The Second Generation by David Graham Phillips
Chapter IX. The Long Farewell
Not until Adelaide told Arthur and saw the expression that succeeded his first blank stare of incredulity did she realize what the world, her "world," would think of her engagement to Theodore Hargrave. It was illuminative of her real character and of her real mind as to Ross, and as to Dory also, that, instead of being crushed by her brother's look of downright horror, she straightway ejected the snobbish suggestions with which her vanity had been taunting her, and called her heart, as well as her pride, to the defense of Dory.
"You're joking," said Arthur, when he was able to articulate; "and a mighty poor joke it is. Dory! Why, Del, it's ridiculous. And in place of Ross Whitney!"
"Be careful what you say, Artie," she warned in a quiet, ominous tone, with that in her eyes which should in prudence have halted him. "I am engaged to Dory, remember."
"Nonsense!" cried Arthur. "Why, he hasn't a cent, except his beggarly salary as professor at that little jay college. And even if he should amount to something some day, he'll never have anything or any standing in society. I thought you had pride, Del. Just wait till I see him! I'll let him know what I think of his impudence. Of course, I don't blame him. Naturally, he wants to get up in the world. But you--" Arthur's laugh was a sneer--"And I thought you were proud!"
From Del's eyes blazed that fury which we reserve for those we love when they exasperate us. "Shame on you, Arthur Ranger!" she exclaimed. "Shame on you! See what a snob you have become. Except that he's poor, Dory Hargrave has the advantage of any man we know. He's got more in his head any minute than you or your kind in your whole lives. And he is honorable and a gentleman--a real gentleman, not a pretender. You aren't big enough to understand him; but, at least, you know that if it weren't for your prospects from father, you wouldn't be in the same class with him. He is somebody in himself. But you--and--and your kind--what do you amount to, in yourselves?"
Arthur lowered at her. "So this is what you've been leading up to, with all the queer talk you've been giving me on and off, ever since we came home."
That remark seemed to Adelaide for an instant to throw a flood of light in amazing revelation upon her own innermost self. "I believe it is!" she exclaimed, as if dazed. Then the light seemed to go, seemed to have been only imaginary. It is not until we are much older than Del then was, that we learn how our acts often reveal us to ourselves.
"So you're in love with Dory," scoffed Arthur. "You're a wonder--you are! To go about the world and get education and manners and culture, and then to come back to Saint X and take up with a jay--a fellow that's never been anywhere."
"Physically, he hasn't traveled much," said Del, her temper curiously and suddenly restored. "But mentally, Artie, dear, he's been distances and to places and in society that your poor brain would ache just at hearing about."
"You've lost your senses!"
"No, dear," replied Del sweetly; "on the contrary, I've put myself in the way of finding them."
"You needn't 'bluff' with me," he retorted. He eyed her suspiciously. "There's some mystery in this."
Del showed that the chance shot had landed; but, instantly recovering herself, she said: "It may interest you to know that a while ago, when I told you I was engaged to him, I felt a little uneasy. You see, I've had a long course at the same school that has made such a gentleman of you. But, as the result of your talk and the thoughts it suggested, I haven't a doubt left. I'd marry Dory Hargrave now, if everybody in the world opposed me. Yes, the more opposition, the prouder I'll be to be his wife!"
"What's the matter, children?" came in their mother's voice. "What are you quarreling about?" Mrs. Ranger was hurrying through the room on her way to the kitchen; she was too used to heated discussions between them to be disturbed.
"What do you think of this, mother?" almost shouted Arthur. "Del here says she's engaged to Dory Hargrave!"
Mrs. Ranger stopped short. "Gracious!" she ejaculated.
She felt for her "specs," drew them down from her hair, and hastily adjusted them for a good look, first at Arthur, then at Del. She looked long at Del, who was proudly erect and was at her most beautiful best, eyes glittering and cheeks aglow. "Have you and Ross had a falling out, Del?" she asked.
"No, mother," replied Adelaide; "but we--we've broken our engagement, and--What Artie says is true."
No one spoke for a full minute, though the air seemed to buzz with the thinking and feeling. Then, Mrs. Ranger: "Your father mustn't hear of this."
"Leave me alone with mother, Artie," commanded Adelaide.
Arthur went, pausing in the doorway to say: "I'm sorry to have hurt you, Del. But I meant every word, only not in anger or meanness. I know you won't do it when you've thought it over."
When Arthur had had time to get far enough away, Adelaide said: "Mother, I want you to hear the whole truth--or as much of it as I know myself. Ross came and broke off our engagement so that he could marry Theresa Howland. And I've engaged myself to Dory--partly to cover it, but not altogether, I hope. Not principally, I believe. I'm sick and ashamed of the kind of things I've been so crazy about these last few years. Before this happened, before Ross came, being with father and thinking over everything had made me see with different eyes. And I--I want to try to be--what a woman ought to be."
Ellen Ranger slowly rolled her front hair under her fingers. At length she said: "Well--I ain't sorry you've broke off with Ross. I've been noticing the Whitneys and their goings on for some time. I saw they'd got clean out of my class, and--I'm glad my daughter hasn't. There's a common streak in those Whitneys. I never did like Ross, though I never would have said anything, as you seemed to want him, and your father had always been set on it, and thought so high of him. He laid himself out to make your pa think he was a fine character and full of business--and I ain't denying that he's smart, mighty smart--too smart to suit me." A long reflective pause, then: "But--Dory--Well, my advice is to think it over before you jump clear in. Of course, you'll have enough for both, but I'd rather see you taking up with some man that's got a good business. Teachin' 's worse than preachin' as a business. Still, there's plenty of time to think about that. You're only engaged."
"Teachin' 's worse than preachin'"--Adelaide's new, or, rather, revived democracy was an aspiration rather than an actuality, was--as to the part above the soil, at least--a not very vigorous looking forced growth through sordid necessity. In this respect it was like many, perhaps most, human aspirations--and, like them, it was far more likely to wither than to flourish. "Teachin' 's worse than preachin'"--Del began to slip dismally down from the height to which Arthur's tactless outburst had blown her. Down, and down, and down, like a punctured balloon--gently, but steadily, dishearteningly. She was ashamed of herself, as ashamed as any reader of these chronicles is for her--any reader with one standard for judging other people and another for judging himself. To the credit of her character must be set down her shame at her snobbishness. The snobbishness itself should not be set down to her discredit, but should be charged up to that class feeling, as old as property, and fostered and developed by almost every familiar fact in our daily environment.
"I shouldn't be surprised but your father'd be glad, if he knew," her mother was saying. "But it's no use to risk telling him. A shock might--might make him worse." She started up. "I must go to him. I came to send you, while I was looking after Mary and the dinner, and I clean forgot."
She hurried away. Adelaide sat thinking, more and more forlorn, though not a whit less determined. "I ought to admire him more than I did Ross, and I ought to want to marry him--and I will!"
The birds had stopped singing in the noonday heat. The breeze had died down. Outdoors, in the house, there was not a sound. She felt as if she must not, could not breathe. The silence, like a stealthy hand, lifted her from her chair, drew her tiptoeing and breathless toward the room in which her father was sitting. She paused at its threshold, looked. There was Hiram, in his chair by the window, bolt upright, eyes open and gazing into the infinite. Beside that statue of the peace eternal knelt Ellen, a worn, wan, shrunken figure, the hands clasped, the eyes closed, the lips moving.
"Mother! Mother!" cried Del.
Her mother did not hear. She was moaning, "I believe, Lord, I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!"