With the Procession by Henry Blake Fuller
Jane's guide passed swiftly into another large and imposing apartment. "This I call the Sala de los Embajadores; here is where I receive my distinguished guests."
"Good!" cried Jane, who knew Irving's Alhambra by heart. "Only it isn't Moorish; it's Baroque--and a very good example."
The room had a heavy panelled ceiling of dark wood, with a cartouche in each panel; stacks of seventeenth-century armor stood in the corners, half a dozen large Aubusson tapestries hung on the walls, and a vast fireplace, flanked by huge Atlantes and crowned by a heavy pediment broken and curled, almost filled one whole side. "That fireplace is Baroque all over."
"See here," said Mrs. Bates, suddenly; "are you the woman who read about the Decadence of the Renaissance Forms at the last Fortnightly?"
"I'm the woman," responded Jane, modestly.
"I don't know why I didn't recognize you before. But you sat in an awfully bad light, for one thing. Besides, I had so much on my mind that day. Our dear little Reginald was coming down with something--or so we thought. And the bonnet I was forced to wear--well, it just made me blue. You didn't notice it?"
"I was too flustered to notice anything. It was my first time there."
"Well, it was a good paper, although I couldn't half pay attention to it; it gave me several new notions. All my decorations, then--you think them corrupt and degraded?"
"Well," returned Jane, at once soothing and judicial, "all these later forms are interesting from an historical and sociological point of view. And lots of people find them beautiful, too, for that matter." Jane slid over these big words with a practised ease.
"They impressed my notables, anyway," retorted Mrs. Bates. "We entertained a great deal during the Fair--it was expected, of course, from people of our position. We had princes and counts and honorables without end. I remember how delighted I was with my first prince--a Russian. H'm! later in the season Russian princes were as plentiful as blackberries: you stepped on one at every turn. We had some of the English, too. One of their young men visited us at Geneva during the summer. I never quite made out who invited him; I have half an idea that he invited himself. He was a great trial. Queer about the English, isn't it? How can people who are so clever and capable in practical things ever be such insolent tom-fools in social things? Do you know Arthur Paston?"
"No. Was he one of them?
"Not exactly. He lives here. We thought we had Americanized him; but now he has slipped back and is almost as bad as he was to start with. Arthur Scodd-Paston--that's the way his cards read to-day. Do you care for paintings?"
"Of course. Is Arthur Scodd-Paston like one?"
"You bad girl! Well, we might just stick our noses in the picture-gallery for a minute.
"We're almost beginners in this branch of industry," she expounded, as she stood beside Jane in the center of the room under the coldly diffused glare of the skylight. "In my young days it was all Bierstadt and De Haas; there wasn't supposed to be anything beyond. But as soon as I began to hear about Millet and the Barbizon crowd, I saw there was. Well, I set to work, as usual. I studied and learned. I want to learn. I want to move; I want to keep right up with the times and the people. I got books and photographs, and I went to all the galleries. I read the artists' biographies and took in all the loan collections. Now I'm loaning, too. Some of these things are going to the Art Institute next week--that Daubigny, for one. It's little, but it's good; there couldn't be anything more like him, could there?
"We haven't got any Millet yet, but that morning thing over there is a Corot--at least, we think so. I was going to ask one of the French commissioners about it last summer, but my nerve gave out at the last minute. Mr. Bates bought it on his own responsibility. I let him go ahead, for, after all, people of our position would naturally be expected to have a Corot. I don't dare tell you what he paid for it. If I did"--she pointed to their joint reflection in the opposite mirror--"we should have a fretful porcupine here in no time."
"Don't, then," pleaded Jane, looking at her own reflection and clasping her hands across her forehead; "this miserable bang gives me enough trouble as it is."
"There's some more high art," said Mrs. Bates, with a wave of her hand towards the opposite wall. "Carolus-Duran; fifty thousand francs; and he wouldn't let me pick out my own costume, either. You have never seen me on dress-parade; take a look at me now." She gathered up the tail of her gown and modestly scuttled out of the room.
Poor dowdy Jane stood in silent awe before this sumptuous canvas, with her long, interlaced fingers strenuously tugging at each other and her wide eyes half popping from her head. She was as completely overpowered and shattered as an uncouth and angular raft under the thunderous downpour of Niagara. Presently she turned; Mrs. Bates stood peeping in from without, her eyes all a-twinkle.
"And now," she said, "let's go up-stairs." Jane followed her, too dazed to speak or even to smile.
Mrs. Bates hastened forward, lightfootedly. "Conservatory--that's Moorish," she indicated, casually; "nothing in it but orchids and things. Come along." Jane followed--dumbly, humbly.
Mrs. Bates paused on the lower step of her great stairway. A huge vase of Japanese bronze flanked either newel, and a Turkish lantern depended above her head. The bright green of a dwarf palm peeped over the balustrade, and a tempered light strained down through the painted window on the landing-stage.
"There!" she said; "you've seen it all." She stood there in a kind of impassioned splendor, her jewelled fingers shut tightly and her fists thrown out and apart so as to show the veins and cords of her wrists. "We did it, we two--just Granger and I. Nothing but our own hands and hearts and hopes, and each other. We have fought the fight--a fair field and no favor--and we have come out ahead. And we shall stay there, too; keep up with the procession is my motto, and head it if you can. I do head it, and I feel that I'm where I belong. When I can't foot it with the rest, let me drop by the wayside and the crows have me. But they'll never get me--never! There's ten more good years in me yet; and if we were to slip to the bottom to-morrow, we should work back to the top again before we finished. When I led the grand march at the Charity Ball I was accused of taking a vainglorious part in a vainglorious show. Well, who would look better in such a role than I, or who has earned a better right to play it? There, child! ain't that success? ain't that glory? ain't that poetry?--H'm," she broke off suddenly, "I'm glad Jimmy wasn't by to hear that! He's always taking up his poor mother."
"Jimmy? Is he humble-minded--do you mean?"
"Humble-minded? One of my boys humble-minded? No, indeed; he's grammatical, that's all; he prefers 'isn't.' Come up."
Mrs. Bates hurried her guest over the stairway and through several halls and passages, and introduced her finally into a large and spacious room done in white and gold. In the glittering electrolier wires mingled with pipes and bulbs with globes. To one side stood a massive brass bedstead full panoplied in coverlet and pillow-cases, and the mirror of the dressing-case reflected a formal row of silver-backed brushes and combs.
"My bedroom," said Mrs. Bates. "How does it strike you?"
"Why," stammered Jane, "It's all very fine, but--"
"Oh yes; I know what they say about it--I've heard them a dozen times. 'It's very big and handsome and all, but not a bit home-like. I shouldn't want to sleep here.' Is that the idea?"
"About," said Jane.
"Sleep here!" echoed Mrs. Bates. "I don't sleep here. I'd as soon think of sleeping out on the prairie. That bed isn't to sleep in; it's for the women to lay their hats and cloaks on. Lay yours there now."
Jane obeyed. She worked herself out of her old blue sack, and disposed it, neatly folded, on the brocaded coverlet. Then she took off her mussy little turban and placed it on the sack. "What a strange woman," she murmured to herself. "She doesn't get any music out of her piano; she doesn't get any reading out of her books; she doesn't even get any sleep out of her bed." Jane smoothed down her hair and awaited the next stage of her adventure.
"This is the way." Mrs. Bates led her through a narrow side-door, and Jane found herself in a small room where another young woman sat before a trim bird's-eye-maple desk, whose drawers and pigeonholes were stuffed with cards and letters and papers. "This is my office. Miss Marshall, Miss Peters," she said, in the tone of introduction.
The other girl rose. She was tall and slender, like Jane. She had a pasty complexion and weak, reddish eyes. Her expression was somewhat plaintive and distressed--irritating, too, in the long run.
"Step along," called Mrs. Bates. She traversed the "office," passed into a room beyond, pushed Jane ahead of her, and shut the door. "I don't care if it does hurt her feelings." Mrs. Bates's reference appeared to be to Miss Peters.
The door closed with a light click, and Jane looked about her with a great and sudden surprise. Poor stupid, stumbling child!--she understood at last in what spirit she had been received and on what footing she had been placed.
She found herself in a small, cramped, low-ceiled room which was filled with worn and antiquated furniture. There was a ponderous old mahogany bureau, with the veneering cracked and peeled, and a bed to correspond. There was a shabby little writing-desk, whose let-down lid was lined with faded and blotted green baize. On the floor there was an old Brussels carpet, antique as to pattern, and wholly threadbare as to surface. The walls were covered with an old-time paper whose plaintive primitiveness ran in slender pink stripes alternating with narrow green vines. In one corner stood a small upright piano whose top was littered with loose sheets of old music, and on one wall hung a set of thin black-walnut shelves strung together with cords and loaded with a variety of well-worn volumes. In the grate was a coal fire. Mrs. Bates sat down on the foot of the bed and motioned Jane to a small rocker that had been re-seated with a bit of old rugging.
"And now," she said, cheerily, "let's get to business. Sue Bates, at your service."
"Oh, no," gasped Jane, who felt, however dumbly and mistily, that this was an epoch in her life. "Not here; not to-day."
"Why not? Go ahead; tell me all about the charity that isn't a charity. You'd better; this is the last room--there's nothing beyond." Her eyes were twinkling, but immensely kind.
"I know it," stammered Jane. "I knew it in a second." She felt, too, that not a dozen persons had ever penetrated to this little chamber. "How good you are to me!"
Presently, under some compulsion, she was making an exposition of her small plans. Mrs. Bates was made to understand how some of the old Dearborn Seminary girls were trying to start a sort of clubroom in some convenient down-town building for typewriters and saleswomen and others employed in business. There was to be a room where they could get lunch, or bring their own to eat, if they preferred; also a parlor where they could fill up their noon hour with talk or reading or music; it was the expectation to have a piano and a few books and magazines.
"I remembered Lottie as one of the girls who went with us there, down on old Dearborn Place, and I thought perhaps I could interest Lottie's mother," concluded Jane.
"And so you can," said Lottie's mother, promptly. "I'll have Miss Peters--but don't you find it a little warm here? Just pass me that hair-brush."
Mrs. Bates had stepped to her single little window. "Isn't it a gem?" she asked. "I had it made to order; one of the old-fashioned sort, you see--two sash, with six little panes in each. No weights and cords, but simply catches at the side. It opens to just two widths; if I want anything different, I have to contrive it for myself. Sometimes I use a hair-brush and sometimes a paper-cutter."
"Dear me," asked Jane, "is that sort of thing a rarity? 'Most every window in our house is like this. I prop mine with a curling-iron."
"And now," said Mrs. Bates, resuming, "how much is it going to take to start things? I should think that five hundred dollars would do to get you under way." She opened the door. "Miss Peters, won't you please make out a check for five hun--"
"Oh, bless your soul!" cried Jane, "we don't need but three hundred all together, and I can't have one woman--"
"Three hundred, then," Mrs. Bates called into the next room.
"Oh, goodness me!" cried Jane, despairingly, "I don't want one woman to give it all. I've got a whole list here. You're the first one I've seen."
"Well, how much, then? Fifty?"
"Fifty, yes. That's quite as much as I expected--more."
"Fifty, Miss Peters; payable to Jane Marshall." She looked at Jane quizzically. "You are unique, sure enough."
"I want to be fair," protested Jane.
The door closed on Miss Peters. Mrs. Bates dropped her voice. "Did you ever have a private secretary?"
"Me?" called Jane. "I'm my own."
"Keep it that way," said Mrs. Bates, impressively. "Don't ever change--no matter how many engagements and appointments and letters and dates you come to have. You'll never spend a happy day afterwards. Tutors are bad enough--but, thank goodness, my boys are past that age. And men servants are bad enough--every time I want to stir in my own house I seem to have a footman on each toe and a butler standing on my train; however, people in our position--well, Granger insists, you know. But Minnie Peters--Minnie Peters is the worst of all. Every so often"--in a low voice and with her eye on the door--"she has one of her humble days, and then I want to die. That was what was the matter before you came--I didn't really mean to seem cross to you. I just have to take her and shake her and say, 'Now, Minnie Peters, how can you be so bad to me? How can you think I would do anything to hurt your feelings, when your mother was my very best friend? Why are you always looking for a chance to find a slight, when'--Oh, thanks, thanks!--Miss Peters having appeared with the check. Mrs. Bates clapped on the signature at her little old desk. "There, my child. And good-luck to the club-room.
"And now business is over," she continued. "Do you like my posies?" She nodded towards the window where, thanks to the hair-brush, a row of flowers in a long narrow box blew about in the draught.
"No, no, no! But I hoped you'd guess asters. They're chrysanthemums --you see, fashion will penetrate even here. But they're the smallest and simplest I could find. What do I care for orchids and American beauties, and all those other expensive things under glass? How much does it please me to have two great big formal beds of gladiolus and foliage plants in the front yard, one on each side of the steps? Still, with our position, I suppose it can't be helped. No; what I want is a bed of portulacca, and some cypress vines running up strings to the top of a pole. As soon as I get poor enough to afford it I'm going to have a lot of phlox and London pride and bachelor's buttons out there in the back yard, and the girls can run their clotheslines somewhere else."
"It's hard to keep flowers in a city," said Jane.
"I know it is. At our old house we had such a nice little rosebush in the front yard. I hated so to leave it behind--one of those little yellow brier-roses. No, it wasn't yellow; it was just--'yaller.' And it always scratched my nose when I tried to smell it. But oh, child"-- wistfully--"if I could only smell it now!"
"Couldn't you have transplanted it?" asked Jane, sympathetically.
"I went back the very next day after we moved out, with a peach-basket and a fire-shovel. But my poor bush was buried under seven feet of yellow sand. To-day there's seven stories of brick and mortar. So all I've got from the old place is just this furniture of ma's and the wall-paper."
"Not the identical same, of course. It's like what I had in my bedroom when I was a girl. I remembered the pattern, and tried everywhere to match it. At first I just tried on Twenty-second Street. Then I went down-town. Then I tried all the little places away out on the West Side. Then I had the pattern put down on paper, and I made a tour of the country. I went to Belvidere, and to Beloit, and to Janesville, and to lots of other places between here and Geneva. And finally--"
"Finally, I sent down East and had eight or ten rolls made to order. I chased harder than anybody ever chased for a Raphael, and I spent more than if I had hung the room with Gobelins; but--"
She stroked the narrow strips of pink and green with a fond hand, and cast on Jane a look which pleaded indulgence. "Isn't it just too quaintly ugly for anything?"
"It isn't any such thing," cried Jane. "It's just as sweet as it can be! I only wish mine was like it."
Mrs. Bates glanced from the wall-paper to the window-box, and from the window down into the back yard, where, beneath the week's washing, flapping in the breeze and the sun, she saw next summer's flowers already blooming.
"Did you read that paragraph last week," she asked, suddenly, "about my having been a washer-woman once?"
"No. What was it in?"
"One of those miserable society papers. Do you know there's a man in this town who makes his living by sending such things to New York? Something scandalous, if possible; if not scandalous, then libellous; if not actually libellous, then derogatory and offensive."
"I never read such stuff," said Jane; "especially about people I like. I always skip it,"
"Yes, but it's true. I can't deny it. I was a washerwoman for a whole year. I washed all Granger's shirts and starched them and ironed them, and put them away and got them out and washed them again for months and months. Every one went through the mill pretty often, too; there weren't very many of them.
"Those are Granger's shirts out on the line there, now--the big ones. Those in the other row are Jimmy's--the little ones."
"H'm!" observed Jane, standing beside her at the window; "which are the little ones?"
Mrs. Bates laughed. "Well, perhaps there isn't much difference. Jimmy is eighteen and large for his age, but of course his seem the littlest. I had them made in the house, but he set off to college before I could finish with them. Perhaps they're just as well here, until the Sophomores have finished with him.
"Yes," she went on, proudly, "I could wash shirts then, and I can make shirts now. A woman, it seems to me, may do anything for herself or for those belonging to her; and I've always tried to be a lady and a woman too. I made all Jimmy's button-holes and worked all the initials on the tabs." She looked appealingly at Jane. "I know you think I'm a silly old thing...."
"I don't either!" cried Jane, loudly, with a tremble on her lip and a hot tear starting in each eye. "I don't either; you know I don't! You know what I think! You're a dear, good, lovely woman; and I've been just as mean and hateful to you as I could! I don't see," she went on, in a great burst on contrition, "how you could talk to me; I don't see how you could let me stay one minute in your house. If you only knew all the mean, ugly, uncharitable things I have thought about you since that man let me in! How could you stand me? How could you keep from having me turned out?"
"I am used to being misunderstood," said Mrs. Bates, quietly. "I took you at first for your father's sake, and I kept you for your own. It's a long time since I have met a girl like you; I didn't suppose there was one left in the whole town. You are one of us--the old settlers, the aborigines. Do you know what I'm going to do some time? I'm going to have a regular aboriginal pow-wow, and all the old-timers shall be invited. We'll have a reel, and forfeits, and all sorts of things; and off to one side of the wigwam there shall be two or three beautiful young squaws to pour firewater. Will you be one of them?"
"Well," Jane hesitated, "I'm not so very young, you know; nor so very beautiful, either."
"You are to me," responded Mrs. Bates, with a caloric brevity.
"Nobody shall come," she went on, "who wasn't here before the War. Those who came before the Incorporation--that was in '37, wasn't it?--shall be doubly welcome. And if I can find any one who passed through the Massacre (as an infant, you understand), he shall have the head place. I mean to ask your father--and your mother," she added, with a firm but delicate emphasis. "I must call on her presently."
She fixed her eyes on the fireplace. "I suppose I was silly--the way I acted when your father married," she went on, carefully. "We were only friends; there was really nothing between us; but I was piqued and--oh, well, you know how it is."
"I!" cried Jane, routed by her alarm from her contrite and tearful mood. "I? Not the least bit, I assure you!" She blushed and gulped and ducked her head and half hid her face behind her hand. "Not the least in the world. Why, if I were to die to-morrow nobody would care but pa and ma and Roger and Truesdale and Alice; well--and Rosy; yes, perhaps Rosy would care for me--if I was dead. But nobody else; oh, dear, no!" She stared at Mrs. Bates with a hard, wide brightness.
Mrs. Bates considerately shifted her gaze to the front of the bureau. She ran her eye down one row of knobs: "I wonder who he is?" And up the other: "I hope he is worthy of her."
Doubly considerate, she turned her back, too. She began to rummage among the drawers of her old desk. "There!" she said, presently, "I knew I could put my hands on it."
She set a daguerreotype before Jane. Its oval was bordered with a narrow line of gilded metal and its small square back was covered with embossed brown leather. "There, now! Do you know who that is?"
Jane looked back and forth doubtfully between the picture and its owner. "Is it--is it--pa?"
Mrs. Bates nodded.
Jane regarded the daguerreotype with a puzzled fascination. "Did my father ever wear his hair all wavy across his forehead that way, and have such a thing tied around his throat, and wear a vest all covered with those little gold sprigs?"
"Precisely. That's just the way he looked the last time we danced together. And what do you suppose the dance was? Guess and guess and guess again! It was this."
Mrs. Bates whisked herself on to the piano-stool and began to play and to sing. Her touch was heavy and spirited, but her voice was easily audible above the instrument.
"'Old Dan Tucker, he got drunk; He jumped in the fire and he kicked up a chunk Of red-hot charcoal with his shoe. Lordy! how the ashes flew-hoo!'"
Jane dropped the daguerreotype in time to take up the refrain:
"'Clear the road for old Dan Tucker! You're too late to get your supper. Clear the road for old Dan--'"
"Aha! you know it!" cried Mrs. Bates, gayly.
"Of course," responded Jane. "My education may be modern, on the whole; but it hasn't neglected the classics completely! Gentlemen forward!" she said, with a sudden cry, which sent Mrs. Bates's fingers back to the keyboard; "gentlemen forward to Mister Tucker!" Mrs. Bates pounded loudly, and Jane pirouetted up to her from behind.
"Ladies forward to Mister Tucker!" cried Jane, and Mrs. Bates left the stool and began dancing towards her. Then she danced back and took her seat again; but with the first chord:
"ALL forward to Mister Tucker!" called Jane again; and they met face to face in the middle of the room and burst out laughing. The door opened on a narrow crack, and there appeared Miss Peters's plaintive and inquiring countenance.
Mrs. Bates banished her assistant by one look of pathetic protest. "There!" she said, transferring the look to Jane, "you see how it always is when I am trying to have a good time! Even at my own table I can't budge or crack a joke; with those two men behind my chair I feel like my own tombstone. Lock that door," she said to Jane; "I will have a good time, in spite of them! Sit down; I'm going to play the 'Java March' for you."
She struck out several ponderous and vengeful chords. "Why," called Jane, "is that the 'Java March'?"
She spread out her elbows and stalked up and down singing:
"'Oh, the Dutch compa-nee Is the best compa-nee!'"
"Right again!" cried Mrs. Bates. "You are one of us--just as I said!"
"Well, if that's the 'Java March,'" said Jane, "it's in an old book we used to have about the house years and years ago. Only, if you bring it up as an example of pa's taste--"
"He liked it because I played it, perhaps," said Mrs. Bates, quietly. "Besides, why should you put it to those shocking words? It is in that book," she continued, "and I've got one here just like it."
"Is it the one with 'Roll on, Silver Moon,' and 'Wild roved the Indian maid, bright What's-her-name'?"
"Bright Alfarata. Same one, exactly. Bring up another chair, and we'll go through a whole programme of classics--pruggrum, I mean."
"Let's see, though," said Jane, looking at her watch. "Mercy me! where has the morning gone? It's after eleven o'clock."
"Supposing it is after eleven; supposing it was after a hundred and eleven? You're going to stay to lunch."
"I'd love to so much; but I just can't. I've got too many other scalps to take. So many thanks for yours! I'm going to work north towards the Monument--another Massacre!"
"Well, Wednesday, then, without fail."
They retraced their steps past the mournful Miss Peters and through the vast state bedroom. On the stairs Mrs. Bates said:
"I do remember your aunt, Mrs. Rhodes, now," The conscientious creature had been taxing her memory for an hour. Jane felt that this was a tribute, not to her aunt, but to herself.
"Yes," Mrs. Bates went on, "she's a little, plump, dark woman, and when she sits down she wiggles and flounces and goes all in a heap--like this." Mrs. Bates illustrated by means of the window-seat on the landing.
"Yes," assented Jane. She could not reproach Mrs. Bates for thus indulging her sense of humor in order to recoup herself for the tax on her memory.
"And when she goes down-stairs, it's like this." She gathered up her gown and sidled down affectedly over the remaining steps.
"That's it," said Jane, joining her in the hall below.
Mrs. Bates opened the front door herself. "You can take the choo-choo cars at Sixteenth, you know, and get off at Van Buren. Oh, dear; excuse my baby-talk; our little Reginald--two months old, you know. I'll have Lottie home for that lunch of ours."
"Don't apologize," said Jane. "I often use the same expression myself."
"Why, is there a baby at your house!"
"Well," said Jane, rather lamely, "Alice has got a little girl three years old."
"So David Marshall is a grandfather? But what is there extraordinary in that?--I'm one myself." She stood in the big porch looking down the street--at nothing." Well, now I am going to," she said, half to herself. "That settles it!"
She accompanied Jane half-way down the steps, bareheaded as she was, and in her morning-gown. A society reporter who happened to be passing originated the rumor that she had gone insane.
"Good-luck, my child. Use my name everywhere. Take all that anybody offers. Good-by! Good-by!"
Jane retraced her steps to kiss her. She had not kissed her own mother for ten years.