Chapter XIII
 

Eliza Marshall meditated on the Bates dinner for several days succeeding, and when the following Saturday morning came round she was still busy with it. Saturday was her day for going over the antiquated accumulations of her parlor; no hands ever dusted and replaced the ornaments on her what-not save her own. She had been very chary of expressing herself about Susan Bates's entertainment, even to Jane. But now she felt that the time had come when she might trust herself to speak.

"I can't say I see the need of so many kinds of spoons," she said, as she transferred one of her gilt candelabra from the what-not to the contorted old rosewood centre-table: the candelabra were of an operatic cast--the one under removal represented (though all unknown to Eliza Marshall) Manrico and Leonora clasped in each other's arms beneath a bower-like tree. "Cut right through the middle, too--so that you could hardly tell whether they were spoons or forks."

"What could be better for ice-cream or salad?" asked Jane, who was blooming forth as an authority on matters social. She sometimes assisted her mother on these Saturday mornings--under close supervision.

"And three kinds of wineglasses," observed her mother, with some disapproval. "Sort of showy, I thought. Kind of as if they wanted to impress us, and let us see what--No!" she cried, as a figure came up the front walk, carrying a tray fastened in front. "No! 'Melia, tell him we don't want any suspenders or collar-buttons; we don't wear them."

"Showy!" called Jane. "My sakes! it was the plainest thing, I ever saw at their house. If you could see some of their doings!"

Eliza Marshall set back the candelabrum and transferred her attention to a Rock of Ages in Parian marble. "I believe things get dirtier here every year. I'm sure more dust comes in at that window than goes out." Then: "Well, I don't see but what we're as good as anybody else; I don't see but what we are as well worth taking pains for." She ran her cloth resentfully between the arms of Faith and the arms of the cross.

"Oh, dear me suz!" cried Jane; "are you trying to get the poor woman both ways? Her dinner was just right, and I am sure she took every possible pains to have it so."

"What?" called her mother, craning her neck and contorting her features. A locomotive was letting off steam opposite the house, and the noise and the vapor came across the hundred yards of dead grass together.

"I say it was all right," shouted Jane. "Don't you suppose she knows how to--Dear me! what's the use of trying to talk here?" She fell on the mantel-piece and dusted its vases in silent desperation.

Her mother accepted this dictum as final--a proof of Jane's altered status, and of the discretion with which she was carrying herself. "Of course I am not a society girl," was the way Jane turned the matter over in her own head; "I am a benevolent old maid, with a capacity for society when occasion offers." Jane had kept this point distinctly in view, and had now extricated herself from the squeezed and anomalous position which, for the last few years, she had occupied between her two sisters. "Alice thinks she knows everything, just because she's married," Jane had said to herself a year back; "and Rosy thinks she knows everything just because--well, I'm sure I can't exactly tell why.

"But anyhow, between the two, I'm being pretty well flattened out. I've got to do something." And she had.

Jane, running on the new track she had laid down for herself, had regained the consideration of Alice, and had even conquered the respect of Rosy. Indeed, so far had she triumphed with her younger sister that Rosy was even showing civility and goodwill to Theodore Brower, whose regard for Jane had brought about his social rehabilitation. "I wonder why he never cut his beard to a point before," Rosy said one day; "he looks ever so much better. And I see that he has finally provided himself with calling-cards. Well, if he leaves one behind every time he comes, we shall soon have a fine litter."

"He won't, though," said Jane, "except when he calls on you."

"Well, he may call on me if he chooses," responded Rosy, with a gracious condescension. "I'm sure he talks very sensibly."

"Never fear," retorted Jane; "he isn't competing with the British aristocracy!"

Then Rosy would go up-stairs for a bit of pen-and-ink practice--to cover a sheet with such words as these: Lady Rosamund This-or-that; Rosamund, Countess of Thus-and-so; the Honourable Rosamund Such-a-one. She lingered fondly over the baptismal "Rosamund"; what word could match more fitly with a title, or harmonize more completely with the grand old names of the peerage? Once she wrote on the extreme lower corner of the sheet: Mrs. W. F. Bates. "Oh, pshaw!" she exclaimed, and tore the corner off and threw it into the fire.

The locomotive had relieved itself, and no noise remained save the jangling of a long line of freight-cars on another track. "Those people who repaired the carriage," resumed Eliza Marshall, now beginning on one of her Dresden figures--"those people who repaired the carriage spoke to your father about--'Melia, shoo that tramp out of the side yard; of course we haven't got anything for him this time of day. They spoke to your father about--"

She paused, and began to bestow an exaggerated care upon the figure now under her hands--a dancing-girl of Seville. Jane paused in her own work and waited for the rest. "Well?" she asked, presently.

Her mother wiped the head of the dancing-girl very carefully. The girl had black hair parted in the middle and laid in two wide scallops over her ears. "They told your father they were looking for a site to build a new warehouse on."

Jane's heart gave a throb. "Well?"

Her mother applied herself painstakingly to the apron and petticoat of the dancer--a petticoat striped in purple and green, and sprigged over with some species of flower wholly non-botanical. She drew her cloth down every stripe.

"They said they were hoping to find something just about in--in this neighborhood."

Jane shrank and trembled as if before a knife. "Well?"

Her mother passed on to the girl's slippers. She wiped the worn gilt of one stubby foot and then of the other. "They asked him to put a price on--on--"

"On our home!" cried Jane. There was a tear in each eye as she bowed her head over the mantel-piece.

Her mother returned to the Rock of Ages, and began to dust it again--as carefully as before.

"Well," she said, slowly, without turning round, "there's a building of that same sort a block or two south of us, already." She lingered on the short arm of the cross. "The Blackburns are talking of going, you know."

Jane bowed her head again and picked at the fringe of the mantel-covering--a foolish thing that she herself had embroidered and draped. Now, for the first time, she formulated her mother. "I've half known it all along," she thought, "and now I know it for sure." In this moment she definitely saw her mother, not as a creature of the affections, but as a creature of, mere habit. "And it's been so for the last twenty years," thought the poor girl.

Eliza Marshall passed back to one of the candelabra; its cracked prisms tinkled as her broken talk went on. "Well, I don't know, I'm sure. Our last neighbors are leaving us. Business and boarding-houses all around. And Rosy wants to change. And there's so much noise and dirt, and so many peddlers and beggars. And--and--" She was thinking of Susan Bates's library, but would not permit herself a spoken reference to it. "And so much work to keep things tidy. And those miserable fellows breaking into our barn. I don't know, I'm sure."

Marshall himself, meanwhile, talked the matter over with Belden and with Roger, when Roger came in to consider the assault on the stable and the policy of employing the police. "I don't know that I should depend too much on the city's detectives," he had observed; "but I will have them go down to the house, if you say."

Accordingly, one morning a brace of young Irishmen modestly traversed the sidewalk which led around the house, and knocked with some show of decorum at the kitchen door. Each had the fresh complexion of a recent arrival, chestnut hair plastered in a scallop on his forehead, room under his nose for a large red mustache, and room under his finger-nails for a noticeable quantity of "matter misplaced." Presently they put on their derby hats again and went out to visit the stable. Then they took their departure and were never heard of more.

The next detective rang at the front door. He wore gloves and a high silk hat. He was a tough and determined-looking person, whose progress rearward the family attended with a close watch on their portable property: he seemed much more corrupt and knowing than any mere barn-breaker could be. He was more efficacious, too, than the duo that had preceded him. Even in the stable he gave much less heed to August than to August's mistress, and in the course of a few days he put his hands on the offenders. Ten to one he could have done that without having visited the premises at all.

Roger was the family counsellor in matters of investment as well as matters of law. He had early made the observation that few lawyers amassed a fortune in the strict practice of their profession; and he had accordingly turned a prompt attention to building and to land, operating largely for himself and for his father, and to the advantage of both. Indeed, manipulations in real estate had done more for David Marshall's fortune than had the pursuit of the grocery business--just as they had done more for his son than the pursuit of the law.

"Your mother won't live anywhere but on Michigan, though," he declared to Roger.

"She needn't," the other rejoined. "Move south three miles--if you mean to make any change at all. The best houses in town are going up along that stretch--just within the old limits. And a house there could be turned into money at any time."

Roger, as a practical real-estate man, naturally put convertibility before domesticity.

Marshall also canvassed the matter with Belden. Belden listened to him somewhat coldly and impassively--with less interest, the old man thought, than one's partner rightly should. But Belden took the idea of a new house as another step in the social advance of the Marshalls. It seemed to him almost like the challenge of a rival; and a rivalry like this nettled him none the less from being so sudden, so unexpected; so impracticable, as--six months back--he would have considered it. He felt himself and his family outdone at every point. Rosamund Marshall had eclipsed his own daughter at a dozen dances; Truesdale Marshall, thanks to the half-jocular patronage of the press, was becoming in his way a celebrity, while his own son merely led a dubious existence which oscillated between the bar of the Metropole and the billiard-room of the Lexington, and conferred little distinction upon himself of anybody else; and even dusty old Eliza Marshall, almost despite herself, was being dragged up into a circle to which his own wife, notwithstanding all her lavish and industrious endeavor, remained as alien as at the beginning.

And, to crown all, Marshall himself had finally come forth as a public figure. Belden had actually been obliged to sit at a banquet-board and to hear this old man, usually so quiet and inexpressive, loudly applauded by a hundred hard-headed businessmen, who, a month before, had received an effort of his own with mere civil toleration.

This new advance of Marshall's was made partly by Jane's help, partly in spite of it. "Speak?" she had said, when her father broached the subject one evening; "of course you'll speak. You know all about the topic, if anybody does; and here's an opportunity right at your hand. I'll help you get up your speech, myself."

She did. She prepared a long address after the most approved rhetorical models: a flowing introduction which walked all around the subject before going into it; a telling peroration whose emphatic periods seemed to render any subsequent consideration of the matter a mere piece of futility; and in between, briefly and cursorily, the one or two vital points of the whole discourse. Thus equipped, David Marshall was to rise at half an hour before midnight, the last but one of a long line of speakers, to claim the attention of a great roomful of men sated with meat and drink and sodden with oratory.

But in the cloak-room the manuscript had slipped from his pocket, and at the table all its overwrought periods had slipped from his mind. And at midnight he rose to confront an expanse of disordered table-cloths and an array of wearied faces, his own ace full of uncertainty, and nothing to nerve his inexperience save a desperate determination not to disappoint his daughter.

"Another old bore getting up"--from a distant corner of the smoky room. "Any idea who he is?"

"Not the slightest." A yawn. "Take another regalia."

David Marshall had forgotten everything but his main points and the facts that supported them. He began in the very midst of things. He spoke a minute and a quarter--plainly, simply; and sat down the instant he had finished.

He had spoken in his usual husky and sibilant voice. Nobody had called "Louder!" however--because nobody had really wished to hear.

On his ending, the room rang with applause--the applause of gratitude, largely.

"Well, the old fellow can say his say, after all, eh? And no blooming oratory, either."

"And sense enough to cut it short--the last man usually shows the least mercy."

As Marshall sat down his neighbor on the right shook his hand warmly. "Why haven't you been doing this for us before?"

As he was leaving the hall, the secretary of another club, present by accident, solicited an address on a cognate subject for a coming meeting of his own organization. "Why didn't you give yourself a little more time?" he asked.

Jane was wild with pride and pleasure; her father had given her the results and not the process. "I knew you could, poppy; I just knew you could. We'll start in on the other speech right away, and make it even better than this. We'll show 'em, yet!"

But it was not Marshall himself, for all the inexplicable ease of this success, who chiefly angered Belden. Nor had he any great feeling against Rosamund, having no undue interest in the social rivalries of young girls. Nor was he particularly incensed against her mother, being offended chiefly by the ostentatious and invidious go'od-will shown her by Mrs. Bates. But against Truesdale Marshall he nourished a hot and rancorous grievance. He did not apprehend Truesdale's attitude towards the town at large, and the young man's manner in his own house (regardless of his insolent utterance) seemed to have carried a half-contemptuous curiosity beyond all decent bounds. "That young cockerel--I'll soon find a way to quiet his crowing. What does all his singing and painting and fencing amount to, after all? He couldn't post an item into a ledger; he couldn't even tie up a pound of tea. He can't work off any of his foreign smartness on me!"

Truesdale, readily figured himself the reverse of persona grata to the Beldens, and stayed away; but this did not prevent his reception of advices more or less regular from the heart of the Belden household. "What's that absurd girl up to this time?" he asked one morning, as an envelope, directed in a hand already too familiar, came to the door. He recognized readily enough the sprawling, half-masculine penmanship of Gladys McKenna, as readily as he divined the role which she must imagine herself to be playing. She was pretending herself to be a prisoner in some hostile camp--a hostage in some dismal dungeon; and, despite the close and suspicious watchfulness of those surrounding her, she was still sending her little messages, all the same, to her preux chevalier on the opposing side. In the end her reward would come; she and her knight....

"Ouf!" cried Truesdale, who scented all this crass and forward romanticism between the trivial lines of her communications; "why does she write, when she hasn't got anything to say?"

Sometimes she did have something to say--a little. To her statements of the disposition of the Belden family towards her correspondent, and to her general recommendation to "beware," would be tagged indications of her own individual movements. "Poor auntie is laid up with the neuralgia, and Ethel has gone visiting in Kenwood, so I am the only one to be sent to Field's for those gloves. Auntie says the best time for the glove counter is about twelve-thirty, when the crowd is smallest."--"Yes," mumbled Truesdale, irritably; "and lunch at one."

Or: "They are going to let me go alone to Modjeska tomorrow afternoon--in the street-car; just think of it! I think I shall ask for a seat in the last row--I am so timid about fires." Sometimes she would add "destroy this," or, "burn this." "Most willingly!" Truesdale would exclaim, and throw "this" in the fire at once.

Or, again "Imagine; I am to have a tooth filled. Auntie says I needn't trouble to go away down-town--there is a very good man right on Twenty-second Street. 'Go early,' she says; 'and try to be over with it by eleven, so that you can enjoy your lunch.' Did you ever know of such thoughtfulness?"

"No, I never did," acknowledged Truesdale, grimly.

By these and other such subterfuges did Gladys keep her epistolary hand in, until the time came when she really had something of consequence to communicate.

Once or twice she also regaled him with the comments of the Beldens on the building projects of the Marshalls. Truesdale had the same tepid interest for these advices as for her other notes and comments. He did not consider himself as particularly concerned. At best he was but a bird of passage. And it seemed to him a sad error to load one's self down with so dense and stationary a thing as a house.

The conferences over this matter went on, however, regardless of Truesdale's non-participation. Jane discussed it with her father and mother; and Rosy handled it, and Roger; and Alice came in from Riverdale Park to stay overnight, and to contend with Jane and Rosy through the steak and the griddle-cakes in the morning, as well as to intimate to her father that if he would build out a little library from her parlor, her husband could pay for the carpet and furniture; and Aunt Lydia Rhodes came now and then and fluttered around the question, unsettling points that had been looked on as settled for good and all, and raising other points of her own that needed no consideration whatever. And, at the end of a wearisome and contentious month, the matter--with what seemed to everybody an extraordinary and reckless precipitation, the end once reached--was finally arranged. Tom Bingham was to build them a house in the neighborhood favored by Roger, and was to find an architect for them--a reversal of the usual procedure which afflicted Jane with grave doubts. And on the morning of the earliest day of spring, when the piano-organs were trilling through the side streets, and the flower-men were offering hurried shoppers their earliest verbenas and fuchsias from the tail ends of their carts, Jane walked down to the store to look at the signatures on the contracts for the new house.

"Ah!" she said to herself, thoughtfully; "we are moving--faster than I anticipated, and not precisely in the direction I had fancied."

She was in no degree elated; she experienced, on the contrary, a distinct feeling of depression.