With the Procession by Henry Blake Fuller
"Where are you, Jane?"
Eliza Marshall's voice sounded impatiently in the hallway, and presently her nervous hand was placed on the knob of her daughter's door.
"Well, here you are, finally. And what is the matter, for the land's sake? And where is the pillow you went to get for your father?--we can't keep him waiting out in the carriage on such a day as this. Come, get up; you'll catch your death of cold yourself."
Jane was lying on the bare floor of her stripped and emptied room, with her head pillowed upon the window-sill. She wore her sack, but her hat had fallen off and lay at her side. In her hand she held a stiff and curling width of paper just torn from the wall, and her body shook with sobs as she lifted her wide and welling eyes to her mother's face.
"I am to blame," she cried, wildly; "I am to blame for it all! If it hadn't been for me we should never have left our old home and given up our old life, and Rosy wouldn't have cut all our friends and gone to England to live; and Truesdale wouldn't be talking about starting off across the Pacific for somewhere or other, and we should never have made enemies of those Beldens, and poor pa wouldn't have lost his business, and wouldn't be going off to die inch by inch in that big cold place out on the prairie. I'm to blame for it all; but I--I meant as well as anybody could!"
"'Sh, Jane! Rosy hasn't gone to England to live, and your father isn't dying. How can you talk that way?"
"And my old room!" Jane went on with a stringent cry, as her eyes roamed despairingly over its dismantled walls. "I never lived anywhere else, and I don't want to, and I can't! I don't want to live at all! And this old house isn't ours any longer, and those carriage people will begin to tear it down to-morrow. They'll take away the barn and chop down the trees, and there won't be a single thing left to remember it all by." She bent her head on the window-sill again, and sobbed more vehemently still.
"Oh, Jane, Jane!" cried her mother, protestingly, "how can you act that way when there is so much to be done, and when your father is feeling so much worse than usual? Where were those pillows left, anyway? Come, come!"
Jane rose to her knees and tried to wipe her face with the piece of wall-paper. Then her mother lifted her up and led her out through the hall.
It was a chilly day in early November--a high wind lashing the gray and foaming lake--when David Marshall, wrapped in shawls and bolstered up with pillows, was driven carefully over the three miles of flinty macadam which led from his old house to his new one, and was put to bed again in a large, half-warmed apartment, fitted up scantily and provisionally with an old chamber-set that had escaped the auctioneer. His own illness and his daughter's marriage had almost brought the furnishing of the new house to a stand-still, while the anxiety of the purchasers of the old place to get their foundations in before the real cold weather had made it impossible for the family to re-remain a single day beyond the stipulated term. No new furnishings had been attempted beyond carpets and curtains, and for the first few days that the old man lay in these new quarters he had little to assure him that he was not in some hotel or in some hospital, save the echoing tread of the hard-finishers in other rooms about him. The first slight flurry of snow dusted the dead weeds of the open spaces round the house, and the reflections from it passed through the clear, broad panes of the windows to strike a grimmer chill from the shimmering surfaces of ash and oak. Never before had the world seemed to him so empty and so cold and so unsympathetic. And when his own wife had said to him, in accents almost of reproach, "Oh, David, David, how could you take such a time as this to be sick, with all the worry of moving and furnishing and Rosy's wedding and everything else?" he felt as bare and chill and numb as a naked sailor cast ashore on some alien and inhospitable coast.
Susan Bates appeared at the new house almost immediately; she felt its need now, if ever, of being habitable. She stuffed her carriage with rugs and draperies; she sent an expressman out with her favorite easy-chair. She brought alcohol lamps and chafing-dishes. She seldom came without fruit or flowers. She set fire-screens and adjusted window-shades. She went deeply into the subject of opiates, and she talked by the hour with Jane and her mother about symptoms and remedies.
Marshall, while grateful for her attentions, was almost embarrassed by them--not that they should come from her rather than from his wife (or at least more copiously and spontaneously), but that they should come at all. Never before in his life had he received such minute and solicitous ministrations; he felt with a shy self-depreciation that he must be making himself a great burden. If Susan Bates threw back her bonnet-strings and suggested to Jane a lowering of the window-shades, he would almost protest against the girl's laying aside her book or her sewing; and the preparation of any special dish, such as is an invalid's due, would even now still cause him that sense of guilt which he had always felt on breaking in upon the household routine of his wife. "Poor man!" Susan Bates would say; "how must he have lived all these years! Why, I could hardly get him even to let me oil the door-hinges!"
She would sit by his bedside and try to soothe and divert this wan and weary and half-desperate old man. He enjoyed but the most fitful slumber, and even that only by the action of narcotics. Through the lagging hours of the day and through the maddening watches of the night his mind, ticking like an unstillable clock, beat for him an incessant rhythmical reminder of the impending ruin of his house and of his own powerlessness to avert it. He reviewed again and again the whole course of his life and his business--they were one: his lowly beginnings, his early struggles in the raw but ambitious prairie town, the laborious stages of endeavor by which he had developed and strengthened his business--his. Then, as the house had grown, others had insinuated themselves, or imposed themselves; and these were now banded together to dominate it, and to check and circumvent him, its founder and their benefactor, and finally to bring it to the very brink of ruin, and to make the labors of his whole lifetime come to naught. And he in bed here--with his feeble hands working desperately at the hem of the sheet, and his aching head throbbing unavailingly through the cruel, open-eyed watches of the night. He raged over the world's injustice and his own impotence; the thought was never absent from him--he was coming under the disastrous domination of the idee fixe.
He spoke of these things to Susan Bates with such an increasing frequency and insistency as almost to transfer the rack of them from his own brain to hers. Once or twice, in an interval of semi-delirium, he bewept the ruin not only of his business, but of himself and of his family and of all his belongings. He infected her with his own dread and panic; she saw his property dispersed, his home in others' hands, his family in the depths of despairing poverty.
One morning she appeared at Roger's office; Minnie Peters accompanied her. The one carried a large leather bag in her hand; the other had a large brown-paper parcel under her arm.
"Your poor father!" said Susan Bates, advancing straight towards Roger with moistened eyes and with a nervous tremor in her voice and body alike. She set her satchel on the corner of Roger's desk and began tugging at its catches. "You open yours too, Minnie," she said; and Minnie Peters began working at the knots in the cord that bound her stiff brown bundle with a tight-drawn tension. Roger looked at both his callers with a great surprise.
"Poor David!" said Susan Bates, with her lips twitching; "to think of his toiling and slaving so many years, and of everything going all to pieces in the end, like this! It can't be! It sha'n't be!--not if I can help it."
She thrust her hand into the top of Minnie Peter's package. She drew out a heavy folded document and followed it with others. "There! that's the abstract; and here are the leases, and here is the insurance." She threw out a sheaf of policies; the one on top was for ten thousand dollars. "I didn't know just what you would need; I brought everything connected with the whole building--here's the receipt for last year's taxes. Now, I want you to put a mortgage on it right away. It's clear, Mr. Bates says."
Roger glanced at one of the leases and placed the building in an instant. It was a vast structure in the dry-goods district, occupied by half a dozen firms of the highest standing.
Mrs. Bates now thrust her hand into her own bag. She drew it out time and time again, until she had covered the top of Roger's desk with packages of securities--bank stock, railroad bonds, State and county issues of all kinds; there was even one bright-green batch of water bonds from a far town in North Dakota.
Roger looked up at her very gravely. "Is this with Mr. Bates's approval?"
Susan Bates answered him pantingly, all a-tremble with nervous excitement. "Mr. Bates is a just man, and not an ungenerous man, but--but"--She clasped her hands and leaned forward anxiously. "Mr. Bates and I have always stepped along together. He has always done whatever I have asked him to do. He has never disappointed me. But--oh, Roger, he never knew your father in those early days; if he had, could he stand by and see him on the edge of ruin without making some effort to save him?" She waved her hand over the disorder of Roger's desk. "That's everything I've got; use as much of it as you need."
She began to cry a little. Minnie Peters, who always cried when she could, pulled out her handkerchief and frankly sobbed aloud.
Roger studied the two women with some perplexity and with a slight shade of pique.
"It is true," he began, very proudly and much too coldly, "that the affairs of the Marshall & Belden Company are moving towards the hands of a receiver, but the affairs of David Marshall himself are in the hands of his son; and they were never in better condition than they are to-day."
This was Roger's song of victory over his recent success with the largest operation (on behalf both of his father and of himself) that he had ever undertaken. It seemed as if all the world must know of that--must ring with it, in fact; yet it was this very hour which Benevolence had now chosen for the precipitation of her golden shower.
Susan Bates gave a little gasp. "Then--then you don't need it?"
"Never less," replied Roger, with a quivering nostril and a high, slow bow.
Susan Bates looked sidewise at Minnie Peters and asked her to behave herself. But she gave a few hysterical sobs on her own part, and Minnie Peters echoed them with a faithful promptitude.
"Just like a woman," thought Roger, as he sat alone after Susan Bates's departure. He drew a hundred lines on an imaginary sheet of paper with a dry pen. "Like a woman; yes," he added, under the promptings of a feeling for more exact justice, "a woman in ten thousand."
A few mornings later, when this woman in ten thousand was standing in the bleak porch of the new house to await the return of her horses from their last walk up and down, another carriage slipped into its place and another woman alighted on the curbstone. Susan Bates immediately squared her shoulders, banished all expression from her face, and began the descent of the steps with her eyes fixed upon the gaps in the broken building line over the way.
"That woman! She has never entered my house, and she never shall; and she should never enter this."
Statira Belden had come to do the decencies; Eliza Marshall received her with the grim inexpressiveness of a granite bowlder.
"My husband is resting quietly to-day," she said, in response to Mrs. Belden's inquiries. He was--unconscious under chloral, after three nights of open-eyed torment.
Mrs. Belden passed one of her large, smooth gloves over the other and praised the house.
"It is one of the handsomest on the street," replied Eliza Marshall, firmly. "And one of the best built. We feel completely at home in it already."
But, in truth, the poor soul was homesick, heartsick, as lost and forlorn as a shipwrecked sailor on the chill coast of Kamtchatka.
Mrs. Belden smoothed down her yellow locks and deplored, in her thickly sweet accents, the unfortunate condition of the business.
"My husband's own affairs are going very well," returned Eliza Marshall, looking forward with unblinking eyes. "My son has charge of them. There was a full account of his success in the Sunday paper."
Her tone was one of brazen triumph. Yet Eliza Marshall abhorred speculation with all the dread of the middle-aged female conservative. One dollar through legitimate trade rather than ten through such paths as Roger had of late been so fearfully treading.
Mrs. Belden had heard something of Truesdale's intended departure for the Orient. "He finds Chicago uncongenial, no doubt."
"Truesdale is at home everywhere. He will have adventures everywhere. He is handsome. He is clever. He can interest wherever he chooses. Sometimes he interests too easily and too deeply; sometimes in spite of himself and to his own annoyance."
Eliza Marshall shot out these remarks like bullets from behind a breastwork. At the end she set her jaws firmly, and stared at Statira Belden with a proud defiance. Many a night had Truesdale's courses wet her pillow with tears of sorrow and shame; she now wondered if it were really she herself who had just celebrated his profligacy, and had seemed to glory in it at that. She had surmised her son's disdain for the importunities of Gladys McKenna, and she had joined with him in a ringing derision when the Beldens had accused him of encouraging her in her folly that he might employ her as a spy upon the happenings in their house. "My son," she concluded, "will return at his own pleasure, and will always be welcome under his father's roof."
Statira Belden's eyes sought the floor. It was she who had made it sure that knowledge of Truesdale's transgression should reach the ears of Susan Bates; yet her own son had just established relations with a "baroness" who still lingered behind on the scene of the late national festivities, and at the climax of an insane extravagance had been openly cast off by his family.
"And Rosy?" said Statira Belden, presently, with a reconquered sweetness. "One would expect to find her home at such a time as this."
Eliza Marshall planted her standard upon her breastwork, and flaunted it with a firm and magnificent spirit.
"My daughter Rosamund will be with us inside of a week. She has been detained longer than she had expected among her husband's family." The old lady rose with a stiff, slow motion, and transferred a large panel photograph from the centre-table to Statira Belden's hands. "This reached us yesterday."
It was Rosamund. Her proud and splendid young beauty was set off by a court-train, an immense bouquet, and a nodding group of ostrich-tips.
"Presented at court!" exclaimed Statira Belden, involuntarily, and bit her tongue a second after.
Eliza Marshall answered neither yes nor no. She let the photograph speak for itself.
"Rosamund," she went on, presently, "may return a little too late for her first reception, but the others will be held here, and she will entertain a great deal during the winter."
Statira Belden was cowed at last, and Eliza Marshall's heart beat high to see it. This was her only compensation for the tears shed over the delayed return of a selfish and unfilial daughter, for the anticipated ordeal of the gay social happenings which were to follow that return, for the besetting thought that some dread misfortune might displace all this future festivity by a worse alternative, and make the lightest diversion a black impossibility.
"She kissed the Queen's hand?" palpitated Statira Belden with an interest that she could not stifle; and again Eliza Marshall answered neither yes nor no.
Rosamund had not kissed the Queen's hand, but her husband's family had been so fascinated by her beauty, so amazed by her genius for dress, and so confounded by her boundless aplomb, that one of them had suggested that she attire herself in a costume which had served a daughter of the house at a Drawing-room some six months before, and others had demanded that she be photographed in it. This was the pleasantest impression that Rosy brought back of her husband's family--their generous and unbounded appreciation of herself.
Her other impressions were less acute. Boxton Park itself she had found comfortable, but not at all splendid; and as for its occupants, they were, in the main, staid and serious people who were doing what they could to justify the favors that fortune had bestowed upon them. Rosy sometimes felt that, in general terms, they might have appreciated Jane quite as fully as they had appreciated her. They were not gay, they were not lively, they were not like Arthur. Paston had truly described himself as the youngest, and he was by far the most jovial and blithesome.
Rosy had not delayed her return on account of any presentation at court--though the achievement of the photograph may have accounted for a few days more or less--but on account of the fox-hunting, which had completely fascinated her. Horse, habit, and country were all in perfect accord; her prosaic and hum-drum practice at home was now transmuted into the purest poetry, and under the promptings of this new afflatus she developed a grace and a daring which accomplished the final and irrevocable conquest of all her husband's family.
Rosy's continued sojourn in England cost her husband his position and prospects in America, where he was not of enough importance to assume such liberties. But this mattered nothing to his wife. She had lived for more than a fortnight at the seat of a county family, she had breathed the air of deference that exists for the gentry of the shires, and she was far from any thought of a permanent submission to the rasping crudities of provincial America. She had already developed the fixed determination to return to London for the "season," to accomplish an actual presentation at court, and to make England her future home for the rest of her days.
One thing more was lost by Rosamund's delay in Essex--all chance of a last recognition from her father. When she finally reached home he was in a state of slight delirium, and when he passed from that it was to enter into unconsciousness. His ideas ran incessantly on gifts, on philanthropic endeavor. To-day he built an asylum; to-morrow he endowed a hospital. He strewed promises over the counterpane with indefatigable hands, and babbled unending benefactions among his hot and harassing pillows. Jane, half mad with anguish and remorse, found an added pang in the recollection that during one of his conscious and least uncomfortable hours he had yielded to her solicitations and those of Susan Bates, and had set apart a certain portion of his estate, with the approval of Roger, for a collegiate building which was to bear his name. "He will be remembered now," said Jane, for all her poignant sorrow, and she was glad that Roger had co-operated to make this step a possibility. She tried not to see too plainly that her father had made no pretence of a keener sense of his duty towards the public, or of a kindlier disposition towards it. Whatever he had done was on personal grounds--for the pleasure of a daughter and of an old friend.
One morning, a week after Rosamund's return, a bow of crape was hanging upon the door-bell, Susan Bates was busy with Eliza Marshall up-stairs over certain sombre-hued apparel, and Roger was writing down a list of names and addresses for Theodore Brower upon the dining-room table.
"We must have eight out of this list," said Roger to Brower, "and we ought to know by night which of them can serve."
"Whose names have you put down?" asked Jane, reaching for the paper. She read them over. "Give me that pencil." She wrote down half a dozen more. "There!" she said, with a sort of frenzied and towering pride, as she passed the sheet on to Brower. "Those are men that my father knew, and they are men who must help us now." Roger glanced at the names; each was a household word to every soul throughout the city. "Try them," said Jane to Brower, "and if any of them refuse you, they will have to refuse me later." And she walked straight out of the room, without turning her head an inch to right or left.
"Shall I?" asked Brower, abashed.
"Why not?" demanded Roger, with a laconic severity.
Brower was a quiet, retiring fellow, and entered upon his day's work with a full consciousness of the ordeal. It meant to lean over the desks of bank presidents, to intrude upon the meetings of railway directors, to penetrate to the retiring-rooms of judges, to approach more than one of the magnates whom, with an imposing vagueness, we call "capitalists." But Brower, carrying the thought of Jane with him into all these presences, accomplished his task with modesty, tact, and discretion, and finally, from the few simple types of greatness that the town possesses, evolved a list which the pride of the dead man's daughter was willing to accept.
The list of occupants of the carriages Jane made out herself. "In the first one, mother and Roger and Alice and her husband. In the second, Arthur and Rosy and Truesdale and me. In the third, Aunt Lydia and the Bateses--it will be full if Lottie and William both come. I can do that much for Aunt Lyddy," concluded Jane, with a rueful yet whimsical smile.
"Where do you put me?" asked Brower, with an inviolate sobriety. They were alone in the dining-room together.
"In the fourth. You and Mr. Bingham and--"
"I don't want to go in the carriage with Mr. Bingham," interrupted Brower.
"Why, Theodore, what do you mean? Mr. Bingham is one of our best and oldest friends. Who is there that has been kinder to poor dear pa, and to ma, and to me--?"
"Nor in any carriage occupied by--friends," he went on, in the same tense undertone. He took a firm grip on the back of the chair beside him; Jane saw the swelling veins of his hand and wondered what it all might mean. "I want to go in one of the carriages for the family. I want to go in the carriage that you go in. Do you understand me?"
A sudden consciousness had swept over him, with the mention of Bingham's name, that he himself, as well as any other, filled measurably the dead man's ideal of a husband for one of his daughters. He had waited too long already before making this discovery; he must not wait so long before declaring it.
She did not understand from his voice, which was strained and muffled to conceal an emotion all unconcealable. But she understood from his eyes, which looked into hers with an immense and endless kindness, and from his hand, which had left its heroic clutch upon the chair to take a very human hold upon the hand which hung so limply by her side. "Do you understand me?" he asked again; and his voice was gentler than before.
"I do," answered Jane, feebly, and her head fell upon his shoulder. Nothing ever seemed to happen to her as to anybody else; but if happiness chose to come to her swathed in mourning bands, none the less kindly and thankfully must it be welcomed. And as she reclined against him she breathed a sigh of thanks that not he, but Bingham, had been concerned in the laying of her ill-omened corner-stone.
He stood beside her at the open grave, and supported her there, too, as the rattling sand and gravel rained down upon the coffin. The grave had been set round with evergreen sprays, and the raw mound of earth beside it had been concealed in the same kindly fashion. But Jane, in a self-inflicted penance, would spare herself no pang; she clutched Brower's arm and stood there, motionless, until the grave had been filled in and the overplus of earth had been shaped above it. "Put those lilies at the head," she directed; "they were from Mrs. Bates." And then she walked away.
She read the next day, with a chastened satisfaction, the newspaper accounts of her father's career. A new and careless public was carried back once more to the early day whose revivification is always attempted for a preoccupied and unsympathetic community upon the passing away of another old settler. Then the frontier village lifts once more its bedraggled forlornness from the slime of its humble beginnings, and the lingering presence of the red man is again made manifest upon the grassy horizon. Again the struggles of the early days are rehearsed, again fire deals out its awful devastation, and once more the city grows from an Indian village to a metropolis of two millions within the lifetime of a single indivdual.
One morning, the second after the funeral, Truesdale stood at the front parlor window, while the first snow-storm of the season swirled over the long reach of the street and across the straggling paths that traversed the wide stretches of broken prairie land round about. On the chair beside him was a newspaper containing the statement that the affairs of the Marshall & Belden Company were to be wound up, all thought of continuing the business having been abandoned. And on the table beside him lay the cards which announced the marriage of Bertie Patterson.
"No business," he said; "no bride." He feigned to himself that he had really designed going into his father's office, and that he had had a serious intention of asking Bertie Patterson to become his wife. He looked out through the wide, clear pane, and thought of the view, of the weather, of the hideous hubbub of the whole town. "Ouf! What a prospect, what a climate, what a human hodge-podge! Everything unites for me in saying--Japan."
David Marshall's will was opened this same day. It made Japan possible for Truesdale, and England possible for Rosamund. A codicil, added in Roger's hand at the latest practicable moment, revoked the bequest for a collegiate building and transferred the whole amount of it directly to Jane.
"This mustn't make any difference," said Jane to Brower. "It shall go for that, after all. My father was a good man, and he deserves to be remembered."
Brower bowed quietly. He appreciated the gravity of this their joint sacrifice, but he would not dispute the justness of it.