Chapter I
 

When old Mr. Marshall finally took to his bed, the household viewed this action with more surprise than sympathy, and with more impatience than surprise. It seemed like the breaking down of a machine whose trustworthiness had been hitherto infallible; his family were almost forced to the acknowledgement that he was but a mere human being after all. They had enjoyed a certain intimacy with him, in lengths varying with their respective ages, but they had never made a full avowal that his being rested on any tangible physical basis. Rather had they fallen into the way of considering him as a disembodied intelligence, whose sole function was to direct the transmutation of values and credits and resources and opportunities into the creature comforts demanded by the state of life unto which it had please Providence to call them; and their dismay was now such as might occur at the Mint if the great stamp were suddenly and of its own accord to cease its coinage of double-eagles and to sink into a silence of supine idleness. His wife and children acknowledged, indeed, his head and his hands--those it were impossible to overlook; but his head stopped with the rim of his collar, while his hands--those long, lean hands, freckled, tufted goldishly between joints and knuckles--they never followed beyond the plain gilt sleeve-buttons (marked with a Roman M) which secured the overlapping of his cuffs. No, poor old David Marshall was like one of the early Tuscan archangels, whose scattered members are connected by draperies merely, with no acknowledged organism within; nor were his shining qualities fully recognized until the resolutions passed by the Association of Wholesale Grocers reached the hands of his bereaved---

But this is no way to begin.

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The grimy lattice-work of the drawbridge swung to slowly, the steam-tug blackened the dull air and roiled the turbid water as it dragged its schooner on towards the lumber-yards of the South Branch, and a long line of waiting vehicles took up their interrupted course through the smoke and the stench as they filed across the stream into the thick of business beyond: first a yellow street-car; then a robust truck laden with rattling sheet-iron, or piled high with fresh wooden pails and willow baskets; then a junk-cart bearing a pair of dwarfed and bearded Poles, who bumped in unison with the jars of its clattering springs; then, perhaps, a bespattered buggy, with reins jerked by a pair of sinewy and impatient hands. Then more street-cars; then a butcher's cart loaded with the carcasses of calves--red, black, piebald--or an express wagon with a yellow cur yelping from its rear; then, it may be, an insolently venturesome landau, with crested panel and top-booted coachman. Then drays and omnibuses and more street-cars; then, presently, somewhere in the line, between the tail end of one truck and the menacing tongue of another, a family carry-all--a carry-all loaded with its family, driven by a man of all work, drawn by a slight and amiable old mare, and encumbered with luggage which shows the labels of half the hotels of Europe.

It is a very capable and comprehensive vehicle, as conveyances of that kind go. It is not new, it is not precisely in the mode; but it shows material and workmanship of the best grade, and it is washed, oiled, polished with scrupulous care. It advances with some deliberation, and one might fancy hearing in the rattle of its tires, or in the suppressed flapping of its rear curtain, a word of plaintive protest. "I am not of the great world," it seems to say; "I make no pretence to fashion. We are steady and solid, but we are not precisely in society, and we are far, very far indeed, from any attempt to cut a great figure. However, do not misunderstand our position; it is not that we are under, nor that we are exactly aside; perhaps we have been left just a little behind. Yes, that might express it--just a little behind."

How are they to catch up again--how rejoin the great caravan whose fast and furious pace never ceases, never slackens? Not, assuredly, by the help of the little sorrel mare, whose white mane swings so mildly, and whose pale eyelashes droop so diffidently when some official hand at a crowded crossing brings her to a temporary stand-still. Not by the help of the coachman, who wears a sack-coat and a derby hat, and whose frank, good-natured face turns about occasionally for a friendly participation in the talk that is going on behind. Can it be, then, that any hopes for an accelerated movement are packed away in the bulging portmanteau which rests squeezed in between the coachman's legs? Two stout straps keep it from bursting, and the crinkled brown leather of its sides is completely pasted over with the mementoes used by the hosts of the Old World to speed the parting guest. "London" and "Paris" shine in the lustre of the last fortnight; "Tangier" is distinctly visible; "Buda-Pest" may be readily inferred despite the overlapping labels of "Wien" and "Bale"; while away off to one corner a crumpled and lingering shred points back, though uncertainly, to the Parthenon and the Acropolis. And in the midst of this flowery field is planted a large M after the best style of the White Star Line.

Who has come home bearing all these sheaves?

Is it, to begin with, the young girl who shares the front seat with the driver, and who faces with an innocent unconcern all the clamor and evil of a great city? There is a half-smile on her red lips, and her black eyes sparkle with a girlish gayety--for she does not know how bad the world is. At the same time her chin advances confidently, and her dark eyebrows contract with a certain soft imperiousness--for she does not know how hard the world is nor how unyielding. Sometimes she withdraws her glance from the jostling throng to study the untidy and overlapping labels on the big portmanteau; she betrays a certain curiosity, but she shows at the same time a full determination not to seem over-impressed. No, the returned traveller is not Rosy Marshall; all that she knows of life she has learned from the broadcast cheapness of English story-tellers and from a short year's schooling in New York.

Is it, then, the older girl who fills half of the rear seat and who, as the cruel phrase goes, will never see thirty again? She seems to be tall and lean, and one divines, somehow, that her back is narrow and of a slab-like flatness. Her forehead is high and full, and its bulging outlines are but slightly softened by a thin and dishevelled bang. Her eyes are of a light and faded blue, and have the peculiar stare which results from over-full eyeballs when completely bordered by white. Her long fingers show knotted joints and nails that seem hopelessly plebeian; sometimes she draws on open-work lace mitts, and then her hands appear to be embroiling each other in a mutual tragedy. No, poor Jane is thoroughly, incorruptibly indigenous; she is the best and dearest girl in half the world, as you shall see; but all her experiences have lain between Sandusky and Omaha.

Perhaps, then, the returned traveller is the elderly woman seated by her side. Perhaps--and perhaps not. For she seems a bit too dry and sapless and self-contained--as little susceptible, in fact, to the gentle dews of travel as an umbrella in a waterproof case. Moreover, it is doubtful if her bonnet would pass current beyond the national confines. One surmises that she became years ago the victim of arrested development; that she is a kind of antiquated villager--a geologic survival from an earlier age; that she is a house-keeper cumbered and encompassed by minute cares largely of her own making. It is an easy guess that, for Eliza Marshall, London is in another world, that Tangier is but a remote and impracticable abstraction, and that all her strength and fortitude might be necessary merely to make the trip to Peoria.

There is but one other occupant of the carriage remaining--the only one, after all, who can or could be the owner of the baggage. He is a young man of twenty-three, and he sits with his back to the horse on a little seat which has been let down for the occasion between the usual two; his knees crowd one of the girls and his elbows the other. He seems uncommonly alert and genial; he focusses brilliantly the entire attention of the party. His little black mustache flaunts with a picturesque upward flourish, and it is supplemented by a small tuft at the edge of his underlip--an embellishment which overlays any slight trace of lingering juvenility with an effect which is most knowing, experienced, caprine, if you like, and which makes fair amends for the blanched cheeks, wrinkled brows and haggard eyes that the years have yet to accomplish for him. A navy-blue tie sprinkled with white interlacing circles spreads loosely and carelessly over the lapels of his coat; and while his clever eyes dart intelligently from one side to the other of the crowded thoroughfare, his admiring family make their own shy observations upon his altered physiognomy and his novel apparel--upon his shoes and his hat particularly; they become acquainted thus with the Florentine ideal of foot-wear, and the latest thing evolved by Paris in the way of head-gear.

This young man has passed back through London quite unscathed. Deduce from his costume the independence of his character and the precise slant of his propensities.

The carriage moves on, with a halt here, a spurt there, and many a jar and jolt between; and Truesdale Marshall throws over the shifting and resounding panorama an eye freshened by a four years' absence and informed by the contemplation of many strange and diverse spectacles. Presently a hundred yards of unimpeded travel ends in a blockade of trucks and street-cars and a smart fusillade of invective. During this enforced stoppage the young man becomes conscious of a vast unfinished structure that towers gauntly overhead through the darkening and thickening air, and for which a litter of iron beams in the roadway itself seems to promise an indefinite continuation skyward.

"Two, three, four--six, seven--nine," he says, craning his neck and casting up his eye. Then, turning with a jocular air to the elder lady opposite, "I don't suppose that Marshall & Belden, for instance, have got up to nine stories yet!"

"Marshall & Belden!" she repeated. Her enunciation was strikingly ejaculatory, and she laid an impatient and unforgiving emphasis upon the latter name. "I don't know what will happen if your father doesn't assert himself pretty soon."

"I should think as much!" observed the elder girl, explosively; "or they will never get up even to seven. The idea of Mr. Belden's proposing to enlarge by taking that ground adjoining! But of course poor pa didn't put up the building himself, nor anything; oh no! So he doesn't know whether the walls will stand a couple of extra stories or not. Upon my word," she went on with increased warmth, "I don't feel quite sure whether pa was the one to start the business in the first place and to keep it going along ever since, or whether he's just a new errand-boy, who began there a week ago! August, are we stuck here to stay forever?"

The little sorrel mare started up again and entered upon another stage of her journey. The first lights began to appear in the store-fronts; the newsboys were shrieking the last editions of the evening papers; the frenzied comedy of belated shopping commenced to manifest itself upon the pavements.

The throng of jostling women was especially thick and eager before a vast and vulgar front whose base was heaped with cheap truck cheaply ticketed, and whose long row of third-story windows was obscured by a great reach of cotton cloth tacked to a flimsy wooden frame. Unprecedented bargains were offered in gigantic letters by the new proprietors, "Eisendrath & Heide..."--the rest of the name flapped loosely in the wind.

"Alas, poor Wethersby, I knew him well," observed Marshall, absently. He cast a pensive eye upon the still-remaining name of the former proprietor, and took off his hat to weigh it in his hands with a pretence of deep speculation. "Well, the Philistines haven't got hold of us yet, have they?" he remarked, genially; he had not spent six months in Vienna for nothing. "I suppose we are still worth twenty sous in the franc, eh?"

"I suppose," replied his mother, with a grim brevity. She rather groped for his meaning, but she was perfectly certain of her own.

"I guess pa's all right," declared his sister, "as long as he is left alone and not interfered with."

The evening lights doubled and trebled--long rows of them appeared overhead at incalculable altitudes. The gongs of the cable cars clanged more and more imperiously as the crowds surged in great numbers round grip and trailer. The night life of the town began to bestir itself, and little Rosy, from her conspicuous place, beamed with a bright intentness upon its motley spectacle, careless of where her smiles might fall. For her the immodest theatrical poster drooped in the windows of saloons, or caught a transient hold upon the hoardings of uncompleted buildings; brazen blare and gaudy placards (disgusting rather than indecent) invited the passer-by into cheap museums and music-halls; all the unclassifiable riff-raff that is spawned by a great city leered from corners, or slouched along the edge of the gutters, or stood in dark doorways, or sold impossible rubbish in impossible dialects wherever the public indulgence permitted a foothold.

To Rosy's mother all this involved no impropriety. Eliza Marshall's Chicago was the Chicago of 1860, an Arcadia which, in some dim and inexplicable way, had remained for her an Arcadia still--bigger, noisier, richer, yet different only in degree, and not essentially in kind. She herself had traversed these same streets in the days when they were the streets of a mere town, Fane, accompanying her mother's courses as a child, had seen the town develop into a city. And now Rosy followed in her turn, though the urbs in horto of the earlier time existed only in the memory of "old settlers" and in the device of the municipal seal, while the great Black City stood out as a threatening and evil actuality. Mild old Mabel had drawn them all in turn or together, and had philosophized upon the facts as little as any of them; but Rosy's brother (who had been about, and who knew more than he was ever likely to tell) looked round at her now and then with a vague discomfort.

"There!" called their mother, suddenly; "did you see that?" A big lumpish figure on the crossing had loomed up at the mare's head, a rough hand had seized her bridle, and a raw voice with a rawer brogue had vented a piece of impassioned profanity on both beast and driver. "Well, I don't thank that policeman for hitting Mabel on the nose, I can tell him. August, did you get his number?"

"No'm," answered the coachman. He turned round familiarly. "I got his breath."

"I should think so," said Truesdale. "And such shoes as they have, and such hands, and such linen! Didn't that fellow see what we were? Couldn't he realize that we pay for the buttons on his coat? Mightn't he have tried to apprehend that we were people of position here long before he had scraped his wretched steerage-money together? And what was it he had working in his cheek?"

"I think I know," responded August mumbling.

"Like enough," rejoined Truesdale, with his eye upon the coachman's own jaw.

His mother's sputter of indignation died rapidly away. It was, indeed, her notion that the guardians of the public peace should show some degree of sobriety, respect, neatness, and self-control, as well as a reasonable familiarity with the accents of the country; but her Arcadia was full of painful discrepancies, and she did not add to her own pain by too serious an attempt to reconcile them. Besides, what is a policeman compared with a detective?

Mabel, released from the arm of the law, jarred over another line of car tracks, whereon a long row of monsters glared at one another's slow advances with a single great red eye, and then she struck a freer gait on the succeeding stretch of Belgian blocks. Presently she passed a lofty building which rose in colonnades one above another, but whose walls were stained with smoke, whose windows were half full of shattered panes, and whose fraudulent metallic cornice curled over limply and jarred and jangled in the evening breeze--one more of the vicissitudes of mercantile life.

"Well, I'm glad the fire-fiend hasn't got Marshall & Co. yet," said the young man, restored to good-humor by the sight of another's misfortune. He used unconsciously the old firm name.

"But he'd get us fast enough if the insurance was taken off," declared Jane. "Do you know, Dicky," she went on, "how much that item costs us a year? Or have you any idea how much it has amounted to in the last twenty, without our ever getting one cent back? Well, there's ten thousand in the Hartford and eight in the Monongahela and eleven in--"

"Dear me, Jane!" exclaimed her brother, in some surprise; "where do you pick up all this?"

Rosy turned her head half round. "Mr. Brower tells her," she said, with a disdainful brevity.

Her face was indistinct in the twilight, but if its expression corresponded with the inflection of her voice, her nostrils were inflated and her lips were curled in disparagement. To Jane, in her dark corner of the carriage, this was patent enough. Indeed, it was sufficiently obvious to all that Jane's years availed little to save her from the searching criticism of her younger sister, and that Miss Rosamund Marshall bestowed but slight esteem--or, at least, but slight approval--upon Mr. Theodore Brower.

"Supposing he does tell me!" called Jane, absurdly allowing herself to be put on the defensive. "It's a mighty good thing, I take it. If there's anybody else in the family but me who knows or cares anything about poor pa's business, I should like to be told who it is!"

"That will do, Jane," sounded her mother's voice in cold correction. "There's no need for you to talk so. Your father has run his own business now for thirty-five years, with every year better than the year before, and I imagine he knows how to look out for himself. Thank goodness, we are on a respectable pavement once more."

Mabel, turning a sudden corner, had given them a quick transition from the rattle and jar of granite to the gentle palpitation that is possible on well-packed macadam. The carriage passed in review a series of towering and glittering hotels, told off a score or more of residences of the elder day, and presently drew up before the gate of an antiquated homestead in the neighborhood of the Panoramas.

"Just the same old place," murmured Truesdale, as he writhed out of his cramped quarters and stood on the carriage-block in the dusk to stretch his legs. "Wonderful how we contrive to stand stock-still in the midst of all this stir and change!"