Chapter XX
 

The approaching completion of the new house did little towards diminishing the rigors of the daily routine within the old one; no greater insistence upon detail could be encountered at Gibraltar or at Ehrenbreitstein than that which prevailed under the direction of Eliza Marshall, to whom the near breaking of camp was no reason for the slightest break in discipline. Nor was there any relaxation because the garrison happened to be on a mere peace footing; it made little difference that both Rosamund and Truesdale were spending the better part of the summer in Wisconsin. Rosy had resumed her round among the country-houses of her friends; she expected to repay these attentions in the near future by an elegant and lavish hospitality, whose time, place, and method still remained more or less indeterminate. Truesdale, too, had made a second and longer excursion northward--Waukesha, Geneva, Oconomowoc, and again, Madison. Jane alone remained at home, and it was she who helped her mother through the thirtieth and last of the annual jelly-makings. For the first time in all these years the entire supply of currants had come from outside; the last of their own bushes, which had put on faintly its customary greenness in May, had peaked and dwindled through June, and had died at last in the early days of July.

"That reconciles me, Jane," said Eliza Marshall, as she viewed the dead bush while flapping one of her ensanguined cloths from the kitchen window; "I shall be ready to move when the time comes."

Jane sighed softly for reply; she was beginning to realize what all this change might mean.

David Marshall himself bowed to the same stringent discipline that ruled the others. Though he felt his powers weakening beneath days of worry and nights of broken rest, he would have been surprised by the smallest concession, and would even have considered it a weakness to ask for any. That his rest was broken did not postpone the early breakfast by a single five minutes; that his health was failing did not alter the somewhat primitive and rigorous character of the dishes set before him; that he returned home jaded and exhausted by the day's doings did not entitle him, any more than ever, to smoke a quiet cigar within doors. He smoked without, upon the sidewalk, according to his wont; but he never paced very far up or down, nor very long. The old routine went on--a little too inexorably. And though many of his nights were coming to be sleepless throughout, and though the strain of it all was obvious enough as his thin, drawn face bent over a breakfast for which he could find no relish, yet the tradition that he was above all physical frailties and exempt from all natural laws clamped its curious hold upon his family and even upon himself. Eliza Marshall had almost come to regard him as she regarded his business: each was a respectable and estimable abstraction which held its own without too direct a heed from her; each an admirable contrivance that had accomplished its purposes so long and with so trustworthy a regularity that the thought of hitch, lapse, failure never presented itself as a really tangible consideration. Each day he grew a shade paler, a degree feebler, but the change came too gradually for the unobservant and over-habituated eyes of his wife.

Rosy noticed it, however, when she came back to town, to begin seriously her preparations for her wedding. "I don't think papa looks very well," she was contented to observe.

"Of course he doesn't," returned Jane, anxiously. "He ought to go off somewhere for a change and rest. I've told him so a dozen times. You"--to Rosy--"ought to know plenty of places. If I had my way about it, he would start off to-morrow."

"Well, I don't know," observed her mother, slowly. "He never has gone off. And if you don't happen to feel first-rate, I don't know where you can be better taken care of than right at home."

"You might go to Geneva--both of you," replied Jane; "I wish you would, if only on my account. Mrs. Bates is just about getting tired of asking you, and I'm 'most worn out with making up excuses for your not going." Jane had been giving an occasional attendance on Susan Bates's dormitory and children. Mrs. Bates herself had bowed to Rosy's preference with a resigned reasonableness, and had abated not one jot in her friendliness towards Rosy's family.

But to Eliza Marshall a summer's outing could easily be made to seem superfluous, impracticable, revolutionary; nor did Jane succeed any better with her father himself. He seemed to take a pathetic pride in standing at his post; he almost appeared to be imbued with the fatalistic notion that there was, indeed, no leaving it. He continued to smoke his cigar outside, to cover haltingly sheets of paper with figures under the library lamp, and to yield himself to hours of depressing and harassing reflection within the shadows of the bay-window.

When Truesdale came home his father's decline was even more noticeable. Truesdale commented briefly on his appearance, suggested as briefly a little trip into the country, and after these few passes at filial duty he concentrated his attention upon his own personal affairs.

On his second visit to Madison he had met Bertie Patterson face to face. He had encountered her in one of the broad and leafy walks before the Capitol, and she was in company with another young man. "One of those students," thought Truesdale, as he noted the smooth face and slender immaturity of her escort. "They swarm. The town is full of them. What chance has anybody else against them?"

Bertie showed him a little face at once surprised, startled, puzzled. She bowed slightly and gave him a smile which seemed to him timid, shrinking, and amusingly deferential; but she showed no disposition to pause, or even to slacken her pace. "She doesn't know, after all," he thought; "she is imagining some vague horror or other that is too dreadful to be true, or even possible."

Bertie and her youth passed on through the contending sun and shade of the path. "Can they be engaged?" thought Truesdale, upon whom certain fine shades in posture and address were not thrown away; "he looks hardly a junior." He presently met a senior of his acquaintance who told him he understood they were. "Ouf!" commented Truesdale, further; "a mere boy-and-girl affair." And he pleased himself with thinking how his own participation in such an affair would give it a much greater maturity and weight.

But as regarded this particular one, he definitely withdrew from all participation whatever. He had now done enough to satisfy his curiosity--or his interest, as he might have preferred to have it called--and fully enough to preserve the dignity so absurdly jeoparded by the fantastic scruples of his aunt Lydia. He presently dismissed the whole matter, and fell to bestowing an exaggerated care upon the tips of his brushes. "The rest of the summer I propose to enjoy," he declared.

As for David Marshall himself, he employed the rest of the summer in a laborious attempt to form the acquaintance of his coming son-in-law. Scodd-Paston presented to him an assemblage of qualities towards whose scheduling and comprehending he received but little help from his familiarity with the ordinary workaday type of local young man. Paston was uniformly gay, jovial, companionable, definite sometimes as regarded particulars, indefinite always as regarded generals. He stood constantly in a lambent flicker of humorous good-nature, and he baffled the old gentleman as one is baffled by the play of sunshine over a rippling pool. Marshall would ask himself whether the depth of the pool was a finger-length or a fathom, and would speculate on what there might be lying at the bottom of it--strange deposits, perhaps, representing the social and business developments of another age, or at least another civilization. He sometimes questioned his daughter's capacity to cope with the classification of such a collection--supposing so exacting a task ever to devolve upon her.

He sometimes canvassed the matter with Theodore Brower, as the two sat smoking together on the door-step through the long summer twilights, while other warm-weather loungers scuffled aimlessly over the cindered paths of the dingy grass-stretch opposite, or, lying on their backs, crossed their legs self-indulgently and lifted over-worn brogans towards the contemptuous stars. He opened himself unreservedly to Brower, as to a friend of the family; and Brower could not but feel that his two years' attendance at the house, with thus far no definite outcome, had given the head of it ample warrant for considering him as he did. Once or twice, while Brower was counselling with X Marshall on the door-step, another man--Tom Bingham--had been entertained by Jane within the breezy recesses of the bay-window. It was then that Brower realized with a kind of muffled desperation how completely he and Bingham seemed to have changed positions. One had begun as the friend of a single member of the family, to become in the end the common and equal friend of all, and to sit discussing now with the head of it as one gray-beard with another. The other had begun as the general friend of the household, and had now advanced to the stage where he could fill in the dusk of an early September evening with the talk and company of the one young woman in the world whose talk and company were in any degree worth considering. Brower crunched his cigar between his teeth, and replied to Marshall's observations with a brusque carelessness for which he rebuked himself as being neither respectful nor civil.

"I had never thought," said the old gentleman, looking lakeward through the smoky twilight with a kind of vague wistfulnes, "but that all my girls would marry Americans." He spoke slowly, musingly, in his huskily sibilant tones.

"Um," said Brower, moodily, from the depth of an absurd jealousy. The man whose voice was coming to them with a certain deep indistinctness from the bay-window was an American--decidedly so.

"And not only an American," pursued Marshall, "but a Westerner."

"Um," said Brower, with an increasing gloom. The man who had just provoked that last clouded response from Jane was a Westerner, truly.

"And not only a Western man, but an out-and-out Chicago man; one who knows the town, one who is in sympathy with it, one who has done a little something to make it what it is."

"Um," said Brower once more, with a deeper despondency. Who had done more to make the town what it was than Bingham had done?

"Then I should understand his ideas and ambitions," the old man proceeded, in a tone of plaintive yet unavailing protest. "I should know better about his connections and belongings. I should be able to foresee the future in some degree. I should have a clearer idea of what to expect. I should know, perhaps, where he--where he meant to live." Marshall ended this discourse with a feeble and helpless sigh.

There was nothing indefinite about Bingham, thought poor Brower; there was no doubt as to where he would continue to exist. "You mean to say it isn't decided yet where they are going to live?" Brewer's inquiry was prompted by civility rather than by interest. It was the first observation of any length that he had made for some time. Jane, who had been straining her ears during the last ten minutes for the mere sound of his voice, leaned back in her chair with an approximate comfort.

"I don't know, just exactly," replied Marshall, rather dismally. His tone made him say that he did not know at all. "I've talked with Rosy and I've talked with Arthur...." He lapsed into a comfortless silence, and ran his thin old hand over his blanched and furrowed forehead.

"When are they going to be married?" asked Brower. His eyes were on the bay-window, through whose curtains there showed the face of Bingham, his own look anxiously fixed on Marshall.

Jane caught indistinctly the muffled tone of these few syllables. She made them mean a dozen different things and finally nothing at all, but she was glad of the opportunity to do even that.

"In a month," answered Marshall; "early in October. Rosy lays great stress on an October wedding--that's the only right sort, it seems." He sighed with a full sense of the imminence of the inevitable. The voice of Bingham came with a slow, deep gravity from the bay-window, and Jane's voice, responding, mingled nervously with her father's sigh.

"Not from the new house?" said Brower.

"Hardly. It will be almost finished, but far from furnished. Perhaps they will have their receptions there, if they decide to--to come back."

"Come back?" Brower spoke up loudly; a jangling freight train had paused opposite, and the locomotive was blowing off steam.

"To America," the old man explained. He laid his hands to his temples. "Do you sleep well?"

"Always."

"Rosy thinks the new house ought to be hurried more. But why should she object to being married from the old house she was born in? Most girls would be pleased with such a thought as that." He placed his hand over his weary old eyes. "You do, do you--always? I don't; I can't. These trains--they keep me awake. I slept hardly half an hour last night, and none at all the night before. Do you know anything about chloral?"

The voice of Bingham came to a pause, and that of Jane was presently distinguished in response--trembling, apprehensive, lapsing away into little breaks and pauses.

"I know it's dangerous," replied Brower. "And morphine, too. And all such things; they're not to be used except in the last extremity. So they are going to England for their wedding-trip, then?"

"To England, yes." He smiled half sorrowfully, half bitterly. He was thinking how easy it might be for Rosamund to give up her old home and her old friends altogether; and he was asking himself, too, if he had really toiled through these many years only to have the results squandered at last by a stranger in a strange land.

"To England, yes," he repeated. "Arthur has postponed his vacation until late in the fall, and he hopes to be able to spend as much as two or three weeks at home. At home; he is a British subject, you know--he has never been naturalized."

The air quivered with the quick pulsations of the locomotive of a passing suburban train. As it moved away Brower heard again the voice of Bingham slow, grave, earnest--a voice of warning and alarm, one might have thought.

"Some of them are here for years before they take out their papers," rejoined Brower. "And lots of them never take them out at all."

"I don't know what's to be done," said Marshall, with a fretful anxiety. "I've given up coffee; some tell me that I ought to give up smoking, too, but others say it really doesn't make any difference. But I must do something; I must have better rest.

"I can't work without my sleep, and I--I can't let myself fail--now."

Jane was speaking once again--more steadily, more coolly, more composedly, it seemed. "Poor pa;--it can't be so serious as that," the listener thought he understood her to say.

"I've heard of bromine," said Brower. "That's simpler, isn't it--and safer?" Jane's voice had ceased, and silence maintained its sway within.

"She will meet all his family," the old gentleman went on. "She seems to expect to find them very fine people--finer than any we have here. And she will see the place where they live--a very much handsomer place, I make out, than any in this part of the world." A drawn and weary smile passed lightly over his face.

There was a movement in the bay-window, and presently a solid footstep in the hall.

"There's nothing like finding things out for yourself," said Brower, colorlessly.

Bingham appeared on the door-step, just as the tail of locomotive smoke swept over the front yard. "Will you smoke with us?" asked Marshall.

Brower smiled, though neither of the others seemed conscious of any secondary meaning in this simple question. "Thank you, no," replied Bingham. "I am moving on to an appointment, and am a little late as it is." He looked down on Marshall with an expression of friendly solicitude, and shook hands with him in a long, slow clasp. "Good-night; you are entitled to better care than you are giving yourself." And he moved down the footpath towards the front gate.

Marshall looked after him wistfully. "If I were only in that man's shoes! If I but had half his health and strength!" Brower heard nothing of this; he was straining his ears for a further sound from within.

"I must get rest," cried the old man, pitifully. "I'm wearing out. I stay up till midnight and after, every night, and even then it's sometimes daylight before I have a minute's sleep, I can't stand it; nobody can."

There was a sound inside, as of scuffling among the furniture. It was Jane, feeling her way through the dark, listening for the sound of Theodore Brower's voice, and murmuring tremulously with her own, "Toujours fidele; toujours fidele!"

"What can I do?" asked the old man, with an appealing grip on Brower's arm. "What doctor can I see? Where can I go for a change and for rest? Or how," he groaned, "can I go away at all? They are crowding me down; they are wrenching my business from my hands! I can't give way at such a time as this!"

Brower hardly heard him; he was listening for Jane, who was now doubling the newel-post just within, and whose quavering undertone broke at the turn as she chanted once more her phrase of hope and reassurance. Brower heard her intonation, and wondered over its meaning; but he would have found no meaning in the words themselves, even if they had been distinctly audible, for he knew no French.

Jane crooned the same brief snatch of melody many a time as the preparations for her sister's wedding moved along--particularly during those hours when she sat in her own room and directed the invitations. It was the only bed-chamber which she remembered ever to have occupied--the same furniture, the same fireplace, the same outlook, the same familiar curtains, gas-jets, door-knobs that had been known to her tomboy childhood, to her formidably plain girlhood, to her ambitious and philanthropic spinsterhood. The very air of it seemed thick with her varying hopes and plans and dreams and projects and ideals. In this retired bower she had slept for her whole life, and no fairy prince had ever penetrated to it to awaken her. One had come for Alice and one for Rosy, but never a--"Toujours fidele!" moaned Jane, in her deepest contralto, and fell to work with renewed zeal upon her envelopes.

There were hundreds and hundreds of them. Rosy had imagined a function of the first magnitude, and it was not to dwindle for mere lack of material. She had determined upon a ceremony in church and a large reception at the house, with everything in the way of music, flowers, functionaries, and supernumeraries that the most approved forms could incorporate. She stood out for a bishop, a surpliced choir, a wedding-breakfast after the English manner--in short, for the utmost attainable in the way of spendor, thoroughness, and distinction. The preparations moved on with a swirl and a sweep, and involved the whole household to the exclusion of all else.

"But, for Heaven's sake," demanded Jane, "how are you going to get all these people into the house?" She had already disposed of Paston's short list, and had even found a certain pleasure in the quaint and complicated addresses that abounded throughout it. But the other list, compiled by Rosy and her mother, seemed to pass all bounds; not her mother's part, which was limited to certain old-time friends and connections, but Rosy's own, which dealt with "society" almost in its entirety. Jane appreciated now, for the first time, the comprehensive thoroughness of Rosy's year of social endeavor.

"Here, let me have it," said Rosy, brusquely snatching the list from Jane. She fixed her eye upon the part of it that was written in her mother's cramped and antiquated hand. "Who are these Browns?"

"Why, don't you remember the Browns? They were old neighbors of ours; pa used to think everything of them. They sent Alice a beautiful present."

"Never heard of them in my life," declared Rosy. "They needn't come; they can just have announcement-cards. Who are the Grahams?--here's four of them."

"Why," faltered Jane, "they used to have the pew right behind us in the old church. Ma and Mrs. Graham had a booth together at the Sanitary Fair."

"The pew behind, eh? I haven't the slightest recollection of them." She marked the name off altogether.

She made a thorough revision of her mother's list. Then she turned to her own. "Now, these people--I know all of them, and am indebted to them, and expect to have relations with them after I come back. They've all got to stay on."

"Very good," said Jane, meekly. What else could she say? Was it not to some such social triumph as this that for a good six months she had bent all her own endeavors? She tried now to make the triumph seem as glorious as it should, but she could not feel that she was succeeding.

Another stage in the proceeding arrived when the gowns began to come home from the dress-maker's. Jane then laid aside her pen to find pins, to contrive ruchings, to catch up the loose ends of draperies, while her mother and her sister Alice and her aunt Lydia circled and fluttered and swooped and chattered through a hundred suggestions and amendments and alterations. Then Jane would stand upon the threshold, and blink tearfully and indignantly into the gloom of the hall. "Nobody thinks of me," she would say, chokingly; "nobody cares for me; nobody seems to imagine that I've got a heart, too!"

And, lastly, the day itself;--when Truesdale, decorated with a daring and wanton orchid, followed Paston out into the middle of the chancel of a crowded and buzzing church; when his father, despite his failing powers and an innate repugnance to the conscious dramatization involved in the ceremonial side of life, led Rosamond up a long aisle with the tremulous embarrassment of an invalid and a novice, and parted from her in front of a broad pair of lawn sleeves; and when Cecilia Ingles scattered a wide shower of rice over the broken flagging of the old front walk, as Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Scodd-Paston, of Boxton Park, Witham, Essex, England (as one of the newspapers took the trouble to put it) passed out through the rusty old front gate into married life.

A few days later David Marshall, to the surprise and dismay of the remaining members of the family, took to his bed.