Chapter VII
 

"Drive on a little farther, Martin," Mrs. Bates directed her coachman; "I can never work my way through all that mess."

Beds of mortar and piles of brick half filled the roadway, and the posts of a kind of rough plank canopy, which formed a shelter for pedestrians, rose flush with the curbstone. Far above this improvised shelter bricklayers were adding the courses of a new story or two to the walls of a shabby and smoke-stained old structure, and immediately below it the march of traffic and the hubbub of trade proceeded upon the broad flag sidewalk as fully as contractors and their underlings would permit. "Right over there," Mrs. Bates indicated; "between that sand-pile and the row of flour-barrels."

Porters in blue overalls hurried boxes and tubs across the wide walk to the waiting carts of suburban grocers. Through the dingy windows there showed rows of shelves set with bottles of olives or cluttered with glass jars containing various grades of molasses. From the narrow window of a small, close pen, a few feet within the door, a shipping-clerk, wearing a battered straw hat of the past summer, thrust out bills of lading to draymen and issued directions to a gang of German and Swedish roustabouts.

"I have taken a great time to come," Mrs. Bates observed to herself. She rubbed a streak of lime from her fur coat, and stooped to pick a splinter from the hem of her skirt. "Who's the one to ask, I wonder?"

She secured the interest of a plump, round-shouldered young German, whose viscous hands had just left a syrup-cask, and whose wide blue eyes stared at this unaccustomed visitor with an honest wonder. He ventured to lead her as far as a door in a grimy glass partition which closed off a large room filled with desks, gas-shades, clerks, and account-books. Circles of teacups stood on the round tops of oak tables; little pasteboard trays of coffee were disposed on the wide window-ledges, and were also ranged on the top of a substantial balustrade that shut off two or three gentlemen in high silk hats from the other occupants of the place.

Mrs. Bates threw herself upon the guidance of a young office-hand--the sole person present who seemed sufficiently disengaged to notice her. He asked her, with a mixture of surprise and deference, what name he should give.

"Sue Lathrop, say," she responded, in an access of large and liberal recklessness.

She was led through another door, in another dingy glass partition, to a smaller room at one corner, and as she passed along she threw a general glance over her surroundings. "So he's here, then!" she said, under her breath, as one of the gentlemen took off his hat and set it carefully on top of a desk. "I'd forgotten all about his being in business with David. It's just as well if he didn't see me. No love lost," she added, grimly.

She paused on the threshold of this last doorway; apparently she had fallen upon the final moments of some small conference. A tall, spare old man was delaying the resumption of his correspondence to call a last word after a younger one, who had just set his hat upon the back of his head and was now moving towards the exit.

"Try a summons--yes," said the elder; "that would have been the best thing to start with, wouldn't it?"

"I don't quite see it that way,' replied the other, in the tone of heated defence." he took the goods, and must have had them on the premises."

"You didn't find them, though. I don't quite see the use of your having gone with a writ of replevin after goods that I were bought to be sold again as soon as might be."

"Such old stuff isn't worked off in any such haste as that. It's as I tell you--word was got around to her that the writ had been issued. The place was all turned upside down; the things had been hidden away."

"Who could have told her?"

"Who?" cried the other, with a scornful impatience. "Somebody connected with the court. Who else could? Who else knew? Well, I'll try the other thing; there is plenty yet to be learned about justice-court justice, no doubt." He passed out with snapping eyes and a curl on his lips, and the older man again bent himself over his desk.

It was a cramped little room with a breadth or two of worn oilcloth on the floor. Two or three shelves, set across the dingy window, supported a range of glass jars filled with nutmegs and orris-root. On the tilted flagging, outside, the tops of a row of blue gasoline barrels held each a half-pint of the past night's shower, and across the muddy street bunches of battered bananas hung from the rusty framework of several shabby old awnings.

"Poor David! twenty years and more of this!" Mrs. Bates stood within the doorway. It was easy enough to figure her as already forgotten--easier still when the old man's half-guilty start at length acknowledged her presence.

She stepped forward with an undaunted cordiality. "Well, David, here I am at last, you see. The mountain wouldn't come to Mohammed, so"--She tapped her foot smartly on the oilcloth. "Here stands Sue Lathrop, with a long memory and a disposition to meet the mountain half-way, or three-quarters, or seven-eighths, or to trudge the whole distance--even to the last yard. One, two, three!" she counted, as she stepped up to his desk and flung out her hand.

The old man rose with something like alacrity. He banished his slight frown of preoccupation and hastened to replace it by an expression of--so to speak--apologetic cordiality.

"Mrs. Bates," he murmured. "It's very kind of you to come here--very. My daughter--" he hesitated. He finished the sentence by drawing up a chair and clearing its seat of the ruck of morning papers.

"I take the chair," she said, as if in burlesque assumption of the guidance of some public meeting, "but not as any 'Mrs. Bates.' You know, David, that I haven't come here to be treated with any such formality as that."

He looked at her with a half-smiling wistfulness, as if he would be glad enough to take her tone, were the thing only possible. But for such a juncture as this he had little initiative and less momentum, and he realized it all too well.

Mrs. Bates seated herself and threw open her furs. Her affluence, her expansiveness, her easy mastery of the situation seemed to crowd this square and ineffective old man quite into a corner. She counted his wrinkles and his gray hairs; she noted the patient dulness of his eye and the slow deliberation of his movements. "He is old," she thought; "older than I should have imagined. I might have bestirred myself and come before."

She turned on him with a flash of her own magnificent and abounding vitality. "I want you to assure me that I am not in the way--that I am not interrupting business. This is not the 'busy day,' I hope, that the little placards in the offices tell about." She must meet his unreadiness with the fluency over which she had such a fortunate and unfailing command. "This isn't the busy hour of the day, nor the busy day of the week, nor the busy week of the year?"

Marshall smiled slowly. He felt himself coming to a better adjustment with her mature and massive comeliness, her rich and elaborate attire, her full-toned and friendly fluency. "We are always busy, and are expecting to be busier still; but we are never too busy for a call like this." He considered that that was doing pretty fairly for an old man who was immersed in affairs and altogether alien to the amenities of the great world.

Mrs. Bates rubbed again at the lime-streak on her fur. "Expecting to be busier, yes; and preparing for it accordingly." But why "we"?--she was not calling on the firm. "I'm sure I broke in on something at the very start." She made him a determined tender of this handle--something or other, apparently, he must be offered to take hold of.

"Only a little matter with my son. It was ending as you came in."

"Your son?" Here was an opening, indeed. "Not the one just home from abroad?"

"Oh no. That's Truesdale. Roger, now, has stayed at home; and he has done the better for it, I think. He looks after my law business. He has never had any of the disadvantages of European travel," the old man concluded, with a kind of gentle grimness.

Mrs. Bates's eyes flashed; here, to her thinking, was a glimmer of the real David, after all.

"My boys haven't been over either," she responded. She cast aside any lingering fear that no "talk" could ensue; it must, it should. "No," she went on, "neither one of them; and I'm none too sure that they ever will go. But as for college--well, that I absolutely insisted upon. When my first boy was getting along to that age the question gave me a good deal of anxiety. Mr. Bates had his views and I had mine. Granger was for clapping him right into business; for a week I was positively alarmed. Up to that time my husband and I had staved forward abreast--neither had ever disappointed the other, nor lagged behind the other; but I was afraid that the point had been reached at last where I must drop him behind and go ahead alone. 'My dear husband,' I began--and when I begin like that he knows I mean business--'my dear husband, do you realize what the next twenty years are holding for this town? Do you know the promise they have for a young man of family who is properly qualified and started? Do we want our boys to get their manners from the daily hustle of La Salle Street? Do we want them to get their physique by doubling over books all day in a close, unwholesome office? What's the good of all our millions if we can't start our children in life with good health and good manners? Let them build up sound bodies and let them learn the usages of good society--how to associate on equal terms, in fact, with men of their own class. Give them a chance at tennis and baseball. As for their Latin and Greek, it won't do them any real harm--they'll forget it all in due season.' And so forth, and so forth," added Mrs. Bates, conscious of the growing length of her tirade. "Well, I had my way in the end--I usually do--besides the satisfaction of finding that Granger Bates was still capable of stepping right along with his wife. Billy came home--a big, handsome, gentlemanly fellow--and was put into the business on the very day he was twenty-one. He's doing well, and Jimmy will follow in due course. Your oldest boy is a lawyer, then. What's the other one?"

"He's a gentleman--so far," answered Marshall, rather ruefully. "I'm afraid he's almost too clever to be anything else."

"H'm," pondered Mrs. Bates, with a sympathetic thoughtfulness; "that's bad--bad. I'd sooner have a boy of mine dead than a mere gentleman. And I shouldn't want him too clever, either. My Billy, before we sent him off to college, showed signs of cleverness; it worried me a good deal. He wanted to write; and there was one time when he thought he wanted to paint. Of course we couldn't allow anything like that. I was willing enough that he should be posted on the best books, and be able to tell a good painting from a bad one--to be a patron of the arts, if so minded. But to do things of that sort himself--oh, really, you know, that was altogether out of the question. He's with his father now, as I say, and he's where he belongs. How old is your other boy--Roger? Twenty-eight? Twenty-nine?"

"Thirty. He went right from the High School to the Law School. No college, no Europe; yet for all that--"

"For all that, he's doing well, eh? He's got quite a practice, has he? He's a smart fellow? He's a good lawyer?"

Marshall hesitated. A week previous his affirmative would have come more promptly. "Yes," he said at length, "Roger is pretty good in his line. He does for himself; he never makes any demands on his father. He is practising right along, and--and learning. He does quite well--in some things." The old gentleman's tone and manner expressed a delicate and disappointed qualification; and his thought seemed gliding away to something in no wise connected with the present talk.

Mrs. Bates brought him back to the actualities of the moment; she had no idea of permitting her impromptu address on education (furthest of all things from her thoughts as she had entered) to be succeeded by an absolute hiatus. She therefore made inquiries of the customary civility about the other members of the Marshall family. She asked with a firm and ceremonial emphasis after Mrs. Marshall, and expressed herself as pleased at the prospect of renewed relations between the two families. "We are the old settlers, you know. There are only a few of us left, and we ought to hang together." She inquired further about his youngest daughter, whose social fortunes she seemed disposed to promote; she even made a civil reference to the remote dweller at Riverdale Park. And then, with every appearance of relish, she approached the subject of the other daughter who came between--"the girl who gave me an art course in my own house," she declared, with twinkling eyes.

Marshall smiled. "That's Jane, true enough. She has always been kind of literary and artistic, and lately she has become architectural too. She is down here once or twice a week to help Bingham put on these extra stories."

"Bingham? My Bingham? Tom Bingham? He's the one who built our house," she explained.

"That's the one. Jane held out, at first, for an architect and a design; she had an idea that here was the chance, finally, to make this old block an ornament to the city. But I thought differently. So I had Bingham's people take off the cornice and run up two stories like the others. To-morrow they'll put the cornice back again, and we shall be under cover before the snow flies."

"Well, between Jane and Tom Bingham you're in pretty good hands. Have you had him before for anything? He's a grand fellow. It'll do you lots of good to know him--as much good as it has done me to know your girl. David," she went on, with a little touch of solemnity, "she's a fine girl, she's a splendid girl; and she thinks everything of her father."

"So she does," admitted the old gentleman, with a guarded smile. His comments on his daughter's affection for him were never profuse.

"When she came to see me the other day," Mrs. Bates continued, "it was like a whiff of air from the old times. It was like one of the Old Settler receptions that the Calumet people used to give--only better. Why did they stop them, I wonder? Are the old settlers giving out? Or has the town become too proud and indifferent? Or what?"

"I'm afraid it's the fault of the old settlers themselves," responded Marshall, with a grave and quiet smile. "They won't stay to be received."

"Yes, I know," said Mrs. Bates, with a soft little sigh. "They are dropping off one by one. David!" she exclaimed suddenly, leaning forward with a wistful smile, "we ought never to have drifted apart as we did. We ought not to have lost sight of each other for all these years. I'm sure"--in earnest questioning--"that we remember enough about the old times to care to see each other once in a while still?"

Marshall dropped his eyes to his desk, and his long, lean fingers picked out the border of its blue baize covering. He was half touched, half embarrassed. "I hope so," he said.

"What gay times we used to have!" she went on, still determined, despite his meagre response, upon an evocation of their youthful past. "Such dances and sleigh-rides, and everything! You were ever so good to me in those old days; I haven't forgotten how you took me to the Diorama and the Bell-Ringers and what all besides. And 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' too--I'm sure I should never have seen it but for you; certainly I haven't had much disposition to see it of late years--especially since they have put the blood-hounds in! And there was Topsy and Eva, too--oh, dear, I believe I should like to see it again, after all; don't they give it over on the West Side now and then? You must remember how they wore those tall pointed hats and those red petticoats and those black velvet bands across themselves in front--not the blood-hounds--and how they had the bells on different little tables according to their size--not Topsy and Eva; I'm talking about the Peake family, you understand. And there was Adelina Patti, too--a mere slip of a girl, in the quaintest little old clothes. I go every time she comes; I wouldn't miss one of her farewells for anything. You go, too, I suppose?"

"The same old Sue," he said, smiling. "I? No; I haven't seen her since that first time, so long ago."

"Yes," she cried, "I am the same old Sue; and I always shall be to the friends of those dear old days! But you, David--how is it with you yourself?"

She looked at him closely, earnestly, studiously. He felt that she was disappointed in him, and he felt almost disappointed in himself. She had come to him extending, as it were, an olive branch--living, lustrous, full-foliaged; and in return he seemed able to offer nothing beyond a mere splinter-like twig--dry, sapless, unpliant. He was conscious that he was not all she had expected to find him, nor all that she was entitled to expect to find him; he was even conscious, but more dimly, that he was not quite all that he had meant to be; no, nor all that, in her eyes, he should have liked to be. Yet, in the end, he was a successful man, and she must know it. True, he had not rolled up any such enormous fortune as that of Granger Bates, nor did he make in the public eye any such splendid and enviable figure. All the same, however, he could command the world to the extent of three million dollars; nor was he displeased that his caller should have come at a time when indications of future prosperity greater still were so patent all over the premises.

Mrs. Bates smoothed her gloves upon each other and cast her eye over the nutmegs and orris-root and the other furnishings of the apartment, and heaved a little sigh and rose to go.

"I am glad to have had these few minutes with you, David; but I feel that I have no right to take up any more of them. I am sure this is your busy day, after all."

She looked up into his face, which was coming once more to be overcast with its accustomed aspect of preoccupation, and gave him her hand. He took it kindly enough, and she bestowed on his a quiet little pressure. It was hardly cordial; it was far indeed from effusive. Yet she had hoped, half an hour before, to have it both.

"Ten years ago," she said, "I might have satisfied myself about you without coming here at all." She stood at the end of his desk, and stirred with an unconscious finger the loose memoranda in a wire basket on the corner of it. "The papers used to speak of you, and now and then something would come by word of mouth. But I am hearing less about you of late. Hold your own, David. Don't let the world forget you. You have done well, as I know, and you are entitled to your place in the public eye."

She looked him in the face, smilingly but very earnestly. "I had great hopes for you in the early days, and I find that I am jealous for you even yet. You have made a good deal of money, they tell me, and you are getting ready to make a good deal more--that I see for myself. But doesn't it seem to you," she proceeded, carefully, "that things are beginning to be different?--that the man who enjoys the best position and the most consideration is not the man who is making money, but the man who is giving it away--not the man who is benefiting himself, but the man who is benefiting the community. There is an art to cultivate, David--the art of giving. Give liberally and rightly, and nothing can bring you more credit."

Marshall regarded her with a dubious smile. Nobody had ever before attempted to fit his head to such a cap as this.

"As I have said so many times to Mr. Bates, 'Make it something that people can see.' Imagine a man disposed to devote two or three hundred thousand dollars to the public, and giving it to help pay off the municipal debt. How many people would consider themselves benefited by the gift, or would care a cent for the name of the giver? Or fancy his giving it to clean up the streets of the city. The whole affair would be forgotten with the coming of the next rain-storm. 'No,' said I to Granger, it must be something solid and something permanent; it must be a building.' And it's going to be a building. You drive out with me to the University campus this time next year, David, and you'll see Bates Hall--four stories high, with dormers and gables and things, and the name carved in gray-stone over the doorway, to stay there for the next century or two. I think I shall name it Susan Lathrop Bates Hall (Granger is willing), and make it a girls' dormitory. They'll call the girls 'Susans,' I dare say; but I sha'n't mind, and I don't suppose they will either. Besides, boys would be sure to be called 'Grangers,' so what's the difference?" She smiled whimsically, and made a feint to depart.

"But there are plenty of other things," she paused to impart. People are always running to us about schools and hospitals. A few loose thousands, for example, would help the Orchestra guarantee--Granger has contributed there, too. And lately he has been approached about an endowed theater. There are plenty of ways."

"Your husband is fond of music?"

"Oh, well, he doesn't object to it. He can sit out an evening in our box very comfortably. But a man of his position is naturally expected to support a great artistic enterprise. Besides, Granger thinks a good deal of the reputation of the city."

"Yes, there are plenty of ways, as you say," the old man rejoined, with his preoccupied smile. "The 'charity' page of our ledger shows that. No man in business is allowed to forget his obligations to the 'public.' I am just beginning to become acquainted with the public--our public. A justice-court is a good place for us to learn what it is and who compose it, and what their attitude is toward us--the public that we are expected to do so much for."

Mrs. Bates, with her hand on the door-knob, felt herself obliged to decline this theme so tardily introduced--though the old man's tart tone promised great possibilities. She would have thanked David Marshall for a prompter contribution of conversational material; she felt that her own efforts during this interview had been out of all proportion to his. She made no response, and he stepped forward to conduct her through the outer office to her carriage. "You needn't go through all those porters again," he said.

Just inside the outer doorway stood two gentlemen; their faces were turned towards the street as they watched the preparations for the upward trip of a great length of metallic cornice. "Why," said Mrs. Bates, as one of them turned half round, "isn't that Tom Bingham, now?"

"Yes," said Marshall; "he looks in occasionally."

"How do you do, Mr. Bingham?" she said, hastening up to him with a jocular cast in her eye. She knew the Bingham Construction Company as the builders of a score of handsome residences, and of as many of the vast structures which towered all over the business district. It seemed droll to her to find him here, giving personal heed to mere alterations and repairs. "What will be the next thing--building-blocks? Let me send you a box of them, I beg of you."

Bingham turned round altogether--a tall, stalwart man whose face was full of the serenity that comes from breadth and poise, but whose mind, as she herself knew well enough, was too habituated to the broad treatment of big matters to have any aptitude for repartee and chatter. She liked to disconcert him, and it was usually an easy thing to do. "And I wish, while you have your hand in, you would just come up and nail some weather-strips on my dining-room windows."

Bingham smiled slightly. "Send on your blocks," he said--"if you think they will help me any there." He pointed towards the cornices of the building opposite. Above their broken skyline a tall steel frame (on the next street behind) rose some two hundred feet into the air; along the black lines which its upper stage etched against the sky a dozen men swarmed in spidery activity and sent down the sharp clang of metal on metal to the noisier world below.

"Mine, too," he said, shortly, as if the vast monument were its own sufficient spokesman. He seemed proud of himself and of the town where such things could be accomplished.

Mrs. Bates flashed forth a look full of admiration for both man and work. "I'll take that all back about the weather-strips; but if you could bring up your kit to-morrow morning and make us an extra coal-bin in the furnace-room---Too proud for that, too? Well, then, just come up to dinner to-morrow evening--only the family. And bring your sister, if she'll accept on such short notice."

The other gentleman, whom Mrs. Bates had overlooked, and indeed forgotten, turned round. "You know Mr. Belden, Mrs. Bates?" was Marshall's introduction.

Belden was a man between forty-five and fifty. His costume and countenance were alike much more contemporaneous than his partner's. His dress was self-consciously fashionable, and he wore a carefully trained mustache, whose dark brown was beginning to show threads of gray. His cheeks and his forehead seemed in their smoothness as if coated with some impermeable and indestructible hard-finish. He had a resolute chin and a pair of hard, steel-gray eyes, which were set much too close together to leave great room for any attribution of an open-minded generosity. He and Mrs. Bates, under Marshall's promptings, bowed icily, and a cold and chilling silence immediately ensued.

"Just like me," said Mrs. Bates, as she effected a hurried departure, "to blunder up against him as I did. I wonder if he and David get along at all well together. And the idea of my extending invitations to dinner under his very nose! Well, it can't be helped now."

She thought this the only offence of which Belden might accuse her. But he was piqued by her apparent disparagement of their building, and he was still more incensed by her having called on his partner at their place of business. For Marshall must know--everybody must know--that the Beldens, though neighbors of the Bateses, had never been admitted, and never were to be admitted, into their house.

Belden stood behind the vast spread of dingy plate-glass, and watched Bingham putting Mrs. Bates into her carriage. He found additional offence in the gay nod which she sent to Marshall through the carriage window.

"In spite of you," he muttered; "we are moving up in spite of you. Prevent us, if you can!"