Chapter XXV. Man and Gentleman
 

A few evenings later, Del, in a less strained, less despondent frame of mind, coming home from supper at her mother's, found Estelle Wilmot on the front veranda talking with Lorry Tague. She had seen this same sight perhaps half-a-dozen times since Estelle and Arden had come to stop with her at the Villa d'Orsay. On this particular evening his manner toward Estelle was no different from what it had been the other times; yet, as Del approached them, she felt the electric atmosphere which so often envelops two who love each other, and betrays their secret carefully guarded behind formal manner and indifferent look and tone. She wondered that she had been blind to what was now obvious.

"Well, Arthur has at last compelled you to go to work," said she smilingly to the big cooper with the waving tawny hair and the keen, kind gray eyes. Then, to show her respect for the secret, she said to Estelle, "Perhaps he hasn't told you that he was made superintendent of the cooperage to-day?"

Estelle blushed a little, her eyes dancing. "He was just telling me," replied she.

"I understand why you yielded," continued Adelaide to Lorry. "Arthur has been showing me the plans for the new factories. Gardens all round, big windows, high ceilings, everything done by electricity, no smoke or soot, a big swimming pool for winter or summer, a big restaurant, dressing rooms--everything! Who'd have believed that work could be carried on in such surroundings?"

"It's about time, isn't it," said Lorry, in his slow, musical voice, "that idleness was deprived of its monopoly of comforts and luxuries?"

"How sensible that is!" said Del admiringly. "Yet nobody thinks of it."

"Why," Lorry went on, "the day'll come when they'll look back on the way we work nowadays, as we do on the time when a lot of men never went out to work except in chains and with keepers armed with lashes. The fellows that call Dory and Arthur crazy dreamers don't realize what ignorant savages they themselves are."

"They have no imagination," said Estelle.

"No imagination," echoed Lorry. "That's the secret of the stupidity and the horror of change, and of the notion that the way a thing's done to-day is the way it'll always be done."

"I'm afraid Arthur is going to get himself into even deeper trouble when these new plans are announced," said Del.

Arthur's revolution had already inflamed the other manufacturers at Saint X against him. Huge incomes were necessary to the support of their extravagant families and to the increase of the fortunes they were piling up "to save their children from fear of want"--as if that same "fear of want" were not the only known spur to the natural lethargy of the human animal! They explained to their workmen that the university industries were not business enterprises at all, and therefore must not be confused and compared with enterprises that were "practical"; but the workmen fixed tenaciously upon the central fact that the university's men worked at mechanical labor fewer hours each day by four to seven, and even eight, got higher wages, got more out of life in every way. Nor was there any of the restraint and degradation of the "model town." The workers could live and act as they pleased; it was by the power of an intelligent public opinion that Arthur was inducing his fellows and their families to build for themselves attractive homes, to live in tasteful comfort, to acquire sane habits of eating, drinking, and personal appearance. And no one was more amazed than himself at the swiftness with which the overwhelming majority responded to the opportunity. Small wonder that the other manufacturers, who at best never went beyond the crafty, inexpensive schemes of benevolent charity, were roaring against the university as a "hotbed of anarchy."

At Adelaide's suggestion of the outburst that would follow the new and still more "inflammatory" revolution, Lorry shrugged his shoulders and laughed easily. "Nobody need worry for that brother of yours, Mrs. Hargrave," said he. "There may be some factories for sale cheap before many years. If so, the university can buy them in and increase its usefulness. Dory and Arthur are going to have a university that will be up to the name before they get through--one for all ages and kinds, and both sexes, and for everybody all his life long and in all his relations."

"It's a beautiful dream," said Del. She was remembering how Dory used to enlarge upon it in Paris until his eloquence made her feel that she loved him at the same time that it also gave her a chilling sense of his being far from her, too big and impersonal for so intimate and personal a thing as the love she craved. "A beautiful dream," she repeated with a sigh.

"That's the joy of life," said Estelle, "isn't it? To have beautiful dreams, and to help make them come true."

"And this one is actually coming true," said Lorry. "Wait a few years, only a few, and you'll see the discoveries of science make everything so cheap that vulgar, vain people will give up vulgarity and vanity in despair. A good many of the once aristocratic vulgarities have been cheapened into absurdity already. The rest will follow."

"Only a few years?" said Del, laughing, yet more than half-convinced.

"Use your imagination, Mrs. Hargrave," replied Lorry, in his large, good-humored way. "Don't be afraid to be sensible just because most people look on common sense as insanity. A hundred things that used to be luxuries for the king alone are now so cheap that the day-laborer has them--all in less than two lifetimes of real science! To-morrow or next day some one will discover, say, the secret of easily and cheaply interchanging the so-called elements. Bang! the whole structure of swagger and envy will collapse!"

They all laughed, and Del went into the house. "Estelle--no woman, no matter who--could hope to get a better husband than Lorry," she was thinking. "And, now that he's superintendent, there's no reason why they shouldn't marry. What a fine thing, what an American thing, that a man with no chance at all in the start should be able to develop himself so that a girl like Estelle could--yes, and should--be proud of his love and proud to love him." She recalled how Lorry at the high school was about the most amusing of the boys, with the best natural manner, and far and away the best dancer; how he used to be invited everywhere, until excitement about fashion and "family" reached Saint X; how he was then gradually dropped until he, realizing what was the matter, haughtily "cut" all his former friends and associates. "We've certainly been racing downhill these last few years. Where the Wilmots used to be about the only silly people in town, there are scores of families now with noses in the air and eyes looking eagerly about for chances to snub. But, on the other hand, there's the university, and Arthur--and Dory." She dismissed Lorry and Estelle and Saint X's fashionable strivings and, in the library, sat down to compose a letter to Dory--no easy task in those days, when there were seething in her mind and heart so much that she longed to tell him but ought not, so much that she ought to tell but could not.

Lorry had acted as if he were about to depart, while Adelaide was there; he resumed his seat on the steps at Estelle's feet as soon as she disappeared. "I suppose I ought to go," said he, with a humorous glance up at her face with its regular features and steadfast eyes.

She ran her slim fingers through his hair, let the tips of them linger an instant on his lips before she took her hand away.

"I couldn't let you go just yet," said she slowly, absently. "This is the climax of the day. In this great, silent, dim light all my dreams--all our dreams--seem to become realities and to be trooping down from the sky to make us happy."

A pause, then he: "I can see them now." But soon he moved to rise. "It frightens me to be as happy as I am this evening. I must go, dear. We're getting bolder and bolder. First thing you know, your brother will be suspecting--and that means your mother."

"I don't seem to care any more," replied the girl. "Mother is really in much better health, and has got pretty well prepared to expect almost anything from me. She has become resigned to me as a 'working person.' Then, too, I'm thoroughly inoculated with the habit of doing as I please. I guess that's from being independent and having my own money. What a good thing money is!"

"So long as it means independence," suggested Lorry; "but not after it means dependence."

But Estelle was thinking of their future. The delay, the seemingly endless delay, made her even more impatient than it made him, as is always the case where the woman is really in love. In the man love holds the impetuosity of passion in leash; in the woman it rouses the deeper, the more enduring force of the maternal instinct--not merely the unconscious or, at most, half-conscious longing for the children that are to be, but the desire to do for the man--to look after his health, his physical comfort, to watch over and protect him; for, to the woman in love, the man seems in those humble ways less strong than she--a helpless creature, dependent on her. "It's going to be much harder to wait," said she, "now that you are superintendent and I have bought out Mrs. Hastings's share of my business."

They both laughed, but Lorry said: "It's no joke. A little too much money has made fools of as wise people as we are--many and many's the time."

"Not as wise a person as you are, and as you'll always make me be, or seem to be," replied Estelle.

Lorry pressed his big hand over hers for an instant. "Now that I've left off real work," said he, "I'll soon be able to take your hand without giving you a rough reminder of the difference between us."

He held out his hands, palms upward. They were certainly not soft and smooth, but they more than made up in look of use and strength what they lacked in smoothness. She put her small hands one on either side of his, and they both thrilled with the keen pleasure the touch of edge of hand against edge of hand gave them. In the ends of her fingers were the marks of her needlework. He bent and kissed those slightly roughened finger ends passionately. "I love those marks!" he exclaimed. "They make me feel that we belong to each other."

"I'd be sorry to see your hands different," said she, her eyes shining upon his. "There are many things you don't understand about me--for instance, that it's just those marks of work that make you so dear to me. A woman may begin by liking a man because he's her ideal in certain ways, but once she really cares, she loves whatever is part of him."

In addition to the reasons she had given for feeling "bolder" about her "plebeian" lover, there was another that was the strongest of all. A few months before, a cousin of her father's had died in Boston, where he was the preacher of a most exclusive and fashionable church. He had endeared himself to his congregation by preaching one Easter Sunday a sermon called "The Badge of Birth." In it he proceeded to show from the Scriptures themselves how baseless was the common theory that Jesus was of lowly origin. "The common people heard Him gladly," cried the Rev. Eliot Wilmot, "because they instinctively felt His superiority of birth, felt the dominance of His lineage. In His veins flowed the blood of the royal house of Israel, the blood of the first anointed kings of Almighty God." And from this interesting premise the Reverend Wilmot deduced the divine intent that the "best blood" should have superior rights--leadership, respect, deference. So dear was he to his flock that they made him rich in this world's goods as well as in love and honor. The Wilmots of Saint X had had lively expectations from his estate. They thought that one holding the views eloquently set forth in "The Badge of Birth" must dedicate his fortune to restoring the dignity and splendor of the main branch of the Wilmot family. But, like all their dreams, this came to naught. His fortune went to a theological seminary to endow scholarships and fellowships for decayed gentlemen's sons; he remembered only Verbena Wilmot. On his one visit to the crumbling, weed-choked seat of the head of the house, he had seen Verbena's wonderful hands, so precious and so useless that had she possessed rings and deigned to wear them she would not have permitted the fingers of the one hand to put them on the fingers of the other. The legacy was five thousand dollars, at four per cent., an income of two hundred dollars a year. Verbena invested the first quarterly installment in a long-dreamed-of marble reproduction of her right hand which, after years of thinking daily about the matter, she had decided was a shade more perfect than the left.

If one dim eye makes a man king among blind men--to translate to the vernacular Verbena's elegant reasoning--an income, however trifling, if it have no taint of toil, no stench of sweat upon it, makes its possessor entitled to royal consideration in a family of paupers and dead beats, degraded by harboring a breadwinner of an Estelle. No sudden recipient of a dazzling, drenching shower of wealth was ever more exalted than was Verbena, once in possession of "my legacy." Until the Rev. Eliot Wilmot's posthumous blessing descended upon her, the Wilmots lived together in comparative peace and loving kindness. They were all, except for their mania of genealogy, good-humored, extremely well-mannered people, courteous as much by nature as by deliberate intent. But, with the coming of the blessing, peace and friendliness in that family were at an end. Old Preston Wilmot and Arden railed unceasingly against the "traitor" Eliot; Verbena defended him. Their mother and Estelle were drawn into the battle from time to time, Estelle always against her will. Before Verbena had been a woman of property three months, she was hating her father and brother for their sneers and insults, Arden had gone back to drinking, and the old gentleman was in a savage and most ungentlemanly humor from morning until night.

Estelle, the "black sheep" ever since she began to support them by engaging in trade, drew aloof now, was at home as little as she could contrive, often ate a cold supper in the back of her shop. She said nothing to Lorry of the family shame; she simply drew nearer to him. And out of this changed situation came, unconsciously to herself, a deep contempt for her father and her brother, a sense that she was indeed as alien as the Wilmots so often alleged, in scorn of her and her shop; Verbena's income went to buy adornments for herself, dresses that would give the hands a fitting background; Estelle's earnings went to her mother, who distributed them, the old gentleman and Arden ignoring whence and how the money came.

As Estelle and Lorry lingered on the porch of the Villa d'Orsay that August evening, alone in the universe under that vast, faintly luminous, late-twilight sky, Arden Wilmot came up the lawn. Neither Lorry nor Estelle saw or heard him until his voice, rough with drink and passion, savagely stung them with, "What the hell does this mean?"

Lorry dropped Estelle's hand and stood up, Estelle behind him, a restraining hand on his shoulder. Both were white to the lips; their sky, the moment before so clear and still, was now black and thunderous with a frightful storm. Estelle saw that her brother was far from sober; and the sight of his sister caressed by Lorry Tague would have maddened him even had he not touched liquor. She darted between the two men. "Don't be a goose, Arden," she panted, with a hysterical attempt to laugh.

"That fellow was touching you!" stormed Arden. "You miserable disgrace!" And he lifted his hand threateningly to her.

Lorry put his arm round her and drew her back, himself advancing. "You must be careful how you act toward the woman who is to be my wife, Mr. Wilmot," he said, afire in all his blood of the man who has the right to demand of the whole world the justice he gives it.

Arden Wilmot stared dumfounded, first at Lorry, then at Estelle. In the pause, Adelaide, drawn from the library by the sound of Arden's fury, reached the front doorway, saw the three, instantly knew the whole cause of this sudden, harsh commotion. With a twitch that was like the shaking off of a detaining grasp, with a roar like a mortally wounded beast's, Arden recovered the use of limbs and voice. "You infernal lump of dirt!" he yelled. Adelaide saw his arm swing backward, then forward, and up--saw something bright in his hand. A flash--"O God, God!" she moaned. But she could not turn her eyes away or close them.

Lorry stood straight as a young sycamore for an instant, turned toward Estelle. "Good-by--my love!" he said softly, and fell, face downward, with his hands clasping the edge of her dress.

And Estelle--

She made no sound. Like a ghost, she knelt and took Lorry's head in her lap; with one hand against each of his cheeks she turned his head. "Lorry! Lorry!" she murmured in a heartbreaking voice that carried far through the stillness.

Arden put the revolver back in his pocket, seized her by the shoulder. "Come away from that!" he ordered roughly, and half-lifted her to her feet.

With a cry so awful that Adelaide swayed and almost swooned at hearing it, Estelle wrenched herself free, flung herself on her lover's body, buried her fingers in his hair, covered his dead face with kisses, bathed her lips in the blood that welled from his heart. Shouts and heavy, quick tramping from many directions--the tempest of murder was drawing people to its center as a cyclone sucks in leaves. Fright in Arden Wilmot's face, revealed to Adelaide in the light streaming from the big drawing-room windows. A group--a crowd--a multitude--pouring upon the lawns from every direction--swirling round Arden as he stood over the prostrate intermingled forms of his sister and her dead lover.

Then Adelaide, clinging to the door frame to steady herself, heard Arden say in a loud blustering voice: "I found this fellow insulting my sister, and I treated him as a Wilmot always treats an insult." And as the words reached her, they fired her. All her weakness, all her sense of helplessness fled.

Out of the circle came a man bearing unconscious Estelle, blood upon her face, upon her bosom, blood dripping from her hands. "Where shall I take her?" asked the man of Adelaide. "A doctor's been sent for."

"Into the hall--on the sofa--at the end--and watch by her," said Del, in quick, jerking tones. Her eyes were ablaze, her breath came in gusts. Without waiting to see where he went with his burden, she rushed down the broad steps and through the crowd, pushing them this way and that. She faced Arden Wilmot--not a lady, but a woman, a flaming torch of outraged human feeling.

"You lie!" she cried, and he seemed to wither before her. "You lie about him and about her! You, with the very clothes you're dressed in, the very liquor you're drunk with, the very pistol that shot him down, paid for by her earnings! He never offended you--not by look or word. You murdered him--I saw--heard. You murdered the man she was to marry, the man she loved--murdered him because she loved him. Look at him!"

The crowd widened its circle before the sweep of her arm. Lorry's blood-stained body came into view. His face, beautiful and, in its pale calm, stronger than life, was open to the paling sky. "There lies a man," she sobbed, and her tears were of the kind that make the fires of passion burn the fiercer. "A man any woman with a woman's heart would have been proud to be loved by. And you--you've murdered him!"

"Take care, Mrs. Hargrave," a voice whispered in her ear. "They'll lynch him."

"And why not?" she cried out. "Why should such a creature live?"

A hundred men were reaching for Arden, and from the crowd rose that hoarse, low, hideous sound which is the first deep bay of the unleashed blood-madness. "No, no!" she begged in horror, and waved them back.

"Adelaide!" gasped Arden, wrenching himself free and crouching at her feet and clinging to her skirts. "Save me! I only did my duty as a gentleman."

She looked down at him in unpitying scorn, then out at the crowd. "Hear that!" she cried, with a wild, terrible laugh. "A gentleman! Yes, that's true--a gentleman. Saving your sister from the coarse contamination of an honest man!" Then to the men who were dragging at him: "No, I say--no! Let him alone! Don't touch the creature! He'll only foul your hands." And she pushed them back. "Let him live. What worse fate could he have than to be pointed at every day of a long life as the worthless drunken thing who murdered a man, and then tried to save himself by defaming his victim and his own sister?"

Under cover of her barrier of command, the constable led Arden into the house, past where his sister lay in a swoon, and by the back way got him to jail. The crowd, fascinated by her beauty, which the tempest of passion had transfigured into terrible and compelling majesty, was completely under her control. She stayed on, facing that throng of men, many of whom she knew by name, until Lorry's body was taken away. She was about to go into the house, as the crowd began quietly to disperse, when there arose a murmur that made her turn quickly toward the doors. There was Estelle, all disheveled and bloodstained. Her face was like death; her movements were like one walking in a deep sleep as she descended to the lawn and came toward them.

"Where is he? Where is he?" she wailed, pushing this way and that through the crowd, her hands outstretched, her long fair hair streaming like a bridal veil. Her feet slipped on the wet grass--where it was wet with his blood. She staggered, swayed uncertainly, fell with her arms outstretched as if the earth were he she sought. She lay there moaning--the cry of her tortured nerves alone, for her mind was unconscious.

Adelaide and Madelene, who had just come, bent to lift her. But their strength failed them and they sank to their knees in terror; for, from the silent crowd there burst a shriek: "Kill him, kill him!" And all in an instant the grounds were emptied of those thousands; and to the two women came an ever fainter but not less awful roar as the mob swept on uptown toward the jail.

Madelene was first to recover. "Let us carry her in," she said. And when the limp form was once more on the big sofa and the eyelids were trembling to unclose, she ripped open the right sleeve and thrust in the needle that gives oblivion.

Adelaide went to the window and listened. Before her in the moonlight was the place where that tempest of hate and murder had burst and raged. Once more her heart hardened in the pitiless fury of outraged mercy. A moan from Estelle stung her, and she leaned forward the better to catch the music of the mob's distant shriek. Silence for full five minutes; then a sound like that which bursts from the throats of the bloodhounds as they bury their fangs in their quarry. She gave a faint scream, covered her face. "Oh, spare him! Spare him!" she cried. And she sank to the floor in a faint, for she knew that Arden Wilmot was dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Adelaide took Estelle's store until Estelle came back to it, her surface calm like the smooth river that hides in its tortured bosom the deep-plunged rapids below the falls. The day after Estelle's return Adelaide began to study architecture at the university; soon she was made an instructor, with the dean delighted and not a little mystified by her energy and enthusiasm. Yet the matter was simple and natural: she had emerged from her baptism of blood and fire--a woman; at last she had learned what in life is not worth while; she was ready to learn what it has to offer that is worth while--the sole source of the joys that have no reaction, of the content that is founded upon the rock.