With the Procession by Henry Blake Fuller
"Well, here goes!" said Jane, half aloud, with her foot on the lowest of the glistening granite steps. The steps led up to the ponderous pillared arches of a grandiose and massive porch; above the porch a sturdy and rugged balustrade half intercepted the rough faced glitter of a vast and variegated facade; and higher still the morning sun shattered its beams over a tumult of angular roofs and towering chimneys.
"It is swell, I declare!" said Jane, with her eye on the wrought-iron work of the outer doors and the jewels and bevels of the inner-ones.
"Where is the thing-a-ma-jig, anyway?" she inquired of herself. She was searching for the doorbell, and she fell back on her own rustic lingo in order to ward off the incipient panic caused by this overwhelming splendor. "Oh, here it is! There!" She gave a push. "And now I'm in for it." She had decided to take the richest and best-known and most fashionable woman on her list so start with; the worst over at the beginning, she thought, the rest would follow easily enough.
"I suppose the 'maid' will wear a cap and a silver tray," she observed further. "Or will it be a gold one, with diamonds around the edge?"
The door-knob turned from within. "Is Mrs. Bates--" she began.
The door opened half way. A grave, smooth-shaven man appeared; his chin and upper lip had the mottled smudge that shows in so many of those conscientious portraits of the olden time.
"Gracious me!" said the startled Jane to herself. She dropped her disconcerted vision to the door-mat. Then she saw that the man wore knee-breeches and black silk stockings.
"Heaven be merciful!" was her inward cry. "It's a footman, as I live. I've been reading about them all my life, and now I've met one. But I never suspected that there was really anything of the kind in this town!"
She left the contemplation of the servant's pumps and stockings, and began to grapple fiercely with the catch of her hand-bag.
The man, in the meanwhile, studied her with a searching gravity, and, as it seemed, with some disapproval. The splendor of the front that his master presented to the world had indeed intimidated poor Jane; but there were many others upon whom it had no deterring effect at all. Some of these brought art-books in monthly parts; others brought polish for the piano legs. Many of them were quite as prepossessing in appearance as Jane was; some of them were much less plain and dowdy; few of them were so recklessly indiscreet as to betray themselves at the threshold by exhibiting a black leather bag.
"There!" remarked Jane to the footman, "I knew I should get at it eventually." She smiled at him with a friendly good-will; she acknowledged him as a human being, and she hoped to propitiate him into the concession that she herself was nothing less.
The man took her card, which was fortunately as correct as the most discreet and contemporaneous stationer could fashion. He decided that he was running no risk with his mistress, and "Miss Jane Marshall" was permitted to pass the gate.
She was ushered into a small reception-room. The hard-wood floor was partly covered by a meagre Persian rug. There was a plain sofa full of forbidding angles, and a scantily upholstered chair which insisted upon nobody's remaining longer than necessary. But through the narrow door Jane caught branching vistas of room after room heaped up with the pillage of a sacked and ravaged globe, and of a stairway which led with a wide sweep to regions of unimaginable glories above.
"Did you ever!" exclaimed Jane. It was of the footman that she was speaking; he, in fact, loomed up to the practical eclipse of all this luxury and display. "Only eighty years from the Massacre, and hardly eight hundred feet from the Monument!"
Presently she heard a tapping and a rustling without. She thought that she might lean a few inches to one side with no risk of being detected in an impropriety, and she was rewarded by seeing the splendid vacuity of the grand stairway finally filled--filled more completely, more amply, than she could have imagined possible through the passage of one person merely. A woman of fifty or more was descending with a slow and somewhat ponderous stateliness. She wore an elaborate morning gown with a broad plait down the back, and an immensity of superfluous material in the sleeves. Her person was broad, her bosom ample, and her voluminous gray hair was tossed and fretted about the temples after the fashion of a marquise of the old regime. Jane set her jaw and clamped her knotty fingers to the two edges of her inhospitable chair.
"I don't care if she is so rich," she muttered, "and so famous and so fashionable and so terribly handsome; she can't bear me down."
The woman reached the bottom step, and took a turn that for a moment carried her out of sight. At the same time the sound of her footsteps was silenced by one of the big rugs that covered the floor of the wide and roomy hall. But Jane had had a glimpse, and she knew with whom she was to deal--with one of the big, the broad, the great, the triumphant; with one of a Roman amplitude and vigor, an Indian keenness and sagacity, an American ambition and determination; with one who baffles circumstance and almost masters fate--with one of the conquerors, in short.
"I don't hear her," thought the expectant girl, in some trepidation; "but, all the same, she's got to cross that bare space just outside the door before--yes, there's her step! And here she is herself!"
Mrs. Bates appeared in the doorway. She had a strong nose of the lofty Roman type; her bosom heaved with breaths deep, but quiet and regular. She had a pair of large, full blue eyes, and these she now fixed on Jane with an expression of rather cold questioning.
"Miss Marshall?" Her voice was firm, smooth, even, rich, deep. She advanced a foot or two within the room and remained standing there.
"Yes," responded Jane, in unnecessary corroboration. She rose mechanically from her meagre chair. "I have come to see you," she began, awkwardly, "about a charity that I am interested in--no, not exactly a charity, but--"
At the ominous word "charity" Mrs. Bates's eyes took on a still colder gleam. She faced poor Jane with the broad, even, pitiless glare of a chilled-steel mirror.
"Really," she began, "I have a great many demands of this kind made on me; a great many--more than might generally be imagined." She showed none of the embarrassed evasion peculiar to the woman on whom such requisitions are made but at infrequent intervals; she employed the decisive, business-like tone of a woman of whom such requests are made daily. Jane seemed to see negation coldly crystallizing before her eyes, and she gave a mortified groan to find herself drawn so near to the brink of humiliation. She had never begged before, and she registered an inward vow never to beg again.
"You don't know me from Adam," she blurted out, at her bluntest and crudest, "but you must know my aunt, Mrs. Rhodes. I have heard her speak of you very often. She met you at St. Augustine, last winter."
"Mrs. Rhodes?" the other repeated, doubtfully. She made her eyebrows take their part in an inquiring glance, and bestowed the result upon her caller.
"Yes," insisted Jane; "Mrs. A. L. Rhodes. She lives on Michigan--near Thirtieth."
"Mrs. Rhodes?"--again thoughtfully repeated. She seemed to move her head in doubt. "I do go to Florida every winter, and sometimes, on the way to our place, I stop for a day or two at St. Augustine--yes."
She looked at Jane again, as if to say, "That is really the best I can do for you."
"She played backgammon with you there," Jane still persisted--"on the hotel veranda. I've heard her say so twenty times."
Mrs. Bates did not change her expression. "Backgammon? Yes, I am very fond of backgammon; I play it a great deal. Mr. Bates keeps a board in the car especially for me. I'm always glad to meet anybody who cares to play; and it's pleasant, I'm sure, to be on easy terms with one's fellow-travellers."
She laid one hand in the other and gave an imperceptible sigh; she wore a great many rings. "What more can I say for you than that?"--such seemed to be the meaning of the expression now on her face.
"My father"--began Jane; she was loud, slow, deliberate, emphatic. What could the woman mean by receiving her in such a fashion? Were the Marshalls mere upstarts, nobodies, newcomers, that they must be snubbed and turned aside in any such way as this? Jane's eyes blinked and her nostrils quivered. "My father," she began again, in the same tone, "is David Marshall. He is very well known, I believe, in Chicago. We have lived here a great many years. It seems to me that there ought to--"
"David Marshall?" repeated Mrs. Bates, gently. "Ah, I do know David Marshall--yes," she said; "or did--a good many years ago." She looked up into Jane's face now with a completely altered expression. Her glance was curious and searching, but it was very kindly. "And you are David Marshall's daughter?" She smiled indulgently at Jane's outburst of spunk. "Really--David Marshall's daughter?"
"Yes," answered Jane, with a gruff brevity. She was far from ready to be placated yet.
"David Marshall's daughter! Then, my dear child, why not have said so in the first place, without lugging in everybody and everything else you could think of? Hasn't your father ever spoken of me? And how is he, anyway? I haven't seen him--to really speak to him--for fifteen years. It may be even more."
She seemed to have laid hands on a heavy bar, to have wrenched it from its holds, to have flung it aside from the footpath, and to be inviting Jane to advance without let or hindrance.
But Jane stood there with pique in her breast, and her long thin arms laid rigid against her sides. "Let her 'dear child' me, if she wants to; she sha'n't bring me around in any such way as that."
All this, however, availed little against Mrs. Bates's new manner. The citadel so closely sealed to charity was throwing itself wide open to memory. The drawbridge was lowered, and the late enemy was invited to advance as a friend.
Nay, urged. Mrs. Bates presently seized Jane's unwilling hands. She gathered those poor, stiff, knotted fingers into two crackling bundles within her own plump and warm palms, squeezed them forcibly, and looked into Jane's face with all imaginable kindness. "I had just that temper once myself," she said.
The sluice-gates of caution and reserve were opening wide; the streams of tenderness and sympathy were bubbling and fretting to take their course.
"And your father is well? And you are living in the same old place? Oh, this terrible town! You can't keep your old friends; you can hardly know your new ones. We are only a mile or two apart, and yet it is the same as if it were a hundred."
Jane yielded up her hands half unwillingly. She could not, in spite of herself, remain completely unrelenting, but she was determined not to permit herself to be patronized. "Yes, we live in the same old place. And in the same old way," she added--in the spirit of concession.
Mrs. Bates studied her face intently. "Do you look like him--like your father?"
"No," answered Jane. "Not so very much. Nor like any of the rest of the family." The statue was beginning to melt. "I'm unique." And another drop fell.
"Don't slander yourself," She tapped Jane lightly on the shoulder.
Jane looked at her with a protesting, or at least a questioning, seriousness. It had the usual effect of a wild stare. "I wasn't meaning to," she said, shortly, and began to congeal again. She also shrugged her shoulder; she was not quite ready yet to be tapped and patted.
"But don't remain standing, child," Mrs. Bates proceeded, genially. She motioned Jane back to her chair, and herself advanced to the roomier sofa. "Or, no; this little pen is like a refrigerator to-day; it's so hard, every fall, to get the steam heat running as it should. Come; it ought to be warmer in the music-room.
"The fact is," she proceeded, as they passed through the hall, "that I have a spare hour on my hands this morning--the first in a month. My music-teacher has just sent word that she is down with a cold. You shall have as much of that hour as you wish. So tell me all about your plans; I dare say I can scrape together a few pennies for Jane Marshall."
"Her music-teacher!" thought Jane. She was not yet so far appeased nor so far forgetful of her own initial awkwardness as to refrain from searching out the joints in the other's armor. "What does a woman of fifty-five want to be taking music-lessons for?"
The music-room was a lofty and spacious apartment done completely in hard-woods; its panelled walls and ceiling rang with a magnificent sonority as the two pairs of feet moved across the mirror-like marquetry of the floor.
To one side stood a concert-grand; its case was so unique and so luxurious that even Jane was conscious of its having been made by special order and from a special design. Close at hand stood a tall music-stand in style to correspond. It was laden with handsomely bound scores of all the German classics and the usual operas of the French and Italian schools. These were all ranged in precise order; nothing there seemed to have been disturbed for a year past. "My! isn't it grand!" sighed Jane. She already felt herself succumbing beneath these accumulated splendors.
Mrs. Bates carelessly seated herself on the piano-stool, with her back to the instrument. "I don't suppose," she observed, casually, "that I have sat down here for a month."
"What!" cried Jane, with a stare. "If I had such a lovely room as this I should play in it every day."
"Dear me," rejoined Mrs. Bates, "what pleasure could I get from practising in this great barn of a place, that isn't half full until you've got seventy or eighty people in it? Or on this big sprawling thing?"--thrusting out her elbow backward towards the shimmering cover of the key-board.
"So then," said Jane to herself, "it's all for show. I knew it was. I don't believe she can play a single note."
"What do you suppose happened to me last winter?" Mrs. Bates went on. "I had the greatest setback of my life. I asked to join the Amateur Musical Club. They wouldn't let me in."
"Well, I played before their committee, and then the secretary wrote me a note. It was a nice enough note, of course, but I knew what it meant. I see now well enough that my fingers were rather stiffer than I realized, and that my 'Twinkling Sprays' and 'Fluttering Zephyrs' were not quite up to date. They wanted Grieg and Lassen and Chopin. 'Very well,' said I, 'just wait.' Now, I never knuckle under. I never give up. So I sent right out for a teacher. I practised scales an hour a day for weeks and months. Granger thought I was going crazy. I tackled Grieg and Lassen and Chopin--yes, and Tschaikowsky, too. I'm going to play for that committee next month. Let me see if they'll dare to vote me out again!"
"Oh, that's it!" thought Jane. She was beginning to feel desirous of meting out exact and even handed justice. She found it impossible to withhold respect from so much grit and determination.
"But your father liked those old-time things, and so did all the other young men." Mrs. Bates creased and folded the end of one of her long sleeves, and seemed lapsing into a retrospective mood. "Why, some evenings they used to sit two deep around the room to hear me do the 'Battle of Prague.' Do you know the 'Java March'?" she asked, suddenly.
"I'm afraid not," Jane was obliged to confess.
"You father always had a great fondness for that. I don't know," she went on, after a short pause, "whether you understand that your father was one of my old beaux--at least, I always counted him with the rest. I was a gay girl in my day, and I wanted to make the list as long as I could; so I counted in the quiet ones as well as the noisy ones. Your father was one of the quiet ones."
"So I should have imagined," said Jane. Her maiden delicacy was just a shade affrighted at the turn the talk was taking.
"When I was playing he would sit there by the hour and never say a word. My banner piece was really a fantasia on 'Sonnambula'--a new thing here; I was the first one in town to have it. There were thirteen pages, and there was always a rush to see who should turn them. Your father didn't often enter the rush, but I really liked his way of turning the best of any. He never turned too soon or too late; he never bothered me by shifting his feet every second or two, nor by talking to me at the hard places. In fact, he was the only one who could do it right."
"Yes," said Jane, with an appreciative sigh; "that's pa--all over."
Mrs. Bates was twisting her long sleeves around her wrists. Presently she shivered slightly. "Well, really," she said, "I don't see that this place is much warmer than the other; let's try the library."
In this room our antique and Spartan Jane was made to feel the need of yet stronger props to hold her up against the overbearing weight of latter-day magnificence. She found herself surrounded now by a sombre and solid splendor. Stamped hangings of Cordova leather lined the walls, around whose bases ran a low range of ornate bookcases, constructed with the utmost taste and skill of the cabinet-maker's art. In the centre of the room a wide and substantial table was set with all the paraphernalia of correspondence, and the leathery abysses of three or four vast easy-chairs invited the reader to bookish self-abandonment.
"How glorious!" cried Jane, as her eyes ranged over the ranks and rows of formal and costly bindings. It all seemed doubly glorious after that poor sole bookcase of theirs at home--a huge black-walnut thing like a wardrobe, with a couple of drawers at the bottom, receptacles that seemed less adapted to pamphlets than to goloshes. "How grand!" Jane was not exigent as regarded music, but her whole being went forth towards books. "Dickens and Thackeray and Bulwer; and Hume and Gibbon, and Johnson's Lives of the Poets, and--"
"And twenty or thirty yards of Scott," Mrs. Bates broke in, genially; "and enough Encyclopaedia Britannica to reach around the corner and back again. Sets--sets--sets."
"What a lovely chair to sit and study in!" cried Jane, not at all abashed by her hostess's comments. "What a grand table to sit and write papers at!" Writing papers was one of Jane's chief interests.
"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Bates, with a quiet toleration, as she glanced towards the shining inkstand and the immaculate blotting-pad. "But, really, I don't suppose I've written two lines at that table since it was put there. And as for all these books, Heaven only knows where the keys are to get at them with. I can't do anything with them; why, some of them weigh five or six pounds!"
Jane shrivelled and shivered under this. She regretted doubly that she had been betrayed into such an unstinted expression of her honest interest. "All for show and display," she muttered, as she bowed her head to search out new titles; "bought by the pound and stacked by the cord; doing nobody any good--their owners least of all." She resolved to admire openly nothing more whatever.
Mrs. Bates sank into one of the big chairs and motioned Jane towards another. "Your father was a great reader," she said, with a resumption of her retrospective expression. "He was very fond of books--especially poetry. He often read aloud to me; when he thought I was likely to be alone, he would bring his Shakespeare over. I believe I could give you even now, if I was put to it, Antony's address to the Romans. Yes; and almost all of Hamlet's soliloquies, too."
Jane was preparing to make a stand against this woman, and here, apparently, was the opportunity. "Do you mean to tell me," she inquired, with something approaching sternness, "that my father--my father--was ever fond of poetry and--and music, and--and all that sort of thing?"
"Certainly. Why not? I remember your father as a high-minded young man, with a great deal of good taste; I always thought him much above the average. And that Shakespeare of his--I recall it perfectly. It was a chubby little book bound in brown leather, with an embossed stamp, and print a great deal too fine for my eyes. He always had to do the reading; and he read very pleasantly." She scanned Jane closely. "Perhaps you have never done your father justice."
Jane felt herself driven to defence--even to apology. "The fact is," she said, "pa is so quiet; he never says much of anything. I'm about the only one of the family who knows him very well, and I guess I don't know him any too well." She felt, though, that Mrs. Bates had no right to defend her father against his own daughter; no, nor any need.
"I suppose so," said Mrs. Bates, slowly. She crossed over to the radiator and began working at the valve. "I told Granger I knew he'd be sorry if he didn't put in furnace-flues too. I really can't ask you to take your things off down here; let's go upstairs--that's the only warm place I can think of."
She paused in the hall. "Wouldn't you like to see the rest of the rooms before you go up?"
"Yes--I don't mind," responded Jane. She was determined to encourage no ostentatious pride; so she made her acceptance as indifferent as she felt good manners would allow.
Mrs. Bates crossed over the hall and paused in a wide doorway. "This," she indicated, in a tone slightly suggestive of the cicerone, "is the--well, the Grand Salon; at least, that's what the newspapers have decided to call it. Do you care anything for Louis Quinze?"
Jane found herself on the threshold of a long and glittering apartment; it was full of the ornate and complicated embellishments of the eighteenth century--an exhibition of decorative whip-cracking. Grilles, panels, mirror-frames all glimmered in green and gold, and a row of lustres, each multitudinously candled, hung from the lofty ceiling.
Jane felt herself on firmer ground here than in the library, whose general air of distinction, with no definite detail by way of guidepost, had rather baffled her.
"Hem!" she observed, critically, as her eyes roamed over the spacious spendor of the place, "quite an epitome of the whole rococo period; done, too, with a French grace and a German thoroughness. Almost a real jardin d'hiver, in fact. Very handsome indeed."
Mrs. Bates pricked up her ears; she had not expected quite such a response as this. "You are posted on these things, then?"
"Well," said Jane, "I belong to an art class. We study the different periods in architecture and decoration."
"Do you? I belong to just such a class myself--and to three or four others. I'm studying and learning right along; I never want to stand still. You were surprised, I saw, about my music-lessons: It is a little singular, I admit--my beginning as a teacher and ending as a pupil. You know, of course, that I was a school-teacher? Yes, I had a little class down on Wabash Avenue near Hubbard Court, in a church basement. I began to be useful as early as I could. We lived in a little bit of a house a couple of blocks north of there; you know those old-fashioned frame cottages--one of them. In the early days pa was a carpenter--a boss-carpenter, to do him full justice; the town was growing, and after a while he began to do first-rate. But at the beginning ma did her own work, and I helped her. I swept and dusted, and wiped the dishes. She taught me to sew, too; I trimmed all my own hats till long after I was married."
Mrs. Bates leaned carelessly against the tortured framework of a tapestried causeuse. The light from the lofty windows shattered on the prisms of her glittering chandeliers and diffused itself over the panelled loves and graces around her.
"When I got to be eighteen I thought I was old enough to branch out and do something for myself--I've always tried to hold up my own end. My little school went first-rate. There was only one drawback--another school next door, full of great, rowdy boys. They would climb the fence and make faces at my scholars; yes, and sometimes they would throw stones. But that wasn't the worst: the other school taught book-keeping. Now, I never was one of the kind to lag behind, and I used to lie awake nights wondering how I could catch up with the rival institution. Well, I hustled around, and finally I got hold of two or three children who were old enough for accounts, and I set them to work on single entry. I don't know whether they learned anything, but I did--enough to keep Granger's books for the first year after we started out."
Jane smiled broadly; it was useless to set a stoic face against such confidences as these.
"We were married at the most fashionable church in town--right there in Court-house Square; and ma gave us a reception, or something like it, in her little front room. We weren't so very stylish ourselves, but we had some awfully stylish neighbors--all those Terrace Row people, just around the corner. 'We'll get there, too, some time,' I said to Granger. 'This is going to be a big town, and we have a good show to be big people in it. Don't let's start in life like beggars going to the back door for cold victuals; let's march right up the front steps and ring the bell like somebody.' So, as I say, we were married at the best church in town; we thought it safe enough to discount the future."
"Good for you!" said Jane, who was finding her true self in the thick of these intimate revelations; "you guessed right."
"Well, we worked along fairly for a year or two, and finally I said to Granger: 'Now, what's the use of inventing things and taking them to those companies and making everybody rich but yourself? You pick out some one road, and get on the inside of that, and stick there, and--The fact is," she broke off suddenly, "you can't judge at all of this room in the daytime. You must see it lighted and filled with people. You ought to have been here at the bal poudre I gave last season--lots of pretty girls in laces and brocades, and powder on their hair. It was a lovely sight."
"It must have been. I believe Rosy would have looked real pretty fixed up that way."
"Our youngest; she's eighteen."
"Is she out?"
"Not quite; but I expect she's on the way."
"Is she pretty?"
"Yes," replied the just Jane. "Yes, Rosy is quite pretty. She's dark. She would look lovely in yellow tulle--with a red rose somewhere."
"Is she clever?"
"H'm," said Jane, thoughtfully, "I suppose so. She's beginning to understand how to get what she wants, anyway."
"And just the least bit selfish and inconsiderate?" insinuated Mrs. Bates, shrewdly.
"Y--yes, I'm afraid so."
"Well, she might be quite a success; we must think about her. Come; we've had enough of this." Mrs. Bates turned a careless back upon all her Louis Quinze spendor. "The next thing will be something else."