Chapter XI
 

"There!" Jane had said to herself, as he stood before her small looking-glass to give a final touch to her hair and to pull out her puffed sleeves to their widest for the tenth and last time; "if I can keep in mind that I am thirty-three years old, and not a day less, I imagine I shall get through all right. Of course I sha'n't go on the floor and dance--at least, not very much. Perhaps nobody will ask me, anyway; of course I can expect nothing from Theodore Brower, who couldn't waltz any more than he could fly. No; I'll just sit in the box, and then nobody can say that I am giddy, or flighty, or trying to be too young."

She cast a last glance towards her looking-glass, which seemed smaller than ever. "I do wish I could see both of them at once. I hope Theodore will like 'em; the chances are, though, he'll never notice 'em at all."

Such had been Jane's modest and cautious programme, and she carried it out pretty closely. She sat in the box with Mrs. Bates a good part of the evening, and bowed a great many times to a great many gentlemen, young and old, whom she had never seen before and never expected to see again, and whose names, therefore, she made no effort to secure. She talked with two or three with whom it seemed possible and profitable to talk, and learned their names afterwards.

Mr. Bates himself spent very little time in his wife's box. He lounged on one of the springy sofas in the narrow lobby behind, or leaned over the burnished barriers of other boxes to talk murmurously with other magnates about the Stock Exchange or the volume of traffic. He was a grave and somewhat inexpressive person, with reticent eyes and snow-white bunches of side-whiskers, and a rather cold and impassive manner. His wife followed his peregrinations with an indulgent eye.

"Poor Granger," she said to Jane; "this thing tires him more and more every year. So I give him plenty of leeway. See him now." She looked over her shoulder, where, twenty feet away, her husband was talking across the bronze bar with another elderly man in the adjoining box.

"It's a conference," she went on--"it's a deal; it's on my account--he told me so himself. If it goes through it means another string to this necklace."

She suddenly became quite smileless and rigid. "Why, what's the matter?" asked Jane.

Mrs. Bates presently relaxed. "That woman who just passed," she explained; "she was wondering if these diamonds weren't imitations, and the real ones in the safety vaults down-town. Notice that other one over there; yes, the one in nile-green, with the garnet velvet sleeves. She's looking for me, and can't find me. There! she sees Granger--everybody knows him. And now she's quieter; she's satisfied; she has taken old Mrs. McIntosh for me, just because Granger happens to be in their box for a moment. See, the man alongside of her is smiling and looking the same way. I know what she's saying to him: 'Is that Mrs. Bates--that plain old woman in that dowdy gown? Well, I never!--after all I've heard and read.' And she's so happy over it. Tell me, child; am I plain, am I dowdy?"

"You are magnificent," said Jane, squeezing her hand. "Carolus-Duran is only a dauber--and a half-blind one at that!" Jane, after the first half-hour, had become quite habituated to her new and unaccustomed environment. Her attitude was neither too self-conscious nor too relaxed; and she never lost sight of the fact that she was thirty-three. Her dress was a fabric in a soft shade of blue-gray run through by fine black lines. Her ample sleeves took full advantage of the prevailing mode, and several falls of wide lace passed between them, both before and behind. Her hair was done up high, in a fashion devised by her fairy godmother--a piece of discreet but fetching phantasy. Jane leaned back graciously in her chair, after the manner of her favorite heroines, losing in height and gaining in breadth; never before had she felt so amplitudinous, so imperial.

"Whoever would suspect," she asked, turning over her shoulder to Susan Bates, "that I was a natural-born rail?"

"Nobody," the other responded. "You never looked so well in your life."

Jane blushed with pleasure. At that moment two of the Fortnightly ladies passed--clever creatures, who could drive culture and society abreast. Jane, with the flush still on her face and a happy glitter in those wide eyes, leaned forward and bowed in the most marked style at her command. "I am here myself," she seemed to announce.

"Well," said one of the Fortnightly ladies, "where is the 'Decadence' now?"

"Ah!" smiled the other, "that's past, and the 'Renaissance' is here again!"

However, Jane was not so taken up with her literary affinities as to lose sight of her own kith and kin. She saw Rosy swim past once or twice, and was gratified by constant glimpses of an active and radiant Truesdale. Once Statira Belden drove by in saffron satin and a mother-of-pearl tiara. "And that's her daughter with her," commented Jane. "And there's that girl from New York. And there goes her son--that smooth-faced little snip. Huh!--compare him with our Truesdale!"

She leaned forward eagerly as her brother came once more into view. "Yes," she said, "his flower is all right, and the soles of his shoes. I wonder if--" and she leaned still farther forward and drew in a long breath through her nose. "No, I can't smell it; I don't believe it's bothered him any!"

Jane, in the earlier part of the evening, had sent Truesdale to the ball as a lady sends a knight to battle. She had stopped him on the moment of his departure at the foot of the stairs, close to the grotesque old newel-post, to look him over with a severely critical eye.

"Has it got its posy in its button-hole?" she inquired, throwing open his ulster. There was a gardenia there. "Yes, that's all right." Then:

"Has it got its little soles blacked?" Truesdale laughed, and turned up one of his long, slender, shining shoes, while he supported himself by his other leg and the newel-post. "Yes, that's first-rate," she assented. "What else is there, now?" she pondered.

"Oh! wait one second." She ravaged his inner pocket with a sudden hand. "Has it got its 'foom'ry on its little hanky?" She drew out the handkerchief and clapped it to her nose. "Not a drop--just wait one second."

She tore up-stairs in great haste, and in a moment more she came tumbling down with her own cologne bottle in her hand. "You'll kill yourself, Jane," her mother called.

"Here!" She seized her brother's handkerchief again and drenched it with a plentiful and vigorous douse. "There!" she said, with great satisfaction, as she restored it to him.

"Goodness, Jane!" Truesdale cried, in laughing protest, "they'll all smell this for fifty feet around."

Jane gave her brother a commendatory pat, and said no word. She felt that he was now ready for conquest. Speech was superfluous.

"No, I can't smell it," said Jane, again; "I think he must have exaggerated. He's going off in the other direction, anyway."

Mrs. Bates touched her elbow. "Who's that dark girl in pink? No; not to the left--straight ahead."

"Why, I declare, it's Rosy!" exclaimed Jane. "And doesn't she look lovely! She's the prettiest girl here, isn't she?"

"Yes."

"And how well that little curly-cue curl on her forehead keeps its shape! But do you think she should have worn Marechal Niels?"

"I dare say she's had red until she is tired of them. Who is the young man with her?"

"Don't know," said Jane. "These new young men are getting to be too many for me."

"Well, then, I'll tell you. It's Arthur Paston."

"Arthur Scodd-Paston?" asked Jane, contributing a conscientious hyphen to the name and a laborious accent to the forepart of it. "Why, he doesn't look so very hateful and supercilious."

"Oh, he's never that. He's a nice enough fellow. You mustn't take all my exaggerations seriously. He's jolly and pleasant, as you see for yourself."

"He'd better be--with Rosamund. She won't stand any great 'I' and little 'u' from anybody. But he does look real nice and stout and healthy and rosy, and everything, doesn't he?"

"Especially rosy," said Mrs. Bates, wickedly.

"I'm ashamed of you," remonstrated Jane; and the two young people swept on, while the music swirled and crashed, and the vast illumined ceiling bent above them like a rainbow of promise.

During one of the promenades Truesdale passed by with Bertie Patterson on his arm. The decorum of the walk could not exclude all of Truesdale's lithe and swaying ease; he held his head high, and sent his eyes abroad to right or left with an assurance that some might have felt to be an impertinence and others an insolence. To Jane he seemed just descended from some heaven-kissing hill. She sniffed once or twice as he went past. "I hope I didn't put too much on--I'm sure I didn't. I just sha'n't worry about it any more."

Bertie Patterson kept step beside him bravely, though she knew that Jane was looking at her from one side of the house and her aunt Lydia from the other. She was striving faithfully to be worthy of her environment. To take the arm of this brilliant young personage on any occasion at all would have been a test of spirit; how much more so on an occasion so brilliant and entrancing as this--particularly when the badge upon the young man's breast connected him so closely with it, and made the connection patent to all? She fused everything, and filled him with it and it with him: the mounting tones of violins and trumpets, the sparkling quincunxes of the girdling balcony-front, the wide band of fresco which ran in unison with the arches of glittering bulbs above their heads, the circling and swaying throng--all the sheen and splendor of a vast and successful city.

"Nice little girl with your brother," said Mrs. Bates.

"A real dear," responded Jane. "She poured tea for Rosy."

"Did she, indeed?" And Mrs. Bates looked at her harder to avoid seeing the passage of Gilbert Belden and his wife.

"There's another real dear," she said, presently, "if I can only catch his eye." She held up her finger to a young man who had just conducted Rosamund back to her aunt Lydia's box. Rosy had quite scorned the antiquated usage of the balls of an earlier and less sophisticated day. "Of course I shall not go with any young man; I shall go with a chaperon, and if the young men wish to see me they may see me there. It's all right if Jane wants to go with Theodore Brower; they might do anything after the way they bang around together in the street-cars. And I sha'n't go even with a chaperon unless she is in a box, where I can be taken afterwards"--a declaration which led to financial negotiations between David Marshall and his sister-in-law, and which brought him to a still higher appreciation of the general preciousness of his youngest daughter.

"There! he's coming--my boy Billy. Isn't he about right?"

A tall, broad-shouldered young man of twenty-five was making his way across the floor, and presently passed through the exit in the midst of the lower boxes to gain the level of the upper ones.

"College all over, isn't he?" commented Jane; "his shoulders, and the way he parts his hair."

"The best boy in the world," said Mrs. Bates, plumply, "He has been with his father for the last four years, and he's come to be a real help to him. Gets to the office at eight o'clock, rain or shine, and loves nothing better than to sit and grub there all day long. Steady as a rock. Splendid future. Holds his own nose to the grindstone like a real little lamb. I hope he asked Rosamund for supper."

The young man presently reappeared, making his way behind the long tier of upper boxes.

"Well, my boy, were you forgetting all about your mother and her elderly friends? I'd never figured on your meeting the younger daughter first. My son William, Miss Marshall. William, here's an awfully good girl; her father thinks as much of her as I do of you."

The young man bowed, but blushed and halted before this singular presentation.

"Well, I don't know," said Jane, filling up the breach in the first fashion that presented itself. "If pa had the same gift of language that you have, I should feel surer." She picked out her puffs, and then leaned back negligently with her hands crossed. She was too thoroughly grounded by this time to be discomposed by any youth seven or eight years her junior.

The youth shifted his feet.

"I saw you with my sister a minute ago," continued Jane. She knew, without looking round to see, that Mrs. Bates was smiling in the anxious, would-be-helpful way of parents who have put their offspring at a disadvantage.

"Yes--oh yes," the young man responded, with precipitation. "We had a very nice polka, indeed."

"Well," said Jane to herself, "I can talk about polkas and lots of other things." And she did. She held and entertained the young man for a full ten minutes. She found, after all, that he was in no degree constrained or backward, and she made him do himself justice.

"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Bates, as he withdrew, "you made my Billy quite brilliant. I don't know when I have heard so much real conversation!"

"That's all right," responded Jane; "I was young myself once. I haven't forgotten that."

"Only you mustn't fascinate him," protested the elder woman, with a burlesque of maternal anxiety. "I want somebody else to do that." She gave Jane a smile full of meaning.

"Aha!" thought Jane, and wondered if she were to see a certain little romance resumed after the lapse of so many lumbering years.

"But she didn't seem to mind Paston any. Well, why should she?" concluded Jane.

Presently Truesdale came along and asked his sister to waltz. "All right," she said; "just for a minute; but not out in the middle--yet." She wished to test herself first.

"You're awfully good to me, Dicky," she whispered, as he led her back.

"Cut it," said Truesdale; "I'm proud of you."

Jane got back to her lofty perch. "I'll do it once more--if anybody asks me; yes, I will."

In another ten minutes she was on the floor again. "Quite happy, I'm sure," she had said to Bingham.

"Only I'm no great dancer," this big and bearded bachelor had warned her.

"Neither am I," declared Jane. "I can just totter around and that's about all." She arose quickly, shook out her plumage, took his arm, and in less than a minute was waltzing again. "Lucky it is a waltz," she thought; "I don't want to be trying too many novelties."

Mrs. Bates moved to let them pass out. "Really," she said, "I don't want to sit here all alone. Oh, Mr. Brower, I rely upon you. Let me have your arm. I suppose"--with a resigned submission to the inevitable--"that I am expected to walk around once, at least."

Brower had returned to the box, after diverting himself for some time rather shyly in the foyer. He had given Jane a promenade earlier in the evening, and had hoped to pass the rest of the time as inconspicuously as might be. Jane had been much pleased by his efforts to do the right thing--to be correctly dressed, for example. She knew from her own experience how one thing led to another, and she was appreciative of the pains he had taken on her account. It was easy for her to fancy how dress-suits must lead to dress-shirts, and shirts to studs and collars and ties and shoes and boutonnieres--but Brower wore no boutonniere; there he drew the line. "Never mind," said Jane; "that isn't necessary, anyway. He has done quite enough as it is, and he's a good fellow to have done it." She knew how he regarded all this: as a sacrifice to Mammon, if not indeed to Moloch. "On my account, too," thought Jane--"every bit of it. Isn't it splendid of him!"

Brower was vastly disconcerted on receiving this command from Mrs. Bates--it was nothing less than a command, of course, and he must obey it. He had found it something of an ordeal to lead even Jane round the floor once; how much greater a one, then, to perform the like service for Mrs. Granger Bates, whose escort could not but expect to draw scrutiny and to provoke inquiry. He was a modest man with no pronounced social ambitions; he would immensely have preferred to pass the same length of time staring into a locomotive head-light.

Mrs. Bates presently effected a clearance, and with Brower as a convoy steered straight for the open sea. She carried a bunch of plumes aloft, showed a flashing brilliant on both the port and the starboard side, and left a long trail of rustling silk and lace behind her. And as she pursued her course, other craft, great and small, dipped their colors right and left.

"I want you to see both ends of the scale," she presently said to Brower. "You are trying to bring them closer together, they tell me."

"That is a part of our object," replied Brower.

"Well, you have one end in your Nineteenth Ward, and the other here. I want you to get the good side of this."

"I should be glad to; there is one, I'm sure."

"To begin with, don't encourage your associates to talk about the 'butterflies of fashion,' and that sort of thing. There are no butterflies in this town, except young girls under twenty, and you surely won't quarrel with them. Yes, we are all workers; what could Idleness herself do with her time in such a place as this? You've got to work in self-defence. Do you see that woman up aloft there?"

"Well?"

"She's the president and responsible manager of an orphan asylum. That one over across on the other side is an officer of the Civil Federation. Do you believe in that?"

"Devoutly."

"The woman just ahead of us--the purple velvet one--is a member of the Board of Education; she helps to place teachers and to audit coal bills. Why, even I myself have got a good many more things to look after than you could easily shake a stick at!"

"And the one you this instant bowed to?"

"You mean the one who bowed to me." For Mrs. Rhodes had leaned completely out of her box, and had then looked both right and left to observe whether her neighbors had done full justice to the episode. "Oh, she's a good little woman who is--climbing.

"The fact is," Mrs. Bates proceeded, "that there are not a dozen real grown-up butterflies in town. We're coming to one now." They were skirting one range of the lower boxes. "It's Mrs. Ingles; you must meet her."

"Some other time, please," implored Brower, as Mrs. Bates nodded to a sumptuous young creature not ten feet away.

"Very well." Mrs. Bates shrugged her shoulders "Yes," she proceeded, presently, "Cecilia Ingles and her immediate set are about the only real butterflies we have. However, I'm going to take her in hand pretty soon and make a good, earnest woman of her."

"There is work for them all," said Brower.

"But don't let's be too serious just now," rejoined Mrs. Bates in friendly caution.

"Who was that young man you had with you last night?" somebody demanded of her next day.

"Mr. Brower."

"Who is Mr. Brower, may I ask?"

"A friend of Jane Marshall's." This (save that he had a trusty face) was all that she knew of Theodore Brower; but she thought it enough.

"And who is Jane Marshall?"

Mrs. Bates gave her questioner one look. "Really, you surprise me," she observed, and said no word more. Within a week Jane was known throughout the inquirer's whole set.

Truesdale presently passed Mrs. Bates with a girl on his arm. "I wonder if that's another one of the tea-pourers?" she asked herself.

It was. Truesdale was escorting Gladys--Gladys McKenna, as her complete name had finally come to him. He had laughed on first hearing it. "There's a chaud-froid for you, sure enough!"

Gladys wore a flame-colored gown, and her eyes, curiously fringed with black above and beneath, had an outre and dishevelled appearance that lingered in the memory as wax-works do. She kept a strong clutch on his arm, and galloped alongside him with a persistent camaraderie which conveyed no hint of cessation.

"Why insist so strongly on a quadrille d'honneur?" he was asking her. "Wasn't a march good enough?"

"We always look for a quadrille at one of the best functions--at home."

"But why draw lines? You don't object if people meet for pleasure on terms free and equal?"

"Oh, of course if you have no celebrities here--no great figures--"

"Not one--not till you came. We are all plain people here. If any of us forget our plainness there are plenty who are glad enough to remind us of it."

"Are you plain, too?"

"The plainest of the lot."

"You don't seem so; you look awfully ornamental, with that ribbon and all." The "all" meant the wave in his hair, the lustre of his eyes, the upward flaunt of his mustache which hid in no degree the white, firm evenness of his teeth, the freshness of a second gardenia--even the sheen of his shapely shoes.

"The ribbon--you like it? Sorry I'm wearing only one. How would you have liked a second running the opposite way? Or a third pinned on behind?"

"Oh, you!--How about all these other young men; are they anybody?"

"What other young men?"

"The ones with these criss-cross red ribbons."

"Oh! Well, some few of them have what you might call position, and some are working for it, and some are not thinking anything about it; and some, after having served their purpose, will be dropped soon enough, I promise you."

"And you yourself--are you in, or out, or not thinking about it, or-"

"I?" returned Truesdale, carelessly. "I'm just a passer-by; I'm on my way to Japan."

"Oh no; not Japan!" said the girl, quickly.

"Japan, I assure you," he smiled.

She caught herself. "To escape my uncle, then?"

"Why that, in Heaven's name?"

"You have offended him."

"Dear me! How?"

"By what you said at the house the other night. About the costumes, you know."

"Nonsense. How could that have reached him?"

"Those things do get around. Do you know what he's going to do? He's going to cut your comb. My aunt--she cried like anything."

To Truesdale the girl's tone seemed preposterously confidential. "You were in the wrong," she seemed to imply; "but I am on your side for all that."

"Ouf!" said Truesdale; "this comes of trenching on Biblical ground. I'll never quote scripture again."

Truesdale had gone to the Belden house in pursuance of the invitation extended at his mother's own tea-table. Eliza Marshall had made a faint effort to dissuade him; despite Mrs. Belden's presence at her own function, his going seemed, in one way or another, too much like an excursion into the enemy's country. But the occasion was a fancy-dress ball, and Truesdale declared himself much too curious to remain away. "I must go," he said, and at once took steps to equip himself for this voyage of discovery.

He wore the dress of a Spanish grandee of the early seventeenth century--he recalled the Spaniards as famous explorers. He was in black throughout, save for the white lace of his wide collar and cuffs, and for the dark purple lining of his mantle. If the Beldens, for their part, had costumed themselves half so discreetly, he would never have fallen from their good graces. But Statira Belden (keeping her own given name in view) had based her costume upon one of the old French tapestries--the Family of Darius at the Feet of Alexander; you may see the original, a Veronese, in the National Gallery. She had counterfeited the distresssed queen by flowing robes and pearls strung through her yellow hair. She had revivified and heightened the faded ideal of the oldtime artist, and incidentally she had extinguished every other woman in the room.

But the difficulty would still have been avoided had not Belden himself so far lapsed from discretion as to put himself forward in the guise of Shylock. It mended matters little that he had abandoned the costume within half an hour after donning it. Thus it was that Truesdale saw him for the first time in four or five years; the young man had completely disdained, thus far, to visit the store. With eyes freshened by long absence, and wits sharpened by contact with the world, he saw his father's partner in a dress which seemed to throw into greater prominence every lineament of his face and every trait of his character. The young man instantly doubted, mistrusted him. His Hebraic garments suggested another character held in still lower esteem. Truesdale, at a certain stage of the entertainment, observed his host and hostess in momentary conjunction on the threshold of the drawing-room; it was then that he uttered his little jest, whimsically careless of accuracy and loftily indifferent to outlying ears.

"Ananias and Statira," he said, and his words travelled through the house like escaping gas.

"They're awfully offended," said Gladys, continuing her confidential tone. "You can't come there any more--I don't believe. I'm so glad to have seen you here--who knows where I shall ever see you again? Why wouldn't you talk to me any, that first time? Why were you so long in asking me to dance to-night?"

She seemed to be pushing the claim of proprietorship first advanced at the Belden ball.

"Well, I hope I've talked enough since."

"But where shall we talk together next time? I don't believe you can come to the house," she repeated.

She seemed to be drawing attention romantically to obstacles in the way--in their way--and to be calling on him to remove them.

"Perhaps they won't let me see you again. Perhaps they're offended by my having danced with you here." She was adding to the barricade, but he was bold and resourceful enough to level it.

"Ouf!" thought Truesdale. "Girls--they're alike, every one of 'em, after all!"