Harry Leon Wilson
Part 3 out of 7
"'And this is life? Nay, I would rather see
The man who sells his soul in some wild cause:
The fool who spurns, for momentary bliss,
All that he was and all he thought to be:
The rebel stark against his country's laws:
God's own mad lover, dying on a kiss.'"
She had completed the verse with the hint of a sneer in her tones.
"Yes, truly, I remember it; but some day you'll thank me for saving
you; of course it would have been regular in a way, but people here
never really forget those things--and we'd have been helpless--some day
you'll thank me for thinking for you."
"Why do you believe I'm not thanking you already?"
"Hang it all! that's what you made me think yesterday when I met you."
"And so you called me heartless? Now tell me just what you expect a
woman in my position to do. I offered to go to you when you were ready.
Surely that showed my spirit--and you haven't known me these years
without knowing it would have to be that or nothing."
"Well, hang it, it wasn't like the last time, and you know it; you're
not kind any longer. You can be kind, can't you?"
Her lip showed faintly the curl of scorn.
"No, I can't be kind any longer. Oh, I see you've known your own mind
so little; there's been so little depth to it all; you couldn't dare.
It was foolish to think I could show you my mind."
"But you still care for me?"
"No; no, I don't. You should have no reason to think so if I did. When
I heard you'd made it up I hated you, and I think I hate you now. Let
us go back. No, no, please don't touch me--ever again."
Farther down-town in the cosy drawing-room of a house in a side street
east of the Avenue, two other persons were talking. A florid and
profusely freckled young Englishman spoke protestingly from the
hearth-rug to a woman who had the air of knowing emphatically better.
"But, my dear Mrs. Drelmer, you know, really, I can't take a curate
with me, you know, and send up word won't she be good enough to come
downstairs and marry me directly--not when I've not seen her, you
know!" "Nonsense!" replied the lady, unimpressed. "You can do it
nearly that way, if you'll listen to me. Those Westerners perform quite
in that manner, I assure you. They call it 'hustling.'"
"Yes, indeed, 'dear you.' And another thing, I want you to forestall
that Milbrey youth, and you may be sure he's no farther away than
Tuxedo or Meadowbrook. Now, they arrived yesterday; they'll be
unpacking to-day and settling to-morrow; I'll call the day after, and
you shall be with me."
"And you forget that--that devil--suppose she's as good as her threat?"
"Absurd! how could she be?"
"You don't know her, you know, nor the old beggar either, by Jove!"
"All the more reason for haste. We'll call to-morrow. Wait. Better
still, perhaps I can enlist the Gwilt-Athelston; I'm to meet her
to-morrow. I'll let you know. Now I must get into my teaharness, so run
We are next constrained to glance at a strong man bowed in the hurt of
a great grief. Horace Milbrey sits alone in his gloomy, high-ceilinged
library. His attire is immaculate. His slender, delicate hands are
beautifully white. The sensitive lines of his fine face tell of the
strain under which he labours. What dire tragedies are those we must
face wholly alone--where we must hide the wound, perforce, because no
comprehending sympathy flows out to us; because instinct warns that no
help may come save from the soul's own well of divine fortitude. Some
hope, tenderly, almost fearfully, held and guarded, had perished on the
day that should have seen its triumphant fruition. He raised his
handsome head from the antique, claw-footed desk, sat up in his chair,
and stared tensely before him. His emotion was not to be suppressed. Do
tears tremble in the eyes of the strong man? Let us not inquire too
curiously. If they tremble down the fine-skinned cheek, let us avert
our gaze. For grief in men is no thing to make a show of.
A servant passed the open door bearing an immense pasteboard box with
one end cut out to accommodate the long stems of many roses.
"What is it?"
"Flowers, sir, for Miss Avice."
"Let me see--and the card?"
He took the card from the florist's envelope and glanced at the name.
"Take them away."
The stricken man was once more alone; yet now it was as if the tender
beauty of the flowers had balmed his hurt--taught him to hope anew. Let
us in all sympathy and hope retire.
For cheerfuller sights we might observe Launton Oldaker in a musty
curio-shop, delighted over a pair of silver candlesticks with square
bases and fluted columns, fabricated in the reign of that fortuitous
monarch, Charles the Second; or we might glance in upon the Higbees in
their section of a French chateau, reproduced up on the stately
Riverside Drive, where they complete the details of a dinner to be
given on the morrow.
Or perhaps it were better to be concerned with a matter more weighty
than dinners and antique candlesticks. The search need never be vain,
even in this world of persistent frivolity. As, for example:
"Tell Mrs. Van Geist if she can't come down, I'll run up to her."
"Yes, Miss Milbrey."
Mrs. Van Geist entered a moment later.
"Why, Avice, child, you're glowing, aren't you?"
"I must be, I suppose--I've just walked down from 59th Street, and
before that I walked in the Park. Feel how cold my cheeks
"It's good for you. Now we shall have some tea, and talk."
"Yes--I'm hungry for both, and some of those funny little cakes."
"Come back where the fire is, dear; the tea has just been brought.
There, take the big chair."
"It always feels like you--like your arms, Mütterchen--and I am tired."
"And throw off that coat. There's the lemon, if you're afraid of
"I wish I weren't afraid of anything but cream."
"You told me you weren't afraid of that--that cad--any more."
"I'm not--I just told him so. But I'm afraid of it all; I'm tired
trying not to drift--tired trying not to try, and tired trying to
try--Oh, dear--sounds like a nonsense verse, doesn't it? Have you any
one to-night? No? I think I must stay with you till morning. Send some
one home to say I'll be here. I can always think so much better
here--and you, dear old thing, to mother me!"
"Do, child; I'll send Sandon directly."
"He will go to the house of mourning."
"What's the latest?"
"Papa was on the verge of collapse this morning, and yet he was
striving so bravely and nobly to bear up. No one knows what that man
suffers; it makes him gloomy all the time about everything. Just before
I left, he was saying that, when one considers the number of American
homes in which a green salad is never served, one must be appalled. Are
you appalled, auntie? But that isn't it."
"Nothing has happened?"
"Well, there'll be no sensation about it in the papers to-morrow, but a
very dreadful thing has happened. Papa has suffered one of the
cruellest blows of his life. I fancy he didn't sleep at all last night,
and he looked thoroughly bowled over this morning."
"But what is it?"
"Well--oh, it's awful!--first of all there were six dozen of
early-bottled, 1875 Château Lafitte--that was the bitterest--but he had
to see the rest go, too--Château Margeaux of '80--some terribly ancient
port and Madeira--the dryest kind of sherry--a lot of fine, full
clarets of '77 and '78--oh, you can't know how agonising it was to
him--I've heard them so often I know them all myself."
"But what on earth about them?"
"Nothing, only the Cosmopolitan Club's wine cellar--auctioned off, you
know. For over a year papa has looked forward to it. He knew every
bottle of wine in it. He could recite the list without looking at it.
Sometimes he sounded like a French lesson--and he's been under a
fearful strain ever since the announcement was made. Well, the great
day came yesterday, and poor pater simply couldn't bid in a single
drop. It needed ready money, you know. And he had hoped so cheerfully
all the time to do something. It broke his heart, I'm sure, to see that
Château Lafitte go--and only imagine, it was bid in by the butler of
that odious Higbee. You should have heard papa rail about the vulgar
_nouveaux riches_ when he came home--he talked quite like an anarchist.
But by to-night he'll be blaming me for his misfortunes. That's why I
chose to stay here with you."
"Poor Horace. Whatever are you going to do?"
"Well, dearie, as for me, it doesn't look as if I could do anything but
one thing. And here is my ardent young Croesus coming out of the West."
"You called him your 'athletic Bayard' once."
"The other's more to the point at present. And what else can I do? Oh,
if some one would just be brave enough to live the raw, quivering life
with me, I could do it, I give you my word. I could let everything go
by the board--but I am so alone and so helpless and no man is equal to
it, nowadays. All of us here seem to be content to order a 'half
portion' of life."
"Child, those dreams are beautiful, but they're like those
flying-machines that are constantly being tested by the credulous
inventors. A wheel or a pinion goes wrong and down the silly things
"Very well; then I shall be wise--I suppose I shall be--and I'll do it
quickly. This fortune of good gold shall propose marriage to me at
once, and be accepted--so that I shall be able to look my dear old
father in the face again--and then, after I'm married--well, don't
blame me for anything that happens."
"I'm sure you'll be happy with him--it's only your silly notions. He's
in love with you."
"That makes me hesitate. He really is a man--I like him--see this
letter--a long review from the Arcady _Lyre_ of the 'poem' he wrote, a
poem consisting of 'Avice Milbrey.' The reviewer has been quite
enthusiastic over it, too,--written from some awful place in Montana."
"What more could you ask? He'll be kind."
"You don't understand, Mütterchen. He seems too decent to marry that
way--and yet it's the only way I could marry him. And after he found me
out--oh, think of what marriage _is_--he'd _have_ to find it out--I
couldn't _act_ long--doubtless he wouldn't even be kind to me then."
"You are morbid, child."
"But I will do it; I shall; I will be a credit to my training--and I
shall learn to hate him and he will have to learn--well, a great deal
that he doesn't know about women."
She stared into the fire and added, after a moment's silence:
"Oh, if a man only _could_ live up to the verses he cuts out of
With the Barbaric Hosts
History repeats itself so cleverly, with a variance of stage-settings
and accessories so cunning, that the repetition seldom bores, and is,
indeed, frequently undetected. Thus, the descent of the Barbarians upon
a decadent people is a little _tour de force_ that has been performed
again and again since the oldest day. But because the assault nowadays
is made not with force of arms we are prone to believe it is no longer
made at all;--as if human ways had changed a bit since those ugly,
hairy tribes from the Northern forests descended upon the Roman empire.
And yet the mere difference that the assault is now made with force of
money in no way alters the process nor does it permit the result to
vary. On the surface all is cordiality and peaceful negotiation.
Beneath is the same immemorial strife, the life-and-death
What would have been a hostile bivouac within the city's gates, but for
the matter of a few centuries, is now, to select an example which
remotely concerns us, a noble structure on Riverside Drive, facing the
lordly Hudson and the majestic Palisades that form its farther wall.
And, for the horde of Goths and Visigoths, Huns and Vandals, drunkenly
reeling in the fitful light of camp-fires, chanting weird battle-runes,
fighting for captive vestals, and bickering in uncouth tongues over the
golden spoils, what have we now to make the parallel convince? Why, the
same Barbarians, actually; the same hairy rudeness, the same unrefined,
all-conquering, animal force; a red-faced, big-handed lot, imbued with
hearty good nature and an easy tolerance for the ways of those upon
whom they have descended.
Here are chiefs of renown from the farthest fastnesses; they and their
curious households: the ironmonger from Pittsburg, the gold-miner from
Dawson, the copper chief from Butte, the silver chief from Denver, the
cattle chief from Oklahoma, lord of three hundred thousand good acres
and thirty thousand cattle, the lumber prince from Michigan, the
founder of a later dynasty in oil, from Texas. And, for the unaesthetic
but effective Attila, an able fashioner of pork products from Chicago.
Here they make festival, carelessly, unafraid, unmolested. For, in the
lapse of time, the older peoples have learned not only the folly of
resisting inevitables, but that the huge and hairy invaders may be
treated and bartered with not unprofitably. Doubtless it often results
from this amity that the patrician strain is corrupted by the alien
admixture,--but business has been business since as many as two persons
met on the face of the new earth.
For example, this particular shelter is builded upon land which one of
the patrician families had held for a century solely because it could
not be disposed of. Yet the tribesmen came, clamouring for palaces, and
now this same land, with some adjoining areas of trifling extent,
produces an income that will suffice to maintain that family almost in
its ancient and befitting estate.
In this mammoth pile, for the petty rental of ten or fifteen thousand
dollars a year, many tribes of the invaders have found shelter and
entertainment in apartments of many rooms. Outwardly, in details of
ornamentation, the building is said to duplicate the Chateaux Blois,
those splendid palaces of Francis I. Inside are all the line and colour
and device of elegant opulence, modern to the last note.
To this palace of an October evening comes the tribe of Bines, and many
another such, for a triumphal feast in the abode of Barbarian Silas
Higbee. The carriages pass through a pair of lordly iron gates, swung
from massive stone pillars, under an arch of wrought iron with its
antique lamp, and into the echoing courtyard flanked by trim hedges of
Alighting, the barbaric guests of Higbee are ushered through a
marble-walled vestibule, from which a wrought-iron and bronze screen
gives way to the main entrance-hall. The ceiling here reproduces that
of a feudal castle in Rouen, with some trifling and effective touches
of decoration in blue, scarlet, and gold. The walls are of white Caen
stone, with ornate windows and balconies jutting out above. In one
corner is a stately stone mantel with richly carved hood, bearing in
its central panel the escutcheon of the gallant French monarch. Up a
little flight of marble steps, guarded by its hand-rail of heavy metal,
shod with crimson velvet, one reaches the elevator. This pretty
enclosure of iron and glass, of classic detail in the period of Henry
II., of Circassian walnut trim, with crotch panels, has more the aspect
of boudoir than elevator. The deep seat is of walnut, upholstered with
fat cushions of crimson velvet edged in dull gold galloon. Over the
seat is a mirror cut into small squares by wooden muntins. At each side
are electric candles softened by red silk shades. One's last view
before the door closes noiselessly is of a bay-window opposite, set
with cathedral glass casement-lights, which sheds soft colours upon the
hall-bench of carven stone and upon the tessellated floor.
The door to the Higbee domain is of polished mahogany, set between
lights of antique verte Italian glass, and bearing an ancient brass
knocker. From the reception-room, with its walls of green empire silk,
one passes through a foyer hall, of Cordova leather hangings, to the
drawing-room with its three broad windows. Opposite the entrance to
this superb room is a mantel of carved Caen stone, faced with golden
Pavanazza marble, with old Roman andirons of gold ending in the
fleur-de-lis. The walls are hung with blue Florentine silk, embossed in
silver. Beyond a bronze grill is the music-room, a library done in
Austrian oak with stained burlap panelled by dull-forged nails, a
conservatory, a billiard-room, a smoking-room. This latter has walls of
red damask and a mantel with "_Post Tenebras Lux_" cut into one of its
marble panels,--a legend at which the worthy lessee of all this
splendour is wont often to glance with respectful interest.
The admirable host--if one be broad-minded--is now in the drawing-room,
seconding his worthy wife and pretty daughter who welcome the
For a man who has a fad for ham and doesn't care who knows it, his
bearing is all we have a right to expect that it should be. Among the
group of arrivals, men of his own sort, he is speaking of the
ever-shifting fashion in beards, to the evangel of a Texas oil-field
who flaunts to the world one of those heavy moustaches spuriously
extended below the corners of the mouth by means of the chin-growth of
hair. Another, a worthy tribesman from Snohomish, Washington, wears a
beard which, for a score of years, has been let to be its own true
self; to express, fearlessly, its own unique capacity for variation
from type. These two have rallied their host upon his modishly trimmed
"You're right," says Mr. Higbee, amiably, "I ain't stuck any myself on
this way of trimming up a man's face, but the madam will have it this
way--says it looks more refined and New Yorky. And now, do you know,
ever since I've wore 'em this way--ever since I had 'em scraped from
around under my neck here--I have to go to Florida every winter. Come
January or February, I get bronchitis every blamed year!"
Two of the guests only are alien to the barbaric throng.
There is the noble Baron Ronault de Palliac, decorated, reserved,
observant,--almost wistful. For the moment he is picturing dutifully
the luxuries a certain marriage would enable him to procure for his
noble father and his aged mother, who eagerly await the news of his
quest for the golden fleece. For the baron contemplates, after the
fashion of many conscientious explorers, a marriage with a native
woman; though he permits himself to cherish the hope that it may not be
conditioned upon his adopting the manners and customs of the particular
tribe that he means to honour. Monsieur the Baron has long since been
obliged to confess that a suitable _mesalliance_ is none too easy of
achievement, and, in testimony of his vicissitudes, he has written for
a Paris comic paper a series of grimly satiric essays upon New York
society. Recently, moreover, he has been upon the verge of accepting
employment in the candy factory of a bourgeois compatriot. But hope has
a little revived in the noble breast since chance brought him and his
title under the scrutiny of the bewitching Miss Millicent Higbee and
her appreciative mother.
And to-night there is not only the pretty Miss Higbee, but the winning
Miss Bines, whose _dot_, the baron has been led to understand, would
permit his beloved father unlimited piquet at his club, to say nothing
of regenerating the family chateau. Yet these are hardly matters to be
gossiped of. It is enough to know that the Baron Ronault de Palliac
when he discovers himself at table between Miss Bines and the adorable
Miss Higbee, becomes less saturnine than has for some time been his
wont. He does not forget previous disappointments, but desperately
snaps his swarthy jaws in commendable superiority to any adverse fate.
"_Je ne donne pas un damn_," he says to himself, and translates, as was
his practice, to better his English--"I do not present a damn. I shall
take what it is that it may be."
The noble Baron de Palliac at this feast of the tribesmen was like the
captive patrician of old led in chains that galled. The other alien,
Launton Oldaker, was present under terms of honourable truce, willingly
and without ulterior motive saving--as he confessed to himself--a
consuming desire to see "how the other half lives." He was no longer
the hunted and dismayed being Percival had met in that far-off and
impossible Montana; but was now untroubled, remembering, it is true,
that this "slumming expedition," as he termed it, had taken him beyond
the recognised bounds of his beloved New York, but serene in the
consciousness that half an hour's drive would land him safely back at
Oldaker observed Miss Psyche Bines approvingly.
"We are so glad to be in New York!" she had confided to him, sitting at
"My dear young woman," he warned her, "you haven't reached New York
yet." The talk being general and loud, he ventured further.
"This is Pittsburg, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver--almost anything but
"Of course I know these are not the swell old families."
Oldaker sipped his glass of old Oloroso sherry and discoursed.
"And our prominent families, the ones whose names you read, are not New
York any more, either. They are rather London and Paris. Their
furniture, clothing, plate, pictures, and servants come from one or the
other. Yes, and their manners, too, their interests and sympathies and
concerns, their fashions--and--sometimes, their--er--morals. They are
assuredly not New York any more than Gobelin tapestries and Fortuny
pictures and Louis Seize chairs are New York."
"How queerly you talk. Where is New York, then?"
Oldaker sighed thoughtfully between two spoonfuls of _tortue verte,
"Well, I suppose the truth is that there isn't much of New York left in
New York. As a matter of fact I think it died with the old Volunteer
Fire Department. Anyway the surviving remnant is coy. Real old New
Yorkers like myself--neither poor nor rich--are swamped in these days
like those prehistoric animals whose bones we find. There comes a time
when we can't live, and deposits form over us and we're lost even to
But this talk was even harder for Miss Bines to understand than the
English speech of the Baron Ronault de Palliac, and she turned to that
noble gentleman as the turbot with sauce Corail was served.
The dining-room, its wall wainscotted from floor to ceiling in Spanish
oak, was flooded with soft light from the red silk dome that depended
from its crown of gold above the table. The laughter and talk were as
little subdued as the scheme of the rooms. It was an atmosphere of
prodigal and confident opulence. From the music-room near by came the
soft strains of a Haydn quartet, exquisitely performed by finished and
"Say, Higbee!" it was the oil chief from Texas, "see if them fiddlers
of yours can't play 'Ma Honolulu Lulu!'"
Oldaker, wincing and turning to Miss Bines for sympathy, heard her say:
"Yes, do, Mr. Higbee! I do love those ragtime songs--and then have them
play 'Tell Me, Pretty Maiden,' and the 'Intermezzo.'"
He groaned in anguish.
The talk ran mostly on practical affairs: the current values of the
great staple commodities; why the corn crop had been light; what wheat
promised to bring; how young Burman of the Chicago Board of Trade had
been pinched in his own wheat corner for four millions--"put up" by his
admiring father; what beef on the hoof commanded; how the Federal Oil
Company would presently own the State of Texas.
Almost every Barbarian at the table had made his own fortune. Hardly
one but could recall early days when he toiled on farm or in shop or
forest, herded cattle, prospected, sought adventure in remote and
"'Tain't much like them old days, eh, Higbee?" queried the Crown Prince
of Cripple Creek--"when you and me had to walk from Chicago to Green
Bay, Wisconsin, because we didn't have enough shillings for
stage-fare?" He gazed about him suggestively.
"Corn-beef and cabbage was pretty good then, eh?" and with sure,
vigorous strokes he fell to demolishing his _filet de dinde a la
Perigueux_, while a butler refilled his glass with Chateau Malescot,
"Well, it does beat the two rooms the madam and me started to keep
house in when we was married," admitted the host. "That was on the
banks of the Chicago River, and now we got the Hudson flowin' right
through the front yard, you might say, right past our own
From old days of work and hardship they came to discuss the present and
their immediate surroundings, social and financial.
Their daughters, it appeared, were being sought in marriage by the sons
of those among whom they sojourned.
"Oh, they're a nice band of hand-shakers, all right, all right,"
asserted the gentleman from Kansas City. "One of 'em tried to keep
company with our Caroline, but I wouldn't stand for it. He was a
crackin' good shinny player, and he could lead them cotillion-dances
blowin' a whistle and callin', 'All right, Up!' or something, like a
car-starter,--but, 'Tell me something good about him,' I says to an old
friend of his family. Well, he hemmed and hawed--he was a New York
gentleman, and says he, 'I don't know whether I could make you
understand or not,' he says, 'but he's got Family,' jest like that,
bearin' down hard on 'Family'--'and you've got money,' he says, 'and
Money and Family need each other badly in this town,' he says. 'Yes,'
says I, 'I met up with a number of people here,' I says, 'but I ain't
met none yet that you'd have to blindfold and back into a lot of
money,' I says, 'family or no family,' I says. 'And that young man,' he
says, 'is a pleasant, charming fellow; why,' he says, 'he's the
best-coated man in New York.' Well, I looked at him and I says, 'Well,'
says I, 'he may be the best-coated man in New York, but he'll be the
best-booted man in New York, too,' I says, 'if he comes around trying
to spark Caroline any more,--or would be if I had my way. His chin's
pushed too far back under his face,' I says, 'and besides,' I says,
'Caroline is being waited on by a young hardware drummer, a good steady
young fellow travelling out of little old K.C.,' I says, 'and while he
ain't much for fam'ly,' I says, he'll have one of his own before he
gets through,' I says; 'we start fam'lies where I come from,' I says."
"Good boy! Good for you," cheered the self-made Barbarians, and drank
success to the absent disseminator of hardware.
With much loud talk of this unedifying character the dinner progressed
to an end; through _selle d'agneau_, floated in '84 champagne, terrapin
convoyed by a special Madeira of 1850, and canvas-back duck with
_Romanee Conti_, 1865, to a triumphant finale of Turkish coffee and
After dinner the ladies gossiped of New York society, while the
barbaric males smoked their big oily cigars and bandied reminiscences.
Higbee showed them through every one of the apartment's twenty-two
rooms, from reception-hall to laundry, manipulating the electric lights
with the skill of a stage-manager.
The evening ended with a cake-walk, for the musical artists had by rare
wines been mellowed from their classic reserve into a mood of ragtime
abandon. And if Monsieur the Baron with his ceremonious grace was less
exuberant than the Crown Prince of Cripple Creek, who sang as he
stepped the sensuous measure, his pleasure was not less. He joyed to
observe that these men of incredible millions had no hauteur.
"I do not," wrote the baron to his noble father the marquis, that
night, "yet understand their joke; why should it be droll to wish that
the man whose coat is of the best should also wear boots of the best?
but as for what they call _une promenade de gateau_, I find it very
enjoyable. I have met a Mlle. Bines to whom I shall at once pay my
addresses. Unlike Mlle. Higbee, she has not the father from Chicago nor
elsewhere. _Quel diable d'homme!_"
The Patricians Entertain
To reward the enduring who read politely through the garish revel of
the preceding chapter, covers for fourteen are now laid with correct
and tasteful quietness at the sophisticated board of that fine old New
York family, the Milbreys. Shaded candles leave all but the glowing
table in a gloom discreetly pleasant. One need not look so high as the
old-fashioned stuccoed ceiling. The family portraits tone agreeably
into the halflight of the walls; the huge old-fashioned walnut
sideboard, soberly ornate with its mirrors, its white marble top and
its wood-carved fruit, towers majestically aloft in proud scorn of the
frivolous Chippendale fad.
Jarvis, the accomplished and incomparable butler, would be subdued and
scholarly looking but for the flagrant scandal of his port-wine nose.
He gives finishing little fillips to the white chrysanthemums massed in
the central epergne on the long silver plateau, and bestows a last
cautious survey upon the cut-glass and silver radiating over the dull
white damask. Finding the table and its appointments faultless, he
assures himself once more that the sherry will come on irreproachably
at a temperature of 60 degrees; that the Burgundy will not fall below
65 nor mount above 70; for Jarvis wots of a palate so acutely sensitive
that it never fails to record a variation of so much as one degree from
the approved standard of temperature.
How restful this quiet and reserve after the colour and line tumult of
the Higbee apartment. There the flush and bloom of newness were
oppressive to the right-minded. All smelt of the shop. Here the dull
tones and decorous lines caress and soothe instead of overwhelming the
imagination with effects too grossly literal. Here is the veritable
spirit of good form.
Throughout the house this contrast might be noted. It is the
brown-stone, high-stoop house, guarded by a cast-iron fence, built in
vast numbers when the world of fashion moved North to Murray Hill and
Fifth Avenue a generation ago. One of these houses was like all the
others inside and out, built of unimaginative "builder's architecture."
The hall, the long parlour, the back parlour or library, the high
stuccoed ceilings--not only were these alike in all the houses, but the
furnishings, too, were apt to be of a sameness in them all, rather
heavy and tasteless, but serving the ends that such things should be
meant to serve, and never flamboyant. Of these relics of a simpler day
not many survive to us, save in the shameful degeneracy of
boarding-houses. But in such as are left, we may confidently expect to
find the traditions of that more dignified time kept unsullied;--to
find, indeed, as we find in the house of Milbrey, a settled air of
gloom that suggests insolvent but stubbornly determined exclusiveness.
Something of this air, too, may be noticed in the surviving tenants of
these austere relics. Yet it would hardly be observed in this house on
this night, for not only do arriving guests bring the aroma of a later
prosperity, but the hearts of our host and hostess beat high with a new
hope. For the fair and sometimes uncertain daughter of the house of
Milbrey, after many ominous mutterings, delays, and frank rebellions,
has declared at last her readiness to be a credit to her training by
conferring her family prestige, distinction of manner and charms of
person upon one equipped for their suitable maintenance.
Already her imaginative father is ravishing in fancy the mouldiest
wine-cellars of Continental Europe. Already the fond mother has
idealised a house in "Millionaire's Row" east of the Park, where there
shall be twenty servants instead of three, and there shall cease that
gnawing worry lest the treacherous north-setting current sweep them
west of the Park into one of those hideously new apartment houses,
where the halls are done in marble that seems to have been sliced from
a huge Roquefort cheese, and where one must vie, perhaps, with a
shop-keeper for the favours of an irreverent and materialistic janitor.
The young woman herself entertains privately a state of mind which she
has no intention of making public. It is enough, she reasons, that her
action should outwardly accord with the best traditions of her class;
and indeed, her family would never dream of demanding more.
Her gown to-night is of orchard green, trimmed with apple-blossoms, a
single pink spray of them caught in her hair. The rounding, satin grace
of her slender arms, sloping to the opal-tipped fingers, the exquisite
line from ear to shoulder strap, the melting ripeness of her chin and
throat, the tender pink and white of her fine skin, the capricious,
inciting tilt of her small head, the dainty lift of her short
nose,--these allurements she has inventoried with a calculating and
satisfied eye. She is glad to believe that there is every reason why it
will soon be over.
And, since the whole loaf is notoriously better than a half, here is
the engaging son of the house, also firmly bent upon the high emprise
of matrimony; handsome, with the chin, it may be, slightly receding;
but an unexcelled leader of cotillions, a surpassing polo-player,
clever, winning, and dressed with an effect that has long made him
remarked in polite circles, which no mere money can achieve. Money,
indeed, if certain ill-natured gossip of tradesmen be true, has been an
inconsiderable factor in the encompassment of this sartorial
distinction. He waits now, eager for a first glimpse of the young woman
whose charms, even by report, have already won the best devotion he has
to give. A grievous error it is to suppose that Cupid's artillery is
limited to bow and arrows.
And now, instead of the rude commercial horde that laughed loudly and
ate uncouthly at the board of the Barbarian, we shall sit at table with
people born to the only manner said to be worth possessing;--if we
except, indeed, the visiting tribe of Bines, who may be relied upon,
however, to behave at least unobtrusively.
As a contrast to the oppressively Western matron from Kansas City, here
is Mistress Fidelia Oldaker on the arm of her attentive son. She would
be very old but for the circumstance that she began early in life to be
a belle, and age cannot stale such women. Brought up with board at her
back, books on her head, to guard her complexion as if it were her fair
name, to be diligent at harp practice and conscientious with the
dancing-master, she is almost the last of a school that nursed but the
single aim of subjugating man. To-night, at seventy-something, she is a
bit of pink bisque fragility, bubbling tirelessly with reminiscence,
her vivacity unimpaired, her energy amazing, and her coquetry
faultless. From which we should learn, and be grateful therefor, that
when a girl is brought up in the way she ought to go she will never be
able to depart from it.
Here also is Cornelia Van Geist, sister of our admirable
hostess--relict of a gentleman who had been first or second cousin to
half the people in society it were really desirable to know, and whose
taste in wines, dinners, and sports had been widely praised at his
death by those who had had the fortune to be numbered among his
friends. Mrs. Van Geist has a kind, shrewd face, and her hair, which
turned prematurely grey while she was yet a wife, gives her a look of
age that her actual years belie.
Here, too, is Rulon Shepler, the money-god, his large, round head
turning upon his immense shoulders without the aid of a
neck--sharp-eyed, grizzled, fifty, short of stature, and with as few
illusions concerning life as the New York financier is apt to retain at
If we be forced to wait for another guest of note, it is hardly more
than her due; for Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan is truly a personage, and the
best people on more than one continent do not become unduly provoked at
being made to wait for her. Those less than the very best frankly
esteem it a privilege. Yet the great lady is not careless of
engagements, and the wait is never prolonged. Mrs. Milbrey has time to
say to her sister, "Yes, we think it's going; and really, it will do
very well, you know. The girl has had some nonsense in her mind for a
year past--none of us can tell what--but now she seems actually
sensible, and she's promised to accept when the chap proposes." But
there is time for no more gossip.
The belated guest arrives, enveloped in a vast cloak, and accompanied
by her two nephews, whom Percival Bines recognises for the solemn and
taciturn young men he had met in Shepler's party at the mine.
Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan, albeit a decorative personality, is constructed
on the same broad and generously graceful lines as her own victoria.
The great lady has not only two chins, but what any fair-minded
observer would accept as sufficient promise of a good third. Yet hardly
could a slighter person display to advantage the famous Gwilt-Athelstan
jewels. The rope of pierced diamonds with pigeon-blood rubies strung
between them, which she wears wound over her corsage, would assuredly
overweight the frail Fidelia Oldaker; the tiara of emeralds and
diamonds was never meant for a brow less majestic; nor would the
stomacher of lustrous grey pearls and glinting diamonds ever have
clasped becomingly a figure that was _svelte_--or "skinny," as the
great lady herself is frank enough to term all persons even remotely
inclined to be _svelte_.
But let us sit and enliven a proper dinner with talk upon topics of
legitimate interest and genuine propriety.
Here will be no discussion of the vulgar matter of markets, staples,
and prices, such as we perforce endured through the overwined and
too-abundant repast of Higbee. Instead of learning what beef on the
hoof brings per hundred-weight, f.o.b. at Cheyenne, we shall here glean
at once the invaluable fact that while good society in London used to
be limited to those who had been presented at court, the presentations
have now become so numerous that the limitation has lost its
significance. Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan thus discloses, as if it were a
trifle, something we should never learn at the table of Higbee though
we ate his heavy dinners to the day of ultimate chaos. And while we
learned at that distressingly new table that one should keep one's
heifers and sell off one's steer calves, we never should have been
informed there that Dinard had just enjoyed the gayest season of its
history under the patronage of this enterprising American; nor that
Lady de Muzzy had opened a tea-room in Grafton Street, and Cynthia,
Marchioness of Angleberry, a beauty-improvement parlour on the Strand
"because she needs the money."
"Lots of 'em takin' to trade nowadays; it's a smart sayin' there now
that all the peers are marryin' actresses and all the peeresses goin'
into business." Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan nodded little shocks of brilliance
from her tiara and hungrily speared another oyster.
"Only trouble is, it's such rotten hard work collectin' bills from
their intimate friends; they simply _won't_ pay."
Nor at the barbaric Higbee's should we have been vouchsafed, to
treasure for our own, the knowledge that Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan had
merely run over for the cup-fortnight, meaning to return directly to
her daughter, Katharine, Duchess of Blanchmere, in time for the Melton
Mowbray hunting-season; nor that she had been rather taken by the new
way of country life among us, and so tempted to protract her gracious
"Really," she admits, "we're comin' to do the right thing over here; a
few years were all we needed. Hardly a town-house to be opened before
Thanksgivin', I understand; and down at the Hills some of the houses
will stay open all winter. It's coachin', ridin', and golf and
auto-racin' and polo and squash; really the young folks don't go in at
all except to dance and eat; and it's quite right, you know. It's quite
decently English, now. Why, at Morris Park the other day, the crowd on
the lawn looked quite like Ascot, actually."
Nor could we have learned in the hostile camp the current gossip of
Tuxedo, Meadowbrook, Lenox, Morristown, and Ardsley; of the mishap to
Mrs. "Jimmie" Whettin, twice unseated at a recent meet; of the woman's
championship tournament at Chatsworth; or the good points of the new
runner-up at Baltusrol, daily to be seen on the links. Where we might
incur knowledge of Beaumont "gusher" or Pittsburg mill we should never
have discovered that teas and receptions are really falling into
disrepute; that a series of dinner-dances will be organised by the
mothers of debutantes to bring them forward; and that big subscription
balls are in disfavour, since they benefit no one but the caterers who
serve poor suppers and bad champagne.
Mrs. takes only Scotch whiskey and soda.
"But I'm glad," she confides to Horace Milbrey on her left, "that you
haven't got to followin' this fad of havin' one wine at dinner; I know
it's English, but it's downright shoddy."
Her host's eyes swam with gratitude for this appreciation.
"I stick to my peg," she continued; "but I like to see a Chablis with
the oysters and good dry sherry with the soup, and a Moselle with the
fish, and then you're ready to be livened with a bit of champagne for
the roast, and steadied a bit by Burgundy with the game. Phim sticks to
it, too; tells me my peg is downright encouragement to the bacteria.
But I tell him I've no quarrel with _my_ bacteria. 'Live and let live'
is my motto, I tell him,--and if the microbes and I both like Scotch
and soda, why, what harm. I'm forty-two and not so much of a fool that
I ain't a little bit of a physician. I know my stomach, I tell him."
"What about these Western people?" she asked Oldaker at her other side,
after a little.
"Decent, unpretentious folks, somewhat new, but with loads of money."
"I've heard how the breed's stormin' New York in droves; but they tell
me some of us need the money."
"I dined with one last night, a sugar-cured ham magnate from Chicago."
"_Dear_ me! how shockin'!"
"But they're good, whole-souled people."
"And well-_heeled_--and that's what we need, it seems. Some of us been
so busy bein' well-familied that we've forgot to make money."
"It's a good thing, too. Nature has her own building laws about
fortunes. When they get too sky-scrapy she topples them over. These
people with their thrifty habits would have _all_ the money in time if
their sons and daughters didn't marry aristocrats with expensive tastes
who know how to be spenders. Nature keeps things fairly even, one way
"You're thinkin' about Kitty and the duke."
"No, not then I wasn't, though that's one of the class I mean. I was
thinking especially about these Westerners."
"Well, my grandfather made the best barrels in New York, and I'm
mother-in-law of a chap whose ancestors for three hundred and fifty
years haven't done a stroke of work; but he's the Duke of Blanchmere,
and I hope our friends here will come as near gettin' the worth of
their money as we did. And if that chap"--she glanced at
Percival--"marries a certain young woman, he'll never have a dull
moment. I'd vouch for that. I'm quite sure she's the devil in her."
"And if the yellow-haired girl marries the fellow next her--"
"He might do worse."
"Yes, but might _she_? He's already doing worse, and he'll keep on
doing it, even if he does marry her."
"Nonsense--about that, you know; all rot! What can you expect of these
chaps? So does the duke do worse, but you'll never hear Kitty complain
so long as he lets her alone and she can wear the strawberry leaves. I
fancy I'll have those young ones down to the Hills for Hallowe'en and
the week-end. Might as well help 'em along."
At the other end of the table, the fine old ivory of her cheeks gently
suffused with pink until they looked like slightly crumpled leaves of a
la France rose, Mrs. Oldaker was flirting brazenly with Shepler, and
prattling impartially to him and to one of the twin nephews of old days
in social New York; of a time when the world of fashion occupied a
little space at the Battery and along Broadway; of its migration to the
far north of Great Jones Street, St. Mark's Place, and Second Avenue.
In Waverly Place had been the flowering of her belle-hood, and the day
when her set moved on to Murray Hill was to her still recent and
Between the solemn Angstead twins, Mrs. Bines had sat in silence until
by some happy chance it transpired that "horse" was the word to unlock
their lips. As Mrs. Bines knew all about horses the twins at once
became voluble, showing her marked attention. The twins were notably
devoid of prejudice if your sympathies happened to run with theirs.
Miss Bines and young Milbrey were already on excellent terms. Percival
and Miss Milbrey, on the other hand, were doing badly. Some disturbing
element seemed to have put them aloof. Miss Milbrey wondered somewhat;
but her mind was easy, for her resolution had been taken.
Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan extended her invitation to the young people, who
"Come down and camp with us, and help Phim keep the batteries of his
autos run out. You know they deteriorate when they're left
half-charged, and it's one of the cares of his life to see to the whole
six of 'em when they come in. He gets in one and the men get in the
others, and he leads a solemn parade around the stables until they've
been run out. Tell me the leisure class isn't a hard-workin' class,
Over coffee and chartreuse in the drawing-room there was more general
talk of money and marriage, and of one for the other.
"And so he married money," concluded Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan of one they
"Happy marriage!" Shepler called out.
"No; money talks! and this time, on my word, now, it made you want to
put on those thick sealskin ear-muffs. Poor chap, and he'd been talkin'
to me about the monotony of married life. 'Monotony, my boy,' I said to
him, 'you don't _know_ lovely woman!' and now he wishes jolly well that
he'd not done it, you know."
Here, too, was earned by Mrs. Bines a reputation for wit that she was
never able quite to destroy. There had been talk of a banquet to a
visiting celebrity the night before, for which the _menu_ was one of
unusual costliness. Mr. Milbrey had dwelt with feeling upon certain of
its eminent excellences, such as loin of young bear, a la Granville,
and the boned quail, stuffed with goose-livers.
"Really," he concluded, "from an artistic standpoint, although large
dinners are apt to be slurred and slighted, it was a creation of
"And the orchestra," spoke up Mrs. Bines, who had read of the banquet,
"played 'Hail to the _Chef!_'"
The laughter at this sally was all it should have been, even the host
joining in it. Only two of those present knew that the good woman had
been warned not to call "chef" "chief," as Silas Higbee did. The fact
that neither should "chief" be called "chef" was impressed upon her
later, in a way to make her resolve ever again to eschew both of the
When the guests had gone Miss Milbrey received the praise of both
parents for her blameless attitude toward young Bines.
"It will be fixed when we come back from Wheatly," said that knowing
young woman, "and now don't worry any more about it."
"And, Fred," said the mother, "do keep straight down there. She's a
commonplace girl, with lots of mannerisms to unlearn, but she's pretty
and sweet and teachable."
"And she'll learn a lot from Fred that she doesn't know now," finished
that young man's sister from the foot of the stairway.
Back at their hotel Psyche Bines was saying:
"Isn't it queer about Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan? We've read so much about
her in the papers. I thought she must be some one awful to meet--I was
that scared--and instead, she's like any one, and real chummy besides;
and, actually, ma, don't you think her dress was dowdy--all except the
diamonds? I suppose that comes from living in England so much. And
hasn't Mrs. Milbrey twice as grand a manner, and the son--he's a
precious--he knows everything and everybody; I shall like him."
Her brother, who had flung himself into a cushioned corner, spoke with
the air of one who had reluctantly consented to be interviewed and who
was anxious to be quoted correctly:
"Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan is all right. She reminds me of what Uncle Peter
writes about that new herd of short-horns: 'This breed has a mild
disposition, is a good feeder, and produces a fine quality of flesh.'
But I'll tell you one thing, sis," he concluded with sudden emphasis,
"with all this talk about marrying for money I'm beginning to feel as
if you and I were a couple of white rabbits out in the open with all
the game laws off!"
The Course of True Love at a House Party
Among sundry maxims and observations of King Solomon, collated by the
discerning men of Hezekiah, it will be recalled that the way of a man
with a maid is held up to wonder. "There be," says the wise king, who
composed a little in the crisp manner of Mr. Kipling, "three things
which are too wonderful for me; yea, four which I know not: the way of
an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a
ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid." Why he
neglected to include the way of a maid with a man is not at once
apparent. His unusual facilities for observation must seemingly have
inspired him to wonder at the maid's way even more than at the man's;
and wise men later than he have not hesitated to confess their entire
lack of understanding in the matter. But if Solomon included this item
in his summary, the men of Hezekiah omitted to report the fact, and by
their chronicles we learn only that the woman "eateth and wipeth her
mouth and saith 'I have done no wickedness.'" Perhaps it was Solomon's
mischance to observe phenomena of this character too much in the mass.
Miss Milbrey's way, at any rate, with the man she had decided to marry,
would undoubtedly have made more work for the unnamed Boswells of the
king, could it have been brought to his notice.
For, as she journeyed to the meeting-place on a bright October
afternoon, she confessed to herself that it was of a depth beyond her
own fathoming. Lolling easily back in the wicker chair of the car that
bore her, and gazing idly out over the brown fields and yellow forests
of Long Island as they swirled by her, she found herself wishing once
that her eyes were made like those of a doll. She had lately discovered
of one that when it appeared to fall asleep, it merely turned its eyes
around to look into its own head. With any lesser opportunity for
introspection she felt that certain doubts as to her own motives and
processes would remain for ever unresolved. It was not that she could
not say "I have done no wickedness;" let us place this heroine in no
false light. She was little concerned with the morality of her course
as others might appraise it. The fault, if fault it be, is neither ours
nor hers, and Mr. Darwin wrote a big book chiefly to prove that it
isn't. From the force of her environment and heredity Miss Milbrey had
debated almost exclusively her own chances of happiness under given
conditions; and if she had, for a time, questioned the wisdom of the
obvious course, entirely from her own selfish standpoint, it is all
that, and perhaps more than, we were justified in expecting from her.
Let her, then, cheat the reader of no sympathy that might flow to a
heroine struggling for a high moral ideal. Merely is she clear-headed
enough to have discovered that selfishness is not the thing of easy
bonds it is reputed to be; that its delights are not certain; that one
does not unerringly achieve happiness by the bare circumstance of being
uniformly selfish. Yet even this is a discovery not often made, nor one
to be lightly esteemed; for have not the wise ones of Church and State
ever implied that the way of selfishness is a way of sure delight, to
be shunned only because its joys endure not? So it may be, after all,
no small merit we claim for this girl in that, trained to selfishness
and a certain course, she yet had the wit to suspect that its joys have
been overvalued even by its professional enemies. It is no small merit,
perhaps, even though, after due and selfish reflection, she determined
upon the obvious course.
If sometimes her heart was sick with the hunger to love and be loved by
the one she loved, so that there were times when she would have
bartered the world for its plenary feeding, it is all that, we insist,
and more, than could be expected of this sort of heroine.
And so she had resolved upon surrender--upon an outward surrender.
Inwardly she knew it to be not more than a capitulation under duress,
whose terms would remain for ever secret except to those clever at
induction. And now, as the train took her swiftly to her fate, she made
the best of it.
There would be a town-house fit for her; a country-house at Tuxedo or
Lenox or Westbury, a thousand good acres with greeneries, a game
preserve, trout pond, and race-course; a cottage at Newport; a place in
Scotland; a house in London, perhaps. Then there would be jewels such
as she had longed for, a portrait by Chartran, she thought. And there
was the dazzling thought of going to Felix or Doucet with credit
And he--would the thought of him as it had always come to her keep on
hurting with a hurt she could neither explain nor appease? Would he
annoy her, enrage her perhaps, or even worse, tire her? He would be
very much in earnest, of course, and so few men could be in earnest
gracefully. But would he be stupid enough to stay so? And if not, would
he become brutal? She suspected he might have capacities for that.
Would she be able to hide all but her pleasant emotions from him,--hide
that want, the great want, to which she would once have done sacrifice?
Well, it was easier to try than not to try, and the sacrifice--one
could always sacrifice if the need became imperative.
"And I'm making much of nothing," she concluded. "No other girl I know
would do it. And papa shall 'give me away.' What a pretty euphemism
that is, to be sure!"
But her troubled musings ended with her time alone. From a whirl over
the crisp, firm macadam, tucked into one of Phimister Gwilt-Athelstan's
automobiles with four other guests, with no less a person than her
genial host for chauffeur, she was presently ushered into the great
hall where a huge log-fire crackled welcome, and where blew a lively
little gale of tea-chatter from a dozen people.
Tea Miss Milbrey justly reckoned among the little sanities of life. Her
wrap doffed and her veil pushed up, she was in a moment restored to her
normal ease, a part of the group, and making her part of the talk that
touched the latest news from town, the flower show, automobile show,
Irving and Terry, the morning's meet, the weekly musicale and
dinner-dance at the club; and at length upon certain matters of
marriage and divorce.
"Ladies, ladies--this is degenerating into a mere hammer-fest." Thus
spoke a male wit who had listened. "Give over, and be nice to the
"The end of the fairy story was," continued the previous speaker,
unheeding, "and so they were divorced and lived happily ever after."
"I think she took the Chicago motto, 'Marry early and often,'" said
another, "but here she comes."
And as blond and fluffy little Mrs. Akemit, a late divorcee, joined the
group the talk ranged back to the flourishing new hunt at Goshen, the
driving over of Tuxedo people for the meet, the nasty accident to
Warner Ridgeway when his blue-ribbon winner Musette fell upon him in
taking a double-jump.
Miss Milbrey had taken stock of her fellow guests. Especially was she
interested to note the presence of Mrs. Drelmer and her protege,
Mauburn. It meant, she was sure, that her brother's wooing of Miss
Bines would not be uncontested.
Another load of guests from a later train bustled in, the Bineses among
them, and there was more tea and fresher gossip, while the butler
circulated again with his tray for the trunk-keys.
The breezy hostess now took pains to impress upon all that only by
doing exactly as they pleased, as to going and coming, could they hope
to please her. Had she not, by this policy, conquered the cold,
Scottish exclusiveness of Inverness-shire, so that the right sort of
people fought to be at her house-parties during the shooting, even
though she would persist in travelling back and forth to London in
gowns that would be conspicuously elaborate at an afternoon reception,
and even though, in any condition of dress, she never left quite enough
of her jewels in their strong-box?
During the hour of dressing-sacque and slippers, while maids fluttered
through the long corridors on hair-tending and dress-hooking
expeditions, Mrs. Drelmer favoured her hostess with a confidential chat
in that lady's boudoir, and, over Scotch and soda and a cigarette,
suggested that Mr. Mauburn, in a house where he could really do as he
pleased, would assuredly take Miss Bines out to dinner.
Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan was instantly sympathetic.
"Only I can't take sides, you know, my dear, and young Milbrey will
think me shabby if he doesn't have first go; but I'll be impartial;
Milbrey shall take her in, and Mauburn shall be at her other side, and
may God have mercy on her soul! These people have so much money, I
hear, it amounts to financial embarrassment, but with those two chaps
for the girl, and Avice Milbrey for that decent young chap, I fancy
they'll be disembarrassed, in a measure. But I mustn't 'play
favourites,' as those slangy nephews of mine put it."
And so it befell at dinner in the tapestried dining-room that Psyche
Bines received assiduous attention from two gentlemen whom she
considered equally and superlatively fascinating. While she looked at
one, she listened to the other, and her neck grew tired with turning.
Of anything, save the talk, her mind was afterward a blank; but why is
not that the ideal dinner for any but mere feeders?
Nor was the dazzled girl conscious of others at the table,--of Florence
Akemit, the babyish blond, listening with feverish attention to the
German savant, Doctor von Herzlich, who had translated Goethe's
"Iphigenie in Tauris" into Greek merely as recreation, and who was now
justifying his choice of certain words and phrases by citing passages
from various Greek authors; a choice which the sympathetic listener,
after discreet intervals for reflection, invariably commended.
"Oh, you wonderful, wonderful man, you!" she exclaimed, resolving to
sit by some one less wonderful another time.
Or there was Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan, like a motherly Venus rising from a
sea of pink velvet and white silk lace, asserting that some one or
other would never get within sniffing-distance of the Sandringham set.
Or her husband, whose face, when he settled it in his collar, made the
lines of a perfect lyre, and of whom it would presently become
inaccurate to say that he was getting bald. He was insisting that "too
many houses spoil the home," and that, with six establishments, he was
without a place to lay his head, that is, with any satisfaction.
Or there was pale, thin, ascetic Winnie Wilberforce, who, as a
theosophist, is understood to believe that, in a former incarnation, he
came near to having an affair with a danseuse; he was expounding the
esoterics of his cult to a high-coloured brunette with many turquoises,
who, in turn, was rather inclined to the horse-talk of one of the
Or there were Miss Milbrey and Percival Bines, of whom the former had
noted with some surprise that the latter was studying her with the eyes
of rather cold calculation, something she had never before detected in
After dinner there were bridge and music from the big pipe-organ in the
music-room, and billiards and some dancing.
The rival cavaliers of Miss Bines, perceiving simultaneously that
neither would have the delicacy to withdraw from the field, cunningly
inveigled each other into the billiard-room, where they watchfully
consumed whiskey and soda together with the design of making each other
drunk. This resulted in the two nephews, who invariably hunted as a
pair, capturing Miss Bines to see if she could talk horse as ably as
her mother, and, when they found that she could, planning a coaching
trip for the morrow.
It also resulted in Miss Bines seeing no more of either cavalier that
night, since they abandoned their contest only after every one but a
sleepy butler had retired, and at a time when it became necessary for
the Englishman to assist the American up the stairs, though the latter
was moved to protest, as a matter of cheerful generality, that he was
"aw ri'--entirely cap'le." At parting he repeatedly urged Mauburn, with
tears in his eyes, to point out one single instance in which he had
ever proved false to a friend.
To herself, when the pink rose came out of her hair that night, Miss
Milbrey admitted that it wasn't going to be so bad, after all.
She had feared he might rush his proposal through that night; he had
been so much in earnest. But he had not done so, and she was glad he
could be restrained and deliberate in that "breedy" sort of way. It
promised well, that he could wait until the morrow.
An Afternoon Stroll and an Evening Catastrophe
Miss Milbrey, the next morning, faced with becoming resignation what
she felt would be her last day of entire freedom. She was down and out
philosophically to play nine holes with her host before breakfast.
Her brother, awakening less happily, made a series of discoveries
regarding his bodily sensations that caused him to view life with
disaffection. Noting that the hour was early, however, he took cheer,
and after a long, strong, cold drink, which he rang for, and a pricking
icy shower, which he nerved himself to, he was ready to ignore his
aching head and get the start of Mauburn.
The Englishman, he seemed to recall, had drunk even more than he, and,
as it was barely eight o'clock, would probably not come to life for a
couple of hours yet. He made his way to the breakfast-room. The thought
of food was not pleasant, but another brandy and soda, beading
vivaciously in its tall glass, would enable him to watch with fortitude
the spectacle of others who might chance to be eating. And he would
have at least two hours of Miss Bines before Mauburn's head should ache
him back to consciousness.
He opened the door of the spacious breakfast-room. Through the broad
windows from the south-east came the glorious shine of the morning sun
to make him blink; and seated where it flooded him as a calcium was
Mauburn, resplendent in his myriad freckles, trim, alive, and obviously
hungry. Around his plate were cold mutton, a game pie, eggs, bacon,
tarts, toast, and sodden-looking marmalade. Mauburn was eating of these
with a voracity that published his singleness of mind to all who might
Milbrey steadied himself with one hand upon the door-post, and with the
other he sought to brush this monstrous illusion from his fickle eyes.
But Mauburn and the details of his deadly British breakfast became only
more distinct. The appalled observer groaned and rushed for the
sideboard, whence a decanter, a bowl of cracked ice, and a siphon
Between two gulps of coffee Mauburn grinned affably.
"Mornin', old chap! Feelin' a bit seedy? By Jove! I don't wonder. I'm
not so fit myself. I fancy, you know, it must have been that beastly
anchovy paste we had on the biscuits."
Milbrey's burning eyes beheld him reach out for another slice of the
cold, terrible mutton.
"Life," said Milbrey, as he inflated his brandy from the siphon, "is an
empty dream this morning."
"Wake up then, old chap!" Mauburn cordially urged, engaging the game
pie in deadly conflict; "try a rasher; nothing like it; better'n
peggin' it so early. Never drink till dinner-time, old chap, and you'll
be able to eat in the morning like--like a blooming baby." And he
proceeded to crown this notion of infancy's breakfast with a jam tart
of majestic proportions.
"Where are the people?" inquired Milbrey, eking out his own moist
breakfast with a cigarette.
"All down and out except some of the women. Miss Bines just drove off a
four-in-hand with the two Angsteads--held the reins like an old whip,
too, by Jove; but they'll be back for luncheon;--and directly after
luncheon she's promised to ride with me. I fancy we'll have a little
practice over the sticks."
"And I fancy I'm going straight back to bed,--that is, if it's all
right to fancy a thing you're certain about."
Outside most of the others had scattered for life in the open, each to
his taste. Some were on the links. Some had gone with the coach. A few
had ridden early to the meet of the Essex hounds near Easthampton,
where a stiff run was expected. Others had gone to follow the hunt in
traps. A lively group came back now to read the morning papers by the
log-fire in the big cheery hall. Among these were Percival and Miss
Milbrey. When they had dawdled over the papers for an hour Miss Milbrey
grew slightly restive.
"Why doesn't he have it over?" she asked herself, with some impatience.
And she delicately gave Percival, not an opportunity, but opportunities
to make an opportunity, which is a vastly different form of procedure.
But the luncheon hour came and people straggled back, and the afternoon
began, and the request for Miss Milbrey's heart and hand was still
unaccountably deferred. Nor could she feel any of those subtle
premonitions that usually warn a woman when the event is preparing in a
lover's secret heart.
Reminding herself of his letters, she began to suspect that, while he
could write unreservedly, he might be shy and reluctant of speech; and
that shyness now deterred him. So much being clear, she determined to
force the issue and end the strain for both.
Percival had shown not a little interest in pretty Mrs. Akemit, and was
now talking with that fascinating creature as she lolled on a low seat
before the fire in her lacy blue house-gown. At the moment she was
adroitly posing one foot and then the other before the warmth of the
grate. It may be disclosed without damage to this tale that the feet of
Mrs. Akemit were not cold; but that they were trifles most daintily
shod, and, as her slender silken ankles curved them toward the blaze
from her froth of a petticoat, they were worth looking at.
Miss Milbrey disunited the chatting couple with swiftness and aplomb.
"Come, Mr. Bines, if I'm to take that tramp you made me promise you,
it's time we were off."
Outside she laughed deliciously. "You know you did make me promise it
mentally, because I knew you'd want to come and want me to come, but I
was afraid Mrs. Akemit mightn't understand about telepathy, so I
pretended we'd arranged it all in words."
"Of course! Great joke, wasn't it?" assented the young man, rather
Down the broad sweep of roadway, running between its granite coping,
they strode at a smart pace.
"You know you complimented my walking powers on that other walk we
took, away off there where the sun goes down."
"Yes, of course," he replied absently.
"Now, he's beginning," she said to herself, noting his absent and
somewhat embarrassed manner.
In reality he was thinking how few were the days ago he would have held
this the dearest of all privileges, and how strange that he should now
prize it so lightly, almost prefer, indeed, not to have it; that he
should regard her, of all women, "the fairest of all flesh on earth"
with nervous distrust.
She was dressed in tan corduroy; elation was in her face; her waist, as
she stepped, showed supple as a willow; her suede-gloved little hands
were compact and tempting to his grasp. His senses breathed the air of
her perfect and compelling femininity. But sharper than all these
impressions rang the words of the worldly-wise Higbee: _"She's hunting
night and day for a rich husband; she tries for them as fast as they
come; she'd rather marry a sub-treasury--she'd marry me in a
minute--she'd marry_ YOU; _but if you were broke she'd have about as
much use for you...."_
Her glance was frank, friendly, and encouraging. Her deep eyes were
clear as a trout-brook. He thought he saw in them once almost a
tenderness for him.
She thought, "He _does_ love me!"
Outside the grounds they turned down a bridle-path that led off through
the woods--off through the golden sun-wine of an October day. The air
bore a clean autumn spice, and a faint salty scent blended with it from
the distant Sound. The autumn silence, which is the only perfect
silence in all the world, was restful, yet full of significance,
suggestion, provocation. From the spongy lowland back of them came the
pleading sweetness of a meadow-lark's cry. Nearer they could even hear
an occasional leaf flutter and waver down. The quick thud of a falling
nut was almost loud enough to earn its echo. Now and then they saw a
lightning flash of vivid turquoise and heard a jay's harsh scream.
In this stillness their voices instinctively lowered, while their eyes
did homage to the wondrous play of colour about them. Over a yielding
brown carpet they went among maple and chestnut and oak, with their
bewildering changes through crimson, russet, and amber to pale yellow;
under the deep-stained leaves of the sweet-gum they went, and past the
dogwood with scarlet berries gemming the clusters of its dim red
But through all this waiting, inciting silence Miss Milbrey listened in
vain for the words she had felt so certain would come.
Sometimes her companion was voluble; again he was taciturn--and through
it all he was doggedly aloof.
Miss Milbrey had put herself bravely in the path of Destiny. Destiny
had turned aside. She had turned to meet it, and now it frankly fled.
Destiny, as she had construed it, was turned a fugitive. She was
bruised, puzzled, and not a little piqued. During the walk back, when
this much had been made clear, the silence was intolerably oppressive.
Without knowing why, they understood perfectly now that neither had
"She would love the money and play me for a fool," he thought, under
the surface talk. Youth is prone to endow its opinions with all the
dignity of certain knowledge.
"Yet I am certain he loves me," thought she. On the other hand, youth
is often gifted with a credulity divine and unerring.
At the door as they came up the roadway a trap was depositing a man
whom Miss Milbrey greeted with evident surprise and some restraint. He
was slight, dark, and quick of movement, with finely cut nostrils that
expanded and quivered nervously like those of a high-bred horse in
Miss Milbrey introduced him to Percival as Mr. Ristine.
"I didn't know you were hereabouts," she said.
"I've run over from the Bloynes to dine and do Hallowe'en with you," he
answered, flashing his dark eyes quickly over Percival and again
lighting the girl with them.
"Surprises never come singly," she returned, and Percival noted a
curious little air of defiance in her glance and manner.
Now it is possible that Solomon's implied distinction as to the man's
way with a maid was not, after all, so ill advised.
For young Bines, after dinner, fell in love with Miss Milbrey all over
again. The normal human mind going to one extreme will inevitably
gravitate to its opposite if given time. Having put her away in the
conviction that she was heartless and mercenary--having fasted in the
desert of doubt--he now found himself detecting in her an unmistakable
appeal for sympathy, for human kindness, perhaps for love. He forgot
the words of Higbee and became again the confident, unquestioning
lover. He noted her rather subdued and reserved demeanour, and the
suggestions of weariness about her eyes. They drew him. He resolved at
once to seek her and give his love freedom to tell itself. He would no
longer meanly restrain it. He would even tell her all his distrust. Now
that they had gone she should know every ignoble suspicion; and,
whether she cared for him or not, she would comfort him for the hurt
they had been to him.
The Hallowe'en frolic was on. Through the long hall, lighted to
pleasant dusk by real Jack-o'-lanterns, stray couples strolled, with
subdued murmurs and soft laughter. In the big white and gold parlour,
in the dining-room, billiard-room, and in the tropic jungle of the
immense palm-garden the party had bestowed itself in congenial groups,
ever intersecting and forming anew. Little flutters of high laughter
now and then told of tests that were being made with roasting
chestnuts, apple-parings, the white of an egg dropped into water, or
the lighted candle before an open window.
Percival watched for the chance to find Miss Milbrey alone. His sister
had just ventured alone with a candle into the library to study the
face of her future husband in a mirror. The result had been, in a
sense, unsatisfactory. She had beheld looking over her shoulder the
faces of Mauburn, Fred Milbrey, and the Angstead twins, and had
declared herself unnerved by the weird prophecy.
Before the fire in the hall Percival stood while Mrs. Akemit reclined
picturesquely near by, and Doctor von Herzlich explained, with
excessive care as to his enunciation, that protoplasm can be analysed
but cannot be reconstructed; following this with his own view as to why
the synthesis does not produce life.
"You wonderful man!" from Mrs. Akemit; "I fairly tremble when I think
of all you know. Oh, what a delight science must be to her votaries!"
The Angstead twins joined the group, attracted by Mrs. Akemit's inquiry
of the savant if he did not consider civilisation a failure. The twins
did. They considered civilisation a failure because it was killing off
all the big game. There was none to speak of left now except in Africa;
and they were pessimistic about Africa.
Percival listened absently to the talk and watched Miss Milbrey, now
one of the group in the dining-room. Presently he saw her take a
lighted candle from one of the laughing girls and go toward the
His heart-beats quickened. Now she should know his love and it would be
well. He walked down the hall leisurely, turned into the big parlour,
momentarily deserted, walked quickly but softly over its polished floor
to a door that gave into the library, pushed the heavy portiere aside
and stepped noiselessly in.
The large room was lighted dimly by two immense yellow pumpkins, their
sides cut into faces of grinning grotesqueness. At the far side of the
room Miss Milbrey had that instant arrived before an antique oval
mirror whose gilded carvings reflected the light of the candle. She
held it above her head with one rounded arm. He stood in deep shadow
and the girl had been too absorbed in the play to note his coming. He
took one noiseless step toward her, but then through the curtained
doorway by which she had come he saw a man enter swiftly and furtively.
Trembling on the verge of laughing speech, something held him back,
some unexplainable instinct, making itself known in a thrill that went
from his feet to his head; he could feel the roots of his hair tingle.
The newcomer went quickly, with catlike tread, toward the girl.
Fascinated he stood, wanting to speak, to laugh, yet powerless from the
very swiftness of what followed.
In the mirror under the candle-light he saw the man's dark face come
beside the other, heard a little cry from the girl as she half-turned;
then he saw the man take her in his arms, saw her head fall on to his
shoulder, and her face turn to his kiss.
He tried to stop breathing, fearful of discovery, grasping with one
hand the heavy fold of the curtain back of him to steady himself.
There was the space of two long, trembling breaths; then he heard her
say, in a low, tense voice, as she drew away:
"Oh, you are my bad angel--why?--why?"
She fled toward the door to the hall.
"Don't come this way," she called back, in quick, low tones of caution.
The man turned toward the door where Percival stood, and in the
darkness stumbled over a hassock. Instantly Percival was on the other
side of the portiere, and, before the other had groped his way to the
dark corner where the door was, had recrossed the empty parlour and was
safely in the hall.
He made his way to the dining-room, where supper was under way.
"Mr. Bines has seen a ghost," said the sharp-eyed Mrs. Drelmer.
"Poor chap's only starved to death," said Mrs. Gwilt-Athelstan. "Eat
something, Mr. Bines; this supper is go-as-you-please. Nobody's to wait
Strung loosely about the big table a dozen people were eating hot
scones and bannocks with clotted cream and marmalade, and drinking
"And there's cold fowl and baked beans and doughnuts and all, for those
who can't eat with a Scotch accent," said the host, cheerfully.
Percival dropped into one of the chairs.
"I'm Scotch enough to want a Scotch high-ball."
"And you're getting it so high it's top-heavy," cautioned Mrs. Drelmer.
Above the chatter of the table could be heard the voices of men and the
musical laughter of women from the other rooms.
"I simply can't get 'em together," said the hostess.
"It's nice to have 'em all over the place," said her husband, "fair
women and brave men, you know."
"The men _have_ to be brave," she answered, shortly, with a glance at
little Mrs. Akemit, who had permitted Percival to seat her at his side,
and was now pleading with him to agree that simple ways of life are
requisite to the needed measure of spirituality.
Then came strains of music from the rich-toned organ.
"Oh, that dear Ned Ristine is playing," cried one; and several of the
group sauntered toward the music-room.
The music flooded the hall and the room, so that the talk died low.
"He's improvising," exclaimed Mrs. Akemit. "How splendid! He seems to
be breathing a paean of triumph, some high, exalted spiritual triumph,
as if his soul had risen above us--how precious!"
When the deep swell had subsided to silvery ripples and the last
cadence had fainted, she looked at Percival with moistened parted lips
and eyes half-shielded, as if her full gaze would betray too much of
her quivering soul.
Then Percival heard the turquoised brunette say: "What a pity his wife
is such an unsympathetic creature!"
"But Mr. Ristine is unmarried, is he not?" he asked, quickly.
There was a little laugh from Mrs. Drelmer.
"Not yet--not that I've heard of."
"I beg pardon!"
"There have been rumours lots of times that he was going to be
_unmarried_, but they always seem to adjust their little difficulties.
He and his wife are now staying over at the Bloynes."
"Oh! I see," answered Percival; "you're a jester, Mrs. Drelmer."
"Ristine," observed the theosophic Wilberforce, in the manner of a
hired oracle, "is, in his present incarnation, imperfectly monogamous."
Some people came from the music-room.
"Miss Milbrey has stayed by the organist," said one; "and she's
promised to make him play one more. Isn't he divine?"
The music came again.
"Oh!" from Mrs. Akemit, again in an ecstasy, '"' he's playing that
heavenly stuff from the second act of 'Tristan and Isolde'--the one
triumphant, perfect love-poem of all music."
"That Scotch whiskey is good in some of the lesser emergencies,"
remarked Percival, turning to her; "but it has its limitations. Let's
you and me trifle with a nice cold quart of champagne!"
Doctor Von Herzlich Expounds the Hightower Hotel and Certain Allied
The Hightower Hotel is by many observers held to be an instructive
microcosm of New York, more especially of upper Broadway, with correct
proportions of the native and the visiting provincial. With correct
proportions, again, of the money-making native and the money-spending
native, male and female. A splendid place is this New York; splendid
but terrible. London for the stranger has a steady-going, hearty
hospitality. Paris on short notice will be cosily and coaxingly
intimate. New York is never either. It overwhelms with its lavish
display of wealth, it stuns with its tireless, battering energy. But it
stays always aloof, indifferent if it be loved or hated; if it crush or
The ground floor of the Hightower Hotel reproduces this magnificent,
brutal indifference. One might live years in its mile or so of stately
corridors and its acre or so of resplendent cafes, parlours,
reception-rooms, and restaurants, elbowed by thousands, suffocated by
that dense air of human crowdedness, that miasma of brain emanations,
and still remain in splendid isolation, as had he worn the magic ring
of Gyges. Here is every species of visitor: the money-burdened who
"stop" here and cultivate an air of being blase to the wealth of
polished splendours; and the less opulent who "stop" cheaply elsewhere
and venture in to tread the corridors timidly, to stare with honest,
drooping-jawed wonder at its marvels of architecture and decoration,
and to gaze with becoming reverence at those persons whom they shrewdly
conceive to be social celebrities.
This mixture of many and strange elements is never at rest. Its units
wait expectantly, chat, drink, eat, or stroll with varying airs through
reception-room, corridor, and office. It is an endless function,
attended by all of Broadway, with entertainment diversely contrived for
every taste by a catholic-minded host with a sincere desire to please
the paying public.
"Isn't it a huge bear-garden, though?" asks Launton Oldaker of the
estimable Doctor von Herzlich, after the two had observed the scene in
silence for a time.
The wise German dropped an olive into his Rhine wine, and gazed
reflectively about the room. Men and women sat at tables drinking.
Beyond the tables at the farther side of the room, other men were
playing billiards. It was four o'clock and the tide was high.
"It is yet more," answered the doctor. "In my prolonged studies of
natural phenomena this is the most valuable of all which I have been
privileged to observe."
He called them "brifiletched" and "awbsairf" with great nicety. Perhaps
his discernment was less at fault.
"Having," continued the doctor, "granted myself some respite from toil
in the laboratory at Marburg, I chose to pleasure voyage, to study yet
more the social conditions in this loveworthy land. I suspected that
much tiredness of travel would be involved. Yet here I find all
conditions whatsoever--here in that which you denominate 'bear-garden'.
They have been reduced here for my edification, yes? But your term is a
term of inadequate comprehensiveness. It is to me more what you call a
'beast-garden,' to include all species of fauna. Are there not here
moths and human flames? are there not cunning serpents crawling with
apples of knowledge to unreluctant, idling Eves, yes? Do we not hear
the amazing converse of parrots and note the pea-fowl negotiating
admiration from observers? Mark at that yet farther table also the
swine and the song-bird; again, mark our draught-horses who have
achieved a competence, yes? You note also the presence of wolves and
lambs. And, endly, mark our tailed arborean ancestors, trained to the
wearing of garments and a single eye-glass. May I ask, have you
bestowed upon this diversity your completest high attention? _Hanh_!"
This explosion of the doctor's meant that he invited and awaited some
contradiction. As none ensued, he went on:
"For wolf and lamb I direct your attention to the group at yonder
table. I notice that you greeted the young man as he entered--a common
friend to us then--Mr. Bines, with financial resources incredibly
unlimited? Also he is possessed of an unexperienced freedom from
suspectedness-of-ulterior-motive-in-others--one may not in English as
in German make the word to fit his need of the moment--that
unsuspectedness, I repeat, which has ever characterised the lamb about
to be converted into nutrition. You note the large, loose gentleman
with wide-brimmed hat and beard after my own, somewhat, yes? He would
dispose of some valuable oil-wells which he shall discover at Texas the
moment he shall have sufficiently disposed of them. A wolf he is, yes?
The more correctly attired person at his right, with the beak of a hawk
and lips so thin that his big white teeth gleam through them when they
are yet shut, he is what he calls himself a promoter. He has made
sundry efforts to promote myself. I conclude 'promoter' is one other
fashion of wolf-saying. The yet littler and yet younger man at his left
of our friend, the one of soft voice and insinuating manner, much
resembling a stray scion of aristocracy, discloses to those with whom
he affably acquaints himself the location of a luxurious gaming house
not far off; he will even consent to accompany one to its tables; and
still yet he has but yesterday evening invited me the all-town to see.
"As a scientist, I remind you, I permit myself no prejudices. I observe
the workings of unemotional law and sometimes record them. You have a
saying here that there are three generations between shirt-sleeves and
shirt-sleeves. I observe the process of the progress. It is benign as
are all processes. I have lately observed it in England. There, by
their law of entail, the same process is unswifter,--yet does it
unvary. The poor aristocrats, almost back to shirt-sleeves, with their
taxes and entailed lands, seek for the money in shops of dress and
bonnet and ale, and graciously rent their castles to the
but-newly-opulent in American oil or the diamonds of South Africa. Here
the posterity of your Mynherr Knickerbocker do likewise. The ancestor
they boast was a toiler, a market-gardener, a fur-trader, a boatman,
hardworking, simple-wayed, unspending. The woman ancestor
kitchen-gardened, spun, wove, and nourished the poultry. Their
descendants upon the savings of these labours have forgotten how to
labour themselves. They could not yet produce should they even
relinquish the illusion that to produce is of a baseness, that only to
consume is noble. I gather reports that a few retain enough of the
ancient strain to become sturdy tradesmen and gardeners once more.
Others seek out and assimilate this new-richness, which, in its turn,
will become impoverished and helpless. Ah, what beautiful showing of
"See the pendulum swing from useful penury to useless opulence. Why
does it not halt midway, you inquire? Because the race is so young.
Ach! a mere two hundred and forty million years from our
grandfather-grandmother amoeba in the ancestral morass! What can one be
expecting? Certain faculties develop in response to the pressure of
environment. Omit the pressure and the faculties no longer ensue. Yes?
Withdraw the pressure, and the faculties decay. Sightless moles, their
environment demands not the sight; nor of the fishes that inhabit the
streams of your Mammoth Cave. Your aristocrats between the
sleeve-of-the-shirt periods likewise degenerate. There is no need to
work, they lose the power. No need to sustain themselves, they become
helpless. They are as animals grown in an environment that demands no
struggle of them. Yet their environment is artificial. They live on
stored energy, stored by another. It is exhausted, they perish. All but
the few that can modify to correspond with the changed environment, as
when your social celebrities venture into trade, and the also few that
in their life of idleness have acquired graces of person and manner to
let them find pleasure in the eyes of marryers among the but-now-rich."
The learned doctor submitted to have his glass refilled from the cooler
at his side, dropped another olive into the wine, and resumed before
Oldaker could manage an escape.
"And how long, you ask, shall the cosmic pendulum swing between these
extremes of penurious industry and opulent idleness?"
Oldaker had not asked it. But he tried politely to appear as if he had
meant to. He had really meant to ask the doctor what time it was and
then pretend to recall an engagement for which he would be already
"It will so continue," the doctor placidly resumed, "until the race
achieves a different ideal. Now you will say, but there can be no ideal
so long as there is no imagination; and as I have directly--a
moment-soon--said, the race is too young to have achieved imagination.
The highest felicity which we are yet able to imagine is a felicity
based upon much money; our highest pleasures the material pleasures
which money buys, yes? We strive for it, developing the money-getting
faculty at the expense of all others; and when the money is obtained we
cannot enjoy it. We can imagine to do with it only delicate-eating and
drinking and dressing for show-to-others and building houses immense
and splendidly uncalculated for homes of rational dwelling. Art,
science, music, literature, sociology, the great study and play of our
humanity, they are shut to us.
"Our young friend Bines is a specimen. It is as if he were a child,
having received from another a laboratory full of the most beautiful
instruments of science. They are valuable, but he can do but common
things with them because he knows not their possibilities. Or, we may
call it stored energy he has; for such is money, the finest, subtlest,
most potent form of stored energy; it may command the highest fruits of
genius, the lowest fruits of animality; it is also volatile, elusive.
Our young friend has many powerful batteries of it. But he is no
electrician. Some he will happily waste without harm to himself. Much
of it, apparently, he will convert into that champagne he now drinks.
For a week since I had the pleasure of becoming known to him he has
drunk it here each day, copiously. He cannot imagine a more salutary
mode of exhausting his force. I am told he comes of a father who died
at fifty, and who did in many ways like that. This one, at the rate I
have observed, will not last so long. He will not so long correspond
with an environment even so unexacting as this. And his son, perhaps
his grandson, will become what you call broke; will from lack of
pressure to learn some useful art, and from spending only, become
useless and helpless. For besides drink, there is gambling. He plays
what you say, the game of poker, this Bines. You see the gentleman,
rounded gracefully in front, who has much the air of seeming to stand
behind himself,--he drinks whiskey at my far right, yes? He is of a
rich trust, the magnate-director as you say, and plays at cards nightly
with our young friend. He jested with him in my presence before you
entered, saying, 'I will make you look like'--I forget it now, but his
humourous threat was to reduce our young friend to the aspect of some
inconsiderable sum in the money of your country. I cannot recall the
precise amount, but it was not so much as what you call one dollar.
Strange, is it not, that the rich who have too much money gamble as
feverishly as the poor who have none, and therefore have an excuse? And
the love of display-for-display. If one were not a scientist one might
be tempted to say there is no progress. The Peruvian grandee shod his
mules with pure gold, albeit that metal makes but inferior shodding for
beasts of burden. The London factory girl hires the dyed feathers of
the ostrich to make her bonnet gay; and your money people are as
display-loving. Lucullus and your latest millionaire joy in the same
emotion of pleasure at making a show. Ach! we are truly in the race's
childhood yet. The way of evolution is so unfast, yes? Ah! you will go
now, Mr. Oldaker. I shall hope to enjoy you more again. Your
observations have interested me deeply; they shall have my most high
attention. Another time you shall discuss with me how it must be that
the cosmic process shall produce a happy mean between stoic and
epicure, by learning the valuable arts of compromise, yes? How Zeno
with his bread and dates shall learn not to despise a few luxuries, and
Vitellius shall learn that the mind may sometimes feast to advantage
while the body fasts."
Through the marbled corridors and regal parlours, down long
perspectives of Persian rugs and onyx pillars, the function raged.
The group at Percival's table broke up. He had an appointment to meet
Colonel Poindexter the next morning to consummate the purchase of some
oil stock certain to appreciate fabulously in value. He had promised to
listen further to Mr. Isidore Lewis regarding a plan for obtaining
control of a certain line of one of the metal stocks. And he had
signified his desire to make one of a party the affable younger man
would guide later in the evening to a sumptuous temple of chance, to
which, by good luck, he had gained the entree. The three gentlemen
parted most cordially from him after he had paid the check.
To Mr. Lewis, when Colonel Poindexter had also left, the young man with
a taste for gaming remarked, ingenuously:
"Say, Izzy, on the level, there's the readiest money that ever
registered at this joint. You don't have to be Mr. William Wisenham to
do business with him. You can have all you want of that at track odds."
"I'm making book that way myself," responded the cheerful Mr. Lewis;
"fifty'll get you a thousand any time, my lad. It's a lead-pipe at
twenty to one. But say, with all these Petroleum Pete oil-stock
grafters and Dawson City Daves with frozen feet and mining-stock in
their mitts, a man's got to play them close in to his bosom to win out
anything. Competition is killing this place, my boy."
In the Turkish room Percival found Mrs. Akemit, gowned to perfection,
glowing, and wearing a bunch of violets bigger than her pretty head.
"I've just sent cards to your mother and sister," she explained, as she
made room for him upon the divan.
To them came presently Mrs. Drelmer, well-groomed and aggressively
"How de do! Just been down to Wall Street seeing how my other half
lives, and now I'm famished for tea and things. Ah! here are your
mother and our proud Western beauty!" And she went forward to greet
"It's more than _her_ other half knows about her," was Mrs. Akemit's
observation to the violets on her breast.
"Come sit with me here in this corner, dear," said Mrs. Drelmer to
Psyche, while Mrs. Bines joined her son and Mrs. Akemit. "I've so much
to tell you. And that poor little Florence Akemit, isn't it too bad
about her. You know one of those bright French women said it's so
inconvenient to be a widow because it's necessary to resume the modesty
of a young girl without being able to feign her ignorance. No wonder
Florence has a hard time of it; but isn't it wretched of me to gossip?
And I wanted to tell you especially about Mr. Mauburn. You know of
course he'll be Lord Casselthorpe when the present Lord Casselthorpe
dies; a splendid title, really quite one of the best in all England;
and, my dear, he's out-and-out smitten with you; there's no use in
denying it; you should hear him rave to me about you; really these
young men in love are so inconsiderate of us old women. Ah! here is
that Mrs. Errol who does those fascinating miniatures of all the smart
people. Excuse me one moment, my dear; I want her to meet your mother."
The fashionable miniature artist was presently arranging with the dazed
Mrs. Bines for miniatures of herself and Psyche. Mrs. Drelmer,
beholding the pair with the satisfied glance of one who has performed a
kindly action, resumed her _tete-a-tete_ with Psyche.
Percival, across the room, listened to Mrs. Akemit's artless disclosure
that she found life too complex--far too hazardous, indeed, for a poor
little creature in her unfortunate position, so liable to cruel
misjudgment for thoughtless, harmless acts, the result of a young zest
for life. She had often thought most seriously of a convent, indeed she
had--"and, really, Mr. Bines, I'm amazed that I talk this way--so
freely to you--you know, when I've known you so short a time; but
something in you compels my confidences, poor little me! and my poor
little confidences! One so seldom meets a man nowadays with whom one
can venture to talk about any of the _real_ things!"
A little later, as Mrs. Drelmer was leaving, the majestic figure of the
Baron Ronault de Palliac framed itself in the handsome doorway. He
sauntered in, as if to give the picture tone, and then with purposeful
air took the seat Mrs. Drelmer had just vacated. Miss Bines had been
entertained by involuntary visions of herself as Lady Casselthorpe. She
now became in fancy the noble Baroness de Palliac, speaking faultless
French and consorting with the rare old families of the Faubourg St.
Germain. For, despite his artistic indirection, the baron's manner was
conclusive, his intentions unmistakable.
And this day was much like many days in the life of the Bines and in
the life of the Hightower Hotel. The scene from parlour to cafe was
surveyed at intervals by a quiet-mannered person with watchful eyes,
who appeared to enjoy it as one upon whom it conferred benefits. Now he
washed his hands in the invisible sweet waters of satisfaction, and
murmured softly to himself, "Setters and Buyers!" Perhaps the term fits
the family of Bines as well as might many another coined especially for
When the three groups in the Turkish room dissolved, Percival with his
mother and sister went to their suite on the fourth floor.
"Think of a real live French nobleman!" cried Psyche, with enthusiasm,
"and French must be such a funny language--he talks such funny English.
I wish now I'd learned more of it at the Sem, and talked more with that
French Delpasse girl that was always toasting marshmallows on a
"That lady Mrs. Drelmer introduced me to," said Mrs. Bines, "is an
artist, miniature artist, hand-painted you know, and she's going to
paint our miniatures for a thousand dollars each because we're friends
of Mrs. Drelmer."
"Oh, yes," exclaimed Psyche, with new enthusiasm, "and Mrs. Drelmer has
promised to teach me bridge whist if I'll go to her house to-morrow.
Isn't she kind? Really, every one must play bridge now, she tells me."
"Well, ladies," said the son and brother, "I'm glad to see you both
getting some of the white meat. I guess we'll do well here. I'm going
into oil stock and lead, myself."
"How girlish your little friend Mrs. Akemit is!" said his mother. "How
did she come to lose her husband?"
"Lost him in South Dakota," replied her son, shortly.
"Divorced, ma," explained Psyche, "and Mrs. Drelmer says her family's
good, but she's too gay."
"Ah!" exclaimed Percival, "Mrs. Drelmer's hammer must be one of those
cute little gold ones, all set with precious stones. As a matter of
fact, she's anything but gay. She's sad. She couldn't get along with
her husband because he had no dignity of soul."
He became conscious of sympathising generously with all men not thus
The Diversions of a Young Multi-millionaire
To be idle and lavish of money, twenty-five years old, with the
appetites keen and the need for action always pressing; then to have
loved a girl with quick, strong, youthful ardour, and to have had the
ideal smirched by gossip, then shattered before his amazed eyes,--this
is a situation in which the male animal is apt to behave inequably. In
the language of the estimable Herr Doctor von Herzlich, he will seek
those avenues of modification in which the least struggle is required.
In the simpler phrasing of Uncle Peter Bines, he will "cut loose."
During the winter that now followed Percival Bines behaved according to
either formula, as the reader may prefer. He early ascertained his
limitations with respect to New York and its people.
"Say, old man," he asked Herbert Delancey Livingston one night, across
the table at their college club, "are all the people in New York
Livingston had been with him at Harvard, and Livingston's family was so
notoriously not impecunious that the question was devoid of any
personal element. Livingston, moreover, had dined just unwisely enough
to be truthful.
"Well, to be candid with you, Bines," the young man had replied, in a
burst of alcoholic confidence, "about all that you are likely to meet
are broke--else you wouldn't meet 'em, you know," he explained
cheerfully. "You know, old chap, a few of you Western people have got
into the right set here; there's the Nesbits, for instance. On my word
the good wife and mother hasn't the kinks out of her fingers yet, nor
the callouses from her hands, by Jove! She worked so hard cooking and
washing woollen shirts for miners before Nesbit made his strike. As for
him--well caviare, I'm afraid, will always be caviare to Jimmy Nesbit.
And now the son's married a girl that had everything but money--my boy,
Nellie Wemple has fairly got that family of Nesbits awestricken since
she married into it, just by the way she can spend money--but what was
I saying, old chap? Oh, yes, about getting in--it takes time, you know;
on my word, I think they were as much as eight years, and had to start
in abroad at that. At first, you know, you can only expect to meet a
crowd that can't afford to be exclusive any longer."
From which friendly counsel, and from certain confirming observations
of his own, Percival had concluded that his lot in New York was to
spend money. This he began to do with a large Western carelessness that
speedily earned him fame of a sort. Along upper Broadway, his advent
was a golden joy. Tradesmen learned to love him; florists, jewelers,
and tailors hailed his coming with honest fervour; waiters told moving
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