With the Procession by Henry Blake Fuller
Truesdale returned home from Wisconsin after an absence of ten or twelve days; he came back without having visited Geneva. He had visited Madison, however.
His feeling, as he traversed the streets of that pleasant capital, was distinctly one of pique. To be hemmed in, to be barred out, to be shut up, to be cut off, to be turned aside--any and all of these things seemed to have been suffered by him; he felt them as stripes or as fetters applied to the degradation of an inexpugnable personality. "I shall not take it so passively as they think," he said.
His friendly but tempered interest in Bertie Patterson had risen to a higher pitch in view of the insensate safeguards thrown around her by her friends; besides, he felt himself at a juncture where he must not permit himself to falter in the maintenance of his own dignity. "I shall not be balked so easily as they imagine," he said.
He paused before a large, white frame-house which stood on a kind of banked terrace; the house was shaded by a number of evergreens, and was shut in from the street by a picket-fence. "This must be it," he said, as he clicked the latch of the gate. Patterson, as one of the large retail dry-goods merchants of the town, was of course a "prominent citizen"; his residence was easy enough to find.
"Mrs. Patterson is at home?" he uttered with the appropriate inflection, and extended his card. He made this tender to a firm-faced woman of forty in a plain black dress, who came to the door with a half-hemmed towel in her hand.
"I am Mrs. Patterson," she said. She read the card; there was no doubt of her appreciation of his identity. The more picturesque and decorative phases of his character had been presented to her, doubtless, by the docile and transparent Bertie--by letter, possibly. The less approved side (concerning which Bertie's own conception was in all likelihood darkling enough still) had probably come to her--also by letter--from Bertie's conscientious but disappointed guardian.
Truesdale dexterously insinuated himself into the house; he had instantly perceived, with a pang of mortification, that no formal encouragement to enter was likely to be extended.
"My daughter," said Mrs. Patterson, coldly, in answer to his inquiries, "is visiting friends in Watertown." This was true. "She is to remain several days." This was not true; Bertie was expected home on the morrow. But it was made true, for all purposes, by an instant message which permitted the girl to extend the period of her visit.
Truesdale bowed himself out of the house with no apparent diminution of grace and prestige. "How inexhaustible are the beauties of nature," he thought--"Wisconsin nature. I must make another sketching-tour before long."
Four or five days later he sat in his bedroom, looking over a number of water-colors that covered the counterpane and largely obscured the pillows--views of Green Lake, scenes from the rocks and gorges of the upper Wisconsin. "I've done very well," he thought--"very well, indeed." He was trying to make himself believe that he had successfully accomplished the principal object of his trip.
Rosy also returned from Wisconsin at about the same time; with an air of calm decision she announced to her mother her engagement to Arthur Paston. She regarded this statement as definitive--an admission towards which the others of the family advanced with a doubting reluctance. Jane, by reason of the place and of her own participation in the hopes of Susan Bates, thought the proceeding characterized by indelicacy, if not by disloyalty. Truesdale, on receipt of the intelligence, vented a jarring laugh. He saw little reason why Paston should have succeeded at Geneva when he himself had failed at Madison (he was conscious, here, of forcing the terms in order to compass a striking antithesis); and that it should have been his own sister whose hand Paston had won seemed to him a triumph greater and more discordant still.
David Marshall himself heard these tidings with a grave concern. It all seemed like another weight added to the load under which he was already staggering. He debated with himself on the subject of this proposed new household: where was it to be established, of whom was it to be composed, by whom (above all) was it to be supported? Marshall, in his most prosperous and least careworn days, had never acquired the useful and agreeable art of spending money; the outlay of any considerable sum had always afflicted him as with a physical pain. How much greater, then, was his shrinking dread to-day, when demands upon him were doubling up so finely, and when the last demand of all was on behalf of an alien who might well attempt to make an alien of his daughter too? He talked with Rosy about her future in a hesitating and perturbed fashion. Rosy would set her lips, and eye him coldly, and tell him that he did not love her. In the meantime the new house progressed towards its ridge-poles, and it was Jane's daily speculation whether the boudoir designed for Rosy would ever be occupied by her--or by somebody else. By somebody else, she was afraid; for since that luckless Sunday dinner, Theodore Brower had called but twice, and had been as distant as if he had not come at all.
A few weeks after the intrusion of Paston upon the board, another piece was happily removed. This removal involved, as is often the case in such manipulations, a certain amount of sharp playing and a large element of sacrifice. Truesdale, when the recital was made to him in his brother's office, showed a scant appreciation of the sacrifice, but listened interestedly enough to the detailed report of Roger's endeavor.
"So you have found Monsieur Y, after all? And do you hold him fast?"
Roger contemptuously ignored this revival of his brother's flippant Gallic formula. He contented himself with giving a brief and stern account of the processes that he had been driven to employ. He had prosecuted his inquiries through one of those extra-legal agencies which even the highest respectability may be compelled, upon occasion, to fall back on, and he had arrived at an acquaintance with the Leppins, in all their grovelling ramifications, equal to the previous one which he had achieved with the Van Horns. His close inquiries had extended through the ranks of all their associates and connections, and in the end he had lighted upon one individual whose disposition towards Sophie Leppin and her family could be made to serve the end in view. This young man was the foreman of a tailor's establishment, and Roger wasted no more consideration upon him than upon the rest of them. Before the assembled horde he made his proposition with a blunt, business-like brutality which almost startled him at the moment, and which disgusted him with himself for a fortnight to follow.
"And they accepted it. More shame for me, more shame for them, more shame for human nature. But you are safe." He viewed Truesdale with an undisguised scorn, and Truesdale did not attempt to withstand it.
"I attended the ceremony," Roger said, grimly. "I presented the bride with a bouquet. For the matter of that," he continued, in a scornful jest of himself, "I was the one who took out the marriage license."
"Did you pay the minister his fee?" Truesdale asked this principally for the purpose of reasserting himself.
"Minister!" cried Roger, half shocked. "No; I had a justice of the peace. I was the guest of honor," he went on, with a savage irony. "With good reason; it was I who paid the bride's dowry."
Truesdale sat with his eyes on the floor. "The check; was it--was it a large one?" he asked, in a low voice.
"Check!" cried Roger again. "I paid them in hundred-dollar bills." His fingers played back and forth many and many times.
"Not so much as that!" exclaimed Truesdale, his eyes opening widely.
"More," said Roger. "I put the notices in the newspapers, too. And now, Truesdale," he said, with a final brief phrase of dismissal, "think what your father and I have had to do for you, and try to be a man." And he turned away towards other matters.
Truesdale passed out, crestfallen for the first time in his life. Not over his own follies, not over the anxieties and expenditures he had caused his father, but over the fact that Roger had treated him like a boy--and had done it all so briefly. He blushed, too, for the vulgar ending of the episode (if ended, indeed, it were); for it seemed to outrage all literary and artistic precedent. No farce at the Palais Royal had ever developed so grotesque a denouement; no novel of Veron, of Belot, of Montepin had ever come to so sordid an ending; no Mimi, no Musette could have ever followed a line of conduct so little spirituel as that taken by Sophie Leppin. What, then; were the books wrong, and only life true? No; it was the fault of America itself. "Quel pays!" reflected Truesdale; "equally without the atmosphere of art and the atmosphere of intrigue!" This observation pleased him; he felt that he had pierced the marrow of a complicated question, and he passed along the street holding a higher head.
He drew a letter from his pocket and creased it thoughtfully in his hands as he walked on. The envelope, from which he did not draw the enclosure, was addressed in the hand of Gladys McKenna. He had parted from her just as he had meant to part--at the carriage door. She had forgiven this, and was now writing in terms no less ardent and clinging than before.
"Poor Gladys!" he said, half aloud. "I haven't treated her any too well; yet she is about the only one who cares for me or understands me or appreciates me. I'm glad, though, she's back home; I should be guilty of some horrible sottise or other if she were here."
All the same, he made her absence seem another deprivation; he included it in the catalogue of his injuries and woes. "I declare," he said, "take it all together, and it's enough to drive a man to--business. It wouldn't surprise me very much to be talking with father about that very thing within a month or so. For what can a man of leisure do, after all, in such a town as this?"
But the summer moved onward, and Truesdale still considerately refrained from harassing an anxious and overburdened father with the further task of contriving a harmony between such a son and such a metier. The old man was left to recover from the sting inflicted by the Leppins, to study over the future of his youngest daughter, to keep a careful eye upon his business associates, and to combat--as one combats the alkali dust of the Plains--all the insinuating minutiae of house-building. The new home of the Marshalls moved on with the summer, and reached in due course the stage when such elemental features as walls and roofs gave way to the minor considerations involved in the swinging of doors, the placing of gas-jets, and the arrangements of pantries. Eliza Marshall now began to appear more frequently on the scene, and to confound both architect and builder after the fashion possible for the experienced and accomplished house-keeper. She usually exacted the support of her husband, with a pertinacity the greater for the smallness of the point at issue; and David Marshall, wearied and borne down with more important, more vital affairs, wished daily that the new house had never been undertaken at all.
Thomas Bingham stood Eliza Marshall's annoying picket-fire with the patience proper to a friend of the family; and he took advantage of the same position to press further upon her husband his own continuing sense of a rich man's duties towards the public. Marshall may be said by this time to have fixed himself in the general eye. He had made a second public address--the skilful product of Jane's literary knack and of his own previous experience. As a consequence of this he had been asked to sit on one or two platforms, and to sign two or three addresses and petitions; and though his indifferent health and his many preoccupations had somewhat impeded his advance, yet his well-wishers felt the marked disposition shown to concede him the place that they held him entitled to take.
Bingham experienced a personal interest in Marshall's maintenance of the foothold thus won. As the two toured through the half-plastered rooms or stooped to consider the question of sewerage amid the litter of the basement, Bingham, with a tactful seriousness, would urge the old man, as he had urged him often enough before, to crown his career and perpetuate his memory by the erection of some enduring structure for the public good and use.
"All of my experience is at your disposal," he would say. "And all of your own"--with a wave of the hand over the chaos prevailing about them.
The old man would give him a non-committal sidelong glance, half smiling, half protesting "I'm glad to have you acknowledge, Bingham, that there is some experience involved in building a house. There's a good deal more than I expected."
"You're not having a hard time of it," returned Bingham. "You don't realize how easy I've been making it for you."
But Marshall was coming to develop a firm reluctance towards turning the knowledge gained in his private building to the erection of some larger and different building for the public good. With every month of the past year had his estimate of the public and its character been modified by the kind of treatment that he had suffered from certain of the less worthy members of it. The Van Horns seemed to have passed the goad on to the Leppins, and it was largely under these merciless proddings that he had formed his conception of the new town which had evolved itself during the past twenty years. To these personal grievances he added the general grievances of a tax-payer under the present loose-geared regime, and there were days when he thought he saw the legitimate outcome of democracy as applied to large capitals: the organizing of criminals for the spoliation of the well-to-do. And if Bingham had pushed him too hard, he might have precipitated the blunt declaration that a man's best use for his own money was to protect himself and his interests from the depredations of an alien and rabble populace.
"But Babylon itself was built of mud bricks," Bingham would rejoin. "And the noblest mountain in the world, when you come right down to details, is only a heap of dirt and rocks strewn over with sticks and stones. But if you will just step back far enough to get the proper point of view--well, you know what the painters can do with such things as these."
"I can't step back, Bingham. I started here; I've stayed here; I belong here. I'm living right on your mountain, and its sticks and stones are all about me. Don't ask me to see them for anything else; don't ask me to call them anything else."
Then he would say to Bingham what he said later to Susan Bates when she came with Jane to view the wainscotings and the panelled ceilings of the long succession of rooms: that the man who met all the legal exactions of the community and all the needs and requirements of his own flesh and blood was doing quite enough for the preservation of his own credit. And when Theodore Brower cautiously suggested that the bitterness of certain experiences might be turned to sweetness by the institution of a bureau of justice for the poor and unfriended, the sensitive old man shrank back as if from contact with a nettle. Indeed, it is probable that so unconventional and untravelled a road to philanthropic renown would have proven uninviting to his feet at any time. And Jane, who, after the failure of her own idea, had transferred her support to the idea of Brower, now made a second transfer and came to the support of the idea of Susan Bates. If she could do nothing for the cause of labor, and nothing for the cause of justice, she was willing to accomplish what she could for the cause of education.
Under such urgings as these, David Marshall began irritably to impugn the motives of those men whose philanthropic disposition had earned for them the approval of the well-disposed. One was actuated by vanity and vainglory; another by political ambitions; a third took to philanthropy as to the current fad.
"There might be worse ones," Bingham would retort. "Sixty or seventy years ago the fad hereabouts was scalp-raising. Isn't the present one an improvement on that?"
"You bring up Ingles," the other went on; "he's simply philanthropic as an additional vent to his own energies. You talk about Bates; he merely makes all those benefactions to please his wife. And so with others."
"Is that a bad motive--the wish to please one's wife by a generous deed?"
"I have my wife to please," returned Marshall. His observation came out with a sort of raw and awkward directness. It seemed to convey the odd implication that the way to please this wife would be not to do a generous deed, but to refrain from doing it. And Bingham, who appreciated the saplessness of Eliza Marshall's sympathies and the narrowness of her horizon, made no effort to give his friend's remark a more favorable aspect.
Marshall derived support not only from the narrow selfishness of his wife, but also from the fastidiousness of his younger son, who met with open derision any project involving the accomplishment of a piece of actual architecture. He improvised an ornate and airy edifice of his own, which he allowed them to dedicate to art, to education, to charity, to what you will. Then he festooned it with telegraph wires, and draped it with fire-escapes, and girdled it with a stretch of elevated road, and hung it with signboards, and hedged it in with fruit-stands, and swathed it in clouds of coal smoke, and then asked them to find it; that was the puzzle, he said. His view of the town's architectural conditions--as too debased to justify one's serious endeavors towards improvement--was so nearly in harmony with the view that his father's inflamed mind sometimes took of the town's social conditions that the two were dangerously near to the common ground upon which they had never yet met.
Bingham would have completely dissented from all this, of course; and he agreed with Marshall no better as regarded the precarious condition of his affairs--being disposed to assume that the old man's depression over his business was due largely to the multiplied checks on his own control of it; nor any better as regarded his unusual domestic expenses--present, just past, or just about to come. He was mindful of the house-building, but looked upon it, with Roger, as an investment. He knew of the thousands extorted through Truesdale, but made the loss less than might have resulted from a maladroit barter in real estate, for example. He could anticipate, too, the demands foreshadowed by the coming marriage of Rosamund; but a considerable expenditure for a favorite daughter at the most important juncture of her life was not unprecedented. He even found some ameliorating circumstances for the persistent pressure which Roger and his affairs were now coming to bring upon the paternal estate--Roger, who had served so valiantly his father and his family, and who was now demanding a compensatory assistance amid the thickening risks and dangers of his own business operations. Not only had he extricated Truesdale from his difficulties, but he had supported his father in his demand for the dismissal of the unseemly Andreas Leppin from the business.
"He shall go!" cried David Marshall, with a trembling voice and a shaking hand, which, without reinforcement, would have constituted but a feeble demonstration.
"He shall stay!" returned Belden, with a cold insolence. "He is useful to me. Besides, he has suffered enough wrong from you already."
"He shall go!" cried Roger, rising into a threatening savagery over the brazen hypocrisy of such a pretence. "If he is here another hour, I will drag him out with my own hands." The young man seemed to tear out all his powers from his own person, as one draws a sword from its sheath, and to wield his vehemence and indignation over Belden's head as one might sweep a burning brand. He exercised the compelling power that is to be attained sometimes only by the free and impassioned employment of all one's energies; he seemed capable of an instant physical violence in more directions than one, and he carried his point.
Another outbreak of passion followed when he applied to his father for assistance during a precarious passage through the risks and dangers of an expanding business, and was met with reluctant excuses that seemed the very acme of ingratitude. He hurled forth an indignant reminder of all the services he had performed for the family--services at once degrading and gratuitous; and he demanded if a year's dabbling in such delectable detail were not a sufficient warrant for asking the help that he now required. In fact, he hectored his father as unscrupulously, as unceremoniously, as he had browbeaten Belden.
David Marshall met as well as he could the demands of his choleric son; never before had he been trampled on rough-shod by one of his own children. He almost seemed to see the moral fibre of Roger's nature coarsening--perhaps disintegrating--under his very eyes, and he asked himself half reproachfully how much this might be due to tasks of his own imposition.
All these things had their place in his mind as he followed Bingham through the new house, scuffing over the plaster-encrusted floors, watching the adjustment of window-weights, or drawing back before the long, thin strips of moulding brought in by carpenters. No, his children did not love him. There was Rosy, who had learned her lesson of selfishness from the world all too early, and who now, in her preoccupations for the future, had less thought of him than ever. There was Alice, who saw him often enough if she saw him half a dozen times a year, and whose infrequent comings always disclosed some petty motive of domestic finance and economics. There was Truesdale, a flippant and insolent egotist, who had neither affection nor respect for his own parents, his own family, his own birthplace. There was Roger, who hewed roughly his own independent course, and who did not scruple to turn his powers against his own father if crossed in his desires or balked in his ambitions. And there was--
No; not Jane. "She is the only one of them all who really loves me," he said. He was standing in one of the upper rooms under the crude light of a northern window. On the yellow ground beneath him a workman was stacking up sheets of blue slate in regular piles, and from some remote quarter of the place came the sharp, metallic hammerings of the last remaining plumbers. The searching daylight lit up cruelly the hollows of the old man's eyes, and brought out from his whitened chin and cheeks the last few threads of dim and dulling red. His tall, thin figure shrank away from its loose coverings; never before had he seemed so detached, so impersonal, so slightly poised on any mere physical basis.
He turned to Bingham. "This will be her room--Jane's room. It must be right, whatever the others are. Jane--cares for me. She has always been a dutiful daughter; never a trial, never a disappointment--nothing but a comfort. There must be no shortcoming here, Bingham."
Bingham, standing beside him at the window, fixed an intent regard upon the sheets of shifting slate. There was a moist smile in his eyes, and a warm glow of sympathetic appreciation permeated his whole being.
"There won't be," he said.
And Jane's chamber took on shape and finish in the minds of the two men who stood there side by side overlooking the slate piles and saying no word further; and neither recognized in her the first cause of all these changes and of the many trials and difficulties proceeding from them.