Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
The Downfall of Abner Joyce
Abner tramped down the corridor and walked in on Giles. He found the decorator busy over two or three large sketches for panels.
"For another Trust man?" he asked.
"No," replied Giles; "these are for a blameless old gentleman that has passed a life of honest toil in the wholesale hardware business. Don't you think he's entitled to a few flowers by this time?"
"What kind of flowers are they?"
"Passion-flowers and camellias."
"Humph! Do they grow round here?"
"Hardly. My old gentleman hasn't given himself a vacation for twenty-five years, and he wants to get as far away from 'here' as possible."
Abner gave another "Humph!" Wigs and brocades; passion-flowers and camellias. All this in a town that had just seen the completion of the eighteenth chapter of Regeneration. Well, regeneration was coming none too soon.
"What's the matter with Bond?" he asked suddenly.
"I do' know. Is anything?"
"I've just been talking with him, and he seemed sort of skittish and dissatisfied and paradoxical."
"He's often like that. We never notice."
"He seemed to shilly-shally considerable too. Has he got any convictions, any principles?"
"I can't say I've ever thought much about that. He never mentions such things himself, but I suppose he must have them about him somewhere. He generally behaves himself and treats other people kindly. Everybody trusts him and seems to believe in him. I presume he's got something inside that holds him up--moral framework, so to speak."
Abner shook his head. If the framework was there it ought to show through. Every articulation should tell; every rib should count.
"If a man has got principles and beliefs, why not come out flat-footedly with them like a man?"
"I do' know. Dare say Bond doesn't want to wear his heart on his sleeve. Hates to live in the show-window, you understand."
"He was fussing most about writing some new thing or other in a new way. I seem to have kind of started him up."
"He has been talking like that for quite a little while. He's tenderly interested--that's the real reason for it. He wants more reputation--something to lay at the dear one's feet, you know. And he wants bigger returns--though he has got something in the way of an independent income, I believe."
"Who is she?"
"That little Miss Summers."
"He may have her," said Abner quickly. "She may 'dine' him at her settlement." Then, more slowly: "Why, they hardly spoke to each other, that day--except once or twice to joke. They barely noticed each other."
"What should they have done? Sit side by side, holding hands?"
"Oh, the city, the city!" murmured Abner, overcome by the artificiality of urban society and the mockery in Giles's tone.
"You should have seen them in the country last summer."
"Them! In the country!"
"Why, yes; why not? We had them both out on the farm."
"My father's. We try to do a little livening up for the old people every July and August. They got acquainted there; they took to it like ducks to water. That's where Bond got his idea for his cow masterpiece,--he may have spoken to you about it."
"Humph!" said Abner. Why heed such insignificant poachings as these on his own preserves?
"We're going out home week after next for the holidays," continued Giles. "Better go with us."
"So you're a farmer's boy?" pondered Abner. He looked again at the camellias, then at Giles's loose Parisian tie, and lastly at his finger-nails,--all too exquisite by half.
"Certainly. Brought up on burdock and smart-weed. That's why I'm so fond of this,"--with a wave toward one of his panels.
"Well, what do you say? Will you go? We should like first-rate to have you."
Abner considered. The invitation was as hearty and informal as he could have wished, and it would take him within thirty miles of Flatfield itself.
"Is your sister going along?"
"Surely. She will run the whole thing."
"Well," said Abner slowly, "I don't know but that I might find it interesting." This, Giles understood, was his rustic manner of accepting.