CHAPTER XVII (continued)
IN WHICH WE WITNESS A SURRENDER
WHEN he came aboard, the cook reported that his friend had been a mite restive, although he was asleep again now. ‘Would n’t wonder if he was jest about on the edge of seein’ ’em — pink rats and such,’ he remarked, not without some pleasant excitement. And he kindly volunteered to sit up in case Van wanted help through the night. ‘I’ve had experience,’ he said; which indeed was highly likely. But fortunately those extreme measures were not necessary. Van Cleve went sound asleep, rolled up in his blanket on the deck. And when he waked up in the morning, with a start and the sensation of something unfinished and impending, which had got to be habitual with him these last three weeks, Bob himself was the first person he saw.
The poor fellow was completely sobered by now, and had got up and bathed and straightened his hair and clothing as best he might; and sat by Van Cleve, evidently watching and waiting for him to wake, with a grave and patient air. He smiled eagerly as their eyes met; Van Cleve put out his hand, and the other slid his own cold and shaking one into it with a confiding gesture, like a child. ‘Top o’ the morning, sir!’ he said, and coughed. He had to take away his hand and clasp it against his chest in a fit of coughing.
Van Cleve did not speak for a moment. He was thinking, inconsequently enough, that in all their intimacy he could not remember ever to have heard Bob tell a foul story; even at his worst and lowest, even drunk and lying in the gutter, there had always been a kind of decency about Bob. It must be mental, seeing that it could be neither moral nor physical; but could a man’s mind be clean, when soul and body were so debased? While he was considering this paradox, Bob began to speak again.
‘Just as soon as you’re up and have had your breakfast, Van, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about,’ he said, with an earnestness that sat strangely on him who was by nature so irresponsible. ‘I’ve read those letters from Lorrie and father—I can’t make ’em out — they ’re so solemn and mysterious, begging me to do my duty, and come home with you, and all that, just as if they expected I’d make a row about it. What would I be doing that for? I’d just as soon go home as not. I’ve seen all I want to. Lorrie’s letter is all wild and hysterical anyhow — poor girl! She’s about heartbroken.’ The ready tears came into Bob’s eyes. ‘Why, of course I’m coming home with you. I’d go back on Lorrie’s account anyhow. She wants to know about Cort.’ Bob’s face grew grave again. He fingered the letters which were spread open on his knees. ‘ There’s something else I’ve got to tell you — to ask you about, I mean. It’s important. But you go ahead and get freshened up first. There’s coffee; shan’t I get you some coffee?’
Van Cleve thought reluctantly, ‘It’s come! He’s going to own up the whole thing to me! ’ Aloud he said, ‘ No, never mind the coffee, Bob, let’s have it out now. Might as well tell me and get it done and over with.’
The other hung his head, fumbling with the letters. ‘ It — it’s not so easy, Van,’ he said huskily; ’if it were just about myself, I would n’t mind, but it’s somebody else — another person, you know —’
Van Cleve thought it the part of wisdom, perhaps the best kindness, not to help him out with any hint of understanding; an honest confession is good for the soul. He waited; and, at last, seeing that Bob seemed unable to get a step further, said casually, ‘ Is that Lorrie’s letter you’ve got there? I’ve written already to tell her we are starting home.’
‘No, no, these are Cort’s. The ones I was going to take to Lorrie, you know. This was my first chance to look them over,’ Bob said; and noting surprise on his friend’s face, he added quickly and defensively, ‘Why, I had to read them, you know, Van; I had to find out what were n’t worth taking to her, so I could destroy them. We have n’t got any room to be carrying letters around, and I thought there was no use taking her a lot of laundry bills and things like that.’
' All right — I understand,’ said Van, almost amused.
‘I would n’t read other people’s letters unless I had to,’ said Bob, hotly.
‘To be sure, it’s a point of honor,’ Van Cleve agreed in his driest tone; and as the other looked at him, puzzled, he said harshly, ‘Go on, Bob, what is it you want to tell me? Go on, man! No use shilly-shallying. Everything always gets known first or last anyhow.’
‘Why, Van Cleve, you — you act as if—you talk as if you knew — or as if you suspected something already!’ Bob stammered aghast.
‘I know about you and Paula Jameson, if that’s what you’re trying to tell me,’ said Van Cleve, out of patience.
At the sound of that name, an unhealthy flush invaded the unhealthy pallor of Bob’s face; but he was silent, staring at his friend unseeingly. Van judged him to be stupefied with astonishment at the sudden uncovering of the disgrace. Shame, regret, alarm, a dozen feelings Van thought he could read in the other’s changing and confused expression.
‘That’s what your father and Lorrie meant by the way they wrote, Bob,’ he said, poignantly ashamed himself, and hurrying through his explanations; ‘that’s the real reason I’m here after you. Lorrie would have come by herself, only I stopped her — I made her stay at Tampa. Everything’s come out. It was bound to come out, from the start. I — I don’t exactly blame you, Bob — I mean I don’t think you’re utterly lost and abandoned because you and she — the girl, you know — sort of let go of yourselves — it was foolish, but it — it ’ — Van Cleve floundered a moment, confused at the inadequacy of his own words — ‘it’s all got to be straightened out , anyhow. They want you to go home and marry her and make it up to her the best you can —’
He halted, struck by a sudden doubt that Bob had understood all that he said, or even heard it all. The abruptness of the attack (to call it that) seemed to have a little dazed him.
‘You know all about me and Paula Jameson?’ Bob repeated, as if nothing after that had conveyed any meaning to him.
‘ Yes, you and Paula Jameson.’ Van Cleve went all over what he had already said, with more deliberation and insistence; as he talked he noticed, with anxiety, that Bob’s features faded gradually to a leaden hue, lips and all. ’I ought to be careful. He looks like a corpse!’ thought Van, frightened, and broke off. ‘Are you — are you all right, Bob? You — you don’t — you are n’t going to be sick?’ he stammered.
Bob put up his hand to his forehead. ‘I’m all right,’ he said vaguely.
‘You had to know, and I had to tell you. Nobody can ever dodge anything like that. It’ll come out some day in spite of you. You might have known that, Bob,’ Van Cleve reiterated.
‘I — I suppose so.’ However much Bob had been startled, he did not faint or go into some kind of fit, as his friend had momentarily feared; neither, to Van’s infinite relief, did he begin a clamorous denial of guilt. Rather he seemed to be painfully adjusting his mind to a comprehensive view of the situation. And at last he said, ‘Who told you?’
Van Cleve told him. He described all the circumstances, as he had seen them, leading up to the unhappy disclosure; and how he himself came to bear some part in it. Bob listened to him with an extraordinary immobility; he did not give the impression of being callous or indifferent; on the contrary, he appeared to Van Cleve to be bending his whole energies merely to understanding the story. He interrupted only once when he asked, ‘Did you see Paula? Did she tell you? ’
‘Me! No!’ ejaculated Van Cleve, horrified; ‘she would n’t be talking to me about it. I hope to the Lord the poor girl does n’t know I’ve got a thing to do with it! No, as I understood it, she did n’t want to blame anybody, but her mother got it out of her somehow.’
He went on talking; and at the end, although Van had pictured as forcibly as he could the attitude of the family, which was surely also the attitude of every right-minded person, Robert said, with the same questioning air as before, —
‘They want me to marry her?’
‘Why, good God, Bob, what else? That’s the only way you can square things. You know what the world is. You know how it would treat that girl, even if any decent person would ever speak to you afterwards. You can’t let her pay the score all by herself. That’s not fair. And, Bob, I know you’re fair; I know you’ll always take what’s coming to you. I told you before, I don’t blame the whole of it on you. There’s a lot of rot talked about men deceiving girls, and taking advantage of their innocence, and all that. It’s a partnership business, in my opinion — six of one, half a dozen of the other. But that does n’t let you off. You — you see there’s going to be a child, Bob—I suppose you did n’t take that in while I was talking just now, but that’s what’s the main trouble. Of course, you could n’t know that.’
‘Yes, I knew it. I guessed at it, that is,’ said Bob, looking down, sorting his letters out, and bundling them together again, first in one packet, then in another, with mechanical movements.
‘What? Before you went away?’
‘No. Not before I went away.’
‘She must have written to him,’ Van Cleve thought, with a mixture of pity and disgust; and for the first time he looked at the other in pure contempt. Faugh, the sorry creature that Bob was! ‘Well, then, you see you’ve got to come home, Bob,’ he said.
‘I — I wish I could see Lorrie — I wish Lorrie was here!’ said Bob, weakly.
Van Cleve got up with an oath. ‘By —! Bob Gilbert, you make me sick!’ he said savagely. ‘ Lorrie! You brought this shameful trouble on yourself, and now you want to go whining to Lorrie and load her up with it. Lorrie! Has n’t she got enough to stand already? The man she loved is dead, shot down and buried like a dog in this God-forsaken hole, and the best you can do for her is to wish she were here to help you out! Has n’t she done enough for you, you that she’s dragged out of the gutters, and defended, and cared for, and prayed over all her life? If she were here, you know very well she’d want you to do the right thing, the decent thing. Oh, Bob, be a man for once! Don’t have us all bolstering you up, and helping you along. Stand on your own feet; think of somebody besides yourself. You know what’s right; then do it because it’s right, not because Lorrie or some of the rest of us tell you to!’
‘I know — I know! I’m going to! I know I don’t amount to much, but I’ll try to do the right thing this time — I’m trying to, Van Cleve,’ said Bob, pitifully. ‘I was just thinking about Lorrie. I want to help her, I don’t want to put any more on her — honestly I do, Van — I want to be good to Lorrie. She’s the best sister that ever was, and it’s just as you say, she’s stood a lot for me. I ought to spare Lorrie. You don’t need to talk any more, Van, I’m going to do it.’
He spoke pleadingly, but Van Cleve’s flare of anger was over, and he was already ashamed of it; when he looked at the other’s stricken face, his heart smote him. ‘Well, then, you come along home with me, and make it all straight, if you ’re so anxious to be good to Lorrie,’ he said gruffly. ‘Here, Bob, you look kind of fagged, you’d better stretch out over here in the shade of the deck-house, on my blanket. I’ll make a pillow out of the coat.’
Bob submitted; he gave Van Cleve a glance of affectionate understanding, not without a spark of his old sweet-tempered mischief. ‘Oh, you old grouch, you!’ he said, thumping the other a weak blow on the back, and collapsed in one of his spasms of coughing. The letters which he was still holding, flew out of his hand, scattering about the decks, and Van Cleve gathered them up and brought them to him.
He was surprised at the haste and eagerness with which Robert, even in the middle of his coughing, snatched at them and crammed them away in his pockets. ‘ Did you see any of those ? ’ he asked, with unwonted sharpness, when he had recovered breath.
‘What? To read, you mean? Why, no. I did n’t look. I don’t want to know what’s in other peoples’ letters any more than you do, you know,’ Van Cleve said, with an effort at lightness.
This was all or nearly all that passed between the two on the subject of Bob’s marriage; that painful chapter was closed and, by tacit agreement, neither one of them referred to it again, except once, when they were nearing Tampa on their return, and this last chapter, too, of trials and adventures was all but ended. Van Cleve’s conscience, which had never been at ease on one point, prompted him to say, with some diffidence, ‘See here, Bob, there’s one thing I ought to say. I don’t want to be unjust to you, but I don’t want to be unjust to — to this girl either. That poor woman, her mother — that poor Mrs. Jameson is — is all right, I know that. But I — well, I don’t know anything about the daughter. I’ve seen her running around the streets late at night with another man, in a carriage, you know, — his arm around her, — and all that. I say I don’t want to be unjust to her, and the fix she’s in now, you can’t blame her for wanting to get out of by any kind of hook or crook. But if you’ve got any reason to think you’re being made a convenience of—?’
‘I said I was going to marry her. So you’d better not talk any more, Van Cleve,’ said Bob.
And Van Cleve, glancing into his face, was silenced.
IN WHICH WE RETURN TO OUR MUTTON
The next time I saw Van Cleve Kendrick was in the fall of that year, some months after his Cuban vacation trip, of which we had all heard during the summer with a mild wonder and curiosity It seemed a bizarre sort of recreation for him to take. Van was notoriously absorbed in work; his bank, his Building Association, his string of plain, respectable clients with their small affairs and savings, had hitherto furnished him with all the entertainment he appeared to want, and he had not been known to display the slightest interest in the Cubans, or, for that matter, in our own picturesque and brave endeavors on their behalf. But the lure of adventure is strange, and lays hold of the most unpromising subjects in the most unexpected ways. After all, Van Cleve was a young man, though nobody ever thought of him as young he was in reality no older than that poor young Cortwright that Lorrie Gilbert had been engaged to, or than her brother Bob, and it had not seemed anything out-of-the-way for them to go. Poor fellows, neither one had got MUCH of a vacation out of it!
As for Van Cleve, it had undeniably done him good. At the end of three or four weeks, he was back on our streets again, burned dark as an Indian, — whom, indeed, with his high cheek bones and flat chin, he not a little resembled, — lean, wiry, and hard-muscled, evidently in the best of health. The National Loan and Savings welcomed him with an enthusiasm that astonished the young fellow, and no doubt secretly pleased him a good deal, although he was far too proud to show it. They all said they had missed him; Schlactmann — who had fairly made up his mind to resign at last, and would leave for Flagstaff, Arizona, the first of the year — shook his hand and said with some significance that he would take his rest easier now that he felt confident the work would be done right in the office. Old Mr. Burgstaller came and complimented Van’s appearance, and asked naïve questions about Cuba. The old German women beamed on him from outside the brass cage-work, and one of them actually brought in a bag of rich little cookies — ‘ Blitzkuchen, Hilda, she make ’em for Mr. Kendrick,’ she said, nodding and smiling; and Van Cleve grinned answeringly and took the offering with a sudden warming of his own heart. Perhaps he was not quite so hard as he looked, or as he fancied himself.
Yet, on the other hand, he was not at all impressed by the attentions of Mr. Gebhardt, although that kind and sentimental patron made almost as much of him on the occasion of this return as if Van Cleve had been his own son. The younger man inwardly, and against his own will, distrusted that very kindness and that very sentiment; he really liked his superior, but he would have liked him better without so much petting from him. The president of the bank invited his assistant bookkeeper out to dinner at his great, cool, rich, beautifully ordered house on Adams Road, overlooking the golf links, with the gables and chimneys of other similarly rich and great homes showing charmingly in the spacious landscape of lawns and trees round about. Mr. Gebhardt’s family of ladies were gone east for the summer to their cottage at Watch Hill (to Van’s relief), but the gentlemen dined handsomely and formally, and had their coffee on the terrace as usual; and the banker talked with a flattering confidence to his young friend about affairs at the National, and about Van’s own affairs, and was so genial, companionable, and unreserved, so unaffectedly pleased with and friendly to Van Cleve, that the latter’s conscience rebuked him.
‘It’s all right, he means it — at least, he means it now — every word of it. I need n’t think that I’m so important anyhow, that he feels he’s got to get on the good side of me!’ thought Van, shrewdly; ‘it’s just Mr. Gebhardt’s way. Probably he’s as sincere as most of us. People fool themselves sometimes. Only I wish he had n’t started in to be so thick and confidential with me; people always dislike you when they realize they’ve been too confidential with you.'
From which it will be seen that Mr. Kendrick had no idea of presuming on his employer’s indiscretions. That may have been one of the reasons that Mr. Gebhardt never appeared to regret — as the other had feared — his frankness with his subordinate; he was constantly and profusely kind after the same manner.
As I was saying, it was some time late in the fall when I myself first met Mr. Kendrick; and then one Sunday afternoon, I encountered him, of all places in the world, at the Art Museum in Paradise Park, a place to which, as is usual with all public monuments, wherever they may be, no native ever goes unless with some visiting stranger. It would have been impossible to imagine Van Cleve diverting himself there, at any rate; and, in point of fact, he was not. He looked mortally bored, standing about with folded arms, and a catalogue of the Society of Western Artists — whose pictures were on exhibition at the time — crumpled in one hand. There was a crowd; but Van, being a tall man and occupied in gazing around anywhere but at the pictures, caught sight of me very soon, and nodded with his habitual short civility which so often antagonized people. Nevertheless, I went up and spoke to him, taking care not to refer to Cuba, by the way; he must have wearied of that topic by now. I asked him if Miss Lucas had a printing there, not being able to account for his presence otherwise.
He said she had; he had just found it; she had wanted him to goand see it. It was the landscape or sea-view over there, No. 270 — let’s see, what did she call it? He unrumpled his catalogue, and, consulting it, annourced that the title was ‘The Beach: Pas Christian, Mississippi.’ ‘They’re down there, you know,’ he told me casually.
Number 270 was hung on the line, if you please; and we went and looked at it with great respect. ‘I suppose it must be pretty good, or she could n’t have got it in. I don’t know much about pictures myself,’ said Van Cleve, im partially.
‘ Did you say Mrs. Van Cleve and the family are living there? I thought — ’
‘Yes. They were in New York for a while, but they wanted to try the South this winter. Do you happen to have seen Miss Gilbert? She was coming to-day —’ Again his eyes roved.
It took some self-command not to smile at that. Of course Van Cleve had come to see his cousin’s painting hanging (on the line!) In this honorable company — oh, of course. And, with out a doubt, it was pure comcidence that Miss Gilbert should chance to be visiting the Museum that very day — oh, without a doubt! The fact is, everybody knew about Van Cleve Kendrick and Lorrie Gilbert. Everybody had been saying for months past — ever since that tragic event in the beginning of the Cuban campaign, indeed — that it seemed rather dreadful to look at it that way, but Lorrie had in all probability made a very lucky escape from that marriage. There had always been more or less talk about Cortwright, not all of it true, of course, but still — At all events, as long as the poor fellow was gone, why, it might be a heartless thing to say, but we hoped Lorrie would get over it and give Van Kendrick a chance.
She came into the picture-gallery — it was the room where the big canvas of John Huss and his Followers hangs — at that moment, with her father and another gentleman about his age; a striking, conspicuous person, very high and wide, and by his gait or looks somehow reminding one a little of Daniel Webster and a little of Buffalo Bill; and he had a slouch hat, and buckskin gauntlet-gloves, and a large, red, purple, handsome, coarse old face. He was so incongruous a figure to be associated with the stooping old Professor with his neat gray side-whiskers and his antique silk hat, peering nearsightedly at the pictures — I say the swaggering elderly d’Artagnan was so much of a fish out of water that at the first glance I supposed he had simply happened to enter at the same time, with the rest of the crowd. But now he was speaking to Lorrie; and when we reached them, Professor Gilbert had got him camped before ‘John Huss,’ and was delivering a little lecture on the life and teachings of that eminent theologian. ‘Archbishop Sbinko in 1410 denounced Huss to the Pope — Alexander V, if I remember correctly— as a Wickliffite’ — we heard.
‘Ah — hum — a which, did you say, Professor?’ asked the other.
‘A Wickliffite — a follower of John de Wickliffe, sir. There can be no doubt, I think, that Huss was greatly influenced by his writings. The similarity of his conclusions to the argument set forth by Wickliffe in the Trialogues proves it to my mind,’ said the Professor, earnestly. I dare say he thought in all simplicity that the subject was deeply interesting to his guest and that an intimate acquaintance with Wickliffe was part of every ordinarily liberal education. ‘However, it was not until some four or five years later that Sigismund of Bohemia — ’ He went on talking, while the other listened vaguely with one eye upon a mammoth painting at the end of the room exhibiting a baker’s dozen of nude nymphs circling about a nude young faun with a flute, in the midst of an Arcadian landscape — some Western artist’s idea of Spring, according to the catalogue.
I had time to whisper to Van Cleve and ask him who was the man with the Gilberts, did he know?
‘Oh, yes; he’s a Judge Cortwright from Maysville. Phil Cortwright’s father, you know. He’s been up here staying with them for two or three days. Lorrie said they were going to bring him here to-day. They’ve been taking him around, of course.’
That explained him. And it was a little disquieting to reflect, that Philip himself might have grown to be just such another as this terrible old lewdeyed satyr of a parent. When we were introduced, I was aware of a kind of halo of bourbon about him; he carried his own especial atmosphere, like the Olympians. To be sure, the poor Gilberts were no strangers to that, after their years of sad experience with that good-for-nothing son; but what did they think of the Judge? What did Lorrie think of her Philip’s father? The girl spoke to us with her usual brightness; Lorrie always had a spirited way, and she was looking as pretty as ever, if a little thin. The Judge eyed her almost too appreciatively, I thought; but indeed he eyed all the women too appreciatively. The whole thing was rather funny and rather pitiable: that nice, scholarly old gentleman expounding about John Huss, and the other leering around at all the young girls, and at the canvases and classic marbles in which he saw only the nakedness and nothing of the beauty.
‘That’s a very fine painting, the large one, with the — er— shepherdesses and so on in the pasture, eh?’ he interrupted Professor Gilbert, as the latter was innocently perorating; and he directed Van Cleve’s attention to the Spring, with a sidelong grin and a swift, flicker of one eyelid, which I suppose he thought none of the rest of us saw. Van gave the picture a matter-of-fact survey and grunted.
‘I don’t know much about pictures,’ he repeated; ‘Evelyn’s got one here, Lorrie. I told you, did n’t I?' And once more we all walked over and solemnly viewed Miss Lucas’s exhibit, Judge Cortwright struggling with a yawn, and the Professor looking dimly ill at ease.
‘Is Judge Cortwright here for any length of time?’ I asked him.
‘Well, for as long as we can keep him, of course,’ said Professor Gilbert, whose Virginia standards of hospitality would never have allowed him to utter the most remote hint of any guest’s departure. ‘He came up from Maysville only last Wednesday. To be frank, madame, I feared he would find it rather dull at our house, he is used to what Mr. Roosevelt has called in his book, the “strenuous life” — much more strenuous than ours at any rate. My own activities are confined to daily hammering a little of the humanities into a number of young people, half of whom forget what I have told them the next day, and the other half get it all wrong!’ said Mr. Gilbert, not without a touch of mild humor. ‘As I say, I was afraid Judge Cortwright would n’t find it very interesting, but Van Cleve, who is quite a man of the world, has been kindly helping us out. He has taken the Judge to his club and to places in the evening, you understand.’
I did understand. And it struck me that both the Professor and his daughter were very thankful to resign their visitor to Van Cleve’s care and leadership. Lorrie dropped behind with me, too, as we strolled through the rooms. I asked, with as casual an air as I could command, how Bob was.
‘Why, he’s doing very well now, thanks—very much improved. It must be wonderful, that climate. The doctors said he could n’t get well here, you know. But Bob says they tell him now that he’ll probably be able to come home in the spring.’
‘Is it Colorado Springs where he’s staying?’
‘ No, Boulder.’
I made some banal remark about it’s being very hard on a man to have to give up work on account of his health, and so forth. A piece of hypocrisy, but what would you have? I must say something, for silence itself would have been an awkward comment. The Gilberts knew that we knew why Bob’s health had failed; that he had been drinking it away for years, and that as for work, he had scarcely done a hand’s turn in his whole life. They knew; yet still we kept up our poor, well-meant pretenses, as is our habit in this world; and upon my word, we do many righteous things that are less admirable!
‘Yes, it must be hard,’ Lorrie said, playing her part of the game pluekily; ‘but even if Bob can’t ever come back to this climate, he can always get something to do out there, you know. He says he’s going to look around as soon as he’s well enough.’ She paused, and then said, rather diffidently, and not looking at me, ‘You knew about his being married?’
‘About the wedding? Oh, yes. It made quite an excitement, you know. We were all very much interested.’
‘Were you surprised?’
‘Well, not so very much. It had been going on for a good while, had n’t it? I never heard of your brother being attentive to anybody else.’ I should not have liked to tell her all the comments that had come to my own ears. The least unkind one had been from somebody who said that the affair was like what you sometimes read in obituary notices, — ‘Lingering, but very sudden at the last!’ Some one else remarked that it was astonishing that any one could have ‘nailed Bob Gilbert down “for keeps” to anything.’ And there had been considerable wonder expressed that Miss Jameson should have taken so much trouble and displayed so much perseverance to capture him, when half the effort would probably have landed her ten times as good a match.
I said to Lorrie, meaning to show an amiable interest, ‘It’s getting to be very swagger to be married at your summer home, or at Bar Harbor or The Hot, is n’t it? I noticed that the Jamesons were in the country. Was it a pretty wedding?’
‘It was very quiet,’ said Lorrie, looking down and stroking and patting her muff nervously; ‘they — they wanted it to be quiet. There were n’t any cards or invitations or anything. They just had the notice put in the paper. They wanted it to be quiet.’
‘Well, that was very sensible, considering that Bob was n’t really well,’ said I, hastily and awkwardly. I felt as if the subject were not a safe one, even though Lorrie herself had opened it. Her manner was strained and unnatural ; and Professor Gilbert stood by, silently fumbling and pulling at his old worn gloves, in visible discomfort. The family must have disliked Robert’s choice of a wife even more than Societyat-large had suspected; it was plainly as much as they could do to put a good face on the matter. And it must be allowed that Society-at-large sympathized with them. ‘Did they — I suppose they went at once to Colorado?’ I blundered along. ‘It’s very nice for you to know that he has a wife with him. And it keeps him from being lonesome, too.’
‘Yes. No. That is — Robert’s wife is not with him —,’ the father began hesitatingly.
‘Not with him just now, of course, Papa means,’ Lorrie broke in; and she went on to talk in a hurried, sprightly way, still quite unlike her own, until Van Cleve and the judge, having made the round of the rooms, came up to us. I never found out where Bob’s wife was; upon comparing notes with other mutual acquaintances, it developed that nobody knew where she was, except that she was not with Bob, and not here in town, neither she nor her mother. That must have been a relief to the Gilberts, at any rate.
IN WHICH MR. KENDRICK PUTS HIS FOOT DOWN
Certain kind-hearted persons professed to think it highly reprehensible for the Van Cleves to have packed off to New York or wherever else they chose, leaving behind the worthiest member of the family, homeless, and exposed to the temptations which, as everybody knows, beset the paths of lonesome young men in boardinghouses. However, Van never showed any signs of deterioration under this neglect; he was an exemplary boarder, quiet and punctual.
In his bachelor apartment there was the oak ‘bedroom-set’ that had always been his when he lived at home, — beginning to look shabby now, though still substantial; there was J. Van Clove’s strong-box stored away on the top shelf of the cupboard; there was a sectional bookcase that Van had bought himself with some of the first, spare money he had ever made; it took thirty dollars, and sometimes, when his eyes fell on it, Van Cleve recalled with amusement the struggle he had had between it and a bicycle, which was the secret desire of his cramped boyish heart. He had made up his mind to the bookcase, he remembered, because it would never need repairs; he was afraid that he could not afford the upkeep of a bicycle!
On the mantelpiece there stood a yellowing old photograph of his grandmother, taken years ago when her hair was still black, very alert and handsome in an elegant sacque and open ruffled sleeves and chignon, and holding on her lap a fat lump of a baby in a blur of white embroideries, with no visible expression on its dough-featured face, though Mrs. Van Cleve always declared that it was the brightest and most beautiful child ever seen: to wit, Van Cleve himself at the age of nine months. Young Kendrick, who was fond of his grandmother, had a sort of laughing affection for this thing; he was at heart rather proud of his good-looking, spirited, well-bred women, even when he felt that they needed a harder hand held over them. Latterly, he had begun to perceive the moral of a story his grandmother had once told him about Joshua’s refusal to buy her a carpet — a body-brussels carpet for the best bedroom, on which she had set her heart. ‘Your grandfather said up and down he would not let me get it; he said he was n’t going to spend money for a new carpet when the old one was plenty good enough. And you know it really was, only I was tired of it, and this other was so pretty.
But what do you think I did, Van? I just made up my mind I’d have that carpet in spite of him; and I went to work and saved up the money bit by bit out of my allowance that he gave me to dress myself with. It cost fiftyeight dollars, too; but it was splendid quality and lasted for years. I always liked that carpet better than any other in the house,’ Mrs. Joshua concluded pensively, all unconscious, for her part, of the moral.
Of course we were all used to the Van Cleves, but when people who knew them as well as this writer heard about that Pass Christian move, it was quite impossible to keep from laughing. Where to next? The family had tried the South before without conspicuous success, but the New Orleans and Palatka orange-grove episodes appeared now to be entirely forgotten! All at once New York City and its vicinity became utterly unbearable. It was imperatively necessary for them to go to some small, quiet place in a mild climate where life would be simple, and where at the same time they could have congenial society. Asheville, Pensacola, San Antonio, were discussed and dismissed in turn, in favor of Pass Christian on the Gulf. Living, of course, was cheap there; they had, as usual, obtained voluminous statistics from hosts of perfectly reliable persons. As to society, the large hotels were likewise full all winter of charming people who went down there for rest and recreation, and to whom Evelyn could give painting lessons. Mrs. Lucas and her daughter covered reams of paper writing out these incontrovertible arguments; Van Cleve did not take the trouble to read the fourth of it. He was very busy and had no time to thresh the subject out with them, even if they would have listened to him. What it all boiled down to — as he told himself with a passing irritation—was that they had got one of their periodic attacks of restlessness again.
So the change was made. Mr. Gebhardt, who took his family down to the Mardi-Gras and to some of the Gulf resorts that winter, and some others of our people who were there and saw the Van Cleves, came back with enthusiastic accounts of their charming little bungalow, furnished so artistically with things they had picked up and with Evelyn’s pictures. They themselves wrote glowingly to Van Cleve about the balmy weather in January, the unfailing sea-breeze, the drives, the boating and bathing, the delightful society. Of course, there was a great deal of money and display at the big hotels, and the little ones were generally crowded with excursionists, land-boomers’ conventions, hunting and fishing men, and the United Order of Owls on an outing. But the cottagers were lovely, and even the hotels served a purpose.
Evelyn held an exhibition at the Sea View House, which was jammed, and everybody went perfectly wild over the pictures. It cost a good deal, as they charged a mountainous rent for the room (the hotel-keepers were all robbers), and then there was the cost of printing the catalogues, which had a cover that the artist designed and lettered herself; the quaintest, brightest thing, everybody simply grabbed one for a souvenir. She was positively overwhelmed with compliments and it was rather funny, so many people, after seeing the catalogues, wanted her to design place-cards and favors for them. She had to tell them — of course she did it tactfully so as not to offend anybody — that she never did anything like that, but there were plenty of shops where those little things could be got, or even done to order by hack-workers. The idea! Evelyn with her talents and artistic education and the name she had made for herself! They would n’t have dreamed of asking Parrish or Gibson to do it. But the general public is n’t very appreciative of real art; they only notice whatever is tremendously advertised.
Miss Lucas sold one picture, Moonlight on the Bayou. Julius Gebhardt, Esq., bought it, and I remember to have seen it hanging in the Gebhardt drawing-room — a pretty scene of liveoaks, Spanish moss, night-shadows, a mystic trail of light in the flat pools, and so forth. ‘He was so dear about it, so much interested, and I believe would have given me any price I asked,’ Evelyn wrote to Van Cleve afterwards. ‘We all love Mr. Gebhardt. He is a splendid character, so strong and trustworthy, and with it all has so much fun in him. You ought to have seen the merry little twinkle in his eye when he said to me, “ Why, you can hear the frogs croak in that swamp! ” And he said beautiful things about you, Van. Grandma was so touched she cried. He said that you had the most wonderful brain for finance he had ever come across. He as good as told us he meant to advance you to the very highest position in the bank. “ If he ever needs money for any purpose, I hope he will not hesitate to come to me. I would do anything I could to help him.” Those were his exact words, so you see I have n’t exaggerated.’
Van Cleve read the whole of this letter, as it happened, in an off hour; and laid it down with a curious look on his face, as he thoughtfully rubbed one hand up the back of his head. ‘I give ’em six months,’ he mentally remarked, and he read again all that rhapsody about Mr. Gebhardt with a renewal of his queer expression. The fact was, his promotion had already come; already he was occupying Schlactmann’s ancient post, and within a year, after the election when, Mr. Gebhardt had privately informed him, they meant if possible to persuade old Mr. O’Rourke to retire from the board of directors, Van Cleve was to have that seat too. Nobody could have been kinder, or declared in warmer terms his belief in his young friend’s uprightness and business ability than the president of the National Loan; and one might have looked for Van to show some gratification at this recognition, even to have been decorously elated over his prospects. On the contrary, Mr. Kendrick went about his work with the same dour energy as before, no more gay or agreeable than he had ever been. The duties of his new position must have weighed heavily on him, or else his private cares, for he was very thoughtful and absorbed those days.
(To be continued.)