.

They made the long voyage homewards through the Mediterranean, touching at Gibraltar for a last, faint glimpse of romance. It was a placid journey in a slow steamer, with a small company of dull, middle - aged Americans, and the two were left much to themselves. In the isolation of the sunny, windless sea, their acquaintance took on imperceptibly a personal character. After the fashion of the egotistic male, he told her, bit by bit, all that he knew about himself, — his college days, his friends, and his work at the Beaux Arts. From the past, — his past, — they slid to the future that lay before him on the other shore of the Atlantic. He sketched for her in colored words the ideals of his majestic art. Tucked up on deck those long, cloudless nights, they touched the higher themes, — what a man could do, as Richardson and Atwood had shown the glorious way, toward expressing the character and spirit of his race in brick and stone and steel!

Such thoughts as these touched the girl’s imagination, just as the sweet fragments of a civilization finer than ours had stirred her heart in Italy. All these ideas she took to be the architect’s original possessions, not being familiar with the froth of Paris studios, the wisdom of long déjeuners. And she was eager over his plans for the future. For something earnest and large was the first craving of her soul, something that had in it service and beauty in life. . . .

At the time of the great exposition in Chicago she had had these matters brought to her attention. Powers Jackson, as one of the directors of the enterprise, had entertained many of the artists and distinguished men who came to the city, and at his dinner-table she had heard men talk whose vital ideals were being worked into the beautiful buildings beside the lake. Their words she had hoarded in her schoolgirl’s memory, and now in her sympathy for the young architect she began to see what could be done with an awakened feeling for art, for social life, to make our strong young cities memorable. This, she dreamed shyly, would be the work of the man beside her!

He was handsome and strong, vigorously built, though inclined to heaviness of body. His brown hair waved under his straw hat, and a thick mustache turned stiffly upwards in the style of the German Emperor, which was then just coming into fashion. This method of wearing the mustache, and also a habit of dressing rather too well, troubled the girl; for she knew that uncle Powers would at once note such trivial aspects of his nephew. The keen old man might say nothing, but he would think contemptuous thoughts. The young architect’s complexion was ruddy, healthily bronzed ; his features were regular and large, as a man’s should be. Altogether he was a handsome, alert, modern American. Too handsome ! She thought apprehensively of the rough-looking, rude old man at home, his face tanned and beaten, knobby and hard like the gnarled stump of an oak !

She was very anxious that the architect should make a good impression on his uncle, not simply for his own sake, but for the lonely old man’s comfort. She felt that she knew Powers Jackson better than his nephew did ; knew what he liked and what he despised. She wanted him to love this nephew. Several times she talked to Jackson about his uncle. The young man listened with an amused smile, as if he had already a good formula for the old man.

“ Mother can’t get him out of that Mansard brick menagerie on Ohio Street, where he has lived since the fire. All his friends have moved away from the neighborhood. But he thinks the blackwalnut rooms, the stamped leather on the walls, and the rest of it, is the best going yet. That buffet, as he calls it! It’s early Victorian, a regular chef-d’ œuvre of ugliness. That house ! ”

“ It’s always been his home,” she protested, finding something trivial in putting this comic emphasis on sideboards and bookcases. “ He cares about good things too. Lately he ’s taken to buying engravings. Mr. Hollister interested him in them. And I think he would like to buy pictures, if he was n’t afraid of being cheated, of making a fool of himself.”

“You ’ll make him out a patron of the fine arts.”

Jackson laughed long at the picture of his uncle as a connoisseur in art.

“ Perhaps he will be yet! ” she retorted stoutly. “ At any rate, he is a very dear old man.”

He would not have described his uncle Powers in the same simple words. Still he had the kindest feelings toward him, mixed with a latent anxiety over what the old man would do about his allowance, now that his schooldays had come definitely to a close. . . .

Thus in the long hours of that voyage, with the sound of the gurgling, dripping water all about them, soothed with the rhythm of pounding engines, the man and the woman came to a sort of knowledge of each other. There was created in the heart of each a vision of the other. The girl’s vision was glorified by the warmth of her imagination, which transformed all her simple experiences. In her heart, if she had looked there, she would have seen an image of youth and power, very handsome, with great masculine hopes, and aspirations after unwrought deeds. Unconsciously she had given to that image something which she could never take back all the years of her life, let her marry whom she might!

And he could remember her, if hereafter he should come to love her, as she was these last days. The shadow of the end of the romance was upon her, and it left her subdued. To the artist in the architect her head was too large, the brow not smooth enough, the hair two shades too dark, the full face too broad. The blue eyes and the trembling, small mouth gave a certain childishness to her expression that the young man could not understand. It was only when she spoke that he was much moved ; for her voice was very sweet, uncertain in its accents, tremulous. She seemed to breathe into commonplace words some revelation of herself. . . .

In the morning of their arrival the lofty buildings of the great city loomed through the mist. The architect said : —

“ There are the hills of the New World! Here endeth the first chapter.”

“ I cannot believe it has ended,” she replied slowly. “ Nothing ends ! ”

Powers Jackson and Mrs. Spellman met the travelers in New York. It was just at the time that Jackson was negotiating with the promoters of a large trust for the sale of his Bridge Works. This fact his nephew did not learn for some months, for the old man made it a rule to tell nothing about his deeds and intentions. At any rate, he did sell the Works one morning in the lobby of his hotel and for his own price, which was an outrageous one as the stockholders of the new trust came to know to their chagrin.

He shook hands with his sister, kissed Helen on the forehead, and nodded to his nephew.

“ How’s the Pope, Amelia ? ” he asked gravely.

“You need n’t ask me! Did you think, Powers, I’d be one to go over to the Vatican and kiss that old man’s hand ? I hope I’m too good a Christian to do that! ”

“Oh, don’t be too hard on the feller,” Jackson said, continuing his joke. “ I hoped you ’d pay your respects to the Pope. Why, he ’s the smartest one of the whole bunch over there, I guess.”

He looked to Helen for sympathy. It should be said that Powers Jackson regarded his sister Amelia as a fool, but that he never allowed himself to take advantage of the fact except in such trifling ways as this.

When the two men were alone in the private parlor at the hotel, the uncle said : —

“ So you ’ve finished up now? You ’re all through over there ? ”

“ Yes, sir,” Hart answered, not feeling at all at his ease with this calm old man. “ I guess I am ready to begin building, as soon as any one will have me ! ”

“ I see there’s plenty doing in your line, all over.”

The architect fidgeted before he could think what to say. Then he expressed his sense of gratitude for the great opportunities his uncle had given him in Paris. Jackson listened but said nothing. The architect was conscious that the old man had taken in with one sweep of his sharp little eyes his complete appearance. He suspected that the part in the middle of his brown hair, the pert lift to the ends of his mustache, the soft stock about his neck, the lavender colored silk shirt in which he had prepared to meet the pitiless glare of the June sun in the city,— that all these items had been noted and disapproved. He reflected somewhat resentfully that he was not obliged to make a guy of himself to please his uncle. He found his uncle’s clothes very bad. Powers Jackson was a large man, and his clothes, though made by one of the best tailors in Chicago, had a draggled appearance, as if he had forgotten to take them off when he went to bed. However, when the old man next spoke, he made no reference to his nephew’s attire.

“I was talking to Wright about you the other day. Ever heard of him? ”

“ Of Walker, Post & Wright ? ” Hart asked, naming one of the best known firms of architects in the country.

“ Yes. They’ve been doing something for me in Chicago. If you have n’t made any plans, you might start in their office. That ’ll teach you the ropes over here.”

Nothing was said about an allowance or a continuation of those generous and gratefully acknowledged cheques which had made life at Cornell and at Paris so joyous.

And nothing more was ever said about them ! Jackson Hart had taken the position that Wright had made for him in his Chicago office, and within a fortnight of the day he landed at New York he was making his daily pilgrimage to the twelfth floor of the Maramanoc Building, where under the bulkheads worked a company of young gentlemen in their shirt-sleeves.

That was two years ago, and by this time he was ready for almost any kind of change.

III.

The morning after the funeral Francis Jackson Hart was working on the elevation of a large hotel that Walker, Post & Wright were to build in Denver. This was in all probability the last piece of work that he should be called upon to do for that firm, and the thought was pleasant to him. He had not spent an altogether happy two years in that office. It was a large firm, with other offices in St. Paul and New York, and work under construction in a dozen different states. Wright was the only member of the firm who ever thought of coming to Chicago; he dropped into the office nearly every month, coming from somewhere north or east and bound for somewhere south or west, with only a few days to spare. He was a tall, thin man, with harassed, nearsighted eyes, — a gentleman, and well trained in his profession according to the standards of a generation ago. But he had fallen upon a commercial age, and had not been large enough to sway it. He made decent compromises between his taste and that of his clients, and prided himself on the honesty of construction in his buildings.

Wright had hurt Hart’s susceptibilities almost at the start, when he remarked about a sketch that the young architect had made for a new telephone exchange:

“ All you want, my boy, is the figure of a good fat woman flopping around above the third story to make the Prix de Rome.”

For the next few months Hart had been kept busy drawing spandrels. From this he was promoted to designing stables for rich clients. He resented the implied criticism of his judgment, and he put Wright down as a mere Philistine, who had got his training in an American office.

Now, he said to himself, as he took down his street coat and adjusted his cuffs before going over to his cousin’s office to hear the will, he should leave Wright’s “department store,” and show “ the old man ” what he thought of the kind of building the firm was putting up for rich and common people. He, at least, would not be obliged to be mercenary. His two years’ experience in Chicago had taught him something about the fierceness of the struggle to exist in one of the professions, especially in a profession where there is an element of fine art. And his appetite to succeed, to be some one in the hurly-burly of Chicago, had grown very fast. For he had found himself less of a person in his native city than he had thought it possible over in Paris, — even with the help of his rich uncle, with whom he had continued to live.

So, as the elevator of the Dearborn Building bore him upwards that afternoon, his heart beat exultantly: he was to hear in a few moments what advantage he had been given over all the toiling, sweating fraternity here in the elevator, out there on the street! By the right of fortunate birth he was to be spared the common lot of man, to be placed high up on the long, long ladder of human fate. . . .

When he entered Everett Wheeler’s private office, Hollister was talking with Judge Phillips. The latter nodded pleasantly to the young man, and gave him his hand.

“ How do you do, sir ? ” he asked, with great emphasis.

The judge, who had not sat in a court for more than a generation, was a vigorous, elderly man, with a sweeping gray mustache. He was an old resident of Chicago, and had made much money, most of it in Powers Jackson’s enterprises.

Hollister nodded briskly to the architect, and motioned him to a seat. Presently Everett came in from the safe where he had gone to get some papers, and Hollister, who seemed to be spokesman for the executors, clearing his throat, began : —

“ Well, gentlemen, we all know what we are here for, I presume.”

The young architect never remembered clearly how it all came about. At first he wondered why old Hollister should open the proceedings with such elaborate eulogies of the dead man. Hollister kept saying that few men had understood the real man in Powers Jackson, the warm, man’s heart that beat beneath the rude and silent manner.

“ I want to say,” Hollister exclaimed in a burst of unwonted emotion, “that it was more than mutual interest which allied the judge and me to Mr. Jackson. It was admiration ! Admiration for the man ! ”

The judge punctuated this opinion with a grave nod.

“ Especially these latter years, when your uncle was searching for a way in which he might most benefit the world with the fortune that he had earned by his ability and hard work.”

The gray-bearded man ceased talking for a moment and looked at the two younger men. Everett was paring his nails, very neatly, with the air of attention he wore when he was engaged in taking a deposition. The architect looked blankly mystified.

“ He wanted to help men,” Hollister resumed less demonstratively. “ Especially workingmen, the kind he had known all his life. He never forgot that he worked at the forge the first five years he lived in Chicago. And no matter what the labor unions say, or the cheap newspaper writers, there was n’t a man in this city who cared for the best interests of laboring men more than Powers Jackson.”

Across the judge’s handsome face flitted the glimmer of a smile, as if other memories, slightly contradictory, would intrude themselves on this eulogy. Everett, having finished cutting his nails, was examining his shoes. He might be thinking of the price of steel billets in Liverpool, or he might be thinking that Hollister was an ass, — no one could tell.

“ He took advice ; he consulted many men, among them the president of a great Eastern university. And here in this document ” — Hollister took up the will —“ he embodied the results, — his purposes.”

In the architect’s confused memory of the fateful scene there was at this point a red spot of consciousness. The man of affairs, looking straight at him, seemingly, announced:—

“ Powers Jackson left the bulk of his large fortune in trust with the purpose of founding a great school for the children of workingmen ! ”

There ensued a brief pause. Hart did not comprehend at once the full significance of what had been said. But the others made no remark, and so Hollister asked the lawyer to read the will, clause by clause.

It was a very brief document. There was an item, Jackson recalled afterward, leaving the old family farm at Vernon Falls in Vermont to “ my dear young friend, Helen Powers Spellman, because she will love it for my sake as well as for itself.” And to this bequest was added a few thousand dollars as a maintenance fund.

He might have treated her more generously, it occurred to the architect vaguely, valuing in his own mind the old place as naught.

“And to my nephews, Everett Wheeler and Francis Jackson Hart, ten thousand dollars each in the following securities.”

This he understood immediately. So, that was his figure ! He scarcely noted the next clause, which gave to his mother the Ohio Street house and a liberal income for her life. He did not fully recover himself until Hollister remarked with a little upward inflection of satisfaction:

“Now we come to the core of the apple ! ”

Slowly, deliberately, Everett read on : —

“ Being desirous that the larger part of whatever wealth I may die possessed of may be made of immediate and wide benefit to mankind, I do give and bequeath the residue of my estate to Judge Harrison Phillips, Everett Wheeler, and Mark Kingsford Hollister, in trust, for the following described purposes. . . . Said fund and its accumulations to be devoted to the founding and maintenance of a school or institution for the purpose of providing an education, industrial and technical, for the children of workingmen, of the city of Chicago.”

“ That,” exclaimed Hollister triumphantly, “ is to be Powers Jackson’s gift to mankind! ”

There were a few more sentences to the will, elaborating slightly the donor’s design and providing for a partition of the estate into building and endowment funds. Yet, as a whole, the document was singularly simple, almost bare in its disposition of a very large amount of money. It reposed a great trust in the men selected to carry out the design, in their will and intelligence. Doubtless the old man had taken Hollister, at least, into his confidence, and had contented himself with leaving verbal and general directions, knowing full well the fate of elaborately conceived bequests. The wise old man seemed to have contented himself with outlining broadly and plainly his large intention.

“ That’s a pretty bad piece of work, that instrument,” Everett observed, narrowing his eyes to a thin slit. “ He did n’t get me to draw it up. I can’t see how the old man could trust his stuff to such a loosely worded document.”

“ Fortunately,” Hollister hastened to say, “ in this case we may hope that will make no difference.”

There was an awkward pause, and then the lawyer replied drawlingly : —

“No, I don’t suppose there’ll be any trouble. I don’t see why there should be.”

Jackson felt dimly that here was his chance to protest, to object to Everett’s calm acceptance of the will. But a certain shame, or diffidence, restrained him at the moment from showing these men that he felt injured by his uncle’s will. He said nothing, and Hollister began to talk of the projected school. It was to be something new, not exactly like any other attempt in education in our country, and it would take time to perfect the details of the plan. There was no need for haste.

“ We must build for generations when we do start,” Hollister said. “ And the other trustees agree with me that this is not the most opportune time for converting the estate into ready money.”

“ It will pretty nearly double the next five years,” the judge observed authoritatively.

“At the present, as closely as we can estimate it, there is available for the purposes of the trust a little over three millions of dollars.”

Over three millions! Jackson Hart started in his chair. He had had no idea that his uncle was worth anything like that amount. And these shrewd men thought it would probably double during the next five years! Well, so far as he was concerned it might be three cents. Possibly Everett would get a few dollars out of it as trustee. He had already shared in some of the old man’s plums, Hart reflected bitterly. While the trustees were discussing some detail among themselves, the young architect made an excuse of a business engagement and slipped away. Just as he reached the door, Everett called out: —

“ We ’ll send the will over for probate to-morrow. If there ’s no hitch, the legacies will be paid at once. I ’ll be over to see your mother very soon and arrange for the payment of her annuity.”

Jackson nodded. He did not like to try his voice. He knew that it was very dry. Somehow he found himself in the elevator herded in a cage of office boys and clerks, sweating and dirty from a long day’s work. At the street level he bought a newspaper, and the first thing that caught his eye in its damp folds were the headlines : —

JACKSON’S MILLIONS GO TO EDUCATION

THE STEEL MAGNATE’S MONEY WILL FOUND INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL

Hart crumpled up the sheet and threw it into the gutter. The first intelligible feeling that he had over his situation was a sort of shame that his uncle should have held him so cheap. For so he interpreted the gift of ten thousand dollars ! And he began to try in his mind the case between himself and his uncle. He had always been led to believe that he was the most favored of all the old man’s dependents. Surely he had been treated like a son, and he was not conscious that he had ever been ungrateful or unworthy. Now, without having committed any public folly, he was made a thing of pity and contempt before his friends!

He resented the old man’s kindness, now that he knew where it led. Very swiftly he began to realize what it would mean to be without fortune. He had intended to move to New York, where some of his friends had started prosperously, and had invited him to join them. And there was Helen, whom he had come to love! Marriage was now out of the question. For Helen no more than he had been favored by his uncle. Even Helen, whom he had pretended to love, had been left with only a stony farm. . . .

Thus he ploughed his way down the murky street in the direction of the North Side Bridge. The gloom of a foggy spring evening was added to the smoke and grime of the careless city. The architect felt dirty and uncomfortable, and he knew now that he was condemned to struggle on in this unlovely metropolis, where even the baked meats of life were flung at one ungarnished.

When the architect entered the house, his uncle’s old home, his mother was sitting by the library table reading, just as she had sat and read for the past twenty years. Powers Jackson had seen to it that she could continue this habit as long as she might live. She called to her son : —

“ You ’re late, son. Supper’s on the table.”

a Don’t wait for me. I must wash up,” he answered dully.

When he joined his mother at the supper-table, his mustache was brushed upwards in a confident wave, and his face, though serious, was not blackened by soot and care.

“ Did you see Everett ? ” Mrs. Hart asked suggestively.

Jackson told her in a few words the chief provisions of the will as he remembered them. For some moments she said nothing. Then she remarked, with a note of annoyance in her voice : —

“ Powers was always bound I sh’d never leave this house except to follow him to Rose Hill. He’s fixed it so now I can’t! I could never make him see how sooty it was here. We have to wash the curtains and things once a fortnight, and then they ain’t fit to be seen.”

Her son, who thought that he had his own grievances against his uncle, made no reply to this complaint. Before they had finished their meal, Mrs. Hart added:—

“ He might have done more for you, too, seeing what a sight of money he left.”

“ Yes, he might have done it, but you see he did n’t choose to. And I guess the best thing we can do is to say as little as possible about the money. That is, unless we decide to fight the will.”

He threw this out tentatively. It had not occurred to him to contest the will until he began to wash for supper. Then he had thought suddenly : —

“ Why should I stand it ? ”

But Mrs. Hart, who had never opposed her brother in all her life, exclaimed : — “ You would n’t do that, Jackson ! I am sure Powers would n’t like it.”

“ Perhaps not,” the young man replied ironically. “ It is n’t his money, now, though.”

It occurred to him soon, however, that by this act he would endanger his mother’s comfortable inheritance, besides estranging his cousin Everett and all the old man’s friends. To contest the will would be a risk. It was a matter upon which he should have to take advice at once. When he spoke again at the end of their supper, he said judicially : —

“ I am glad you are comfortably looked out for, though I hope I should always be able to give you a home anyway. And we must remember that uncle gave me my education and my three years in Paris, and I suppose that after that he thought ten thousand dollars was all that I was worth, —or could take care of ! ” He said this, standing in front of the heavy black-walnut bookcases, which he abhorred, while he lit a cigarette, one of those vices despised by the old man. He felt that he was taking his injury in a manly way, although he still reserved to himself the right to seek relief from the courts. And in the deeper reaches of his being there was a bitter sense of resentment, a desire to make the world pay him in some manner for his disappointment. If he had to, he would show people that he could make his own way; that he was more than the weakling his uncle had contemptuously overlooked in the disposal of his property. He should rise in his profession, make money, and show the world how he could swim without Powers Jackson’s millions.

“ What kind of a school are they going to start with all that money ?” Mrs. Hart asked, as she seated herself for the evening.

“Oh, something technical. For sons of mechanics, a kind of mechanics’ institute.”

He thought of some of the old man’s caustic remarks about charities.

“ Wanted to make good before he quit, I suppose,” he mused.

“ Will you stay on with that firm ? ” Mrs. Hart asked, taking up Lanciani’s Pagan and Christian Rome.

“I suppose I ’ll have to,”her son answered after a time. . . .

Thus these two accepted the dead man’s will. Powers Jackson had come to his decision after long deliberation, judging that toward all who might have claims of any kind upon him he had acted justly and generously. He had studied these people about him for a long time. With Everett he had acquitted himself years before, when he had put it in the young man’s way to make money in his profession, to kill his prey for himself. Jackson, he deemed, would get most out of the fight of life by making the struggle, as he had made it himself, unaided. As for Helen, he had given the girl what was most intimately his, and what would do her the least harm by attracting to her the attention of the unscrupulous world. There remained what might be called his general account with the world, and at the end he had sought to settle this, the largest of all.

Powers Jackson had not been a good man, as has been hinted, but that he took his responsibilities to heart and struggled to meet them there can be no doubt. Whether or not he had chosen the best way to settle this account with the world, by trying to help those unfavored by birth, cannot be easily answered. Conceiving it to be his inalienable right to do with his money what he would, after death as in life, he had tried to do a large thing with it. Thus far, he had succeeded in embittering his nephew.

Robert Herrick.

(To be continued.)

  1. Copyright, 1903, by ROBERT HERRICK.