With the Procession by Henry Blake Fuller
"'When I was a student at Cadiz I played on the Spanish guitar; I used to make love to the ladies'--"
This brief snatch of song ended with the obvious and, indeed, inevitable rhyme for "Cadiz," and the singer completed the stanza by throwing an arch and rather insinuating glance at the young man who was lounging negligently on the chair beside her own. She herself leaned back rather negligently too, with her feet crossed; her elbows were crooked at varying angles, her fingers pressed imaginary frets or plucked at imaginary strings, and the spectator was supposed to be viewing an Andalusian grace and passion abandoned to the soft yet compelling power of music.
It was thus that Truesdale Marshall was welcomed home by his aunt Lydia.
His aunt Lydia--Mrs. Lydia Rhodes--was a plump and vivacious little brunette of forty, with a gloss on her black hair and a sparkle in her black eyes. She still retained a good deal of the superabundant vitality of youth; in her own house, when the curtains were down and the company not too miscellaneous, she was sometimes equal to a break-down or a cake-walk. She was impelled by social aspirations of the highest nature, and was always lamenting, therefore, that she possessed so little dignity. She was a warm-hearted, impulsive creature, who believed in living while on earth, and she was willing enough to believe that others would live too, so far as opportunity offered. It seemed to Truesdale, just now, as if she might be engaged in a mental review of his probable experiences abroad--there, certainly, was an opportunity offered.
"But now that you are back again we expect you to settle down and be good--a useful member of society, you know." She threw a coquettish smile on the young man and banished the imaginary guitar.
"Oh, really--" began Truesdale, with a flush and a frown. He glanced over his shoulder; his mother and sisters were in animated converse on the other side of the room.
"Yes," his aunt proceeded; "you are old enough to think about marrying. You don't know how pleasant it would be to have a nice little home of your own, and your own little wifey to meet you every evening with a kiss!"
"Dear, dear!" thought Truesdale to himself; "and now she's singing that song to me!" He remembered these familiar strains; they had been directed many a time and oft to the ear of his brother Roger. Year by year their plaintive poignancy had grown more acute, along with Roger's strengthening determination to remain a bachelor.
Truesdale found himself wondering whether his aunt's intense allegiance to the idea of married life was the sincere expression of a nature overflowingly affectionate, or a species of sensitive dissimulation cloaking a disappointment which, by this time, might well have come to be numbered among the bygones. For it was now six years since Alfred Rhodes, the gay, the genial, had died. He had cost his wife many anxious moments and a few sleepless nights. He had left her a moderate fortune, an ample freedom, and a boy of eight. She had increased her freedom by sending the boy off to an Eastern school. He visited Eastern relatives during vacation time, and was doomed to a longer course of knickerbockers than it would have pleased him to forecast. His mother's heart still palpitated youthfully; she showed herself in no haste to take her stand in the ranks of the elder generation.
"Yes," Mrs. Rhodes proceeded, "you must get into business, and then we shall have to find some nice girl for you."
"The same thoughtful Aunt Lydia," he observed, ironically. He gave his mustache an upward screw, then dropped his eyes to his knees and his fingers to the rungs of his chair. His design seemed to be to figure a slave shrinking on the auction-block. "Do you mean to say you haven't got one for me already?" He ignored the business side of her proposal.
"Well, you needn't put it that way," she rejoined. "You know perfectly well that I am not a match-maker, nor anything like it. And it wouldn't please me at all to have anybody say so of me or to think of me in that way." She was quite sincere in all this.
Truesdale, however, held the opposite view, and, considering all the circumstances, liked his aunt none the less. She was a match-maker--a very keen and persistent one; but he felt that her excesses in this direction were to be viewed simply as an acknowledgement to fortune for having guided her own courses to such advantage. She had come out from Trenton some eighteen years before with a pretty face, a light wardrobe, a limited purse, and an invitation (extended by a benevolent aunt) to remain as long as she liked. She had never gone back. She met Alfred Rhodes, Eliza Marshall's younger brother; and from the slight foothold offered by her kindly relative she had advanced to an ample fortune and a complete freedom. She was grateful for all this, and gratitude took the form of her extending, in turn, unlimited invitations to other girls with pretty faces, light purses, and limited wardrobes. She almost always had some comely niece or younger cousin in the house. She drove with them, she shopped with them, she gave teas and receptions for them. She summoned young men in numbers; she had her billiard-table re-covered; she could always produce sherry and cigars when really put to it; she almost transformed her home into a club-house. "For," said she, "I can never forget how kind Aunt Marcia was to me!"
Such wide-spread beneficence as this had not, of course, excluded her sister-in-law's daughters. It was really to her aunt Lydia that Rosamund Marshall was indebted for her year at the New York school; her mother had unquestioningly accepted Mrs. Rhodes's declaration that the institution was eminently fashionable and desirable, and her father had committed her with the greatest confidence and good-will to the conductor of the east-bound Lake Shore express. And it was to her aunt that the girl was now looking, after an obscure and wistful fashion, for an introduction into society, in which, according to the belief of the family, Mrs. Rhodes occupied a secure and brilliant position. Rosamund had been revolving matters in her pretty and self-willed little head, and in her proud and self-willed little heart she had decided upon a formal debut.
Her mother was completely nonplussed; she would as soon have wrestled with the differential calculus. "Why, dear me," she stammered, "there's Alice; she never came out, and I don't see but what she's got along all right: good home, nice husband, and everything she wants. And Jane, now--"
"Oh, Jane!" said Rosy, in disdain.
Then she sulked, and reproached her mother with the flat and unprofitable summer that had followed her return from school, and asked pointedly if the coming winter was to be like it. "Ha!" exclaimed the poor woman to herself; "Lyddy is to blame for this; I wish she had never mentioned New York!" But the year at school was only a remoter cause; the more immediate one was a pink tea which Rosamund had attended (casually, as it were, and quite informally) a month back. This was the tigress's first taste of blood--a pale, diluted fluid, it is true, but it worked all the effect of a fuller and richer draught.
It developed in Rosamund a sixth sense--one which was to lead her to lengths that none of her kin could have anticipated. And to the rest of the family, clucking and scratching in their own retired and restricted barn-yard, there came the day when they discovered that their little flock contained at least one bird of a different feather--a bird that could paddle about the social pond with the liveliest, and could quack, if need be, with the loudest.
Jane--who had even yet no adequate sense of the strength and pungency of her younger sister's spirit, but who would not in any event have hesitated to rush on an individual martyrdom that might secure some consideration for the collective family--threw herself into the discussion at once.
"No, don't let's have any party or dance or reception or anything at all. Not even a two-by-four tea. Don't let's try to be anybody or know anybody, or give anything or be considered anything. Let's go right on rusting and vegetating; let's just dry up and shake apart and blow away, with nobody the wiser for our having been here or the sorrier for our having gone!"
Her mother heard this outburst with some surprise and not a little resentment. "Well, Jane, you're quite surpassing yourself to-night. What do you mean by all this?"
Jane exploded again.
"I mean that I'm simply tired of being a nothing and a nobody in a family of nothings and nobodies. That's what it comes to. I'm tired of being a bump on a log. I'm tired of sitting on the fence and seeing the procession go by. Why can't we go by? Why can't we know people? Why can't we make ourselves felt? Other folks do."
Mrs. Rhodes passed over in silence this imputation of nullity; she was not so closely related, after all, that she need allow herself to be disturbed by it. But sister Alice took up the cudgel with all the ardor of an immediate connection and all the sensitiveness of a suburban resident. She even forgot the real, essential object of her visit: to intimate to her father that if he would give her a carriage, her husband could pay for the keep of a horse.
She was a contentious blonde, with a thin, aquiline nose and a pair of flashing steel-blue eyes. Several wisps of straw-colored hair blew about her temples.
"Thank you, Jane," she said, hotly; "I don't know that I feel myself a nobody, and I don't feel that I'm exactly a social outcast--even if I do live beyond the city limits." She turned back a floating lock with a hasty wave. "It might be to your advantage if you moved somewhere or other yourselves. I don't see how you can expect to see anybody or know anybody as long as you are buried in such a sepulchre as this."
Alice was the radical, the innovator of the family. She often brought her conservative mother to the verge of horror. Hers was the hardy, daring, and unconventional strain of the pioneer. She liked the edge; if the edge was a little ragged, so much the better.
"Ho!" cried Jane, sarcastically. "To see anybody or to know anybody we ought to be out at Riverdale Park, perhaps. Riverdale Park!" she repeated, with scornful emphasis. "There isn't any river; there isn't any dale; there isn't any park. Nothing but a lot of wooden houses scattered over a flat prairie, and a few trees no bigger than a broomstick, and no more leaves on them either. In the morning the men all rush for the train, and the rest of the day the nurse-girls trundle the babies along the plank walks, while 'society' amuses itself. Society consists of Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Jones, and Mrs. Alice Robinson. On Wednesday, Mrs. Smith gives a lunch to Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Jones, and Mrs. Robinson. On Thursday, Mrs. Brown gives a tea to Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones, and Mrs. Robinson. On Friday, Mrs. Rob--(no, Mrs. Jones--I'm losing the place) gives a card-party to Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. Robinson--in the daytime, too, mind you. And on Saturday, Mrs. Robinson designs giving a breakfast to Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. Jones, but finds that the cook is packing up her things to leave. Quiet in the suburb for a week. Then Mrs. Smith's sister comes out from town to spend a fortnight. Well, everybody is anxious to see Mrs. Smith's sister--a new face, you know. So, after Mrs. Smith has started the second round with another lunch, Mrs. Brown follows with a tea, as before, for Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Robinson--and Mrs. Smith's sister. Then Mrs. Jones--but you've all played the game: for breakfast I had this and that and the other. That is society in Riverdale Park. It would be too rich for me!"
Alice flushed with vexation. Truesdale (who had not come home to treat local society with too great a degree of seriousness, and who, indeed, was like enough to take his pleasures beyond any bounds that society might set) looked on and listened with a kind of indulgent curiosity--like an explorer listening to the excited pow-wow of some flock of natives in some remote African jungle.
"Yes," retorted Alice, "according to your own confession more happens with us in a week than happens with you in a year. And you might as well acknowledge, at the same time, that there are a few houses in the Park where the carpets are a little less than fifteen years old, and where they don't have hideous old what-nots loaded down with all the stuff accumulated since the year one."
She lifted the corner of a rug with her toe, so as to disclose the threadbare breadth that it concealed, and she threw an ironical eye upon a sort of massive and convoluted buffet which displayed a number of antique Dresden figurines and a pair of old candelabra compounded of tarnished gilt and broken prisms. "And in the Park," she added, "we always have new wall-paper at the beginning of every century--it's a local ordinance!"
"Alice," called her mother, tartly, "take your foot away from that rug. And don't annoy me about that worn breadth; you know very well I've tried everywhere to match it. And don't imagine, either, that I'm going to bundle my wedding presents out of sight for you or anybody else."
"Match it!" cried Alice, unabashed. "Match it? They used the last to carpet the ark." She trod down the corner of the rug with a firm step. Then, with her scornful nostrils and sharply critical eyes, she seemed to be lifting it again.
"Well, then," said her mother. "And now leave it alone." The old lady had not the slightest idea of replacing her time-accustomed patterns by anything more current. Nor was her husband, apparently, of a different mind as concerned the wallpaper. He had followed Jane in from the other room, and he now sat there, sending a careful eye slowly along the old-fashioned border, and finding it impossible to believe that any one could seriously judge it to be grotesquely out of date.
"The carpet's all right, as far as I can see," declared Jane. "What if it is fifteen years old? Have you got one at Riverdale that is even fifteen months old? You know you haven't; if you had you'd start a museum of antiques with it. And as for our budging from this dear old place, don't you look for it; we're attached to it, even if you're not. Besides, to move would be to throw away the one advantage that we really have. Why, think of it!" she continued with a gesticulating and wide-eyed eloquence. "We have lived right here in this one house over thirty years. How many families in this town have lived in one house thirty years? Or twenty? Or even ten? We've always had the same door-plate on the same door. We've always had the same number in the directory. We started in a good neighborhood, and we've always stayed here--the only one in all the town that has anything like an old-time flavor and an atmosphere of its own--the only one where nice people have always lived and do live yet. Isn't that better than a course of flats up one street and down another? Isn't that better than a grand chain through a lot of shingle-shangled cottages in the suburbs? I should say so. What are they doing in the East now? They're going back to their old neighborhoods, and the people who haven't left them at all are the ones who are right on the top of the pile. We might have some new furniture or something of the sort, perhaps; but that's different from asking the moving-wagons to come and cart us out on to the prairie."
David Marshall followed his daughter's harangue with an indulgent interest and a sympathy by no means scant. He had no profound apprehension of social values, and no clear-cut conception of a social career; but he appreciated her loyalty to her lifelong home and to all its belongings and surroundings. He had reason for supposing that this loyalty would extend to himself; but Jane was wound up to go, and had no idea of allowing anything to stand in the way of her disposal of the question in all its bearings.
"I suppose," she went on, inexorably, "that we imagine ourselves to be 'prominent citizens.' Well, we make a mistake if we do. We may have been ten years ago, but not now. We've just been falling, falling, falling behind--that's the amount of it. Now, honest, pa, dear, do the papers ever come to you nowadays to know what you think about political prospects or to ask your opinion on the last new street-car route proposed? Or do they send men around for trade statistics who jubilate in the issue of Jan. one because we sold five thousand more barrels of flour this year than last? Now, do they?"
Marshall could not escape the justness of this pointed presentation of new conditions. "We have enough to bother us," he said, with a slow reluctance, "without reporters coming round."
"There it is," continued Jane. "Yes, and who cares nowadays about the volume of the lumber trade or the mortality at the stock-yards? Why, just those people themselves. The fact is, the town has moved to a higher plane, and we've got to move with it, or else get left. Why, dear me, if it wasn't for an intellectual daughter who had the gift of language and who wrote papers and read them at the club, this family would have scarcely a connection with latter-day society."
"Good for you, Jane," called her brother. "Give me some of them to read."
"They're pretty good," said their father, unruffledly judicial. Jane was in the habit of reading him passages that she considered particularly effective. In listening to her perorations he sometimes felt himself as assisting at the liquidation of the universe.
"Now, here we are," proceeded Jane, with unabated exegetical energy, "an old family, with position and plenty of means and everything to make an impression. Why can't we do it? Why can't we manage to assert ourselves? I'm not speaking for myself, of course; I'm a back number"--this half hysterically, between a gulp and a giggle--"I'm 'gone beyond recall,' and nobody knows that better than I myself. No; I'm speaking for all of us. Besides, here's Rosy, just coming up, and--"
"Thank you, Jane," remarked Rosamund, with some acerbity. "You needn't mind me. I can look after myself."
"--and it seems to me," went on Jane, ardently, "that people who have succeeded might just as well give some outer token of it. I declare, when I called on Mrs. Bates and went over the place and compared their house and their way of living with ours--"
Her aunt looked up suddenly. "Mrs. Bates? What Mrs. Bates? Mrs. Granger Bates?"
"Yes. When I saw what magnificent style she lived in, and how she had about everything that--"
"So you know Mrs. Bates, too," her aunt again interrupted. "Pleasant woman, isn't she? Have I ever told you how she and I used to play backgammon together at St. Augustine?"
"Have you?" muttered Jane. "I should think you had--a dozen times over!"
"And what were you doing at her house, may I ask?" her aunt queried further. The geniality of this interrogation hardly concealed its crudity; Jane felt herself accused of an incongruous and inexplicable intrusion into a region of unaccustomed splendor and distinction.
"Oh, she was collecting money for her working-girls' lunchroom," volunteered Rosy, with a cruel bluntness.
Jane threw an air of outraged dignity upon her younger sister. "So I was. And I spent a very pleasant hour with her," she said, with some stateliness. "And I am going there next Wednesday to lunch," she added.
Her aunt looked at her with increasing consideration. She herself had never been honored with an invitation to the house of Mrs. Granger Bates--though rather than fail to respond to such an invitation she would have crawled there (a trifle of some fourteen squares) on her hands and knees. "Have you known her long?"
"Since ten this morning," contributed Rosy.
"Always," corrected Jane, with a whimsical brevity.
"And how do you find her?" persisted Mrs. Rhodes, with a curious intentness. "Dear me!" she laughed, self-consciously, "how she did hate to be beaten! How vexed she always was when I began throwing off first! How she would bang her dice-box! How she would--"
"She's perfectly grand!" declared Jane, with the loud enthusiasm of a new and fervent loyalty. "She's the finest woman I ever met. She's the best woman in the world!" The poor girl attested her earnestness by a tremble in her voice and a tear in each eye. "And she spoke so nicely of you, poppy," Jane went on, turning to her father.
"Did she?" said her father, in return. And a quiet smile of reminiscence played round his lips for full five minutes.
"And she inquired about all of us," Jane proceeded. "She wants to renew the acquaintance, I think. And she asked about Rosy, too--whether she was pretty and bright; and I said she was. I expect she's inclined to take an interest in you," said Jane, in conclusion, turning towards her sister and dropping these few coals of fire upon her head.
Rosamund caught the proper tone from her aunt and bowed in unaccustomed meekness to this shower. Alice, however, as a confirmed and condemned suburbanite, had no idea of exhibiting any great interest in one of the acknowledged leaders of urban society--an interest which, from the very nature of things, could have been but futile and unproductive. She accordingly toyed carelessly and absently with the evening paper, as it lay on the centre-table.
"H'm," she observed, presently, "those game-dinners at the Pacific are still going on, aren't they? To-night's the thirty-eighth. Nice things, too, as I remember them. That's the way I learned to like venison. Here are some of the people to be there--your Mrs. Bates among them." She looked across to her father. "Why didn't you go?"
"Give me that paper, Alice," her mother called, with a sharp and sudden cry. She ran her eye down its column and then turned to her husband. "Why, David, how did you happen to forget? You know I wouldn't have missed this for anything."
Marshall checked his lingering smile. He looked at his wife with an embarrassed pain, and then dropped his eyes to the carpet. "There must have been some misunderstanding," he stammered. "The invitation was delayed--or it miscarried. Perhaps it went to the store and got mixed up with the mail there," he ventured; any improbability would do to soften the shock.
"Delayed! Miscarried!" cried Jane, in an acute access of anger and indignation. "Don't believe it! We're dropped, that's all! Well, what else can we expect? How are we going to hold our own against all these thousands and thousands of newcomers if we don't do anything? That's what I've been telling you all along. We've got to wake up and make an effort. Give me that paper." She snatched it from her mother. "Yes, they'll all be there--the Hubbards, the Gages, and the whole crowd of Parmelees, and Kittie Corwith and her father, and all the rest, and--and the Beldens! The Beldens--there!" She turned fiercely on her mother. "What do you think of that?"
Eliza Marshall was cut to the quick. For twenty years and more she had attended this annual dinner; she had attached herself there to former friends and neighbors, who listened indulgently to her narrow little dribble of reminiscent gossip--the gossip and reminiscences of the smaller town and the earlier day. This dinner was her sole remaining connection (little as she had realized it) with the great and complex city of the present day, just as it was the sole reason for her plum-colored silk and for her husband's dress-coat; and the cutting of this last cable set her completely adrift on the wide and forlorn sea of utter social neglect. And the Beldens!--that was the last straw of all. She seemed to see her husband crowded from his seat at that cheery board by a man whom he himself had taken up and made--a man who was trying to push him from the social world, just as he was trying to push him out of the control of the business which he had founded and developed. It was all more than she could bear.
Jane rushed headlong into another mood. "Oh, well, the end of the world hasn't come if we are frozen out. And perhaps we're not, anyway; the invite may get round to-morrow--who knows? So don't let's order our sackcloth and ashes quite yet awhile. Life is still worth living, and we have got several other strings to our bow.
"This one, for instance," nodding in the direction of Rosy, towards whom she seemed inexhaustibly forgiving. "I have the honor to present to the waiting world Miss Rosamund Marshall, the bud of the season and the success of the century. Also her brother, Mr. Truesdale Marshall, who has come home stuffed full of accomplishments, and who will now proceed to show them. He sings--"
She stepped across to her brother, slipped her arm through his, and drew him towards the rug in the middle of the room.
Her height was within an inch of his own. She bowed him over the edge of the rug as over a row of footlights, crooked his other arm so that his hand was placed over his heart, put her own hand sprawlingly in a like position, threw back her head, and abandoned herself to a shrill succession of scales and roulades.
"Why don't you begin?" she presently broke off to inquire.
"What a girl you are!" he said. He looked a bit sheepishly in the direction of his father; then he stepped behind his sister, laid a hand on each of her imperceptible biceps, and turned her face round to the wall.
But Jane faced about at once. "Well, then, he paints--"
She dragged him toward the centre-table, grasped his wrist, and forced him to make several dabs and passes at the fatal newspaper, which still lay there with a bland impassivity between drop-light and book-rack. "That's how we dash off our little sketches," she declared.
"Goodness, Jane!" cried Alice, "you've almost upset the whole inkstand!"
"And what else is there?" cried Jane, whose mood was mounting higher. She clamped her hand on her disordered bang. "Why, of course! He fences!--aha!"
To this address Truesdale allowed himself to respond. He had no wish to obtrude his musical and artistic doings upon his father until a more definite modus vivendi had been brought about; but he could no longer lend himself passively to being made an absurdity by the over-enthusiasm of his sister. Fencing, now, was a manly art of which his father might not disapprove.
"On guard!" he cried. With his right hand he snatched up a paper-cutter from the table, curled up his left arm behind him, threw one of his long legs out in front and landed it with a flump! on the floor five feet ahead of his initial stand-point.
"Hurray!" cried Jane, shrilly. "What other girls do you know who've got a brother like this?" She snatched up a brass-edged ruler that had lain alongside the paper-cutter. Mrs. Rhodes started back; Alice's husband, who had come in to lead the homeward march to Riverside Park, paused astonished on the threshold.
"On guard!" echoed Jane in turn. With a flump! of her own she threw herself into an imitation of the angular crouch that her brother had assumed. "Go it!" she called, and began to hack at the paper-cutter with her ruler.
Save for the clash of weapons there was a complete silence. Suddenly Truesdale reversed his position. Jane did the same, bringing a sudden and unaccustomed weight upon her other foot. Her knee cracked loudly. Everybody heard it. Rosy snickered.
Jane crossed the room and sat down in a shady corner. In that ten seconds she felt ten years older.
"Where's pa?" she asked her mother in a sour tone, after Alice and her aunt had left the house. "I do hope"--crossly--"that the next time you let any of those wretched old women take anything away you'll have them pay for it in advance."
"I guess your father isn't bothering much about a bedstead and a few old chairs," retorted her mother. "If you want to know what he's thinking about, it's that Belden again."
"Yes. He has decided finally to let your father put on those two extra stories, and what do you think he wants in exchange? He wants to make the firm over into a stock company. He's fixing a place for that boy of his--that's what."
"Well, haven't we got a boy, too?" retorted Jane, severely. She went out, and gave the door a loud slam behind her.
But David Marshall, back again in the bay-window, was thinking neither of the sinuosities of Mother Van Horn, nor of the aggressions of his junior partner, nor even of the just-concluding courses of the annual game-dinner. His thoughts had slipped back into the early times; he and Sue Lathrop (the Mrs. Granger Bates of to-day) were sitting together in the old, long-vanished Metropolitan Hall listening to the "Nightingale Serenaders," and the year was 'fifty-seven.