Chapter XVI. A Cast-Off Slipper
 

A large sum would soon be available; so the carrying out of the plans to extend, or, rather, to construct Tecumseh, must be begun. The trustees commissioned young Hargrave to go abroad at once in search of educational and architectural ideas, and to get apparatus that would make the laboratories the best in America. Chemistry and its most closely related sciences were to be the foundation of the new university, as they are at the foundation of life. "We'll model our school, not upon what the ignorant wise of the Middle Ages thought ought to be life, but upon life itself," said Dr. Hargrave. "We'll build not from the clouds down, but from the ground up." He knew in the broad outline what was wanted for the Tecumseh of his dream; but he felt that he was too old, perhaps too rusted in old-fashioned ways and ideas, himself to realize the dream; so he put the whole practical task upon Dory, whom he had trained from infancy to just that end.

When it was settled that Dory was to go, would be away a year at the least, perhaps two years, he explained to Adelaide. "They expect me to leave within a fortnight," he ended. And she knew what was in his mind--what he was hoping she would say.

It so happened that, in the months since their engagement, an immense amount of work had been thrust upon Dory. Part of it was a study of the great American universities, and that meant long absences from home. All of it was of the kind that must be done at once or not at all--and Work is the one mistress who, if she be enamored enough of a man to resolve to have him and no other, can compel him, whether he be enamored of her or not. However, for the beginning of the artificial relation between this engaged couple, the chief cause was not his work but his attitude toward her, his not unnatural but highly unwise regard for the peculiar circumstances in which they had become engaged. Respect for the real feelings of others is all very well, if not carried too far; but respect for the purely imaginary feelings of others simply encourages them to plunge deeper into the fogs and bogs of folly. There was excuse for Dory's withholding from his love affair the strong and firm hand he laid upon all his other affairs; but it cannot be denied that he deserved what he got, or, rather, that he failed to deserve what he did not get. And the irony of it was that his unselfishness was chiefly to blame; for a selfish man would have gone straight at Del and, with Dory's advantages, would have captured her forthwith.

As it was, she drifted aimlessly through day after day, keeping close at home, interested in nothing. She answered briefly or not at all the letters from her old friends, and she noted with a certain blunted bitterness how their importunities fainted and died away, as the news of the change in her fortunes got round. If she had been seeing them face to face every day, or if she had been persistent and tenacious, they would have extricated themselves less abruptly; for not the least important among the sacred "appearances" of conventionality is the "appearance" of good-heartedness; it is the graceful cloak for that icy selfishness which is as inevitable among the sheltered and pampered as sympathy and helpfulness are among those naked to the joys and sorrows of real life. Adelaide was far from her friends, and she deliberately gave them every opportunity to abandon and to forget her without qualms or fears of "appearing" mean and snobbish. There were two girls from whom she rather hoped for signs of real friendship. She had sought them in the first place because they were "of the right sort," but she had come to like them for themselves and she believed they liked her for herself. And so they did; but their time was filled with the relentless routine of the fashionable life, and they had not a moment to spare for their own personal lives; besides, Adelaide wouldn't have "fitted in" comfortably. The men of their set would be shy of her now; the women would regard her as a waste of time.

Her beauty and her cleverness might have saved her, had she been of one of those "good families" whom fashionables the world over recognize, regardless of their wealth or poverty, because recognition of them gives an elegant plausibility to the pretense that Mammon is not the supreme god in the Olympus of aristocracy. But--who were the Rangers? They might be "all right" in Saint X, but where was Saint X? Certainly, not on any map in the geography of fashion.

So Adelaide, sore but too lethargic to suffer, drifted drearily along, feeling that if Dory Hargrave were not under the influence of that brilliant, vanished past of hers, even he would abandon her as had the rest, or, at least, wouldn't care for her. Not that she doubted his sincerity in the ideals he professed; but people deceived themselves so completely. There was her own case; had she for an instant suspected how flimsily based was her own idea of herself and of her place in the world?--the "world" meaning, of course, "the set." As is the rule in "sets," her self-esteem's sole foundation had been what she had, or, rather, what the family had, and now that that was gone, she held what was left cheap indeed--and held herself the cheaper that she could feel thus. At the outset, Arthur, after the familiar male fashion, was apparently the weaker of the two. But when the test came, when the time for courageous words was succeeded by the time for deeds, the shrinking from action that, since the nation grew rich, has become part of the education of the women of the classes which shelter and coddle their women, caused Adelaide to seem feeble indeed beside her brother. Also--and this should never be forgotten in judging such a woman--Arthur had the advantage of the man's compulsion to act, while Adelaide had the disadvantage of being under no material necessity to act--and what necessity but the material is there?

Dory--his love misleading his passion, as it usually does when it has much influence before marriage--reasoned that, in the interest of the Adelaide that was to be, after they were married, and in his own interest with her as well, the wise course for him to pursue was to wait until time and the compulsion of new circumstances should drive away her mood, should give her mind and her real character a chance to assert themselves. In the commission to go abroad, he saw the external force for which he had been waiting and hoping. And it seemed to him most timely--for Ross's wedding invitations were out.

"Two weeks," said Adelaide absently. "You will sail in two weeks." Then in two weeks she could be out of it all, could be far away in new surroundings, among new ideas, among strangers. She could make the new start; she could submerge, drown her old self in the new interests.

"Will you come?" he said, when he could endure the suspense no longer. "Won't you come?"

She temporized. "I'm afraid I couldn't--oughtn't to leave--mother and Arthur just now."

He smiled sadly. She might need her mother and her brother; but in the mood in which she had been for the last few months, they certainly did not need her. "Adelaide," said he, with that firmness which he knew so well how to combine with gentleness, without weakening it, "our whole future depends on this. If our lives are to grow together, we must begin. This is our opportunity."

She knew that Dory was not a man she could play fast and loose with, even had she been so disposed. Clearly, she must decide whether she intended to marry him, to make his life hers and her life his. She looked helplessly round. What but him was there to build on? Without him--She broke the long silence with, "That is true. We must begin." Then, after a pause during which she tried to think and found she couldn't, "Make up my mind for me."

"Let us be married day after to-morrow," said he. "We can leave for New York on the one o'clock train and sail on Thursday."

"You had it planned!"

"I had several plans," he answered. "That's the best one."

What should she do? Impulsively--why, she did not know--she gave Dory her answer: "Yes, that is the best plan. I must begin--at once." And she started up, in a fever to be doing.

Dory, dazed by his unexpected, complete victory, went immediately, lest he should say or do something that would break or weaken the current of her aroused energy. He went without as much as touching her hand. Certainly, if ever man tempted fate to snatch from him the woman he loved, Dory did then; and at that time Del must, indeed, have been strongly drawn to him, or she would have been unable to persist.

The problem of the trousseau was almost as simple for her as for him. She had been extravagant and luxurious, had accumulated really unmanageable quantities of clothing of all kinds, far, far more than any woman without a maid could take care of. The fact that she had not had a maid was in part responsible for this superfluity. She had neither the time nor the patience for making or for directing the thousand exasperating little repairs that are necessary if a woman with a small wardrobe is always to look well. So, whenever repairs were necessary, she bought instead; and as she always kept herself fresh and perfect to the smallest detail she had to buy profusely. As soon as a dress or a hat or a blouse or a parasol, a pair of boots, slippers, stockings, or any of the costly, flimsy, all but unlaunderable underwear she affected, became not quite perfect, she put it aside against that vague day when she should have leisure or inclination for superintending a seamstress. Within two hours of her decision she had a seamstress in the house, and they and her mother were at work. There was no necessity to bother about new dresses. She would soon be putting off black, and she could get in Paris what she would then need.

In the whirlwind of those thirty-six hours, she had not a moment to think of anything but the material side of the wedding--the preparations for the journey and for the long absence. She was half an hour late in getting down to the front parlor for the ceremony, and she looked so tired from toil and lack of sleep that Dory in his anxiety about her was all but unconscious that they were going through the supposedly solemn marriage rite. Looking back on it afterwards, they could remember little about it--perhaps even less than can the average couple, under our social system which makes a wedding a social function, not a personal rite. They had once in jesting earnest agreed that they would have the word "obey" left out of the vows; but they forgot this, and neither was conscious of repeating "obey" after the preacher. Adelaide was thinking of her trunks, was trying to recall the things she felt she must have neglected in the rush; Dory was worrying over her paleness and the heavy circles under her eyes, was fretting about the train--Del's tardiness had not been in the calculations. Even the preacher, infected by the atmosphere of haste, ran over the sentences, hardly waiting for the responses. Adelaide's mother was hearing the trunks going down to the van, and was impatient to be where she could superintend--there was a very important small trunk, full of underclothes, which she was sure they were overlooking. Arthur was gloomily abstracted, was in fierce combat with the bitter and melancholy thoughts which arose from the contrast he could not but make--this simple wedding, with Dory Hargrave as her groom, when in other circumstances there would have been such pomp and grandeur. He and Mary the cook and Ellen the upstairs girl and old Miss Skeffington, generalissimo of the Hargrave household, were the only persons present keenly conscious that there was in progress a wedding, a supposedly irrevocable union of a man and woman for life and for death and for posterity. Even old Dr. Hargrave was thinking of what Dory was to do on the other side, was mentally going over the elaborate scheme for his son's guidance which he had drawn up and committed to paper. Judge Torrey, the only outsider, was putting into form the speech he intended to make at the wedding breakfast.

But there was no wedding breakfast--at least, none for bride and groom. The instant the ceremony was over, Mary the cook whispered to Mrs. Ranger: "Mike says they've just got time to miss the train."

"Good gracious!" cried Mrs. Ranger. And she darted out to halt the van and count the trunks. Then she rushed in and was at Adelaide's arm. "Hurry, child!" she exclaimed. "Here is my present for you."

And she thrust into her hand a small black leather case, the cover of a letter of credit. Seeing that Del was too dazed to realize what was going on, she snatched it away and put it into the traveling case which Mary was carrying. Amid much shaking hands and kissing and nervous crying, amid flooding commonplaces and hysterical repetitions of "Good-by! Good luck!" the young people were got off. There was no time for Mary to bring the rice from the kitchen table, but Ellen had sequestered one of Adelaide's old dancing slippers under the front stair. She contrived to get it out and into action, and to land it full in Adelaide's lap by a lucky carom against the upright of the coach window.

Adelaide looked down at it vaguely. It was one of a pair of slippers she had got for the biggest and most fashionable ball she had ever attended. She remembered it all--the gorgeousness of the rooms, the flowers, the dresses, the favors, her own ecstasy in being where it was supposed to be so difficult to get; how her happiness had been marred in the early part of the evening by Ross's attendance on Helen Galloway in whose honor the ball was given; how he made her happy again by staying beside her the whole latter part of the evening, he and more young men than any other girl had. And here was the slipper, with its handsome buckle torn off, stained, out of shape from having been so long cast aside. Where did it come from? How did it get here? Why had this ghost suddenly appeared to her? On the opposite seat, beside her traveling case, fashionable, obviously expensive, with her initials in gold, was a bag marked "T.H."--of an unfashionable appearance, obviously inexpensive, painfully new. She could not take her fascinated eyes from it; and the hammering of her blood upon her brain, as the carriage flew toward the station, seemed to be a voice monotonously repeating, "Married--married--" She shuddered. "My fate is settled for life," she said to herself. "I am married!"

She dared not look at her husband--Husband! In that moment of cruel memory, of ghastly chopfallen vanity, it was all she could do not visibly to shrink from him. She forgot that he was her best friend, her friend from babyhood almost, Theodore Hargrave. She felt only that he was her husband, her jailer, the representative of all that divided her forever from the life of luxury and show which had so permeated her young blood with its sweet, lingering poison. She descended from the carriage, passed the crowd of gaping, grinning loungers, and entered the train, with cheeks burning and eyes downcast, an ideal bride in appearance of shy and refined modesty. And none who saw her delicate, aristocratic beauty of face and figure and dress could have attributed to her the angry, ugly, snobbish thoughts, like a black core hidden deep in the heart of a bewitching flower.

As he sat opposite her in the compartment, she was exaggerating into glaring faults the many little signs of indifference to fashion in his dress. She had never especially noted before, but now she was noting as a shuddering exhibition of "commonness," that he wore detachable cuffs--and upon this detail her distraught mind fixed as typical. She could not take her eyes off his wrists; every time he moved his arms so that she could see the wristband within his cuff, she felt as if a piece of sandpaper were scraping her skin. He laid his hand on her two gloved hands, folded loosely in her lap. Every muscle, every nerve of her body grew tense; she only just fought down the impulse to snatch her hands away and shriek at him.

She sat rigid, her teeth set, her eyes closed, until her real self got some control over the monstrous, crazy creature raving within her. Then she said: "Please don't--touch me--just now. I've been on such a strain--and I'm almost breaking down."

He drew his hand away. "I ought to have understood," he said. "Would you like to be left alone for a while?"

Without waiting for her answer, he left the compartment to her. She locked the door and let herself loose. When she had had her cry "out," she felt calm; but oh, so utterly depressed. "This is only a mood," she said to herself. "I don't really feel that way toward him. Still--I've made a miserable mistake. I ought not to have married him. I must hide it. I mustn't make him suffer for what's altogether my own fault. I must make the best of it."

When he came back, she proceeded to put her programme into action. All the afternoon he strove with her sweet gentleness and exaggerated consideration for him; he tried to make her see that there was no necessity for this elaborate pose and pretense. But she was too absorbed in her part to heed him. In the evening, soon after they returned to the compartment from the dining car, he rose. "I am going out to smoke," he said. "I'll tell the porter to make up your berth. You must be very tired. I have taken another--out in the car--so that you will not be disturbed."

She grew white, and a timid, terrified look came into her eyes.

He touched her shoulder--gently. "Don't--please!" he said quietly. "In all the years we've known each other, have you ever seen anything in me to make you feel--like--that?"

Her head drooped still lower, and her face became crimson.

"Adelaide, look at me!"

She lifted her eyes until they met his uncertainly.

He put out his hand. "We are friends, aren't we?"

She instantly laid her hand in his.

"Friends," he repeated. "Let us hold fast to that--and let the rest take care of itself."

"I'm ashamed of myself," said she. And in her swift revulsion of feeling there was again opportunity for him. But he was not in the mood to see it.

"You certainly ought to be," replied he, with his frank smile that was so full of the suggestions of health and sanity and good humor. "You'll never get a martyr's crown at my expense."

At New York he rearranged their steamer accommodations. It was no longer diffidence and misplaced consideration that moved him permanently to establish the most difficult of barriers between them; it was pride now, for in her first stormy, moments in the train he had seen farther into her thoughts than he dared let himself realize.