SYNOPSIS OF DECEMBER INSTALLMENT
Joshua Van Cleve, who was a successful businessman in Ohio during the middle decades of the last century, died about 1870, leaving his widow and family a handsome: fortune. In less than twenty years, however, they contrived to squander almost all of it in divers foolish ways; so that when his grandson, Van Cleve Kendrick, who had been growing up in the meanwhile, reached the age of eighteen, he found that he himself would have to be the main support of the family, namely: his grandmother, his aunt, Mrs. Lucas, and her daughter Evelyn, and his uncle, Major Stanton Van Cleve. The boy went to work accordingly, and after various experiences, finally got a position with the National Loan & Savings Bank in Cincinnati. This city was also the home of Van Cleve’s closest friend, Bob Gilbert. Bob, in contrast to Van Cleve, had had a rather unfortunate career at college, during the two or three years previous to this, falling into bad company and being at length obliged to return home without finishing the course. He went to work in a broker’s office, with one of his college acquaintances, a young man named Philip Cortwright; and it was at about this point that the story opened.
THE MAN OF THE HOUSE
MR. GEBHARDT of the National Loan and Savings Bank had first come into contact with the Van Cleve family on the occasion of one of their numerous transfers of property, or some ot her of those varied financial operations in which they were almost constantly engaged before young Kendrick put his unwelcome hand to the helm. As the banker was a busy man, daily attending to a great many affairs and seeing a great many people, it was rather odd that he should still retain, in common with everybody else who had ever met them, a distinct, even vivid, recollection of every member of the family; but so he did, and he had no difficulty in ‘ placing’ Van Cleve when the latter came hunting for a job. The young man, who made this move, as he had made every other that directly concerned himself, without informing his people, much less consulting them, approached Mr. Gebhardt quite unsupported. It would not have occurred to him to speak of his family, even had he been aware that the banker knew t hem, or anything about them. And it was with measurable surprise that, upon giving his name, he observed Mr. Gebhardt to consider a moment and then heard him say, ‘Van Cleve? There were some Van Cleves shareholders in the old Cincinnati, Paducah, and Wheeling Packet Company that failed here about ten or fifteen years ago. I remember meeting them at the time when we made an effort to get some of the heaviest owners toget her and see what could be done. Any relation?’
‘Indeed, you don’t say so? Yes, those were the people. I remember them all very well. Your grandmother was a very fine-looking woman at that time, Mr. Kendrick. Is she still living? Ah! Your uncle was a general in the Confederate Army, I think. No? Ah! You ’re all living here now, you say? Well, now — what has been your previous business experience, I should like to ask?’ And a few days thereafter, Mr. Gebhardt, happening to meet Major Van Cleve on the street, not only recognized him at once, but stopped and spoke very pleasantly, referring to the new recruit at the National Loan.
‘Ah, yes, so I understood from Van,’ said Major Stanton, affably, nodding at the other with a humorously wry smile. He spoke confidentially. ‘ The fact is, Mr. Gebhardt, Van Cleve does n’t really need to work. We wanted him to go to college, but nothing would satisfy him but trying a business career first. It distresses the ladies, my mother and sister, a good deal. But I say to them, “Why, it’s his whim — for the Lord’s sake let the boy try it! Most people would be glad to see a young man’s natural wildness take this turn. I tell you, it might be a damn sight worse! ” ’
Major Van Cleve had never uttered an oath in his mother’s presence in his life, and it was now some years since the family resources had permitted his having more than a couple of dollars of spending-money in his pockets at one time — all of which did not prevent his making these statements with a perfectly clear conscience. He had a romantic imagination, and the priceless gift of believing the romances he imagined. Mr. Gebhardt, if he felt some doubts, was still, perhaps unconsciously, impressed by the fact that the military gentleman’s appearance supported, gave a sort of color and atmosphere to, his large talk; he did not seem to be in the least poor or pinched. The Van Cleves had t he secret of that; they contrived, on next to nothing, and almost without effort, to look fashionable, opulent, and leisurely, — all excepting Van Cleve himelf.
‘Your nephew seemed to me a bright, practical young fellow,’ the banker remarked; ‘he gave the impression of wanting money and being willing to work hard for it.’
‘Oh, yes, yes, that’s very characteristic,’ said Major Van Cleve, indulgently. ‘Van Cleve reminds me constantly of a story my father used to tell which he had heard from his father, who was a very successful attorney in New York City in the old days, seventy-five years ago, or thereabout, you know. He went out one morning to stick up a sign on his office doorpost, “Boy Wanted.” While he was doing it, he felt a tug at his coat-tails, and, turning round, there was a ragged, barefoot urchin of twelve or so. “Please, sir, you don’t need that sign no more.” “Don’t I?” says my grandfather, astonished, “why, I want a boy!” “No, sir, you don’t, not no more. I’m the boy!” Now that was exactly like Van Cleve. He’d have done that very thing. And that boy, Mr. Gebhardt,’ the Major concluded with suitable weight and emphasis, ‘that boy was John Jacob Astor!’
Mr. Gebhardt, after a barely perceptible pause, received the anecdote with such cordial appreciation that Stanton’s opinion of his parts and personality rose several degrees.
The National Loan and Savings was not a large institution, though reputed very solid. It was housed in an oldfashioned brick building on one of the streets up toward the Canal, among similarly plain, work-a-day surroundings; and its depositors, as Van Cleve found out soon after his entrance, were mostly laboring folk. They came in there in streams the first of the month, and on Saturdays, when the bank was kept open till nine o’clock at night to accommodate them with their pay envelopes. Van, from behind the brass netting of the bookkeeper’s cage in the rear, could see them filing up; and being an observant youth, before long could identify them all — young women stenographers; young men clerks like himself; market-gardeners; master carpenters and bricklayers; thrifty servant-girls in feathers and cheap furs, but with always a fraction of the week’s wages in their showy imitation-leather purses; nice old German women with black shawls, and mysterious little black-lidded baskets, and clean, brave old faces under their bonnets of black straw and bugles. The half-dozen directors themselves were drawn from these ranks — old Mr. Burgs taller, the retired toy merchant who looked like Santa Claus’s twin brother himself; old Mr. O’Rourke, now also retired, but who had for years conducted the grain and feed store on Wayland Street opposite the markethouse — these were of them. They all had such an air of age and experience that Van Cleve might have lost heart to observe from example how long was the way he had to travel; but the young man was not of that temperament. ‘Lord, if I thought I’d have to wait till I was seventy to get to be a bank director, I’d quit right here!’ he said to himself scornfully. And he noticed with approval that the president of the National Loan was much younger than any of his advisers; Mr. Gebhardt could not have been more than fifty.
He was a self-made man, and as such commanded Mr. Kendrick’s highest respect ; whether he altogether and always liked his employer, the young fellow was not quite certain; Van was slow to form a liking for anybody. ‘Mr Gebhardt is all right — only I don’t know that I much fancy all that gladhand business,’ he would reflect when, as sometimes happened, he saw the president come forth and circulate among his depositors, let us say, on one of those busy and crowded Saturdays, in a genial, informal way, conversing with many of them in the tongue of the Fatherland, and displaying a hearty personal interest, which Van Cleve, for the soul of him, could not believe to be always very deep or very sincere. ‘After all, he’s got to stand in with these people. Their little dabs of money are what he’s founded his bank on. He knows more about getting along with ’em than I do; and being a good mixer is a kind of an asset in this business,’ he would argue to himself shrewdly. However, Van did not make the mistake, as might have been expected, of attempting to be a ‘good mixer’ himself; he knew that he had no talent that way.
Mr. Gebhardt, on his side, extended that paternal sympathy of his to Van Cleve the same as to the others, whether influenced or not by t he fact that the young man undeniably did do the work assigned him remarkably well, and exhibited in all things an iron integrity. There were no sons in the Gebhardt household, only a tribe of pretty, fair-haired girls, with a pretty, fair-haired mother, looking like a sister to the rest, who used to come down to the bank in any one of several handsome family vehicles with their dashing team of bays, and carry the father off in a whirlwind of chattering and laughter and caresses. Van Cleve had met them — indeed, Mrs. Gebhardt and Natalie, who was the oldest, and the only one ‘out,’ had a calling acquaintance with the ladies of Van’s family; but as Mr. Kendrick took not the slightest interest in young women and never put himself out for anything but the most perfunctory civilities, it is not surprising that they should reciprocate whole-heartedly. On the contrary, they were quite enthusiastic about Bob Gilbert. Robert and his friend met nowadays not infrequently in a business way; and Mr. Gebhardt, having come across the professor’s son once or twice, had the curiosity to ask somebody what that young Gilbert was doing. The man he inquired of, who happened to be Mr. Max Steinberger, laughed.
‘Looks like I ought to know,” he said; ‘why, he’s with us. He’s got the job young Van Cleve — no, that’s not his name — I mean the young fellow you took on up at your over-the-Rhine dollar-shop — we’ve got Gilbert in his place.’
‘Is he any good?’
‘Good enough. How’s yours?’
Gebhardt, who was never known to utter an unkind or uncharitable criticism of any one, commended Van Cleve warmly.
‘You did a little better on the deal than Leo and myself, I guess,’ said the other, hearing him; and they fell to talking about the proposed bond issue and promptly forgot both boys. But one day a while later, Mr. Gebhardt took occasion to ask his junior bookkeeper what was the real reason he had wanted to leave the brokers.
‘I somehow suspected at the time that you were n’t dissatisfied wholly on account of the salary,’ he said.
‘Well, Mr. Gebhardt, I thought I was worth more,’ said Van, obstinately reticent. Then he looked up and, meeting his employer’s eye, thawed a little. ‘No, I did n’t like it,’ he confessed. ‘Too much spend and too much souse,’ said he, succinctly.
‘What, Steinberger and Leo Hirsch? Why, I’m surprised to hear you say that! I had no idea —’
‘ I mean the — the office force — the office in general,’ Van Cleve explained hastily and not too clearly; ‘I don’t mean Mr. Steinberger or Mr. Hirsch themselves. They’ve got the money to play the races and all the rest of it, all they choose, as far as that goes. And, of course, they both take a drink now and then; but I was n’t talking about them. They’re Germans, anyhow, and could hold a barrel, either one of ’em, without its feazing them — ’
And at this point Mr. Kendrick, abruptly remembering the nationality of the gentleman he was addressing, halted in a fine beet-red confusion. But Gebhardt only laughed; he liked — or seemed to like — the young man’s bluntness.
All this while, how were his elders supporting Van’s persistent ‘whim’ of making his own living and incidentally a not inconsiderable part of theirs, to which they had yielded so painfully in the first place? Why, they were supporting it with the most astonishing patience! Van sat at the end of the table and carved the meat nowadays; he read the paper over his coffee-cup of a morning while his uncle meekly got through breakfast without that literary entertainment; he took his hat and slammed the hall door behind him and went off down-town to the office with his peers; the family accounts were submitted to him; the women came to him for their money; the servants were trained to regard his tastes. ‘Mrs. Van Cleef she say, “Marta, Mr. Kendrick, he don’t, like t hose biscuit,” shust like she’d say, “Marta, der Herr Gott, He don’t like those biscuit,” ’ their German maid remarked acutely. These were a few of the straws showing what way the wind blew.
The young fellow knew very well that he was the strongest member, in truth, the only strong member, of the family; he put it, privately, in his practical and literal way, that he was the only one who had ever earned a cent, or displayed a particle of common sense about either saving or spending it; yet he took no great credit to himself on that account. Van Cleve could not, for the life of him, have understood how any man in the same circumstances could have acted otherwise. He had to take care of them — Grandma and Uncle Stan and all of them, did n’t he? By Jove, he — why, he had to, you know! There was n’t any getting round that. They could n’t do anything for themselves; while, as to him, work did n’t worry him any. He had to work, anyhow, did n’t he? Do you suppose anybody was going to give him his living and a good time for nothing? Not much!
The family got used to his queer, youthful maturity; they got used to the idea of his being steady and successful as if it were the most everyday thing in the world for a young man to be steady and successful; they got used to being dependent on him, and Van Cleve, on his own side, got used to it, too. He directed the disposition of what little money they had left from the original inheritance, and added his own to it, and kept the old strong box, with ‘J. VAN CLEVE’ on the top of it, in his closet in his own room and carried the keys unquestioned.
Mrs. Van Cleve sometimes said with a sigh that he reminded her of his grandfather; but as the late Joshua had been a spry, dry little man with a hard jaw, and as bald as a turnip at less than twenty-five years of age, she could not have discerned much physical resemblance. By a coincidence the likeness most struck her about the first of the month when the bills came round: Van Cleve did not always see all of them, — does any lady ever show the man of the house all her bills? —and perhaps the grandmother recalled the days when she had quakingly presented the milliners’ and dressmakers’ statements to her Joshua (who, nevertheless, was reasonably liberal to his family), or, dreadful to relate, smuggled them out of his sight and knowledge. Times were altered, and she and Mrs. Lucas were both of them good, upright, self-denying women who passed by the most enticing shopwindows and bargain-counters resolutely, and turned and mended and cut over their clothes and remodeled their old hats, and made hash for Monday dinner out of Sunday’s joint with the utmost gallantry and cheerfulness. As has been hinted, they clashed seriously with Van Cleve only when the question arose of one of those indisputably wise, well-considered, and profitable changes which everybody in the house, except Van himself, was eternally planning.
‘That Elmhurst Place house is only thirty-seven and a half a month —only two dollars and a half more than this — the rent’s practically the same,’ his aunt argued about six months after their enthusiastic installation at No. 8 Summit Avenue; ‘and no comparison between the houses — no comparison ! It’s just exactly what we were hunting for last summer when we had to take this. Of course it was rented then, — Elmhurst Place is so desirable. And that’s why I’m so anxious to speak for it at once, before anybody else snaps it up. I’d better see the agent to-day, had n’t I, Van?’ She looked at her nephew with an odd mingling of persuasion and command; Van Cleve, the women said to one another, was so hard to manage at times; it was so hard to make him understand. Now he swallowed the last of his coffee and folded up his napkin with a maddening deliberation before answering.
‘No, I think not, Aunt Myra. I think we’d better not move. That two-dollars-and-a-half difference in the rent just about pays the water-rate. It’s not quite the same thing, you see. Besides, it would cost a lot to move. What’s the matter with this house, anyhow? You liked it well enough at first.’
All three ladies gave a gentle scream of consternation. ‘Why, Van! This house! Why, you hnow we just took it because we had to go somewhere —!’
‘And we did n’t know what a state it was in — that awf ul pink-and-greenand-blue wall-paper on the back bedroom —! ’
‘I’m afraid the place will fall down over our heads before we can get out of it! Three of the door-knobs and I don’t know how many window-catches are all loose and waggly—!’ Everybody began to declaim vigorously, if without much sequence; it was really impossible to think immediately of all the reasons against living a minute longer in this unspeakable house.
‘Oh, I guess they’ll fix those things for us. It’s not going to fall down right off, anyhow; we’d better stay and give it another chance,’ said Van Cleve placidly, returning to his paper.
‘Well, but ever since those horrid people moved next door, the tone of this neighborhood has lowered so — that’s my main objection to staying here,’ Mrs. Van Cleve remonstrated; ‘the woman had a shawl airing out of one of the upstairs back windows yesterday morning. Think of it! A great, coarse, red shawl hanging right in the window! I’ve never lived next door to anything quite so common as that before!’
Van, behind the newspaper, studying the market reports, gave no sign of having heard her. ‘He’s Joshua all over!’ the grandmother said inwardly, divided between exasperation and a kind of pride; ‘he used to sit just that way and not answer me, time and again! ’ She was silent a little, perhaps thinking of old days; but the others persevered with reproachful vehemence.
‘We could take that money, that sixty-five dollars we got from the old farm the other day, and use it for the moving, so it would n’t cost you anything, Van Cleve,’ said Evelyn, who had a talent for this style of argument. ‘I’m sure it is n’t healthy here. There’s a great big damp spot in one corner of the yard whenever it rains. I’m going to speak to the doctor about it. Mother ought n’t to stay in a humid atmosphere; her nerves will give out. It takes ever so much nervous energy to stand the colds she has, and of course the low quality of the air here must bring them on.’
‘Never mind me, Evelyn; never mind me — I ’ll soon be well — my cold isn’t anything,’ cried out Mrs. Lucas; though, indeed, a sudden wild terror started in her large, beautiful dark eyes; she was very easily frightened about herself and her state of health, and the merest suggestion of any need for doctors sent before her mind in dismally dramatic procession a dozen appalling pictures of suffering, decline, deathagonies, the hearse, the coffin, the ghastly open grave! She began with a note of almost frenzied appeal in her voice.
‘Van dear, do put down that paper and listen. I think it’s more important than you realize for us to get away from this house and neighborhood, and it will be money well spent to move. You’re just as fine and strong and splendid as you can be, Van, — you know we all know that, — you’re a dear, noble fellow,’ said Mrs. Lucas, stirred by a real and generous emotion, her sweet, hysterical voice breaking a little; she was sincerely fond of the young man; ‘but you don’t realize how young you are; you have n’t had the experience I’ve had. You’re not so well able to judge as I am. I think it’s our duty to move. We all think so, and two heads are better than one, you know, Van.’
‘Depends on the heads,’ said Van Cleve, flippantly, unmoved by these powerful representations which, as was provokingly apparent, he was not even going to answer. Instead, he got up, taking out his pipe, and went over to the mantel for a match.
‘I wish — I wish you would n’t do that, Van,’ said Mrs. Joshua, distressfully; ‘I promised your dear mother for you that you would n’t touch tobacco or liquor before you were twenty-five. It was a sacred promise, Van.’
Van Cleve looked down at her, humorous and forbearing; he stuffed the tobacco down into the bowl. ‘Oh, bosh, Grandma!’ he said with profane cheerfulness; and stooped and kissed the old lady’s cheek, and walked off unimpressed. He was guiltless of diplomacy; but, strangely and illogically enough, at this speech and the rough, boyish caress, Mrs. Van Cleve surrendered without terms, struck her colors, and went over to his side incontinently.
‘Well, I dare say Van’s right about it, Myra,’ she said as the door closed behind him. ‘There’s no real reason why we should move. And anyhow Van Cleve ought to have the say — he’s taking care of us all — he’s the best boy that ever lived! ’ Her old face trembled momentarily.
‘Oh, of course! Van Cleve is always right!’ Evelyn proclaimed satirically; she remained alone to fight the battle with the older lady, for Mrs. Lucas had already dashed into the hall after her nephew, who was in the act of putting on his overcoat.
‘Van,’ she said tensely, stopping him with one arm in the sleeve, ‘ I want you to let me telephone about that Elmhurst Place house and get the refusal of it for a day, anyhow — just for to-day, Van, so that you can see it.’ Her voice rose: ‘I want you to let me do that. You don’t know anything about the house. If you could see it, I know you’d think differently. It’s so much nearer the art school, for one thing. Evelyn wouldn’t have near so far to walk. She’s not strong, you know, Van Cleve; and I’m afraid of that long walk for her. I ’m afraid it takes her strength so that she can’t do her work properly. The other day when she came in her hands were perfectly numb with the cold; you must have noticed it at dinner —! ’
‘Well, they weren’t so numb but that she could work her knife and fork all right,’ said Van, with a brutal grin; ‘when they get too bad for that, I’ll begin to worry!’ And then, seeing the look of outrage on his aunt’s face, he added hastily, and with earnest kindness, ‘Now look here, Aunt Myra, you know you’re just feeling a little restless, that’s all that’s the matter. You often feel that way, you know. This house is all right. Now don’t let’s talk any more about this, will you? You know we can’t afford to move around. And if any extra money comes in, like that from the farm last week, we ought to save it. We can’t go spending it on foolishness. Now let’s try to be satisfied and stay here. I ’ll see if I can’t get them to change that wall-paper you hate so,’ added poor Van, unconsciously pathetic in his efforts to appease her.
’Restless!’ ejaculated Mrs. Lucas, indignantly. ‘Oh, well, I suppose it’s useless for me to talk. I might die in this horrid damp hole and Evelyn be hopelessly crippled for life from that walk, and you would still insist that we were just whimsical and restless — !’ But Van Cleve was gone.
Mrs. Lucas returned to her domestic rounds in abysmally low spirits. Her cold was getting steadily worse — she could feel it growing on her! The air of the house was positively saturated with moisture — particularly in the back bedroom with that pink-blue-green abomination on the walls. It would be her fate to die here; she knew it, she was convinced of it! And the Elmhurst Place house did have such a beautiful bay-window in the hall, and two hardwood floors downstairs! She was ill in bed when Van Cleve came home that evening. Evelyn rushed up and down from the sick-room with tragically repressed grief; Major Stanton sat around in corners out of the way, looking more uncomfortable than alarmed; Mrs. Van Cleve poured the coffee in reproving silence. And when the doctor reported that it looked as if Mrs. Lucas might be going to have grippe, Van Cleve felt like an assassin. It was in vain the unlucky youth told himself that his aunt might have had grippe anywhere, in any house, and that even if he had consented to t heir moving to Elmhurst Place the very next day, it could hardly have spared her this attack. He felt wretchedly that her illness was all his fault — everything was all his fault — everybody was being made sick and uncomfortable and unhappy by Van Cleve Kendrick and his mean desire to save a little money!
The next time anybody went to call on the Van Cleves, they had moved. They had been over on Elmhurst Place for a month, and just loved it, they declared.
Evelyn said that her mother had been on the verge of a dreadful at tack of influenza, but they got her away from that polluted air on Summit Avenue just in time, and she began to mend at once. To be sure this was only two squares off, but there was the most amazing difference in the atmosphere, — her mother’s case proved it, — and really that other house had got to be perfectly awful, you know.
MOSTLY IDLE TALK
That there was really something a little unusual about the Van Cleves — always excepting young Kendrick, as I have repeatedly stated — is shown by the fact that, in two or three years, more or less, they had become as firmly established socially as if they had lived here all their lives, without anybody ever hinting that they were trying to ‘get in,’ or ‘sniffing’ derogatorily, as people did about that unfortunate Jameson girl. The Van Cleve women were of a very different stamp. The single thing in the way of their popularity was that it was not easy to tell of these ladies who their friends were, since they changed almost as often as they changed houses; one day they would be embracing people with a warm passage of Christian names and terms of endearment — and the next news you had, they had ceased to speak to Soand-So! Yet they were not without some sound and stable attachments, as for the Gilberts, for instance, with whom they never had any grave fallingout. This, however, may have been partly because of Van Cleve, who, besides being not nearly so quick to make new friends nor so violently enthusiastic about them, was very much more steadfast to the old ones. But at one time Miss Lucas was running over to the Warwick Lane house every day. She painted a portrait of Lorrie — an amazing water-color portrait wherein Lorrie appeared with a wide, fixed stare goggling at you out of a jungle of chocolate-tinted hair. Mrs. Lucas pronounced it marvelously accurate; Lorrie herself laughed and said she supposed you never really knew what you looked like to other people, and were always surprised and disappointed to find out. Bob remarked ruthlessly that those eyes reminded him of two buckeyes in a pan of milk. Van Cleve, upon the work of art being paraded before him, was silent — unwisely, as it turned out, for the severest criticism could not have roused Evelyn or her mother more.
‘Well? Well? Are n’t you going to say anything?’ demanded the artist, tartly.
‘Why, it — it looks something like her,’ said Van, feebly.
In fact, the thing did have a sort of ghostly resemblance to Lorrie. But what portrait-painter wants to be told that his creation ‘looks like’ the original?
‘It was intended to look like her,’ Evelyn said with fine scorn. ‘But I did n’t expect that you’d think it was good. No need to ask you!’
‘That’s so, Evie. If I don’t say anything you get mad, and if I do you get mad, so there does n’t seem to be much need of your asking me, sure enough,’ said Van Cleve, with his unshakable good humor that the women found so hard to ‘put up with,’ as they themselves sometimes complained to one another.
‘Of course, you don’t think any picture of her could be good enough,’ flashed out Evelyn, jerking the drawing-board back into its corner. ‘ We all know what you think about Lorrie Gilbert, Van.’ She gave him a savagely significant glance.
‘I know you get excited and say a lot of things you don’t mean sometimes,’ Van retorted, coloring, however, with temper, — or could it have been some other feeling?
‘The idea ! She’s at least a year older than you are — at least! And she’s engaged to that Mr. Cortwright, anyhow — or as good as engaged! ’ the young lady pursued, and had the satisfaction of seeing, or fancying she saw, her cousin wince. ‘That’s what everybody says.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about — I don’t know anything about Miss Gilbert’s affairs,’ Van Cleve stuttered, turning redder than ever.
He was fairly routed, and got up and stalked out of the house, followed by her inquisitive mockery. Once outside, he said something much stronger — a distressingly strong word of one syllable did Mr. Kendrick utter; and he pulled his hat down over his brows with a morose gesture as he tramped away, without his pleasant whistle for once.
It must have been after this that there occurred one of those intervals of coolness toward the other family on the part of the Van Cleve ladies which people were accustomed to witness. The Gilberts themselves were quite unconscious of it; they were not looking out for slights or indifference, and did not know how to quarrel with anybody. But Evelyn’s visits ceased for a while, and perhaps Van Cleve himself did not go to the Professor’s house in the evenings so often. Mrs. Lucas confided to those who were in high favor just then that she was rather glad of it; she did n’t want to be uncharitable, but she could not honestly say that she t hought Bob’s a good influence for Van Cleve.
An old friend of mine, Mr, J. B. B. Taylor, happened to pass through the city at the time on his large orbit of travel and inspection, — he has something to do with civil engineering and a concrete construction company, — and I recall a little talk we had on this very subject. Mr. Taylor has met the Van Cleves; he has met everybody. He goes about the universe lunching with crowned heads and eke with docklaborers; he builds bridges in Uganda and railroads to Muncie. J. B. knows the manners of so many men and their cities that it is, on the whole, not surprising that he should, at some time or other, have fallen in with the Van Cleve family, who themselves have always been active travelers. Once before when he was here, I introduced him to Robert Gilbert, and that friend of his, that young Cortwright who was at that date a recent addition to our society. Mr. Taylor did not seem to be particularly favorably impressed with either young gentleman, I regret to state. However, this time, as usual, he asked about everybody; and I reported some observations regarding Van Cleve’s people which caused J. B. alternately to smile broadly and wickedly, and anon to grunt, ‘Humph!’ in a profound manner.
When I had finished, — ‘Well,’ said he, ‘that Kendrick boy is something of a boy, I judge — considerable of a boy. The fact is, Gebhardt spoke to me about him, just in the ordinary course of conversation, you know — but when he found I knew something of the young man, why, he warmed up and said some very nice things. It seems they gave Kendrick a raise at the National Loan the other day; they think a good deal of him. From what I hear he’s the getting-ahead kind — one of these longheaded, hard-working fellows that knows he can’t pick any money off of trees, and expects to buckle down and make it. That’s a pretty good spirit for these days with all this get-rich-quick feeling in the air. And, speaking of that, I’ve got an impression that our friend Gebhardt himself is a little given that way — toward experimenting on the get-rich-quick lines, I mean. He’s a visionary fellow; I would n’t trust his judgment very far.’ And here J. B., evidently feeling that he had allowed himself to run into some indiscretion, abruptly changed topics. ‘ What’s become of those other young fellows ? That pin-headed masher— you know — What was his name? And the other boy?’
I informed him that Mr. Cortwright was still here, in business; I was not certain how successful, but he seemed to have money enough; he was considered very handsome, and — er — well, a little inclined to be — er — sporty — you know; and he was still something of a ‘masher,’ to use Mr. Taylor’s own elegant phrase. In fact, at one time or another, Mr. Cortwright had been sentimentally attentive to every girl in society, but here latterly he had settled down on Miss Gilbert, and people in general thought this would be a go, at last.
‘Well, I’m glad she is n’t my daughter,’ J. B. commented briefly. ‘Gilbert, you say? That was that boy’s name, I remember now. Is he round still?’
‘Yes, it’s the same family. Yes, he’s here and working. He’s been a little wild; they say now he’s drinking. I don’t know how true it is — may be nothing but gossip,’ said I, not without reluctance. I liked Bob Gilbert. I never met anybody that did n’t like him. But, with the most charitable disposition in the world, I still should have been obliged to acknowledge that one never heard anything creditable about Bob; whereas report concerning his friend, that young Mr. Kendrick (nobody thought of him as a boy any longer), justified all that J. B. had said.
How much truth was there in the rumors that had been circulating somewhat as above reported for the last year or so? To begin with, those sharp hints leveled by Miss Lucas at her cousin, — how near the mark did they come? Van Cleve had first met Lorrie Gilbert years before when he was nothing but a big, gangling boy chum of her brother’s, and she, although so nearly his own age, already a grown-up young lady. In that far-off time Van looked upon her with both shyness and indifference. Asked if he thought her pretty or bright, he would have replied that he did n’t know — he had n’t thought about her at all — he did n’t care for girls, and never stayed around where they were, if he could help it. As it happened — indeed, have we not seen it happen under our own eyes? — he did not have much chance to improve or outgrow his deplorable tastes, for that summer was the end of Van Cleve’s play-time, and really the end of his boyhood.
As he grew older, it became his habit of mind to regard marriage, for a man in his position, as sheer insanity, and falling in love as only a milder form of the same affliction. Both must be postponed until he arrived at the locality which he called to himself Easy Street. In some vast, indefinite future, when he felt himself ‘pretty well fixed,’ and when he could get Grandma and the rest of them comfortably settled somewhere or somehow, so that they would not be quite so much on his mind — in the future when Van planned that all this should happen, he sometimes rather diffidently speculated about a home for himself and Somebody. His prospective wife was so far a delicious myth; notwithstanding the fact that she was to have brown hair with gold lights in it, hair that waved a little nicely, and big brown eyes, and a fair complexion with a good deal of color in it, and a short nose, straight, but set on so that you were not quite certain whether it did not tilt upward ever so slightly; and she would have a very pleasant laugh, and a pretty round waist, and — and, in short, anybody in whom Van Cleve had confided would have recognized, by the time he got through, a surprisingly good likeness of Miss Lorrie Gilbert.
The young man did not suspect it himself. When he went to the house, he thought in all honesty it was to see Bob. He took a meal there at least once in the week; Mrs. Gilbert was so used to him she sometimes called him ‘son’ forgetfully; Lorrie and he sat on the porch summer evenings, or by the sitting-room hearth in winter, so completely at home together that they could be silent when, and as long as, they chose, unembarrassed; it was ‘Lorrie’ and ‘Van’ as a matter of course, and the girl openly regarded him with almost the same feeling as she did her brother, save that she listened and deferred to him far more. Only when Cortwright’s name was brought up, or that debonair gentleman came to call, which he was beginning to do with ominous frequency, did the two other young people feel any constraint.
Lorrie, in her third or fourth season, had seen something of the world, and been not undesired by young men; her novitiate was over. Nevertheless, she had a way of blushing and brightening at Cortwright’s appearance which to any experienced onlooker would have been full of meaning. Van Cleve, at least, saw it with a dull pain of resentment. He told himself that he never had liked Cortwright. ‘I saw enough of him down at Steinberger’s; you can’t fool me about that sort of fellow! But, hang it, I believe girls like for a man to have the name of being fast,’ Van used to think angrily; ‘you see so many nice, good women married to ’em. It’s not so smart to booze and bum, and chase around after women and horses — I can’t see what any decent woman is thinking of. I suppose there is n’t a man on earth but that’s done some things he’s ashamed of—but Cortwright! Why, he is n’t fit to touch Lorrie’s skirt!’
Of course there was nothing personal in this, Van Cleve was convinced; no, merely on principle, simply and solely in behalf of abstract morality, did Mr. Kendrick disapprove of Mr. Cortwright. To have told him he was jealous would have been to invite a righteous indignation. In the meanwhile, whenever Cortwright chanced to call at the same time, his arrival was the signal for a sudden fall in the social barometer. It was not Cortwright’s fault; he was always gay, courteous, ready with a joke, a story, a turn at the piano, anything to make the evening go off well, inimitably good-looking and at ease; in becoming contrast to Van Cleve, who would sit grumpily smoking or grumpily un-smoking, answering in curt and disagreeably plain words, and, after making a wet blanket of himself generally, would get up and go off in pointed hurry. I fear Mr. Kendrick was not poignantly regretted on these occasions.
‘You seem to take life so seriously, Kendrick. Don’t you believe in people having a good time as they go along?’ Cortwright once asked him. Cortwright, on his side, met Van Cleve with unvarying good temper and civility — for which, you may believe me, poor Van liked him none the better.
1 Nobody but a prig objects to people having fun,’ he retorted, scowling; ‘if I’m serious, it’s because I’m built that way, I suppose. But I never thought it any of my business what other people do.' He looked hard at the other.
‘That’s lucky for the rest of us,’ Cortwright said with his easy laugh; ‘you’ve got such a severe eye. Has n’t he got a severe eye, Miss Jameson?’
And upon this, while the young lady was still looking sideways at him under her lashes, and smiling just enough to show a charming dimple in the corner of her mouth, Van unceremoniously took himself off. He ‘had n’t much use’ (to quote him again) for Miss Paula Jameson, either, and often wished impatiently that she would stop her everlasting running to the Gilberts’.
As for that derogatory tittle-tattle about Bob Gilbert, sad to admit, it was not without foundation. People were beginning to shake their heads over him, and to tell one another that it was too bad! They said that there was nothing ready wrong with the young fellow, there was n’t any real harm in him, only — it was probably not all his fault; the way boys are brought up has a good deal to do with it; Professor Gilbert was a fine man, a splendid scholar, and all that, but he had no control whatever over his son, and never had had! Of course, Mrs. Gilbert and Lorrie could do nothing with Bob — two women, both of them too devoted to him to see where he was going. That his destination was the one popularly known as ‘the dogs,’ everybody was prophesying. Too bad!
Van Cleve, who knew all about Bob’s failings, who had very likely known about them long before they became public talk, never had anything to say on the subject. He would not condemn his friend, but neither would he take the other’s part. He would say nothing at all. There was a hard streak in the young man; he was genuinely fond of Bob, yet he avoided his company these days, took care never to be seen on the street with him, got out of his way, and kept out of his way, whenever it was possible. ‘I can’t have him coming round here smelling like a distillery and asking for me. It would queer me for good with some of these solid men,’ Van thought; ‘I can’t risk it. And what good would it do him for me to hang on to Bob, anyhow? I can’t tell him anything but what he knows already; he’s got plenty of sense, if he’ll only use it. But if a man’s going to make a fool of himself, he’s going to make a fool of himself, so what’s the use?’
Perhaps he did not fully convince himself by these arguments; but in fact there was no longer much need for him to put his theories in practice. Robert was drifting naturally into his own class of idlers and ne’er-do-weels, and young Kendrick had less and less occasion to dodge his compromising company, they saw each other so seldom, except at the house. Sometimes, even when at home, Bob was not visible; he had had one of his wretched headaches all day, so that he was obliged to keep his room, Mrs. Gilbert would report, so guilelessly that Van Cleve, in spite of his cultivated coldness, winced with pity and a vicarious shame. He noticed that she was looking a great deal older nowadays; there had been a time when you could scarcely tell her back from Lorrie’s if you happened to be walking behind her on the street — it was different now. And when it came to Professor Gilbert, it sounded perfectly natural to call him an old gentleman, although he had not yet reached the sixties; he was thinner and bonier than ever, and wrinkled and bent like Father Time himself. He, at any rate, understood the headaches, Van Cleve would think, regretfully reading the older man’s haggard and weary eyes; and Van wondered, with a recoil so strong that it surprised himself, if the poor father had ever had to go out at night and hunt for Bob — bring him home — get him to bed and sobered up — eh, you know? Good Lord, that was pretty bad — pretty bad!
These offices Van Cleve had performed himself once at least. He was much more irritated than scandalized — in the beginning of the adventure, that is — to find Bob drunk and clinging to the lamp-post, in the starry winter cold, on his own way home at two o’clock in the morning. What was the notably steady youth, Mr. Kendrick, doing out of his bed at that hour? Have no fear, ladies and gentlemen! In the pursuance of his career of industry and virtue, he had been to the weekly meeting of the Central Avenue Building and Loan Association, in which he held the position of secretary. The proceedings closing about eleven o’clock, Mr. Kendrick had allowed himself a single chaste mug of musty ale, and a game of pool (a quarter apiece, loser pays for the table), in the company of some of his fellow officials; and when he started home, an hour or so later, there was a block on the Central-Avenue-and-John-Street line. Van Cleve waited for his Elmhill car within the triangular portico of a corner drug store, where stood another similarly belated gentleman; and they smoked in silence, shrugging and stamping to keep warm. Van remembered afterwards how a carriage had rolled by; how he glanced up mechanically as it passed into the contracted illumination of the arc-light, and saw the occupants. He stared; a monosyllabic exclamation was jerked out of him by stark surprise. ‘Humph!’ he ejaculated unconsciously. The wayfarer who shared the vestibule thought his own attention was being challenged, and obligingly responded. ‘Peach girl, was n’t she?’ he said; and further volunteered, ‘That hair was a ten-blow, though. Fellow likes it that way, I guess.’ Van Cleve grunted non-committally, and they lapsed again into silence. Van could never forget this trivial bit of talk; he had a photographic impression of the whole incident.
The car came at last; and Kendrick got on and paid his fare and rode to his own corner, pondering, part of the time, with a sour smile. ‘None of my affair, I suppose,’ was the sum of his reflections. He swung himself off the rear step at Durham Street (they moved to Durham Street in the autumn of ’96, I believe) and, turning toward home, on the next corner, casually observed a hatless individual sustaining himself with difficulty against the post across the way. ‘There’s a drunk,’ Van thought; and then something about the figure drew him to look again with a foreboding interest. He stood still to watch it. There appeared a nightwatchman from one of the neighboring apartment buildings and entered into altercation with it. Van crossed the street quickly and went up to them.
‘G’ wan now, I don’t want to run yuh in,’ the night-watchman was saying benevolently; ‘yuh gotta git a move on, that’s all. Yuh can’t stay aroun’ here, see? Don’t yuh know where yuh b’long?’
‘Hello, Bob!’ said Van Cleve.
The other stared at him fishily. Bob reeked to heaven; his clothing exhibited signs of a recent acquaintance with that classic resort of the drunkard, the gutter; his hat had fallen off, and his face showed grimy and discolored in the lamplight. He smiled vacuously.
‘’Lo!’ he said at last thickly; ‘’s ol’ Van Cleve! ’Lo, Van, ol’ top, how’s shings?’
‘Party a friend o’ yourn?’ inquired the night-watchman.
‘Yes, I know him,’ said the young man, surveying Robert disgustedly.
‘Know where he lives?’ the nightwatchman suggested; ‘I been tryin’ to git it out o’ him. I had n’t otter leave m’ job, or I’d took him to his home, ’f he’s got any.’
‘It’s all right. I’ll attend to him,’ said Van Cleve, shortly. He got hold of Bob by the arm. ‘Here, I’m going to take you home, Bob,’ he said. ‘Look out, you’ll fall. That’s not your hat. Here, don’t you try to get it, I’ll get it -5
The night-watchman, however, had already captured it out of a pool of half-frozen slush; he rammed out the dents in the crown with his fist, gave it a wipe with a bandanna, and put it back with some nicety on the head of its owner.
‘All right now, sport!’ said he, falling back a step; and then shook his head to observe Van Cleve’s manner with the drunken man. ‘Careful, mister! Yuh wanter handle ’em real easy,’ he warned, as Van Cleve started to march the other away; ‘they’re kinder hard to manage, if they git soured at yuh, y’ know!’
‘I’m not drunk — s’pose you shink I’m drunk!’ said Bob, indignantly. He held back. ‘ I do’ wanna g ’ home yet, Van — not yet. Dammit, Van, can’t y’ unnerstan’, ol’ fellow? I do’ wanna go home shee Lorrie — ’ All at once he began to blubber feebly. ‘ Lorrie ’s bes’ girl ever was — bes’ sister — ain’t she bes’ sister ever was, Van?’
‘You’ve got to go home, you know, Bob,’ said Van Cleve, urging him along; ‘come on, now. It’s all right; Lorrie won’t know. We’ll get in without her knowing — I hope to God!’ he added to himself wretchedly. He had seen men drunk before; had laughed at them many times on the stage and elsewhere; had probably once in his life, himself, taken quite as much strong drink as was good for him, like more than one temperate and sensible young man. So now he was not shocked; Bob was Bob, and, whatever he did, immutably his friend; but an impatient anger and distress overwhelmed Van Cleve at the thought of Lorrie. He got Bob home somehow; it was a sorry but, after all, not so very difficult a task. The unlucky young fellow’s natural gentleness and tractability survived even in this degrading defeat. Wine in, truth out; but that enemy could bring nothing brutal or obscene to the surface of Bob’s mind; its shallow waters were at least clear. Van got him home somehow, protesting, plaintively apologetic, spasmodically gay, and got him up into the porch with as little scuffling and noise as was possible. The house was dark. ‘They’re all asleep!’ Van thought in relief; and succeeded in keeping Bob quiet while he went through his pockets for his nightkey. Before he could find it, however, a little light gleamed over the transom, the door opened almost soundlessly, and Lorrie stood there.
She had a glass hand-lamp and held it up, gazing around it into the dark; she seemed unnaturally tall in a white wrapper that drew into folds about her feet; her long, dark hair divided in two wide braids lay smoothly on either side of her face and down over her breast. The young man was reminded startlingly of some painting or image of a madonna he had once seen, long ago.
‘Is it you, Bob?’ Lorrie said in a whisper; ‘won’t you try not to wake Mother—Van Cleve!’ Even in her surprise, she governed her voice.
‘I’ve brought him home, Lorrie — I — I found him on the st reet ,’ said Van, hanging his head. But after her first exclamation, the girl scarcely seemed to take account of him. Her eyes passed over Van Cleve and fell anxiously on her brother, huddled on the old, rickety porch-seat; she came a step out of the doorway, shivering as the cold struck her, and clutching together her light draperies.
‘Thank you — I — I’m glad it was you, Van,’ she said brokenly, yet with a self-control that astonished the young man; he looked at her, touched and reverent, as she went on with the same painful strength: ‘I’m glad it was you - but won’t you — won’t you please go away now? I can take care of him now he’s home. I can’t go out and find him—I just have to wait — that’s really the — the worst of it, you know. And I don’t want Mother to know. If you ’ll just go away now, Van Cleve, I can manage him. I’m afraid you — you might make some noise, and wake them up — you ’re not used to it, you know,’ said poor Lorrie, simply.
‘I’m not going away, and you’re not going to take care of him,’ said Van Cleve in his harshest manner — though he, too, tried to speak under his breath. He put her aside, and took Bob by the shoulder. ‘Stand up, Bob; you know you can stand up if you try,’ he commanded savagely.
‘Don’ you tush my sister!’ said Bob in his thick accent. The fancied offense to Lorrie roused him in an extraordinary fashion; he shook off the other’s grasp, and got upon his feet unaided. ‘You shan’t talk that way to Lorrie, I don’t care if it is you, Van! ’ he said quite distinctly; and then equally unaccountably slipped back to his former state. ‘ Leggo me! Whash doin’? G’ upstairs m’self,’ he asserted, mumbling, hiccoughing, wavering. Van Cleve seized and steadied him; the lamp cast a shaking light over them, and over Lorrie’s white face and cold, trembling hands; it was a piece of cheap and squalid tragedy.
‘Please, Van Cleve, I can take care of him, truly—’ she began again, imploringly.
‘You shall not!’ said Van roughly.
She obeyed him this time, meekly following with the light while Van Cleve propped, pushed, and dragged the other upstairs to his own room, got some of his clothes off, and deposited him in the bed, where he lay quite stupid now, and erelong sleeping noisily. His two guardians went caut iously down again. The Gilbert family dog had come to look on, head on one side, wrinkling its honest brow in uncomprehending doggish curiosity and anxiety; it sniffed at Van’s hand inquiringly, recognized him, and retired satisfied to its nightly bivouac across the threshold of Mrs. Gilbert’s bedroom. Lorrie stood with her lamp at the door to light the young man’s way out.
‘What is it? Is that you, Lorrie? Are you sick? What is the matter?’ Mrs. Gilbert waked up suddenly and called. It was a miracle she had not waked sooner. Van Cleve looked at Lorrie, utterly disconcerted.
‘Nothing at all, Mother; nothing’s the matter,’ she called back pleasantly and composedly. ‘Dingo seemed to want to get out, and then when I let him out, he began to scratch and whine and make such a fuss, I had to get up and let him in again.’
‘Oh, I thought — that is—’ Mrs. Gilbert paused; there was a moment of blank silence — it was singularly, curiously, blank and silent. ‘I thought I heard somebody on the stairs— I must have been dreaming,’ said Mrs. Gilbert with a kind of hurried distinctness and emphasis. ‘Never mind me, dearie — I would have waked anyhow — ’ Her voice ceased suddenly.
‘She does n’t. know, Van — you see she does n’t know,’ Lorrie whispered; it was an appeal.
Van Cleve heard the two women lying to each other with wonder and pity. As he looked at Lorrie, on a sudden, for the first time, he saw her face quiver. She put up her hands to hide it, and leaned against the wall, sobbing — but still noiselessly. Van Cleve felt desperately that he would give his right hand, he would give a year out of his life, to take her to him and comfort her — but what comfort would she get from him? To go away and leave her in peace was the greatest kindness he could do her! He lingered an instant, helplessly, dumb; even without the risk of detection, he would have been at a loss what to say; so they parted at last without a word.
TREATS OF SUNDRY AFFAIRS OF THE HEART
Although the skeleton in the Gilbert family closet was by way of being uncloseted nowadays, was indeed rattling its joints and stalking abroad in the full glare of noonday to the horror of all temperate and well-behaved persons, there was at least one who remained unaffected by the spectacle. The young lady whom people generally referred to as ‘that Jameson girl,’ or ‘that little Paula Jameson,’ must have known as much about Bob’s miserable failing as anybody; but, drunk or sober, good or bad, weak or strong, it was apparently all one to her. She continued to make what the other girls vowed was a ‘dead set’ at the young man. It was impossible to believe, according to them, that she haunted the house so persistently out of fondness for Lorrie. Everybody knew (they said) that she had begun her attentions to Bob’s sister long ago in t he hope of ‘ getting-in ’; and Lorrie was so dear and sweet she never had the heart to get rid of her, to say nothing of the fact that that would have been a job, because Paula was too thick-skinned to take a hint or feel any ordinary rebuff. But now! — it was plain to be seen that she was after Bob. And she would probably get him, too, — he was a good deal taken with her. Mercy, nobody else wanted him; still, it was rather a pity, he was so nice when — when he was all right, you know. The family were all so nice, and Lorrie was lovely, and they would hate such a connection, though of course they would stand it on Bob’s account.
What was it that was the matter with Miss Jameson, then? Merely her manners? Our society is not snobbish; doubtless there were people in it no brighter or better-bred than Paula Jameson, and certainly not nearly so pretty; but it would not swallow her; it would have none of her or her mother. Yet they were really inoffensive creatures.
Mrs. Jameson was a large, vivid, extraordinarily corseted and highheeled lady, about forty-five years of age, with the same kind of auburn hair as her daughter’s, invariably arranged in the latest fashion, or even a little in advance of the latest fashion; and with a fondness for perfumery and for entire toilets in shades of purple, —parasols, gloves, silk stockings, suede, shoes, all elaborately matched, wherewith she might frequently be seen upon the streets, bearing herself with a kind of languid chic — the word she herself would have used. She was a widow; and the late Mr. Jameson — Levi B. Jameson, Plumbers’ Supplies, SewerPipe, Metal Roofing, etc. — having got together a reasonable fortune in his time, she and Paula were very comfortably off, or would have been, if the taste for purple costumes, and similar tastes in which Paula also had been trained, had not kept them in perpetual hot water, spending and retrenching with an equal thriftlessness. They lived at ‘private’ hotels or fashionable boarding-houses here and there, and went to the theatre a great deal; idling through the rest of their time in shopping, or having their hands manicured and hair dressed, or giving the French bulldog his bath, or yawning over the last lurid novel, with a box of chocolate-drops, in the rocking-chairs of the roof-garden or lounge.
Their circle of acquaintances was not large; Mrs. Jameson had no social traditions or aspirations, no hobbies, no recreations, no aim in life at all, except to be the best-dressed woman in any assembly, to keep her weight down to a hundred and thirty-five pounds, and never to miss her tri-weekly ‘facial’ at the beauty parlors she patronized. Paula had never seen her mother do anything, had never known her to be interested in anything, but the above subjects, although, to do her justice, Mrs. Jameson was fond of her daughter and gave almost as much attention to Paula’s wardrobe and figure and complexion as to her own. It was not strange that the girl could conceive of no different or more elevated existence; that is a rare character, the sages tell us, that can be superior to environment, and Paula was not a rare character; she was not especially endowed in any way, except physically. She had been curled, scented, arrayed in slippers too t ight, and sashes too wide, and hats too big, like a little show-window puppet, ever since she could remember; had been kissed and petted and admired by other hotel-dwelling women, and noticed and flattered by men, until it was natural that the pretty red-gold head should be occupied with Paula’s self, with her beauty and her ‘style,’ and, above all, her irresistible attraction for every trousered human being she saw, to the exclusion of all else. Why not? She was attractive. She had no talents or accomplishments ; but she had been to two or three of the most select and fashionable schools; she spent infinite pains on her dress, with charming results; she could not talk at all, but she could always look, as Bob Gilbert himself had said; she was very pliable and good-tempered, ready to laugh at any joke she could understand, and to enter into any plan; what more could have been asked of her, or why should she not have been satisfied with herself?
Why little Miss Paula should have taken the fancy she apparently did to the Professor’s daughter, it was for a long while impossible for the latter to guess. Lorriewas too humane to throw her off, which, besides, as the other girls hinted, was no easy matter; and Miss Gilbert grew finally to feel a sort of maternal fondness and a certain responsibility for the childish, pretty young creature, even after the other had ingenuously and quite unconsciously revealed the secret of her devotion. ‘It’s so nice for you having a brother — a grown-up one, I mean — like Bob, is n’t it? There’re always such a lot of men coming to the house all the time — so nice! You have ever so many more men than any of the other girls. It’s just lovely here — there’s always some body!’ she said one day, and wondercd why Lorrie, after a moment’s meditative pause, looking at her oddly the while, suddenly broke into a little laugh; all her face twinkled; she laughed and laughed.
‘What’s funny? What’s the joke?’ demanded Paula, lazily interested; she picked up a hand-glass, and moved closer to the window.
‘“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!”’ said Lorrie, profanely, reducing her expression to one of prodigious gravity on the instant; and Paula at the bureau, painstakingly examining a minute speck on the right side of her chin, which she dreaded might be the beginning of a pimple, did not attempt to follow her friend’s abrupt changes of mood. Besides, Lorrie, like nearly everybody else, was forever making speeches w hich Paula found it too fatiguing even to pretend to understand.
‘Of course all the men are n’t nice; but it’s nice to have them come to call on you, anyhow.’ — Thus Miss Jameson. — ‘I’d feel awfully if I never had a caller. There’s a girl at the Alt.’ (the young lady’s abbreviation of the Altamont, that being the name of the caravanserai which sheltered the Jamesons at the moment) ‘that I don’t believe has ever had a bit of attention in her life — not the least little tiny scrap! I’d feel awfully in her place, would n’t you? Momma — I mean Mama — Mama says any girl that has n’t had a proposal before she’s twenty is a freak. I said to her, “Well, that lets me out! I’m safe, anyhow!” Momma — Mama — simply screamed; she’s been telling everybody in the hotel. I don’t care. It’s true, you know. I’m going on twenty-three, and I’ve had four — I mean not counting college boys when you ’re away in the summer, and all that. I never count them, though lots of girls do. I don’t care for boys — I’d rather have men. One of mine has stacks of money; he’s in the shoe business in Springfield, Massachusetts, and used to come around and stop at the Alt. regularly four times a year, getting up trade at the stores, you know. He don’t come any more, though, since I turned him down. I don’t think the shoe business would be very stylish, somehow, do you? It would n’t be like saying your husband was president of a bank, or something. He did give me lovely things, though.’ She sighed reminiscently. ‘He gave me my silver toilet-set — all except those two big cologne bottles, with the silver deposit on cut glass. Another man gave me those. I priced them afterwards at Dormer’s and they ’re fifteen dollars apiece. Is n’t it funny how men just love to spend money on you? I had a fellow once that gave me the cutest little watch — one of the real little ones not any bigger than that, you know, dark blue enamel with pearls all over it, and a little flure-de-lee pin to match — too cute for anything. I ’ll show it to you some time when you’re over. I wish you’d come over; you always say you will, and then you never do.’
‘You don’t mean to say you took those men’s presents?’ ejaculated Lorrie, ungrammatically.
‘Why, yes. Why? Would n’t you have? They’re lovely things — they’re all real, you know, the pearls on the watch and everything. I would n’t have ’em a minute if they were n’t. I hate anything common. But would n’t you have taken them? The men were simply gone about me, you know, just crazy.'
‘Mother would n’t have let me,’ Lorrie stammered, trying, in her quick humanity, to make some explanation that might not hurt the other’s feelings. But Paula looked at her with no feeling more pronounced than surprise.
‘I should think you’d take ’em, and just not tell her,’ she remarked; ‘you can always say you saved up and bought ’em out of your own money, or some girl in Seat tle or somewhere ’way off sent ’em to you. Momma don’t know about all my things. I like to have presents from men. I can’t, see that there’s any harm in it.’ A curious hardness came into her face; she eyed the older girl with something like cunning, an expression as uncanny on Paula’s soft, dimpled features as it would have been on a five-year-old baby’s. ‘Did n’t anybody ever give you anything?’
‘No,’ said Lorrie, shortly, annoyed.
‘Pooh, you just won’t tell. I think you might me, though — I would n’t give you away. You’ve had ever so many men awfully gone on you, everybody says. I love to hear them talk and go on that soft way, don’t you? I think you might tell me. There’s V. C. K. — you know who I mean — you needn’t pretend you don’t.’
‘V. C. K.? Oh!’ said Lorrie, crimsoning; ‘please don’t say things like that, Paula. He’s just Bob’s friend. It does n’t seem fair to a man to — to talk like that. Even if it were true, it sounds — it sounds ’ — She stopped, hampered for words the other could understand without offense; she could not say to Paula that it sounded cheap and common. ‘I would n’t do it, if I were you,’ Lorrie said finally.
‘Seems to me there’s a lot of things you won’t do,’ Paula said suspiciously. ‘ Everybody knows it — about Van Kendrick, I mean. He comes here to see you. He is n’t such a tremendously good friend of Bob’s; they don’t go around together nearly as much as they used to.’
Lorrie did not answer; her face clouded unhappily.
‘Well, if he has n’t ever come right out and asked you, I suppose it’s because of his family,’ suggested Paula, comfortingly, misreading the other’s silence and look of trouble; ‘I suppose he thinks he can’t afford to get married. I don’t like him much, anyhow. He’s always so — so—well, so grumpy and grouchy, you know. He always shoots right by you on the street, and just grabs off his hat and jabs it on again as if he was afraid for his life to stop and speak for fear he’d have to ask you to go to lunch with him or pay your carfare or something. He never does offer to take a person anywhere, to the theatre or anything. He’s awfully stingy. Oh, I don’t suppose he’s that way with you. But I just hope you won’t take him, Lorrie.’
‘ I told you there was n’t any question of that,’ said Lorrie, not too amiably. She was tired of listening to all this dull, distasteful stuff. If she was not at all in love with Van Cleve Kendrick, she still thought him a deal above Miss Jameson’s criticism.
Paula only shrugged, and turned her attention to her finger-nails. After a while she said, without raising her eyes, ‘Mr. Cortwright’s getting to come pretty often, too, is n’t he?’
‘Not any more than anybody else,’ said Lorrie; and now she, too, kept her eyes down.
‘I thought he seemed to be here every time I happen to come over — in the evenings, you know,’ said Paula, who indeed ‘ happened ’ to come over in the evenings two or three times a week with striking regularity. There crept into her eyes that same look of babyish sharpness that had showed there a while before. ‘I noticed it because two or three times he’s taken me home,’ she said explanatorily.
‘Yes?’ said Lorrie, engrossed in her embroidery.
‘Why, yes, don’t you remember? It was when Bob was out or sick, so he could n’t,’ said Paula, more explanatorily still. She went on quickly with a good deal of emphasis, ‘I just said to myself, “ Well, if I’d known you were going to be here, I’d have stayed home!” You know I don’t like Mr. Cortwright, either, Lorrie — I don’t like him a little bit!’ She paused, slightly out of breath, glancing narrowly into her companion’s face; but Lorrie’s eyes were still lowered, and at the moment she was matching two skeins of pink floss with elaborate care, so that if Paula had counted on these statements making some visible impression, she was disappointed. ‘I just hate him!’ she announced vigorously.
‘Oh, poor Mr. Cortwright!’ said Lorrie, with a kind of absent-minded laugh, deciding on the deeper shade at last.
The other girl scrutinized her silently. ‘Do you like him?' she suddenly demanded.
‘ Oh, yes. He’s always been very nice to Bob, you know,’ said Lorrie, maintaining her light tone, but furious inwardly to feel the red coming into her cheeks. It was ridiculous to be dragging in Bob this way to account for every man that came to the house; she began to laugh, a little nervously.
Paula looked at her again uncertainly. ‘Well, I hate him!’ she repeated; ‘I’ve never even asked him in when we got to the Alt., or asked him to call, or anything.’ Again Paula considered, or, at least, had the appearance of considering, though it would have been hard to believe that any operation of so much consequence was going on behind that lovely, inanimate mask. ‘He don’t like me, either — Mr. Cortwright just hates me, I know it,’ she said, eyeing Lorrie expectantly. ‘He just took me home those times because he had to.’
Lorrie made an inart iculate sound of dissent, and went on with her fancywork assiduously.
‘Does he ever say anything to you about me?’ asked Paula.
‘ Why, yes — no — I don’t know — sometimes — I suppose we talk about everybody once in a while—’ said Lorrie, rather confusedly. Mr. Cortwright had not been over complimentary in his references to Miss Jameson. But the latter, who candidly liked to stand in the limelight and the centre of the stage, and in general would rather have heard that she had been severely reviewed, even lacerated, by the gossips, than that they had passed her over with no notice at all, nevertheless looked not disturbed at the neglect Lorrie implied.
‘Mr. Cortwright don’t like me,’ she insisted again.
According to legend, two pairs of ears should have been burning pretty smartly while the above conversation went on; we may imagine that the first gentleman under discussion, could he have overheard Miss Jameson, would have dismissed her estimate of his character easily enough. Van Cleve was not of a temper to be much ruffled by the accusation of stinginess and rudeness. Very likely it was near the truth; and he himself might have explained that he did n’t have any time for attentions to girls, and his money came too hard to be spent plentifully. He had a use for every dollar; and, by Something-quite-strong, if that young lady had ever made a dollar, she’d think differently! Also he would have said — with a red face — that that was all rot about himself and Miss Gilbert.
As for Cortwright, the fact is, ‘poor Paula’ had hit upon the truth itself in those last remarks of hers, for he had confessed as much to Lorrie! The girl bored him to death, he had said with great plainness and energy. Pretty, of course, but there was absolutely nothing to her! He did wish she’d give up this running after Bob, and let the house alone. He, too, spoke of the times he had been obliged to take her home — he could n’t get out of it, you know — did n’t want to be rude, but really—! He was lightly and humorously eloquent on the subject of Miss Jameson.
‘ I think you are a little hard on poor Paula,’ Lorrie remonstrated, coming to the defense more out of sex-loyalty than from any feeling for the other girl. ‘You ought to make allowances for the way she’s been brought up. It’s pathetic when you stop to think about it. No real home, and no real mother —’
'What! No mother? Oh, come now, Miss Gilbert, you surely know Mrs. Jameson, don’t you? You’ve seen her, anyway? Ah, I see, that’s it! You do know Mrs. Jameson!’ said the gentleman, meaningly, with a lazy laugh.
‘ I did n’t mean to say that — I did n’t say that exactly. I meant her mother docs n’t — is n’t — well, she’s not like some mothers, you know,’ said Lorrie, lamely, between her habitual desire to be charitable, and a strong disapproval of Mrs. Jameson.
Cortwright understood her and laughed again. ‘Mrs. Jameson is n’t much like your kind of mother,’ he said; and added, ‘there aren’t many like you among the daughters, either, for that matter,’ with the faintly caressing emphasis of which he had the secret.
It made Lorrie’s face grow warm even in the dark, as they sat on the porch of a midsummer night. They were sitting in their customary positions: that is, Lorrie leaning back against the pillar, with her white skirts flowing down, and her small, capable hands for once idle in her lap; and Cortwright, on the step below, bending towards her in one of those cavalier attitudes into which he fell more or less unaffectedly; he was naturally graceful in his movements; and the sword and mantle of the Cavalier day would have set upon him as suitably as its light and swaggering morals. Sometimes his hand or foot touched hers accidentally —or tentatively; but as to any of the sentimental advances which he was reported to practice, the young man seldom attempted them with Lorrie Gilbert. The fellow that tried to kiss her would get his, he sometimes thought, in his profanely modern speech; and was startled to feel a thrill of anger, resentment, jealous desire, dart through him at this purely speculative person’s act. He was beginning to be much more in earnest than he had ever dreamed of being; certainly than he had ever been before with any of the women he had encountered throughout his easy, conquering, not too scrupulous, career. Also he was perfectly well aware that rumor bracketed their two names; and let it go undenied, keeping silence, but smiling in a style calculated to support the talk, if anything. In reality, it at once flattered and disconcerted him; he was not sure that he was so much in earnest as all that, he said to himself, half-complacent and half-alarmed. The very candor of Lorrie’s liking at once defeated and spurred him on. And now, as he sat beside her, sensing, as often before, to his own wonder and enchantment, an ineffable comfort, restfulness, and content, physical, spiritual, he did not know which, in her presence and nearness, a sudden small anxiety overtook him.
‘I imagine Miss Jameson tells you all about her love-affairs — what he said and what she said, and all the rest of it,’ he said; ‘she’s had a good many, probably.’
‘ Oh, yes,’ said Lorrie, indulgently; and she laughed.
Cortwright was relieved at her tone and laughter. ‘ After all, it would be a pretty good thing if Bob fell in love with her. It would do him good to get his mind set on some girl, I believe,’ he said, in a kind, elder-brother fashion that touched Lorrie deeply.
‘That’s what I’ve often thought,’ she said impulsively; ‘that’s what I’ve often longed for. Mother and I — we can’t do much — he’s too used to us — a man does n’t seem to care much what his mother and sisters think about him. He knows they’re going to love him, anyhow. But if Bob would only get to caring for some girl — Paula or anybody — if he’d only —instead of —’ Lorrie’s voice failed; all the pain and worry of these past few months when things, already so bad, seemed to be getting so much worse, suddenly knotted together in her throat. She turned her face away, sternly resolved to control herself. ‘I’m getting silly and hysterical, laughing one minute and wanting to cry the next!’ she thought, impatiently. Indeed, she had been under a hard strain for some time now.
The man, who knew well enough what the trouble was, looked at her and then down, a little shamed, a little humbled. Bob’s misbehavior surely could not be laid to his door; but a sharp regret stung him. ‘Men don’t deserve to have sisters and mothers and — and wives! ’ he declared huskily, not conscious of the irrelevance of the words until they were out; and both of them were awkwardly silent an instant. Cortwright looked into her face again, and saw that the brown eyes shone suspiciously in the moonlight, as with unshed tears. He gave an exclamation.
‘Don’t do that, Lorrie, don’t! I — I mean, don’t worry about Bob so!’ he stammered, moved by a genuine, selfforgetful sympathy and pity. He took her hand; he kept on with reassuring and comfort ing words. ‘ Bob’s all right — he’s going to come out all right. He’ll get over this running around, you know, and — er — and coming in late at night, and — er — and all that. Why, there’re lots of fellows worse than Bob —’
‘I know that, Mr. Cortwright, but that does n’t make it any easier,’ said Lorrie, brokenly; she swallowed hard, and went on without looking at him, ‘I’m sure Bob would n’t — would n’t do anything wrong, even when he’s — when he’s that way, you know. But it’s been so long now it seems as if maybe he never would get over it. That’s what frightens me. It began when he was only a little boy; he used to drink the peach-brandy. Sometimes he drank it all up. When I found out, I never told Mot her, and I never said a word to him. I’d go and fill the jug up with syrup. I suppose it was wrong, but I — I did n’t know any better. To this day, I don’t know whether Mother knows or not. I would just as lief stick the carvingknife into her as ask — or tell her. She might think it was her fault because of having the peach-brandy around, you see—’ She drew her hand away quickly; she was frightened at her own loss of self-control, frightened at her sudden longing to cry her troubles out on the young man’s shoulder.
‘Oh, don’t get to thinking things like that. That’s morbid, that’s foolish!’ Cortwright urged, honestly moved; and none the less because the peachbrandy episode seemed to him an ordinary boyish crime, fit only to be laughed at; its very littleness touched him. ‘It is n’t anybody’s fault. Nearly all men have some kind of a time like this. Bob will come around all right. Why, he’s a fine fellow, a splendid fellow — he’s going to be all right —’
He felt with a strange tangle of emotions, — surprise, conceit, satisfaction, and somet hing as near to real tenderness as he could entertain, — that this sad business about Bob brought. Lorrie and himself closer together than a year of visits and attentions and frank, pleasant intimacies had been able to do. And now, as always when he was with her, Lorrie unwittingly called out all that was best in him. He was very gentle, governing his impulses in honest respect, made a great many fine forcible promises to ‘look after Bob,’ to ‘see if he could n’t do something with Bob,’ to ‘get Bob to straighten up,’ and so forth; and went away from her at last in a very noble, protecting, ardent, and exalted state of mind, highly unusual and agreeable. He was resolved to straighten up, not only Robert, but Philip Cortwright, too. For such a girl, a man ought to be willing to do anything! He would cut out that other affair altogether; it would begin to tire him pretty soon, anyhow; he would go on the water-wagon himself, drop the ponies, marry Lorrie, and settle down!
And doubtless Lorrie went upstairs to her room soothed and sustained and full of trust in him; doubtless, too, she blushed to face herself in the glass when she thought of certain passages, certain intonations of ‘his’ voice, certain expressions in ‘his’ eyes; and combed out and braided her long, thick, waving crop of brown hair in a pensive mood which had nothing to do with that unfortunate Robert; and maybe sat awhile by the window with her chin propped on her hands, staring and stargazing and dreaming, while the family snored unromantically all about her, before she slipped into her own little bed.
At the same time, not many squares away, another acquaintance of ours may have been indulging in a very similar style of meditation, and surveying what she could of the night and stars from the window of her bedroom — a stuffy hotel bedroom that commanded a much better view of the rear roofs and fire-escapes and the windows of other stuffy bedrooms than of anything celestial. The young lady, in a heavily embroidered lavender crape kimono somewhat too roomy for her, — it is part of her mother’s wardrobe, in fact, — has been stealthily reading and re-reading a number of little notes received with sundry boxes of candy, or perhaps with those other more costly ‘presents’ for which she has a weakness; she has by heart every word of those notes. They are ‘soft’ and sugary enough even for her taste, and fascinatingly seasoned besides with hints of mystery, secrecy, and caution. This affair quite puts in the shade the honest gentleman of the shoe business and others who have been vulgarly plain and above-board about their admiration and their hopes! It has progressed from chance meetings at first to meetings that were not by any means chance, on her part at any rate, later; and now to risky little appointments, delightful stolen moments, subtly planned encounters — exactly like a play! Indeed, was there ever a finer figure for a matinée hero seen on any stage than the individual signing himself hers, Phil?
(To be continued.)