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Title: Unleavened Bread
Author: Grant, Robert, 1852-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Unleavened Bread" ***

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UNLEAVENED BREAD

by

ROBERT GRANT

Author of _The Bachelor's Christmas_, etc.

Charles Scribner's Sons
New York

1900



CONTENTS


BOOK I
THE EMANCIPATION


BOOK II
THE STRUGGLE


BOOK III
THE SUCCESS



UNLEAVENED BREAD


BOOK I.

THE EMANCIPATION


CHAPTER I.


Babcock and Selma White were among the last of the wedding guests to
take their departure. It was a brilliant September night with a touch of
autumn vigor in the atmosphere, which had not been without its effect on
the company, who had driven off in gay spirits, most of them in
hay-carts or other vehicles capable of carrying a party. Their songs and
laughter floated back along the winding country road. Selma, comfortable
in her wraps and well tucked about with a rug, leaned back contentedly
in the chaise, after the goodbyes had been said, to enjoy the glamour of
the full moon. They were seven miles from home and she was in no hurry
to get there. Neither festivities nor the undisguised devotion of a city
young man were common in her life. Consideration she had been used to
from a child, and she knew herself to be tacitly acknowledged the
smartest girl in Westfield, but perhaps for that very reason she had
held aloof from manhood until now. At least no youth in her neighborhood
had ever impressed her as her equal. Neither did Babcock so impress her;
but he was different from the rest. He was not shy and unexpressive; he
was buoyant and self-reliant, and yet he seemed to appreciate her
quality none the less.

They had met about a dozen times, and on the last six of these occasions
he had come from Benham, ten miles to her uncle's farm, obviously to
visit her. The last two times her Aunt Farley had made him spend the
night, and it had been arranged that he would drive her in the Farley
chaise to Clara Morse's wedding. A seven-mile drive is apt to promote or
kill the germs of intimacy, and on the way over she had been conscious
of enjoying herself. Scrutiny of Clara's choice had been to the
advantage of her own cavalier. The bridegroom had seemed to her what her
Aunt Farley would call a mouse-in-the-cheese young man. Whereas Babcock
had been the life of the affair.

She had been teaching now in Wilton for more than a year. When, shortly
after her father's death, she had obtained the position of school
teacher, it seemed to her that at last the opportunity had come to
display her capabilities, and at the same time to fulfil her
aspirations. But the task of grounding a class of small children in the
rudiments of simple knowledge had already begun to pall and to seem
unsatisfying. Was she to spend her life in this? And if not, the next
step, unless it were marriage, was not obvious. Not that she mistrusted
her ability to shine in any educational capacity, but neither Wilton nor
the neighboring Westfield offered better, and she was conscious of a
lack of influential friends in the greater world, which was embodied for
her in Benham. Benham was a western city of these United States, with an
eastern exposure; a growing, bustling city according to rumor, with an
eager population restless with new ideas and stimulating ambitions. So
at least Selma thought of it, and though Boston and New York and a few
other places were accepted by her as authoritative, she accepted them,
as she accepted Shakespeare, as a matter of course and so far removed
from her immediate outlook as almost not to count. But Benham with its
seventy-five thousand inhabitants and independent ways was a fascinating
possibility. Once established there the world seemed within her grasp,
including Boston. Might it not be that Benham, in that it was newer, was
nearer to truth and more truly American than that famous city? She was
not prepared to believe this an absurdity.

At least the mental atmosphere of Westfield and even of the somewhat
less solemn Wilton suggested this apotheosis of the adjacent city to be
reasonable. Westfield had stood for Selma as a society of serious though
simple souls since she could first remember and had been one of them.
Not that she arrogated to her small native town any unusual qualities of
soul or mind in distinction from most other American communities, but
she regarded it as inferior in point of view to none, and typical of the
best national characteristics. She had probably never put into words the
reasons of her confidence, but her daily consciousness was permeated
with them. To be an American meant to be more keenly alive to the
responsibility of life than any other citizen of civilization, and to be
an American woman meant to be something finer, cleverer, stronger, and
purer than any other daughter of Eve. Under the agreeable but sobering
influence of this faith she had grown to womanhood, and the heroic deeds
of the civil war had served to intensify a belief, the truth of which
she had never heard questioned. Her mission in life had promptly been
recognized by her as the development of her soul along individual lines,
but until the necessity for a choice had arisen she had been content to
contemplate a little longer. Now the world was before her, for she was
twenty-three and singularly free from ties. Her mother had died when she
was a child. Her father, the physician of the surrounding country, a man
of engaging energy with an empirical education and a speculative habit
of mind, had been the companion of her girlhood. During the last few
years since his return from the war an invalid from a wound, her care
for him had left her time for little else.

No more was Babcock in haste to reach home; and after the preliminary
dash from the door into the glorious night he suffered the farm-horse to
pursue its favorite gait, a deliberate jog. He knew the creature to be
docile, and that he could bestow his attention on his companion without
peril to her. His own pulses were bounding. He was conscious of having
made the whirligig of time pass merrily for the company by his spirits
and jolly quips, and that in her presence, and he was groping for an
appropriate introduction to the avowal he had determined to make. He
would never have a better opportunity than this, and it had been his
preconceived intention to take advantage of it if all went well. All had
gone well and he was going to try. She had been kind coming over; and
had seemed to listen with interest as he told her about himself: and
somehow he had felt less distant from her. He was not sure what she
would say, for he realized that she was above him. That was one reason
why he admired her so. She symbolized for him refinement, poetry, art,
the things of the spirit--things from which in the same whirligig of
time he had hitherto been cut off by the vicissitudes of the varnish
business; but the value of which he was not blind to. How proud he would
be of such a wife! How he would strive and labor for her! His heart was
in his mouth and trembled on his lip as he thought of the possibility.
What a joy to be sitting side by side with her under this splendid moon!
He would speak and know his fate.

"Isn't it a lovely night?" murmured Selma appreciatively. "There they
go," she added, indicating the disappearance over the brow of a hill of
the last of the line of vehicles of the rest of the party, whose songs
had come back fainter and fainter.

"I don't care. Do you?" He snuggled toward her a very little.

"I guess they won't think I'm lost," she said, with a low laugh.

"What d'you suppose your folks would say if you _were_ lost? I mean if I
were to run away with you and didn't bring you back?" There was a
nervous ring in the guffaw which concluded his question.

"My friends wouldn't miss me much; at least they'd soon get over the
shock; but I might miss myself, Mr. Babcock."

Selma was wondering why it was that she rather liked being alone with
this man, big enough, indeed, to play the monster, yet half school-boy,
but a man who had done well in his calling. He must be capable; he could
give her a home in Benham; and it was plain that he loved her.

"I'll tell you something," he said, eagerly, ignoring her suggestion.
"I'd like to run away with you and be married to-night, Selma. That's
what I'd like, and I guess you won't. But it's the burning wish of my
heart that you'd marry me some time. I want you to be my wife. I'm a
rough fellow along-side of you, Selma, but I'd do well by you; I would.
I'm able to look after you, and you shall have all you want. There's a
nice little house building now in Benham. Say the word and I'll buy it
for us to-morrow. I'm crazy after you, Selma."

The rein was dangling, and Babcock reached his left arm around the waist
of his lady-love. He had now and again made the same demonstration with
others jauntily, but this was a different matter. She was not to be
treated like other women. She was a goddess to him, even in his ardor,
and he reached gingerly. Selma did not wholly withdraw from the spread
of his trembling arm, though this was the first man who had ever
ventured to lay a finger on her.

"I'd have to give up my school," she said.

"They could get another teacher."

"_Could_ they?"

"Not one like you. You see I'm clumsy, but I'm crazy for you, Selma."
Emboldened by the obvious feebleness of her opposition, he broadened his
clutch and drew her toward him. "Say you will, sweetheart."

This time she pulled herself free and sat up in the chaise. "Would you
let me do things?" she asked after a moment.

"Do things," faltered Babcock. What could she mean? She had told him on
the way over that her mother had chosen her name from a theatrical
playbill, and it passed through his unsophisticated brain that she might
be thinking of the stage.

"Yes, do something worth while. Be somebody. I've had the idea I could,
if I ever got the chance." Her hands were folded in her lap; there was a
wrapt expression on her thin, nervous face, and a glitter in her keen
eyes, which were looking straight at the moon, as though they would
outstare it in brilliancy.

"You shall be anything you like, if you'll only marry me. What is it
you're wishing to be?"

"I don't know exactly. It isn't anything especial yet. It's the whole
thing. I thought I might find it in my school, but the experience so far
hasn't been--satisfying."

"Troublesome little brats!"

"No, I dare say the fault's in me. If I went to Benham to live it would
be different. Benham must be interesting--inspiring."

"There's plenty of go there. You'd like it, and people would think lots
of you."

"I'd try to make them." She turned and looked at him judicially, but
with a softened expression. Her profile in her exalted mood had
suggested a beautiful, but worried archangel; her full face seemed less
this and wore much of the seductive embarrassment of sex. To Babcock she
seemed the most entrancing being he had ever seen. "Would you really
like to have me come?"

He gave a hoarse ejaculation, and encircling her eagerly with his strong
grasp pressed his lips upon her cheek. "Selma! darling! angel! I'm the
happiest man alive."

"You mustn't do that--yet," she said protestingly.

"Yes, I must; I'm yours, and you're mine,--mine. Aren't you, sweetheart?
There's no harm in a kiss."

She had to admit to herself that it was not very unpleasant after all to
be held in the embrace of a sturdy lover, though she had never intended
that their relations should reach this stage of familiarity so promptly.
She had known, of course, that girls were to look for endearments from
those whom they promised to marry, but her person had hitherto been so
sacred to man and to herself that it was difficult not to shrink a
little from what was taking place. This then was love, and love was, of
course, the sweetest thing in the world. That was one of the truths
which she had accepted as she had accepted the beauty of Shakespeare, as
something not to be disputed, yet remote. He was a big, affectionate
fellow, and she must make up her mind to kiss him. So she turned her
face toward him and their lips met eagerly, forestalling the little peck
which she had intended. She let her head fall back at his pressure on to
his shoulder, and gazed up at the moon.

"Are you happy, Selma?" he asked, giving her a fond, firm squeeze.

"Yes, Lewis."

She could feel his frame throb with joy at the situation as she uttered
his name.

"We'll be married right away. That's if you're willing. My business is
going first-rate and, if it keeps growing for the next year as it has
for the past two, you'll be rich presently. When shall it be, Selma?"

"You're in dreadful haste. Well, I'll promise to give the selectmen
notice to-morrow that they must find another teacher."

"Because the one they have now is going to become Mrs. Lewis J. Babcock.
I'm the luckiest fellow, hooray! in creation. See here," he added,
taking her hand, "I guess a ring wouldn't look badly there--a real
diamond, too. Pretty little fingers."

She sighed gently, by way of response. It was comfortable nestling in
the hollow of his shoulder, and a new delightful experience to be
hectored with sweetness in this way. How round and bountiful the moon
looked. She was tired of her present life. What was coming would be
better. Her opportunity was at hand to show the world what she was made
of.

"A real diamond, and large at that," he repeated, gazing down at her,
and then, as though the far away expression in her eyes suggested
kinship with the unseen and the eternal, he said, admiringly but humbly,
"It must be grand to be clever like you, Selma. I'm no good at that. But
if loving you will make up for it, I'll go far, little woman."

"What I know of that I like, and--and if some day, I can make you proud
of me, so much the better," said Selma.

"Proud of you? You are an angel, and you know it."

She closed her eyes and sighed again. Even the bright avenues of fame,
which her keen eyes had traversed through the golden moon, paled before
this tribute from the lips of real flesh and blood. What woman can
withstand the fascination of a lover's faith that she is an angel? If a
man is fool enough to believe it, why undeceive him? And if he is so
sure of it, may it even not be so? Selma was content to have it so,
especially as the assertion did not jar with her own prepossessions; and
thus they rode home in the summer night in the mutual contentment of a
betrothal.



CHAPTER II.


The match was thoroughly agreeable to Mrs. Farley, Selma's aunt and
nearest relation, who with her husband presided over a flourishing
poultry farm in Wilton. She was an easy-going, friendly spirit, with a
sharp but not wide vision, who did not believe that a likelier fellow
than Lewis Babcock would come wooing were her niece to wait a lifetime.
He was hearty, comical, and generous, and was said to be making money
fast in the varnish business. In short, he seemed to her an admirable
young man, with a stock of common-sense and high spirits eminently
serviceable for a domestic venture. How full of fun he was, to be sure!
It did her good to behold the tribute his appetite paid to the buckwheat
cakes with cream and other tempting viands she set before him--a
pleasing contrast to Selma's starveling diet--and the hearty smack with
which he enforced his demands upon her own cheeks as his mother-in-law
apparent, argued an affectionate disposition. Burly, rosy-cheeked,
good-natured, was he not the very man to dispel her niece's vagaries and
turn the girl's morbid cleverness into healthy channels?

Selma, therefore, found nothing but encouragement in her choice at home;
so by the end of another three months they were made man and wife, and
had moved into that little house in Benham which had attracted Babcock's
eye. Benham, as has been indicated, was in the throes of bustle and
self-improvement. Before the war it had been essentially unimportant.
But the building of a railroad through the town and the discovery of oil
wells in its neighborhood had transformed it in a twinkling into an
active and spirited centre. Selma's new house was on the edge of the
city, in the van of real estate progress, one of a row of small but
ambitious-looking dwellings, over the dark yellow clapboards of which
the architect had let his imagination run rampant in scrolls and
flourishes. There was fancy colored glass in a sort of rose-window over
the front door, and lozenges of fancy glass here and there in the
facade. Each house had a little grass-plot, which Babcock in his case
had made appurtenant to a metal stag, which seemed to him the finishing
touch to a cosey and ornamental home. He had done his best and with all
his heart, and the future was before them.

Babcock found himself radiant over the first experiences of married
life. It was just what he had hoped, only better. His imagination in
entertaining an angel had not been unduly literal, and it was a constant
delight and source of congratulation to him to reflect over his pipe on
the lounge after supper that the charming piece of flesh and blood
sewing or reading demurely close by was the divinity of his domestic
hearth. There she was to smile at him when he came home at night and
enable him to forget the cares and dross of the varnish business. Her
presence across the table added a new zest to every meal and improved
his appetite. In marrying he had expected to cut loose from his bachelor
habits, and he asked for nothing better than to spend every evening
alone with Selma, varied by an occasional evening at the theatre, and a
drive out to the Farleys' now and then for supper. This, with the
regular Sunday service at Rev. Henry Glynn's church, rounded out the
weeks to his perfect satisfaction. He was conscious of feeling that the
situation did not admit of improvement, for though, when he measured
himself with Selma, Babcock was humble-minded, a cheerful and uncritical
optimism was the ruling characteristic of his temperament. With health,
business fortune, and love all on his side, it was natural to him to
regard his lot with complacency. Especially as to all appearances, this
was the sort of thing Selma liked, also. Presently, perhaps, there would
be a baby, and then their cup of domestic happiness would be
overflowing. Babcock's long ungratified yearning for the things of the
spirit were fully met by these cosey evenings, which he would have been
glad to continue to the crack of doom. To smoke and sprawl and read a
little, and exchange chit-chat, was poetry enough for him. So contented
was he that his joy was apt to find an outlet in ditties and
whistling--he possessed a slightly tuneful, rollicking knack at both--a
proceeding which commonly culminated in his causing Selma to sit beside
him on the sofa and be made much of, to the detriment of her toilette.

As for the bride, so dazing were the circumstances incident to the
double change of matrimony and adaptation to city life, that her
judgment was in suspension. Yet though she smiled and sewed demurely,
she was thinking. The yellow clapboarded house and metal stag, and a
maid-of-all-work at her beck and call, were gratifying at the outset and
made demands upon her energies. Selma's position in her father's house
had been chiefly ornamental and social. She had been his companion and
nurse, had read to him and argued with him, but the mere household work
had been performed by an elderly female relative who recognized that her
mind was bent on higher things. Nevertheless, she had never doubted that
when the time arrived to show her capacity as a housewife, she would be
more than equal to the emergency. Assuredly she would, for one of the
distinguishing traits of American womanhood was the ability to perform
admirably with one's own hand many menial duties and yet be prepared to
shine socially with the best. Still the experience was not quite so easy
as she expected; even harassing and mortifying. Fortunately, Lewis was
more particular about quantity than quality where the table was
concerned; and, after all, food and domestic details were secondary
considerations in a noble outlook. It would have suited her never to be
obliged to eat, and to be able to leave the care of the house to the
hired girl; but that being out of the question, it became incumbent on
her to make those obligations as simple as possible. However, the
possession of a new house and gay fittings was an agreeable realization.
At home everything had been upholstered in black horse-hair, and regard
for material appearances had been obscured for her by the tension of her
introspective tendencies. Lewis was very kind, and she had no reason to
reproach herself as yet for her choice. He had insisted that she should
provide herself with an ample and more stylish wardrobe, and though the
invitation had interested her but mildly, the effect of shrewdly-made
and neatly fitting garments on her figure had been a revelation. Like
the touch of a man's hand, fine raiment had seemed to her hitherto
almost repellant, but it was obvious now that anything which enhanced
her effectiveness could not be dismissed as valueless. To arrive at
definite conclusions in regard to her social surroundings was less easy
for Selma. Benham, in its rapid growth, had got beyond the level
simplicity of Westfield and Wilton, and was already confronted by the
stern realities which baffle the original ideal in every American city.
We like as a nation to cherish the illusion that extremes of social
condition do not exist even in our large communities, and that the
plutocrat and the saleslady, the learned professions and the proletariat
associate on a common basis of equal virtue, intelligence, and culture.
And yet, although Benham was a comparatively young and an essentially
American city, there were very marked differences in all these respects
in its community.

Topographically speaking the starting point of Benham was its
water-course. Twenty years before the war Benham was merely a cluster of
frame houses in the valley of the limpid, peaceful river Nye. At that
time the inhabitants drank of the Nye taken at a point below the town,
for there was a high fall which would have made the drawing of water
above less convenient. This they were doing when Selma came to Benham,
although every man's hand had been raised against the Nye, which was the
nearest, and hence for a community in hot haste, the most natural
receptacle for dyestuffs, ashes and all the outflow from woollen mills,
pork factories and oil yards, and it ran the color of glistening bean
soup. From time to time, as the city grew, the drawing point had been
made a little lower where the stream had regained a portion of its
limpidity, and no one but wiseacres and busybodies questioned its
wholesomeness. Benham at that time was too preoccupied and too proud of
its increasing greatness to mistrust its own judgment in matters
hygienic, artistic, and educational. There came a day later when the
river rose against the city, and an epidemic of typhoid fever convinced
a reluctant community that there were some things which free-born
Americans did not know intuitively. Then there were public meetings and
a general indignation movement, and presently, under the guidance of
competent experts, Lake Mohunk, seven miles to the north, was secured as
a reservoir. Just to show how the temper of the times has changed, and
how sophisticated in regard to hygienic matters some of the good
citizens of Benham in these latter days have become, it is worthy of
mention that, though competent chemists declare Lake Mohunk to be free
from contamination, there are those now who use so-called mineral
spring-waters in preference; notably Miss Flagg, the daughter of old
Joel Flagg, once the miller and, at the date when the Babcocks set up
their household gods, one of the oil magnates of Benham. He drank the
bean colored Nye to the day of his death and died at eighty; but she
carries a carboy of spring-water with her personal baggage wherever she
travels, and is perpetually solicitous in regard to the presence of
arsenic in wall-papers into the bargain.

Verily, the world has wagged apace in Benham since Selma first looked
out at her metal stag and the surrounding landscape. Ten years later the
Benham Home Beautifying Society took in hand the Nye and those who
drained into it, and by means of garbage consumers, disinfectants, and
filters and judiciously arranged shrubbery converted its channel and
banks into quite a respectable citizens' paradise. But even at that time
the industries on either bank of the Nye, which flowed from east to
west, were forcing the retail shops and the residences further and
further away. To illustrate again from the Flagg family, just before the
war Joel Flagg built a modest house less than a quarter of a mile from
the southerly bank of the river, expecting to end his days there, and
was accused by contemporary censors of an intention to seclude himself
in magnificent isolation. About this time he had yielded to the plea of
his family, that every other building in the street had been given over
to trade, and that they were stranded in a social Sahara of factories.
So like the easy going yet soaring soul that he was, he had moved out
two miles to what was known as the River Drive, where the Nye
accomplishes a broad sweep to the south. There an ambitious imported
architect, glad of such an opportunity to speculate in artistic effects,
had built for him a conglomeration of a feudal castle and an old
colonial mansion in all the grisly bulk of signal failure.

Considering our ideals, it is a wonder that no one has provided a law
forbidding the erection of all the architecturally attractive, or
sumptuous houses in one neighborhood. It ought not to be possible in a
republic for such a state of affairs to exist as existed in Benham. That
is to say all the wealth and fashion of the city lay to the west of
Central Avenue, which was so literally the dividing line that if a
Benhamite were referred to as living on that street the conventional
inquiry would be "On which side?" And if the answer were "On the east,"
the inquirer would be apt to say "Oh!" with a cold inflection which
suggested a ban. No Benhamite has ever been able to explain precisely
why it should be more creditable to live on one side of the same street
than on the other, but I have been told by clever women, who were good
Americans besides, that this is one of the subtle truths which baffle
the Gods and democracies alike. Central Avenue has long ago been
appropriated by the leading retail dry-goods shops, huge establishments
where everything from a set of drawing-room furniture to a hair-pin can
be bought under a single roof; but at that time it was the social
artery. Everything to the west was new and assertive; then came the
shops and the business centre; and to the east were Tom, Dick, and
Harry, Michael, Isaac and Pietro, the army of citizens who worked in the
mills, oil yards, and pork factories. And to the north, across the
river, on the further side of more manufacturing establishments, was
Poland, so-called--a settlement of the Poles--to reach whom now there
are seven bridges of iron. There were but two bridges then, one of wood,
and journeys across them had not yet been revealed to philanthropic
young women eager to do good.

Selma's house lay well to the south-west of Central Avenue, far enough
removed from the River Drive and the Flagg mansion to be humble and yet
near enough to be called looking up. Their row was complete and mainly
occupied, but the locality was a-building, and in the process of making
acquaintance. So many strangers had come to Benham that even Babcock
knew but few of their neighbors. Without formulating definitely how it
was to happen, Selma had expected to be received with open arms into a
society eager to recognize her salient qualities. But apparently, at
first glance, everybody's interest was absorbed by the butcher and
grocer, the dressmaker and the domestic hearth. That is, the other
people in their row seemed to be content to do as they were doing. The
husbands went to town every day--town which lay in the murky
distance--and their wives were friendly enough, but did not seem to be
conscious either of voids in their own existence or of the privilege of
her society. To be sure, they dressed well and were suggestive in that,
but they looked blank at some of her inquiries, and appeared to feel
their days complete if, after the housework had been done and the battle
fought with the hired girl, they were able to visit the shopping
district and pore over fabrics, in case they could not buy them. Some
were evidently looking forward to the day when they might be so
fortunate as to possess one of the larger houses of the district a mile
away, and figure among what they termed "society people." There were
others who, in their satisfaction with this course of life, referred
with a touch of self-righteousness to the dwellers on the River Drive as
deserving reprobation on account of a lack of serious purpose. This
criticism appealed to Selma, and consoled her in a measure for the half
mortification with which she had begun to realize that she was not of so
much account as she had expected; at least, that there were people not
very far distant from her block who were different somehow from her
neighbors, and who took part in social proceedings in which she and her
husband were not invited to participate. Manifestly they were unworthy
and un-American. It was a comfort to come to this conclusion, even
though her immediate surroundings, including the society of those who
had put the taunt into her thoughts, left her unsatisfied.

Some relief was provided at last by her church. Babcock was by birth an
Episcopalian, though he had been lax in his interest during early
manhood. This was one of the matters which he had expected marriage to
correct, and he had taken up again, not merely with resignation but
complacency, the custom of attending service regularly. Dr. White had
been a controversial Methodist, but since his wife's death, and
especially since the war, he had abstained from religious observances,
and had argued himself somewhat far afield from the fold of orthodox
belief. Consequently Selma, though she attended church at Westfield when
her father's ailments did not require her presence at home, had been
brought up to exercise her faculties freely on problems of faith and to
feel herself a little more enlightened than the conventional worshipper.
Still she was not averse to following her husband to the Rev. Henry
Glynn's church. The experience was another revelation to her, for
service at Westfield had been eminently severe and unadorned. Mr. Glynn
was an Englishman; a short, stout, strenuous member of the Church of
England with a broad accent and a predilection for ritual, but
enthusiastic and earnest. He had been tempted to cross the ocean by the
opportunities for preaching the gospel to the heathen, and he had fixed
on Benham as a vineyard where he could labor to advantage. His advent
had been a success. He had awakened interest by his fervor and by his
methods. The pew taken by Babcock was one of the last remaining, and
there was already talk of building a larger church to replace the chapel
where he ministered. Choir boys, elaborate vestments, and genuflections,
were novelties in the Protestant worship of Benham, and attracted the
attention of many almost weary of plainer forms of worship, especially
as these manifestations of color were effectively supplemented by
evident sincerity of spirit on the part of their pastor. Nor were his
energy and zeal confined to purely spiritual functions. The scope of his
church work was practical and social. He had organized from the
congregation societies of various sorts to relieve the poor; Bible
classes and evening reunions which the members of the parish were urged
to attend in order to become acquainted. Mr. Glynn's manner was both
hearty and pompous. To him there was no Church in the world but the
Church of England, and it was obvious that as one of the clergy of that
Church he considered himself to be no mean man; but apart from this
serious intellectual foible with respect to his own relative importance,
he was a stimulating Christian and citizen within his lights. His
active, crusading, and emotional temperament just suited the seething
propensities of Benham.

His flock comprised a few of the residents of the River Drive district,
among them the Flaggs, but was a fairly representative mixture of all
grades of society, including the poorest. These last were specimens
under spiritual duress rather than free worshippers, and it was a
constant puzzle to the reverend gentleman why, in the matter of
attendance, they, metaphorically speaking, sickened and died. It had
never been so in England. "Bonnets!" responded one day Mrs. Hallett
Taylor, who had become Mr. Glynn's leading ally in parish matters, and
was noted for her executive ability. She was an engaging but
clear-headed soul who went straight to the point.

"I do not fathom your meaning," said the pastor, a little loftily, for
the suggestion sounded flippant.

"It hurts their feelings to go to a church where their clothes are
shabby compared with those of the rest of the congregation."

"Yes, but in God's chapel, dear lady, all such distinctions should be
forgotten."

"They can't forget, and I don't blame them much, poor things, do you?
It's the free-born American spirit. There now, Mr. Glynn, you were
asking me yesterday to suggest some one for junior warden. Why not Mr.
Babcock? They're new comers and seem available people."

Mr. Glynn's distress at her first question was merged in the interest
inspired by her second, for his glance had followed hers until it rested
on the Babcocks, who had just entered the vestry to attend the social
reunion. Selma's face wore its worried archangel aspect. She was on her
good behavior and proudly on her guard against social impertinence. But
she looked very pretty, and her compact, slight figure indicated a busy
way.

"I will interrogate him," he answered. "I have observed them before,
and--and I can't quite make out the wife. It is almost a spiritual face,
and yet--"

"Just a little hard and keen," broke in Mrs. Taylor, upon his
hesitation. "She is pretty, and she looks clever. I think we can get
some work out of her."

Thereupon she sailed gracefully in the direction of Selma. Mrs. Taylor
was from Maryland. Her husband, a physician, had come to Benham at the
close of the war to build up a practice, and his wife had aided him by
her energy and graciousness to make friends. Unlike some Southerners,
she was not indolent, and yet she possessed all the ingratiating,
spontaneous charm of well-bred women from that section of the country.
Her tastes were æsthetic and ethical rather than intellectual, and her
special interest at the moment was the welfare of the church. She
thought it desirable that all the elements of which the congregation was
composed should be represented on the committees, and Selma seemed to
her the most obviously available person from the class to which the
Babcocks belonged.

"I want you to help us," she said. "I think you have ideas. We need a
woman with sense and ideas on our committee to build the new church."

Selma was not used to easy grace and sprightly spontaneity. It affected
her at first much as the touch of man; but just as in that instance the
experience was agreeable. Life was too serious a thing in her regard to
lend itself casually to lightness, and yet she felt instinctively
attracted by this lack of self-consciousness and self-restraint. Besides
here was an opportunity such as she had been yearning for. She had met
Mrs. Taylor before, and knew her to be the presiding genius of the
congregation; and it was evident that Mrs. Taylor had discovered her
value.

"Thank you," she said, gravely, but cordially. "That is what I should
like. I wish to be of use. I shall be pleased to serve on the
committee."

"It will be interesting, I think. I have never helped build anything
before. Perhaps you have?"

"No," said Selma slowly. Her tone conveyed the impression that, though
her abilities had never been put to that precise test, the employment
seemed easily within her capacity.

"Ah! I am sure you will be suggestive" said Mrs. Taylor. "I am right
anxious that it shall be a credit in an architectural way, you know."

Mr. Glynn, who had followed with more measured tread, now mingled his
hearty bass voice in the conversation. His mental attitude was friendly,
but inquisitorial; as seemed to him to befit one charged with the cure
of souls. He proceeded to ask questions, beginning with inquiries
conventional and domestic, but verging presently on points of faith.
Babcock, to whom they were directly addressed, stood the ordeal well,
revealing himself as flattered, contrite, and zealous to avail himself
of the blessings of the church. He admitted that lately he had been lax
in his spiritual duties.

"We come every Sunday now," he said buoyantly, with a glance at Selma as
though to indicate that she deserved the credit of his reformation.

"The holy sacrament of marriage has led many souls from darkness into
light, from the flesh-pots of Egypt to the table of the Lord" Mr. Glynn
answered. "And you, my daughter," he added, meaningly, "guard well your
advantage."

It was agreeable to Selma that the clergymen seemed to appreciate her
superiority to her embarrassed husband, especially as she thought she
knew that in England women were not expected to have opinions of their
own. She wished to say something to impress him more distinctly with her
cleverness, for though she was secretly contemptuous of his ceremonials,
there was something impressive in his mandatory zeal. She came near
asking whether he held to the belief that it was wrong for a man to
marry his deceased wife's sister, which was the only proposition in
relation to the married state which occurred to her at the moment as
likely to show her independence, but she contented herself instead with
saying, with so much of Mrs. Taylor's spontaneity as she could reproduce
without practice, "We expect to be very happy in your church."

Selma, however, supplemented her words with her tense spiritual look.
She felt happier than she had for weeks, inasmuch as life seemed to be
opening before her. For a few moments she listened to Mr. Glynn unfold
his hopes in regard to the new church, trying to make him feel that she
was no common woman. She considered it a tribute to her when he took
Lewis aside later and asked him to become a junior warden.



CHAPTER III.


At this time the necessity for special knowledge as to artistic or
educational matters was recognized grudgingly in Benham. Any reputable
citizen was considered capable to pass judgment on statues and pictures,
design a house or public building, and prescribe courses of study for
school-children. Since then the free-born Benhamite, little by little,
through wise legislation or public opinion, born of bitter experience,
has been robbed of these prerogatives until, not long ago, the
un-American and undemocratic proposition to take away the laying out of
the new city park from the easy going but ignorant mercies of the
so-called city forester, who had been first a plumber and later an
alderman, prevailed. An enlightened civic spirit triumphed and special
knowledge was invoked.

That was twenty-five years later. Mrs. Hallett Taylor had found herself
almost single-handed at the outset in her purpose to build the new
church on artistic lines. Or rather the case should be stated thus:
Everyone agreed that it was to be the most beautiful church in the
country, consistent with the money, and no one doubted that it would be,
especially as everyone except Mrs. Taylor felt that in confiding the
matter to the leading architect in Benham the committee would be
exercising a wise and intelligent discretion. Mr. Pierce, the individual
suggested, had never, until recently, employed the word architect in
speaking of himself, and he pronounced it, as did some of the committee,
"arshitect," shying a little at the word, as though it were caviare and
anything but American. He was a builder, practised by a brief but
rushing career in erecting houses, banks, schools, and warehouses
speedily and boldly. He had been on the spot when the new growth of
Benham began, and his handiwork was writ large all over the city. The
city was proud of him, and had, as it were, sniffed when Joel Flagg went
elsewhere for a man to build his new house. Surely, if it were necessary
to pay extra for that sort of thing, was not home talent good enough?
Yet it must be confessed that the ugly splendor of the Flagg mediæval
castle had so far dazed the eye of Benham that its "arshitect" had felt
constrained, in order to keep up with the times, to try fancy flights of
his own. He had silenced any doubting Thomases by his latest effort, a
new school-house, rich in rampant angles and scrolls, on the brown-stone
front of which the name _Flagg School_ appeared in ambitious, distorted
hieroglyphics.

Think what a wealth of imagery in the tossing of the second O on top of
the L. If artistic novelty and genius were sought for the new church,
here it was ready to be invoked. Besides, Mr. Pierce was a
brother-in-law of one of the members of the committee, and, though the
committee had the fear of God in their hearts in the erection of his
sanctuary, it was not easy to protest against the near relative of a
fellow member, especially one so competent.

The committee numbered seven. Selma had been chosen to fill a vacancy
caused by death, but at the time of her selection the matter was still
in embryo, and the question of an architect had not been mooted. At the
next meeting discussion arose as to whether Mr. Pierce should be given
the job, under the eagle eyes of a sub-committee, or Mrs. Taylor's
project of inviting competitive designs should be adopted. It was known
that Mr. Glynn, without meaning disrespect to Mr. Pierce, favored the
latter plan as more progressive, a word always attractive to Benham ears
when they had time to listen. Its potency, coupled with veneration, for
the pastor's opinion, had secured the vote of Mr. Clyme, a banker.
Another member of the committee, a lawyer, favored Mrs. Taylor's idea
because of a grudge against Mr. Pierce. The chairman and brother-in-law,
and a hard-headed stove dealer, were opposed to the competitive plan as
highfalutin and unnecessary. Thus the deciding vote lay with Selma.

Now that they were on the same committee, Mrs. Taylor could not
altogether make her out. She remembered that Mr. Glynn had said the same
thing. Mrs. Taylor was accustomed to conquests. Without actual
premeditation, she was agreeably conscious of being able to convert and
sweep most opponents off their feet by the force of her pleasant
personality. In this case the effect was not so obvious. She was
conscious that Selma's eyes were constantly fixed upon her, but as to
what she was thinking Mrs. Taylor felt less certain. Clearly she was
mesmerized, but was the tribute admiration or hostility? Mrs. Taylor was
piqued, and put upon her metal. Besides she needed Selma's vote. Not
being skilled in psychological analyses, she had to resort to practical
methods, and invited her to afternoon tea.

Selma had never been present at afternoon tea as a domestic function in
her life. Nor had she seen a home like Mrs. Taylor's. The house was no
larger than her own, and had cost less. Medicine had not been so
lucrative as the manufacture of varnish. Externally the house displayed
stern lines of unadorned brick--the custom-made style of Benham in the
first throes of expansion before Mr. Pierce's imagination had been
stirred. Mr. Taylor had bought it as it stood, and his wife had made no
attempt to alter the outside, which was, after all, inoffensively
homely. But the interior was bewildering to Selma's gaze in its
suggestion of cosey comfort. Pretty, tasteful things, many of them
inexpensive knick-knacks of foreign origin--a small picture, a bit of
china, a mediæval relic--were cleverly placed as a relief to the
conventional furniture. Selma had been used to formalism in household
garniture--to a best room little used and precise with the rigor of wax
flowers and black horse-hair, and to a living room where the effect
sought was purely utilitarian. Her new home, in spite of its colored
glass and iron stag, was arranged in much this fashion, as were the
houses of her neighbors which she had entered.

Selma managed to seat herself on the one straight-backed chair in the
room. From this she was promptly driven by Mrs. Taylor and established
in one corner of a lounge with a soft silk cushion behind her, and
further propitiated by the proffer of a cup of tea in a dainty cup and
saucer. All this, including Mrs. Taylor's musical voice, easy speech,
and ingratiating friendliness, alternately thrilled and irritated her.
She would have liked to discard her hostess from her thought as a light
creature unworthy of intellectual seriousness, but she found herself
fascinated and even thawed in spite of herself.

"I'm glad to have the opportunity really to talk to you," said Mrs.
Taylor. "At the church reunions one is so liable to interruptions. If
I'm not mistaken, you taught school before you were married?"

"For a short time."

"That must have been interesting. It is so practical and definite. My
life," she added deprecatingly, "has been a thing of threads and
patches--a bit here and a bit there."

She paused, but without forcing a response, proceeded blithely to touch
on her past by way of illustration. The war had come just when she was
grown up, and her kin in Maryland were divided on the issue. Her father
had taken his family abroad, but her heart was in the keeping of a young
officer on the Northern side--now her husband. Loss of property and
bitterness of spirit had kept her parents expatriated, and she, with
them, had journeyed from place to place in Europe. She had seen many
beautiful places and beautiful things. At last Major Taylor had come for
her and carried her off as his bride to take up again her life as an
American.

"I am interested in Benham," she continued, "and I count on you, Mrs.
Babcock, to help make the new church what it ought to be
artistically--worthy of all the energy and independence there is in this
place."

Selma's eye kindled. The allusion to foreign lands had aroused her
distrust, but this patriotic avowal warmed her pulses.

"Every one is so busy with private affairs here, owing to the rapid
growth of the city," pursued Mrs. Taylor, "that there is danger of our
doing inconsiderately things which cannot easily be set right hereafter.
An ugly or tawdry-looking building may be an eyesore for a generation. I
know that we have honest and skilful mechanics in Benham, but as
trustees of the church funds, shouldn't we at least make the effort to
get the best talent there is? If we have the cleverest architect here,
so much the better. An open competition will enable us to find out.
After all Benham is only one city among many, and a very new city. Why
shouldn't we take advantage of the ideas of the rest of the country--the
older portion of the country?"

"Mr. Pierce built our house, and we think it very satisfactory and
pretty."

Selma's tone was firm, but she eyed her hostess narrowly. She had begun
of late to distrust the æsthetic worth of the colored glass and metal
stag, and, though she was on her guard against effrontery, she wished to
know the truth. She knew that Mr. Pierce, with fine business instinct,
had already conveyed to her husband the promise that he should furnish
the varnish for the new church in case of his own selection, which, as
Babcock had remarked, would be a nice thing all round.

Mrs. Taylor underwent the scrutiny without flinching. "I have nothing to
say against Mr. Pierce. He is capable within his lights. Indeed I think
it quite possible that we shall get nothing more satisfactory elsewhere.
Mr. Flagg's grim pile is anything but encouraging. That may sound like
an argument against my plan, but in the case of the Flagg house there
was no competition; merely unenlightened choice on the one side and
ignorant experimenting on the other."

"You don't seem to think very highly of the appearance of Benham," said
Selma. The remark was slightly interrogative, but was combative withal.
She wished to know if everything, from the Flagg mansion down, was open
to criticism, but she would fain question the authority of the
censor--this glib, graceful woman whose white, starched cuffs seemed to
make light of her own sober, unadorned wrists.

This time Mrs. Taylor flushed faintly. She realized that their relations
had reached a critical point, and that the next step might be fatal. She
put down her teacup, and leaning forward, said with smiling confidential
eagerness, "I don't. I wouldn't admit it to anyone else. But what's the
use of mincing matters with an intelligent woman like you? I might put
you off now, and declare that Benham is well enough. But you would soon
divine what I really think, and that would be the end of confidence
between us. I like honesty and frankness, and I can see that you do. My
opinion of Benham architecture is that it is slip-shod and mongrel.
There! You see I put myself in your hands, but I do so because I feel
sure you nearly agree with me already. You know it's so, but you hate to
acknowledge it."

Selma's eyes were bright with interest. She felt flattered by the
appeal, and there was a righteous assurance in Mrs. Taylor's manner
which was convincing. She opened her mouth to say something--what she
did not quite know--but Mrs. Taylor raised her hand by way of
interdiction.

"Don't answer yet. Let me show you what I mean. I'm as proud of Benham
as anyone. I am absorbed by the place, I look to see it fifty years
hence--perhaps less--a great city, and a beautiful city too. Just at
present everything is commercial and--and ethical; yes, ethical. We wish
to do and dare, but we haven't time to adorn as we construct. That is,
most of us haven't. But if a few determined spirits--women though they
be--cry 'halt,' art may get a chance here and there to assert herself.
Look at this," she said, gliding across the room and holding up a small
vase of exquisite shape and coloring, "I picked it up on the other side
and it stands almost for a lost art. The hands and taste which wrought
it represent the transmitted patience and skill of hundreds of years. We
like to rush things through in a few weeks on a design hastily conceived
by a Mr. Pierce because we are so earnest. Now, we won't do it this
time, will we?"

"No, we won't," said Selma. "I see what you mean. I was afraid at first
that you didn't give us credit for the earnestness--for the ethical
part. That's the first thing, the great thing according to my idea, and
it's what distinguishes us from foreigners,--the foreigners who made
that vase, for instance. But I agree with you that there's such a thing
as going too fast, and very likely some of the buildings here aren't all
they might be. We don't need to model them on foreign patterns, but we
must have them pretty and right."

"Certainly, certainly, my dear. What we should strive for is
originality--American originality; but soberly, slowly. Art is evolved
painfully, little by little; it can't be bought ready-made at shops for
the asking like tea and sugar. If we invite designs for the new church,
we shall give the youths of the country who have ideas seething in their
heads a chance to express themselves. Who knows but we may unearth a
genius?"

"Who knows?" echoed Selma, with her spiritual look. "Yes, you are right,
Mrs. Taylor. I will help you. As you say, there must be hundreds of
young men who would like to do just that sort of thing. I know myself
what it is to have lived in a small place without the opportunity to
show what one could do; to feel the capacity, but to be without the
means and occasion to reveal what is in one. And now that I understand
we really look at things the same way, I'm glad to join with you in
making Benham beautiful. As you say, we women can do much if we only
will. I've the greatest faith in woman's mission in this new,
interesting nation of ours. Haven't you, Mrs. Taylor? Don't you believe
that she, in her new sphere of usefulness, is one of the great moving
forces of the Republic?" Selma was talking rapidly, and had lost every
trace of suspicious restraint. She spoke as one transfigured.

"Yes, indeed," answered Mrs. Taylor, checking any disposition she may
have felt to interpose qualifications. She could acquiesce generally
without violence to her convictions, and she could not afford to imperil
the safety of the immediate issue--her church. "I felt sure you would
feel so if you only had time to reflect," she added. "If you vote with
us, you will have the pleasant consciousness of knowing that you have
advanced woman's cause just so much."

"You may count on my vote."

Selma stopped on her way home, although it was late, to purchase some
white cuffs. As she approached, her husband stood on the grass-plot in
his shirt sleeves with a garden-hose. He was whistling, and when he saw
her he kissed his hand at her jubilantly,

"Well, sweetheart, where you been?"

"Visiting. Taking tea with Mrs. Taylor. I've promised her to vote to
invite bids for the church plans."

Babcock looked surprised. "That'll throw Pierce out, won't it?"

"Not unless some one else submits a better design than he."

Lewis scratched his head. "I considered that order for varnish as good
as booked."

"I'm not sure Mr. Pierce knows as much as he thinks he does," said Selma
oracularly. "We shall get plans from New York and Boston. If we don't
like them we needn't take them. But that's the way to get an artistic
thing. And we're going to have the most artistic church in Benham. I'm
sorry about the varnish, but a principle is involved."

Babcock was puzzled but content. He cared far more for the
disappointment to Pierce than for the loss of the order. But apart from
the business side of the question, he never doubted that his wife must
be right, nor did he feel obliged to inquire what principle was
involved. He was pleased to have her associate with Mrs. Taylor, and was
satisfied that she would be a credit to him in any situation where
occult questions of art or learning were mooted. He dropped his hose and
pulled her down beside him on the porch settee. There was a beautiful
sunset, and the atmosphere was soft and refreshing. Selma felt satisfied
with herself. As Mrs. Taylor had said, it was her vote which would turn
the scale on behalf of progress. Other things, too, were in her mind.
She was not ready to admit that she had been instructed, but she was
already planning changes in her own domestic interior, suggested by what
she had seen.

She let her husband squeeze her hand, but her thoughts were wandering
from his blandishments. Presently she said: "Lewis, I've begun lately to
doubt if that stag is really pretty."

"The stag? Well, now, I've always thought it tasty--one of the features
of our little place."

"No one would mistake it for a real deer. It looks to me almost
comical."

Babcock turned to regard judicially the object of her criticism.

"I like it," he said somewhat mournfully, as though he were puzzled.
"But if you don't, we'll change the stag for something else. I wish you
to be pleased first of all. Instead we might have a fountain; two
children under an umbrella I saw the other day. It was cute. How does
that strike you?"

"I can't tell without seeing it. And, Lewis, promise me that you won't
select anything new of that sort until I have looked at it."

"Very well," Babcock answered submissively. But he continued to look
puzzled. In his estimate of his wife's superiority to himself in the
subtleties of life, it had never occurred to him to include the choice
of every-day objects of art. He had eyes and could judge for himself
like any other American citizen. Still, he was only too glad to humor
Selma in such an unimportant matter, especially as he was eager for her
happiness.



CHAPTER IV.


Seven designs for the new church were submitted, including three from
Benham architects. The leaven of influence exercised by spirits like
Mrs. Taylor was only just beginning to work, and the now common custom
of competing outside one's own bailiwick was still in embryo. Mr.
Pierce's design was bold and sumptuous. His brother-in-law stated
oracularly not long before the day when the plans were to be opened:
"Pierce is not a man to be frightened out of a job by frills. Mark my
words; he will give us an elegant thing." Mr. Pierce had conceived the
happy thought of combining a Moorish mosque and New England
meeting-house in a conservative and equitable medley, evidently hoping
thereby to be both picturesque and traditional. The result, even on
paper, was too bold for some of his admirers. The chairman was heard to
remark: "I shouldn't feel as though I was in church. That dome set among
spires is close to making a theatre of the house of God."

The discomfiture of the first architect of Benham cleared the way for
the triumph of Mrs. Taylor's taste. The design submitted by Wilbur
Littleton of New York, seemed to her decidedly the most meritorious. It
was graceful, appropriate, and artistic; entirely in harmony with
religious associations, yet agreeably different from every day
sanctuaries. The choice lay between his and that presented by Mr. Cass,
a Benham builder--a matter-of-fact, serviceable, but very conventional
edifice. The hard-headed stove dealer on the committee declared in favor
of the native design, as simpler and more solid.

"It'll be a massive structure" he said, "and when it's finished no one
will have to ask what it is. It'll speak for itself. Mr. Cass is a solid
business man, and we know what we'll get. The other plan is what I call
dandified."

It was evident to the committee that the stove dealer's final criticism
comprehended the architect as well as his design. Several
competitors--Littleton among them--had come in person to explain the
merits of their respective drawings, and by the side of solid,
red-bearded, undecorative Mr. Cass, Littleton may well have seemed a
dandy. He was a slim young man with a delicate, sensitive face and
intelligent brown eyes. He looked eager and interesting. In his case the
almost gaunt American physiognomy was softened by a suggestion of poetic
impulses. Yet the heritage of nervous energy was apparent. His
appearance conveyed the impression of quiet trigness and gentility. His
figure lent itself to his clothes, which were utterly inconspicuous,
judged by metropolitan standards, but flawless in the face of
hard-headed theories of life, and aroused suspicion. He spoke in a
gentle but earnest manner, pointing out clearly, yet modestly, the
merits of his composition.

Selma had never seen a man just like him before, and she noticed that
from the outset his eyes seemed to be fastened on her as though his
words were intended for her special benefit. She had never read the
lines--indeed they had not been written--

"I think I could be happy with a gentleman like you."

Nor did the precise sentiment contained in them shape itself in her
thought. Yet she was suddenly conscious that she had been starving for
lack of intellectual companionship, and that he was the sort of man she
had hoped to meet--the sort of man who could appreciate her and whom she
could appreciate.

It did not become necessary for Selma to act as Mr. Littleton's
champion, for the stove dealer's criticism found only one supporter. The
New Yorker's design for the church was so obviously pretty and suitable
that a majority of the Committee promptly declared in its favor. The
successful competitor, who had remained a day to learn the result, was
solemnly informed of the decision, and then elaborately introduced to
the members. In shaking hands with him, Selma experienced a shade of
embarrassment. It was plain that his words to her, spoken with a low
bow--"I am very much gratified that my work pleases you" conveyed a more
spiritual significance than was contained in his thanks to the others.
Still he seemed more at his ease with Mrs. Taylor, who promptly broke
the ice of the situation by fixing him as a close relative of friends in
Baltimore. Straightway he became sprightly and voluble, speaking of
things and people beyond Selma's experience. This social jargon
irritated Selma. It seemed to her a profanation of a noble character,
yet she was annoyed because she could not understand.

Mrs. Taylor, having discovered in Mr. Littleton one who should have been
a friend long before, succeeded in carrying him off to dinner. Yet,
before taking his leave, he came back to Selma for a few words. She had
overheard Mrs. Taylor's invitation, and she asked herself why she too
might not become better acquainted with this young man whose attitude
toward her was that of respectful admiration. To have a strange young
man to dine off-hand struck her as novel. She had a general conviction
that it would seem to Lewis closely allied to light conduct, and that
only foreigners or frivolous people let down to this extent the bars of
family life. Now that Mrs. Taylor had set her the example, she was less
certain of the moral turpitude of such an act, but she concluded also
that her husband would be in the way at table. What she desired was an
opportunity for a long, interesting chat about high things.

While she reflected, he was saying to her, "I understand that your
committee is to supervise my work until the new church is completed, so
I shall hope to have the opportunity to meet you occasionally. It will
be necessary for me to make trips here from time to time to see that
everything is being done correctly by the mechanics."

"Do you go away immediately?"

"It may be that I shall be detained by the arrangements which I must
make here until day after to-morrow."

"If you would really like to see me, I live at 25 Onslow Avenue."

"Thank you very much." Littleton took out a small memorandum book and
carefully noted the address. "Mrs. Babcock, 25 Onslow Avenue. I shall
make a point of calling to-morrow afternoon if I stay--and probably I
shall."

He bowed and left Selma pleasantly stirred by the interview. His voice
was low and his enunciation sympathetically fluent. She said to herself
that she would give him afternoon tea and they would compare ideas
together. She felt sure that his must be interesting.

Later in the evening at Mrs. Taylor's, when there was a pause in their
sympathetic interchange of social and æsthetic convictions, Littleton
said abruptly:

"Tell me something, please, about Mrs. Babcock. She has a suggestive as
well as a beautiful face, and it is easy to perceive that she is
genuinely American--not one of the women of whom we were speaking, who
seem to be ashamed of their own institutions, and who ape foreign
manners and customs. I fancy she would illustrate what I was saying just
now as to the vital importance of our clinging to our heritage of
independent thought--of accepting the truth of the ancient order of
things without allowing its lies and demerits to enslave us."

"I suppose so," said Mrs. Taylor. "She certainly does not belong to the
dangerous class of whom you were speaking. I was flattering myself that
neither did I, for I was agreeing with all you said as to the need of
cherishing our native originality. Yet I must confess that now that you
compare me with her (the actual comparison is my own, but you instigated
it), I begin to feel more doubts about myself--that is if she is the
true species, and I'm inclined to think she is. Pray excuse this
indirect method of answering your inquiry; it is in the nature of a
soliloquy; it is an airing of thoughts and doubts which have been
harassing me for a fortnight--ever since I knew Mrs. Babcock. Really,
Mr. Littleton, I can tell you very little about her. She is a new-comer
on the horizon of Benham; she has been married very recently; I believe
she has taught school and that she was brought up not far from here. She
is as proud as Lucifer and sometimes as beautiful; she is profoundly
serious and--and apparently very ignorant. I fancy she is clever and
capable in her way, but I admit she is an enigma to me and that I have
not solved it. I can see she does not approve of me altogether. She
regards me with suspicion, and yet she threw the casting vote in favor
of my proposal to open the competition for the church to architects from
other places. I am trying to like her, for I wish to believe in
everything genuinely American if I can. There, I have told you all I
know, and to a man she may seem altogether attractive and inspiring."

"Thank you. I had no conception that I was broaching such a complex
subject. She sounds interesting, and my curiosity is whetted. You have
not mentioned the husband."

"To be sure. A burly, easy-going manufacturer of varnish, without much
education, I should judge. He is manifestly her inferior in half a dozen
ways, but I understand that he is making money, and he looks kind."

Wilbur Littleton's life since he had come to man's estate had been a
struggle, and he was only just beginning to make headway. He had never
had time to commiserate himself, for necessity on the one hand and
youthful ambition on the other had kept his energies tense and his
thoughts sane and hopeful. He and his sister Pauline, a year his senior,
had been left orphans while both were students by the death of their
father on the battlefield. To persevere in their respective tastes and
work out their educations had been a labor of love, but an undertaking
which demanded rigorous self-denial on the part of each. Wilbur had
determined to become an architect. Pauline, early interested in the
dogma that woman must no longer be barred from intellectual
companionship with man, had sought to cultivate herself intelligently
without sacrificing her brother's domestic comfort. She had succeeded.
Their home in New York, despite its small dimensions and frugal
hospitality, was already a favorite resort of a little group of
professional people with busy brains and light purses. Wilbur was in the
throes of early progress. He had no relatives or influential friends to
give him business, and employment came slowly. He had been an architect
on his own account for two years, but was still obliged to supplement
his professional orders by work as a draughtsman for others. Yet his
enthusiasm kept him buoyant. In respect to his own work he was
scrupulous; indeed, a stern critic. He abhorred claptrap and specious
effects, and aimed at high standards of artistic expression. This gave
him position among his brother architects, but was incompatible with
meteoric progress. His design for the church at Benham represented much
thought and hope, and he felt happy at his success.

Littleton's familiarity with women, apart from his sister, had been
slight, but his thoughts regarding them were in keeping with a poetic
and aspiring nature. He hoped to marry some day, and he was fond of
picturing to himself in moments of reverie the sort of woman to whom his
heart would be given. In the shrine of his secret fancy she appeared
primarily as an object of reverence, a white-souled angel of light clad
in the graceful outlines of flesh, an Amazon and yet a winsome, tender
spirit, and above all a being imbued with the stimulating intellectual
independence he had been taught to associate with American womanhood.
She would be the loving wife of his bosom and the intelligent sharer of
his thoughts and aspirations--often their guide. So pure and exacting
was his ideal that while alive to the value of coyness and coquetry as
elements of feminine attraction for others, Wilbur had chosen to regard
the maiden of his faith as too serious a spirit to condescend to such
vanities; and from a similar vein of appreciation he was prone to think
of her as unadorned, or rather untarnished, by the gewgaws of
fashionable dressmaking and millinery. His first sight of Selma had made
him conscious that here was a face not unlike what he had hoped to
encounter some day, and he had instinctively felt her to be sympathetic.
He was even conscious of disappointment when he heard her addressed as
Mrs. Babcock. Evidently she was a free-born soul, unhampered by the
social weaknesses of a large city, and illumined by the spiritual grace
of native womanliness. So he thought of her, and Mrs. Taylor's diagnosis
rather confirmed than impaired his impression, for in Mrs. Taylor Wilbur
felt he discerned a trace of antagonism born of cosmopolitan
prejudice--an inability to value at its true worth a nature not moulded
on conventional lines. Rigorous as he was in his judgments, and eager to
disown what was cheap or shallow, mere conventionalism, whether in art
or daily life, was no less abhorrent to him. Here, he said to himself,
was an original soul, ignorant and unenlightened perhaps, but endowed
with swift perception and capable of noble development.

The appearance of Selma's scroll and glass bedizened house did not
affect this impression. Wilbur was first of all appreciatively an
American. That is he recognized that native energy had hitherto been
expended on the things of the spirit to the neglect of things material.
As an artist he was supremely interested in awakening and guiding the
national taste in respect to art, but at the same time he was thoroughly
aware that the peculiar vigor and independence of character which he
knew as Americanism was often utterly indifferent to, or ignorant of,
the value of æsthetics. After all, art was a secondary consideration,
whereas the inward vision which absorbed the attention of the thoughtful
among his countrymen and countrywomen was an absolute essential without
which the soul must lose its fineness. He himself was seeking to show
that beauty, in external material expression, was not merely consistent
with strong ideals but requisite to their fit presentment. He recognized
too that the various and variegated departures from the monotonous
homely pattern of the every-day American house, which were evident in
each live town, were but so many indicators that the nation was
beginning to realize the truth of this. His battle was with the
designers and builders who were guiding falsely and flamboyantly, not
with the deceived victims, nor with those who were still satisfied
merely to look inwardly, and ignored form and color. Hence he would have
been able to behold the Babcocks' iron stag without rancor had the
animal still occupied the grass-plot. Selma, when she saw the figure of
her visitor in the door-way, congratulated herself that it had been
removed. It would have pleased her to know that Mr. Littleton had
already placed her in a niche above the level of mere grass-plot
considerations. That was where she belonged of course; but she was
fearful on the score of suspected shortcomings. So it was gratifying to
be able to receive him in a smarter gown, to be wearing white cuffs, and
to offer him tea with a touch of Mrs. Taylor's tormenting urbanity. Not
so unreservedly as she. That would never do. It was and never would be
in keeping with her own ideas of serious self-respect. Still a touch of
it was grateful to herself. She felt that it was a grace and enhanced
her effectiveness.

A few moments later Selma realized that for the first time since she had
lived in Benham she was being understood and appreciated. She felt too
that for the first time she was talking to a kindred spirit--to be sure,
to one different, and more technically proficient in concrete knowledge,
possibly more able, too, to express his thoughts in words, but eminently
a comrade and sympathizer. She was not obliged to say much. Nor were,
indeed, his actual words the source of her realization. The revelation
came from what was left unsaid--from the silent recognition by him that
she was worthy to share his best thoughts and was herself a serious
worker in the struggle of life. No graceful but galling attitude of
superiority, no polite indifference to her soul-hunger, no disposition
to criticise. And yet he was no less voluble, clever, and spirited than
Mrs. Taylor. She listened with wrapt interest to his easy talk, which
was ever grave in tone, despite his pleasant sallies. He spoke of Benham
with quick appreciation of its bustling energy, and let her see that he
divined its capacity for greatness. This led him to refer with kindling
eyes to the keen impulse toward education and culture which was
animating the younger men and women of the country; to the new
beginnings of art, literature, and scientific investigation. At scarcely
a hint from her he told briefly of his past life and his hopes, and
fondly mentioned his sister and her present absorption in some history
courses for women.

"And you?" he said. "You are a student, too. Mrs. Taylor has told me,
but I should have guessed it. Duties even more interesting claim you
now, but it is easy to perceive that you have known that other
happiness, 'To scorn delights and live laborious days.'"

His words sounded musical, though the quotation from Lycidas was
unfamiliar to her ears. Her brain was thrilling with the import of all
he had told her--with his allusions to the intellectual and ethical
movements of Boston and New York, in which she felt herself by right and
with his recognition a partner and peer.

"You were teaching school when you married, I believe?" he added.

"Yes."

"And before that, if I may ask?"

"I lived at Westfield with my father. It is a small country town, but we
tried to be in earnest."

"I understand--I understand. You grew up among the trees, and the
breezes and the brooks, those wonderful wordless teachers. I envy you,
for they give one time to think--to expand. I have known only city life
myself. It is stimulating, but one is so easily turned aside from one's
direct purpose. Do you write at all?"

"Not yet. But I have wished to. Some day I shall. Just now I have too
many domestic concerns to--"

She did not finish, for Babcock's heavy tread and whistle resounded in
the hall and at the next moment he was calling "Selma!"

She felt annoyed at being interrupted, but she divined that it would
never do to show it.

"My husband," she said, and she raised her voice to utter with a sugared
dignity which would have done credit to Mrs. Taylor,

"I am in the parlor, Lewis."

"Enter your chief domestic concern," said Littleton blithely. "A happy
home is preferable to all the poems and novels in the world."

Babcock, pushing open the door, which stood ajar, stopped short in his
melody.

"This is Mr. Littleton, Lewis. The architect of our new church."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance." And by way of accounting for the
sudden softening of his brow, Babcock added, "I set you down at first as
one of those lightning-rod agents. There was one here last week who
wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."

"He has an advantage over me," answered Littleton with a laugh. "In my
business a man can't solicit orders. He has to sit and wait for them to
come to him."

"I want to know. My wife thinks a lot of your drawings for the new
church."

"I hope to make it a credit to your city. I've just been saying to your
wife, Mr. Babcock, that Benham has a fine future before it. The very
atmosphere seems charged with progress."

Babcock beamed approvingly. "It's a driving place, sir. The man in
Benham who stops by the way-side to scratch his head gets left behind.
When we moved into this house a year ago looking through that window we
were at the jumping-off place; now you see houses cropping up in every
direction. It's going to be a big city. Pleased to have you stop to
supper with us," he added with burly suavity as their visitor rose.

Littleton excused himself and took his leave. Babcock escorted him to
the front door and full of his subject delayed him on the porch to touch
once more on the greatness of Benham. There was a clumsy method too in
this optimistic garrulity, for at the close he referred with some pride
to his own business career, and made a tender of his business card,
"Lewis Babcock & Company, Varnishes," with a flourish. "If you do
anything in my line, pleased to accommodate you."

Littleton departing, tickled by a pleasant sense of humor, caught
through the parlor window a last glimpse of Selma's inspired face bowing
gravely, yet wistfully, in acknowledgment of his lifted hat, and he
strode away under the spell of a brain picture which he transmuted into
words: "There's the sort of case where the cynical foreigner fails to
appreciate the true import of our American life. That couple typifies
the elements of greatness in our every-day people. At first blush the
husband's rough and material, but he's shrewd and enterprising and
vigorous--the bread winner. He's enormously proud of her, and he has
reason to be, for she is a constant stimulus to higher things. Little by
little, and without his knowing it, perhaps, she will smoothe and
elevate him, and they will develop together, growing in intelligence and
cultivation as they wax in worldly goods. After all, woman is our most
marvellous native product--that sort of woman. Heigho!" Having given
vent to this sigh, Littleton proceeded to recognize the hopelessness of
the personal situation by murmuring with a slightly forced access of
sprightliness

     "If she be not fair for me,
     What care I how fair she be?"

Still he intended to see more of Mrs. Babcock, and that without
infringing the tenth or any other commandment. To flirt with a married
woman savored to him of things un-American and unworthy, and Littleton
had much too healthy an imagination to rhapsodize from such a
stand-point. Yet he foresaw that they might be mutually respecting
friends.



CHAPTER V.


Selma knew intuitively that an American woman was able to cook a smooth
custard, write a poem and control real society with one and the same
brain and hand, and she was looking forward to the realization of the
apotheosis; but, though she was aware that children are the natural
increment of wedlock, she had put the idea from her ever since her
marriage as impersonal and vaguely disgusting. Consequently her
confinement came as an unwelcome interruption of her occupations and
plans.

Her connection with the committee for the new church had proved an
introduction to other interests, charitable and social. One day she was
taken by Mrs. Taylor to a meeting of the Benham Woman's Institute, a
literary club recently established by Mrs. Margaret Rodney Earle, a
Western newspaper woman who had made her home in Benham. Selma came in
upon some twenty of her own sex in a hotel private parlor hired weekly
for the uses of the Institute. Mrs. Earle, the president, a large florid
woman of fifty, with gray hair rising from the brow, fluent of speech,
endowed with a public manner, a commanding bust and a vigorous,
ingratiating smile, wielded a gavel at a little table and directed the
exercises. A paper on Shakespeare's heroines was read and discussed.
Selections on the piano followed. A thin woman in eye-glasses, the
literary editor of the _Benham Sentinel_, recited "Curfew must not ring
to-night," and a visitor from Wisconsin gave an exhibition in melodious
whistling. In the intervals, tea, chocolate with whipped cream and
little cakes were dispensed.

Selma was absorbed and thrilled. What could be more to her taste than
this? At the close of the whistling exercise, Mrs. Earle came over and
spoke to her. They took a strong fancy to each other on the spot. Selma
preferred a person who would tell you everything about herself and to
whom you could tell everything about yourself without preliminaries.
People like Mrs. Taylor repressed her, but the motherly loquacity and
comprehension of Mrs. Earle drew her out and thawed at once and forever
the ice of acquaintanceship. Before she quite realized the extent of
this fascination she had promised to recite something, and as in a
dream, but with flushing cheeks, she heard the President rap the table
and announce "You will be gratified to hear that a talented friend who
is with us has kindly consented to favor us with a recital. I have the
honor to introduce Mrs. Lewis Babcock."

After the first flush of nervousness, Selma's grave dignity came to her
support, and justified her completely in her own eyes. Her father had
been fond of verse, especially of verse imbued with moral melancholy,
and at his suggestion she had learned and had been wont to repeat many
of the occasional pieces which he cut from the newspapers and collected
in a scrap-book. Her own preference among these was the poem, "O why
should the spirit of mortal be proud?" which she had been told was a
great favorite of Abraham Lincoln. It was this piece which came into her
mind when Mrs. Earle broached the subject, and this she proceeded to
deliver with august precision. She spoke clearly and solemnly without
the trace of the giggling protestation which is so often incident to
feminine diffidence. She treated the opportunity with the seriousness
expected, for though the Institute was not proof against light and
diverting contributions, as the whistling performance indicated, levity
of spirit would have been out of place.

     "'Tis a twink of the eye, 'tis a draught of the breath
     From the blossom of health to the paleness of death;
     From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,
     O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?"

Selma enjoyed the harmony between the long, slow cadence of the metre
and the important gravity of the theme. She rolled out the verses with
the intensity of a seer, and she looked a beautiful seer as well.
Liberal applause greeted her as she sat down, though the clapping woman
is apt to be a feeble instrument at best. Selma knew that she had
produced an impression and she was moved by her own effectiveness. She
was compelled to swallow once or twice to conceal the tears in her voice
while listening to the congratulations of Mrs. Earle. The words which
she had just recited were ringing through her brain and seemed to her to
express the pitch at which her life was keyed.

Selma was chosen a member of the Institute at the next meeting, and
forthwith she became intimate with the president. Mrs. Margaret Rodney
Earle was, as she herself phrased it, a live woman. She supported
herself by writing for the newspapers articles of a morally utilitarian
character--for instance a winter's series, published every Saturday,
"Hints on Health and Culture," or again, "Receipts for the Parlor and
the Kitchen." She also contributed poetry of a pensive cast, and chatty
special correspondence flavored with personal allusion. She was one of
the pioneers in modern society journalism, which at this time, however,
was comparatively veiled and delicate in its methods. Besides, she was a
woman of tireless energy, with theories on many subjects and an ardor
for organization. She advocated prohibition, the free suffrage of woman,
the renunciation of corsets, and was interested in reforms relating to
labor, the pauper classes and the public schools. In behalf of any of
these causes she was ready from time to time to dash off an article at
short notice or address an audience. But her dearest concern was the
promotion of woman's culture and the enlargement of woman's sphere of
usefulness through the club. The idea of the woman's club, which was
taking root over the country, had put in the shade for the time being
all her other plans, including the scheme of a society for making the
golden-rod the national flower. As the founder and president of the
Benham Institute, she felt that she had found an avocation peculiarly
adapted to her capacities, and she was already actively in
correspondence with clubs of a similar character in other cities, in the
hope of forming a national organization for mutual enlightenment and
support.

Mrs. Earle received Selma by invitation at her lodgings the following
day, and so quickly did their friendship ripen that at the end of two
hours each had told the other everything. Selma was prone instinctively
to regard as aristocratic and un-American any limitations to confidence.
The evident disposition on the part of Mrs. Earle to expose promptly and
without reserve the facts of her past and her plans for the future
seemed to Selma typical of an interesting character, and she was
thankful to make a clean breast in her turn as far as was possible. Mrs.
Earle's domestic experience had been thorny.

"I had a home once, too," she said, "a happy home, I thought. My husband
said he loved me. But almost from the first we had trouble. It went on
so from month to month, and finally we agreed to part. He objected, my
dear, to my living my own life. He didn't like me to take an interest in
things outside the house--public matters. I was elected on the
school-board--the only woman--and he ought to have been proud. He said
he was, at first, but he was too fond of declaring that a woman's place
is in her kitchen. One day I said to him, 'Ellery, this can't go on. If
we can't agree we'd better separate. A cat-and-dog life is no life at
all.' He answered back, 'I'm not asking you to leave me, but if you're
set on it don't let me hinder you, Margaret. You don't need a man to
support you. You're as good as a man yourself.' He meant that to be
sarcastic, I suppose. 'Yes,' said I, 'thank God, I think I can take care
of myself, even though I am a woman.' That was the end of it. There was
no use for either of us to get excited. I packed my things, and a few
mornings later I said to him, 'Good-by, Ellery Earle: I wish you well,
and I suppose you're my husband still, but I'm going to live my own life
without let or hindrance from any man. There's your ring.' My holding
out the ring was startling to him, for he said, 'Aren't you going to be
sorry for this, Margaret?' 'No,' said I, 'I've thought it all out, and
it's best for both of us. There's your ring.' He wouldn't take it, so I
dropped it on the table and went out. Some people miss it, and
misbelieve I was ever married. That was close on to twenty years ago,
and I've never seen him since. When the war broke out I heard he
enlisted, but what's become of him I don't know. Maybe he got a divorce.
I've kept right on and lived my own life in my own way, and never lacked
food or raiment. I'm forty-five years old, but I feel a young woman
still."

Notwithstanding Mrs. Earle's business-like directness and the
protuberance of her bust in conclusion, by way of reasserting her
satisfaction with the results of her action, there was a touch of
plaintiveness in her confession which suggested the womanly author of
"Hints on Culture and Hygiene," rather than the man-hater. This was lost
on Selma, who was fain to sympathize purely from the stand-point of
righteousness.

"It was splendid," she said. "He had no right to prevent you living your
own life. No husband has that right."

Mrs. Earle brushed her eyes with her handkerchief. "You musn't think, my
dear, that I'm not a believer in the home because mine has been
unhappy--because my husband didn't or couldn't understand. The true home
is the inspirer and nourisher of all that is best in life--in our
American life; but men must learn the new lesson. There are many
homes--yours, I'm sure--where the free-born American woman has
encouragement and the opportunity to expand."

"Oh, yes. My husband lets me do as I wish. I made him promise before I
accepted him that he wouldn't thwart me; that he'd let me live my own
life."

Selma was so appreciative of Mrs. Earle, and so energetic and suggestive
in regard to the scope of the Institute, that she was presently chosen a
member of the council, which was the body charged with the supervision
of the fortnightly entertainments. It occurred to her as a brilliant
conception to have Littleton address the club on "Art," and she broached
the subject to him when he next returned to Benham and appeared before
the church committee. He declared that he was too busy to prepare a
suitable lecture, but he yielded finally to her plea that he owed it to
himself to let the women of Benham hear his views and opinions.

"They are wives and they are mothers," said Selma sententiously. "It was
a woman's vote, you remember, which elected you to build our church. You
owe it to Art; don't you think so?"

A logical appeal to his conscience was never lost on Littleton. Besides
he was glad to oblige Mrs. Babcock, who seemed so earnest in her desire
to improve the æsthetic taste of Benham. Accordingly, he yielded. The
lecture was delivered a few weeks later and was a marked success, for
Littleton's earnestness of theme and manner was relieved by a graceful,
sympathetic delivery. Selma, whose social aplomb was increasing every
day, glided about the rooms with a contented mien receiving
felicitations and passing chocolate. She enjoyed the distinction of
being the God behind the curtain.

A few days later the knowledge that she herself was to become a mother
was forced upon her attention, and was a little irksome. Of necessity
her new interests would be interrupted. Though she did not question that
she would perform maternal duties fitly and fully, they seemed to her
less peculiarly adapted to her than concerns of the intellect and the
spirit. However, the possession of a little daughter was more precious
to her than she had expected, and the consciousness that the tiny doll
which lay upon her breast, was flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone
affected her agreeably and stirred her imagination. It should be reared,
from the start, in the creed of soul independence and expansion, and she
herself would find a new and sacred duty in catering to the needs of
this budding intelligence. So she reflected as she lay in bed, but the
outlook was a little marred by the thought that the baby was the living
image of its father--broad-featured and burly--not altogether desirable
cast of countenance for a girl. What a pity, when it might just as well
have looked like her.

Babcock, on his part, was transported by paternity. He was bubbling over
with appreciation of the new baby, and fondly believed it to be a human
wonder. He was solicitous on the score of its infantile ailments, and
loaded it with gifts and toys beyond the scope of its enjoyment. He went
about the house whistling more exuberantly than ever. There was no speck
on his horizon; no fly in his pot of ointment. It was he who urged that
the child should be christened promptly, though Dr. Glynn was not
disposed to dwell on the clerical barbarism as to the destiny of
unbaptized infants. Babcock was cultivating a conservative method: He
realized that there was no object in taking chances. Illogical as was
the theory that a healthy dog which had bitten him should be killed at
once, lest it subsequently go mad and he contract hydrophobia, he was
too happy and complacent to run the risk of letting it live. So it was
with regard to baby. But Selma chose the name. Babcock preferred in this
order another Selma, Sophia, after his mother, or a compliment to the
wife of the President of the United States. But Selma, as the result of
grave thought, selected Muriel Grace. Without knowing exactly why, she
asked Mrs. Taylor to be godmother. The ceremony was solemn and inspiring
to her. She knew from the glass in her room that she was looking very
pretty. But she was weak and emotional. The baby behaved admirably, even
when Lewis, trembling with pride, held it out to Mr. Glynn for baptism
and held it so that the blood rushed to its head. "I baptize thee in the
name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." She was happy and the
tears were in her eyes. The divine blessing was upon her and her house,
and, after all, baby was a darling and her husband a kind, manly soul.
With the help of heaven she would prove herself their good angel.

When they returned home there was a whistle of old silver of light,
graceful design, a present from Mrs. Taylor to Muriel. Her aunt, Mrs.
Farley, compared this to its disparagement with one already purchased by
Lewis, on the gaudily embossed stem of which perched a squirrel with a
nut in its mouth. But Selma shook her head. "Both of you are wrong," she
said with authority. "This is a beauty."

"It doesn't look new to my eyes," protested Mrs. Parley.

"Of course it isn't new. I shouldn't wonder if she bought it while
travelling abroad in Europe. It's artistic, and--and I shan't let baby
destroy it."

Babcock glanced from one gift to the other quizzically. Then by way of
disposing of the subject he seized his daughter in his arms and dandling
her toward the ceiling cried, "If it's artistic things we must have,
this is the most artistic thing which I know of in the wide world.
Aren't you, little sugar-plum?"

Mrs. Farley, with motherly distrust of man, apprehensively followed with
her eyes and arms the gyrations of rise and fall; but Selma, though she
saw, pursued the current of her own thought which prompted her to
examine her wedding-ring. She was thinking that, compared with Mrs.
Taylor's, it was a cart wheel--a clumsy, conspicuous band of metal,
instead of a delicate hoop. She wondered if Lewis would object to
exchange it for another.

With the return of her strength, Selma took up again eagerly the tenor
of her former life, aiding and abetting Mrs. Earle in the development of
the Institute. The president was absorbed in enlarging its scope by the
enrollment of more members, and the establishment of classes in a
variety of topics--such as literature, science, philosophy, current
events, history, art, and political economy. She aimed to construct a
club which should be social and educational in the broadest sense by
mutual co-operation and energy. Selma, in her eagerness to make the most
of the opportunities for culture offered, committed herself to two of
the new topic classes--"Italian and Grecian Art," and "The Governments
of Civilization," and as a consequence found some difficulty in
accommodating her baby's nursing hours to these engagements. It was
indeed a relief to her when the doctor presently pronounced the supply
of her breast-milk inadequate. She was able to assuage Lewis' regret
that Muriel should be brought up by hand with the information that a
large percentage of Benham and American mothers were similarly barren
and that bottle babies were exceedingly healthy. She had gleaned the
first fact from the physician, the second from Mrs. Earle, and her own
conclusion on the subject was that a lack of milk was an indication of
feminine evolution from the status of the brute creation, a sign of
spiritual as opposed to animal quality. Selma found Mrs. Earle
sympathetic on this point, and also practical in her suggestions as to
the rearing of infants by artificial means, recommendations concerning
which were contained in one of her series of papers entitled "Mother
Lore."

The theory of the new classes was co-operation. That is, the members
successively, turn by turn, lectured on the topic, and all were expected
to study in the interim so as to be able to ask questions and discuss
the views of the lecturer. Concerning both Italian and Grecian Art and
the Governments of Civilization, Selma knew that she had convictions in
the abstract, but when she found herself face to face with a specific
lecture on each subject, it occurred to her as wise to supplement her
ideas by a little preparation. The nucleus of a public library had been
recently established by Joel Flagg and placed at the disposal of Benham.
Here, by means of an encyclopædia and two hand-books, Selma was able in
three forenoons to compile a paper satisfactory to her self-esteem on
the dynasties of Europe and their inferiority to the United States, but
her other task was illumined for her by a happy incident, the promise of
Littleton to lend her books. Indeed he seemed delightfully interested in
both of her classes, which was especially gratifying in view of the fact
that Mrs. Taylor, who was a member of the Institute, had combated the
new programme on the plea that they were attempting too much and that it
would encourage superficiality. But Littleton seemed appreciative of the
value of the undertaking, and he made his promise good forthwith by
forwarding to her a package of books on art, among them two volumes of
Ruskin. Selma, who had read quotations from Ruskin on one or two
occasions and believed herself an admirer of, and tolerably familiar
with, his writings, was thrilled. She promptly immersed herself in
"Stones of Venice" and "Seven Lamps of Architecture," sitting up late at
night to finish them. When she had read these and the article in the
encyclopædia under the head of Art, she felt bursting with her subject
and eager to air her knowledge before the class. Her lecture was
acknowledged to be the most stirring and thorough of the course.

Reports of its success came back to her from Littleton, who offered to
assist his pupil further by practical demonstration of the eternal
architectural fitness and unfitness of things--especially the latter--in
walks through the streets of Benham. But six times in as many months,
however. There was no suggestion of coquetry on either side in these
excursions, yet each enjoyed them. Littleton's own work was beginning to
assume definite form, and his visits to Benham became of necessity more
frequent; flying trips, but he generally managed to obtain a few words
with Selma. He continued to lend her books, and he invited her criticism
on the slowly growing church edifice. The responsibility of critic was
an absorbing sensation to her, but the stark glibness of tongue which
stood her in good stead before the classes of the Institute failed her
in his presence--the presence of real knowledge. She wished to praise,
but to praise discriminatingly, with the cant of æsthetic appreciation,
so that he should believe that she knew. As for the church itself, she
was interested in it; it was fine, of course, but that was a secondary
consideration compared with her emotions. His predilection in her favor,
however, readily made him deaf in regard to her utterances. He scarcely
heeded her halting, solemn, counterfeit transcendentalisms; or rather
they passed muster as subtle and genuine, so spell bound was he by the
Delphic beauty of her criticising expression. It was enough for him to
watch her as she stood with her head on one side and the worried
archangel look transfiguring her profile. What she said was lost in his
reverie as to what she was--what she represented in his contemplation.
As she looked upon his handiwork he was able to view it with different
eyes, to discern its weaknesses and to gain fresh inspiration from her
presence. He felt that it was growing on his hands and that he should be
proud of it, and though, perhaps, he was conscious in his inner soul
that she was more to him than another man's wife should be, he knew too,
that no word or look of his had offended against the absent husband.



CHAPTER VI.


By the end of another six months Littleton's work was practically
completed. Only the finishing touches to the interior decoration
remained to be done. The members of Rev. Mr. Glynn's congregation,
including Mrs. Hallett Taylor, were thoroughly satisfied with the
appearance of the new church. It was attractive in its lines, yet it was
simple and, consequently, in keeping with the resources of the treasury.
There was no large bill for extras to be audited, as possibly would have
been the case had a hard-headed designer like Mr. Pierce been employed.
The committee felt itself entitled to the congratulations of the
community. Nor was the community on the whole disposed to grumble, for
home talent had been employed by the architect; under rigorous
supervision, to be sure, so that poor material and slap-dash workmanship
were out of the question. Still, payments had been prompt, and Benham
was able to admire competent virtue. The church was a monument of
suggestion in various ways, artistic and ethical, and it shone neatly
with Babcock varnish.

One morning Selma set forth by agreement with Littleton, in order to
inspect some fresco work. Muriel Grace was ailing slightly, but as she
would be home by mid-day, she bade the hired girl be watchful of baby,
and kept her appointment. The child had grown dear to her, for Muriel
was a charming little dot, and Selma had already begun to enjoy the
maternal delight of human doll dressing, an extravagance in which she
was lavishly encouraged by her husband. Babcock was glad of any excuse
to spend money on his daughter, who seemed to him, from day to day, a
greater marvel of precocity--such a child as became Selma's beauty and
cleverness and his own practical common-sense.

Selma was in a pensive frame of mind this morning. Two days before she
had read a paper at the Institute on "Motherhood," which had been
enthusiastically received. Mrs. Earle had printed a flattering item
concerning it in the _Benham Sentinel_. It was agreeable to her to be
going to meet Littleton, for he was the most interesting masculine
figure in her life. She was sure of Lewis. He was her husband and she
knew herself to be the apple of his eye; but she knew exactly what he
was going to say before he said it, and much of what he said grated on
her. She was almost equally sure of Littleton; that is of his
admiration. His companionship was a constant pleasure to her. As a
married woman, and as a Christian and American woman, she desired no
more than this. But on the other hand, she would fain have this admiring
companionship continue; and yet it could not. Littleton had told her the
day before that he was going back to New York and that it was doubtful
if he would return. She would miss him. She would have the Institute and
Mrs. Earle still, but her life would be less full.

Littleton was waiting for her at the church entrance. She followed him
down the nave to the chancel where she listened dreamily to his
presentation of the merits of the new decoration. He seemed inclined to
talk, and from this presently branched off to describe with enthusiasm
the plates of a French book on interior architecture, which he had
recently bought as a long-resisted but triumphant piece of extravagance.
Mechanically, they turned from the chancel and slowly made the round of
the aisles. A short silence succeeded his professional ardor. His
current of thought, in its reversion to home matters, had reminded him
afresh of what was perpetually this morning uppermost in his
consciousness--his coming departure.

"Now," he said, abruptly, "is the most favorable opportunity I shall
have, Mrs. Babcock, to tell you how much I am your debtor. I shan't
despair of our meeting again, for the world is small, and good friends
are sure to meet sooner or later. But the past is secure to me at any
rate. If this church is in some measure what I have dreamed and wished
it to be, if my work with all its faults is a satisfaction to myself, I
wish you to know how much you have contributed to make it what it is."

The words were as a melody in Selma's ears, and she listened greedily.
Littleton paused, as one seriously moved will pause before giving the
details of an important announcement. She, thinking he had finished,
interjected with a touch of modesty, "I'm so glad. But my suggestions
and criticisms have not been what I meant them to be. It was all new to
me, you know."

"Oh, yes. It hasn't been so much what you have said in words which has
helped me, though that has been always intelligent and uplifting. I did
not look for technical knowledge. You do not possess that, of course.
There are women in New York who would be able to confuse you with their
familiarity with these things. And yet it is by way of contrast with
those very women--fine women, too, in their way--that you have been my
good angel. There is no harm in saying that. I should be an ingrate,
surely, if I would not let you know that your sane, simple outlook upon
life, your independent vision, has kept my brain clear and my soul free.
I am a better artist and a better man for the experience. Good-by, and
may all happiness attend you. If once in a while you should find time to
write to a struggling architect named Littleton, he will be charmed to
do your bidding--to send you books and to place his professional
knowledge at your service. Good-by."

He held out his hand with frank effusion. He was obviously happy at
having given utterance to his sense of obligation. Selma was tingling
from head to foot and a womanly blush was on her cheek, though the
serious seraph spoke in her words and eyes. She felt moved to a wave of
unreserved speech.

"What you have said is very interesting to me. I wish to tell you how
much I, too, have enjoyed our friendship. The first time we met I felt
sure we should be sympathetic, and we have been, haven't we? One of the
fine things about friendships between men and women in this country is
that they can really get to know each other without--er--harm to either.
Isn't it? It's such a pleasure to know people really, and I feel as if I
had known you, as if we had known each other really. I've never known
any man exactly in that way, and I have always wanted to. Except, of
course, my husband. And he's extremely different--that is, his tastes
are not like yours. It's a happiness to me to feel that I have been of
assistance to you in your work, and you have been equally helpful to me
in mine. As you say, I have never had the opportunity to learn the
technical parts of art, and your books have instructed me as to that. I
have never been in New York, but I understand what you meant about your
friends, those other women. I suppose society people must be constantly
diverted from serious work--from the intellectual and spiritual life. Oh
yes, we ought to write. Our friendship mustn't languish. We must let
each other know what we are thinking and doing. Good-by."

As Selma walked along the street her heart was in her mouth. She felt
pity for herself. To just the right person she would have confessed the
discovery that she had made a mistake and tied herself for life to the
wrong man. It was not so much that she fancied Littleton which
distressed her, for, indeed, she was but mildly conscious of
infatuation. What disturbed her was the contrast between him and
Babcock, which definite separation now forced upon her attention. An
indefinable impression that Littleton might think less of her if she
were to state this soul truth had restrained her at the last moment from
disclosing the secret. Not for an instant did she entertain the idea of
being false to Lewis. Her confession would have been but a dissertation
on the inexorable irony of fate, calling only for sympathy, and in no
way derogating from her dignity and self-respect as a wife. Still, she
had restrained herself, and stopped just short of the confidence. He was
gone, and she would probably not see him again for years. That was
endurable. Indeed, a recognition of the contrary would not have seemed
to her consistent with wifely virtue. What brought the tears to her eyes
was the vision of continued wedlock, until death intervened, with a
husband who could not understand. Could she bear this? Must she endure
it? There was but one answer: She must. At the thought she bit her lip
with the intensity and sternness of a martyr. She would be faithful to
her marriage vows, but she would not let Lewis's low aims interfere with
the free development of her own life.

It was after noon when she reached home. She was met at the door by the
hired girl with the worried ejaculation that baby was choking. The
doctor was hastily summoned. He at once pronounced that Muriel Grace had
membranous croup, and was desperately ill. Remedies of various sorts
were tried, and a consulting physician called, but when Babcock returned
from his office her condition was evidently hopeless. The child died in
the early night. Selma was relieved to hear the doctor tell her husband
that it was a malignant case from the first, and that nothing could have
averted the result. In response to questions from Lewis, however, she
was obliged to admit that she had not been at home when the acute
symptoms appeared. This afforded Babcock an outlet for his suffering. He
spoke to her roughly for the first time in his life, bitterly suggesting
neglect on her part.

"You knew she wasn't all right this morning, yet you had to go
fiddle-faddling with that architect instead of staying at home where you
belonged. And now she's dead. My little girl, my little girl!" And the
big man burst out sobbing.

Selma grew deadly pale. No one had ever spoken to her like that before
in her life. To the horror of her grief was added the consciousness that
she was being unjustly dealt with. Lewis had heard the doctor's
statement, and yet he dared address her in such terms. As if the loss of
the child did not fall equally on her.

"If it were to be done over again, I should do just the same," she
answered, with righteous quietness. "To all appearances she had nothing
but a little cold. You have no right to lay the blame on me, her
mother." At the last word she looked ready to cry, too.

Babcock regarded her like a miserable tame bull. "I didn't mean to," he
blubbered. "She's taken away from me, and I'm so wretched that I don't
know what I'm saying. I'm sorry, Selma."

He held out his arms to her. She was ready to go to them, for the angel
of death had entered her home and pierced her heart, where it should be
most tender. She loved her baby. Yet, when she had time to think, she
was not sure that she wished to have another. When the bitterness of his
grief had passed away, that was the hope which Lewis ventured to
express, at first in a whisper, and later with reiterated boldness.
Selma acquiesced externally, but she had her own opinions. Certain
things which were not included in "Mother Lore," had been confided by
Mrs. Margaret Rodney Earle by word of mouth in the fulness of their
mutual soul-scourings, and had remained pigeon-holed for future
reference in Selma's inner consciousness. Another baby just at this time
meant interference with everything elevating. There was time enough. In
a year or two, when she had established herself more securely in the
social sphere of Benham, she would present her husband with a second
child. It was best for them both to wait, for her success was his
success; but it would be useless to try to make that clear to him in his
present mood.

So she put away her baby things, dropping tears over the little socks
and other reminders of her sorrow, and took up her life again, keeping
her own counsel. The sympathy offered her was an interesting experience.
Mrs. Earle came to her at once, and took her to her bosom; Mrs. Taylor
sent her flowers with a kind note, which set Selma thinking whether she
ought not to buy mourning note-paper; and within a week she received a
visit of condolence from Mr. Glynn, rather a ghastly visit. Ghastly,
because Lewis sat through it all with red eyes, very much as though he
were listening to a touching exhortation in church. To be sure, he
gripped the pastor's hand like a vice, at the end, and thanked him for
coming, but his silent, afflicted presence had interfered with the free
interchange of thought which would have been possible had she been alone
with the clergyman. The subject of death, and the whole train of
reflections incident to it, were uppermost in her mind, and she would
have been glad to probe the mysteries of the subject by controversial
argument, instead of listening to hearty, sonorous platitudes. She
listened rather contemptuously, for she recognized that Mr. Glynn was
saying the stereotyped thing in the stereotyped way, without realizing
that it was nothing but sacerdotal pap, little adapted to an intelligent
soul. What was suited to Lewis was not fit for her. And yet her baby's
death had served to dissipate somewhat the immediate discontent which
she felt with her husband. His strong grief had touched her in spite of
herself, and, though she blamed him still for his inconsiderate
accusation, she was fond of him as she might have been fond of some
loving Newfoundland, which, splendid in awkward bulk, caressed her and
licked her hand. It was pleasant enough to be in his arms, for the touch
of man--even the wrong man--was, at times, a comfort.

She took up again with determined interest her relations to the
Institute, joining additional classes and pursuing a variety of topics
of study, in regard to some of which she consulted Littleton. She missed
his presence less than she had expected, especially after they had begun
to correspond and were able to keep in touch by letter. His letters were
delightful. They served her in her lecture courses, for they so clearly
and concisely expressed her views that she was able to use long extracts
from them word for word. And every now and then they contained a
respectful allusion which showed that he still retained a personal
interest in her. So the weeks slipped away and she was reasonably happy.
She was absorbed and there was nothing new to mar the tenor of her life,
though she was vaguely conscious that the loss of their little girl had
widened the breach between her and her husband--widened it for the
reason that now, for the first time, he perceived how lonely he was. The
baby had furnished him with constant delight and preoccupation. He had
looked forward all day to seeing it at night, and questions relating to
it had supplied a never-ceasing small change of conversation between him
and her. He had let her go her way with a smile on his face. Selma did
not choose to dwell on the situation, but it was obvious that Lewis
continued to look glum, and that there were apt to be long silences
between them at meals. Now and again he would show some impatience at
the continuous recurrence of the Institute classes as a bar to some
project of domesticity or recreation, as though she had not been an
active member of the Institute before baby was born.

One of the plans in which Mrs. Earle was most interested was a Congress
of Women's Clubs, and in the early summer of the same year--some four
months subsequent to the death of Muriel Grace--a small beginning toward
this end was arranged to take place in Chicago. There were to be six
delegates from each club, and Selma was unanimously selected as one of
the delegation from the Benham Women's Institute. The opinion was
generally expressed that a change would do her good, and there was no
question that she was admirably fitted to represent the club. Selma, who
had not travelled a hundred miles beyond Benham in her life, was elated
at the prospect of the expedition; so much so that she proudly recounted
to Lewis the same evening the news of her appointment. It never occurred
to her that he would wish to accompany her, and when he presently
informed her that he had been wishing to go to Chicago on business for
some time, and that the date proposed would suit him admirably, she was
dumfounded. Half of the interest of the expedition would consist in
travelling as an independent delegation. A husband would be in the way
and spoil the savor of the occasion. It would never do, and so Selma
proceeded to explain. She wished to go alone.

"A pack of six women travel by themselves?" blurted Lewis. "Suppose
there were an accident?" he added, after searching his brain for a less
feeble argument.

"We should either be killed or we shouldn't be," said Selma firmly. "We
are perfectly well able to take care of ourselves. Women travel alone
everywhere every-day--that is, intelligent American women."

Lewis looked a little sad. "I thought, perhaps, it would seem nice for
you to go with me, Selma. We haven't been off since we were married, and
I can get away now just as well as not."

"So it would have been if I weren't one of the delegation. I should
think you would see, Lewis, that your coming is out of the question."

So it proved. Selma set forth for Chicago on the appointed day, made
many new acquaintances among the delegates, and was pleased to be
introduced and referred to publicly as Mrs. Selma Babcock--a form of
address to which she was unaccustomed at Benham. On the night before her
departure, being in pleasant spirits, she told Lewis that her absence
would do him good, and that he would appreciate her all the more on her
return.

She was to be gone a week. The first twenty-four hours passed gloomily
for Babcock. Then he began to take notice. He noticed that the county
fair was fixed for the following days. He had hoped to carry Selma
there, but, as she was not to be had, it seemed to him sensible to get
what enjoyment from it he could alone. Then it happened that a former
companion of his bachelor days and his bachelor habits, a commercial
traveller, whom he had not seen since his marriage, appeared on the
scene.

"The very man for me!" he ejaculated, jubilantly.

The obscurity of this remark was presently made clear to his friend, who
had hoped perhaps to enjoy a snug evening at Babcock's domestic hearth,
but who was not averse to playing a different part--that of cheering up
a father who had lost his baby, and whose wife had left him in the
lurch. He assured Babcock that a regular old time outing--a shaking
up--would do him good, and Babcock was ready to agree with him,
intending thereby a free-handed two days at the fair. As has been
intimated, his manner of life before marriage had not been
irreproachable, but he had been glad of an opportunity to put an end to
the mildly riotous and coarse bouts which disfigured his otherwise
commonplace existence. He had no intention now of misbehaving himself,
but he felt the need of being enlivened. His companion was a man who
delighted in what he called a lark, and whose only method of insuring a
lark was by starting in with whiskey and keeping it up. That had been
also Babcock's former conception of a good time, and though he had dimly
in mind that he was now a husband and church-member, he strove to
conduct himself in such a manner as to maintain his self-respect without
becoming a spoil sport.

During the first day at the fair Babcock managed to preserve this nice
distinction. On the second, he lost account of his conduct, and by the
late afternoon was sauntering with his friend among the booths in the
company of two suspicions looking women. With these same women the pair
of revellers drove off in top buggies just before dusk, and vanished in
the direction of the open country.



CHAPTER VII.


Babcock returned to his home twenty-four hours later like a whipped cur.
He was disgusted with himself. It seemed to him incredible that he
should have fallen so low. He had sinned against his wife and his own
self-respect without excuse; for it was no excuse that he had let
himself be led to drink too much. His heart ached and his cheek burned
at the recollection of his two days of debauchery. What was to be done?
If only he were able to cut this ugly sore in his soul out with a knife
and have done with it forever! But that was impossible. It stared him in
the face, a haunting reality. In his distress he asked himself whether
he would not go to Mr. Glynn and make a clean breast of it; but his
practical instincts answered him that he would none the less have made a
beast of himself. He held his head between his hands, and stared
dejectedly at his desk. Some relief came to him at last only from the
reflection that it was a single fault, and that it need never--it should
never be repeated. Selma need not know, and he would henceforth avoid
all such temptations. Terrible as it was, it was a slip, not a
deliberate fault, and his love for his wife was not in question.

Thus reasoning, he managed by the third day after his return to reach a
less despondent frame of mind. While busy writing in his office a lady
was announced, and looking up he encountered the meretricious smile of
the courtesan with whom he had forgotten himself. She had taken a fancy
to her victim, and having learned that he was well to do, she had come
in order to establish, if possible, on a more permanent basis, her
relations with him. She was a young woman, who had been drifting from
place to place, and whose professional inclination for a protector was
heightened by the liking which she had conceived for him. Babcock
recalled in her smile merely his shame, and regarded her reappearance as
effrontery. He was blind to her prettiness and her sentimental mood. He
asked her roughly what she wanted, and rising from his chair, he bade
her be gone before she had time to answer. Nine out of ten women of her
class would have taken their dismissal lightly. Some might have answered
back in tones loud enough to enlighten the clerks, and thus have
accomplished a pretty revenge in the course of retreat. This particular
Lesbian was in no humor to be harshly treated. She was a little
desperate and Babcock had pleased her. It piqued her to be treated in
such a fashion; accordingly, she held her ground and sat down. She tried
upon him, alternately, irony and pathos. He was angry but confused under
the first, he became savage and merciless under the second, throwing
back in her teeth the suggestion of her fondness, and stigmatizing her
coarsely. Then she became angry in her turn--angry as a woman whose
proffered love is spurned. The method for revenge was obvious, and she
told him plainly what she intended. His wife should know at once how her
husband passed his time during her absence. She had posted herself, and
she saw that her shaft hurt. Babcock winced, but mad and incredulous, he
threatened her with arrest and drove her from the room. She went out
smiling, but with an ominous look in her eyes, the remembrance of which
made him ask himself now and again if she could be vicious enough, or
fool enough, to keep her promise. He dismissed the idea as improbable;
still the bare chance worried him. Selma was to arrive early the next
morning, and he had reconciled himself to the conclusion that she need
never know, and that he would henceforth be a faithful husband. Had he
not given an earnest of his good faith in his reception of his visitor?
Surely, no such untoward and unnatural accident would dash the cup of
returning happiness from his lips. A more clever man would have gone
straight to police headquarters, instead of trusting to chance.

A night's rest reassured him as to the idleness of the threat, so that
he was able to welcome Selma at the railroad station with a
comparatively light heart. She was in high spirits over the success of
her expedition, and yet graciously ready to admit that she was glad to
return home--meaning thereby, to her own bed and bathing facilities; but
the general term seemed to poor Lewis a declaration of wifely devotion.
He went to his business with the mien of a man who had passed through an
ordeal and is beginning life again; but when he returned at night, as
soon as he beheld Selma, he suspected what had happened.

She was awaiting him in the parlor. Though he saw at a glance that she
looked grave, he went forward to kiss her, but she rose and, stepping
behind the table, put out her hand forbiddingly.

"What is the matter?" he faltered.

"That woman has been here," was her slow, scornful response.

"Selma, I--" A confusing sense of hopelessness as to what to say choked
Babcock's attempt to articulate. There was a brief silence, while he
looked at her imploringly and miserably.

"Is it true what she says? Have you been false to your marriage vows?
Have you committed adultery?"

"My God! Selma, you don't understand."

"It is an easy question to answer, yes or no?"

"I forgot myself, Selma. I was drunk and crazy. I ask your pardon."

She shook her head coldly. "I shall have nothing more to do with you. I
cannot live with you any longer."

"Not live with me?"

"Would you live with me if it were I who had forgotten myself?"

"I think I would, Selma. You don't understand. I was a brute. I have
been wretched ever since. But it was a slip--an accident. I drank too
much, and it happened. I love you, Selma, with all my heart. I have
never been false to you in my affection."

"It is a strange time to talk of affection. I went away for a week, and
in my absence you insulted me by debauchery with a creature like that.
Love? You have no conception of the meaning of the word. Oh no, I shall
never live with you again."

Babcock clinched his palms in his distress and walked up and down. She
stood pale and determined looking into space. Presently he turned to her
and asked with quiet but intense solicitude, "You don't mean that you're
going to leave me for one fault, we being husband and wife and the
little girl in her grave? I said you don't understand and you don't. A
man's a man, and there are times when he's been drinking when he's
liable to yield to temptation, and that though he's so fond of his wife
that life without her would be misery. This sounds strange to a woman,
and it's a poor excuse. But it ought to count, Selma, when it comes to a
question of our separating. There would be happy years before us yet if
you give me another chance."

"Not happy years for me," she replied concisely. "The American woman
does not choose to live with the sort of man you describe. She demands
from her husband what he demands from her, faithfulness to the marriage
tie. We could never be happy again. Our ideal of life is different. I
have made excuses for you in other things, but my soul revolts at this."

Babcock looked at her for a moment in silence, then he said, a little
sternly, "You shouldn't have gone away and left me. I'm not blaming you,
but you shouldn't have gone." He walked to the window but he saw
nothing. His heart was racked. He had been eager to humiliate himself
before her to prove his deep contrition, but he had come to the end of
his resources, and yet she was adamant. Her charge that she had been
making excuses for him hitherto reminded him that they had not been
really sympathetic for some time past. With his back turned to her he
heard her answer:

"It was understood before I agreed to marry you that I was to be free to
follow my tastes and interests. It is a paltry excuse that, because I
left you alone for a week in pursuit of them, I am accessory to your
sin."

Babcock faced her sadly. "The sin's all mine," he said. "I can't deny
that. But, Selma, I guess I've been pretty lonely ever since the baby
died."

"Lonely?" she echoed. "Then my leaving you will not matter so much.
Here," she said, slipping off her wedding-ring, "this belongs to you."
She remembered Mrs. Earle's proceeding, and though she had not yet
decided what course to pursue in order to maintain her liberty, she
regarded this as the significant and definite act. She held out the
ring, but Babcock shook his head.

"The law doesn't work as quick as that, nor the church either. You can
get a divorce if you're set on it, Selma. But we're husband and wife
yet."

"Only the husk of our marriage is left. The spirit is dead," she said
sententiously. "I am going away. I cannot pass another night in this
house. If you will not take this ring, I shall leave it here."

Babcock turned to hide the tears which blinded his eyes. Selma regarded
him a moment gravely, then she laid her wedding-ring on the table and
went from the room.

She put her immediate belongings into a bag and left the house. She had
decided to go to Mrs. Earle's lodgings where she would be certain to
find shelter and sympathy. Were she to go to her aunt's she would be
exposed to importunity on her husband's behalf from Mrs. Farley, who was
partial to Lewis. Her mind was entirely made up that there could be no
question of reconciliation. Her duty was plain; and she would be doing
herself an injustice were she to continue to live with one so weak and
regardless of the honor which she had a right to demand of the man to
whom she had given her society and her body. His gross conduct had
entitled her to her liberty, and to neglect to seize it would be to
condemn herself to continuous unhappiness, for this overt act of his was
merely a definite proof of the lack of sympathy between them, of which
she had for some time been well aware at heart. As she walked along the
street she was conscious that it was a relief to her to be sloughing off
the garment of an uncongenial relationship and to be starting life
afresh. There was nothing in her immediate surroundings from which she
was not glad to escape. Their house was full of blemishes from the
stand-point of her later knowledge, and she yearned to dissociate
herself, once and for all, from the trammels of her pitiful mistake. She
barely entertained the thought that she was without means. She would
have to support herself, of course, but it never occurred to her to
doubt her ability to do so, and the necessity added a zest to her
decision. It would be plain sailing, for Mrs. Earle had more than once
invited her to send copy to the _Benham Sentinel_, and there was no form
of occupation which would be more to her liking than newspaper work. It
was almost with the mien of a prisoner escaped from jail that she walked
in upon her friend and said:

"I have left my husband. He has been unfaithful to me."

In Mrs. Earle, conventional feminine instincts were apt, before she had
time to think, to get the upper hand of her set theories. "You, poor,
poor child," she cried extending her arms.

Selma had not intended to weep. Still the opportunity was convenient,
and her nerves were on edge. She found herself sobbing with her head on
Mrs. Earle's, bosom, and telling her sad story.

"He was never good enough for you. I have always said so," Mrs. Earle
murmured stroking her hair.

"I ought to have known from the first that it was impossible for us to
be happy. Why did I ever marry him? He said he loved me, and I let
myself be badgered into it," Selma answered through her tears. "Well,
it's all over now," she added, sitting up and drying her eyes. "He has
given me back my liberty. I am a free woman."

"Yes, dear, if you are perfectly sure of yourself, there is only one
course to pursue. Only you should consider the matter solemnly. Perhaps
in a few days, after he has apologized and shown proper contrition, you
might feel willing to give him another chance."

Selma was unprepared for Mrs. Earle's sentimentality. "Surely," she
exclaimed with tragic earnestness, "you wouldn't have me live with him
after what occurred? Contrition? He said everything he could think of to
get me to stay, but I made my decision then and there."

Mrs. Earle put her own handkerchief to her eyes. "Women have forgiven
such things; but I respect you all the more for not being weak. I know
how you feel. It is hard to do, but if I had it to do over again, I
would act just the same--just the same. It's a serious responsibility to
encourage any one to desert a home, but under the circumstances I would
not live with him another minute, my child--not another minute."
Thereupon Mrs. Earle protruded her bosom to celebrate the triumph of
justice in her own mental processes over conventional and maudlin
scruples. "You will apply for a divorce, I suppose?"

"I have not considered that. All I care for is never to see him again."

"Oh yes, you must get a divorce. It is much better, you know. In my case
I couldn't, for he did nothing public. A divorce settles matters, and
puts you back where you were before. You might wish some day to marry
again."

"I have had enough of marriage."

"It isn't any harm to be a free woman--free in the eye of the law as
well as of conscience. I know an excellent lawyer--a Mr. Lyons, a
sympathetic and able man. Besides your husband is bound to support you.
You must get alimony."

"I wouldn't touch a dollar of his money," Selma answered with scorn. "I
intend to support myself. I shall write--work."

"Of course you will, dear; and it will be a boon and a blessing to me to
have you in our ranks--one of the new army of self-supporting,
self-respecting women. I suppose you are right. I have never had a
sixpence. But your husband deserves to be punished. Perhaps it is
punishment enough to lose you."

"He will get over that. It is enough for me," she exclaimed, ardently,
after a dreamy pause, "that I am separated from him forever--that I am
free--free--free."

A night's sleep served to intensify Selma's determination, and she awoke
clearly of the opinion that a divorce was desirable. Why remain fettered
by a bare legal tie to one who was a husband only in name? Accordingly,
in company with Mrs. Earle, she visited the office of James O. Lyons,
and took the initiatory steps to dissolve the marriage.

Mr. Lyons was a large, full-bodied man of thirty-five, with a fat,
cleanly-shaven, cherubic countenance, an aspect of candor, and keen,
solemn eyes. His manner was impressive and slightly pontificial; his
voice resonant and engaging. He knew when to joke and when to be grave
as an owl. He wore in every-day life a shiny, black frock-coat, a
standing collar, which yawned at the throat, and a narrow, black tie.
His general effect was that of a cross between a parson and a shrewd
Yankee--a happy suggestion of righteous, plain, serious-mindedness,
protected against the wiles of human society--and able to protect
others--by a canny intelligence. For a young man he had already a
considerable clientage. A certain class of people, notably the
hard-headed, God-fearing, felt themselves safe in his hands. His
magnetic yet grave manner of conducting business pleased Benham,
attracting also both the distressed and the bilious portions of the
community, and the farmers from the surrounding country. As Mrs. Earle
informed Selma, he was in sympathy with all progressive and stimulating
ideas, and he already figured in the newspapers politically, and before
the courts as a friend of the masses, and a fluent advocate of social
reforms. His method of handling Selma's case was smooth. To begin with,
he was sympathetic within proper limits, giving her tacitly to
understand that, though as a man and brother, he deplored the necessity
of extreme measures, he recognized that she had made up her mind, and
that compromise was out of the question. To put it concisely, his manner
was grieved, but practical. He told her that he would represent to
Babcock the futility of contesting a cause, which, on the evidence, must
be hopeless, and that, in all probability, the matter could be disposed
of easily and without publicity. He seemed to Selma a very sensible and
capable man, and it was agreeable to her to feel that he appreciated
that, though divorce in the abstract was deplorable, her experience
justified and called for the protection of the law.

In the meantime Babcock was very unhappy, and was casting about for a
method to induce his wife to return. He wrote to her a pitiful letter,
setting forth once more the sorry facts in the best light which he could
bring to bear on them, and implored her forgiveness. He applied to her
aunt, Mrs. Farley, and got her to supplement his plea with her
good-natured intervention. "There are lots of men like that," she
confided to Selma, "and he's a kind, devoted creature." When this
failed, he sought Rev. Mr. Glynn as a last resort, and, after he had
listened to a stern and fervid rating from the clergyman on the lust of
the flesh, he found his pastor on his side. Mr. Glynn was opposed to
divorce on general ecclesiastical principles; moreover, he had been
educated under the law of England, by which a woman cannot obtain a
divorce from her husband for the cause of adultery unless it be coupled
with cruelty--a clever distinction between the sexes, which was
doubtless intended as a cloak for occasional lapses on the part of man.
It was plain to him, as a Christian and as a hearty soul, that there had
been an untoward accident--a bestial fault, a soul-debasing carnal sin,
but still an accident, and hence to be forgiven by God and woman. It was
his duty to interfere; and so, having disciplined the husband, he
essayed the more delicate matter of propitiating the wife. And he
essayed it without a thought of failure.

"I'm afraid she's determined to leave me, and that there's not much
hope," said Babcock, despondently, as he gripped the clergyman's hand in
token of his gratitude.

"Nonsense, my man," asserted Mr. Glynn briskly. "All she needs is an
exhortation from me, and she will take you back."

Selma was opposed to divorce in theory. That is, she had accepted on
trust the traditional prejudice against it as she had accepted
Shakespeare and Boston. But theory stood for nothing in her regard
before the crying needs of her own experience. She had not the least
intention of living with her husband again. No one could oblige her to
do that. In addition, the law offered her a formal escape from his
control and name. Why not avail herself of it? She recollected, besides,
that her husband's church recognized infidelity as a lawful ground of
release from the so-called sacrament of marriage. This had come into her
mind as an additional sanction to her own decision. But it had not
contributed to that decision. Consequently, when she was confronted in
Mrs. Earle's lodgings by the errand of Mr. Glynn, she felt that his
coming was superfluous. Still, she was glad of the opportunity to
measure ideas with him in a thorough interview free from interruption.

Mr. Glynn's confidence was based on his intention to appeal to the ever
womanly quality of pity. He expected to encounter some resistance, for
indisputably here was a woman whose sensibilities had been justly and
severely shocked--a woman of finer tissue than her husband, as he had
noted in other American couples. She was entitled to her day in
court--to a stubborn, righteous respite of indignation. But he expected
to carry the day in the end, amid a rush of tears, with which his own
might be mingled. He trusted to what he regarded as the innate
reluctance of the wife to abandon the man she loved, and to the leaven
of feminine Christian charity.

As a conscientious hater of sin, he did not attempt to minimize
Babcock's act or the insult put upon her. That done, he was free to
intercede fervently for him and to extol the virtue and the advisability
of forgiveness. This plea, however cogent, was narrow, and once stated
admitted merely of duplication in the same form. It was indeed no
argument, merely an appeal, and, in proportion as it failed to move the
listener, became feeble. Selma listened to him with a tense face, her
hands clasped before her in the guise of an interested and
self-scrutinizing spirit. But she betrayed no sign of yielding, or
symptom of doubt. She shook her head once or twice as he proceeded, and,
when he paused, asked why she should return to a man who had broken
faith with her; asked it in such a genuine tone of conviction that Dr.
Glynn realized the weakness of his own case, and became slightly nettled
at the same time.

"True," he said, rather sternly, "your husband has committed a hideous,
carnal sin, but he is genuinely repentant. Do you wish to ruin his life
forever?"

"His life?" said Selma. "It would ruin my life to return to him. I have
other plans--plans which will bring me happiness. I could never be happy
with him."

The clergyman was baffled. Other plans! The words offended him, and yet
he could not dispute her right to do as she chose. Still he saw fit to
murmur: "He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his
life for my sake shall find it."

Selma flushed. To be accused of acting contrary to Christian precepts
was painful and surprising to her. "Mr. Glynn," she said, "I see you
don't understand. My husband and I ought never to have married. It has
all been a dreadful mistake. We have not the same tastes and interests.
I am sorry for him, but I can never consent to return to him. To do so
would condemn us both to a life of unhappiness. We were not intended for
husband and wife, and it is best--yes, more Christian--for us to
separate. We American women do not feel justified in letting a mistake
ruin our lives when there is a chance to escape."

Mr. Glynn regarded her in silence for a moment. He was accustomed to
convince, and he had not succeeded, which to a clergyman is more
annoying than to most men. Still what she said made his plea seem
doubtful wisdom.

"Then you do not love your husband?" he said.

"No," said Selma quietly, "I do not love him. It is best to be frank
with one's self--with you, in such a matter, isn't it? So you see that
what you ask is out of the question."

Mr. Glynn rose. Clearly his mission had failed, and there was nothing
more to be said. Being a just man, he hesitated to pass an unkind
judgment on this bright-faced, pensive woman. She was within her moral
rights, and he must be careful to keep within his. But he went away
bewildered and discomfited. Selma would have liked to dismiss the
subject and keep him longer. She would have been glad to branch off on
to other ethical topics and discuss them. She was satisfied with the
result of the interview, for she had vindicated her position and spiked
Lewis's last gun.

So, indeed, it proved. Mr. Glynn sent for Babcock and told him the naked
truth, that his wife's love for him was dead and reconciliation
impossible. He properly refrained from expressing the doubt lurking in
his own mind as to whether Selma had ever loved her husband. Thus
convinced of the hopelessness of his predicament, Babcock agreed to Mr.
Lyons's suggestion not to contest the legal proceedings. The lawyer had
been diligent, and the necessary evidence--the testimony of the
woman--was secure. She was ready to carry her revenge to the end,
hoping, perhaps, that the victim of it would return to her when he had
lost his wife. Accordingly, a few weeks later, Selma was granted a
divorce nisi and the right to resume her maiden name. She had decided,
however, to retain the badge of marriage as a decorous social prefix,
and to call herself Mrs. Selma White.



CHAPTER VIII.


The consciousness that she was dependent for the means of support solely
on her own exertions was a genuine pleasure to Selma, and she applied
herself with confidence and enthusiasm to the problem of earning her
livelihood. She had remained steadfast to her decision to accept nothing
from her husband except the legal costs of the proceedings, though Mr.
Lyons explained to her that alimony was a natural and moral increment of
divorce. Still, after her refusal, he informed her as a man and a friend
that he respected and admired the independence of her action, which was
an agreeable tribute. She had fixed definitely on newspaper work as the
most inviting and congenial form of occupation. She believed herself to
be well fitted for it. It would afford her an immediate income, and it
would give her the opportunity which she craved for giving public
expression to her ideas and fixing attention on herself. There was room
for more than one Mrs. Earle in Benham, for Benham was growing and
wide-awake and on the alert for originality of any kind--especially in
the way of reportorial and journalistic cleverness. Selma had no
intention of becoming a second Mrs. Earle. That is, she promised herself
to follow, but not to follow blindly; to imitate judiciously, but to
improve on a gradually diverging line of progress. This was mere
generalization as yet. It was an agreeable seething brain consciousness
for future development. For the moment, however, she counted on Mrs.
Earle to obtain for her a start by personal influence at the office of
the _Benham Sentinel_. This was provided forthwith in the form of an
invitation to prepare a weekly column under the caption of "What Women
Wear;" a summary of passing usages in clothes. The woman reporter in
charge of it had just died. Selma's first impulse was to decline the
work as unworthy of her abilities, yet she was in immediate need of
employment to avoid running in debt and she was assured by Mrs. Earle
that she would be very foolish to reject such an offer. Reflection
caused her to think more highly of the work itself. It would afford her
a chance to explain to the women of Benham, and indirectly to the
country at large, that taste in dress was not necessarily inconsistent
with virtue and serious intentions--a truth of which she herself had
become possessed since her marriage and which it seemed to her might be
utilized delightfully in her department. She would endeavor to treat
dress from the standpoint of ethical responsibility to society, and to
show that both extravagance and dowdy homeliness were to be avoided.
Clothes in themselves had grown to be a satisfaction to her, and any
association of vanity would be eliminated by the introduction of a
serious artistic purpose into a weekly commentary concerning them.
Accordingly she accepted the position and entered upon its duties with
grave zeal.

For each of these contributions Selma was to receive eight dollars--four
hundred a year, which she hoped to expand to a thousand by creative
literary production--preferably essays and poetry. She hired a room in
the same neighborhood as Mrs. Earle, in the boarding-house district
appurtenant to Central Avenue--that is to say, on the ragged edge of
Benham's social artery, and set up her new household gods. The interest
of preparing the first paper absorbed her to the exclusion of everything
else. She visited all the dress-making and dry-goods establishments in
town, examined, at a hint from Mrs. Earle, the fashion departments of
the New York papers, and then, pen in hand, gave herself up to her
subject. The result seemed to her a happy blending of timely philosophy
and suggestions as to toilette, and she took it in person to the editor.
He saw fit to read it on the spot. His brow wrinkled at first and he
looked dubious. He re-read it and said with some gusto, "It's a novelty,
but I guess they'll like it. Our women readers have been used to fashion
notes which are crisp and to the point, and the big houses expect to
have attention called to the goods they wish to sell. If you'll run over
this again and set your cold facts in little paragraphs by themselves
every now and then, I shouldn't wonder if the rest were a sort of
lecture course which will catch them. It's a good idea. Next time you
could work in a pathetic story--some references to a dead
baby--verses--anecdotes--a little variety. You perceive the idea?"

"Oh, yes," said Selma, appropriately sober at the allusion yet ecstatic.
"That's just what I should like to do. It would give me more scope. I
wish my articles to be of real use--to help people to live better, and
to dress better."

"That's right, that's right; and if they make the paper sell, we'll know
that folks like them," responded the editor with Delphic urbanity.

The first article was a success. That is, Selma's method was not
interfered with, and she had the satisfaction of reading in the
_Sentinel_ during the week an item calling gratified attention to the
change in its "What Women Wear" column, and indicating that it would
contain new features from week to week. It gave her a pleasant thrill to
see her name, "Selma White," signed at the end of the printed column,
and she set to work eagerly to carry out the editor's suggestions. At
the same time she tried her hand at a short story--the story of an
American girl who went to Paris to study art, refused to alter her mode
of life to suit foreign ideas of female propriety, displayed exceptional
talent as an artist, and finally married a fine-spirited young American,
to the utter discomfiture of a French member of the nobility, who had
begun by insulting her and ended with making her an offer of marriage.
This she sent to the _Eagle_, the other Benham newspaper, for its Sunday
edition.

It took her a month to compose this story, and after a week she received
it back with a memorandum to the effect that it was one-half too long,
but intimating that in a revised form it would be acceptable. This was a
little depressing, especially as it arrived at a time when the novelty
of her occupation had worn off and she was realizing the limitations of
her present life. She had begun to miss the advantages of a free purse
and the importance of a domestic establishment. She possessed her
liberty, and was fulfilling her mission as a social force, but her life
had been deprived of some of its savor, and, though she was thankful to
be rid of Babcock, she felt the lack of an element of personal devotion
to herself, an element which was not to be supplied by mere admiration
on the part of Mrs. Earle and the other members of the Institute. It did
not suit her not to be able to gratify her growing taste in clothes and
in other lines of expenditure, and there were moments when she
experienced the need of being petted and made much of by a man. She was
conscious of loneliness, and in this mood she pitied herself as a victim
of untoward circumstances, one who had wasted the freshness of her young
life, and missed the happiness which the American wife is apt to find
waiting for her. Under the spell of this nostalgia she wrote a poem
entitled "The Bitter Sweets of Solitude," and disposed of it for five
dollars to the _Sentinel_. The price shocked her, for the verses seemed
flesh of her flesh. Still, five dollars was better than nothing, and she
discerned from the manner of the newspaper editor that he cared little
whether she left them or not. It was on that evening that she received a
letter from Littleton, stating that he was on the eve of leaving New
York for Benham. He was coming to consult concerning certain further
interior decorations which the committee had decided to add to the
church.

Selma's nerves vibrated blissfully as she read the news. For some
reason, which she had never seen fit definitely to define, she had
chosen not to acquaint Littleton with the fact of her divorce. Their
letters had been infrequent during the last six months, for this visit
had been impending, having been put off from time to time because the
committee had been dilatory and he otherwise engaged. Perhaps her secret
motive had been to surprise him, to let him find himself confronted with
an accomplished fact, which would obviate argument and reveal her
established in her new career, a happy, independent citizen, without
ties. At any rate she smiled now at the address on the envelope--Mrs.
Lewis Babcock. Obviously he was still in the dark as to the truth, and
it would be her privilege to enlighten him. She began to wonder what
would be the upshot of his coming, and tears came to her eyes, tears of
self-congratulation that the narrow tenor of her daily life was to be
irradiated by a sympathetic spirit.

When Littleton duly appeared at the committee meeting on the following
day, Selma saw at a glance that he was unaware of what had happened. He
looked slightly puzzled when one of the members addressed her as Mrs.
White, but evidently he regarded this as a slip of the tongue. Selma
looked, as she felt, contented and vivacious. She had dressed herself
simply, but with effective trigness. To those who knew her experience,
her appearance indicated courage and becoming self-respect. Public
opinion, even as embodied in the church committee, while deploring the
necessity, was not disposed to question the propriety of her action.
That is, all except Mrs. Taylor. In her, Selma thought she had detected
signs of coldness, a sort of suspicious reservation of judgment, which
contrasted itself unpleasantly with the sympathetic attitude of the
others, who were fain to refer to her, in not altogether muffled
whispers, as a plucky, independent, little woman. Hence, she was glad
that Mrs. Taylor happened to be detained at home by illness on this
afternoon, and that, accordingly, she was free to enjoy unreservedly the
dramatic nature of the situation. Her heart beat a little faster as the
chairman, turning to her to ask a question, addressed her unmistakably
as Mrs. White. She could not refrain from casting half-amused,
half-pathetic sheep's eyes at Littleton. He started visibly, regarded
her for, a moment in obvious amazement, then flushed to the roots of his
hair. She felt the blood rising to her own cheeks, and a sensation of
mild triumph. The meeting was over and the members were merely lingering
to tie up the loose threads of the matter arranged for. In a few moments
Selma found herself with the architect sufficiently apart from the
others for him to ask:

"Two persons have addressed you this afternoon as Mrs. White. I do not
understand."

She cast down her eyes, as a woman will when a question of modesty is
involved, then she raised them and said: "You did not know, then, that I
had left my husband?"

"Left him?"

"Yes. I have obtained a divorce. He was unfaithful to me."

"I see"--said Littleton with a sort of gasp--"I see. I did not know. You
never wrote to me."

"I did not feel like writing to any body. There was nothing to be done
but that."

Littleton regarded her with a perturbed, restless air.

"Then you live no longer at 25 Onslow Avenue?"

"Oh, no. I left there more than six months ago. I live in lodgings. I am
supporting myself by literary work. I am Mrs. Selma White now, and my
divorce has been absolute more than a month."

She spoke gravely and quietly, with less than her usual assurance, for
she felt the spell of his keen, eager scrutiny and was not averse to
yield at the moment to the propensity of her sex. She wondered what he
was thinking about. Did he blame her? Did he sympathize with her?

"Where are you going when you leave here?" he asked.

"Home--to my new home. Will you walk along with me?"

"That is what I should like. I am astonished by what you have told me,
and am anxious to hear more about it, if to speak of it would not wound
you. Divorced! How you must have suffered! And I did not have the chance
to offer you my help--my sympathy."

"Yes, I have suffered. But that is all over now. I am a free woman. I am
beginning my life over again."

It was a beautiful afternoon, and by mutual consent, which neither put
into words, they diverged from the exact route to Selma's lodging house
and turned their steps to the open country beyond the city limits--the
picturesque dell which has since become the site of Benham's public
park. There they seated themselves where they would not be interrupted.
Selma told him on the way the few vital facts in her painful story, to
which he listened in a tense silence, broken chiefly by an occasional
ejaculation expressive of his contempt for the man who had brought such
unhappiness upon her. She let him understand, too, that her married
life, from the first, had been far less happy than he had
imagined--wretched makeshift for the true relation of husband and wife.
She spoke of her future buoyantly, yet with a touch of sadness, as
though to indicate that she was aware that the triumphs of intelligence
and individuality could not entirely be a substitute for a happy home.

"And what do you expect to do?" he inquired in a bewildered fashion, as
though her delineation of her hopes had been lost on him.

"Do? Support myself by my own exertions, as I have told you. By writing
I expect. I am doing very well already. Do you question my ability to
continue?"

"Oh, no; not that. Only--"

"Only what? Surely you are not one of the men who grudge women the
chance to prove what is in them--who would treat us like china dolls and
circumscribe us by conventions? I know you are not, because I have heard
you inveigh against that very sort of narrow mindedness. Only what?"

"I can't make up my mind to it. And I suppose the reason is that it
means so much to me--that you mean so much to me. What is the use of my
dodging the truth, Selma--seeking to conceal it because such a short
time has elapsed since you ceased to be a wife? Forgive me if I hurt
you, if it seem indelicate to speak of love at the very moment when you
are happy in your liberty. I can't help it; it's my nature to speak
openly. And there's no bar now. The fact that you are free makes clear
to me what I have not dared to countenance before, that you are the one
woman in the world for me--the woman I have dreamed of--and longed to
meet--the woman whose influence has blessed me already, and without whom
I shall lack the greatest happiness which life can give. Selma, I love
you--I adore you."

Selma listened with greedy ears, which she could scarcely believe. It
seemed to her that she was in dream-land, so unexpected, yet entrancing,
was his avowal. She had been vaguely aware that he admired her more than
he had allowed himself to disclose, and conscious, too, that his
presence was agreeable to her; but in an instant now she recognized that
this was love--the love she had sought, the love she had yearned to
inspire and to feel. Compared with it, Babcock's clumsy ecstasy and her
own sufferance of it had been a sham and a delusion. Of so much she was
conscious in a twinkling, and yet what she deemed proper self-respect
restrained her from casting herself into his arms. It was, indeed, soon,
and she had been happy in her liberty. At least, she had supposed
herself so; and she owed it to her own plans and hopes not to act
hastily, though she knew what she intended to do. She had been lonely,
yes starving, for lack of true companionship, and here was the soul
which would be a true mate to hers.

They were sitting on a grassy bank. He was bending toward her with
clasped hands, a picture of fervor. She could see him out of the corner
of her glance, though she looked into space with her gaze of seraphic
worry. Yet her lips were ready to lend themselves to a smile of blissful
satisfaction and her eyes to fill with the melting mood of the thought
that at last happiness had come to her.

The silence was very brief, but Littleton, as would have seemed fitting
to her, feared lest she were shocked.

"I distress you," he said. "Forgive me. Listen--will you listen?" Selma
was glad to listen. The words of love, such love as this, were
delicious, and she felt she owed it to herself not to be won too easily.
"I am listening," she answered softly with the voice of one face to face
with an array of doubts.

"Before I met you, Selma, woman but was a name to me. My life brought me
little into contact with them, except my dear sister, and I had no
temptation to regret that I could not support a wife. Yet I dreamed of
woman and of love and of a joy which might some day come to me if I
could meet one who fulfilled my ideal of what a true woman should be. So
I dreamed until I met you. The first time I saw you, Selma, I knew in my
heart that you were a woman whom I could love. Perhaps I should have
recognized more clearly as time went on that you were more to me even
then than I had a right to allow; yet I call heaven to witness that I
did not, by word or sign, do a wrong to him who has done such a cruel
wrong to you."

"Never by word or sign," echoed Selma solemnly. The bare suggestion that
Babcock had cause to complain of either of them seemed to her
preposterous. Yet she was saying to herself that it was easy to perceive
that he had loved her from the first.

"And since I love you with all my soul must I--should I in justice to
myself--to my own hopes of happiness, refrain from speaking merely
because you have so recently been divorced? I must speak--I am speaking.
It is too soon, I dare say, for you to be willing to think of marriage
again--but I offer you the love and protection of a husband. My means
are small, but I am able now to support a wife in decent comfort. Selma,
give me some hope. Tell me, that in time you may be willing to trust
yourself to my love. You wish to work--to distinguish yourself. Would I
be a hindrance to that? Indeed, you must know that I would do every
thing in my power to promote your desire to be of service to the world."

The time for her smile and her tears had come. He had argued his case
and her own, and it was clear to her mind that delay would be futile.
Since happiness was at hand, why not grasp it? As for her work, he need
not interfere with that. And, after all, now that she had tried it, was
she so sure that newspaper work--hack work, such as she was pursuing,
was what she wished? As a wife, re-established in the security of a
home, she could pick and choose her method of expression. Perhaps,
indeed, it would not be writing, except occasionally. Was not New York a
wide, fruitful field, for a reforming social influence? She saw herself
in her mind's eye a leader of movements and of progress. And that with a
man she loved--yes, adored even as he adored her.

So she turned to Littleton with her smile and in tears--the image of
bewitching but pathetic self-justification and surrender. Her mind was
made up; hence why procrastinate and coyly postpone the desirable, and
the inevitable? That was what she had the shrewdness to formulate in the
ecstasy of her transport; and so eloquent was the mute revelation of her
love that Littleton, diffident reverencer of the modesty of woman as he
was, without a word from her clasped her to his breast, a victor in a
breath. As, regardless of the possible invasion of interlopers, he took
her in his embrace, she felt with satisfaction once more the grasp of
masculine arms. She let her head fall on his shoulder in delighted
contentment. While he murmured in succession inarticulate terms of
endearment, she revelled in the thrill of her nerves and approved her
own sagacious and commendable behavior.

"Dearest," she whispered, "you are right. We are right. Since we love
each other, why should we not say so? I love you--I love you. The ugly
hateful past shall not keep us apart longer. You say you loved me from
the first; so did I love you, though I did not know it then. We were
meant for each other--God meant us--did he not? It is right, and we
shall be so happy, Wilbur."

"Yes, Selma." Words seemed to him an inadequate means for expressing his
emotions. He pressed his lips upon hers with the adoring respect of a
worshipper touching his god, yet with the energy of a man. She sighed
and compared him in her thought with Babcock. How gentle this new lover!
How refined and sensitive and appreciative! How intelligent and
gentlemanly!

"If I had my wish, darling," he said, "we should be married to-night and
I would carry you away from here forever."

She remembered that Babcock had uttered the same wish on the occasion
when he had offered himself. To grant it then had been out of the
question. To do so now would be convenient--a prompt and satisfactory
blotting out of her past and present life--a happy method of solving
many minor problems of ways and means connected with waiting to be
married. Besides it would be romantic, and a delicious, fitting crowning
of her present blissful mood.

He mistook her silence for womanly scruples, and he recounted with a
little laugh the predicament in which he should find himself on his own
account were they to be so precipitate. "What would my sister think if
she were to get a telegram--'Married to-night. Expect us to-morrow?' She
would think I had lost my senses. So I have, darling; and you are the
cause. She knows about you. I have talked to her about you."

"But she thinks I am Mrs. Babcock."

"Oh yes. Ha! ha! It would never do to state to whom I was married,
unless I sent a telegram as long as my arm. Dear Pauline! She will be
radiant. It is all arranged that she is to stay where she is in the old
quarters, and I am to take you to a new house. We've decided on that,
time and again, when we've chanced to talk of what might happen--of 'the
fair, the chaste and unexpressive she'--my she. Dearest, I wondered if I
should ever find her. Pauline has always said that she would never run
the risk of spoiling everything by living with us."

"It would be very nice--and very simple," responded Selma, slowly. "You
wouldn't think any the worse of me, Wilbur, if I were to marry you
to-night?"

"The worse of you? It is what I would like of all things. Whom does it
concern but us? Why should we wait in order to make a public spectacle
of ourselves?"

"I shouldn't wish that. I should insist on being married very quietly.
Under all the circumstances there is really no reason--it seems to me it
would be easier if we were to be married as soon as possible. It would
avoid explanations and talk, wouldn't it? That is, if you are perfectly
sure."

"Sure? That I love you? Oh Selma!"

She shut her eyes under the thrill which his kiss gave her. "Then we
will be married whenever you wish," she said.

It was already late in the afternoon, so that the prospects of obtaining
a license did not seem favorable. Still it happened that Littleton knew
a clergyman of his own faith--Unitarian--in Benham, a college classmate,
whom he suggested as soon as he understood that Selma preferred not to
be married by Mr. Glynn. They found him at home, and by diligent
personal effort on his part the necessary legal forms were complied with
and they were made husband and wife three hours before the departure of
the evening train for New York. After the ceremony they stepped
buoyantly, arm in arm in the dusk, along the street to send the telegram
to Miss Littleton, and to snatch a hasty meal before Selma went to her
lodgings to pack. There were others in the restaurant, so having
discovered that they were not hungry, they bought sandwiches and
bananas, and resumed their travels. The suddenness and surprise of it
all made Selma feel as if on wings. It seemed to her to be of the
essence of new and exquisite romance to be walking at the side of her
fond, clever lover in the democratic simplicity of two paper bags of
provender and an open, yet almost headlong marriage. She felt that at
last she was yoked to a spirit who comprehended her and who would
stimulate instead of repress the fire of originality within her. She had
found love and she was happy. Meanwhile she had decided to leave Benham
without a word to anyone, even Mrs. Earle. She would write and explain
what had happened.



BOOK II.

THE STRUGGLE


CHAPTER I.


Littleton had not expected that Selma would accede to his request to be
married at once, but he was delighted at her decision. He had uttered
his wish in sincerity, for there was really no reason for waiting, and
by an immediate marriage they would escape the tedium of an engagement
during which they could hope to see each other but rarely. He was able
to support a wife provided they were to live simply and economically. He
felt sure that Selma understood his circumstances and was no less ready
than he to forego luxuries in order that they might be all in all to
each other spiritually as husband and wife. Besides he had hopes that
his clientage would continue to grow so that he would be able to provide
all reasonable comforts for his new home. Consequently he drove up from
the station in New York with a light heart, fondly pointing out to his
wife this and that building and other objects of interest. He mistook
her pensive silence for diffidence at the idea of descending suddenly on
another woman's home--a matter which in this instance gave him no
concern, for he had unlimited confidence in Pauline's executive ability
and her tendency not to get ruffled. She had been his good angel,
domestically speaking, and, indeed, in every way, since they had first
begun to keep house together, and it had rather amused him to let fall
such a bombshell as the contents of his telegram upon the regularity of
her daily life.

"Don't be nervous, darling," he said gayly. "You will find Pauline
bubbling over with joy at our coming, and everything arranged as though
we were expected to live there all our lives."

Selma looked at him blankly and then remembered. She was not feeling
nervous, and Pauline was not in her thoughts. She had been lost in her
own reflections--lost in the happy consciousness of the contrast between
her new and her old husband, and in the increasing satisfaction that she
was actually in New York. How bright and busy the streets looked! The
throng of eager passers and jostling vehicles against the background of
brilliant shop-windows bewildered and stimulated her. She was saying to
herself that here was the place where she was suited to live, and mutely
acknowledging its superiority to Benham as a centre of life. This was a
rash, swift conclusion, but Selma prided herself on her capacity to
arrive at wise judgments by rapid mental processes. So absorbed was she
in the glittering, stirring panorama that Wilbur's efforts at
enlightenment were practically wasted. She was in no humor for details;
she was glorying in the exalted impression which the whole vivid scene
produced upon her.

His remark caused her to realize that they must be near their
destination. She had no misgivings on the score of her own reception,
but she was interested and curious to see Pauline, this wonderful sister
of whom Wilbur was so fond and so proud. Then her husband cried, "Here
we are!" and in another moment she found herself in the hearty embrace
of a large, comely woman who met her at the door. This of course must be
Pauline. Selma was just a little shocked by the fervor of the greeting;
for though she delighted in rapid intimacies, unexpected liberties with
her person were contrary to her conceptions of propriety. Still it was
delightful to be welcomed so heartily. She returned the embrace warmly
but with dignity, and allowed herself to be convoyed into the house arm
in arm with her new relation who seemed, indeed, to be bubbling over
with joy. It was not until they were in the same room that Selma could
get a good look at her.

Pauline Littleton was fine looking rather than pretty. She was tall and
substantial, with an agreeable face, an intelligent brow, a firm yet
sweet mouth, and steady, honest eyes which now sparkled with pleasure.
Her physique was very different from her brother's. Selma noticed that
she was taller than herself and only a little shorter than Wilbur. She
had Wilbur's smile too, suggesting a disposition to take things
humorously; but her expression lacked the poetic cast which made him so
attractive and congenial to herself and excused the existence of the
lighter vein. Selma did not admire women who were inclined to be stout.
She associated spareness of person with high thinking, and an abundance
of flesh as an indication of material or commonplace aims. She reflected
that Pauline was presumably business-like and a good house-keeper, and,
very likely, an industrious teacher in her classes, but she set her down
in her mind as deficient in the finer sensibilities of the spirit
belonging to herself and Wilbur. It was instinctive with Selma to form a
prompt estimate of every one she met, and it was a relief to her to come
to the agreeable conclusion that there was nothing in her
sister-in-law's appearance to make her discontented with herself. This
warmed her heart at once toward Pauline. To be sure Pauline manifested
the same sort of social grace which distinguished Mrs. Hallett Taylor,
but Selma, though she still regarded this with suspicion, for the reason
that she had not yet become mistress of it, was secretly content to know
that she had married into a family which possessed it. Altogether she
was agreeably impressed by her scrutiny of her new sister, who, in her
opinion, would not be an irritating rival either in looks or character,
and yet who was a pleasing and sufficiently serious-minded person--in
short just the sort of sister-in-law which she yearned to have.

Pauline, on her part, was duly fascinated by the delicate and inspiring
beauty of her brother's wife. She understood at once why Wilbur had
chosen her in preference to any one of his own circle. Selma obviously
symbolized by her grave, tense, thin face the serious ideals of living
and womanhood, which had been dear to his meditation as a youth and a
part of his heritage from his New England ancestors. It made her joyous
to feel that he had found a wife who would be a constant source of
inspiration to him, for she knew that Wilbur would not be happy with any
one who fell short of his ideal as to what a woman should be. She knew
her brother well, and she understood how deeply in earnest he was to
make the most of his life, and what an exalted vision he entertained as
to the possibilities for mutual sympathy and help between husband and
wife.

Partly as a consequence of their limited means, partly owing to
absorption in their respective studies and interests, the Littletons,
though of gentle stock, lived simple lives according to New York
standards. They were aware of the growth of luxury resulting from the
accumulation of big fortunes since the war. As an architect, Wilbur saw
larger and more elaborate public and private buildings being erected on
every side. As a house-keeper and a woman with social interests, Pauline
knew that the power of money was revolutionizing the public taste in the
matter of household expenditure; that in the details of domestic life
there was more color and more circumstance, and that people who were
well-to-do, and many who were not, were requiring as daily comforts all
sorts of things to which they had been unaccustomed. But though they
both thus knew vaguely that the temper of society had changed, and that
sober citizens and their wives, who, twenty years before, would have
prated solemnly against a host of gay, enlivening or pretty customs as
incompatible with American virtue, were now adopting these as rapidly as
money could procure them--the brother and sister had remained
comparatively unaffected by the consequences of the transformation
scene. Certainly their home had. It was old-fashioned in its garniture
and its gentility. It spoke of a day, not so many years before, when
high thinking had led to blinking where domestic decoration was
concerned, and people had bought ugly wooden and worsted things to live
with because only the things of the spirit seemed of real importance.
Still time, with its marvellous touch, has often the gift of making
furniture and upholstery, which were hideous when bought, look
interesting and cosey when they have become old-fashioned. In this way
Pauline Wilbur's parlor was a delightful relic of a day gone by. There
was scarcely a pretty thing in it, as Wilbur himself well knew, yet, as
a whole, it had an atmosphere--an atmosphere of simple unaffected
refinement. Their domestic belongings had come to them from their
parents, and they had never had the means to replenish them. When, in
due time, they had realized their artistic worthlessness, they had held
to them through affection, humorously conscious of the incongruity that
two such modern individuals as themselves should be living in a domestic
museum. Then, presto! friends had begun to congratulate them on the
uniqueness of their establishment, and to express affection for it. It
had become a favorite resort for many modern spirits--artists, literary
men, musicians, self-supporting women--and Pauline's oyster suppers,
cooked in her grandmother's blazer, were still a stimulus to high
thinking.

So matters stood when Selma entered it as a bride. Her coming signified
the breaking up of the household and the establishment. Pauline had
thought that out in her clear brain over night since receiving Wilbur's
telegram. Wilbur must move into a modern house, and she into a modern
flat. She would keep the very old things, such as the blazer and some
andirons and a pair of candlesticks, for they were ancient enough to be
really artistic, but the furniture of the immediate past, her father and
mother's generation, should be sold at auction. Wilbur and she must, if
only for Selma's sake, become modern in material matters as well as in
their mental interests.

Pauline proceeded to unfold this at the dinner-table that evening. She
had heard in the meanwhile from her brother, the story of Selma's
divorce and the explanation of his sudden marriage; and in consequence,
she felt the more solicitous that her sister-in-law's new venture should
begin propitiously. It was agreed that Wilbur should make inquiries at
once about houses further uptown, and that his present lease from year
to year should not be renewed. She said to Selma:

"You have saved us from becoming an old-fashioned bachelor and maid. Our
friends began to leave this neighborhood five years ago, and there is no
one left. We are surrounded by boarding-houses and shops. We were
comfortable, and we were too busy to care. But it would never do for a
young married couple to begin house-keeping here. You must have a brand
new house uptown, Selma. You must insist on that. Don't be alarmed,
Wilbur. I know it will have to be small, but I noticed the other day
several blocks of new houses going up on the side streets west of the
Park, which looked attractive and cheap."

"I will look at them," said Wilbur. "Since you seem determined not to
live with us, and we are obliged to move, we will follow the procession.
But Selma and I could be happy anywhere." He turned from his sister to
her as he spoke with a proud, happy look.

Selma said nothing to mar his confidence. She had no intention of living
either with Pauline or in their present house, and she felt that her
sister-in-law had shown good sense in recognizing that neither was
possible. She necessarily had vague ideas as to New York houses and
locations, but she had seen enough in her drive from the station to
understand that it was a wonderful and decorative place. Although her
experience of Benham had taught her that some old things--such as Mrs.
Hallett Taylor's gleanings from Europe--were desirable, she associated
new things with progress--especially American progress. Consequently the
Littleton household possessions had puzzled her, for though she thought
them ugly, she was resolved not to commit herself too hastily. But now
that Pauline had sounded a note of warning, the situation was clear.
They had suffered themselves to fall behind the times, and she was to be
her husband's good angel by helping him to catch up with them. And it
was evident that Pauline would be her ally. Selma for the first time
asked herself whether it might be that Wilbur was a little visionary.

Meanwhile he was saying: "Pauline is right, Selma. I had already asked
myself if it would not be fairer to you to move uptown where we should
be in the van and in touch with what is going on. Pauline is gently
hinting to you that you must not humor me as she has done, and let me
eat bread and milk out of a bowl in this old curiosity shop, instead of
following in the wake of fashion. She has spoiled me and now she deserts
me at the critical moment of my life. Selma, you shall have the most
charming modern house in New York within my means. It must be love in a
cottage, but the cottage shall have the latest improvements--hot and
cold water, tiles, hygienic plumbing and dados."

"Bravo!" said Pauline. "He says I have spoiled him, Selma. Perhaps I
have. It will be your turn now. You will fail to convert him as I have
failed, and the world will be the better for it. There are too few men
who think noble thoughts and practice them, who are true to themselves
and the light which is in them through thick and thin. But you see, he
admits himself that he needs to mix with the world a little more.
Otherwise he is perfect. You know that perhaps, already, Selma. But I
wish to tell it to you before him. Take care of him, dear, won't you?"

"It was because I felt that his thoughts were nobler than most men's
that I wished to marry him," Selma replied, seraphically. "But I can see
that it is sensible to live where your friends live. I shall try not to
spoil him, Pauline." She was already conscious of a mission which
appealed to her. She had been content until now in the ardor of her love
to regard Wilbur as flawless--as in some respects superior to herself;
but it was a gratification to her to detect this failing, and to
perceive her opportunity for usefulness. Surely it was important for her
husband to be progressive and not merely a dreamer.

Littleton looked from one to the other fondly. "Not many men are blessed
with the love of two such women," he said. "I put myself in your hands.
I bow my neck to the yoke."

In New York in the early seventies the fashionable quarter lay between
Eighth and Fortieth Streets, bounded on either side by Fourth and Sixth
Avenues. Central Park was completed, but the region west of it was, from
the social stand-point, still a wilderness, and Fifth Avenue in the
neighborhood of Twenty-third Street was the centre of elegant social
life. Selma took her first view of this brilliant street on the
following day on her way to hunt for houses in the outlying district.
The roar and bustle of the city, which thrilled yet dazed her, seemed
here softened by the rows of tall, imposing residences in brown stone.
Along the sunny sidewalks passed with jaunty tread an ever-hurrying
procession of stylishly clad men and women; and along the roadbed sped
an array of private carriages conducted by coachmen in livery. It was a
brilliant day, and New Yorkers were making the most of it.

Selma had never seen such a sight before. Benham faded into
insignificance in comparison. She was excited, and she gazed eagerly at
the spectacle. Yet her look, though absorbed, was stern. This sort of
thing was unlike anything American within her personal experience. This
avenue of grand houses and this procession of fine individuals and fine
vehicles made her think of that small section of Benham into which she
had never been invited, and the thought affected her disagreeably.

"Who are the people who live in these houses?" she asked, presently.

Littleton had already told her that it was the most fashionable street
in the city.

"Oh, the rich and prosperous."

"Those who gamble in stocks, I suppose." Selma wished to be assured that
this was so.

"Some of them," said Littleton, with a laugh. "They belong to people who
have made money in various ways or have inherited it--our well-to-do
class, among them the first families in New York, and many of them our
best citizens."

"Are they friends of yours?"

Littleton laughed again. "A few--not many. Society here is divided into
sets, and they are not in my set. I prefer mine, and fortunately, for I
can't afford to belong to theirs."

"Oh!"

The frigidity and dryness of the exclamation Littleton ascribed to
Selma's intuitive enmity to the vanities of life.

"You mustn't pass judgment on them too hastily," he said. "New York is a
wonderful place, and it's likely to shock you before you learn to
appreciate what is interesting and fine here. I will tell you a secret,
Selma. Every one likes to make money. Even clergymen feel it their duty
to accept a call from the congregation which offers the best salary, and
probing men of science do not hesitate to reap the harvest from a
wonderful invention. Yet it is the fashion with most of the people in
this country who possess little to prate about the wickedness of
money-getters and to think evil of the rich. That proceeds chiefly from
envy, and it is sheer cant. The people of the United States are engaged
in an eager struggle to advance themselves--to gain individual
distinction, comfort, success, and in New York to a greater extent than
in any other place can the capable man or woman sell his or her wares to
the best advantage--be they what they may, stocks, merchandise, law,
medicine, pictures. The world pays well for the things it wants--and the
world is pretty just in the long run. If it doesn't like my designs,
that will be because they're not worth buying. The great thing--the
difficult thing to guard against in the whirl of this great city, where
we are all striving to get ahead--is not to sell one's self for money,
not to sacrifice the thing worth doing for mere pecuniary advantage.
It's the great temptation to some to do so, for only money can buy fine
houses, and carriages and jewels--yes, and in a certain sense, social
preferment. The problem is presented in a different form to every man.
Some can grow rich honestly, and some have to remain poor in order to be
true to themselves. We may have to remain poor, Selma mia." He spoke
gayly, as though that prospect did not disturb him in the least.

"And we shall be just as good as the people who own these houses." She
said it gravely, as if it were a declaration of principles, and at the
same moment her gaze was caught and disturbed by a pair of blithe,
fashionably dressed young women gliding by her with the quiet,
unconscious grace of good-breeding. She was inwardly aware, though she
would never acknowledge it by word or sign, that such people troubled
her. More even than Mrs. Taylor had troubled her. They were different
from her and they tantalized her.

At the same moment her husband was saying in reply, "Just as good, but
not necessarily any better. No--other things being equal--not so good.
We mustn't deceive ourselves with that piece of cant. Some of them are
frivolous enough, and dishonest enough, heaven knows, but so there are
frivolous and dishonest people in every class. But there are many more
who endeavor to be good citizens--are good citizens, our best citizens.
The possession of money gives them the opportunity to become arbiters of
morals and taste, and to seek culture under the best advantages. After
all, an accumulation of money represents brains and energy in some one.
Look at this swell," he continued, indicating an attractive looking
young man who was passing. "His grandfather was one of the ablest men in
the city--an intelligent, self-respecting, shrewd, industrious,
public-spirited citizen who made a large fortune. The son has had
advantages which I have never had, and I happen to know that he is a
fine fellow and a very able one. If it came to comparisons, I should be
obliged to admit that he's a more ornamental member of society than
Jones, Brown, or Robinson, and certainly no less useful. Do I shock
you--you sweet, unswerving little democrat of the democrats?"

It always pleased Selma to be called endearing names, and it suited her
in her present frame of mind to be dubbed a democrat, for it did not
suit her to be painfully realizing that she was unable, at one brilliant
swoop, to take her place as a leader in social influence. Somehow she
had expected to do this, despite her first difficulties at Benham, for
she had thought of New York as a place where, as the wife of Littleton,
the architect, she would at once be a figure of importance. She shook
her head and said, "It's hard to believe that these people are really in
earnest; that they are serious in purpose and spirit." Meanwhile she was
being haunted by the irritating reflection that her clothes and her
bearing were inferior to those of the women she was passing. Secretly
she was making a resolve to imitate them, though she believed that she
despised them. She put her hand through her husband's arm and added,
almost fiercely, as she pressed closer to him, "We needn't trouble our
heads about them, Wilbur. We can get along without being rich and
fashionable, you and I. In spite of what you say, I don't consider this
sort of thing American."

"Get along? Darling, I was merely trying to be just to them; to let you
see that they are not so black as they're painted. We will forget them
forever. We have nothing in common with them. Get along? I feel that my
life will be a paradise living with you and trying to make some
impression on the life of this big, striving city. But as to its not
being American to live like these people--well you know they are
Americans and that New York is the Mecca of the hard-fisted sons of toil
from all over the country who have made money. But you're right, Selma.
Those who go in for show and extravagance are not the best
Americans--the Americans whom you and I believe in. Sometimes I get
discouraged when I stop to think, and now I shall have you to keep me
steadfast to our faith."

"Yes, Wilbur. And how far from here are we to live?"

"Oh, a mile or more. On some side street where the land is cheap and the
rent low. What do we care for that, Selma mia?"



CHAPTER II.


Shortly before Selma Littleton took up her abode in New York, Miss
Florence, or, as she was familiarly known, Miss Flossy Price, was an
inhabitant of a New Jersey city. Her father was a second cousin of
Morton Price, whose family at that time was socially conspicuous in
fashionable New York society. Not aggressively conspicuous, as ultra
fashionable people are to-day, by dint of frequent newspaper
advertisement, but in consequence of elegant, conservative
respectability, fortified by and cushioned on a huge income. In the
early seventies to know the Morton Prices was a social passport, and by
no means every one socially ambitious knew them. Morton Price's
great-grandfather had been a peddler, his grandfather a tea merchant,
his father a tea merchant and bank organizer, and he himself did nothing
mercantile, but was a director in diverse institutions, representing
trusts or philantrophy, and was regarded by many, including himself, as
the embodiment of ornamental and admirable citizenship. He could talk by
the hour on the degeneracy of state and city politics and the evil deeds
of Congress, and was, generally speaking, a conservative, fastidious,
well-dressed, well-fed man, who had a winning way with women and a happy
faculty of looking wise and saying nothing rash in the presence of men.
Some of the younger generation were apt, with the lack of reverence
belonging to youth, to speak of him covertly as "a stuffed club," but no
echo of this epithet had ever reached the ear of his cousin, David
Price, in New Jersey. For him, as for most of the world within a radius
of two hundred miles, he was above criticism and a monument of social
power.

David Price, Miss Flossy's father, was the president of a small and
unprogressive but eminently solid bank. Respectable routine was his
motto, and he lived up to it, and, as a consequence, no more sound
institution of the kind existed in his neighborhood. He and his
directors were slow to adopt innovations of any kind; they put stumbling
blocks in the path of business convenience whenever they could; in
short, David Price in his humble way was a righteous, narrow, hide-bound
retarder of progress and worshipper of established local custom.
Therefore it was a constant source of surprise and worry to him that he
should have a progressive daughter. There were four other children,
patterns of quiet, plodding conservatism, but--such is the irony of
fate--the youngest, prettiest, and his favorite, was an independent,
opinionated young woman, who seemed to turn a deaf ear to paternal and
maternal advice of safest New Jersey type. In her father's words, she
had no reverence for any thing or any body, which was approximately
true, for she did not hesitate to speak disrespectfully even of the head
of the house in New York.

"Poppa," she said one day, "Cousin Morton doesn't care for any of us a
little bit. I know what you're going to say," she added; "that he sends
you two turkeys every Thanksgiving. The last were terribly tough. I'm
sure he thinks that we never see turkeys here in New Jersey, and that he
considers us poor relations and that we live in a hole. If one of us
should call on him, I know it would distress him awfully. He's right in
thinking that this is a hole. Nothing ever happens here, and when I
marry I intend to live in New York."

This was when she was seventeen. Her father was greatly shocked,
especially as he suspected in his secret soul that the tirade was true
in substance. He had been the recipient of Thanksgiving turkeys for
nearly twenty years on the plea that they had been grown on the donor's
farm in Westchester county, and he had seen fit to invite his
fellow-directors annually to dine off one of them as a modest notice
that he was on friendly terms with his aristocratic New York cousin. But
in all these twenty years turkeys had been the only medium of
intercourse between them. David Price, on the few occasions when he had
visited New York, had not found it convenient to call. Once he had
walked by on the other side of Fifth avenue and looked at the house, but
shyness and the thought that he had no evening clothes in his valise had
restrained him from ringing the doorbell.

"You do your cousin Morton great injustice--great injustice, Florence,"
he answered. "He never forgets to send the turkeys, and as to the rest
of your speech, I have only to say that it is very disrespectful and
very foolish. The next time I go to New York I will take you to call on
your cousins."

"And what would I say to them? No thank you, poppa." The young woman
shook her head decisively, and then she added, "I'm not going to call on
them, until I'm fit to. There!"

The ambiguity of this remark gave Mr. Price the opportunity to say that,
in view of her immediate shortcomings, it was a wise conclusion, but he
knew what she really meant and was distressed. His feeling toward his
cousin, though mildly envious, did not extend to self-depreciation, nor
had it served to undermine his faith in the innate dignity and worth of
New Jersey family life. He could not only with a straight face, but with
a kindling eye inveigh against the perils of New York fashionable life,
and express gratification that no son or daughter of his had wandered so
far from the fold. It distressed him to think that Florence should be
casting sheep's eyes at the flesh-pots of Gotham, and so failing to
appreciate the blessings and safety of a quiet American home.

Miss Flossy continued to entertain and to express opinions of her own,
and as a result became socially interesting. At eighteen, by her beauty,
her engaging frankness and lack of self-consciousness, she spread havoc
among the young men of her native city, several of whom offered her
marriage. But marriage was far from her thoughts. Life seemed too
interesting and she wished to see the world. She was erect and alert
looking, with a compact figure of medium height, large brown eyes and
rich red hair, and a laughing mouth; also an innocent demeanor, which
served to give her, by moonlight, the effect of an angel. She succeeded
in visiting Bar Harbor, where she promptly became a bright particular
star among the galaxy of young women who at that period were
establishing the reputation of the summer girl. She continued to be a
summer girl for four seasons without injury to her own peace of mind. At
the end of the fourth summer she appeared on close scrutiny to be a
little worn, and her innocent air seemed a trifle deliberate. She
returned to her home in New Jersey in not quite her usual spirits. In
fact she became pensive. She had seen the world, and lo! she found it
stuffed with sawdust. She was ready to settle down, but the only man
with whom she would have been willing to settle had never asked her. He
was the brother of one of the girls who had been forbidden by her mother
to stay out in canoes with young men after nine at night. The rumor had
reached Flossy that this same mother had referred to her in "the fish
pond" at Rodick's as "that dreadful girl." It would have pleased her
after that to have wrung an offer of marriage from the son and heir, who
knew her cousins, the Morton Prices, and to whom she would have been
willing to engage herself temporarily at all events. He was very
devoted; they stayed out in his canoe until past midnight; he wrote
verses to her and told her his innermost thoughts; but he stopped there.
He went away without committing himself, and she was left to chew the
cud of reflection. It was bitter, not because she was in love with him,
for she was not. In her heart she knew he bored her a little. But she
was piqued. Evidently he had been afraid to marry "that dreadful girl."
She was piqued and she was sad. She recognized that it was another case
of not being fit. When would she be fit? What was she to do in order to
become fit--fit like the girl who was not allowed to stay on the water
after nine o'clock? She had ceased to think of the young man, but the
image of his sister haunted her. How stylish she was, yet how simple and
quiet! "I wonder," thought Flossy to herself, "if I could ever become
like her." The reflection threw her into a brown study in which she
remained for weeks, and during which she refused the hand of a staid and
respectable townsman, who, in her father's words, was ready to take her
with all her follies. David Price was disappointed. He loved this
independent daughter, and he had hopes that her demure and reticent
deportment signified that the effervescence of youth had evaporated. But
it was only an effort on Flossy's part to imitate the young man's
sister.

At this juncture and just when she was bored and dispirited by the
process, Gregory Williams appeared on the scene. Flossy met him at a
dancing party. He had a very tall collar, a very friendly, confident,
and (toward her) devoted manner, and good looks. It was whispered among
the girls that he was a banker from New York. He was obviously not over
thirty, which was young for a banker, but so he presently described
himself to Flossy with hints of impending prosperity. He spoke glibly
and picturesquely. He had a convincing eloquence of gesture--a wave of
the hand which suggested energy and compelled confidence. He had picked
her out at once to be introduced to, and sympathy between them was
speedily established. Her wearing, as a red-headed girl, a white horse
in the form of a pin, in order to prevent the attention of the men to
whom she talked from wandering, delighted him. He said to himself that
here was a girl after his own heart. He had admired her looks at the
outset, but he gazed at her now more critically. He danced every dance
with her, and they sat together at supper, apart from everybody else.
Flossy's resolutions were swept away. That is, she had become in an
instant indifferent to the fact that the New York girl she had yearned
to imitate would not have made herself so conspicuous. Her excuse was
that she could not help herself. It was a case of genuine, violent
attraction, which she made no effort to straggle against.

The attraction was violent on both sides. Gregory Williams was not
seeking to be married. He had been, until within six months, a broker's
clerk, and had become a banker on the strength of ten thousand dollars
bequeathed to him by a grandmother. He and a clerk from another broker's
office, J. Willett VanHorne, had recently formed a partnership as
Williams & VanHorne, Bankers and Dealers in Stocks and Bonds. He was not
seeking to be married, but he intended to be married some day, and it
was no part of his scheme of life to deny himself anything he wished.
Support a wife? Of course he could; and support her in the same
grandiose fashion which he had adopted for himself since he had begun
business on his own account. He had chosen as a philosophy of life the
smart paradox, which he enjoyed uttering, that he spent what he needed
first and supplied the means later; and at the same time he let it be
understood that the system worked wonderfully. He possessed unlimited
confidence in himself, and though he was dimly aware that a very small
turn of the wheel of fortune in the wrong direction would ruin him
financially, he chose to close his eyes to the possibilities of disaster
and to assume a bold and important bearing before the world. He had
implicit faith in his own special line of ability, and he appreciated
the worth of his partner, VanHorne. He had joined forces with VanHorne
because he knew that he was the opposite of himself--that he was a
delving, thorough, shrewd, keen office man--and able too. How genuinely
able Williams did not yet know. He himself was to be the showy partner,
the originator of schemes and procurer of business, the brilliant man
before the world. So there was some method in his madness. And with it
all went a cheery, incisive, humorous point of view which was congenial
and diverting to Flossy.

He went away, but he came back once--twice--thrice in quick succession.
On business, so he said casually to Mr. and Mrs. Price, but his language
to their daughter was a declaration of personal devotion. It remained
for her to say whether she would marry him or no. Of one thing she was
sure without need of reflection, that she loved him ardently. As a
consequence she surrendered at once, though, curiously enough, she was
conscious when she permitted him to kiss her with effusion that he was
not the sort of man she had intended to marry--that he was not fit in
her sense of the word. Yet she was determined to marry him, and from the
moment their troth was plighted she found herself his eager and faithful
ally, dreaming and scheming on their joint account. She would help him
to succeed; they would conquer the world together; she would never doubt
his ability to conquer it. And in time--yes, in time they would make
even the Morton Prices notice them.

And so after some bewildered opposition on the part of Mr. Price, who
was alternately appalled and fascinated by the magniloquent language of
his would-be son-in-law, they were married. Flossy gave but a single
sign to her husband that she understood him and recognized what they
really represented. It was one evening a few months after they had set
up housekeeping while they were walking home from the theatre. They had
previously dined at Delmonico's, and the cost of the evening's
entertainment, including a bottle of champagne at dinner, their tickets
and a corsage bouquet of violets for Flossy, had been fifteen dollars.
Flossy wore a resplendent theatre hat and fashionable cape--one of the
several stylish costumes with which her husband had hastened to present
her, and Gregory was convoying her along the Avenue with the air of a
man not averse to have the world recognize that they were a well set up
and prosperous couple. Flossy had put her arm well inside his and was
doing her best to help him produce the effect which he desired, when she
suddenly said:

"I wonder, Gregory, how long it will be before we're really anybody.
Now, of course, we're only make believe swell."

Gregory gave an amused laugh. "What a clever little woman! That's just
what we are. We'll keep it a secret, though, and won't advertise it to
the world."

"Mum's the word," she replied, giving his arm a squeeze. "I only wished
you to know that I was not being fooled; that I understood."

Fate ordained that the Williamses and the Littletons should take houses
side by side in the same block. It was a new block, and at first they
were the sole occupants. Williams bought his house, giving a mortgage
back to the seller for all the man would accept, and obtaining a second
mortgage from a money lender in consideration of a higher rate of
interest, for practically the remaining value. He furnished his house
ornately from top to bottom in the latest fashion, incurring bills for a
portion of the effects, and arranging to pay on the instalment plan
where he could not obtain full credit. His reasoning was convincing to
himself and did not alarm Flossy, who was glad to feel that they were
the owners of the house and attractive furniture. It was that the land
was sure to improve in value before the mortgage became due, and as for
the carpets and curtains and other outlays, a few points in the stock
market would pay for them at any time.

Wilbur Littleton did not possess the ready money to buy; consequently he
took a lease of his new house for three years, and paid promptly for the
furniture he bought, the selection of which was gradual. Gregory
Williams had a marvellous way of entering a shop and buying everything
which pleased his eye at one fell swoop, but Wilbur, who desired to
accomplish the best æsthetic effects possible consistent with his
limited means, trotted Selma from one shop to another before choosing.
This process of selecting slowly the things with which they were to pass
their lives was a pleasure to him, and, as he supposed, to Selma. She
did enjoy keenly at first beholding the enticing contents of the various
stores which they entered in the process of procuring wall-papers,
carpets, and the other essentials for house-keeping. It was a revelation
to her that such beautiful things existed, and her inclination was to
purchase the most showy and the most costly articles. In the adornment
of her former home Babcock had given her a free hand. That is, his
disposition had been to buy the finest things which the shopkeepers of
Benham called to his attention. She understood now that his taste and
the taste of Benham, and even her's, had been at fault, but she found
herself hampered now by a new and annoying limitation, the smallness of
their means. Almost every thing was very expensive, and she was obliged
to pass by the patterns and materials she desired to possess, and accept
articles of a more sober and less engaging character. Many of these, to
be sure, were declared by Wilbur to be artistically charming and more
suitable than many which she preferred, but it would have suited her
better to fix on the rich upholstery and solid furniture, which were
evidently the latest fashion in household decoration, rather than go
mousing from place to place, only at last to pick up in the back corner
of some store this or that object which was both reasonably pretty and
reasonably cheap. When it was all over Selma was pleased with the effect
of her establishment, but she had eaten of the tree of knowledge. She
had visited the New York shops. These, in her capacity of a God-fearing
American, she would have been ready to anathematize in a speech or in a
newspaper article, but the memory of them haunted her imagination and
left her domestic yearnings not wholly satisfied.

Wilbur Littleton's scheme of domestic life was essentially spiritual,
and in the development of it he felt that he was consulting his wife's
tastes and theories no less than his own. He knew that she understood
that he was ambitious to make a name for himself as an architect; but to
make it only by virtue of work of a high order; that he was unwilling to
become a time-server or to lower his professional standards merely to
make temporary progress, which in the end would mar a success worth
having. He had no doubt that he had made this clear to her and that she
sympathized with him. As a married man it was his desire and intention
not to allow his interest in this ambition to interfere with the
enjoyment of the new great happiness which had come into his life. He
would be a professional recluse no longer. He would cast off his work
when he left his office, and devote his evenings to the æsthetic
delights of Selma's society. They would read aloud; he would tell her
his plans and ask her advice; they would go now and then to the theatre;
and, in justice to her, they would occasionally entertain their friends
and accept invitations from them. With this outlook in mind he had made
such an outlay as would render his home attractive and cosey--simple as
became a couple just beginning life, yet the abode of a gentleman and a
lover of inspiring and pretty things.

As has been mentioned, Littleton was a Unitarian, and one effect of his
faith had been to make his point of view broad and straightforward. He
detested hypocrisy and cant, subterfuge and self-delusion. He was
content to let other people live according to their own lights without
too much distress on their account, but he was too honest and too
clear-headed to be able to deceive himself as to his own motives and his
own conduct. He had no intention to be morbid, but he saw clearly that
it was his privilege and his duty to be true to both his loves, his wife
and his profession, and that if he neglected either, he would be so far
false to his best needs and aspirations. Yet he felt that for the moment
it was incumbent on him to err on the side of devotion to his wife until
she should become accustomed to her new surroundings.

The problem of the proper arrangement and subdivision of life in a large
city and in these seething, modern times is perplexing to all of us.
There are so many things we would like to do which we cannot; so many
things which we do against our wills. We are perpetually squinting at
happiness, but just as we get a delightful vision before our eyes we are
whisked off by duty or ambition or the force of social momentum to try a
different view. Consequently our perennial regret is apt to be that we
have seen our real interests and our real friends as in a panorama, for
a fleeting moment, and then no more until the next time. For Littleton
this was less true than for most. His life was deep and stable rather
than many-sided. To be sure his brain experienced, now and then, the
dazing effects of trying to confront all the problems of the universe
and adapt his architectural endeavors to his interpretation of them; and
he knew well the bewildering difficulties of the process of adjusting
professional theories to the sterile conditions which workaday practice
often presented. But this crowding of his mental canvas was all in the
line of his life purpose. The days were too short, and sometimes left
him perplexed and harassed by their rush; yet he was still pursuing the
tenor of his way. The interest of marriage was not, therefore, in his
case a fresh burden on a soul already laden with a variety of side
pursuits. He was neither socially nor philanthropically active; he was
not a club man, nor an athletic enthusiast; he was on no committees; he
voted on election days, but he did not take an active part in politics.
For Selma's sake all this must be changed; and he was glad to
acknowledge that he owed it to himself as well as to her to widen his
sympathies.

As a first step in reform he began to leave his office daily at five
instead of six, and, on Saturdays, as soon after two as possible. For a
few months these brands of time snatched from the furnace of his
professional ardor were devoted to the shopping relative to
house-furnishing. When that was over, to walking with Selma; sometimes
as a sheer round of exercise in company, sometimes to visit a
print-shop, exhibition of pictures, book-store, or other attraction of
the hour. But the evening was for him the ideal portion of the day;
when, after dinner was done, they made themselves comfortable in the new
library, their living room, and it became his privilege to read aloud to
her or to compare ideas with her regarding books and pictures and what
was going on in the world. It had been a dream of Littleton's that some
day he would re-read consecutively the British poets, and as soon as the
furniture was all in place and the questions of choice of rugs and
chairs and pictures had been settled by purchase, he proposed it as a
definite occupation whenever they had nothing else in view. It delighted
him that Selma received this suggestion with enthusiasm. Accordingly,
they devoted their spare evenings to the undertaking, reading aloud in
turn. Littleton's enunciation was clear and intelligent, and as a happy
lover he was in a mood to fit poetic thoughts to his own experience, and
to utter them ardently. While he read, Selma knew that she was ever the
heroine of his imagination, which was agreeable, and she recognized
besides that his performance in itself was æsthetically attractive. Yet
in spite of the personal tribute, Selma preferred the evenings when she
herself was the elocutionist. She enjoyed the sound of her own voice,
and she enjoyed the emotions which her utterance of the rhythmic stanzas
set coursing through her brain. It was obvious to her that Wilbur was
captivated by her reading, and she delighted in giving herself up to the
spirit of the text with the reservations appropriate to an enlightened
but virtuous soul. For instance, in the case of Shelley, she gloried in
his soaring, but did not let herself forget that fire-worship was not
practical; in the case of Byron, though she yielded her senses to the
spell of his passionate imagery, she reflected approvingly that she was
a married woman.

But Littleton appreciated also that his wife should have the society of
others beside himself. Pauline introduced her promptly to her own small
but intelligent feminine circle, and pending Pauline's removal to a
flat, the Saturday evening suppers were maintained at the old
establishment. Here Selma made the acquaintance of her husband's and his
sister's friends, both men and women, who dropped in often after the
play and without ceremony for a weekly interchange of thought and
comradeship. Selma looked forward to the first of these occasions with
an eager curiosity. She expected a renewal of the Benham Institute, only
in a more impressive form, as befitted a great literary centre; that
papers would be read, original compositions recited, and many
interesting people of both sexes perform according to their specialties.
She confidently hoped to have the opportunity to declaim, "Oh, why
should the spirit of mortal be proud?" "Curfew must not ring to-night,"
or some other of her literary pieces.

Therefore, it was almost a shock to her that the affair was so informal,
and that the company seemed chiefly occupied in behaving gayly--in
making sallies at each other's expense, which were greeted with
merriment. They seemed to her like a lot of children let loose from
school. There were no exercises, and no allusion was made to the
attainments of the various guests beyond an occasional word of
introduction by Pauline or Wilbur; and this word was apt to be of
serio-comic import. Selma realized that among the fifteen people present
there were representatives of various interesting crafts--writers,
artists, a magazine editor, two critics of the stage, a prominent
musician, and a college professor--but none of them seemed to her to act
a part or to have their accomplishments in evidence, as she would have
liked. Every one was very cordial to her, and appeared desirous to
recognize her as a permanent member of their circle, but she could not
help feeling disappointed at the absence of ceremony and formal events.
There was no president or secretary, and presently the party went into
the dining-room and sat around a table, at either end of which Pauline
and Wilbur presided over a blazer. Interest centred on the preparation
of a rabbit and creamed oysters, and pleasant badinage flew from tongue
to tongue. Selma found herself between the magazine editor and a large,
powerfully built man with a broad, rotund, strong face, who was
introduced to her as Dr. Page, and who was called George by every one
else. He had arrived late, just as they were going in to supper, and his
appearance had been greeted with a murmur of satisfaction. He had placed
himself between Pauline and her, and he showed himself, to Selma's
thinking, one of the least dignified of the company.

"My dear Mrs. Littleton," he said, with a counterfeit of great gravity,
"you are now witnessing an impressive example of the politeness of true
friendship. There are cynics who assert that the American people are
lacking in courtesy, and cast in our teeth the superiority of Japanese
manners. I wish they were here to-night. There is not a single
individual present, male or female, married or single, who does not
secretly cherish the amiable belief that he or she can cook things on a
blazer better than any one else. And yet we abstain from criticism; we
offer no suggestions; we accept, without a murmur, the proportions of
cheese and beer and butter inflicted upon us by our hostess and her
brother, and are silent. We shall even become complimentary later. Can
the Japanese vie with this?"

The contrast between his eager, grave gaze, and the levity of his words,
puzzled Selma. He looked interesting, but his speech seemed to her
trivial and unworthy of the occasion. Still she appreciated that she
must not be a spoil-sport, and that it was incumbent on her to resign
herself to the situation, so she smiled gayly, and said: "I am the only
one then not suffering from self-restraint. I never made a Welsh rabbit,
nor cooked on a blazer." Then, in her desire for more serious
conversation, she added: "Do you really think that we, as a people, are
less polite than the Japanese?"

The doctor regarded her with solemn interest for an instant, as though
he were pondering the question. As a matter of fact, he was thinking
that she was remarkably pretty. Then he put his finger on his lips, and
in a hoarse whisper, said, "Sh! Be careful. If the editorial ear should
catch your proposition the editorial man would appropriate it. There!"
he added, as her left-hand neighbor bent toward them in response to the
summons, "he has heard, and your opportunity to sell an idea to the
magazine is lost. It is all very fine for him to protest that he has
heard nothing. That is a trick of his trade. Let us see now if he will
agree to buy. If he refuses, it will be a clear case that he has heard
and purloined it. Come, Dennison, here's a chance for a ten
thousand-word symposium debate, 'Are we, as a nation, less polite than
the Japanese?' We offer it for a hundred and fifty cash, and cheap at
the price."

Mr. Dennison, who was a keen-eyed, quiet man, with a brown, closely-cut
beard, had paused in his occupation of buttering hot toast for the
impending rabbit, and was smiling quizzically. "If you have literary
secrets to dispose of, Mrs. Littleton, let me warn you against making a
confidant of Dr. Page. Had you spoken to me first, there is no knowing
what I might have--"

"What did I tell you?" broke in the doctor. "A one hundred and
fifty-dollar idea ruthlessly appropriated. These editors, these
editors!"

It was tantalizing to Selma to be skirting the edge of themes she would
have enjoyed to hear treated seriously. She hoped that Mr. Dennison
would inquire if she really wrote, and at least he would tell her
something about his magazine and literary life in New York. But he took
up again his task of buttering toast, and sought to interest her in
that. Presently she was unable to resist the temptation of remarking
that the editorship of a magazine must be one of the most interesting of
all occupations; but he looked at her with his quizzical smile, and
answered:

"Between you and me, Mrs. Littleton, I will confide to you that a
considerable portion of the time it is a confounded bore. To tell the
truth, I much prefer to sit next to you and butter toast."

This was depressing and puzzling to Selma; but after the consumption of
the rabbit and the oysters there was some improvement in the general
tone of the conversation. Yet, not so far as she was concerned. Mr.
Dennison neglected to confide to her the secrets of his prison house,
and Dr. Page ruthlessly refused to discuss medicine, philosophy, or the
Japanese. But here and there allusion was made by one or another of the
company to something which had been done in the world of letters, or
art, or music, which possessed merit or deserved discouragement. What
was said was uttered simply, often trenchantly and lightly, but never as
a dogma, or with the solemnity which Mrs. Earle had been wont to impart
to her opinions. Just as the party was about to break up, Dr. Page
approached Selma and offered her his hand. "It is a great pleasure to me
to have met you," he said, looking into her face with his honest eyes.
"A good wife was just what Wilbur needed to insure him happiness and a
fine career. His friends have great confidence in his ability, and we
intrust him to you in the belief that the world will hear from him--and
I, for one, shall be very grateful to you."

He spoke now with evident feeling, and his manner suggested the desire
to be her friend. Selma admired his large physique and felt the
attraction of his searching gaze.

"Perhaps he did need a wife," she answered with an attempt at the
sprightliness which he had laid aside. "I shall try not to let him be
too indifferent to practical considerations."



CHAPTER III.


"Who is Dr. Page?" asked Selma of her husband when they left the house.

"One of our best friends, and one of the leading physicians in the city.
The energy of that man is tireless. He is absorbed in his profession.
The only respite he allows himself are these Saturday evenings, and his
devotion to his little son who has hip disease. He told me to-night that
he had finished his day's work only just before he came in. What did you
think of him? He likes to tease."

"Then he is married?"

"He is a widower."

"He seems interested in you. He was good enough to say that he thought
you needed a wife."

"Then he must have admired you, Selma. Poor fellow! I wish he might have
that happiness himself. I'll tell you a secret: He has desired to marry
Pauline for years. They are devoted friends--but until now that is all.
His wife was an actress--a handsome creature. Two years after they were
married she ran away with another man and left him. Left him with one
little boy, a cripple, on whom he lavishes all the love of his big
nature."

"How dreadful!"

"Yes, it is a sad story. That was ten years ago. He was very young and
the woman was very beautiful. It has been the making of him, though, in
one way. He had the pride and confidence of ability, but he lacked
sympathy. His experience and the appealing presence of his son have
developed his nature and given him tenderness. He has not been
imbittered; he has simply become gentle. And how he works! He is already
famous in his profession."

"Does Pauline care for him?"

"I don't know her feelings. I am sure she is fond of him, and admires
him. I fancy, though, that she hesitates to renounce her own ambitions.
As you are aware, she is greatly interested in her classes, and in
matters pertaining to the higher education of women. George Page knew
her at the time of his marriage. I do not mean that he paid her serious
attention then, but he had the opportunity to ask her instead of the
other. Now, when she has become absorbed in her life-work, she would
naturally decline to give it up unless she felt sure that she could not
be happy without him."

"I would not marry him if I were she," said Selma. "He has given his
best to the other woman. He is the one at fault, not Pauline. Why should
she sacrifice her own career in order to console him?"

"She might love him sufficiently to be willing to do so, Selma. Love
makes women blind to faults. But poor George was scarcely at fault. It
was a misfortune."

"He made his choice and was deceived. It would be weak of her to give up
her own life merely because he is lonely. We modern women have too much
self-respect for that. Love is love, and it is not to be trifled with."

"Yes, love is love," murmured Littleton, "and I am happy in mine."

"That is because neither of us has loved before, you foolish boy. But as
to this evening, it wasn't at all what I expected. Are your friends
always like that?"

Littleton laughed. "Did they seem to you frivolous and undignified,
then?"

"Almost. They certainly said nothing serious."

"It is their holiday--their evening out. They have to be serious during
the rest of the week--busy with problems and cares, for they are a set
of hard workers. The stress of life is so rigorous and constant here in
New York that we have learned not to take our pleasure sadly. When you
become accustomed to their way you will realize that they are no less
serious at heart because they frolic now and then."

Selma was silent a moment; then she said, "That reminds me; have you
found out about our next-door neighbors yet?"

"He is a banker named Williams, I believe."

"I saw his wife pass the window this morning. She was beautifully
dressed. They must be rich."

"I dare say."

"But they live in the same style of house as ours."

"Bankers have mysterious ways of making money. We cannot compete with
those."

"I suppose not. I was thinking that she had the same manner as some of
your friends this evening, only more pronounced. She stopped to speak to
some one just in front of the house, so I could observe her. I should
think she was frivolous, but fascinating. That must be the New York
manner, and, consequently, she may be very much in earnest."

"It isn't given to every woman to be attractive all the time just
because she looks in earnest, as it is to you, dearest. But you musn't
be too severe on the others."

"On the contrary, I think I shall like Mrs. Williams. She may teach us
to be practical. You know that is what your friends would like to have
me help you to be, Wilbur."

"Then they did talk a word or two of sense?"

"They said that. Do you think it is true that you are visionary?"

"It is your duty to tell me so, Selma, when you think it, just as I have
told you that we can afford to laugh now and then. Come, begin."

"I haven't been your wife long enough yet. I shall know better by the
end of another six months."

A fortnight elapsed before Selma made the acquaintance of Mrs. Gregory
Williams. It was not a chance meeting. Flossy rang the bell deliberately
one afternoon and was ushered in, thereby bridging over summarily the
yawning chasm which may continue to exist for an indefinite period
between families in the same block who are waiting to be introduced.

"I said to my husband last night, Mrs. Littleton, that it was ridiculous
for us to be living side by side without knowing one another, and that I
was going to call. We moved in three weeks before you, so I'm the one
who ought to break the ice. Otherwise we might have stared at each other
blankly for three months, looked at each other sheepishly out of the
corner of our eyes for another three, half bowed for six months, and
finally, perhaps, reached the stage where we are now. Neighbors should
be neighborly, don't you think so?"

"Indeed I do. Of course I knew you by sight; and I felt I should like to
make your acquaintance." Selma spoke with enthusiasm. Here was some one
whose social deftness was no less marked than Mrs. Hallett Taylor's,
and, to her mind, more brilliant, yet whom she felt at once to be
congenial. Though she perceived that her neighbor's clothes made her own
apparel seem dull, and was accordingly disposed to be on her guard, she
realized instinctively that she was attracted by the visitor.

"That is very nice of you," said Flossy. "I told my
husband--Gregory--the other day that I was sure you were something
literary--I mean Mr. Littleton, of course--and when he found out that he
was I said we must certainly cultivate you as an antidote to the banking
business. Gregory's a banker. It must be delightful to plan houses. This
room is so pretty and tasteful."

"It isn't wholly furnished yet. We are buying things by degrees, as we
find pieces which we like."

"We bought all our things in two days at one fell swoop," said Flossy
with a gay laugh. "Gregory gave the dealers carte blanche. That's his
way," she added with a touch of pride. "I dare say the house would have
been prettier if we could have taken more time. However, it is all paid
for now. Some of it was bought on the instalment plan, but Gregory
bought or sold something in stocks the next week which covered the
furniture and paid for a present for me of this besides," she said,
indicating her seal-skin cape. "Wasn't he a dear?"

Selma did not know precisely what the instalment plan was, but she
understood that Mr. Williams had been distinctly clever in his wife's
estimation. She perceived that Mrs. Williams had the same light, half
jocular manner displayed by Wilbur's friends, and that she spoke with
bubbling, jaunty assurance, which was suggestive of frivolity. Still
Wilbur had intimated that this might be the New York manner, and clearly
her neighbor had come in a friendly spirit and was duly appreciative of
the distinction of being literary. Besides, her ready disposition to
talk about herself and her affairs seemed to Selma the sign of a
willingness to be truly friendly. The seal-skin cape she wore was very
handsome, and she was more conspicuously attired from head to foot than
any woman with whom Selma had ever conversed. She was pretty, too--a
type of beauty less spiritual than her own--with piquant, eager
features, laughing, restless gray eyes, and light hair which escaped
from her coquettish bonnet in airy ringlets. If they had met three years
earlier Selma would certainly have regarded her as an incarnation of
volatility and servility to foreign fashions. Now, though she classed
her promptly as a frivolous person, she regarded her with a keen
curiosity not unmixed with self-distress, and the reflection came to her
that a little of the New York manner might perhaps be desirable when in
New York.

"Yes, it's beautiful," she replied, referring to the cape.

"Gregory is always making me presents like that. He gave me this
bracelet yesterday. He saw it in the shop-window and went in and bought
it. Speaking of husbands, you won't mind my saying that I think Mr.
Littleton is very distinguished looking? I often see him pass the window
in the morning."

"Of course _I_ think so," said Selma. "I suppose it would seem flat if I
were to say that I admired Mr. Williams's appearance also."

"The truth is no harm. Wouldn't it be nice if we should happen to become
friends? We are the pioneers in this block, but I hear three other
houses have been sold. I suppose you own your house?"

"I believe not. We have a lease of it."

"That's a pity, because Gregory bought ours on a mortgage, thinking the
land is sure to become more valuable. He hopes to be able to sell some
day for a great deal more than he paid for it. May I ask where you lived
before you were married?"

Selma told her briefly.

"Then you are almost Western. I felt sure you weren't a New Yorker, and
I didn't think you were from Boston. You have the Boston earnest
expression, but somehow you're different. You don't mind my analyzing
you, do you? That's a Boston habit by the way. But I'm not from Boston.
I've lived all my life in New Jersey. So we are both strangers in New
York. That is, I'm the same as a stranger, though my father is a cousin
of the Morton Prices. We sent them wedding cards and they called one day
when I was out. I shall return the call and find them out, and that will
be the last move on either side until Gregory does something remarkable.
I'm rather glad I wasn't at home, because it would have been awkward.
They wouldn't have known what to say to me, and they might have felt
that they ought to ask me to dinner, and I don't care to have them ask
me until they're obliged to. Do I shock you running on so about my own
affairs?" Flossy asked, noticing Selma draw herself up sternly.

"Oh no, I like that. I was only thinking that it was very strange of
your cousins. You are as good as they, aren't you?"

"Mercy, no. We both know it, and that's what makes the situation so
awkward. As Christians, they had to call on me, but I really think they
are justified in stopping there. Socially I'm nobody."

"In this country we are all free and equal."

"You're a dear--a delicious dear," retorted Flossy, with a caressing
laugh. "There's something of the sort in the Declaration of
Independence, but, as Gregory says, that was put in as a bluff to
console salesladies. Was everybody equal in Benham, Mrs. Littleton?"

"Practically so," said Selma, with an air of haughtiness, which was
evoked by her recollection of the group of houses on Benham's River
Drive into which she had never been invited. "There were some people who
were richer than others, but that didn't make them better than any one
else."

"Well, in New York it's different. Of course, every body has the same
right to vote or to be elected President of the United States, but
equality ends there. People here are either in society or out of it, and
society itself is divided into sets. There's the conservative
aristocratic set, the smart rapid set, the set which hasn't much money,
but has Knickerbocker or other highly respectable ancestors, the new
millionaire set, the literary set, the intellectual philanthropic set,
and so on, according to one's means or tastes. Each has its little
circle which shades away into the others, and every now and then there
is a big entertainment to which they all go."

"I see," said Selma, coldly.

"Now, to make it plain, I will confide to you in strictest confidence
that Gregory and I aren't yet really in any set. We are trying to get a
footing and are holding on by our teeth to the fringe of the social
merry-go-round. I wouldn't admit it to any one but you; but as you are a
stranger like myself and in the same block, I am glad to initiate you
into the customs of this part of the country," Flossy gave a merry toss
to her head which set her ringlets bobbing, and rose to go.

"And in what set are your cousins?" asked Selma.

"If you wish to hear about them, I shall have to sit down again. The
Morton-Prices belong to the ultra-conservative, solid, stupid,
aristocratic set--the most dignified and august of all. They are almost
as sacred as Hindoo gods, and some people would walk over red-hot coals
to gain admission to their house. And really, it's quite just in one way
that incense should be burnt before them. You mustn't look so disgusted,
because there's some sense in it all. As Gregory says, it's best to look
things squarely in the face. Most of the people in these different sets
are somebodies because either their grandfathers or they have done
something well--better than other people, and made money as a
consequence. And when a family has made money or won distinction by its
brains and then has brushed its teeth twice a day religiously for two
generations, the members of it, even though dull, are entitled to
respect, don't you think so?"

Selma, who brushed her teeth but once a day, looked a little sharp at
Flossy.

"It makes money of too much importance and it establishes class
distinctions. I don't approve of such a condition of affairs at all."

Flossy shrugged her shoulders. "I have never thought whether I approve
of it or not. I am only telling you what exists. I don't deny that money
counts for a great deal, for, as Gregory says, money is the measure of
success. But money isn't everything. Brains count and refinement, and
nice honorable ways of looking at things. Of course, I'm only telling
you what my ambition is. People have different kinds of bees in their
bonnets. Some men have the presidential bee; I have the social bee. I
should like to be recognized as a prominent member of the charmed circle
on my own merits and show my cousins that I am really worthy of their
attention. There are a few who are able to be superior to that sort of
thing, who go on living their own lives attractively and finely, without
thinking of society, and who suddenly wake up some day to find
themselves socially famous--to find that they have been taken up. That's
the best way, but one requires to be the right sort of person and to
have a lot of moral courage. I can imagine it happening to you and your
husband. But it would never happen to Gregory and me. We shall have to
make money and cut a dash in order to attract attention, and by-and-by,
if we are persistent and clever enough, we may be recognized as
somebodies, provided there is something original or interesting about
us. There! I have told you my secret and shocked you into the bargain. I
really must be going. But I'll tell you another secret first: It'll be a
pleasure to me to see you, if I may, because you look at things
differently and haven't a social bee. I wish I were like that--really
like it. But then, as Gregory would say, I shouldn't be myself, and not
to be one's self is worse than anything else after all, isn't it? You
and your husband must come and dine with us soon."

After Mrs. Williams had gone, Selma fell into a brown study. She had
listened to sentiments of which she thoroughly disapproved, and which
were at variance with all her theories and conceptions. What her
friendly, frivolous visitor had told her with engaging frankness
offended her conscience and patriotism. She did not choose to admit the
existence of these class-distinctions, and she knew that even if they
did exist, they could not possibly concern Wilbur and herself. Even Mrs.
Williams had appreciated that Wilbur and her literary superiority put
them above and beyond the application of any snobbish, artificial,
social measuring-tape. And yet Selma's brow was clouded. Her thought
reverted to the row of stately houses on either side of Fifth Avenue,
into none of which she had the right of free access, in spite of the
fact that she was leading her life attractively and finely, without
regard to society. She thought instinctively of Sodom and Gomorrah, and
she saw righteously with her mind's eye for a moment an angel with a
flaming sword consigning to destruction these offending mansions and
their owners as symbols of mammon and contraband to God.

That evening she told Wilbur of Mrs. Williams's visit. "She's a bright,
amusing person, and quite pretty. We took a fancy to each other. But
what do you suppose she said? She intimated that we haven't any social
position."

"Very kind of her, I'm sure. She must be a woman of
discrimination--likewise something of a character."

"She's smart. So you think it's true?"

"What? About our social position? Ours is as good as theirs, I fancy."

"Oh yes, Wilbur. She acknowledges that herself. She admires us both and
she thinks it fine that we don't care for that sort of thing. What she
said was chiefly in connection with herself, but she intimated that
neither they, nor we, are the--er--equals of the people who live on
Fifth Avenue and thereabouts. She's a cousin of the Morton Prices,
whoever they may be, and she declared perfectly frankly that they were
better than she. Wasn't it funny?"

"You seem to have made considerable progress for one visit."

"I like that, you know, Wilbur. I prefer people who are willing to tell
me their real feelings at once."

"Morton Price is one of the big bugs. His great grandfather was among
the wise, shrewd pioneers in the commercial progress of the city. The
present generation are eminently respectable, very dignified, mildly
philanthropic, somewhat self-indulgent, reasonably harmless, decidedly
ornamental and rather dull."

"But Mrs. Williams says that she will never be happy until her relations
and the people of that set are obliged to take notice of her, and that
she and her husband are going to cut a dash to attract attention. It's
her secret."

"The cat which she let out of the bag is a familiar one. She must be
amusing, provided she is not vulgar."

"I don't think she's vulgar, Wilbur. She wears gorgeous clothes, but
they're extremely pretty. She said that she called on me because she
thought that we were literary, and that she desired an antidote to the
banker's business, which shows she isn't altogether worldly. She wishes
us to dine with them soon."

"That's neighborly."

"Why was it, Wilbur, that you didn't buy our house instead of hiring
it?"

"Because I hadn't money enough to pay for it."

"The Williamses bought theirs. But I don't believe they paid for it
altogether. She says her husband thinks the land will increase in value,
and they hope some day to make money by the rise. I imagine Mr. Williams
must be shrewd."

"He's a business man. Probably he bought, and gave a mortgage back. I
might have done that, but we weren't sure we should like the location,
and it isn't certain yet that fashion will move in just this direction.
I have very little, and I preferred not to tie up everything in a house
we might not wish to keep."

"I see. She appreciates that people may take us up any time. She thinks
you are distinguished looking."

"If she isn't careful, I shall make you jealous, Selma. Was there
anything you didn't discuss?"

"I regard you as the peer of any Morton Price alive. Why aren't you?"

"Far be it from me to discourage such a wifely conclusion. Provided you
think so, I don't care for any one else's opinion."

"But you agree with her. That is, you consider because people of that
sort don't invite us to their houses, they are better than we."

"Nothing of the kind. But there's no use denying the existence of social
classes in this city, and that, though I flatter myself you and I are
trying to make the most of our lives in accordance with the talents and
means at our disposal, we are not and are not likely to become, for the
present at any rate, socially prominent. That's what you have in mind, I
think. I don't know those people; they don't know me. Consequently they
do not ask me to their beautiful and costly entertainments. Some day,
perhaps, if I am very successful as an architect, we may come more in
contact with them, and they will have a chance to discover what a
charming wife I have. But from the point of view of society, your
neighbor Mrs. Williams is right. She evidently has a clear head on her
shoulders and knows what she desires. You and I believe that we can get
more happiness out of life by pursuing the even tenor of our way in the
position in which we happen to find ourselves."

"I don't understand it," said Selma, shaking her head and looking into
space with her spiritual expression. "It troubles me. It isn't American.
I didn't think such distinctions existed in this country. Is it all a
question of money, then? Do intelligence and--er--purpose count for
nothing?"

"My dear girl, it simply means that the people who are on top--the
people who, by force of success, or ability, or money, are most
prominent in the community, associate together, and the world gives a
certain prominence to their doings. Here, where fortunes have been made
so rapidly, and we have no formal aristocracy, money undoubtedly plays a
conspicuous part in giving access to what is known as society. But it is
only an entering wedge. Money supplies the means to cultivate manners
and the right way of looking at things, and good society represents the
best manners and, on the whole, the best way of looking at things."

"Yes. But you say that we don't belong to it."

"We do in the broad, but not in the narrow sense. We have neither the
means nor the time to take part in fashionable society. Surely, Selma,
you have no such ambition?"

"I? You know I disapprove of everything of the sort. It is like Europe.
There's nothing American in it."

"I don't know about that. The people concerned in it are Americans. If a
man has made money there is no reason why he shouldn't build a handsome
house, maintain a fine establishment, give his children the best
educational advantages, and choose his own friends. So the next
generation becomes more civilized. It isn't the best Americanism to
waste one's time in pursuing frivolities and excessive luxury, as some
of these people do; but there's nothing un-American in making the most
of one's opportunities. As I've said to you before, Selma, it's the way
in which one rises that's the important thing in the individual
equation, and every man must choose for himself what that shall be. My
ambition is to excel in my profession, and to mould my life to that end
without neglecting my duties as a citizen or a husband. If, in the end,
I win fame and fortune, so much the better. But there's no use in
worrying because other people are more fashionable than we."

"Of course. You speak as if you thought I was envious of them, Wilbur.
What I don't understand is why such people should be allowed to exist in
this country."

"We're a free people, Selma. I'm a good democrat, but you must agree
that the day-laborer in his muddy garb would not find himself at ease in
a Fifth Avenue drawing-room. On that account shall we abolish the
drawing-room?"

"We are not day-laborers."

"Not precisely; but we have our spurs to win. And, unlike some people in
our respectable, but humble station, we have each other's love to give
us courage to fight the battle of life bravely. I had a fresh order
to-day--and I have bought tickets for to-night at the theatre."



CHAPTER IV.


Almost the first persons at the theatre on whom Selma's eyes rested were
the Gregory Williamses. They were in a box with two other people, and
both Flossy and her husband were talking with the festive air peculiar
to those who are willing to be noticed and conscious that their wish is
being gratified. Flossy wore a gay bonnet and a stylish frock,
supplemented by a huge bunch of violets, and her husband's evening dress
betrayed a slight exaggeration of the prevailing fashion in respect to
his standing collar and necktie. Selma had never had a thorough look at
him before, and she reflected that he was decidedly impressive and
handsome. His face was full and pleasant, his mustache large and
gracefully curved, and his figure manly. His most distinguishing
characteristic was a dignity of bearing uncommon in so young a man,
suggesting that he carried, if not the destiny of republics on his
shoulders, at least, important financial secrets in his brain. The man
and woman with them were almost elderly and gave the effect of being
strangers to the city. They were Mr. and Mrs. Silas S. Parsons. Mr.
Parsons was a prosperous Western business man, who now and then visited
New York, and who had recently become a customer of Williams's. He had
dealt in the office where Williams was a clerk, and, having taken a
fancy to him, was disposed to help the new firm. Gregory had invited
them to dinner and to the theatre, by way of being attentive, and had
taken a box instead of stalls, in order to make his civility as
magnificent as the occasion would permit. A box, besides being a
delicate testimonial to his guest, would cause the audience to notice
him and his wife and to ask who they were.

In the gradual development of the social appetite in this country a
certain class has been evolved whose drawing-room is the floor of the
leading theatres. Society consists for them chiefly in being present
often at theatrical performances in sumptuous dress, not merely to
witness the play, but to be participants in a social function which
enhances their self-esteem. To be looked at and to look on these
occasions takes the place with them of balls and dinner parties. They
are not theatregoers in the proper sense, but social aspirants, and the
boxes and stalls are for them an arena in which for a price they can
show themselves in their finery and attractions, for lack of other
opportunities.

Our theatres are now in the full blaze of this harmless appropriation
for quasi-ballroom uses. At the time when Selma was a New York bride the
movement was in its infancy. The people who went to the theatre for
spectacular purposes no less than to see the actors on the stage were
comparatively few in number. Still the device was practised, and from
the very fact that it was not freely employed, was apt to dazzle the
eyes of the uninitiated public more unreservedly than to-day. The sight
of Mrs. Williams in a box, in the glory of her becoming frock and her
violets, caused even so stern a patriot and admirer of simplicity as
Selma to seize her husband's arm and whisper:

"Look." What is more she caught herself a moment later blushing with
satisfaction on account of the friendly bow which was bestowed on her.

Wilbur Littleton's ambitions were so definite and congenial that the
sight of his neighbors' splendor neither offended nor irritated him. He
did not feel obliged to pass judgment on them while deriving amusement
from their display, nor did he experience any qualms of regret that he
was not able to imitate them. He regarded Flossy and her husband with
the tolerant gaze of one content to allow other people to work out their
salvation, without officious criticism, provided he were allowed the
same privilege, and ready to enjoy any features of the situation which
appealed to his sense of humor or to his human sympathy. Flossy's frank,
open nod and ingenuous face won his favor at once, especially as he
appreciated that she and Selma had found each other attractive, and
though he tabooed luxury and fashionable paraphernalia where he was
immediately concerned, it occurred to him that this evidently
wide-awake, vivacious-looking couple might, as friends, introduce just
the right element of variety into their lives. He had no wish to be a
banker himself, nor to hire boxes at the theatre, but he was disposed to
meet half-way these entertaining and gorgeous neighbors.

Selma, in spite of her wish to watch the play, found her glance
returning again and again to the occupants of the box, though she
endeavored to dispose of the matter by remarking presently that she
could not understand why people should care to make themselves so
conspicuous, particularly as the seats in the boxes were less desirable
for seeing the stage than their own.

"We wouldn't care for it, but probably it's just what they like," said
Wilbur. "Some society reporter may notice them; in which case we shall
see in the Sunday newspaper that Mr. Gregory Williams and party occupied
a private box at the Empire Theatre last Tuesday evening, which will be
another straw toward helping them to carry out their project of
attracting attention. I like the face of your new friend, my dear. I
mean to say that she looks unaffected and honest, and as if she had a
sense of humor. With those three virtues a woman can afford to have some
faults. I suppose she has hers."

Littleton felt that Selma was disposed to fancy her neighbor, but was
restrained by conscientious scruples due to her dislike for society
concerns. He had fallen in love with and married his wife because he
believed her to be free from and superior to the petty weaknesses of the
feminine social creed; but though extremely proud of her uncompromising
standards, he had begun to fear lest she might indulge her point of view
so far as to be unjust. Her scornful references from time to time to
those who had made money and occupied fine houses had wounded his own
sense of justice. He had endeavored to explain that virtue was not the
exclusive prerogative of the noble-minded poor, and now he welcomed an
opportunity of letting her realize from personal experience that society
was not so bad as it was painted.

Selma returned Mrs. Williams's call during the week, but did not find
her at home. A few days later arrived a note stamped with a purple and
gold monogram inviting them to dinner. When the evening arrived they
found only a party of four. A third couple had given out at the last
minute, so they were alone with their hosts. The Williams house in its
decoration and upholstery was very different from their own. The
drawing-room was bright with color. The furniture was covered with light
blue plush; there were blue and yellow curtains, gay cushions, and a
profusion of gilt ornamentation. A bear-skin, a show picture on an
easel, and a variety of florid bric-à-brac completed the brilliant
aspect of the apartment. Selma reflected at once that that this was the
sort of drawing-room which would have pleased her had she been given her
head and a full purse. It suggested her home at Benham refurnished by
the light of her later experience undimmed by the shadow of economy. On
the way down to dinner she noticed in the corner of the hall a suit of
old armor, and she was able to perceive that the little room on one side
of the front door, which they learned subsequently was Mr. Williams's
den, contained Japanese curiosities. The dinner-table shone with glass
and silver ware, and was lighted by four candles screened by small pink
shades. By the side of Flossy's plate and her own was a small bunch of
violets, and there was a rosebud for each of the men. The dinner, which
was elaborate, was served by two trig maids. There were champagne and
frozen pudding. Selma felt almost as if she were in fairy-land. She had
never experienced anything just like this before; but her exacting
conscience was kept at bay by the reflection that this must be a further
manifestation of the New York manner, and her self-respect was
propitiated by the cordiality of her entertainers. The conversation was
bubbling and light-hearted on the part of both Mr. and Mrs. Williams.
They kept up a running prattle on the current fads of the day, the
theatre, the doings of well-known social personages, and their own
household possessions, which they naïvely called to the attention of
their guests, that they might be admired. But Selma enjoyed more than
the general conversation her talk with the master of the house, who
possessed all the friendly suavity of his wife and also the valuable
masculine trait of seeming to be utterly absorbed in any woman to whom
he was talking. Gregory had a great deal of manner and a confidential
fluency of style, which gave distinction even to commonplace remarks.
His method did not condescend to nudging when he wished to note a point,
but it fell only so far short of it as he thought social elegance
required. His conversation presently drifted, or more properly speaking,
flowed into a graphic and frank account of his own progress as a banker.
He referred to past successful undertakings, descanted on his present
roseate responsibilities, and hinted sagely at impending operations
which would eclipse in importance any in which he had hitherto been
engaged. In answer to Selma's questions he discoursed alluringly
concerning the methods of the Stock Exchange, and gave her to understand
that for an intelligent and enterprising man speculation was the high
road to fortune. No doubt for fools and for people of mediocre or torpid
abilities it was a dangerous trade; but for keen and bold intellects
what pursuit offered such dazzling opportunities?

Selma listened, abhorrent yet fascinated. It worried her to be told that
what she had been accustomed to regard as gambling should be so quickly
and richly rewarded. Yet the fairy scene around her manifestly confirmed
the prosperous language of her host and left no room for doubt that her
neighbors were making brilliant progress. Apparently, too, this business
of speculation and of vast combinations of railroad and other capital,
the details of which were very vague to her, was, in his opinion, the
most desirable and profitable of callings.

"Do you know," she said, "that I have been taught to believe that to
speculate in stocks is rather dreadful, and that the people of the
country don't approve of it." She spoke smilingly, for the leaven of the
New York manner was working, but she could not refrain from testifying
on behalf of righteousness.

"The people of the country!" exclaimed Gregory, with a smile of
complacent amusement. "My dear Mrs. Littleton, you must not let yourself
be deceived by the Sunday school, Fourth of July, legislative or other
public utterances of the American people. It isn't necessary to shout it
on the house-tops, but I will confide to you that, whatever they may
declaim or publish to the contrary, the American people are at heart a
nation of gamblers. They don't play little horses and other games in
public for francs, like the French, for the law forbids it, but I don't
believe that any one, except we bankers and brokers, realizes how widely
exists the habit of playing the stock-market. Thousands of people, big
and little, sanctimonious and highly respectable, put up their margins
and reap their profits or their losses. Oh no, the country doesn't
approve of it, especially those who lose. I assure you that the letters
which pass through the post-office from the godly, freeborn voters in
the rural districts would tell an eloquent story concerning the wishes
of the people of the country in regard to speculation."

Flossy was rising from table as he finished, so he accompanied the close
of his statement with a sweeping bow which comported with his jaunty
dignity.

"I am afraid you are a wicked man. You ought not to slander the American
people like that," Selma answered, pleased as she spoke at the light
touch which she was able to impart to her speech.

"It's true. Every word of it is true," he said as she passed him. He
added in a low tone--"I would almost even venture to wager a pair of
gloves that at some time or other your husband has had a finger in the
pie."

"Never," retorted Selma.

"What is that Gregory is saying?" interrupted Flossy, putting her arm
inside Selma's. "I can see by his look that he has been plaguing you."

"Yes, he has been trying to shatter my ideals, and now he is trying to
induce me to make an odious bet with him."

"Don't, for you would be certain to lose. Gregory is in great luck
nowadays."

"That is evident, for he has had the good fortune to make the
acquaintance of Mrs. Littleton," said Williams gallantly.

The two men were left alone with their cigars. After these were lighted,
as if he were carrying out his previous train of thought, Gregory
remarked, oracularly, at the end of a puff: "Louisville and Nashville is
certain to sell higher."

Littleton looked blank for a moment. He knew so little of stocks that at
first he did not understand what was meant. Then he said, politely:
"Indeed!"

"It is good for a ten-point rise in my opinion," Williams continued
after another puff. He was of a liberal nature, and was making a present
of this tip to his guest in the same spirit of hospitality as he had
proffered the dinner and the champagne. He was willing to take for
granted that Littleton, as a gentleman, would give him the order in case
he decided to buy, which would add another customer to his list. But his
suggestion was chiefly disinterested.

"I'm afraid I know very little about such matters," Littleton responded
with a smile. "I never owned but ten shares of stock in my life." Then,
by way, perhaps, of showing that he was not indifferent to all the good
things which the occasion afforded, he said, indicating a picture on the
opposite wall: "That is a fine piece of color."

Williams, having discharged his obligations as a host, was willing to
exchange the stock-market as a topic for his own capacity as a lightning
appreciator and purchaser of objects of art.

"Yes," he said, urbanely, "that is a good thing. I saw it in the
shop-window, asked the price and bought it. I bought two other pictures
at the same time. 'I'll take that, and that, and that,' I said, pointing
with my cane. The dealer looked astonished. He was used, I suppose, to
having people come in and look at a picture every day for a fortnight
before deciding. When I like a thing I know it. The three cost me
eighteen hundred dollars, and I paid for them within a week by a turn in
the market."

"You were very fortunate," said Littleton, who wished to seem
sympathetic.

Meanwhile the two wives had returned to the drawing-room arm in arm, and
established themselves on one of those small sofas for two, constructed
so that the sitters are face to face. They had taken a strong fancy to
each other, especially Flossy to Selma, and in the half hour which
followed they made rapid progress toward intimacy. Before they parted
each had agreed to call the other by her Christian name, and Selma had
confided the story of her divorce. Flossy listened with absorbed
interest and murmured at the close:

"Who would have thought it? You look so pure and gentle and refined that
a man must have been a brute to treat you like that. But you are happy
now, thank goodness. You have a husband worthy of you."

Each had a host of things still unsaid when Littleton and Williams
joined them.

"Well, my dear," said Wilbur as they left the house, "that was a sort of
Arabian Nights entertainment for us, wasn't it? A little barbaric, but
handsome and well intentioned. I hope it didn't shock you too much."

"It struck me as very pleasant, Wilbur. I think I am beginning to
understand New York a little better. Every thing costs so much here that
it seems necessary to make money, doesn't it? I don't see exactly how
poor people get along. Do you know, Mr. Williams wished to bet me a pair
of gloves that you buy stocks sometimes."

"He would have lost his bet."

"So I told him at once. But he didn't seem to believe me. I was sure you
never did. He appears to be very successful; but I let him see that I
knew it was gambling. You consider it gambling, don't you?"

"Not quite so bad as that. Some stock-brokers are gamblers; but the
occupation of buying and selling stocks for a commission is a well
recognized and fashionable business."

"Mr. Williams thinks that a great many Americans make money in
stocks--that we are gamblers as a nation."

"I am, in my heart, of the same opinion."

"Oh, Wilbur. I find you are not so good a patriot as I supposed."

"I hate bunkum."

"What is that?"

"Saying things for effect, and professing virtue which we do not
possess."

Selma was silent a moment. "What does champagne cost a bottle?"

"About three dollars and a half."

"Do you really think their house barbaric?"

"It certainly suggests to me heterogeneous barbaric splendor. They
bought their upholstery as they did their pictures, with free-handed
self-confidence. Occasionally they made a brilliant shot, but oftener
they never hit the target at all."

"I think I like brighter colors than you do, Wilbur," mused Selma. "I
used to consider things like that as wrong; but I suppose that was
because our fathers wished Europe to understand that we disapproved of
the luxury of courts and the empty lives of the nobility. But if people
here with purpose have money, it would seem sensible to furnish their
houses prettily."

"Subject always to the crucifying canons of art," laughed Littleton.
"I'm glad you're coming round to my view, Selma. Only I deny the ability
of the free-born American, with the overflowing purse, to indulge his
newly acquired taste for gorgeous effects without professional
assistance."

"I suppose so. I can see that their house is crude, though I do think
that they have some handsome things. It must be interesting to walk
through shops and say: 'I'll take that,' just because it pleases you."

During her first marriage Selma had found the problem of dollars and
cents a simple one. The income of Lewis Babcock was always larger than
the demands made upon it, and though she kept house and was familiar
with the domestic disbursements, questions of expenditure solved
themselves readily. She had never been obliged to ask herself whether
they could afford this or that outlay. Her husband had been only too
eager to give her anything she desired. Consideration of the cost of
things had seemed to her beneath her notice, and as the concern of the
providing man rather than the thoughtful American wife and mother. After
she had been divorced the difficulty in supplying herself readily with
money had been a dismaying incident of her single life. Dismaying
because it had seemed to her a limitation unworthy of her aspirations
and abilities. She had married Littleton because she believed him her
ideal of what a man should be, but she had been glad that he would be
able to support her and exempt her from the necessity of asking what
things cost.

By the end of their first year and a half of marriage, Selma realized
that this necessity still stood, almost like a wolf at the door, between
her and the free development of her desires and aspirations. New York
prices were appalling; the demands of life in New York still more so.
They had started house-keeping on a more elaborate scale than she had
been used to in Benham. As Mrs. Babcock she had kept one hired girl; but
in her new kitchen there were two servants, in deference to the desire
of Littleton, who did not wish her to perform the manual work of the
establishment. Men rarely appreciate in advance to the full extent the
extra cost of married life, and Littleton, though intending to be
prudent, found his bills larger than he had expected. He was able to pay
them promptly and without worry, but he was obliged to make evident to
Selma that the margin over and above their carefully considered expenses
was very small. The task of watching the butcher's book and the
provision list, and thinking twice before making any new outlay, was
something she had not bargained for. All through her early life as a
girl, the question of money had been kept in the background by the
simplicity of her surroundings. In her country town at home they had
kept no servants. A woman relative had done the work, and she had been
free to pursue her mental interests and devote herself to her father.
She had thought then that the existence of domestic servants was an act
of treason against the institutions of the country by those who kept
them. Yet she had accepted, with glee, the hired-girl whom Babcock had
provided, satisfying her own democratic scruples by dubbing her "help,"
and by occasionally offering her a book to read or catechising her as to
her moral needs. There is probably no one in the civilized world more
proud of the possession of a domestic servant than the American woman
who has never had one, and no one more prompt to consign her to the
obscurity of the kitchen after a feeble pretence at making her feel at
home. Selma was delighted to have two instead of one, and, after
beholding Mrs. Williams's trig maids, was eager to see her own arrayed
in white caps and black alpaca dresses. Yet, though she had become keen
to cultivate the New York manner, and had succeeded in reconciling her
conscience to the possession of beautiful things by people with a
purpose, it irked her to feel that she was hampered in living up to her
new-found faith by the bugbear of a lean purse. She had expected, as
Wilbur's wife, to figure quickly and gracefully in the van of New York
intellectual and social progress. Instead, she was one among thousands,
living in a new and undeveloped locality, unrecognized by the people of
whom she read in the newspapers, and without opportunities for
displaying her own individuality and talents. It depressed her to see
the long lines of houses, street after street, and to think that she was
merely a unit, unknown by name, in this great sea of humanity--she,
Selma Littleton, free-born American, conscious of virtue and power. This
must not be; and she divined clearer and clearer every day that it need
not be if she had more money.

It began to be annoying to her that Wilbur's professional progress was
not more rapid. To be sure he had warned her that he could not hope to
reach the front rank at once; that recognition must be gradual; and that
he must needs work slowly in order to do himself justice. She had
accepted this chiefly as a manifestation of modesty, not doubting that
many orders would be forthcoming, especially now that he had the new
stimulus of her love and inspiration. Instead there had been no marked
increase in the number of his commissions; moreover he had been
unsuccessful in two out of three competitions for minor public buildings
for which he had submitted designs. From both the pecuniary and
professional point of view these failures had been a disappointment. He
was in good spirits and obviously happy, and declared that he was doing
as well as he could reasonably expect; yet on his discouraged days he
admitted that the cost of retaining his draughtsmen was a drain on the
profit side of his ledger.

In contrast with this the prosperity of her neighbors the Williamses was
a little hard to bear. The sudden friendship developed into neighborly
intimacy, and she and Flossy saw much of each other, dropping in
familiarly, and often walking and shopping together. The two men were on
sufficiently cordial terms, each being tolerant of the other's
limitations, and seeking to recognize his good points for the sake of
the bond between their wives. The return dinner was duly given, and
Selma, hopeless of imitating the barbaric splendor, sought refuge in the
reflection that the æsthetic and intellectual atmosphere of her table
would atone for the lack of material magnificence, and limited her
efforts to a few minor details such as providing candles with colored
shades and some bonbon dishes. It was plain that Flossy admired her
because she recognized her to be a fine and superior soul, and the
appreciation of this served to make it more easy not to repine at the
difference between their entertainments. Still the constant acquisition
of pretty things by her frank and engaging friend was an ordeal which
only a soul endowed with high, stern democratic faith and purpose could
hope to endure with equanimity. Flossy bought new adornments for her
house and her person with an amiable lavishness which required no
confession to demonstrate that her husband was making money. She made
the confession, though, from time to time with a bubbling pride, never
suspecting that it could harass or tempt her spiritual looking friend.
She prattled artlessly of theatre parties followed by a supper at one of
the fashionable restaurants, and of new acquaintances whom she
entertained, and through whom her social circle was enlarged, without
divining that the sprightly narration was a thorn in the flesh of her
hearer. Selma was capricious in her reception of these reports of
progress. At times she listened to them with grave, cold eyes, which
Flossy took for signals of noble disdain and sought to deprecate by
wooing promises to be less worldly. At others she asked questions with a
feverish, searching curiosity, which stimulated Mrs. Williams's free and
independent style into running commentaries on the current course of
social events and the doings and idiosyncracies of contemporary leaders
of fashion whom she had viewed from afar. One afternoon Selma saw from
her window Flossy and her husband drive jubilantly away in a high cart
with yellow wheels drawn by a sleek cob, and at the same moment she
became definitely aware that her draught from the cup of life had a
bitter taste. Why should these people drive in their own vehicle rather
than she? It seemed clear to her that Wilbur could not be making the
best use of his talents, and that she had both a grievance against him
and a sacred duty to perform in his and her own behalf. Justice and
self-respect demanded that their mutual light should no longer be hid
under a bushel.



CHAPTER V.


Pauline Littleton was now established in her new lodgings. Having been
freed by her brother's marriage from the responsibilities of a
housewife, she was able to concentrate her attention on the work in
which she was interested. Her classes absorbed a large portion of her
time. The remainder was devoted to writing to girls in other cities who
sought her advice in regard to courses of study, and to correspondence,
consultation, and committee meetings with a group of women in New York
and elsewhere, who like herself were engrossed in educational matters.
She was glad to have the additional time thus afforded her for pursuing
her own tastes, and the days seemed too short for what she wished to
accomplish. She occupied two pleasant rooms within easy walking distance
of her brother's house. Her classes took her from home four days in the
week, and two mornings in every seven were spent at her desk with her
books and papers, in the agreeable labor of planning and correspondence.

Naturally one of her chief desires was to be on loving terms with her
brother's wife, and to do everything in her power to add to Selma's
happiness. She summoned her women friends to meet her sister-in-law at
afternoon tea. All of these called on the bride, and some of them
invited her to their houses. They were busy women like Pauline herself,
intent in their several ways on their vocations or avocations. They were
disposed to extend the right hand of fellowship to Mrs. Littleton, whom
they without exception regarded as interesting in appearance, but they
had no leisure for immediate intimacy with her. Having been introduced
to her and having scheduled her in their minds as a new and desirable
acquaintance, they went their ways, trusting chiefly to time to renew
the meeting and to supply the evidence as to the stranger's social
value. Busy people in a large city are obliged to argue that new-comers
should win their spurs, and that great minds, valuable opinions, and
moving social graces are never crushed by inhumanity, but are certain
sooner or later to gain recognition. Therefore after being very cordial
and expressing the hope of seeing more of her in the future, every one
departed and left Selma to her duties and her opportunities as
Littleton's wife, without having the courtesy to indicate that they
considered her a superior woman.

Pauline regarded this behavior on the part of her friends as normal, and
having done her social duty in the afternoon tea line, without a
suspicion that Selma was disappointed by the experience, she gave
herself up to the congenial undertaking of becoming intimate with her
sister-in-law. She ascribed Selma's reserve, and cold, serious manner
partly to shyness due to her new surroundings, and partly to the
spiritual rigor of the puritan conscience and point of view. She had
often been told that individuals of this temperament possessed more
depth of character than more emotional and socially facile people, and
she was prepared to woo. In comparison with Wilbur, Pauline was
accustomed to regard herself as a practical and easy-going soul, but she
was essentially a woman of fine and vigorous moral and mental purpose.
Like many of her associates in active life, however, she had become too
occupied with concrete possibilities to be able to give much thought to
her own soul anatomy, and she was glad to look up to her brother's wife
as a spiritual superior and to recognize that the burden lay on herself
to demonstrate her own worthiness to be admitted to close intimacy on
equal terms. Wilbur was to her a creature of light, and she had no doubt
that his wife was of the same ethereal composition.

Pauline was glad, too, of the opportunity really to know a countrywoman
of a type so different from her own friends. She, like Wilbur, had heard
all her life of these interesting and inspiring beings; intense,
marvellously capable, peerless, free-born creatures panoplied in
chastity and endowed with congenital mental power and bodily charms, who
were able to cook, educate children, control society and write
literature in the course of the day's employment. The newspapers and
popular opinion had given her to understand that these were the true
Americans, and caused her to ask herself whether the circle to which she
herself belonged was not retrograde from a nobler ideal. In what way she
did not precisely understand, except that she and her friends did not
altogether disdain nice social usages and conventional womanly ways.
But, nevertheless, the impression had remained in her mind that she must
be at fault somehow, and it interested her that she would now be able to
understand wherein she was inferior.

She went to see Selma as often as she could, and encouraged her to call
at her lodgings on the mornings when she was at home, expecting that it
might please her sister-in-law to become familiar with the budding
educational enterprises, and that thus a fresh bond of sympathy would be
established between them. Selma presented herself three or four times in
the course of the next three months, and on the first occasion expressed
gratifying appreciation of the cosiness of the new lodgings.

"I almost envy you," she said, "your freedom to live your own life and
do just what you like. It must be delightful away up here where you can
see over the tops of the houses and almost touch the sky, and there is
no one to disturb the current of your thoughts. It must be a glorious
place to work and write. I shall ask you to let me come up here
sometimes when I wish to be alone with my own ideas."

"As often as you like. You shall have a pass key."

"I should think," said Selma, continuing to gaze, with her far away
look, over the vista of roofs which the top story of the apartment house
commanded, "that you would be a great deal happier than if you had
married him."

The pause which ensued caused her to look round, and add jauntily, "I
have heard, you know, about Dr. Page."

A wave of crimson spread over Pauline's face--the crimson of wounded
surprise, which froze Selma's genial intentions to the core.

"I didn't think you'd mind talking about it," she said stiffly.

"There's nothing to talk about. Since you have mentioned it, Dr. Page is
a dear friend of mine, and will always continue to be, I hope."

"Oh, I knew you were nothing but friends now," Selma answered. She felt
wounded in her turn. She had come with the wish to be gracious and
companionable, and it had seemed to her a happy thought to congratulate
Pauline on the wisdom of her decision. She did not like people who were
not ready to be communicative and discuss their intimate concerns.

The episode impaired the success of the first morning visit. At the
next, which occurred a fortnight later, Pauline announced that she had a
piece of interesting news.

"Do you know a Mr. Joel Flagg in Benham?"

"I know who he is," said Selma. "I have met his daughter."

"It seems he has made a fortune in oil and real estate, and is desirous
to build a college for women in memory of his mother, Sarah Wetmore. One
of my friends has just received a letter from a Mrs. Hallett Taylor, to
whom Mr. Flagg appears to have applied for counsel, and who wishes some
of us who are interested in educational matters to serve as an advisory
committee. Probably you know Mrs. Taylor too?"

"Oh yes. I have been at her house, and I served with her on the
committee which awarded Wilbur the church."

"Why, then you are the very person to tell us all about her. I think I
remember now having heard Wilbur mention her name."

"Wilbur fancied her, I believe."

"Your tone rather implies that you did not. You must tell me everything
you know. My friend has corresponded with her before in regard to some
artistic matters, but she has never met her. Her letter suggests a
lady."

"I dare say you would like Mrs. Taylor," said Selma, gravely. "She is
attractive, I suppose, and seemed to know more or less about European
art and pictures, but we in Benham didn't consider her exactly an
American. If you really wish to know my opinion, I think that she was
too exclusive a person to have fine ideas."

"That's a pity."

"If she lived in New York she would like to be one of those society
ladies who live on Fifth Avenue; only she hasn't really any conception
of what true elegance is. Her house there, except for the ornaments she
had bought abroad, was not so well furnished as the one I lived in. I
wonder what she would think if she could look into the drawing-room of
my friend Mrs. Williams."

"I see," said Pauline, though in truth she was puzzled. "I am sorry if
she is a fine lady, but people like that, when they become interested,
are often excellent workers. It is a noble gift of Mr. Flagg's--$500,000
as a foundation fund. He's a good American at all events. Wilbur must
certainly compete for the buildings, and his having first met you there
ought to be an inspiration to him to do fine work."

Selma had been glad of the opportunity to criticise Mrs. Hallett Taylor,
whom she had learned, by the light of her superior social knowledge, to
regard as an unimportant person. Yet she had been conscious of a
righteous impulse in saying what she thought of her. She knew that she
had never liked Mrs. Taylor, and she was not pleased to hear that Mr.
Flagg had selected her from among the women of Benham to superintend the
administration of his splendid gift. Benham had come to seem to her
remote and primitive, yet she preferred, and was in the mood, to think
that it represented the principles which were dear to her, and that she
had been appreciated there far better than in her present sphere. She
was still tied to Benham by correspondence with Mrs. Earle. Selma had
written at once to explain her sudden departure, and letters passed
between them at intervals of a few weeks--letters on Selma's part fluent
with dazzled metropolitan condescension, yet containing every now and
then a stern charge against her new fellow-citizens on the score of
levity and worldliness.

The donation for the establishment of Wetmore College was made shortly
after another institution for the education of women in which Pauline
was interested--Everdean College--had been opened to students. The
number of applicants for admission to Everdean had been larger than the
authorities had anticipated, and Pauline, who had been one of the
promoters and most active workers in raising funds for and supervising
the construction of this labor of love, was jubilant over the outlook,
and busy in regard to a variety of new matters presented for solution by
the suddenly evolved needs of the situation. Among these was the
acquisition of two or three new women instructors; and it occurred to
Pauline at once that Selma might know of some desirable candidate. Selma
appeared to manifest but little interest in this inquiry at the time,
but a few months subsequent to their conversation in regard to Mrs.
Taylor she presented herself at Pauline's rooms one morning with the
announcement that she had found some one. Pauline, who was busy at her
desk, asked permission to finish a letter before listening; so there was
silence for a few minutes, and Selma, who wore a new costume of a more
fashionable guise than her last, reflected while she waited that the
details of such work as occupied her sister-in-law must be tedious.
Indeed, she had begun to entertain of late a sort of contempt for the
deliberate, delving processes of the Littletons. She was inclined to ask
herself if Wilbur and Pauline were not both plodders. Her own idea of
doing things was to do them quickly and brilliantly, arriving at
conclusions, as became an American, with prompt energy and despatch. It
seemed to her that Wilbur, in his work, was slow and elaborate, disposed
to hesitate and refine instead of producing boldly and immediately. And
his sister, with her studies and letter-writing, suggested the same
wearisome tendency. Why should not Wilbur, in his line, act with the
confident enterprise and capacity to produce immediate, ostensible
results which their neighbor, Gregory Williams, displayed? As for
Pauline, of course she had not Wilbur's talent and could not, perhaps,
be expected to shine conspicuously, but surely she might make more of
herself if only she would cease to spend so much time in details and
cogitation, with nothing tangible to show for her labor. Selma
remembered her own experience as a small school teacher, and her
thankfulness at her escape from a petty task unworthy of her
capabilities, and she smiled scornfully to herself, as she sat waiting,
at what she regarded Pauline's willingness to spend her energies in such
inconspicuous, self-effacing work. Indeed, when Pauline had finished her
letter and announced that she was now entirely at leisure, Selma felt
impelled to remark:

"I should think, Pauline, that you would give a course of lectures on
education. We should be glad to have them at our house, and your friends
ought to be able to dispose of a great many tickets." Such a thing had
never occurred to Selma until this moment, but it seemed to her, as she
heard her own words, a brilliant suggestion, both as a step forward for
Pauline and a social opportunity for herself.

"On education? My dear Selma, you have no idea of the depths of my
ignorance. Education is an enormous subject, and I am just beginning to
realize how little I know concerning it. People have talked and written
about education enough. What we need and what some of us are trying to
do is to study statistics and observe results. I am very much obliged to
you, but I should only make myself a laughing-stock."

"I don't think you would. You have spent a great deal of time in
learning about education, and you must have interesting things to say.
You are too modest and--don't you think it may be that you are not quite
enterprising enough? A course of lectures would call public attention to
you, and you would get ahead faster, perhaps. I think that you and
Wilbur are both inclined to hide your light under a bushel. It seems to
me that one can be conscientious and live up to one's ideals without
neglecting one's opportunities."

"The difficulty is," said Pauline, with a laugh, "that I shouldn't
regard it as an opportunity, and I am sure it wouldn't help me to get
ahead, as you call it, with the people I desire to impress, to give
afternoon tea or women-club lectures. I don't know enough to lecture
effectively. As to enterprise, I am busy from morning until night. What
more can a woman do? You mustn't hurry Wilbur, Selma. All he needs is
time to let the world see his light."

"Very likely. Of course, if you don't consider that you know enough
there is nothing to be said. I thought of it because I used to lecture
in Benham, at the Benham Institute, and I am sure it helped me to get
ahead. I used to think a great deal about educational matters, and
perhaps I will set you the example by giving some lectures myself."

"That would be very interesting. If a person has new ideas and has
confidence in them, it is natural to wish to let the world hear them."

Pauline spoke amiably, but she was disposed to regard her sister with
more critical eyes. She felt no annoyance at the patronizing tone toward
herself, but the reference to Wilbur made her blood rebel. Still she
could not bear to harbor distrust against that grave face with its
delicate beauty and spiritualized air, which was becomingly accommodated
to metropolitan conditions by a more festive bonnet than any which she
herself owned. Yet she noticed that the thin lips had an expression of
discontent, and she wondered why.

Recurring to the errand on which she had come, Selma explained that she
had just received a letter from Benham--from her friend, Mrs. Margaret
Rodney Earle, an authoress and a promulgator of advanced and original
ideas in respect to the cause of womanhood, asking if she happened to
know of an opening for a gifted young lady in any branch of intellectual
work.

"I thought at once of Everdean," said Selma, "and have come to give you
the opportunity of securing her."

Pauline expressed her thanks cordially, and inquired if Mrs. Earle had
referred to the candidate's experience or special fitness for the duties
of the position.

"She writes that she is very clever and gifted. I did not bring the
letter with me, but I think Mrs. Earle's language was that Miss Bailey
will perform brilliantly any duties which may be intrusted to her."

"That is rather general," said Pauline. "I am sorry that she didn't
specify what Miss Bailey's education has been, and whether she has
taught elsewhere."

"Mrs. Earle wouldn't have recommended her if she hadn't felt sure that
she was well educated. I remember seeing her at the Benham Institute on
one of the last occasions when I was present. She delivered a whistling
solo which every one thought clever and melodious."

"I dare say she is just the person we are looking for," said Pauline,
leniently. "It happens that Mrs. Grainger--my friend to whom Mrs. Taylor
wrote concerning Mr. Flagg's gift--is to make Mrs. Taylor a visit at
Benham next week, in order to consider the steps to be taken in regard
to Wetmore College. She and Miss Bailey can arrange to meet, and that
will save Miss Bailey the expense of a journey to New York, at the
possible risk of disappointment."

"I thought," said Selma, "that you would consider yourselves fortunate
to secure her services."

"I dare say we shall be very fortunate, Selma. But we cannot engage her
without seeing her and testing her qualifications."

Selma made no further demur at the delay, but she was obviously
surprised and piqued that her offer should be treated in this elaborate
fashion. She was obliged to acknowledge to herself that she could not
reasonably expect Pauline to make a definite decision without further
inquiry, but she had expected to be able to report to Mrs. Earle that
the matter was as good as settled--that, if Miss Bailey would give a few
particulars as to her accomplishments, the position would be hers.
Surely she and Mrs. Earle were qualified to choose a school-teacher.
Here was another instance of the Littleton tendency to waste time on
unimportant details. She reasoned that a woman with more wide-awake
perceptions would have recognized the opportunity as unusual, and would
have snapped up Miss Bailey on the spot.

The sequel was more serious. Neither Selma nor Pauline spoke of the
matter for a month. Then it was broached by Pauline, who wrote a few
lines to the effect that she was sorry to report that the authorities of
Everdean, after investigation, had concluded not to engage the services
of Miss Bailey as instructor. When Selma read the note her cheeks burned
with resentment. She regarded the decision as an affront. Pauline dined
with them on the evening of that day, and at table Selma was cold and
formal. When the two women were alone, Selma said at once, with an
attempt at calmness:

"What fault do you find with my candidate?"

"I think it possible that she might have been satisfactory from the mere
point of scholarship," judicially answered Pauline, who did not realize
in the least that her sister-in-law was offended, "though Mrs. Grainger
stopped short of close inquiry on that score, for the reason that Miss
Bailey failed to satisfy our requirements in another respect. I don't
wish to imply by what I am going to say anything against her character,
or her capacity for usefulness as a teacher under certain conditions,
but I confide to you frankly, Selma, that we make it an absolute
condition in the choice of instructors for our students that they should
be first of all lady-like in thought and speech, and here it was that
she fell short. Of course I have never seen Miss Bailey, but Mrs.
Grainger reported that she was--er--impossible."

"You mean that your friend does not consider her a lady? She isn't a
society lady, but I did not suppose an American girl would be refused a
position as a teacher for such a reason as that."

"A lady is a lady, whether she is what you term a society lady or not.
Mrs. Grainger told us that Miss Bailey's appearance and manners did not
suggest the womanly refinement which we deem indispensable in those who
are to teach our college students. Five years ago only scholarship and
cleverness were demanded, but experience has taught the educators of
women that this was a mistake."

"I presume," said Selma, with dramatic scorn, "that Mrs. Hallett Taylor
disapproved of her. I thought there would be some such outcome when I
heard that she was to be consulted."

"Mrs. Taylor's name was not mentioned," answered Pauline, in
astonishment. "I had no idea, Selma, that you regarded this as a
personal matter. You told me that you had seen Miss Bailey but once."

"I am interested in her because--because I do not like to see a cruel
wrong done. You do not understand her. You allow a prejudice, a
class-prejudice, to interfere with her career and the opportunity to
display her abilities. You should have trusted Mrs. Earle, Pauline, She
is my friend, and she recommended Miss Bailey because she believed in
her. It is a reflection on me and my friends to intimate that she is not
a lady."

She bent forward from the sofa with her hands clasped and her lips
tightly compressed. For a moment she gazed angrily at the bewildered
Pauline, then, as though she had suddenly bethought her of her New York
manner, she drew herself up and said with a forced laugh--"If the reason
you give were not so ridiculous, I should be seriously offended."

"Offended! Offended with Pauline," exclaimed Littleton, who entered the
room at the moment. "It cannot be that my two guardian angels have had a
falling out." He looked from one to the other brightly as if it were
really a joke.

"It is nothing," said Selma.

"It seems," said Pauline with fervor, "that I have unintentionally hurt
Selma's feelings. It is the last thing in the world I wish to do, and I
trust that when she thinks the matter over she will realize that I am
innocent. I am very, very sorry."



CHAPTER VI.


"Why don't you follow the advice of Mr. Williams and buy some shares of
stock?" asked Selma lightly, yet coaxingly, of her husband one day in
the third year of their marriage. The Williamses were dining with them
at the time, and a statement by Gregory, not altogether without motive,
as to the profits made by several people who had taken his advice,
called forth the question. He and his wife were amiably inclined toward
the Littletons, and were proud of the acquaintance. Among their other
friends they boasted of the delightful excursions into the literary
circle which the intimacy afforded them. They both would have been
pleased to see their neighbors more amply provided with money, and
Gregory, partly at the instance of Flossy, partly from sheer good-humor
in order to give a deserving but impractical fellow a chance to better
himself, threw out tips from time to time--crumbs from the rich man's
table, but bestowed in a friendly spirit. Whenever they were let fall,
Selma would look at Wilbur hoping for a sign of interest, but hitherto
they had evoked merely a smile of refusal or had been utterly ignored.

Her own question had been put on several occasions, both in the company
of the tempter and in the privacy of the domestic hearth, and both in
the gayly suggestive and the pensively argumentative key. Why might they
not, by means of a clever purchase in the stock market, occasionally
procure some of the agreeable extra pleasures of life--provide the ready
money for theatres, a larger wardrobe, trips from home, or a modest
equipage? Why not take advantage of the friendly advice given? Mr.
Williams had made clear that the purchase of stocks on a sufficient
margin was no more reprehensible as a moral proposition than the
purchase of cargoes of sugar, cotton, coffee or tea against which
merchants borrowed money at the bank. In neither instance did the
purchaser own outright what he sought to sell at an advance; merely in
one case it was shares, in the other merchandise. Of course it was
foolish for inexperienced country folk with small means to dabble in
stocks and bonds, but why should not city people who were clever and had
clever friends in the business eke out the cost of living by shrewd
investments? In an old-fashioned sense it might be considered gambling;
but, if it were true, as Wilbur and Mr. Williams both maintained, that
the American people were addicted to speculation, was not the existence
of the habit strong evidence that the prejudice against it must be
ill-founded? The logical and the patriotic conclusion must needs be that
business methods had changed, and that the American nation had been
clever enough to substitute dealings in shares of stock, and in
contracts relating to cereals and merchandise for the methods of their
grandfathers who delivered the properties in bulk.

To this condensation of Gregory's glib sophistries on the lips of his
wife, Wilbur had seemed to turn a deaf ear. It did not occur to him, at
first, that Selma was seriously in earnest. He regarded her suggestions
of neglected opportunities, which were often whimsically uttered, as
more than half playful--a sort of make-believe envy of the meteoric
progress in magnificence of their friendly neighbors. He was even glad
that she should show herself appreciative of the merits of civilized
comfort, for he had been afraid lest her ascetic scruples would lead her
judgments too far in the opposite direction. He welcomed them and
encouraged her small schemes to make the establishment more festive and
stylish in appearance, in modest imitation of the splendor next door.
But constant and more sombre reference to the growing fortunes of the
Williamses presently attracted his attention and made him more
observant. His income sufficed to pay the ordinary expenses of quiet
domestic life, and to leave a small margin for carefully, considered
amusements, but he reflected that if Selma were yearning for greater
luxury, he could not afford at present to increase materially her
allowance. It grieved him as a proud man to think that the woman he
loved should lack any thing she desired, and without a thought of
distrust he applied himself more strenuously to his work, hoping that
the sum of his commissions would enable him presently to gratify some of
her hankerings--such, for instance, as the possession of a horse and
vehicle. Selma had several times alluded with a sigh to the satisfaction
there must be in driving in the new park. Babcock had kept a horse, and
the Williamses now drove past the windows daily in a phaeton drawn by
two iron gray, champing steeds. He said to himself that he could
scarcely blame Selma if she coveted now and then Flossy's fine
possessions, and the thought that she was not altogether happy in
consequence of his failure to earn more kept recurring to his mind and
worried him. No children had been born to them, and he pictured with
growing concern his wife lonely at home on this account, yet without
extra income to make purchases which might enable her to forget at times
that there was no baby in the house. Flossy had two children, a boy and
a girl, two gorgeously bedizened little beings who were trundled along
the sidewalk in a black, highly varnished baby-wagon which was reputed
by the dealer who sold it to Gregory to have belonged to an English
nobleman. Wilbur more than once detected Selma looking at the babies
with a wistful glance. She was really admiring their clothes, yet the
thought of how prettily she would have been able to dress a baby of her
own was at times so pathetic as to bring tears to her eyes, and cause
her to deplore her own lack of children as a misfortune.

As the weeks slipped away and Wilbur realized that, though he was
gaining ground in his profession, more liberal expenditures were still
out of the question, he reached a frame of mind which made him yearn for
a means of relief. So it happened that, when Selma asked him once more
why he did not follow the advice proffered and buy some stocks, he
replied by smiling at Gregory and inquiring what he should buy. During
the dinner, which had been pleasant, Wilbur's eye had been attracted by
the brilliancy of some new jewels which Mrs. Williams wore, and he had
been conscious of the wish that he were able to make a present like that
to his own wife.

"You take my breath away. Wonders will never cease," responded Gregory,
while both the women clapped their hands. "But you musn't buy anything;
you must sell," he continued. "VanHorne and I both came to the
conclusion to-day that it is time for a turn on the short side of the
market. When the public are crazy and will buy any thing, then is the
time to let them have all they wish."

"What, then, am I to sell?" asked Wilbur "I am a complete lamb, you
know." He was already sorry that he had consented, but Selma's manifest
interest restrained him from turning the matter into a joke.

"Leave it all to me," said Williams with a magnificent gesture.

"But you will need some money from me."

"Not at all. If you would feel better, you may send me a check or a bond
for a thousand dollars. But it isn't necessary in your case."

"I will bring you in a bond to-morrow--one of the very few I own."

Wilbur having delivered his security the first thing in the morning,
heard nothing further from Williams for a fortnight. One day he received
a formal account of certain transactions executed by Williams and
VanHorne for Wilbur Littleton, Esq., and a check for two thousand
dollars. The flush which rose to his cheeks was induced partly by
pleasure, partly by shame. His inclination, as he reflected, was to
return the check, but he recognized presently that this was a foolish
idea, and that the only thing to be done was to deposit it. He wrote a
grateful note of acknowledgment to Williams, and then gave himself up to
the agreeable occupation of thinking what he should buy for Selma with
the money. He decided not to tell her of his good fortune, but to treat
her to a surprise. His first fancy was in favor of jewelry--some
necklace or lustrous ornament for the hair, which would charm the
feminine eye and might make Selma even more beautiful than she already
appeared in evening dress. His choice settled on a horse and buggy as
more genuinely useful. To be sure there was the feed of the animal to be
considered; but he would be able to reserve sufficient money to cover
this cost for some months, and by the end of that time he would perhaps
be able to afford the outlay from his income. Horse-flesh and vehicles
were not in his line, but he succeeded by investigation in procuring a
modest equipment for seven hundred dollars, which left him three hundred
for fodder, and the other thousand. This he had decided to hand over to
Selma as pin money. It was for her sake that he had consented to
speculate, and it seemed meet that she should have the satisfaction of
spending it.

He carried out his surprise by appearing one afternoon before the door
and inviting her to drive. Selma became radiant at the news that the
horse and buggy were hers, though, when the particulars of the purchase
were disclosed she said to herself that she wished Wilbur had allowed
her to choose the vehicle. She would have preferred one more stylish and
less domestic looking. She flung her arms about his neck and gave him a
kiss on their return to show her satisfaction.

"You see how easy it is, Wilbur," she said as she surveyed the check
which he had handed her.

"It was not I, it was Williams."

"No, but you could, if you would only think so. I have the greatest
confidence in you, dear," she added, looking eagerly into his face; "but
don't you sometimes go out of your way to avoid what is enterprising
and--er--modern, just because it is modern?"

"Gambling is as old as the hills, Selma."

"Yes. And if this were gambling--the sort of gambling you mean, do you
think I would allow you to do it? Do you think the American people would
tolerate it for a minute?" she asked triumphantly.

"It seems to me that your admiration for the American people sometimes
makes you a little weak in your logic," he answered with good-humor. He
was so pleased by Selma's gratification that he was disposed to exorcise
his scruples.

"I have always told you that I was more of a patriot than you, Wilbur."

The bond had not been returned by Williams at the time he sent the
money, and some fortnight later--only a few days in fact after this
drive, Littleton received another cheque for $500 and a request that he
call at the office.

"I thought you would like to see the instruments of torture at work--the
process of lamb-shearing in active operation," Williams explained as he
shook hands and waved him into his private room. After a few easy
remarks on the methods of doing business the broker continued, "I
flatter myself that for so small an investment and so short a time, I
have done tolerably well for you."

"I scarcely know how to express my thanks and my admiration for your
skill. Indeed I feel rather awkwardly about--"

"That's all right, my dear fellow. It's my business; I get my
commission. Still I admit friendly regard--and this is why I suggested
your dropping in--by introducing the personal equation, makes one
nervous. If instead of closing out your account, I had in each instance
held on, you would have made more money. I was glad to take this
responsibility at first because you were a neophyte at the business, but
I think it will be more satisfactory both for you and for me that in
future transactions you should give me the word when to reap the profit.
Of course you shall have all the information which I possess and my
advice will be at your command, but where a man's money is concerned his
own head is apt to be the wisest counsellor. Now I took the liberty
yesterday of selling for you two hundred shares of Reading railroad. You
can cover to-day at a profit of one point--about $200. I do not urge it.
On the contrary I believe that the market, barring occasional rallies,
is still on the downward track. I wish, however, to put you in a
position where you can, if you desire, take advantage of the full
opportunities of the financial situation and save myself from feeling
that I have robbed you by my friendly caution."

"In other words you don't wish to speculate with my money," said
Littleton. "You wish me to paddle my own canoe."

Williams' real desire was to escape the bother of personally
superintending an insignificant account. His circumlocution was a suave
way of stating that he had done all that could be expected of a neighbor
and benevolent friend, and that the ordinary relation of broker and
customer ought now be established. As for Littleton, he perceived that
he was not free to retire from the market on the profits of friendly
regard unless he was prepared to fly in the face of advice and buy in
his two hundred Reading railroad. To do so would be pusillanimous;
moreover to retire and abstain from further dealings would make
Williams' two cheques more obviously a charitable donation, and the
thought of them was becoming galling. Above all there were Selma's
feelings to be considered. The possession of the means to afford her
happiness was already a sweet argument in favor of further experiments.

And so it happened that during the next nine months Littleton became a
frequenter of the office of Williams & VanHorne. He was not among those
who hung over the tape and were to be seen there daily; but he found
himself attracted as the needle by the magnet to look in once or twice a
week to ascertain the state of the market. His ventures continued to be
small, and were conducted under the ken of Williams, and though the
occasional rallies referred to by the broker harassed Wilbur's spirit
when they occurred, the policy of selling short proved reasonably
remunerative in the course of half a dozen separate speculations. In
round figures he added another $2,500 to that which Williams had made
for him. The process kept him on pins and needles, and led him to scan
the list of stock quotations before reading anything else in the
newspaper. Selma was delighted at his success, and though he chose not
to tell her the details of his dealings, she watched him furtively,
followed the general tendency of the market, and when she perceived that
he was in good spirits, satisfied sufficiently her curiosity by
questions.

On the strength of this addition to their pecuniary resources, Selma
branched out into sundry mild extravagances. She augmented her wardrobe,
engaged an additional house-maid and a more expensive cook, and
entertained with greater freedom and elaboration. She was fond of going
to the theatre and supping afterward at some fashionable restaurant
where she could show her new plumage and be a part of the gay,
chattering rout at the tables consuming soft-shelled crabs and
champagne. She was gradually increasing her acquaintance, chiefly among
the friends of the Williamses, people who were fond of display and
luxury and who seemed to have plenty of money. In this connection she
was glad to avail herself of the reputation of belonging to the literary
circle, and she conceived the plan of mingling these new associates with
Wilbur's former set--to her thinking a delightful scheme, which she
inaugurated by means of a dinner party. She included among the guests
Pauline and Dr. Page, and considered that she had acted gracefully in
putting them side by side at table, thus sacrificing the theory of her
entertainment to her feminine interest in romance. In her opinion it was
more than Pauline deserved, and she was proud of her generosity. There
were fourteen in the company, and after dinner they were regaled by a
young woman who had brought a letter of introduction to Selma from Mrs.
Earle, who read from her own poems. The dinner was given for her, and
her seat was between Wilbur and Mr. Dennison, the magazine editor. Selma
had attended a dinner-party at the Williamses a fortnight earlier where
there had been music in the drawing-room by a ballad-singer at a cost of
$100 (so Flossy had told her in confidence). A poetess reading from her
own works, a guest and not invited in after dinner on a business
footing, appealed to Selma as more American, and less expensive. She, in
her secret soul, would have liked to recite herself, but she feared to
run the gauntlet of the New York manner. The verses were intense in
character and were delivered by the young woman with a hollow-eyed
fervor which, as one of the non-literary wing of the company stated,
made one creep and weep alternately. There was no doubt that the
entertainment was novel and acceptable to the commercial element, and to
Selma it seemed a delightful reminder of the Benham Institute. She was
curious to know what Mr. Dennison thought, though she said to herself
that she did not really care. She felt that anything free and earnest in
the literary line was likely to be frowned on by the coterie to which
her husband's people belonged. Nevertheless she seized an opportunity to
ask the editor if he did not think the verses remarkable.

"They are certainly remarkable," answered Mr. Dennison. After a brief
pause he added, "Being a strictly truthful person, Mrs. Littleton, I do
not wish to seek shelter behind the rampart which your word 'remarkable'
affords. A dinner may be remarkable--remarkably good, like the one I
have just eaten, or remarkably bad. Some editors would have replied to
you as I have done, and yet been capable of a mental reservation
unflattering to the ambitious young woman to whom we have been
listening. But without wishing to express an opinion, let me remind you
that poetry, like point-lace, needs close scrutiny before its merits can
be defined. I thought I recognized some ancient and well-worn flowers of
speech, but my editorial ear and eye may have been deceived. She has
beautiful hair at all events."

     "'Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare;
      And beauty draws us by a single hair.'

"You cynical personage! I only hope she may prove a genius and that you
will realize when too late that you might have discovered her," said
Selma, looking into his face brightly with a knowing smile and tapping
her fan against her hand. She was in a gay humor at the success of the
entertainment, despite the non-committal attitude of this censor, and
pleased at the appositeness of her quotation. Her figure had filled out
since her marriage. She was almost plump and she wore a single short fat
curl pendent behind her ear.

A few months subsequent to this dinner party Flossy announced one day
that Mr. Silas S. Parsons, whom Selma had seen with the Williamses at
the theatre nearly three years before, had come to live in New York with
his wife and daughter. Flossy referred to him eagerly as one of her
husband's most valuable customers, a shrewd, sensible, Western business
man, who had made money in patent machinery and was superbly rich. He
had gone temporarily to a hotel, but he was intending to build a large
house on Fifth Avenue near the park. Selma heard this announcement with
keen interest, asking herself at once why Wilbur should not be the
architect. Why not, indeed? She promptly reasoned that here was her
chance to aid her husband; that he, if left to his own devices, would do
nothing to attract the magnate's attention, and that it behooved her, as
an American wife and a wide-awake, modern woman, to let Mr. Parsons know
his qualifications, and to prepossess him in Wilbur's favor by her own
attractions. The idea appealed to her exceedingly. She had been hoping
that some opportunity to take an active part in the furtherance of
Wilbur's career would present itself, for she felt instinctively that
with her co-operation he would make more rapid progress. Here was
exactly the occasion longed for. She saw in her mind's eye Mr. Parsons's
completed mansion, stately and beautiful, the admired precursor of a
host of important edifices--a revolutionizing monument in contemporary
architecture. Wilbur would become the fashion, and his professional
success be assured, thanks to the prompt ability of his wife to take
advantage of circumstances. So she would prove herself a veritable
helpmate, and the bond of marital sympathy would be strengthened and
refreshed.

To begin with, Selma hinted to Mrs. Williams that Mr. Parsons might do
worse than employ Wilbur to design his house. Flossy accepted the
suggestion with enthusiasm and promised her support, adding that Mr.
Parsons was a person of sudden and strong fancies, and that if he were
to take a fancy to Wilbur, the desired result would be apt to follow.
Selma quickly decided that Mr. Parsons must be made to like her, for she
feared lest Wilbur's quiet, undemonstrative manner would fail to attract
him. Evidently he admired the self-confidence and manly assertion of
Gregory Williams, and would be liable to regard Wilbur as lacking in
force and enterprise. The reflection that she would thus be working--as
necessarily she would--for the eternal progress of truth, added a
pleasant savor to the undertaking, for it was clear that her husband was
an ideal architect for the purpose, and she would be doing a true
service to Mr. Parsons in convincing him that this was so. Altogether
her soul was in an agreeable flutter, notwithstanding that her neighbor
Flossy had recently received invitations to two or three large balls,
and been referred to in the society columns of the newspapers as the
fascinating and clever wife of the rising banker Gregory Williams.

The Littletons were promptly given by Flossy the opportunity to make the
acquaintance of the Parsons family. Mr. Parsons was a ponderous man of
over sixty, with a solid, rotund, grave face and a chin whisker. He was
absorbed in financial interests, though he had retired from active
business, and had come to New York to live chiefly to please his wife
and daughter. Mrs. Parsons, who was somewhat her husband's junior, was a
devotee, or more correctly, a debauchee, of hotel life. Since the time
when they had become exceedingly rich, about ten years before, they had
made a grand tour of the hotels of this country and Europe. By so doing
Mrs. Parsons and her daughter felt that they became a part of the social
life of the cities which they visited. Although they had been used to
plain, if not slovenly, house-keeping before the money came, both the
wife and daughter had evolved into connoisseurs of modish and luxurious
hotel apparatus and garniture. They had learned to revel in many
courses, radiantly upholstered parlors, and a close acquaintance with
the hotel register. Society for them, wherever they went, meant finding
out the names of the other guests and dressing for them, being on easy
terms with the head waiter and elevator boy, visiting the theatres, and
keeping up a round of shopping in pursuit of articles of apparel. They
wore rich garments and considerable jewelry, and plastered
themselves--especially the daughter--with bunches of violets or roses
self-bestowed. Mrs. Parsons was partial to perfume, and they both were
addicted to the free consumption of assorted bonbons. To be sure they
had made some acquaintances in the course of their peregrinations, but
one reason for moving to New York was that Mrs. Parsons had come to the
melancholy conclusion that neither the princes of Europe nor the sons of
American leading citizens were paying that attention to her daughter
which the young lady's charms seemed to her to merit. If living lavishly
in hotels and seeing everybody right and left were not the high-road to
elegant existence and hence to a brilliant match for Lucretia, Mrs.
Parsons was ready to try the effect of a house on Fifth Avenue, though
she preferred the comforts of her present mode of life. Still one
advantage of a stable home would be that Mr. Parsons could be constantly
with them, instead of an occasional and intermittent visitor
communicated with more frequently by electricity than by word of mouth.
While Mr. Parsons was selecting the land, she and Lucretia had abandoned
themselves to an orgy of shopping, and with an eye to the new house,
their rooms at the hotel were already littered with gorgeous fabrics,
patterns of wall-paper and pieces of pottery.

Selma's facility in the New York manner was practised on Silas Parsons
with flattering success. He was captivated by her--more so than by
Flossy, who amused him as a flibbertigibbet, but who seemed to him to
lack the serious cast of character which he felt that he discerned
beneath the sprightliness of this new charmer. Mr. Parsons was what he
called a "stickler" for the dignity of a serious demeanor. He liked to
laugh at the theatre, but mistrusted a daily point of view which savored
of buffoonery. He was fond of saying that more than one public man in
the United States had come to grief politically from being a joker, and
that the American people could not endure flippancy in their
representatives. He liked to tell and listen to humorous stories in the
security of a smoking-room, but in his opinion it behooved a citizen to
maintain a dignified bearing before the world. Like other self-made men
who had come to New York--like Selma herself--he had shrunk from and
deplored at first the lighter tone of casual speech. Still he had grown
used to it, and had even come to depend on it as an amusement. But he
felt that in the case of Selma there was a basis of ethical earnestness,
appropriate to woman, beneath her chatty flow of small talk. That she
was comparatively a new-comer accounted partially for this impression,
but it was mainly due to the fact that she still reverted after her
sallies of pleasantry to a grave method of deportment.

Selma's chief hospitality toward the Parsonses took the form of a
theatre party, which included a supper at Delmonico's after the play. It
was an expensive kind of entertainment, which she felt obliged to
justify to Wilbur by the assertion that the Williamses had been so civil
she considered it would be only decent to show attention to their
friends. She was unwilling to disclose her secret, lest the knowledge of
it might make Wilbur offish and so embarrass her efforts. There were
eight in the party, and the affair seemed to Selma to go off admirably.
She was enthralled by the idea of using her own personal magnetism to
promote her husband's business. She felt that it was just the sort of
thing she would like and was fitted for, and that here was an
opportunity for her individuality to display itself. She devoted herself
with engaging assiduity to Mr. Parsons, pleased during the active
process of propitiation by the sub-consciousness that her table was one
of the centres of interest in the large restaurant. She had dressed
herself with formal care, and nothing in the way of compliment could
have gratified her more than the remark which Mr. Parsons made, as he
regarded her appreciatively, when he had finished his supper, that she
suggested his idea of Columbia. Selma glowed with satisfaction. The
comparison struck her as apt and appropriate, and she replied with a
proud erection of her head, which imparted to her features their
transcendental look, and caused her short curl to joggle tremulously, "I
suppose I see what you mean, Mr. Parsons."



CHAPTER VII.


One evening, four or five days after this supper party, Wilbur laid down
the book which he was pretending to read, and said, "Selma, I have come
to the conclusion that I must give up dabbling in stocks. I am being
injured by it--not financially, for, as you know, I have made a few
thousand dollars--but morally."

"I thought you were convinced that it was not immoral," answered Selma,
in a constrained voice.

"I do not refer to whether speculation is justifiable in itself, but to
its effect on me as an individual--its distraction to my mind and
consequent interference with my professional work."

"Oh."

"For a year now, the greater portion of the time, I have had some
interest in the market, and as a consequence, have felt impelled to look
in on Williams and VanHorne every day--sometimes oftener. I am unable to
dismiss my speculations from my thoughts. I find myself wondering what
has happened to the stocks I am carrying, and I am satisfied that the
practice is thoroughly demoralizing to my self-respect and to my
progress. I am going to give it up."

"I suppose you must give it up if it affects you like that," responded
Selma drily. "I don't see exactly why it should."

"It may seem foolish to you, but I am unable to put my ventures out of
my mind. The consequences of loss would be so serious to me that I
suppose my imagination becomes unduly active and apprehensive. Also, I
find myself eager to secure large gains. I must renounce Aladdin's lamp
from this day forth, my dear, and trust to my legitimate business for my
income."

Selma folded her hands and looked grave. "It's disappointing that you
feel so just when we are beginning to get on, Wilbur."

"I have realized, Selma, that you have enjoyed and--er--been made
happier by the freedom to spend which this extra money has afforded you.
But I know, when you reflect, you will understand that I am right, and
that it would be disastrous to both of us if I were to continue to do
what I believe demoralizing. It is a mortification to me to ask you to
retrench, but I said to myself that Selma would be the first to insist
on our doing so if she knew my feelings, and it makes me happy to be
sure of your approval."

Littleton spoke with a tender plaintiveness which betrayed that in his
secret soul he was less confident on this score than his words declared,
or than he himself supposed. "Of course," he added, earnestly, "I shall
hope that it will not make much difference. My business is slowly, but
steadily, improving, and I am doing more this year than last. I am
bending all my energies on my plans for Wetmore College. If I win in
that competition, I shall make a reputation and a respectable
commission."

"You have been on those plans three months."

"Yes, and shall not finish them for another two. I wish to do my best
work, and I shall be glad not to hear quotations of the ticker in my
brain. You desire me to be thorough, surely, Selma _mia_?"

"Oh, yes. Only, you know people very often spoil things by pottering
over them."

"I never potter. I reject because I am dissatisfied rather than offer a
design which does not please me, but I do not waste my time."

"Call it over-conscientiousness then. I wish you to do your best work,
of course, but one can't expect to do best work invariably. Everything
was going so nicely that you must perceive it will be inconvenient to
have to economize as we did before."

Littleton looked at his wife with a glance of loving distress. "You
wouldn't really care a button. I know you wouldn't, Selma," he said,
stoutly.

"Of course not, if it were necessary," she answered. "Only I don't wish
to do so unless it is necessary. I am not controverting your decision
about the stocks, though I think your imagination, as you say, is to
blame. I would rather cut my right hand off than persuade you to act
contrary to your conscience. But it _is_ inconvenient, Wilbur, you must
admit, to give up the things we have become accustomed to."

"We shall be able to keep the horse. I am certain of that."

"I wish you to see my side of it. Say that you do," she said, with
shrill intensity.

"It is because I do see it that I am troubled, Selma. For myself I am no
happier now than I was when we lived more simply. I can't believe that
you will really find it a hardship to deny yourself such extravagances
as our theatre party last week. Being a man," he added, after a pause,
"I suppose I may not appreciate how important and seductive some of
these social observances appear to a woman, and heaven knows my chief
wish in life is to do everything in my power to make you happy. You must
be aware of that, dearest. I delight to work hard for your sake. But it
seems almost ludicrous to be talking of social interests to you, of all
women. Why, at the time we were married, I feared that you would cut
yourself off from reasonable pleasures on account of your dislike of
everything frivolous. I remember I encouraged you not to take too
ascetic a view of such things. So I am bound to believe that your side
is my side--that we both will find true happiness in not attempting to
compete with people whose tastes are not our tastes, and whose aims are
not our aims."

"Then you think I have deteriorated," she said, with a superior smile.

"I think of you as the most conscientious woman I ever met. It was only
natural that you should be spurred by our neighbors, the Williamses, to
make a better showing socially before the world. I have been glad to see
you emulous up to a certain point. You must realize though, that we
cannot keep pace with them, even if we so desire. Already they are in
the public eye. He appears to have made considerable money, and his
views on the stock-market are given prominence by the press. He and his
wife are beginning to be recognized by people who were ignorant of their
existence four years ago. You told me last week that Mrs. Williams had
attended one of the fashionable balls, and I saw in yesterday's
newspaper a description of her toilette at another. It begins to look as
if, in a few years more, their ambition might be realized, and the doors
of the Morton Price mansion open wide to admit this clever country
cousin to the earthly paradise. It must be evident to you, Selma, that
very shortly we shall see only the dust of their chariot-wheels in the
dim social distance. Williams told me to-day that he has bought a house
near the park."

"He has bought a new house? They are going to move?" exclaimed Selma,
sitting up straight, and with a fierce light in her eyes.

"Yes. He was going home to tell his wife. It seems that they have been
talking vaguely of moving for some time. An acquaintance happened to
offer him a house, and Williams closed the bargain on the spot in his
customary chain-lightning style. I shall be sorry to have them go on
some accounts, for they have always been friendly, and you seem fond of
the wife, but we shall find it easier, perhaps, when they are gone, to
live according to our own ideas."

"Flossy has not been quite so nice lately," said Selma; "I am afraid she
is disposed to put on airs."

"Her head may have been turned by her success. She has a kind heart, but
a giddy brain in spite of its cleverness."

"Flossy has been getting on, of course. But so are we getting on. Why
should they be recognized, as you call it, any more than we? In time, I
mean. Not in the same way, perhaps, since you don't approve of the sort
of things--"

"Since I don't approve? Why, Selma, surely--"

"Since _we_ don't approve, then. I only mean that Gregory Williams has
shown initiative, has pushed ahead, and is--er--the talk of the town. I
expect you to be successful, too. Is there any reason on earth why the
door of the Morton Prices should open wide to her and not to me?"

"I suppose not, if--if you wish it."

She made a gesture of impatience and gazed at him a moment with an
imperious frown, then suddenly, with the litheness of a cat, she slipped
from her chair to the floor at his feet, and leaning against his knee,
looked up into his face.

"You dear boy, I am going to tell you something. You said to me once
that if ever the time came when I thought you visionary, I was to let
you know. Of course I understand you are worth a thousand _Gregorys_;
but don't you think you would get on faster if you were a little more
aggressive in your work?--if you weren't so afraid of being superficial
or sensational? You were intimating a few minutes ago," she added,
speaking rapidly under the stress of the message she burned to deliver,
"that I seemed changed. I don't believe I am changed. But, if I seem
different, it is because I feel so strongly that those who wish to
succeed must assert themselves and seize opportunities. There is where
it seems to me that Mr. Williams has the advantage over you, Wilbur. One
of the finest and most significant qualities of our people, you know, is
their enterprise and aggressiveness. Architecture isn't like the stock
business, but the same theory of progress must be applicable to both.
Don't you think I may be right, Wilbur? Don't you see what I mean?"

He stroked her hair and answered gently, "What is it that I am not doing
which you think I might do?"

Selma snuggled close to him, and put her hand in his. She was vibrating
with the proud consciousness of the duty vouchsafed to her to guide and
assist the man she loved. It was a blissful and a precious moment to
her. "If I were you," she said, solemnly, "I should build something
striking and original, something which would make everyone who beheld it
ask, 'what is the architect's name?' I would strike out boldly without
caring too much what the critics and the people of Europe would say. You
musn't be too afraid, Wilbur, of producing something American, and you
mustn't be too afraid of the American ways of doing things. We work more
quickly here in everything, and--and I still can't help feeling that you
potter a little. Necessarily I don't know about the details of your
business, but if I were you, instead of designing small buildings or
competing for colleges and churches, where more than half the time
someone else gets the award, I should make friends with the people who
live in those fine houses on Fifth Avenue, and get an order to design a
splendid residence for one of them. If you were to make a grand success
of that, as you surely would, your reputation would be made. You ask me
why I like to entertain and am willing to know people like that. It is
to help you to get clients and to come to the front professionally. Now
isn't that sensible and practical and right, too?"

Her voice rang triumphantly with the righteousness of her plea.

"Selma, dear, if I am not worldly-wise enough, I am glad to listen to
your suggestions. But art is not to be hurried. I cannot vulgarize my
art. I could not consent to that."

"Of course not, Wilbur. Not worldly-wise enough is just the phrase, I
think. You are so absorbed in the theory of fine things that I am sure
you often let the practical opportunities to get the fine things to do
slip."

"Perhaps, dear. I will try to guard against it." Wilbur took her hands
in his and looked down tenderly into her face. His own was a little
weary. "Above everything else in life I wish, to make you happy," he
said.

"I am happy, you dear boy."

"Truly?"

"Yes, truly. And if something happens which I am nearly sure will
happen, I shall be happier still. It's a secret, and I mustn't tell you,
but if it does happen, you can't help agreeing that your wife has been
clever and has helped you in your profession."

"Helped me? Ah, Selma," he said, folding her in his arms, "I don't think
you realize how much you are to me. In this modern world, what with
self-consciousness, and shyness and contemporary distaste for fulsome
expression, it is difficult to tell adequately those we love how we feel
toward them. You are my darling and my inspiration. The sun rises and
sets with you, and unless you were happy, I could never be. Each man in
this puzzling world must live according to his own lights, and I,
according to mine, am trying to make the most of myself, consistent with
self-respect and avoidance of the low human aims and time-serving
methods upon which our new civilization is supposed to frown. If I am
neglecting my lawful opportunities, if I am failing to see wisely and
correctly, I shall be grateful for counsel. Ah, Selma, for your sake,
even more than for my own, I grieve that we have no children. A baby's
hands would, I fancy, be the best of counsellors and enlighteners."

"If children had come at first, it would have been very nice. But
now--now I think they might stand in the way of my being of help to you.
And I am so anxious to help you, Wilbur."

As a result of this conversation Littleton devoted himself more
assiduously than ever to his work. He was eager to increase his earnings
so that his income should not be curtailed by his decision to avoid
further ventures in the stock-market. He was troubled in soul, for
Selma's accusation that he was visionary haunted him. Could it be that
he was too scrupulous, too uncompromising, and lacked proper enterprise?
Self-scrutiny failed to convince him that this was so, yet left a
lurking doubt which was harassing. His clear mind was too modest to
believe in its own infallibility, for he was psychologist enough to
understand that no one can be absolutely sure that his perspective of
life is accurate. Possibly he was sacrificing his wife's legitimate
aspirations to too rigid canons of behavior, and to an unconscious lack
of initiative. On the other hand, as a positive character, he believed
that he saw clearly, and he could not avoid the reflection that, if this
was the case, he and Selma were drifting apart--the more bitter
alternative of the two, and a condition which, if perpetuated, would
involve the destruction of the scheme of matrimonial happiness, the
ideal communion of two sympathetic souls, in which he was living as a
proud partner. Apparently he was in one of two predicaments; either he
was self deceived, which was abhorrent to him as a thoughtful grappler
with the eternal mysteries, or he had misinterpreted the character of
the woman whose transcendent quality was a dearer faith to him than the
integrity of his own manhood.

So it was with a troubled heart that he applied himself to more rigorous
professional endeavor. Like most architects he had pursued certain lines
of work because orders had come to him, and the chances of employment
had ordained that his services should be sought for small churches,
school-houses and kindred buildings in the surrounding country rather
than for more elaborate and costly structures. On these undertakings it
was his habit to expend abundant thought and devotion. The class of work
was to his taste, for, though the funds at his disposal were not always
so large as he desired for artistic effects, yet he enjoyed the
opportunity of showing that simplicity need not be homely and
disenchanting, but could wear the aspect of grace and poetry. Latterly
he had been requested to furnish designs for some blocks of houses in
the outlying wards of the city, where the owners sought to provide
attractive, modern flats for people with moderate means. Various
commissions had come to him, also, to design decorative work, which
interested him and gave scope to his refined and aspiring imagination,
and he was enthusiastically absorbed in preparing his competitive plans
for the building of Wetmore College. His time was already well occupied
by the matters which he had in hand. That is, he had enough to do and
yet did not feel obliged to deny himself the luxury of deliberate
thoroughness in connection with each professional undertaking. Save for
the thought that he must needs earn more in order to please Selma, he
would have been completely happy in the slow but flattering growth of
his business, and in feeling his way securely toward greater success.
Now, however, he began to ask himself if it were not possible to hasten
this or that piece of work in order to afford himself the necessary
leisure for new employment. He began also to consider whether he might
not be able, without loss of dignity, to put himself in the way of
securing more important clients. To solicit business was not to be
thought of, but now and again he put the question to himself whether he
had not been too indifferent as to who was who, and what was what, in
the development of his business.

While Littleton was thus mulling over existing conditions, and
subjecting his conduct to the relentless lens of his own conscience and
theories, Selma announced to him jubilantly, about a fortnight
subsequent to their conversation, that her secret was a secret no
longer, and that Mr. Parsons desired to employ him to build an imposing
private residence on Fifth Avenue near the Park. Mr. Parsons confirmed
this intelligence on the following day in a personal interview. He
informed Littleton that he was going to build in order to please his
wife and daughter, and intimated that expense need not stand in the way
of the gratification of their wishes. After the business matters were
disposed of he was obviously ready to intrust all the artistic details
to his architect. Consequently Littleton enjoyed an agreeable quarter of
an hour of exaltation. He was pleased at the prospect of building a
house of this description, and the hope of being able to give free scope
to his architectural bent without molestation made that prospect
roseate. He could desire no better opportunity for expressing his ideas
and proving his capacity. It was an ideal chance, and his soul thrilled
as he called up the shadowy fabric of scheme after scheme to fill the
trial canvas of his fantasy. Nor did he fail to award due credit to
Selma for her share in the transaction; not to the extent, perhaps, of
confessing incapacity on his own part, but by testifying lovingly to her
cleverness. She was in too good humor at her success to insist on his
humiliation in set terms. The two points in which she was most vitally
interested--the advantage of her own interference and the consequent
prompt extension of her husband's field of usefulness--had been
triumphantly proved, and there was no need that the third--Wilbur's lack
of capacity to battle and discriminate for himself--should be
emphasized. Selma knew what she thought in her own mind, and she
entertained the hope that this lesson might be a lamp to his feet for
future illumination. She was even generous enough to exclaim, placing
her hands on his shoulders and looking into his face with complacent
fervor:

"You might have accomplished it just as well yourself, Wilbur."

Littleton shook his head and smiled. "It was a case of witchery and
fascination. He probably divined how eager you were to help me, and he
was glad to yield to the agreeable spell of your wifely devotion."

"Oh, no," said Selma. "I am sure he never guessed for one moment of what
I was thinking. Of course, I did try to make him like me, but that was
only sensible. To make people like one is the way to get business, I
believe."

Littleton's quarter of an hour of exaltation was rudely checked by a
note from Mrs. Parsons, requesting an interview in regard to the plans.
When he presented himself he found her and her daughter imbued with
definite ideas on the subject of architects and architecture. In the
eyes of Mrs. Parsons the architect of her projected house was nothing
but a young man in the employ of her husband, who was to guide them as
to measurements, carpentry, party-walls and plumbing, but was otherwise
to do her bidding for a pecuniary consideration, on the same general
basis as the waiter at the hotel or the theatre ticket-agent. As to
architecture, she expected him to draw plans just as she expected
dealers in carpets or wall-papers to show her patterns in easy
succession. "I don't care for that; take it away." "That is rather
pretty, but let me see something else." What she said to Littleton was,
"We haven't quite decided yet what we want, but, if you'll bring some
plans the next time you call, we'll let you know which we like best.
There's a house in Vienna I saw once, which I said at the time to
Lucretia I would copy if I ever built. I've mislaid the photograph of
it, but I may be able to tell you when I see your drawings how it
differed from yours. Lucretia has a fancy for something Moorish or
Oriental. I guess Mr. Parsons would prefer brown-stone, plain and
massive, but he has left it all to us, and both daughter and I think
we'd rather have a house which would speak for itself, and not be mixed
up with everybody else's. You'd better bring us half a dozen to choose
from, and between me and you and Lucretia, we'll arrive at something
elegant and unique."

This was sadly disillusionizing to Littleton, and the second experience
was no less so. The refined outline sketches proffered by him were
unenthusiastically surveyed and languidly discarded like so many
wall-papers. It was evident that both the mother and daughter were
disappointed, and Littleton presently divined that their chief objection
was to the plainness of the several designs. This was made unmistakably
obvious when Mrs. Parsons, after exhibiting a number of photographs of
foreign public buildings with which she had armed herself, surveyed the
most ornate, holding it out with her head on one side, and exclaimed
impressively, "This is more the sort of thing we should like. I think
Mr. Parsons has already explained to you that he desired our house to be
as handsome as possible."

"I had endeavored to bear that in mind," Littleton retorted with spirit.
"I believe that either of these plans would give you a house which would
be handsome, interesting and in good taste."

"It does not seem to me that there is anything unique about any of
them," said Mrs. Parsons, with a cold sniff intended to be conclusive.
Nor did Littleton's efforts to explain that elaboration in a private
residence was liable to detract from architectural dignity and to
produce the effect of vulgarity fall upon receptive soil. The rich man's
wife listened in stony silence, at times raising her lorgnette to
examine as a curiosity this young man who was telling her--an American
woman who had travelled around the world and seen everything to be
seen--how she ought to build her own house. The upshot of this interview
was that Littleton was sent away with languid instructions to try again.
He departed, thinking melancholy thoughts and with fire in his soul,
which, for Selma's sake, he endeavored to keep out of his eyes.



CHAPTER VIII.


The departure of the Williamses to a smarter neighborhood was a trial
for Selma. She nursed the dispiriting reflection that she and Wilbur
might just as well be moving also; that a little foresight and
shrewdness on her husband's part would have enabled him to sell at a
handsome profit the house in which they were living; and that there was
no reason, except the sheer, happy faculty of making the most of
opportunities, to account for the social recognition which Flossy and
her husband were beginning to receive. It had not been easy to bear with
equanimity during the last year the ingenuous, light-hearted warblings
in which Flossy had indulged as an outlet to her triumphant spirits, and
to listen to naïve recitals of new progress, as though she herself were
a companion or ladies' maid, to whom such developments could never
happen. She was weary of being merely a recipient of confidences and a
sympathetic listener, and more weary still of being regarded as such by
her self-absorbed and successful neighbor. Why should Flossy be so
dense? Why should she play second fiddle to Flossy? Why should Flossy
take for granted that she did not intend to keep pace with her? Keep
pace, indeed, when, if circumstances would only shape themselves a
little differently, she would be able speedily to outstrip her volatile
friend in the struggle for social preferment.

Not unnaturally their friendship had been somewhat strained by the
simmering of these thoughts in Selma's bosom. If a recipient of
confidences becomes tart or cold, ingenuous prattle is apt to flow less
spontaneously. Though Flossy was completely self-absorbed, and
consequently glad to pour out her satisfaction into a sympathetic ear,
she began to realize that there was something amiss with her friend
which mere conscientious disapproval of her own frivolities did not
adequately explain. It troubled her somewhat, for she liked the
Littletons and was proud of her acquaintance with them. However, she was
conscious of having acquitted herself toward them with liberality, and,
especially now that her social vista was widening, she was not disposed
at first to analyze too deeply the cause of the lack of sympathy between
them. That is, she was struck by Selma's offish manner and frigid
silences, but forgot them until they were forced upon her attention the
next time they met. But as her friend continued to receive her bubbling
announcements with stiff indifference, Flossy, in her perplexity, began
to bend her acute mental faculties more searchingly on her idol. A fixed
point of view will keep a shrine sacred forever, but let a worshipper's
perspective be altered, and it is astonishing how different the features
of divinity will appear. Flossy had worshipped with the eyes of faith.
Now that her adoration was rejected without apparent cause, her
curiosity was piqued, and she sought an interpretation of the mystery
from her clever wits. As she observed Selma more dispassionately her
suspicion was stirred, and she began to wonder if she had been burning
incense before a false goddess. This doubt was agitating her mind at the
time when they moved from the street.

Selma was unconscious of the existence of this doubt as she had been
largely unconscious of her own sour demeanor. She had no wish to lose
the advantages of intimate association with the Williamses. On the
contrary, she expected to make progress on her own account by admission
into their new social circle. She went promptly to call, and saw fit to
show herself tactfully appreciative of the new establishment and more
ready to listen to Flossy's volubility. Flossy, who was radiant and
bubbling over with fresh experiences which she was eager to impart, was
glad to dismiss her doubt and to give herself up to the delights of
unbridled speech. She took Selma over her new house, which had been
purchased just as it stood, completely furnished, from the previous
owner, who had suffered financial reverses. "Gregory bought it because
it was really a bargain," she said. "It will do very well for the
present, but we intend to build before long. I am keeping my eye on your
husband, and am expecting great things from the Parsons house. Do you
know, I believe in Mr. Littleton, and feel sure that some day we shall
wake up and find him famous."

This was amiable, particularly as Flossy was very busily engaged in
contemplating the brilliant progress of Gregory Williams and his wife.
But Selma returned home feeling sore and dissatisfied. Flossy had been
gracious, but still dense and naïvely condescending. Selma chose to
foresee that her friend would neglect her, and her foresight was
correct. The call was not returned for many weeks, although Flossy had
assured her when they separated that distance would make no difference
in their intimacy. But in the first place, her doubts recurred to Flossy
after the departure of her visitor, and in the second, the agitations
incident to her new surroundings, fortified by these doubts, made
neglect easy. When she did call, Selma happened to be out. A few days
later an invitation to dine with the Williamses arrived. Selma would
have preferred to remain at home as a rebuke, but she was miserably
conscious that Flossy would not perceive the point of the refusal. So
she went, and was annoyed when she realized that the guests were only
people whom she knew already--the Parsonses, and some of Gregory
Williams's former associates, whom she had met at the old house. It was
a pleasant dinner, apparently, to all except Selma. The entertainment
was flatteringly lavish, and both the host and hostess with suavity put
in circulation, under the rose, the sentiment that there are no friends
like old friends--a graceful insincerity which most of them present
accepted as true. Indeed, in one sense it was not an insincerity, for
Gregory and his wife entertained cordial feelings toward them all. But
on the other hand, Selma's immediate and bitter conclusion was also
true, that the company had been invited together for the reason that, in
the opinion of Flossy, they would not have harmonized well with anyone
else.

Said Wilbur as they drove away from the house--"Barring a few moments of
agony in the society of my tormentor, Mrs. Parsons, I had a pleasant
evening. They were obviously potting their old acquaintance in one pie,
but to my thinking it was preferable to being sandwiched in between some
of their new friends whom we do not know and who know nothing of us. It
was a little evident, but on the whole agreeable."

Selma, shrouded in her wraps, made no reply at first. Suddenly she
exclaimed, with, fierceness, "I consider it rank impertinence. It was as
much as to say that they do not think us good enough to meet their new
friends."

Littleton, who still found difficulty in remembering that his wife would
not always enjoy the humor of an equivocal situation, was sorry that he
had spoken. "Come, Selma," he said, "there's no use in taking that view
of the matter. You would not really care to meet the other people."

"Yes, I would, and she knows it. I shall never enter her house again."

"As to that, my dear, the probabilities are that we shall not be asked
for some time. You know perfectly well that, in the nature of things,
your intimacy with Mrs. Williams must languish now that she lives at a
distance and has new surroundings. She may continue to be very fond of
you, but you can't hope to see very much of her, unless I am greatly
mistaken in her character."

"She is a shallow little worldling," said Selma, with measured
intensity.

"But you knew that already. The fact that she invited us to dinner and
did not ignore our existence altogether shows that she likes us and
wishes to continue the friendship. I've no doubt she believes that she
is going to see a great deal of us, and you should blame destiny and the
force of fashionable circumstances, not Flossy, if you drift apart."

"She invited us because she wished to show off her new house."

"Not altogether. You musn't be too hard on her."

Selma moved her shoulders impatiently, and there was silence for some
moments broken only by the tapping of her foot. Then she asked, "How
nearly have you finished the plans for the Parsons house?"

Wilbur's brow clouded under cover of the night. He hesitated an instant
before replying, "I am sorry to say that Mrs. Parsons and I do not seem
to get on very well together. Her ideas and mine on the subject of
architecture are wide apart, as I have intimated to you once or twice. I
have modified my plans again, and she has made airy suggestions which
from my point of view are impossible. We are practically at loggerheads,
and I am trying to make up my mind what I ought to do."

There was a wealth of condensation in the word 'impossible' which
brought back unpleasantly to Selma Pauline's use of the same word in
connection with the estimate which had been formed of Miss Bailey.
"There can be only one thing to do in the end," she said, "if you can't
agree. Mrs. Parsons, of course, must have her house as she wishes it. It
is her house, Wilbur."

"It is her house, and she has that right, certainly. The question is
whether I am willing to allow the world to point to an architectural
hotch-potch and call it mine."

"Isn't this another case of neglecting the practical side, Wilbur? I am
sure you exaggerate the importance of the changes she desires. If I were
building a house, I should expect to have it built to suit me, and I
should be annoyed if the architect stood on points and were captious."
Selma under the influence of this more congenial theme had partially
recovered her equanimity. Her duty was her pleasure, and it was clearly
her duty to lead her husband in the right path and save him from
becoming the victim of his own shortcomings.

Wilbur sighed. "I have told her," he said, "that I would submit another
entirely new sketch. It may be that I can introduce some of her and her
daughter's splurgy and garish misconceptions without making myself
hopelessly ridiculous."

He entered the house wearily, and as he stood before the hall table
under the chandelier, Selma took him by the arm and turning him toward
her gazed into his face. "I wish to examine you. Pauline said to me
to-day that she thinks you are looking pale. I don't see that you are;
no more so than usual. You never were rosy exactly. Do you know I have
an idea that she thinks I am working you to death."

"Pauline? What reason has she to think anything of the kind? Besides, I
am perfectly well. It is a delight to work for a woman like you,
dearest." He took her face between his hands and kissed her tenderly;
yet gravely, too, as though the riddle of life did not solve itself at
the touch of her lips. "You will be interested to hear," he added, "that
I shall finish and send off the Wetmore College plans this week."

"I am glad they are off your hands, for you will have more time for
other work."

"Yes. I think I may have done something worth while," he said,
wistfully.

"And I shall try not to be annoyed if someone else gets the award," she
responded, smoothing down the sheen of her evening dress and regarding
herself in the mirror.

"Of course someone else may have taken equal pains and done a better
thing. It is necessary always to be prepared for that."

"That is the trouble. That is why I disapprove of competitions."

"Selma, you are talking nonsense," Littleton exclaimed with sudden
sternness.

The decision in his tone made her start. The color mounted to her face,
and she surveyed him for an instant haughtily, as though he had done her
an injury. Then with an oratorical air and her archangel look, she said,
"You do not seem to understand, Wilbur, that I am trying to save you
from yourself."

Littleton was ever susceptible to that look of hers. It suggested
incarnate conscientiousness, and seemed incompatible with human
imperfection or unworthy ambitions. He was too wroth to relent
altogether, but he compressed his lips and returned her look
searchingly, as though he would scrutinize her soul.

"I'm bound to believe, I do believe, that you are trying to help me,
Selma. I need your advice and help, even against myself, I dare say. But
there are some matters of which you cannot judge so well as I. You must
trust my opinion where the development of my professional life is
concerned. I shall not forget your caution to be practical, but for the
sake of expediency I cannot be false to what I believe true. Come, dear,
let us go to bed."

He put his hand on her arm to lead her upstairs, but she turned from it
to collect her fan and gloves. Looking, not at him, but at herself in
the mirror, she answered, "Of course. I trust, though, that this does
not mean you intend to act foolishly in regard to the Parsons house."

"I have already told you," he said, looking back, "that I am going to
make another attempt to satisfy that exasperating woman and her
daughter."

"And you can satisfy them, I'm sure, if you only choose to," said Selma,
by way of a firm, final observation.

Littleton's prophecy in regard to the waning of friendship between his
wife and Mrs. Williams proved to be correct. Propinquity had made them
intimate, and separation by force of circumstances put a summary end to
frequent and cordial intercourse between them. As he had predicted,
their first invitation to the new house was still the last at the end of
three months, and save for a few words on one occasion in the street,
Selma and Flossy did not meet during that period. But during that same
three months Selma's attention was constantly attracted to the
Williamses by prominent newspaper allusions to their prosperity and
growing fashionable prestige. What they did and where they went were
chronicled in the then new style journalistic social gossip, and the
every-day world was made familiar with his financial opinions and his
equipages and her toilettes. The meeting in the street was an ordeal for
Selma. Flossy had been shopping and was about to step into her carriage,
the door of which was held open by an imposing liveried footman, when
the two women nearly collided.

"I have not seen you for an age," Flossy exclaimed, with the genuine
ring of regret in her tone, with which busy people partially atone for
having left undone the things they ought or would like to have done.
"Which way are you going? Can't I take you somewhere?"

Selma glanced sternly at the snug coupe and stylish horses. "No, we
don't seem to meet very often," she said drily. "I'm living, though, at
the same place," she added, with a determination to be sprightly.

"Yes, I know; I owe you a call. It's dreadful of me. I've been intending
to come, but you can't imagine how busy I've been. Such a number of
invitations, and new things to be done. I'm looking forward to giving
you a full account of my experiences."

"I've read about them in the newspapers."

"Oh, yes. Gregory is always civil to reporters. He says that the
newspapers are one of the great institutions of the country, and that it
is sensible to keep in touch with them. I will confide to you that I
think the whole business vulgar, and I intend some day, when we are
firmly established, to be ugly to them. But at present the publicity is
rather convenient and amusing," she exclaimed, with a gay shake of her
head, which set her ringlets bobbing.

"I should think it would be unpleasant to have the details of one's
appearance described by the press."

Flossy's doubts had returned in full force during the conversation. She
said to herself, "I wonder if that is true? I wonder if it wouldn't be
the very thing she would like?" But she answered blithely, "Oh, one gets
used to it. Then I can't take you anywhere? I'm sorry. Some day I hope
my round of gayety will cease, so that we can have a quiet evening
together. I miss your husband. I always find him suggestive and
interesting."

"'Her round of gayety! A quiet evening together!'" murmured Selma as she
walked away. "Wilbur is right; purse-proud, frivolous little thing! She
is determined to destroy our friendship."

Four weeks subsequent to this meeting the newspapers contained a fulsome
account of a dancing party given by Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Williams--"an
elegant and recherché entertainment," in the language of the reporter. A
list of the company followed, which Selma scrutinized with a brow like a
thunder-cloud. She had acquired a feverish habit of perusing similar
lists, and she recognized that Flossy's guests--among the first of whom
were Mr. and Mrs. Morton Price and the Misses Price--were chiefly
confined to persons whom she had learned to know as members of
fashionable society. She read, in the further phraseology of the
reporter, that "it was a small and select affair." At the end of the
list, as though they had been invited on sufferance as a business
necessity, were the Parsonses; but these were the only former associates
of the Williamses. Selma had just finished her second reading of this
news item when her meditation was interrupted by the voice of her
husband, who had been silent during dinner, as though he had some matter
on his mind, and was at the moment sitting close by, on the other side
of the lamp which lighted the library table.

"I fear you will be disappointed, Selma, but I have informed Mr. Parsons
definitely this morning, that he must get another architect. The ideas
of his wife and daughter are hopelessly at variance with mine. He seemed
to be sorry--indeed, I should think he was a reasonable and sensible
man--but he said that he was building to please Mrs. Parsons, and we
both agreed that under the circumstances it was necessary that she
should make a fresh start. He asked me to send my bill, and we parted on
the best of terms. So it is all over, and except from the point of view
of dollars and cents, I am very glad. Only the remembrance that you had
set your heart on my making this my masterpiece, prevented me from
throwing over the contract weeks ago. Tell me, Selma _mia_, that you
approve of what I have done and congratulate me." He pulled forward his
chair so that he might see her face without interference from the lamp
and leaned toward her with frank appeal.

"Yes, I had set my heart on it, and you knew it. Yet you preferred to
give up this fine opportunity to show what you could do and to get
business worth having rather than sacrifice your own ideas as to how a
house should be built to the ideas of the women who were to live in it.
I dare say I should agree with them, and that the things which they
wished and you objected to were things I would have insisted on having."

Littleton started as though she had struck him in the face. "Selma! My
wife! Do you realize what you are saying?"

"Perfectly."

"Then--then--. Why, what have I said, what have I done that you should
talk like this?"

"Done? Everything. For one thing you have thrown away the chance for
getting ahead in your profession which I procured for you. For another,
by your visionary, unpractical ways, you have put me in the position
where I can be insulted. Read that, and judge for yourself." She held
out to him the newspaper containing the account of the dancing party,
pointing with her finger to the obnoxious passage.

With nervous hands Littleton drew the page under the light. "What is all
this about? A party? What has it to do with our affairs?"

"It has this to do with them--if you had been more practical and
enterprising, our names would have been on that list."

"I am glad they are not there."

"Yes, I know. You would be content to have us remain nobodies all our
days. You do not care what becomes of my life, provided you can carry
out your own narrow theory of how we ought to live. And I had such faith
in you, too! I have refused to believe until now that you were not
trying to make the most of your opportunities, and to enable me to make
the most of mine."

"Selma, are you crazy? To think that you, the woman I have loved with
all my soul, should be capable of saying such things to me! What does it
mean?"

She was quick to take advantage of his phrase. "Have loved? Yes, I know
that you do not love me as you did; otherwise you could not have refused
to build that house, against my wish and advice. It means this, Wilbur
Littleton, that I am determined not to let you spoil my life. You forget
that in marrying you I gave up my own ambitions and hopes for your sake;
because--because I believed that by living together we should be more,
and accomplish more, than by living apart. You said you needed me, and I
was fool enough to believe it."

The fierce tragedy in her tone lapsed into self-pity under the influence
of her last thought, and Littleton, eager in his bewilderment for some
escape from the horror of the situation, put aside his anger and
dropping on his knees beside her tried to take her hands.

"You are provoked, my darling. Do not say things which you will be sorry
for to-morrow. I call God to witness that I have sought above all else
to make you happy, and if I have failed, I am utterly miserable. I have
needed you, I do need you. Do not let a single difference of opinion
spoil the joy of both our lives and divide our hearts."

She pulled her hands away, and shunning his endearment, rose to her
feet.

"I am provoked, but I know what I am saying. A single difference of
opinion? Do you not see, Wilbur, that none of our opinions are the same,
and that we look at everything differently? Even your religion and the
God you call to witness are not mine. They are stiff and cold; you
Unitarians permit your consciences to deaden your emotions and belittle
your outlook on life. When I went with Mr. Parsons the other day to the
Methodist church, I could not help thinking how different it was. I was
thrilled and I felt I could do anything and be anything. My mother was a
Methodist. They sang 'Onward Christian Soldiers,' and it was glorious."
She paused a moment and, with an exalted look, seemed to be recalling
the movement of the hymn. "With you, Wilbur, and the people like
you--Pauline is the same--everything is measured and pondered over, and
nothing is spontaneous. I like action, and progress and prompt, sensible
conclusions. That is the American way, and the way in which people who
succeed get on. But you won't see it--you can't see it. I've tried to
explain it to you, and now--now it's too late. We're nobodies, and, if
our hearts are divided, that's fate I suppose. It's a very cruel fate
for me. But I don't choose to remain a nobody."

Littleton's expression as she talked had changed from astonishment to
anger, and from anger to a sternness which gave his words of response
the effect of calm and final decision. "You have said so many things
with which I do not agree, and which I should have to dispute, that I
will not attempt to argue with you concerning them. One thing is clear,
both of us have made a horrible mistake. Each has misunderstood the
other. You are dissatisfied with me; I realize suddenly that you are
utterly different from what I supposed. I am overwhelmed, but your words
make plain many things which have distressed and puzzled me." He paused
as though in spite of the certainty of his tone, he hoped that she would
see fit to deny his conclusions. "We have made a mistake and we shall
both be miserable--that must needs be--but we must consider whether
there is any method by which we can be less unhappy. What would you like
to have me do, Selma? We have no children, thank heaven! Would it be
more agreeable to live apart from me and receive support? A divorce does
not seem necessary. Besides, our misconception of each other would
not be a legal cause."

Selma flushed at the reference to divorce. Littleton's sad, simple
statement wore on the surface no sign of a design to hark back to her
experience with her first husband, yet she divined that it must be in
his thoughts and she resented the recurrence. Moreover, separation,
certainly for the present, went beyond her purpose.

"I have no wish for divorce or separation. I see no reason why we should
not continue to live as we are," she answered. "To separate would cause
scandal. It is not necessary that people should know we have made a
mistake. I shall merely feel more free now to live my own life--and
there is no telling that you may not some day see things from my point
of view and sympathize with me more." She uttered the last words with a
mixture of pathos and bright solicitation.

Littleton shook his head. "I agree with you that to go on as we are is
our best course. As you say, we ought, if possible, to keep the
knowledge of our sorrow to ourselves. God knows that I wish I could hope
that our life could ever be as it was before. Too many things have
become plain to me in the last half-hour to make that possible. I could
never learn to accept or sympathize with your point of view. There can
be no half-love with me, Selma. It is my nature to be frank, and as you
are fond of saying, that is the American way. I am your husband still,
and while I live you shall have my money and my protection. But I have
ceased to be your lover, though my heart is broken."

"Very well," said Selma, after a painful pause. "But you know, Wilbur,"
she added in a tone of eager protestation, "that I do not admit for a
moment that I am at fault. I was simply trying to help you. You have
only yourself to blame for your unhappiness and--and for mine. I hope
you understand that."

"Yes, I understand that you think so," he said sadly.



CHAPTER IX.


The breach between Littleton and his wife was too serious to be healed,
for he was confronted by the conviction that Selma was a very different
being from the woman whom he had supposed that he was marrying. He had
been slow to harbor distrust, and loath, even in the face of her own
words, to admit that he had misinterpreted her character; but this last
conversation left no room for doubt. Selma had declared to him,
unequivocally, that his ideas and theory of life were repugnant to her,
and that, henceforth, she intended to act independently of them, so far
as she could do so, and yet maintain the semblance of the married state.
It was a cruel shock and disappointment to him. At the time of his
marriage he would have said that the least likely of possible happenings
would be self-deception as to the character of the woman he loved. Yet
this was precisely what had befallen him.

Having realized his mistake, he did not seek to flinch from the bitter
truth. He saw clearly that their future relations toward each other must
be largely formal; that tender comradeship and mutual soul alliance were
at an end. At the same time his simple, direct conscience promptly
indicated to him that it was his duty to recognize Selma's point of view
and endeavor to satisfy it as far as he could without sacrifice of his
own principles. He chose to remember that she, too, had made a mistake,
and that he was not the kind of husband whom she desired; that his
tastes were not her tastes, nor his ambitions her's; that she had tastes
and ambitions of her own which he, as the man to whom she was bound by
the law, must not disregard. Thus reasoning, he resolved to carry out
the scheme of life which she appeared to despise, but also to work hard
to provide her with the means to fulfil her own aims. She craved money
for social advancement. She should have it from him, for there was no
other source from which she could obtain it. The poignancy of his own
sorrow should not cause him to ignore that she had given up her own
career and pursuits in order to become his wife, and was now
disappointed and without independent resources. His pride was sorely
wounded, his ideals shattered and his heart crushed; yet, though he
could not forbear from judging Selma, and was unconscious of having
failed in his obligations to her as a husband and a man, he saw what she
called her side, and he took up the thread of life again under the spur
of an intention to give her everything but love.

On her part Selma felt aggrieved yet emancipated. She had not looked for
any such grave result from her vituperation. She had intended to reprove
his surrender of the Parsons's contract, in direct opposition to her own
wishes, with the severity it deserved, and to let him understand clearly
that he was sacrificing her happiness, no less than his own, by his
hysterical folly. When the conversation developed stubborn resistance on
his part, and she realized that he was defending and adhering to his
purpose, a righteous sense of injury became predominant in her mind over
everything else. All her past wrongs cried for redress, and she rejoiced
in the opportunity of giving free vent to the pent up grievances which
had been accumulating for many months. Even then it was startling to her
that Wilbur should suddenly utter the tragic ultimatum that their
happiness was at an end, and hint at divorce. She considered that she
loved him, and it had never occurred to her that he could ever cease to
love her. Rather than retract a word of her own accusations she would
have let him leave her, then and there, to live her own life without
protection or support from him, but his calmer decision that they should
continue to live together, yet apart, suited her better. In spite of his
resolute mien she was sceptical of the seriousness of the situation. She
believed in her heart that after a few days of restraint they would
resume their former life, and that Wilbur, on reflection, would
appreciate that he had been absurd.

When it became apparent that he was not to be appeased and that his
threat had been genuine, Selma accepted the new relation without demur,
and prepared to play her part in the compact as though she had been
equally obdurate in her outcry for her freedom. She met reserve with
reserve, maintaining rigorously the attitude that she had been wronged
and that he was to blame. Meantime she watched him narrowly, wondering
what his grave, sad demeanor and solicitous politeness signified. When
presently it became plain to her that not merely she was to be free to
follow her own bent, but that he was ready to provide her with the means
to carry out her schemes, she regarded his liberality as weakness and a
sign that he knew in his heart that she was in the right. Immediately,
and with thinly concealed triumph, she planned to utilize the new
liberty at her disposal, purging any scruples from her conscience by the
generous reflection that when Wilbur's brow unbent and his lips moved
freely she would forgive him and proffer him once more her conjugal
counsel and sympathy. She was firmly of the opinion that, unless he thus
acknowledged his shortcomings and promised improvement, the present
arrangement was completely to her liking, and that confidence and
happiness between them would be utterly impossible. She shed some tears
over the thought that unkind circumstances had robbed her of the love by
which she had set such store and which she, on her part, still
cherished, but she comforted herself with the retort that its loss was
preferable to sacrificing weakly the development of her own ideas and
life to its perpetuation.

Her flush of triumph was succeeded, however, by a discontented mood,
because cogitation constrained her to suspect that her social progress
might not be so rapid as her first rosy visions had suggested. She
counted on being able to procure the participation of Wilbur
sufficiently to preserve the appearance of domestic harmony. This would
be for practical purposes a scarcely less effective furtherance of her
plans than if he were heartily in sympathy with them. Were there not
many instances where busy husbands took part in the social undertakings
of their wives, merely on the surface, to preserve appearances? The
attitude of Wilbur seemed reasonably secure. That which harassed her as
the result of her reflections and efforts to plan was the unpalatable
consciousness that she did not know exactly what to do, and that no one,
even now that she was free, appeared eager to extend to her the hand of
recognition. She was prompt to lay the blame of this on her husband. It
was he who, by preventing her from taking advantage of the social
opportunities at their disposal, had consigned her to this eddy where
she was overlooked. This seemed to her a complete excuse, and yet,
though she made the most of it, it did not satisfy her. Her helplessness
angered her, and aroused her old feelings of suspicion and resentment
against the fashionable crew who appeared to be unaware of her
existence. She was glad to believe that the reason they ignored her was
because she was too serious minded and spiritual to suit their frivolous
and pleasure-loving tastes. Sometimes she reasoned that the sensible
thing for her to do was to break away from her present life, where
convention and caste trammelled her efforts, and make a name for herself
as an independent soul, like Mrs. Margaret Rodney Earle and other
free-born women of the Republic. With satisfaction she pictured herself
on the lecture platform uttering burning denunciation of the un-American
social proclivities of this shallow society, and initiating a crusade
which should sweep it from existence beneath the ban of the moral sense
of the thoughtful people of the country.

But more frequently she nursed her resentment against Mrs. Williams, to
whom she ascribed the blame of her isolation, reasoning that if Flossy
had been a true friend, not even Wilbur's waywardness would have
prevented her social recognition and success. That, instead, this
volatile, fickle prattler had used her so long as she needed her, and
then dropped her heartlessly. The memory of Flossy's ball still rankled
deeply, and appeared to Selma a more obvious and more exasperating
insult as the days passed without a sign of explanation on the part of
her late neighbor, and as her new projects languished for lack of a few
words of introduction here and there, which, in her opinion, were all
she needed to ensure her enthusiastic welcome as a social leader. The
appreciation that without those words of introduction she was helpless
for the time being focused her resentment, already keen, on the
successful Flossy, whose gay doings had disappeared from the public
prints in a blaze of glory with the advent of the Lenten season.
Refusing to acknowledge her dependence, Selma essayed several spasmodic
attempts to assert herself, but they proved unsatisfactory. She made the
most of Mr. Parsons's predilection for her society, which had not been
checked by Wilbur's termination of the contract. She was thus enabled to
affiliate with some of their new friends, but she was disagreeably
conscious that she was not making real progress, and that Mr. and Mrs.
Parsons and their daughter had, like herself, been dropped by the
Williamses--dropped skilfully and imperceptibly, yet none the less
dropped. Two dinner parties, which she gave in the course of a fortnight
to the most important of these new acquaintances, by way of manifesting
to Wilbur her intention to enjoy her liberty at his expense, left her
depressed and sore.

It was just at this time that Flossy took it into her head to call on
her--one of her first Lenten duties, as she hastened to assure Selma,
with glib liveliness, as soon as she entered. Flossy was in too exalted
a frame of mind, too bubbling over with the desire to recite her
triumphs, to have in mind either her doubts concerning Selma or the need
of being more than mildly apologetic for her lack of devotion. She felt
friendly, for she was in good humor, and was naïvely desirous to be
received in the same spirit, so that she might unbosom herself
unreservedly. Sweeping into the room, an animated vision of smiling,
stylish cordiality, she sought, as it were, to carry before her by force
of her own radiant mood all obstacles to an amiable reception.

"My dear, we haven't met for ages. Thank heaven, Lent has come, and now
I may see something of you. I said to Gregory only yesterday that I
should make a bee-line for your house, and here I am. Well, dear, how
are you? All sorts of things have happened, Selma, since we've had a
real chat together. Do you remember my telling you--of course you
do--not long after Gregory and I were married that I never should be
satisfied until one thing happened? Well, you may congratulate me; it
has happened. We dined a week ago to-night with my cousins--the Morton
Prices--a dinner of fourteen, all of them just the people I wished to
know. Wasn't it lovely? I have waited for it to come, and I haven't
moved a finger to bring it about, except to ask them to my dancing
party--I had to do that, for after all they are my relations. They
accepted and came and I was pleased by it; but they could easily have
ignored me afterward if they had wished. What really pleased me, Selma,
was their asking me to one of their select dinners, because--because it
showed that we are--"

Flossy's hesitation was due partly to the inherent difficulty of
expressing her thought with proper regard for modesty. With her rise in
life she had learned that unlimited laudation of self was not altogether
consistent with "fitness," even in such a confidential interview as the
present. But she was also disconcerted by the look in Selma's eyes--a
look which, at first startled into momentary friendliness by the
suddenness of the onslaught, had become more and more lowering until it
was unpleasantly suggestive of scornful dislike. While she thus
faltered, Selma drily rounded out the sentence with the words, "Because
it showed that you are somebodies now."

Flossy gave an embarrassed little laugh. "Yes, that's what I meant. I
see you have a good memory, and it sounds nicer on your lips than it
would on mine."

"You have come here to-day on purpose to tell me this?" said Selma.

"I thought you would be interested to hear that my cousins had
recognized me at last. I remember, you thought it strange that they
should take so little notice of me." Flossy's festive manner had
disappeared before the tart reception of her confidences, and her keen
wits, baffled in their search for flattery, recalled the suspicions
which were only slumbering. She realized that Selma was seriously
offended with her, and though she did not choose to acknowledge to
herself that she knew the cause, she had already guessed it. An
encounter at repartee had no terrors for her, if necessary, and the
occasion seemed to her opportune for probing the accumulating mysteries
of Selma's hostile demeanor. Yet, without waiting for a response to her
last remark, she changed the subject, and said, volubly, "I hear that
your husband has refused to build the new Parsons house because Mrs.
Parsons insisted on drawing the plans."

Selma's pale, tense face flushed. She thought for a moment that she was
being taunted.

"That was Mr. Littleton's decision, not mine."

"I admire his independence. He was quite right. What do Mrs. Parsons or
her daughter know about architecture? Everybody is laughing at them. You
know I consider your husband a friend of mine, Selma."

"And we were friends, too, I believe?" Selma exclaimed, after a moment
of stern silence.

"Naturally," responded Flossy, with a slightly sardonic air, prompted by
the acerbity with which the question was put.

"Then, if we were friends--are friends, why have you ceased to associate
with us, simply because you live in another street and a finer house?"

Flossy gave a gasp. "Oh," she said to herself, "it's true. She is
jealous. Why didn't I appreciate it before?"

"Am I not associating with you now by calling on you, Selma?" she said
aloud. "I don't understand what you mean."

"You are calling on me, and you asked us to dinner to meet--to meet just
the people we knew already, and didn't care to meet; but you have never
asked us to meet your new friends, and you left us out when you gave
your dancing party."

"You do not dance."

"How do you know?"

"I have never associated you with dancing. I assumed that you did not
dance."

"What grounds had you for such an assumption?"

"Really, Selma, your catechism is most extraordinary. Excuse my smiling.
And I don't know how to answer your questions--your fierce questions any
better. I didn't ask you to my party because I supposed that you and
your husband were not interested in that sort of thing, and would not
know any of the people. You have often told me that you thought they
were frivolous."

"I consider them so still."

"Then why do you complain?"

"Because--because you have not acted like a friend. Your idea of
friendship has been to pour into my ears, day after day, how you had
been asked to dinner by this person and taken up by that person, until I
was weary of the sound of your voice, but it seems not to have occurred
to you, as a friend of mine, and a friend and admirer of my husband, to
introduce us to people whom you were eager to know, and who might have
helped him in his profession. And now, after turning the cold shoulder
on us, and omitting us from your party, because you assumed I didn't
dance, you have come here this morning, in the name of friendship, to
tell me that your cousins, at last, have invited you to dinner. And yet
you think it strange that I'm not interested. That's the only reason you
came--to let me know that you are a somebody now; and you expected me,
as a friend and a nobody, to tell you how glad I am."

Flossy's eyes opened wide. Free as she was accustomed to be in her own
utterances, this flow of bitter speech delivered with seer-like
intensity was a new experience to her. She did not know whether to be
angry or amused by the indictment, which caused her to wince
notwithstanding that she deemed it slander. Moreover the insinuation
that she had been a bore was humiliating.

"I shall not weary you soon again with my confidences," she answered.
"So it appears that you were envious of me all the time--that while you
were preaching to me that fashionable society was hollow and
un-American, you were secretly unhappy because you couldn't do what I
was doing--because you weren't invited, too. Oh, I see it all now; it's
clear as daylight. I've suspected the truth for some time, but I've
refused to credit it. Now everything is explained. I took you at your
word; I believed in you and your husband and looked up to you as
literary people--people who were interested in fine and ennobling
things. I admired you for the very reason that I thought you didn't
care, and that you didn't need to care, about society and fashionable
position. I kept saying to you that I envied you your tastes, and let
you see that I considered myself your real inferior in my determination
to attract attention and oblige society to notice us. I was guileless
and simpleton enough to tell you of my progress--things I would have
blushed to tell another woman like myself--because I considered you the
embodiment of high aims and spiritual ideas, as far superior to mine as
the poetic star is superior to the garish electric light. I thought it
might amuse you to listen to my vanities. Instead, it seems you were
masquerading and were eating your heart out with envy of me--poor me.
You were ambitious to be like me."

"I wouldn't be like you for anything in the world."

"You couldn't if you tried. That's one of the things which this
extraordinary interview has made plain beyond the shadow of a doubt. You
are aching to be a social success. You are not fit to be. I have found
that out for certain to-day."

"It is false," exclaimed Selma, with a tragic intonation. "You do not
understand. I have no wish to be a social success. I should abhor to
spend my life after the manner of you and your associates. What I object
to, what I complain of, is that, in spite of your fine words and
pretended admiration of me, you have preferred these people, who are
exclusive without a shadow of right, to me who was your friend, and that
you have chosen to ignore me for the sake of them, and behaved as if you
thought I was not their equal or your equal. That is not friendship, it
is snobbishness--un-American snobbishness."

"It is very amusing. Amusing yet depressing," continued Flossy, without
heed to this asseveration. "You have proved one of my ideals to be a
delusion, which is sad." She had arisen and stood gently swaying pendent
by its crook her gay parasol, with her head on one side, and seeming for
once to be choosing her words judicially. "When we met first and I
nearly rushed into your arms, I was fascinated, and I said to myself
that here was the sort of American woman of whom I had dreamed--the sort
of woman I had fondly imagined once that I might become. I saw you were
unsophisticated and different from the conventional women to whom I was
accustomed, and, even at first, the things you said every now and then
gave me a creepy feeling, but you were inspiring to look at--though now
that the scales have fallen from my eyes I wonder at my infatuation--and
I continued to worship you as a goddess on a pedestal. I used to say to
Gregory, 'there's a couple who are to the manner born; they never have
to make believe. They are genuinely free and gentle souls.' Your
husband? I can't believe that I have been deluded in regard to him,
also. I just wonder if you appreciate him--if it is possible that he has
been deluded, also. That's rank impertinence, I know; but after all, we
are unbosoming our thoughts to each other to-day, and may as well speak
openly. You said just now that it was his decision not to go on with the
Parsons house. Did you disapprove of it?"

"Yes, I disapproved of it," answered Selma with flashing eyes. "And what
if I did?"

She rose and stood confronting her visitor as though to banish her from
the house.

"I'm going," said Flossy. "It's none of my concern of course, and I'm
aware that I appear very rude. I'm anxious though not to lose faith in
your husband, and now that I've begun to understand you, my wits are
being flooded with light. I was saying that you were not fit to be a
social success, and I'm going to tell you why. No one else is likely to,
and I'm just mischievous and frank enough. You're one of those American
women--I've always been curious to meet one in all her glory--who
believe that they are born in the complete panoply of flawless
womanhood; that they are by birthright consummate house-wives, leaders
of the world's thought and ethics, and peerless society queens. All this
by instinct, by heritage, and without education. That's what you
believe, isn't it? And now you are offended because you haven't been
invited to become a leader of New York society. You don't understand,
and I don't suppose you ever will understand, that a true lady--a
genuine society queen--represents modesty and sweetness and
self-control, and gentle thoughts and feelings; that she is evolved by
gradual processes from generation to generation, not ready made. Oh, you
needn't look at me like that. I'm quite aware that if I were the genuine
article I shouldn't be talking to you in this fashion. But there's hope
for me because I'm conscious of my shortcomings and am trying to correct
them; whereas you are satisfied, and fail to see the difference between
yourself and the well-bred women whom you envy and sneer at. You're
pretty and smart and superficial and--er--common, and you don't know it.
I'm rather dreadful, but I'm learning. I don't believe you will ever
learn. There! Now I'm going."

"Go!" cried Selma with a wave of her arm. "Yes, I am one of those women.
I am proud to be, and you have insulted by your aspersions, not only me,
but the spirit of independent and aspiring American womanhood. You don't
understand us; you have nothing in common with us. You think to keep us
down by your barriers of caste borrowed from effete European courts, but
we--I--the American people defy you. The time will come when we shall
rise in our might and teach you your place. Go! Envy you? I would not
become one of your frivolous and purposeless set if you were all on your
bended knees before me."

"Oh, yes you would," exclaimed Flossy, glancing back over her shoulder.
"And it's because you've not been given the chance that we have
quarrelled now."



CHAPTER X.


The morning after her drastic interview with Mrs. Williams, Selma
studied herself searchingly in her mirror. Of all Flossy's candid
strictures the intimation that she was not and never would be completely
a lady was the only one which rankled. The effrontery of it made her
blood boil; and yet she consulted her glass in the seclusion of her
chamber in order to reassure herself as to the spiteful falsity of the
criticism. Wild horses would not have induced her to admit even to
herself that there was the slightest ground for it; still it rankled,
thereby suggesting a sub-consciousness of suspicion on the look out for
just such a calumny.

She gave Littleton her own version of the quarrel. Her explanation was
that she had charged Flossy with a lack of friendship in failing to
invite her to her ball, and convicted her of detestable snobbery; that
she had denounced this conduct in vigorous language, that they had
parted in anger, and that all intercourse between them was at an end.

"We understand each other now," she added. "I have felt for some time
that we were no longer sympathetic; and that something of this kind was
inevitable. I am glad that we had the chance to speak plainly, for I was
able to show her that I had been waiting for an excuse to cut loose from
her and her frivolous surroundings. I have wearied my spirit long enough
with listening to social inanities, and in lowering my standards to hers
for the sake of appearing friendly and conventional. That is all over
now, thank heaven."

It did not occur to Selma that there was any inconsistency in these
observations, or that they might appear a partial vindication of her
husband's point of view. The most salient effect of her encounter with
Flossy had been suddenly to fuse and crystallize her mixed and seemingly
contradictory ambitions into utter hostility to conventional fashionable
society. Even when her heart had been hungering for an invitation to
Flossy's ball, she considered that she despised these people, but the
interview had served to establish her in the glowing faith that they, by
their inability to appreciate her, had shown themselves unworthy of
further consideration. The desire which she had experienced of late for
a renewal of her intimacy with Mrs. Earle and a reassertion of her
former life of independent feminine activity had returned to her,
coupled with the crusading intention to enroll herself openly once more
in the army of new American women, whose impending victorious campaign
she had prophesied in her retort to Mrs. Williams's maledictions. She
had, in her own opinion, never ceased to belong to this army, and she
felt herself now more firmly convinced than ever that the course of life
of those who had turned a cold shoulder on her was hostile to the spirit
of American institutions. So far as her husband was concerned,
imaginative enterprise and the capacity to take advantage of
opportunities still seemed to her of the essence of fine character.
Indeed, she was not conscious of any change in her point of view. She
had resented Flossy's charge that she desired to be a social success,
and had declared that her wounded feelings were solely due to Flossy's
betrayal of friendship, not to balked social ambition. Consequently it
was no strain on her conscientiousness to feel that her real sentiments
had always been the same.

Nevertheless she scrutinized herself eagerly and long in her mirror, and
the process left her serious brow still clouded. She saw in the glass
features which seemed to her suggestive of superior womanhood, a slender
clear-cut nose, the nostrils of which dilated nervously, delicately
thin, compressed lips, a pale, transparent complexion, and clear,
steel-like, greenish-brown eyes looking straight and boldly from an
anxious forehead surmounted with a coiffure of elaborately and smoothly
arranged hair. She saw indisputable evidence that she had ceased to be
the ethically attractive, but modishly unsophisticated and physically
undeveloped girl, who had come to New York five years before, for her
figure was compact without being unduly plump, her cheeks becomingly
oval, and her toilette stylish. There were rings on her fingers, and her
neck-gear was smart. Altogether the vision was satisfactory, yet she
recognized as she gazed that her appearance and general effect were not
precisely those of Flossy, Pauline, or Mrs. Hallett Taylor. She had
always prided herself on the distinction of her face, and admired
especially its freedom from gross or unintellectual lines. She did not
intend to question its superiority now; but Flossy's offensive words
rang in her ears and caused her to gnaw her lips with annoyance. What
was the difference between them? Flossy had dared to call her common and
superficial; had dared to insinuate that she never could be a lady. A
lady? What was there in her appearance not lady-like? In what way was
she the inferior of any of them in beauty, intelligence or character?
Rigorous as was the scrutiny, the face in the mirror seemed to her an
unanswerable refutation of the slander. What was the difference? Was it
that her eyes were keener and brighter, her lips thinner and less
fleshly, her general expression more wide-awake and self-reliant? If so,
were these not signs of superiority; signs that they, not she, were
deficient in the attributes of the best modern womanhood in spite of
their affectation of exclusiveness?

The result of this process of self-examination in her looking-glass,
which was not limited to a single occasion, established more firmly than
ever in Selma's opinion the malignant falsity of the imputation, and yet
she was still haunted by it. She was tortured by the secret thought
that, though her ambition had been to become just like those other
women, she was still distinguishable from them; and moreover, that she
was baffled in her attempt to analyze the distinction. Distinguishable
even from Flossy--from Flossy, who had slighted and then reviled her!
Why had she ever faltered in her distrust of these enemies of true
American society? Yet this lingering sense of torture served to whet her
new-found purpose to have done with them forever, and to obtain the
recognition and power to which she was entitled, in spite of their
impertinence and neglect.

The announcement was made to her by Wilbur at about this time that his
plans for Wetmore College had been accepted, and that he was to be the
architect of the new buildings. As he told her his face showed a
tremulous animation which it had not worn for many weeks, and he
regarded her for a moment with shy eagerness, as though he half hoped
that this vindication of his purposes by success might prompt her to
tender some sort of apology, and thus afford him the chance to persuade
himself that he had been mistaken after all in his judgment of her.

"You must be very much pleased," she said. "And so am I, of course."
Then, after a moment of reflective abstraction, she asked with sudden
eagerness, "How long will it take to build them?"

"Two or three years, I suppose."

"And you would be obliged to go frequently to Benham?"

"In order to oversee the work I should have to make short trips there
from time to time."

"Yes. Wilbur," she exclaimed, with her exalted expression, "why
shouldn't we go to Benham to live? I have been thinking a great deal
lately about what we said to each other that time when you felt so
badly, and I have come to the conclusion that our living in New York is
what is really the trouble. I have the feeling, Wilbur, that in some
other place than this cruel, conventional city we should be happier than
we are now--indeed, very happy. Has it ever occurred to you? You see,
New York doesn't understand me; it doesn't understand you, Wilbur. It
sneers at our aspirations. Benham is a growing, earnest city--a city
throbbing with the best American spirit and energy. I suggest Benham
because we both know it so well. The college buildings would give you a
grand start, and I--we both would be in our proper sphere."

Littleton had started at the suggestion. As a drowning man will grasp at
a straw, his grieving soul for an instant entertained the plan as a
panacea for their woes. But his brow grew grave and sad under the
influence of reflection as she proceeded to set forth her reasons in her
wrapt fashion. If he had not learned to remain cold under the witchery
of her intense moods, he no longer hesitated to probe her fervid
assertions with his self-respecting common-sense.

"I would he willing to go to the ends of the earth, Selma," he answered,
"if I believed that by so doing you and I could become what we once were
to each other. But I cannot see why we should hope to be happier in
Benham than here, nor do I agree with you that this is not our proper
sphere. I do not share your sentiments in regard to New York; but
whatever its faults, New York is the place where I have established
myself and am known, and where the abilities which I possess can be
utilized and will be appreciated soonest. Benham is twenty-five years
behind this city in all things which concern art and my professional
life, as you well know."

Selma flushed. "On the contrary, I have reason to believe that Benham
has made wonderful progress in the last five years. My friends there
write that there are many new streets and beautiful buildings, and that
the spirit of the place is enthusiastic and liberal, not luxurious and
sneering. You never appreciated Benham at its true worth, Wilbur."

"Perhaps not. But we chose New York."

"Then you insist on remaining here?"

"I see no reason for sacrificing the fruits of the past five years--for
pulling myself up by the roots and making a fresh start. From a
professional point of view, I think it would be madness."

"Not even to save our happiness?" Selma's eyes swam and her lips
trembled as she spoke. She felt very miserable, and she yearned with the
desire that her husband would clasp her in his arms in a vast embrace,
and tell her that she was right and that he would go. She felt that if
he did, the horror of the past would be wiped out and loving harmony be
restored.

Wilbur's lips trembled, too. He gazed at her for a moment without
speaking, in conflict with himself; then passing his hand across his
forehead, as though he would sweep away a misty spell from his eyes,
said, "Be sensible, Selma. If we could be happy in Benham, we should be
happy here."

"Then you refuse?"

"For the present, yes."

"And I must remain here to be insulted--and a nobody."

"For God's sake, Selma, let us not renew that discussion. What you ask
is impossible at present, but I shall remember that it is your wish, and
when I begin my work at Benham the circumstances and surroundings may be
such that I shall feel willing to move."

Selma turned to the table and took up a book, dissatisfied, yet buoyed
by a new hope. She did not observe the tired lines on her husband's
face--the weariness of a soul disappointed in its most precious
aspirations.

Within the next month it happened that a terrible and unusual fatality
was the occasion of the death of both Mrs. Parsons and her daughter.
They were killed by a fall of the elevator at the hotel in which they
were living--one of those dire casualties which are liable to happen to
any one of us in these days of swift and complicated apparatus, but
which always seem remote from personal experience. This cruel blow of
fate put an end to all desire on the part of the bereaved husband and
father to remain in New York, whither he had come to live mainly to
please his women folk, as he called them. As soon as he recovered from
the bewilderment of the shock, Mr. Parsons sent for the architect who
had taken Littleton's place, and who had just begun the subservient task
of fusing diverse types of architecture in order to satisfy an American
woman's appetite for startling effect, and told him to arrange to
dispose of the lot and its immature walls to the highest bidder. His
precise plans for the future were still uncertain when Selma called on
him, and found comfort for her own miseries in ministering to his
solitude, but he expressed an inclination to return to his native
Western town, as the most congenial spot in which to end his days.
Selma, whose soul was full of Benham, suggested it as an alternative,
enlarging with contagious enthusiasm on its civic merits. The crushed
old man listened with growing attention. Already the germs of a plan for
the disposition of his large property were sprouting in his mind to
provide him with a refuge from despondency. He was a reticent man, not
in the habit of confiding his affairs until ready to act, but he paid
interested heed to Selma's eulogy of the bustling energy and rapid
growth of Benham. His preliminary thought had been that it would make
him happy to endow his native town, which was a small and inconspicuous
place, with a library building. But, as his visitor referred to the
attractions and admirable public spirit of the thriving city, which was
in the same State as his own home, he silently reasoned that residence
there need not interfere with his original project, and that he might
find a wide and more important field for his benefactions in a community
so representative of American ideas and principles.

Selma's visits of condolence to Mr. Parsons were interrupted by the
illness of her own husband. In reflecting, subsequently, she remembered
that he had seemed weary and out of sorts for several days, but her
conscious attention was invoked by his coming home early in the
afternoon, suffering from a violent chill, and manifestly in a state of
physical collapse. He went to bed at once; Selma brought blankets and a
hot-water bottle, and Dr. George Page was sent for. Dr. Page was the one
of Littleton's friends whom Selma had unsuccessfully yearned to know
better. She had never been able to understand him exactly, but he
fascinated her in spite of--perhaps because of--his bantering manner.
She found difficulty in reconciling it with his reputation for hard work
and masterly skill in his profession. She was constantly hoping to
extract from him something worthy of his large, solid face, with its
firm mouth and general expression of reserve force, but he seemed always
bent on talking nonsense in her society, and more than once the
disagreeable thought had occurred to her that he was laughing at her. He
had come to the house after her marriage now and then, but during the
past year or two she had scarcely seen him. The last time when they had
met, Selma had taxed him with his neglect of her.

His reply had been characteristically elusive and unsatisfactory. "I
will not attempt to frame excuses for my behavior, Mrs. Littleton, for
no reason which I could offer would be a justification."

But on the present occasion his greeting was grave and eager.

"Wilbur sick? I feared as much. I warned Pauline two months ago that he
was overworking, and only last week I told him that he would break down
if he did not go away for a fortnight's rest."

"I wish you had spoken to me."

Selma noted with satisfaction that there was no raillery in his manner
now. He bent his gaze on her searchingly.

"Have you not noticed that he looked ill and tired?"

She did not flinch. Why indeed should she? "A little. He tired himself,
I think, over the designs for Wetmore College, which he did in addition
to his other work. But since the award was made it has seemed to me that
he was looking better."

She started to lead the way to Wilbur's room, but the doctor paused, and
regarding her again fixedly, as though he had formed a resolution to
ferret the secrets of her soul, said laconically:

"Is he happy?"

"Happy?" she echoed.

"Has he anything on his mind, I mean--anything except his work?"

"Nothing--that is," she added, looking up at her inquisitor
with bright, interested eyes, "nothing except that he is very
conscientious--over-conscientious I sometimes think." To be bandying
psychological analyses with this able man was an edifying experience
despite her concern for Wilbur.

"I see," he answered dryly, and for an instant there was a twinkle in
his eyes. Yet he added, "To make a correct diagnosis it is important to
know all the facts of the case."

"Of course," she said solemnly, reassured in her belief that she was
being consulted and was taking part in the treatment of her husband's
malady.

She accompanied Dr. Page to Wilbur's bed-side. He conversed in a cheery
tone with his friend while he took his temperature and made what seemed
to her a comparatively brief examination. Selma jumped to the conclusion
that there was nothing serious the matter. The moment they had left the
room, the doctor's manner changed, and he said with alert concern:

"Your husband is very ill; he has pneumonia. I am going to send for a
nurse."

"A nurse? I will nurse him myself, Dr. Page."

It seemed to her the obvious thing to do. She spoke proudly, for it
flashed into her mind that here was the opportunity to redeem the
situation with Wilbur. She would tend him devotedly and when he had been
restored to health by her loving skill, perhaps he would appreciate her
at her worth, and recognize that she had thwarted him only to help him.

The doctor's brow darkened, and he said with an emphasis which was
almost stern: "Mrs. Littleton, I do not wish to alarm you, but it is
right that you should know that Wilbur's symptoms are grave. I hope to
save his life, but it can be saved only by trained skill and attendance.
Inexperienced assistance, however devoted, would be of no use in a case
like this."

"But I only wished to nurse him."

"I know it; I understand perfectly. You supposed that anyone could do
that. At least that you could. I shall return in an hour at the latest
with a nurse who was trained for three years in a hospital to fit her to
battle for valuable lives."

Selma flushed with annoyance. She felt that she was being ridiculed and
treated as though she were an incapable doll. She divined that by his
raillery he had been making fun of her, and forthwith her predilection
was turned to resentment. Not nurse her husband? Did this brow-beating
doctor realize that, as a girl, she had been the constant attendant of
her invalid father, and that more than once it had occurred to her that
her true mission in life might be to become a nurse? Training? She would
prove to him that she needed no further training. These were her
thoughts, and she felt like crying, because he had humiliated her at a
time like this. Yet she had let Dr. Page go without a word. She returned
to Wilbur and established herself beside his bed. He tried to smile at
her coming.

"I think I shall be better to-morrow. It is only a heavy cold," he said,
but already he found difficulty in speaking.

"I have come to nurse you. The blankets and hot-water bottle have made
you warmer, haven't they? Nod; you mustn't talk."

"Yes," he whispered huskily.

She felt his forehead, and it was burning. She took his hand and saying,
"Sh! You ought not to talk," held it in her own. Then there was silence
save for Wilbur's uneasy turning. It was plain that he was very
uncomfortable. She realized that he was growing worse, and though she
chose to believe that the doctor had exaggerated the seriousness of the
case in order to affront her, the thought came that he might die. She
had never considered such a possibility before. What should she do? She
would be a widow without children and without means, for she knew that
Wilbur had laid up little if anything. She would have to begin life over
again--a pathetic prospect, yet interesting. Even this conjecture of
such a dire result conjured up a variety of possible methods of
livelihood and occupation which sped through her mind.

The return of Dr. Page with a nurse cut short these painful yet
engrossing speculations. His offensive manner appeared to have exhausted
itself, but he proceeded to install his companion in Wilbur's room.
Selma would have liked to turn her out of the house, but realized that
she could not run the risk of taking issue with him at a time when her
husband's life might be in danger. With an injured air yet in silence
she beheld the deliberate yet swift preparations. Once or twice Dr. Page
asked her to procure for him some article or appliance likely to be in
the house, speaking with a crisp, business-like preoccupation which
virtually ignored her existence, yet was free from offence. His soul
evidently was absorbed by his patient, whom he observed with alert
watchfulness, issuing brief directions now and then to his white-capped,
methodical, and noiseless assistant. Selma sat with her hands before her
in a corner of the bed-room, practically ignored. The shadows deepened
and a maid announced dinner. Dr. Page looked at his watch.

"I shall pass the night here," he said.

"Is he worse?"

"The disease is making progress and must run its course. This is only
the beginning. You should eat your dinner, for you will need your
strength," he added with simple graciousness.

"But I am doing nothing," she blurted.

"If there is anything you can do I will let you know."

Their eyes met. His were gray and steady, but kind. She felt that he
chose to treat her like a child, yet that he was trying to be
considerate. She was galled, but after all, he was the doctor, and
Wilbur had the utmost confidence in him, so she must submit. She ate her
dinner, and when she returned preparations were being made for the
night. The nurse was to use a lounge at the foot of Wilbur's bed. Dr.
Page asked permission to occupy the dressing-room adjoining, so as to be
within easy call. He established himself there with a book, returning at
short intervals to look at his patient. Selma had resumed her seat. It
was dark save for a night lamp. In the stillness the only sounds were
the ticking of the clock on the mantel-piece and Wilbur's labored
breathing. It seemed as though he were struggling for his life. What
should she do if he died? Why was she debarred from tending him? It was
cruel. Tears fell on her hand. She stared into the darkness, twisting
her fingers, until at last, as though to show her independence, she
stepped to the bed on tip-toe. Wilbur's eyes were open. He put out his
hand, and, taking hers, touched it to his burning lips.

"Good-night, Selma," he murmured.

She stooped and kissed his brow. "I am here beside you, Wilbur."

A figure stood behind her. She turned, expecting to encounter the
white-capped sentinel. It was Dr. Page. He touched her gently on the
arm. "We must let him rest now. You can do no good. Won't you go to
bed?"

"Oh, no. I shall sit with him all night."

"Very well. But it is important that you should not speak to him," he
said with another touch of emphasis.

She resumed her seat and sat out the night, wide-awake and conscious of
each movement on Wilbur's part. He was restless and moaning. Twice the
nurse summoned the doctor, and two or three times he came to the
bed-side of his own accord. She felt slighted, and once, when it seemed
to her that Wilbur was in distress and anxious for something, she
forestalled the nurse.

"He wishes water," Selma said sternly, and she fetched a glass from the
table and let him drink.

Dr. Page took breakfast with her. She was conscious that somehow her
vigil had affected his estimate of her, for his speech was frank and
direct, as though he considered her now more fit to be treated with
confidence.

"He is very ill, but he is holding his own. If you will lie down for a
few hours, I will call you to take Miss Barker's place while she rests."

This was gratifying, and tended to assuage her bitterness. But the
doctor appeared to her anxious, and spent only a few minutes at table.
He said as he rose,

"Excuse me, but Pauline--does she know?"

"I will send her word."

Selma would have been glad to dispense with the presence of her
sister-in-law. Their relations had not been sympathetic since the
episode of Miss Bailey, and, though Pauline still dined at the house
once a week, the intercourse between them had become reserved and
perfunctory. She grudged sharing with her what might be Wilbur's last
hours. She grudged, too, permitting her to help to nurse him, especially
now that her own capabilities were in the way of being recognized, for
she remembered Dr. Page's partiality for her. Still, she appreciated
that she must let her know.

Pauline arrived speedily, and Selma found herself sobbing in her arms.
She was pleased by this rush of feeling on her own part, and, confirmed
in her belief that her sister-in-law was cold because she did not break
down, and, shrinking from her efforts to comfort her, she quickly
regained her self-control. Pauline seemed composed and cheerful, but the
unceasing watchfulness and manifest tension of the doctor were
disconcerting, and as the afternoon shadows deepened, the two women sat
grave and silent, appalled by the suspicion that Wilbur's condition was
eminently critical. Yet Dr. Page volunteered to say to them presently:

"If his heart holds out, I am hopeful that he will pull through."

Dr. Page had given up all his duties for the sake of Wilbur. He never
left the house, manifestly devoting, as shown by the unflagging,
absorbed scrutiny with which he noted every symptom and change, the
fullest measure of his professional skill and a heart-felt purpose to
save his friend's life if human brain or human concentration could
avail. And yet he stated to Pauline in Selma's hearing that, beyond
keeping up the patient's strength by stimulants, science was practically
helpless, and that all they could do was to wait.

And so they sat, still and unemployed watchers, while day turned into
darkness. From time to time, by the night-lamp, Selma saw Pauline
smiling at her as though in defiance of whatever fate might have in
store. Selma herself felt the inclination neither to smile nor to weep.
She sat looking before her with her hands clasped, resenting the
powerlessness of the few remedies used, and impatient of the inactivity
and relentless silence. Why did not the doctor adopt more stringent
measures? Surely there was something to be done to enable Wilbur to
combat the disease. Dr. Page had the reputation of being a skilful
physician, and, presumably, was doing his best; but was it not possible,
was it not sensible, to suppose there was a different and better way of
treating pneumonia--a way which was as superior to the conventional and
stereotyped method as the true American point of view was superior in
other matters?

It came over her as a conviction that if she were elsewhere--in Benham,
for instance--her husband could be readily and brilliantly cured. This
impassive mode of treatment seemed to her of one piece with the entire
Littleton surroundings, the culmination of which was Pauline smiling in
the face of death. She yearned to do something active and decided. Yet,
how helpless she was! This arbitrary doctor was following his own
dictates without a word to anyone, and without suspecting the existence
of wiser expedients.

In a moment of rebellion she rose, and swiftly approaching Wilbur's bed,
exclaimed, fervently: "Is there not something we can do for you,
darling? Something you feel will do you good?"

The sufferer faintly smiled and feebly shook his head, and at the same
moment she was drawn away by a firm hand, and Dr. Page whispered: "He is
very weak. Entire rest is his only chance. The least exertion is a drain
on his vitality."

"Surely there must be some medicine--some powerful application which
will help his breathing," she retorted, and she detected again the
semblance of laughter in the doctor's eyes.

"Everything which modern science can do is being done, Mrs. Littleton."

What was there but to resume her seat and helpless vigil? Modern
science? The word grated on her ears. It savored to her of narrow
medical tyranny, and distrust of aspiring individuality. Wilbur was
dying, and all modern science saw fit to do was to give him brandy and
wait. And she, his wife--the one who loved him best in the world, was
powerless to intervene. Nay, she had intervened, and modern science had
mocked her.

Selma's eyes, like the glint of two swords, bent themselves on her
husband's bed. A righteous anger reinforced her grieving heart and made
her spirit militant, while the creeping hours passed. Over and over she
pursued the tenor of her protest until her wearied system sought refuge
in sleep. She was not conscious of slumbering, but she reasoned later
that she must have slept, for she suddenly became conscious of a touch
on the shoulder and a vibrant utterance of her name.

"Selma, Selma, you must come at once."

Her returning wits realized that it was Pauline who was arousing her and
urging her to Wilbur's bed-side. She sprang forward, and saw the light
of existence fading from her husband's eyes into the mute dulness of
death. Dr. Page was bending over him in a desperate, but vain, effort to
force some restorative between his lips. At the foot of the bed stood
the nurse, with an expression which betrayed what had occurred.

"What is it, Wilbur? What have they done to you? What has happened?"
Selma cried, looking from one to the other, though she had discerned the
truth in a flash. As she spoke, Dr. Page desisted from his undertaking,
and stepped back from the bed, and instantly Selma threw herself on her
knees and pressed her face upon Littleton's lifeless features. There was
no response. His spirit had departed.

"His heart could not stand the strain. That is the great peril in
pneumonia," she heard the doctor murmur.

"He is dead," she cried, in a horrified outburst, and she looked up at
the pitying group with the gaze of an afflicted lioness. She caught
sight of Pauline smiling through her tears--that same unprotesting,
submissive smile--and holding out her hands to her. Selma, rising,
turned away, and as her sister-in-law sought to put her arm about her,
evaded the caress.

"No--no," she said. Then facing her, added, with aggrieved conviction:

"I cannot believe that Wilbur's death was necessary. Why was not
something energetic done?"

Pauline flushed, but, ascribing the calumny to distress, she held her
peace, and said, simply:

"Sh! dear. You will understand better by and by."



BOOK III.

THE SUCCESS


CHAPTER I.


It had never occurred to Selma that she might lose her husband. Even
with his shortcomings he was so important to her from the point of view
of support, and her scheme of life was so interwoven with his, she had
taken for granted that he would live as long as she desired. She felt
that destiny had a second time been signally cruel to her, and that she
was drinking deeply of the cup of sorrow. She was convinced that Wilbur,
had he lived, would have moved presently to Benham, in accordance with
her desire, and that they would then have been completely happy again.
Instead he was dead and under the sod, and she was left to face the
world with no means save $5,000 from his life insurance and the natural
gifts and soul which God had given her.

She appreciated that she was still a comparatively young woman, and
that, notwithstanding her love for Wilbur, she had been unable as his
wife to exhibit herself to the world in her true light. She was free
once more to lead her own life, and to obtain due recognition for her
ideas and principles. She deplored with a grief which depleted the curve
of her oval cheeks the premature end of her husband's artistic
career--an aspiring soul cut off on the threshold of success--yet,
though of course she never squarely made the reflection, she was aware
that the development of her own life was more intrinsically valuable to
the world than his, and that of the two it was best that he should be
taken. She was sad, sore against Providence, and uncertain as to the
future. But she was keenly conscious that she had a future, and she was
eager to be stirring. Still, for the moment, the outlook was perplexing.
What was she to do? First, and certainly, she desired to shake the dust
of New York from her feet at the earliest opportunity. She inclined
toward Benham as a residence, and to the lecture platform, supplemented
by literature, and perhaps eventually the stage, as a means of
livelihood. She believed in her secret soul that she could act. Her
supposed facility in acquiring the New York manner had helped to
generate that impression. It seemed to her more than probable that with
a little instruction as to technical stage business she could gain fame
and fortune almost at once as an actress of tragedy or melodrama. Comedy
she despised as unworthy of her. But the stage appealed to her only on
the ground of income. The life of an actress lacked the ethical
character which she liked to associate with whatever she did. To be
sure, a great actress was an inspiring influence. Nevertheless she
preferred some more obviously improving occupation, provided it would
afford a suitable support. Yet was it fitting that she should be
condemned to do hack work for her daily bread instead of something to
enlighten and uplift the community in which she lived? She considered
that she had served her apprenticeship by teaching school and writing
for the newspapers, and she begrudged spending further time in
subordinate work. Better on the whole a striking success on the stage
than this, for after she had made a name and money she could retire and
devote herself to more congenial undertakings. Nevertheless her
conscience told her that a theatrical career must be regarded as a last
resort, and she appreciated the importance of not making a hasty
decision as to what she would do. The lease of her house would not
expire for six months, and it seemed to her probable that even in New
York, where she was not understood, someone would realize her value as a
manager of some intellectual or literary movement and make overtures to
her. She wrote to Mrs. Earle and received a cordial response declaring
that Benham would welcome her with open arms, a complimentary though
somewhat vague certificate. She sent a line also to Mr. Dennison,
informing him that she hoped soon to submit some short stories for his
magazine, and received a guarded but polite reply to the effect that he
would be glad to read her manuscripts.

While she was thus deliberating and winding up her husband's affairs,
Mr. Parsons, who had been absent from New York at the time of Wilbur's
decease, called and bluntly made the announcement that he had bought a
house in Benham, was to move there immediately, and was desirous that
she should live with him as his companion and housekeeper on liberal
pecuniary terms.

"I am an old man," he said, "and my health is not what it used to be. I
need someone to look after me and to keep me company. I like your chatty
ways, and, if I have someone smart and brisk around like you, I sha'n't
be thinking so often that I'm all alone in the world. It'll be dull for
you, I guess; but you'll be keeping quiet for the present wherever you
are; and when the time comes that you wish to take notice again I won't
stand in the way of your amusing yourself."

To this homely plea Selma returned a beatific smile. It struck her as an
ideal arrangement; a golden opportunity for him, and convenient and
promising for her. In the first place she was accorded the mission of
cheering and guarding the declining years of this fine old man, whom she
had come to look on with esteem and liking. And at the same time as his
companion--the virtual mistress of his house, for she knew perfectly
well that as a genuine American he was not offering her a position less
than this--she would be able to shape her life gradually along congenial
lines, and to wait for the ripe occasion for usefulness to present
itself. In an instant a great load was lifted from her spirit. She was
thankful to be spared conscientious qualms concerning the career of an
actress, and thankful to be freed at one bound from her New York
associations--especially with Pauline, whose attitude toward her had
been further strained by her continued conviction that Wilbur's life
might have been saved. Indeed, so completely alleviating was Mr.
Parsons's proposition that, stimulated by the thought that he was to be
a greater gainer from the plan than she, Selma gave rein to her emotions
by exclaiming with fervor:

"Usually I like to think important plans over before coming to a
decision; but this arrangement seems to me so sensible and natural and
mutually advantageous, Mr. Parsons, that I see no reason why I shouldn't
accept your offer now. God grant that I may be a worthy daughter to
you--and in some measure take the place of the dear ones you have lost."

"That's what I want," he said. "I took a liking to you the first time we
met. Then it's settled?"

"Yes. I suppose," she added, after a moment's hesitation--speaking with
an accent of scorn--"I suppose there may be people--people like those
who are called fashionable here--who will criticise the arrangement on
the ground--er--of propriety, because I'm not a relation, and you are
not very old. But I despise conventions such as that. They may be
necessary for foreigners; but they are not meant for self-respecting
American women. I fancy my sister-in-law may not wholly approve of it,
but I don't know. I shall take pleasure in showing her and the rest that
it would be wicked as well as foolish to let a flimsy suggestion of evil
interfere with the happiness of two people situated as we are."

Mr. Parsons seemed puzzled at first, as though he did not understand
exactly what she meant, but when she concluded he said:

"You come to me, as you have yourself stated, on the footing of a
daughter. If folk are not content to mind their own business, I guess we
needn't worry because they don't happen to be suited. There's one or two
relations of mine would be glad to be in your shoes, but I don't know of
anything in the Bible or the Constitution of the United States which
forbids an old man from choosing the face he'll have opposite to him at
table."

"Or forbids the interchange of true sympathy--that priceless privilege,"
answered Selma, her liking for a sententious speech rising paramount
even to the pleasure caused her by the allusion to her personal
appearance. Nevertheless it was agreeable to be preferred to his female
cousins on the score of comeliness.

Accordingly, within six months of her husband's death, the transition to
Benham was accomplished, and Selma was able to encounter the
metaphorically open arms, referred to by Mrs. Earle, without feeling
that she was a less important person than when she had been whisked off
as a bride by Littleton, the rising architect. She was returning as the
confidential, protecting companion of a successful, self-made old man,
who was relying on her to make his new establishment a pleasure to
himself and a credit to the wide-awake city in which he had elected to
pass his remaining days. She was returning to a house on the River Drive
(the aristocratic boulevard of Benham, where the river Nye makes a broad
sweep to the south); a house not far distant from the Flagg mansion at
which, as Mrs. Lewis Babcock, she had looked askance as a monument
inimical to democratic simplicity. Wilbur had taught her that it was
very ugly, and now that she saw it again after a lapse of years she was
pleased to note that her new residence, though slightly smaller, had a
more modern and distinguished air.

The new house was of rough-hewn red sandstone, combining solid dignity
and some artistic merit, for Benham had not stood still architecturally
speaking. The River Drive was a grotesque, yet on the whole encouraging
exhibit. Most of the residences had been designed by native talent, but
under the spur of experiment even the plain, hard-headed builders had
been constrained to dub themselves "architects," and adopt modern
methods; and here and there stood evidences that the seed planted by
Mrs. Hallett Taylor and Littleton had borne fruit, for Benham possessed
at least half a dozen private houses which could defy criticism.

The one selected by Mr. Parsons was not of these half dozen; but the
plain, hard-headed builder who had erected it for the original owner was
shrewd and imitative, and had avoided ambitious deviations from the type
he wished to copy--the red sandstone, swell front variety, which ten
years before would have seemed to the moral sense of Benham unduly
cheerful. Mr. Parsons was so fortunate as to be able to buy it just
after it had been completed, together with a stable and half an acre of
ground, from one of the few Benhamites whose financial ventures had
ended in disaster, and who was obliged to sell. It was a more ambitious
residence than Mr. Parsons had desired, but it was the most available,
inasmuch as he could occupy it at once. It had been painted and
decorated within, but was unfurnished. Mr. Parsons, as a practical
business man, engaged the builder to select and supply the bedroom and
solid fittings, but it occurred to him to invite Selma to choose the
furnishings for what he called the show rooms.

Selma was delighted to visit once more the New York stores, free from
the bridle of Wilbur's criticism and unrestrained by economy. She found
to her satisfaction that the internal decoration of the new house was
not unlike that of the Williamses' first habitation--that is, gay and
bedizened; and she was resolved in the selection of her draperies and
ornaments to buy things which suggested by their looks that they were
handsome, and whose claim to distinction was not mere sober
unobtrusiveness. She realized that some of her purchases would have made
Wilbur squirm, but since his death she felt more sure than ever that
even where art was concerned his taste was subdued, timid, and
unimaginative. For instance, she believed that he would not have
approved her choice of light-blue satin for the upholstery of the
drawing-room, nor of a marble statue--an allegorical figure of Truth,
duly draped, as its most conspicuous ornament.

Selma was spared the embarrassment of her first husband's presence.
Divorce is no bar to ordinary feminine curiosity as to the whereabouts
of a former partner for life, and she had proved no exception to the
rule. Mrs. Earle had kept her posted as to Babcock's career since their
separation, and what she learned had tended merely to demonstrate the
wisdom and justice of her action. As a divorced man he had, after a
time, resumed the free and easy, coarse companionship to which he had
been partial before his marriage, and had gradually become a heavy
drinker. Presently he had neglected his business, a misfortune of which
a rival concern had been quick to take advantage. The trend of his
affairs had been steadily downhill, and had come to a crisis three
months before Littleton's death, when, in order to avoid insolvency, he
sold out his factory and business to the rival company, and accepted at
the same hands the position of manager in a branch office in a city
further west. Consequently, Selma could feel free from molestation or an
appeal to her sensibilities. She preferred to think of Babcock as
completely outside her life, as dead to her, and she would have disliked
the possibility of meeting him in the flesh while shopping on Central
avenue. It had been the only drawback to her proposed return to Benham.

During the years of Selma's second marriage Benham had waxed rapidly in
population and importance. People had been attracted thither by the
varied industries of the city--alike those in search of fortune, and
those offering themselves for employment in the mills, oil-works, and
pork factories; and at the date of Littleton's death it boasted over one
hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants. It was already the second city
of the State in point of population, and was freely acknowledged to be
the most wide-awake and enterprising. The civic spirit of Benham was
reputed to be constantly and increasingly alert and progressive,
notwithstanding the river Nye still ran the color of bean-soup above
where it was drawn for drinking purposes, and the ability of a plumber,
who had become an alderman, to provide a statue or lay out a public park
was still unquestioned by the majority. Even to-day, when trained
ability has obtained recognition in many quarters, the Benhamites at
large are apt to resent criticism as aristocratic fault-finding; yet at
this time that saving minority of souls who refused to regard everything
which Benham did as perfection, and whose subsequent forlorn hopes and
desperately won victories have little by little taught the community
wisdom, if not modesty, was beginning to utter disagreeable strictures.

Mrs. Margaret Rodney Earle, when she opened her arms to Selma and folded
her to her bosom with a hug of welcome, was raging inwardly against this
minority, and they had not been many minutes together before she gave
utterance to her grievance.

"You have come just in time to give us your sympathy and support in an
important matter, my dear. Miss Bailey has been nominated for the School
Board at the instance of the Executive Committee of the Benham
Institute. We supposed that she would have plain sailing, for many of
the voters have begun to recognize the justice of having one or two
women on the School Board, and by hard work we had succeeded in getting
her name put on the Democratic ticket. Judge, then, of our feelings when
we learned that the Reform Club had decided to blacklist and refuse to
support at the polls three of the six names on the ticket, including our
Luella Bailey, on the ground of lack of experience in educational
matters. The Reform Club has nominated three other persons--one of them
a woman. And who do you suppose is the head and front of this unholy
crusade?"

"It sounds like Mrs. Hallett Taylor," answered Selma, sternly.

"How did you know? What made you think so? How clever of you, Selma!
Yes, she is the active spirit."

"It was she who was at the bottom of Miss Bailey's rejection when she
was my candidate for a position at Everdean College."

"To be sure. I remember. This Reform Club, which was started a year or
so ago, and which sets itself up as a censor of what we are trying to do
in Benham, has nominated a Miss Snow, who is said to have travelled
abroad studying the school systems of Europe."

"As if that would help us in any way."

"Precisely. She has probably come home with her head full of
queer-fangled notions which would be out of keeping with our
institutions. Just the reason why she shouldn't be chosen. We are
greatly troubled as to the result, dear, for though we expect to win,
the prejudice of some men against voting for a woman under any
circumstances will operate against our candidate, so that this action of
the Reform Club may possibly be the means of electing one of the men on
the Republican ticket instead of Luella. Miss Snow hasn't the ghost of a
chance. But that isn't all. These Reform Club nominations are
preliminary to a bill before the Legislature to take away from the
people the right to elect members of the school committee, and
substitute an appointive board of specialists to serve during long terms
of good behavior. As Mr. Lyons says, that's the real issue involved.
It's quixotic and it isn't necessary. Haven't we always prided ourselves
on our ability to keep our public schools the best in the world? And is
there any doubt, Selma, that either you or I would be fully qualified to
serve on the School Board though we haven't made any special study of
primers and geographies? Luella Bailey hasn't had any special training,
but she's smart and progressive, and the poor thing would like the
recognition. We fixed on her because we thought it would help her to get
ahead, for she has not been lucky in obtaining suitable employment. As
Mr. Lyons says, a serious principle is involved. He has come out strong
against the movement and declares that it is a direct menace to the
intelligence of the plain people of the United States and a subtle
invasion of their liberties."

"Mr. Lyons? What Mr. Lyons is that?"

"Yes, dear, it is the same one who managed your affair. Your Mr. Lyons.
He has become an important man since you left Benham. He speaks
delightfully, and is likely to receive the next Democratic nomination
for Congress. He is in accord with all liberal movements, and a foe of
everything exclusive, unchristian or arbitrary. He has declared his
intention to oppose the bill when it is introduced, and I shall devote
myself body and soul to working against it in case Luella Bailey is
defeated. It is awkward because Mrs. Taylor is a member of the
Institute, though she doesn't often come, and the club has never been in
politics. But here when there was a chance to do Luella Bailey a good
turn, and I'd been able through some of my newspaper friends to get her
on the ticket, it seems to me positively unchristian--yes, that's the
word--to try to keep her off the board. There are some things of course,
Luella couldn't do--and if the position were superintendent of a
hospital, for instance, I dare say that special training would be
advantageous, though nursing can be picked up very rapidly by a keen
intelligence: but to raise such objections in regard to a candidate for
the School Board seems to me ridiculous as well as cruel. What
we need there are open, receptive minds, free from fads and
prejudice--wide-awake, progressive enthusiastic intellects. It worries
me to see the Institute dragged into politics, but it is my duty to
resist this undemocratic movement."

"Surely," exclaimed Selma, with fire. "I am thankful I have come in time
to help you. I understand exactly. I have been passing through just such
experiences in New York--encountering and being rebuffed by just such
people as those who belong to this Reform Club. My husband was beginning
to see through them and to recognize that we were both tied hand and
foot by their narrowness and lack of enthusiasm when he died. If he had
lived, we would have moved to Benham shortly in order to escape from
bondage. And one thing is certain, dear Mrs. Earle," she continued with
intensity, "we must not permit this carping spirit of hostility to
original and spontaneous effort to get a foothold in Benham. We must
crush it, we must stamp it out."

"Amen, my dear. I am delighted to hear you talk like that. I declare you
would be very effective in public if you were roused."

"Yes, I am roused, and I am willing to speak in public if it becomes
necessary in order to keep Benham uncontaminated by the insidious canker
of exclusiveness and the distrust of aspiring souls which a few narrow
minds choose to term untrained. Am _I_ untrained? Am _I_ superficial and
common? Do _I_ lack the appearance and behavior of a lady?"

Selma accompanied these interrogatories with successive waves of the
hand, as though she were branding so many falsehoods.

"Assuredly not, Selma. I consider you"--and here Mrs. Earle gasped in
the process of choosing her words--"I consider you one of our best
trained and most independent minds--cultured, a friend of culture, and
an earnest seeker after truth. If you are not a lady, neither am I,
neither is anyone in Benham. Why do you ask, dear?" And without waiting
for an answer, Mrs. Earle added with a touch of material wisdom, "You
return to Benham under satisfactory, I might say, brilliant auspices.
You will be the active spirit in this fine house, and be in a position
to promote worthy intellectual and moral movements."

"Thank heavens, yes. And to combat those which are unworthy and
dangerous," exclaimed Selma, clasping her fingers, "I can count on the
support of Mr. Parsons, God bless him! And it would seem at last as if I
had, a real chance--a real chance at last. Mrs. Earle--Cora--I know you
can keep a secret. I feel almost as though you were my mother, for there
is no one else now to whom I can talk like this. I have not been happy
in New York. I thought I was happy at first, but lately we have been
miserable. My marriage--er--they drove my husband to the wall, and
killed him. He was sensitive and noble, but not practical, and he fell a
victim to the mercenary despotism of our surroundings. When I tried to
help him they became jealous of me, and shut their doors in our faces."

"You poor, poor child. I have suspected for some time that something was
wrong."

"It nearly killed me. But now, thank heaven, I breathe freely once more.
I have lost my dear husband, but I have escaped from that prison-house;
and with his memory to keep me merciless, I am eager to wage war against
those influences which are conspiring to fetter the free-born soul and
stifle spontaneity. Luella Bailey must be elected, and these people be
taught that foreign ideas may flourish in New York, but cannot obtain
root in Benham."

Mrs. Earle wiped her eyes, which were running over as the result of this
combination of confidence and eloquence.

"If you don't mind my saying so, Selma, I never saw anyone so much
improved as you. You always had ideas, and were well equipped, but now
you speak as though you could remove mountains if necessary. It's a
blessing for us as well as you that you're back among us once more."



CHAPTER II.


When Selma uttered her edict that Luella Bailey must be elected she did
not know that the election was only three days off. When she was told
this by Mrs. Earle, she cast about feverishly during a few hours for the
means to compass certain victory, then promptly and sensibly disclaimed
responsibility for the result, suggesting even that her first appearance
as a remover of mountains be deferred to the time when the bill should
be before the Legislature. As she aptly explained to Mrs. Earle, the
canvass was virtually at an end, she was unacquainted with the practical
features of the situation, and was to all intents a stranger in Benham
after so long an absence. Mrs. Earle was unable to combat the logic of
these representations, but she obtained from Selma a ready promise to
accompany the Benham Institute to the final rally on the evening before
election day and sit in a prominent place on the platform. The Institute
was to attend as a body by way of promoting the cause of its candidate,
for though the meeting was called in aid of the entire Democratic
municipal ticket, Hon. James O. Lyons, the leading orator of the
occasion, had promised to devote special attention to Miss Bailey, whose
election, owing to the attitude of the Reform Club, was recognized as in
doubt. Selma also agreed to accompany Mrs. Earle in a hack on the day
itself, and career through the city in search of recalcitrant or
indifferent female voters, for the recently acquired right of Benham
women to vote for members of the School Board had not as yet been
exercised by any considerable number of the emancipated sex.

As a part of the programme of the meeting the Benham Institute, or the
major portion of it (for there were a few who sympathized openly with
Mrs. Taylor), filed showily on to the platform headed by Mrs. Earle, who
waved her pocket handkerchief at the audience, which was the occasion
for renewed hand-clapping and enthusiasm. Selma walked not far behind
and took her seat among the forty other members, who all wore white silk
badges stamped in red with the sentiment "A vote for Luella Bailey is a
vote for the liberty of the people." Her pulses were throbbing with
interest and pleasure. This was the sort of thing she delighted in, and
which she had hoped would be a frequent incident of her life in New
York. It pleased her to think how naturally and easily she had taken her
place in the ranks of these earnest, enthusiastic workers, and that she
had merely to express a wish in order to have leadership urged upon her.
Matters had shaped themselves exactly as she desired. Mr. Parsons not
only treated her completely as an equal, but consulted her in regard to
everything. He had already become obviously dependent on her, and had
begun to develop the tendencies of an invalid.

The exercises were of a partisan cast. The theory that municipal
government should be independent of party politics had been an adage in
Benham since its foundation, and been disregarded annually by
nine-tenths of the population ever since. This was a Democratic
love-feast. The speakers and the audience alike were in the best of
spirits, for there was no uncertainty in the minds of the party prophets
as to the result of the morrow's ballot--excepting with regard to Miss
Bailey. The rest of the ticket would unquestionably be elected;
accordingly all hands and voices were free to focus their energies in
her behalf and thus make the victory a clean sweep. Nevertheless the
earlier speakers felt obliged to let their eloquence flow over the whole
range of political misgovernment from the White House and the national
platform down, although the actual issue was the choice of a mayor,
twelve aldermen and a school committee, so that only casual reference
was made to the single weak spot on the ticket until the Hon. James O.
Lyons rose to address the meeting. The reception accorded him was more
spontaneous and effusive than that which had been bestowed on either of
his predecessors, and as he stood waiting with dignified urbanity for
the applause to subside, some rapturous admirer called for three cheers,
and the tumult was renewed.

Selma was thrilled. Her acquaintance with Mr. Lyons naturally heightened
her interest, and she observed him eagerly. Time had added to his
corporeal weight since he had acted as her counsel, and enhanced the
sober yet genial decorum of his bearing. His slightly pontifical air
seemed an assurance against ill-timed levity. His cheeks were still fat
and smooth shaven, but, like many of the successful men of Benham, he
now wore a chin beard--a thick tuft of hair which in his case tapered so
that it bore some resemblance to the beard of a goat, and gave a
rough-and-ready aspect to his appearance suggestive alike of smart,
solid worth and an absence of dandified tendencies. Mr. Parsons had a
thicker beard of the same character, which Selma regarded with favor as
a badge of serious intentions.

"My friends," he began when the applause had subsided; then paused and
surveyed his audience in a manner which left them in doubt as to whether
he was struggling with emotion or busy in silent prayer. "My friends, a
month ago to-day the citizens of Benham assembled to crown with
appropriate and beautiful services the monument which they, the
survivors, have erected with pious hands to perpetuate the memory of
those who laid down their lives to keep intact our beloved union of
States and to banish slavery forever from the confines of our aspiring
civilization. A week ago an equally representative assembly, without
regard to creed or party, listened to the exercises attending the
dedication of the new Court House which we have raised to Justice--that
white-robed goddess, the guardian of the liberties of the people. Each
was a notable and significant event. On each occasion I had the honor to
say a few poor words. We celebrated with bowed heads and with garlands
the deeds of the heroic dead, and now have consecrated ourselves to the
opportunities and possibilities of peace under the law--to the
revelation of the temper of our new civilization which, tried in the
furnace of war, is to be a grand and vital power for the advancement of
the human race, for the righteous furtherance of the brotherhood of man.
What is the hope of the world?" he asked. "America--these United States,
a bulwark against tyranny, an asylum for the aspiring and the
downtrodden. The eyes of the nations are upon us. In the souls of the
survivors and of the sons and daughters of the patriots who have died in
defence of the liberties of our beloved country abide the seed and
inspiration for new victories of peace. Our privilege be it as the heirs
of Washington and Franklin and Hamilton and Lincoln and Grant to set the
nations of the earth an example of what peace under the law may
accomplish, so that the free-born son of America from the shores of Cape
Cod to the western limits of the Golden Gate may remain a synonym for
noble aims and noble deeds, for truth and patriotism and fearlessness of
soul."

The speaker's words had been uttered slowly at the outset--ponderous,
sonorous, sentence by sentence, like the big drops before a heavy
shower. As he warmed to his theme the pauses ceased, and his speech
flowed with the musical sweep of a master of platform oratory. When he
spoke of war his voice choked; in speaking of peace he paused for an
appreciable moment, casting his eyes up as though he could discern the
angel of national tranquillity hovering overhead. Although this opening
peroration seemed scarcely germane to the occasion, the audience
listened in absorbed silence, spell-bound by the magnetism of his
delivery. They felt sure that he had a point in reserve to which these
splendid and agreeable truths were a pertinent introduction.

Proceeding, with his address, Mr. Lyons made a panegyric on these United
States of America, from the special standpoint of their dedication to
the "God of our fathers," a solemn figure of speech. The sincerity of
his patriotism was emphasized by the religious fervor of his deduction
that God was on the side of the nation, and the nation on the side of
God. Though he abstained from direct strictures, both his manner and his
matter seemed to serve a caveat, so to speak, on the other nations by
declaring that for fineness of heart and thought, and deed, the world
must look to the land "whose wide and well-nigh boundless prairies were
blossoming with the buds of truth fanned by the breeze of liberty and
fertilized by the aspirations of a God-fearing and a God-led population.
What is the hope of the world, I repeat?" he continued. "The plain and
sovereign people of our beloved country. Whatever menaces their
liberties, whatever detracts from their, power and infringes on their
prerogatives is a peril to our institutions and a step backward in the
science of government. My friends, we are here to-night to protest
against a purpose to invade those liberties--a deliberately conceived
design to take away from the sovereign people of this city one of their
cherished privileges--the right to decide who shall direct the policy of
our free public-school system, that priceless heritage of every
American. I beg to remind you that this contest is no mere question of
healthy rivalry between two great political parties; nor again is it
only a vigorous competition between two ambitious and intelligent women.
A ballot in behalf of our candidate will be a vote of confidence in the
ability of the plain people of this country to adopt the best
educational methods without the patronizing dictation of aboard of
specialists nurtured on foreign and uninspiring theories of instruction.
A ballot against Miss Luella Bailey, the competent and cultivated lady
whose name adds strength and distinction to our ticket, and who has been
needlessly and wantonly opposed by those who should be her proud
friends, will signify a willingness to renounce one of our most precious
liberties--the free man's right to choose those who are to impart to his
children mastery of knowledge and love of country. I take my stand
to-night as the resolute enemy of this aristocratic and un-American
suggestion, and urge you, on the eve of election, to devote your
energies to overwhelming beneath the shower of your fearless ballots
this insult to the intelligence of the voters of Benham, and this menace
to our free and successful institutions, which, under the guidance of
the God of our fathers, we purpose to keep perpetually progressive and
undefiled."

A salvo of enthusiasm greeted Mr. Lyons as he concluded. His speeches
were apt to cause those whom he addressed to feel that they were no
common campaign utterances, but eloquent expressions of principle and
conviction, clothed in memorable language, as, indeed, they were. He was
fond of giving a moral or patriotic flavor to what he said in public,
for he entertained both a profound reverence for high moral ideas and an
abiding faith in the superiority of everything American. He had arrayed
himself on the threshold of his legal career as a friend and champion of
the mass of the people--the plain and sovereign people, as he was apt to
style them in public. His first and considerable successes had been as
the counsel for plaintiffs before juries in accident cases against large
corporations, and he had thought of himself with complete sincerity as a
plain man, contesting for human rights before the bar of justice, by the
sheer might of his sonorous voice and diligent brain. His political
development had been on the same side. Latterly the situation had become
a little puzzling, though to a man of straightforward intentions, like
himself, not fundamentally embarrassing. That is, the last four or five
years had altered both the character of his practice and his
circumstances, so that instead of fighting corporations he was now the
close adviser of a score of them; not the defender of their accident
cases, but the confidential attorney who was consulted in regard to
their vital interests, and who charged them liberal sums for his
services. He still figured in court from time to time in his capacity of
the plain man's friend, which he still considered himself to be no less
than before, but most of his time was devoted to protecting the legal
interests of the railroad, gas, water, manufacturing, mining and other
undertakings which, the rapid growth of Benham had forgotten. And as a
result of this commerce with the leading men of affairs in Benham, and
knowledge of what was going on, he had been able to invest his large
fees to the best advantage, and had already reaped a rich harvest from
the rapid rise in value of the securities of diverse successful
enterprises. When new projects were under consideration he was in a
position to have a finger in the pie, and he was able to borrow freely
from a local bank in which he was a director.

He was puzzled--it might be said distressed--how to make these rewards
of his professional prominence appear compatible with his real political
principles, so that the plain and sovereign people would recognize as
clearly as he that there was no inconsistency in his having taken
advantage of the opportunities for professional advancement thrown in
his way. He was ambitious for political preferment, sharing the growing
impression that he was well qualified for public office, and he desired
to rise as the champion of popular ideas. Consequently he resented
bitterly the calumnies which had appeared in one or two irresponsible
newspapers to the effect that he was becoming a corporation attorney and
a capitalist. Could a man refuse legitimate business which was thrust
upon him? How were his convictions and interest in the cause of
struggling humanity altered or affected by his success at the bar? Hence
he neglected no occasion to declare his allegiance to progressive
doctrine, and to give utterance to the patriotism which at all times was
on tap in his emotional system. He had been married, but his wife had
been dead a number of years, and he made his home with his aged mother,
to whom he was apt to refer with pious tremulousness when he desired to
emphasize some domestic situation before a jury. As a staunch member of
the Methodist Church, he was on terms of intimate association with his
pastor, and was known as a liberal contributor to domestic and foreign
missions.

Selma was genuinely carried away by the character of his oratory. His
sentiments were so completely in accord with her own ideas that she felt
he had left nothing unsaid, and had put the case grandly. Here at last
was a man who shared with her the convictions with which her brain was
seething--a man who was not afraid to give public expression to his
views, and who possessed a splendid gift of statement. She had felt sure
that she would meet sympathy and kindred spirits in Benham, but her
experience in New York had so far depressed her that she had not allowed
herself to expect such a thorough-going champion. What a contrast his
solid, devotional, yet business-like aspect was to the quizzical
lightness of the men in New York she had been told were clever, like Dr.
Page and Mr. Dennison! He possessed Wilbur's ardor and reverence, with a
robustness of physique and a practical air which Wilbur had
lacked--lacked to his and her detriment. If Wilbur had been as vigorous
in body as he ought to have been, would he have died? She had read
somewhere lately that physical delicacy was apt to react on the mind and
make one's ideas too fine-spun and unsubstantial. Here was the advantage
which a man like Mr. Lyons had over Wilbur. He was strong and thickset,
and looked as though he could endure hard work without wincing. So could
she. It was a great boon, an essential of effective manhood or
womanhood. These thoughts followed in the wake of the enthusiasm his
personality had aroused in her at the close of his address. She scarcely
heard the remarks of the next speaker, the last on the programme. Her
eyes kept straying wistfully in the direction of Mr. Lyons, and she
wondered if there would be an opportunity when the meeting was over to
let him know how much she approved of what he had said, and how
necessary she felt the promulgation, of such ideas was for the welfare
of the country.

She was aroused from contemplation by the voice of Mrs. Earle, who, now
that everybody was standing up preliminary to departure, bent over her
front bench on the platform to whisper, "Wasn't Mr. Lyons splendid?"

"Yes, indeed," said Selma. "I should like so much to make his
acquaintance, to compare notes with him and thank him for his brave,
true words."

"I know he'd be pleased to meet you. I'll try to catch his eye. I wish
some of those Reform Club people could have heard what he thought of
them. There! He's looking this way. I'm going to attract his attention."
Whereupon Mrs. Earle began to nod in his direction energetically. "He
sees us now, and has noticed you. I shouldn't wonder if he has
recognized you. Follow me close, Selma, and we'll be able to shake hands
with him."

By dint of squeezing and stertorous declarations of her desire, Mrs.
Earle obtained a gradual passage through the crowd. Many from the
audience had ascended to the platform for the purpose of accosting the
speakers, and a large share of the interest was being bestowed on Mr.
Lyons, who was holding an impromptu reception. When at last Mrs. Earle
had worked her way to within a few feet of him, her wheezing condition
and bulk announced her approach, and procured her consideration from the
others in the line, so that she was able to plant herself pervasively
and firmly in front of her idol and take possession of him by the fervid
announcement, "You were simply unanswerable. Eloquent, convincing, and
unanswerable. And I have brought with me an old friend, Mrs. Littleton,
who sympathizes with your superb utterances, and wishes to tell you so."

As Selma stepped forward in recognition of this introduction she
vibrated to hear Mr. Lyons say, without a sign of hesitation, "A friend
whom it is a pleasure to welcome back to Benham, Mrs. Littleton, I am
pleased to meet you again."

Selma had hoped, and felt it her due, that he would recognize her. Still
his having done so at once was a compliment which served to enhance the
favorable opinion which she had already formed regarding him.

"I have been longing for months, Mr. Lyons," she said, "to hear someone
say what you have said to-night. I am concerned, as we all are of
course, in Miss Bailey's election, and your advocacy of her cause was
most brilliant; but what I refer to--what interested, me especially, was
the splendid protest you uttered against all movements to prevent the
intelligence of the people from asserting itself. It gave me
encouragement and made me feel that the outlook for the future is
bright--that our truths must prevail."

It was a maxim with Lyons that it was desirable to remember everyone he
met, and he prided himself on his ability to call cordially by name
clients or chance acquaintances whom he had not seen for years. Nature
had endowed him with a good memory for names and faces, but he had
learned to take advantage of all opportunities to brush up his wits
before they were called into flattering, spontaneous action. When his
glance, attracted by Mrs. Earle's remote gesticulation, rested on
Selma's face, he began to ask himself at once where he had seen it
before. In the interval vouchsafed by her approach he recalled the
incident of the divorce, that her name had been Babcock, and that she
had married again, but he was still groping for the name of her husband
when the necessary clew was supplied by Mrs. Earle, and he was able to
make his recognition of her exhaustive. He noticed with approval her
pretty face and compact figure, reflecting that the slight gain in flesh
was to her advantage, and noticed also her widow's mourning. But her
eager, fluent address and zealous manner had prevented his attention
from secretly wandering with business-like foresight to the next persons
in the line of those anxious to shake his hand, and led him to regard
her a second time. He was accustomed to compliments, but he was struck
by the note of discriminating companionship in her congratulation. He
believed that he had much at heart the very issue which she had touched
upon, and it gratified him that a woman whose appearance was so
attractive to him should single out for sympathetic enthusiasm what was
in his opinion the cardinal principle involved, instead of expatiating
on the assistance he had rendered Miss Bailey. Lyons said to himself
that here was a kindred spirit--a woman with whom conversation would be
a pleasure; with whom it would be possible to discourse on terms of
mental comradeship. He was partial to comely women, but he did not
approve of frivolity except on special and guarded occasions.

"I thank you cordially for your appreciation," he answered. "You have
grasped the vital kernel of my speech and I am grateful for your good
opinion."

Even in addressing the other sex, Lyons could not forget the
responsibility of his frock-coat and that it was incumbent upon him to
be strictly serious in public. Nevertheless his august but glib demeanor
suited Selma's mood better than more obvious gallantry, especially as
she got the impression, which he really wished to convey, that he
admired her. It was out of the question for him to prolong the situation
in the face of those waiting to grasp his hand, but Lyons heard with
interest the statement which Mrs. Earle managed to whisper hoarsely in
his ear just as he turned to welcome the next comer, and they were swept
along:

"She is one of our brightest minds. The poor child has recently lost her
husband, and has come to keep Mr. Parsons company in his new house--an
ideal arrangement."

The identity of Mr. Parsons was well known to Lyons. He had met him
occasionally in the past in other parts of the State in connection with
business complications, and regarded him as a practical, intelligent
citizen whose name would be of value to an aspirant for Congressional
honors. It occurred to him as he shook hands with those next in line and
addressed them that it would be eminently suitable if he should pay his
respects to this new-comer to Benham by a visit. By so doing he world
kill two birds with one stone, for he had reasoned of late that he owed
it to himself to see more of the other sex. He had no specific
matrimonial intentions; that is, he was not on the lookout for a wife;
but he approved of happy unions as one of the great bulwarks of the
community, and was well-disposed to encounter a suitable helpmate. He
should expect physical charms, dignity, capacity and a sympathetic mind;
a woman, in short, who would be an ornament to his home, a Christian
influence in society and a companion whose intelligent tact would be
likely to promote his political fortunes. And so it happened that in the
course of the next few days he found himself thinking of Mrs. Littleton
as a fine figure of a woman. This had not happened to him before since
the death of his wife, and it made him thoughtful to the extent of
asking "Why not?" For in spite of his long frock-coat and proper
demeanor, passion was not extinct in the bosom of the Hon. James O.
Lyons, and he was capable on special and guarded occasions of telling a
woman that he loved her.



CHAPTER III.


Miss Luella Bailey was not elected. The unenlightened prejudice of man
to prefer one of his own sex, combined with the hostility of the Reform
Club, procured her defeat, notwithstanding that the rest of her ticket
triumphed at the polls. There was some consolation for her friends in
the fact that her rival, Miss Snow, had a considerably smaller number of
votes than she. Selma solaced herself by the reflection that, as she had
been consulted only at the twelfth hour, she was not responsible for the
result, but she felt nerved by the defeat to concentrate her energies
against the proposed bill for an appointed school board.

Her immediate attention and sympathy were suddenly invoked by the
illness of Mr. Parsons, who had seemed lacking in physical vigor for
some weeks, and whose symptoms culminated in a slight paralysis, which
confined him to his bed for a month, and to his house during the
remainder of the autumn. Selma rejoiced in this opportunity to develop
her capacities as a nurse, to prove how adequate she would have been to
take complete charge of her late husband, had Dr. Page chosen to trust
her. She administered with scrupulous regularity to the invalid such
medicines as were ordered, and kept him cheerful by reading and
conversation, so that the physician in charge complimented her on her
proficiency. Trained nurses were unknown in Benham at this time, and any
old or unoccupied female was regarded as qualified to watch over the
sick. Selma appreciated from what she had observed of the conduct of
Wilbur's nurse that there was a wrong and a right way of doing things,
but she blamed Dr. Page for his failure to appreciate instinctively that
she was sure to do things suitably. It seemed to her that he had lacked
the intuitive gift to discern latent capabilities--a fault of which the
Benham practitioner proved blameless.

From the large, sunny chamber in which Mr. Parsons slowly recovered some
portion of his vitality, Selma could discern the distant beginnings of
Wetmore College, pleasantly situated on an elevation well beyond the
city limits on the further side of the winding river. An architect had
been engaged to carry out Wilbur's plans, and she watched the outlines
of the new building gradually take shape during the convalescence of her
benefactor. She recognized that the college would be theoretically a
noble addition to the standing of Benham as a city of intellectual and
æsthetic interests, but it provoked her to think that its management was
in the hands of Mrs. Hallett Taylor and her friends, between whom and
herself she felt that a chasm of irreconcilable differences of opinion
existed. Mrs. Taylor had not called on her since her return. She
believed that she was glad of this, and hoped that some of the severely
indignant criticism which she had uttered in regard to the Reform Club
movement had reached her ears. Or was Mrs. Taylor envious of her return
to Benham as the true mistress of this fine establishment on the River
Drive, so superior to her own? Nevertheless, it would have suited Selma
to have been one of the trustees of this new college--her husband's
handiwork in the doing of which he had laid down his promising life--and
the fact that no one had sought her out and offered her the honor as a
fitting recognition of her due was secretly mortifying. The Benham
Institute had been prompt to acknowledge her presence by giving a
reception in her honor, at which she was able to recite once more, "Oh,
why should the Spirit of Mortal be proud?" with old-time success, and
she had been informed by Mrs. Earle that she was likely to be chosen one
of the Vice-Presidents at the annual meeting. But these Reform Club
people had not even done her the courtesy to ask her to join them or
consider their opinions. She would have spurned the invitation with
contempt, but it piqued her not to know more about them; it distressed
her to think that there should exist in Benham an exclusive set which
professed to be ethically and intellectually superior and did not
include her, for she had come to Benham with the intention of leading
such a movement, to the detriment of fashion and frivolity. With Mr.
Parsons's money at her back, she was serenely confident that the houses
of the magnates of Benham--the people who corresponded in her mind's eye
to the dwellers on Fifth Avenue--would open to her. Already there had
been flattering indications that she would be able to command attention
there. She had expected to find this so; her heart would have been
broken to find it otherwise. Still, her hope in shaking the dust of New
York from her feet had been to find in Benham an equally admirable and
satisfactory atmosphere in regard to mental and moral progress. She had
come just in time, it is true, to utter her vehement protest against
this exclusive, aristocratic movement--this arrogant affectation of
superiority, and to array herself in battle line against it, resolved to
give herself up with enthusiasm to its annihilation. Yet the sight of
the college buildings for the higher education of women, rising without
her furtherance and supervision, and under the direction of these
people, made her sad and gave her a feeling of disappointment. Why had
they been permitted to obtain this foothold? Someone had been lacking in
vigilance and foresight. Thank heaven, with her return and a strong,
popular spirit like Mr. Lyons in the lead, these unsympathetic,
so-called reformers would speedily be confounded, and the intellectual
air of Benham restored to its original purity.

One afternoon while Selma's gaze happened to be directed toward the
embryo college walls, and she was incubating on the situation, Mr.
Parsons, who had seemed to be dozing, suddenly said:

"I should like you to write to Mr. Lyons, the lawyer, and ask him to
come to see me."

"I will write to-night. You know he called while you were ill."

"Yes, I thought him a clever fellow when we met two or three times on
railroad matters, and I gather from what you told me about his speech at
the political meeting that he's a rising man hereabouts. I'm going to
make my will, and I need him to put it into proper shape."

"I'm sure he'd do it correctly."

"There's not much for him to do except to make sure that the language is
legal, for I've thought it all out while I've been lying here during
these weeks. Still, it's important to have in a lawyer to fix it so the
people whom I don't intend to get my money shan't be able to make out
that I'm not in my right mind. I guess," he added, with a laugh, "that
the doctor will allow I've my wits sufficiently for that?"

"Surely. You are practically well now."

Mr. Parsons was silent for a moment. He prided himself on being
close-mouthed about his private affairs until they were ripe for
utterance. His intention had been to defer until after the interview
with his lawyer any statement of his purpose, but it suddenly occurred
to him that it would please him to unbosom his secret to his companion
because he felt sure in advance that she would sympathize fully with his
plans. He had meant to tell her when the instrument was signed. Why not
now?

"Selma," he said, "I've known ever since my wife and daughter died that
I ought to make a will, but I kept putting it off until it has almost
happened that everything I've got went to my next of kin--folk I'm fond
of, too, and mean to remember--but not fond enough for that. If I give
them fifty thousand dollars apiece--the three of them--I shall rest easy
in my grave, even if they think they ought to have had a bigger slice.
It's hard on a man who has worked all his days, and laid up close to a
million of dollars, not to have a son or a daughter, flesh of my flesh,
to leave it to; a boy or a girl given at the start the education I
didn't get, and who, by the help of my money, might make me proud, if I
could look on, of my name or my blood. It wasn't to be, and I must grin
and bear it, and do the next best thing. I caught a glimpse of what that
thing was soon after I lost my wife and daughter, and it was the thought
of that more than anything which kept me from going crazy with despair.
I'm a plain man, an uneducated man, but the fortune I've made has been
made honestly, and I'm going to spend it for the good of the American
people--to contribute my mite toward helping the cause of truth and good
citizenship and free and independent ideas which this nation calls for.
I'm going to give my money for benevolent uses."

"Oh, Mr. Parsons," exclaimed Selma, clasping her hands, "how splendid!
how glorious! How I envy you. It was what I hoped."

"I knew you would be pleased. I've had half a mind once or twice to let
the cat out of the bag, because I guessed it would be the sort of thing
that would take your fancy; but somehow I've kept mum, for fear I might
be taken before I'd been able to make a will. And then, too, I've been
of several minds as to the form of my gift. I thought it would suit me
best of all to found a college, and I was disappointed when I learned
that neighbor Flagg had got the start of me with his seminary for women
across the river. I wasn't happy over it until one night, just after the
doctor had gone, the thought came to me, 'Why, not give a hospital?' And
that's what it's to be. Five hundred thousand dollars for a free
hospital in the City of Benham, in memory of my wife and daughter.
That'll be useful, won't it? That'll help the people as much as a
college? And, Selma," he added, cutting off the assuring answer which
trembled on her tongue and blazed from her eyes, "I shan't forget you.
After I'm gone you are to have twenty thousand dollars. That'll enable
you, in case you don't marry, to keep a roof over your head without
working too hard."

"Thank you. You are very generous," she said. The announcement was
pleasant to her, but at the moment it seemed of secondary importance.
Her enthusiasm had been aroused by the fact and character of his public
donation, and already her brain was dancing with the thought of the
prospect of a rival vital institution in connection with which her views
and her talents would in all probability be consulted and allowed to
exercise themselves. Her's, and not Mrs. Taylor's, or any of that
censorious and restricting set. In that hospital, at least, ambition and
originality would be allowed to show what they could do unfettered by
envy or paralyzed by conservatism. "But I can't think of anything now,
Mr. Parsons, except the grand secret you have confided to me. A
hospital! It is an ideal gift. It will show the world what noble uses
our rich, earnest-minded men make of their money, and it will give our
doctors and our people a chance to demonstrate what a free hospital
ought to be. Oh, I congratulate you. I will write to Mr. Lyons at once."

A note in prompt response stated the hour when the lawyer would call. On
his arrival he was shown immediately to Mr. Parsons's apartments, with
whom he was closeted alone. Selma managed to cross the hall at the
moment he was descending, and he was easily persuaded to linger and to
follow her into the library.

"I was anxious to say a few words to you, Mr. Lyons," she said. "I know
the purpose for which Mr. Parsons sent for you. He has confided to me
concerning his will--told me everything. It is a noble disposition of
his property. A free hospital for Benham is an ideal selection, and one
envies him his opportunity."

"Yes. It is a superb and generous benefaction."

"I lay awake for hours last night thinking about it; thinking
particularly of the special point I am desirous to consult you in regard
to. I don't wish to appear officious, or to say anything I shouldn't,
but knowing from what I heard you state in your speech the other day
that you feel as I do in regard to such matters, I take the liberty of
suggesting that it seems to me of very great importance that the
management of this magnificent gift should be in proper hands. May I ask
you without impropriety if you will protect Mr. Parsons so that captious
or unenthusiastic persons, men or women, will be unable to control the
policy of his hospital? He would wish it so, I am sure. I thought of
mentioning the matter to him myself, but I was afraid lest it might
worry him and spoil the satisfaction of his generosity or retard his
cure. Is what I ask possible? Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly--perfectly. A valuable suggestion," he said. "I am glad that
you have spoken--very glad. Alive as I am to the importance of
protecting ourselves at all points, I might not have realized this
particular danger had you not called it to my attention. Perhaps only a
clever woman would have thought of it."

"Oh, thank you. I felt that I could not keep silence, and run the risk
of what might happen."

"Precisely. I think I can relieve your mind by telling you--which under
the circumstances is no breach of professional secrecy, for it is plain
that the testator desires you to know his purpose--that Mr. Parsons has
done me the honor to request me to act as the executor of his will. As
such I shall be in a position to make sure that those to whom the
management of his hospital is intrusted are people in whom you and I
would have confidence."

"Ah! That is very satisfactory. It makes everything as it should be, and
I am immensely relieved."

"Now that you have spoken," he added, meeting her eager gaze with a
propitiating look of reflective wisdom, "I will consider the
advisability of taking the further precaution of advising the testator
to name in his will the persons who shall act as the trustees of his
charity. That would clinch the matter. The selection of the individuals
would necessarily lie with Mr. Parsons, but it would seem eminently
natural and fitting that he should name you to represent your sex on
such a board. I hope it would be agreeable to you to serve?"

Selma flushed. "It would be a position which I should prize immensely.
Such a possibility had not occurred to me, though I felt that some
definite provision should be made. The responsibility would be congenial
to me and very much in my line."

"Assuredly. If you will permit me to say so, you are just the woman for
the place. We have met only a few times, Mrs. Littleton, but I am a man
who forms my conclusions of people rapidly, and it is obvious to me that
you are thoughtful, energetic, and liberal-minded--qualities which are
especially requisite for intelligent progress in semi-public work. It is
essentially desirable to enlist the co-operation of well-equipped women
to promote the national weal."

Lyons departed with an agreeable impression that he had been talking to
a woman who combined mental sagacity and enterprise with considerable
fascination of person. This capable companion of Mr. Parsons was no
coquettish or simpering beauty, no mere devotee of fashionable manners,
but a mature, well-poised character endowed with ripe intellectual and
bodily graces. Their interview suggested that she possessed initiative
and discretion in directing the course of events, and a strong sense of
moral responsibility, attributes which attracted his interest. He was
obliged to make two more visits before the execution of the will, and on
each occasion he had an opportunity to spend a half-hour alone in the
society of Selma. He found her gravely and engagingly sympathetic with
his advocacy of democratic principles; he told her of his ambition to be
elected to Congress--an ambition which he believed would be realized the
following autumn. He confided to her, also, that he was engaged in his
leisure moments in the preparation of a literary volume to be entitled,
"Watchwords of Patriotism," a study of the requisites of the best
citizenship, exemplified by pertinent extracts from the public
utterances of the most distinguished American public servants.

Selma on her part reciprocated by a reference to the course of lectures
on "Culture and Higher Education," which she had resolved to deliver
before the Benham Institute during the winter. In these lectures she
meant to emphasize the importance of unfettered individuality, and to
comment adversely on the tendencies hostile to this fundamental
principle of progress which she had observed in New York and from which
Benham itself did not appear to her to be entirely exempt. After
delivering these lectures in Benham she intended to repeat them in
various parts of the State, and in some of the large cities elsewhere,
under the auspices of the Confederated Sisterhood of Women's Clubs of
America, the Sorosis which Mrs. Earle had established on a firm basis,
and of which at present she was second vice-president. As a token of
sympathy with this undertaking, Mr. Lyons offered to procure her a free
pass on the railroads over which she would be obliged to travel. This
pleased Selma greatly, for she had always regarded free passes as a sign
of mysterious and enviable importance.

Two months later Selma, as secretary of the sub-committee of the
Institute selected to oppose before the legislature the bill to create
an appointed school board, had further occasion to confer with Mr.
Lyons. He agreed to be the active counsel, and approved of the plan that
a delegation of women should journey to the capital, two hours and a
half by rail, and add the moral support of their presence at the hearing
before the legislative committee.

The expedition was another gratification to Selma--who had become
possessed of her free pass. She felt that in visiting the state-house
and thus taking an active part in the work of legislation she was
beginning to fulfil the larger destiny for which she was qualified. Side
by side with Mrs. Earle at the head of a delegation of twenty Benham
women she marched augustly into the committee chamber. The contending
factions sat on opposite sides of the room. Through its middle ran a
long table occupied by the Committee on Education to which the bill had
been referred. Among the dozen or fifteen persons who appeared in
support of the bill Selma perceived Mrs. Hallett Taylor, whom she had
not seen since her return. She was disappointed to observe that Mrs.
Taylor's clothes, though unostentatious, were in the latest fashion. She
had hoped to find her dowdy or unenlightened, and to be able to look
down on her from the heights of her own New York experience.

The lawyer in charge of the bill presented lucidly and with skill the
merits of his case, calling to the stand four prominent educators from
as many different sections of the State, and several citizens of
well-known character, among them Babcock's former pastor, Rev. Henry
Glynn. He pointed out that the school committee, as at present
constituted, was an unwieldy body of twenty-four members, that it was
regarded as the first round in the ladder of political preferment, and
that the members which composed it were elected not on the ground of
their fitness, but because they were ambitious for political
recognition.

The legislative committee listened politely but coldly to these
statements and to the testimony of the witnesses. It was evident that
they regarded the proposed reform with distrust.

"Do you mean us to understand that the public schools of this State are
not among the best, if not the best, in the world?" asked one member of
the committee, somewhat sternly.

"I recognize the merits of our school system, but I am not blind to its
faults," responded the attorney in charge of the bill. He was a man who
possessed the courage of his convictions, but he was a lawyer of tact,
and he knew that his answer went to the full limit of what he could
safely utter by way of qualification without hopelessly imperilling his
cause.

"Are not our public schools turning out yearly hundreds of boys and
girls who are a growing credit to the soundness of the institutions of
the country?" continued the same inquisitor.

Here was a proposition which opened such a vista of circuitous and
careful speech, were he to attempt to answer it and be true to
conscience without being false to patriotism, that Mr. Hunter was driven
to reply, "I am unable to deny the general accuracy of your statement."

"Then why seek to harass those who are doing such good work by
unfriendly legislation?"

The member plainly felt that he had disposed of the matter by this
triumphant interrogation, for he listened with scant attention to a
repetition of the grounds on which, relief was sought.

Mr. Lyons's method of reply was a surprise to Selma. She had looked for
a fervid vindication of the principle of the people's choice, and an
eloquent, sarcastic setting forth of the evils of the exclusive and
aristocratic spirit. He began by complimenting the members of the
committee on their ability to deal intelligently with the important
question before them, and then proceeded to refer to the sincere but
mistaken zeal of the advocates of the bill, whom he described as people
animated by conscientious motives, but unduly distrustful of the
capacity of the American people. His manner suggested a desire to be at
peace with all the world and was agreeably conciliatory, as though he
deprecated the existence of friction. He said that he would not do the
members of the committee the injustice to suppose that they could
seriously favor the passage of a bill which would deprive the
intelligent average voter of one of his dearest privileges; but that he
desired to put himself on record as thinking it a fortunate
circumstance, on the whole, that the well-intentioned promoters of the
bill had brought this matter to the attention of the legislature, and
had an opportunity to express their views. He believed that the hearing
would be productive of benefit to both parties, in that on the one hand
it would tend to make the voters more careful as to whom they selected
for the important duties of the school board, and on the other
would--he, as a lover of democratic institutions, hoped--serve to
convince the friends of the bill that they had exaggerated the evils of
the situation, and that they were engaged in a false and hopeless
undertaking in seeking to confine by hard and fast lines the spontaneous
yearnings of the American people to control the education of their
children. "We say to these critics," he continued, "some of whom are
enrolled under the solemn name of reformers, that we welcome their zeal
and offer co-operation in a resolute purpose to exercise unswerving
vigilance in the selection of candidates for the high office of
guardians of our public schools. So far as they will join hands with us
in keeping undefiled the traditions of our forefathers, to that extent
we are heartily in accord with them, but when they seek to override
those traditions and to fasten upon this community a method which is
based on a lack of confidence in democratic theories, then I--and
gentlemen, I feel sure that you--are against them."

Lyons sat down, having given everyone in the room, with the exception of
a few discerning spirits on the other side, the impression that he had
intended to be pre-eminently fair, and that he had held out the olive
branch when he would have been justified in using the scourge. The
inclination to make friends, to smooth over seamy situations and to
avoid repellent language in dealing with adversaries, except in
corporation cases before juries and on special occasions when defending
his political convictions, had become a growing tendency with him now
that he was in training for public office. Selma did not quite know what
to make of it at first. She had expected that he would crush their
opponents beneath an avalanche of righteous invective. Instead he took
his seat with an expression of countenance which was no less benignant
than dignified. When the hearing was declared closed, a few minutes
later, he looked in her direction, and in the course of his passage to
where she was sitting stopped to exchange affable greetings with
assemblymen and others who came in his way. At his approach Mrs. Earle
uttered congratulations so comprehensive that Selma felt able to refrain
for the moment from committing herself. "I am glad that you were
pleased," he said. "I think I covered the ground, and no one's feelings
have been hurt." As though he divined what was passing through Selma's
mind, he added in an aside intended only for their ears, "It was not
necessary to use all our powder, for I could tell from the way the
committee acted that they were with us."

"I felt sure they would be," exclaimed Mrs. Earle. "And, as you say, it
is a pleasure that no one's feelings were hurt, and that we can all part
friends."

"Which reminds me," said Lyons, "that I should be glad of an
introduction to Mrs. Taylor as she passes us on her way out. I wish to
assure her personally of my willingness to further her efforts to
improve the quality of the school board."

"That would be nice of you," said Mrs. Earle, "and ought to please and
encourage her, for she will be disappointed, poor thing, and after all I
suppose she means well. There she is now, and I will keep my eye on
her."

"But surely, Mr. Lyons," said Selma, dazed yet interested by this
doctrine of brotherly love, "don't you think our school committee
admirable as it is?"

"A highly efficient body," he answered. "But I should be glad to have
our opponents--mistaken as we believe them to be--appreciate that we no
less than they are zealous to preserve the present high standard. We
must make them recognize that we are reformers and in sympathy with
reform."

"I see," said Selma. "For, of course, we are the real reformers. Convert
them you mean? Be civil to them at least? I understand. Yes, I suppose
there is no use in making enemies of them." She was thinking aloud.
Though ever on her guard to resent false doctrine, she was so sure of
the loyalty of both her companions that she could allow herself to be
interested by this new point of view--a vast improvement on the New York
manner because of its ethical suggestion. She realized that if Mr. Lyons
was certain of the committee, it was right, and at the same time
sensible, not to hurt anyone's feelings unnecessarily--although she felt
a little suspicious because he had asked to be introduced to Mrs.
Taylor. Indeed, the more she thought of this attitude, on the assumption
that the victory was assured, the more it appealed to her conscience and
intelligence; so much so that when Mrs. Earle darted forward to detain
Mrs. Taylor, Selma was reflecting with admiration on his magnanimity.

She observed intently the meeting between Mr. Lyons and Mrs. Taylor. He
was deferential, complimentary, and genial, and he made a suave,
impressive offer of his personal services, in response to which Mrs.
Taylor regarded him with smiling incredulity--a smile which Selma
considered impertinent. How dared she treat his courtly advances with
flippant distrust!

"Are you aware, Mr. Lyons," Mrs. Taylor was saying, "that one of the
present members of the school board is a milkman, and another a
carpenter--both of them persons of very ordinary efficiency from an
educational standpoint? Will you co-operate with us, when their terms
expire next year and they seek re-election, to nominate more suitable
candidates in their stead?"

"I shall be very glad when the time comes to investigate carefully their
qualifications, and if they are proved to be unworthy of the confidence
of the people, to use my influence against them. You may rely on
this--rely on my cordial support, and the support of these ladies," he
added, indicating Mrs. Earle and Selma, with a wave of his hand, "who,
if you will permit me to say so, are no less interested than you in
promoting good government."

"Oh, yes, indeed. We thought we were making an ideal choice in Miss
Luella Bailey," said Mrs. Earle with effusion. "If Mrs. Taylor had seen
more of her, I feel sure she would have admired her, and then our
Institute would not have been dragged into politics."

Mrs. Taylor did not attempt to answer this appeal. Instead she greeted
Selma civilly, and said, "I was sorry to hear that you were against us,
Mrs. Littleton. We were allies once in a good cause, and in spite of Mr.
Lyons's protestations to the contrary, I assure you that this is another
genuine opportunity to improve the existing order of things. At least,"
she added, gayly but firmly, "you must not let Mr. Lyons's predilection
to see everything through rose-colored spectacles prevent you from
looking into the matter on your own account."

"I have done so already," answered Selma, affronted at the suggestion
that she was uninformed, yet restrained from displaying her annoyance by
the sudden inspiration that here was an admirable opportunity to
practise the proselytizing forbearance suggested by Mr. Lyons. The idea
of patronizing Mrs. Taylor from the vantage-ground of infallibility,
tinctured by magnanimous condescension, appealed to her. "I have made a
thorough study of the question, and I never could look at it as you do,
Mrs. Taylor. I sided with you before because I thought you were
right--because you were in favor of giving everyone a chance of
expression. But now I'm on the other side for the same reason--because
you and your friends are disposed to deprive people of that very thing,
and to regard their aspirations and their efforts contemptuously, if I
may say so. That's the mistake we think you make--we who, as Mr. Lyons
has stated, are no less eager than you to maintain the present high
character of everything which concerns our school system. But if you
only would see things in a little different light, both Mrs. Earle and I
would be glad to welcome you as an ally and to co-operate with you."

Selma had not expected to make such a lengthy speech, but as she
proceeded she was spurred by the desire to teach Mrs. Taylor her proper
place, and at the same time to proclaim her own allegiance to the
attitude of optimistic forbearance.

"I knew that was the way they felt," said Lyons, ingratiatingly. "It
would be a genuine pleasure to us all to see this unfortunate difference
of opinion between earnest people obviated."

Mrs. Taylor, as Selma was pleased to note, flushed at her concluding
offer, and she answered, drily, "I fear that we are too far apart in our
ideas to talk of co-operation. If our bill is defeated this year, we
shall have to persevere and trust to the gradual enlightenment of public
sentiment. Good afternoon."

Selma left the State-house in an elated frame of mind. She felt that she
had taken a righteous and patriotic stand, and it pleased her to think
that she was taking an active part in defending the institutions of the
country. She chatted eagerly as she walked through the corridors with
Mr. Lyons, who, portly and imposing, acted as escort to her and Mrs.
Earle, and invited them to luncheon at a hotel restaurant. Excitement
had given her more color than usual, to which her mourning acted as a
foil, and she looked her best. Lyons was proud of being in the company
of such a presentable and spirited appearing woman, and made a point of
stopping two or three members of the legislature and introducing them to
her. When they reached the restaurant he established them at a table
where they could see everybody and be seen, and he ordered scolloped
oysters, chicken-salad, ice-cream, coffee, and some bottles of
sarsaparilla. Both women were in high spirits, and Selma was agreeably
conscious that people were observing them. Before the repast was over a
messenger brought a note to Mr. Lyons, which announced that the
legislative committee had given the petitioners leave to withdraw their
bill, which, in Selma's eyes, justified the management of the affair,
and set the seal of complete success on an already absorbing and
delightful occasion.



CHAPTER IV.


Her mourning and the slow convalescence of Mr. Parsons deprived Selma of
convincing evidence in regard to her social reception in Benham, for
those socially prominent were thus barred from inviting her to their
houses, and her own activities were correspondingly fettered. Indeed,
her circumstances supplied her with an obvious salve for her proper
dignity had she been disposed to let suspicion lie fallow. As it was a
number of people had left cards and sent invitations notwithstanding
they could not be accepted, and she might readily have believed, had she
chosen--and as she professed openly to Mr. Parsons--that everyone had
been uncommonly civil and appreciative.

She found herself, however, in spite of her declared devotion to her
serious duties, noting that the recognition accorded to Mr. Parsons and
herself was not precisely of the character she craved. The
visiting-cards and invitations were from people residing on the River
Drive and in that neighborhood, indeed--but from people like the Flaggs,
for instance, who, having acquired large wealth and erected lordly
dwellings, were eager to dispense good-natured, lavish hospitality
without social experience. Her sensitive ordeal in New York had
quickened her social perceptions, so that whereas at the time of her
departure from Benham as Mrs. Littleton she regarded her present
neighborhood as an integral class, she was now prompt to separate the
sheep from the goats, and to remark that only the goats seemed conscious
of her existence. With the exception of Mrs. Taylor, who had called when
she was out, not one of a certain set, the outward manifestations of
whose stately being were constantly passing her windows, appeared to
take the slightest interest in her. Strictly speaking, Mrs. Taylor was
of this set, yet apart from it. Hers was the exclusive intellectual and
æsthetic set, this the exclusive fashionable set--both alike execrable
and foreign to the traditions of Benham. As Selma had discovered the one
and declared war against it, so she promised herself to confound the
other when the period of her mourning was over, and she was free to
appear again in society. Once more she congratulated herself that she
had come in time to nip in the bud this other off-shoot of aristocratic
tendencies. As yet either set was small in number, and she foresaw that
it would be an easy task to unite in a solid phalanx of
offensive-defensive influence the friendly souls whom these people
treated as outsiders, and purge the society atmosphere of the miasma of
exclusiveness. In connection with the means to this end, when the winter
slipped away and left her feeling that she had been ignored, and that
she was eager to assume a commanding position, she began to take more
than passing thought of the attentions of Mr. Lyons. That he was
interested by her there could be no doubt, for he plainly went out of
his way to seek her society, calling at the house from time to time, and
exercising a useful, nattering superintendence over her lecture course
in the other cities of the State, in each of which he appeared to have
friends on the newspaper press who put agreeable notices in print
concerning her performance. She had returned to Benham believing that
her married life was over; that her heart was in the grave with Wilbur,
and that she would never again part with her independence. The notice
which Mr. Lyons had taken of her from the outset had gratified her, but
though she contrasted his physical energy with Wilbur's lack of vigor,
it had not occurred to her to consider him in the light of a possible
husband. Now that a year had passed since Wilbur's death, she felt
conscious once more, as had happened after her divorce, of the need of a
closer and more individual sympathy than any at her command. Her
relations with Mr. Parsons, to be sure, approximated those of father and
daughter, but his perceptions were much less acute than before his
seizure; he talked little and ceased to take a vital interest in current
affairs. She felt the lack of companionship and, also, of personal
devotion, such personal devotion as was afforded by the strenuous,
ardent allegiance of a man. On the other hand she was firmly resolved
never to allow the current of her own life to be turned away again by
the subordination of her purposes to those of any other person, and she
had believed that this resolution would keep her indifferent to
marriage, in spite of any sensations of loneliness or craving for
masculine idolatry. But as a widow of a year's standing she was now
suddenly interested by the thought that this solid, ambitious,
smooth-talking man might possibly satisfy her natural preference for a
mate without violating her individuality. She began to ask herself if he
were not truly congenial in a sense which no man had ever been to her
before; also, to ask if their aspirations and aims were not so nearly
identical that he would be certain as her husband to be proud of
everything she did and said, and to allow her to work hand in hand with
him for the furtherance of their common purpose. She did not put these
questions to herself until his conduct suggested that he was seeking her
society as a suitor; but having put them, she was pleased to find her
heart throb with the hope of a stimulating and dear discovery.

Certain causes contributed to convince her that this hope rested on a
sure foundation--causes associated with her present life and point of
view. She felt confident first of all of the godliness of Mr. Lyons as
indicated not only by his sober, successful life, and his enthusiastic,
benignant patriotism, but by his active, reverent interest in the
affairs of his church--the Methodist Church--to which Mr. Parsons
belonged, and which Selma had begun to attend since her return to
Benham. It had been her mother's faith, and she had felt a certain
filial glow in approaching it, which had been fanned into pious flame by
the effect of the ministration. The fervent hymns and the opportunities
for bearing testimony at some of the services appealed to her needs and
gave her a sense of oneness with eternal truth, which had hitherto been
lacking from her religious experience. In judging Wilbur she was
disposed to ascribe the defects of his character largely to the coldness
and analyzing sobriety of his creed. She had accompanied him to church
listlessly, and had been bored by the unemotional appeals to conscience
and quiet subjective designations of duty. She preferred to thrill with
the intensity of words which now roundly rated sin, now passionately
called to mind the ransom of the Saviour, and ever kept prominent the
stirring mission of evangelizing ignorant foreign people. It appeared
probable to Selma that, as the wife of one of the leading
church-members, who was the chairman of the local committee charged with
spreading the gospel abroad, her capacity for doing good would be
strengthened, and the spiritual availability of them both be enhanced.

Then, too, Mr. Lyons's political prospects were flattering. The thought
that a marriage with him would put her in a position to control the
social tendencies of Benham was alluring. As the wife of Hon. James O.
Lyons, Member of Congress, she believed that she would be able to look
down on and confound those who had given her the cold shoulder. What
would Flossy say when she heard it? What would Pauline? This was a form
of distinction which would put her beyond the reach of conspiracy and
exclusiveness; for, as the wife of a representative, selected by the
people to guard their interests and make their laws, would not her
social position be unassailable? And apart from these considerations, a
political future seemed to her peculiarly attractive. Was not this the
real opportunity for which she had been waiting? Would she be justified
in giving it up? In what better way could her talents be spent than as
the helpmate and intellectual companion of a public man--a statesman
devoted to the protection and development of American ideas? Her own
individuality need not, would not be repressed. She had seen enough of
Mr. Lyons to feel sure that their views on the great questions of life
were thoroughly in harmony. They held the same religious opinions. Who
could foretell the limit of their joint progress? He was still a young
man--strong, dignified, and patriotic--endowed with qualities which
fitted him for public service. It might well be that a brilliant future
was before him--before them, if she were his wife. If he were to become
prominent in the councils of the nation--Speaker of the
House--Governor--even President, within the bounds of possibility, what
a splendid congenial scope his honors would afford her own versatility!
As day by day she dwelt on these points of recommendation, Selma became
more and more disposed to smile on the aspirations of Mr. Lyons in
regard to herself, and to feel that her life would develop to the best
advantage by a union with him. Until the words asking her to be his wife
were definitely spoken she could not be positive of his intentions, but
his conduct left little room for doubt, and moreover, was marked by a
deferential soberness of purpose which indicated to her that his views
regarding marriage were on a higher plane than those of any man she had
known. He referred frequently to the home as the foundation on which
American civilization rested, and from which its inspiration was largely
derived, and spoke feelingly of the value to a public man of a
stimulating and dignifying fireside. It became his habit to join her
after morning service and to accompany her home, carrying her
hymn-books, and he sent her from time to time, through the post,
quotations which had especially struck his fancy from the speeches he
was collecting for his "Watchwords of Patriotism."

Another six months passed, and at its close Lyons received the expected
nomination for Congress. The election promised to be close and exciting.
Both parties were confident of victory, and were preparing vigorously to
keep their adherents at fever pitch by rallies and torch-light
processions. Although the result of the caucus was not doubtful, it was
understood between Lyons and Selma that he would call at the house that
evening to let her know that he had been successful. She was waiting to
receive him in the library. Mr. Parsons had gone to bed. His condition
was not promising. He had recently suffered another slight attack of
paralysis, which seemed to indicate that he was liable at any time to a
fatal seizure.

Lyons entered smilingly. "So far so good," he exclaimed.

"Then you have won?"

"Oh, yes. As I told you, it was a foregone conclusion. Now the fight
begins."

Selma, who had provided a slight refection, handed him a cup of tea. "I
feel sure that you will be chosen," she said. "See if I am not right.
When is the election?"

"In six weeks. Six weeks from to-morrow."

"Then you will go to Washington to live?"

"Not until the fourth of March."

"I envy you. If I were a man I should prefer success in politics to
anything else."

He was silent for a moment. Then he said, "Will you help me to achieve
success? Will you go with me to Washington as my wife?"

His courtship had been formal and elaborate, but his declaration was
signally simple and to the point. Selma noticed that the cup in his hand
trembled. While she kept her eyes lowered, as women are supposed to do
at such moments, she was wondering whether she loved him as much as she
had loved Wilbur? Not so ardently, but more worthily, she concluded, for
he seemed to her to fulfil her maturer ideal of strong and effective
manhood, and to satisfy alike her self-respect and her physical fancy. A
man of his type would not split hairs, but proceed straight toward the
goal of his ambition without fainting or wavering. Why should she not
satisfy her renewed craving to be yoked to a kindred spirit and
companion who appreciated her true worth?

"I cannot believe," he was saying, "that my words are a surprise to you.
You can scarcely have failed to understand that I admired you extremely.
I have delayed to utter my desire to make you my wife because I did not
dare to cherish too fondly the hope that the love inspired in me could
be reciprocated, and that you would consent to unite your life to mine
and trust your happiness to my keeping. If I may say so, we are no boy
and girl. We understand the solemn significance of marriage; what it
imports and what it demands. Of late I have ventured to dream that the
sympathy in ideas and identity of purpose which exist between us might
be the trustworthy sign of a spiritual bond which we could not afford to
ignore. I feel that without you the joy and power of my life will be
incomplete. With you at my side I shall aspire to great things. You are
to me the embodiment of what is charming and serviceable in woman."

Selma looked up. "I like you very much, Mr. Lyons. You, in your turn,
must have realized that, I think. As you say, we are no boy and girl.
You meant by that, too, that we both have been married before. I have
had two husbands, and I did not believe that I could ever think of
marriage again. I don't wish you to suppose that my last marriage was
not happy. Mr. Littleton was an earnest, talented man, and devoted to
me. Yet I cannot deny that in spite of mutual love our married life was
not a success--a success as a contribution to accomplishment. That
nearly broke my heart, and he--he died from lack of the physical and
mental vigor which would have made so much difference. I am telling you
this because I wish you to realize that if I should consent to comply
with your wishes, it would be because I was convinced that true
accomplishment--the highest accomplishment--would result from the union
of our lives as the result of our riper experience. If I did not
believe, Mr. Lyons, that man and woman as we are--no longer boy and
girl--a more perfect scheme of happiness, a grander conception of the
meaning of life than either of us had entertained was before us, I would
not consider your offer for one moment."

"Yes, yes, I understand," Lyons exclaimed eagerly. "I share your belief
implicitly. It was what I would have said only--"

Despite his facility as an orator, Lyons left this sentence incomplete
in face of the ticklish difficulty of explaining that he had refrained
from suggesting such a hope to a widow who had lost her husband only two
years before. Yet he hastened to bridge over this ellipsis by saying,
"Without such a faith a union between us must fall short of its sweetest
and grandest opportunities."

"It would be a mockery; there would be no excuse for its existence,"
cried Selma impetuously. "I am an idealist, Mr. Lyons," she said
clasping her hands. "I believe devotedly in the mission and power of
love. But I believe that our conception of love changes as we grow. I
welcomed love formerly as an intoxicating, delirious potion, and as such
it was very sweet. You have just told me of your own feelings toward me,
so it is your right to know that lately I have begun to realize that my
association with you has brought peace into my life--peace and religious
faith--essentials of happiness of which I have not known the blessings
since I was a child. You have dedicated yourself to a lofty work; you
have chosen the noble career of a statesman--a statesman zealous to
promote principles in which we both believe. And you ask me to share
with you the labors and the privileges which will result from this
dedication. If I accept your offer, it must be because I know that I
love you--love you in a sense I have not loved before--may the dead
pardon me! If I accept you it will be because I wish to perpetuate that
faith and peace, and because I believe that our joint lives will realize
worthy accomplishment." Selma looked into space with her wrapt gaze,
apparently engaged in an intense mental struggle.

"And you will accept? You do feel that you can return my love? I cannot
tell you how greatly I am stirred and stimulated by what you have said.
It makes me feel that I could never be happy without you." Lyons put
into this speech all his solemnity and all his emotional beneficence of
temperament. He was genuinely moved. His first marriage had been a love
match. His wife--a mere girl--had died within a year; so soon that the
memory of her was a tender but hazy sentiment rather than a formulated
impression of character. By virtue of this memory he had approached
marriage again as one seeking a companion for his fireside, and a
comely, sensible woman to preside over his establishment and promote his
social status, rather than one expecting to be possessed by or to
inspire a dominant passion. Yet he, too, regarded himself distinctly as
an idealist, and he had lent a greedy ear to Selma's suggestion that
mature mutual sympathy and comradeship in establishing convictions and
religious aims were the source of a nobler type of love than that
associated with early matrimony. It increased his admiration for her,
and gave to his courtship, the touch of idealism which--partly owing to
his own modesty as a man no longer in the flush of youth--it had lacked.
He nervously stroked his beard with his thick hand, and gave himself up
to the spell of this vision of blessedness while he eagerly watched
Selma's face and waited for her answer. To combine moral purpose and
love in a pervasive alliance appealed to him magnetically as a religious
man.

Selma, as she faced Lyons, was conscious necessarily of the contrast
between him and her late husband. But she was attuned to regard his
coarser physical fibre as masculine vigor and a protest against
aristocratic delicacy, and to derive comfort and exaltation from it.

"Mr. Lyons," she said, "I will tell you frankly that the circumstances
of married life have hitherto hampered the expression of that which is
in me, and confined the scope of my individuality within narrow and
uncongenial limits. I am not complaining; I have no intention to rake up
the past; but it is proper you should know that I believe myself capable
of larger undertakings than have yet been afforded me, and worthy of
ampler recognition than I have yet received. If I accept you as a
husband, it will be because I feel confident that you will give my life
the opportunity to expand, and that you sympathize with my desire to
express myself adequately and to labor hand in hand, side by side, with
you in the important work of the world."

"That is what I would have you do, Selma. Because you are worthy of it,
and because it is your right."

"On that understanding it seems that we might be very happy."

"I am certain of it. You fill my soul with gladness," he cried, and
seizing her hand he pressed it to his lips and covered it with kisses,
but she withdrew it, saying, "Not yet--not yet. This step represents so
much to me. It means that if I am mistaken in you, my whole life will be
ruined, for the next years should be my best. We must not be too hasty.
There are many things to be thought of. I must consider Mr. Parsons. I
cannot leave him immediately, if at all, for he is very dependent on
me."

"I had thought of that. While Mr. Parsons lives, I realize that your
first duty must be to him."

The reverential gravity of his tone was in excess of the needs of the
occasion, and Selma understood that he intended to imply that Mr.
Parsons would not long need her care. The same thought was in her own
mind, and it had occurred to her in the course of her previous
cogitations in regard to Lyons, that in the event of his death it would
suit her admirably to continue to occupy the house as its real mistress.
She looked grave for a moment in her turn, then with a sudden access of
coyness she murmured, "I do not believe that I am mistaken in you."

"Ah," he cried, and would have folded her in his arms, but she evaded
his onset and said with her dramatic intonation, "The knights of old won
their lady-loves by brilliant deeds. If you are elected a member of
Congress, you may come to claim me."

Reflection served only to convince Selma of the wisdom of her decision
to try matrimony once more. She argued, that though a third marriage
might theoretically seem repugnant if stated as a bald fact, the actual
circumstances in her case not merely exonerated her from a lack of
delicacy, but afforded an exhibition of progress--a gradual evolution in
character. She felt light-hearted and triumphant at the thought of her
impending new importance as the wife of a public man, and she interested
herself exuberantly in the progress of the political campaign. She was
pleased to think that her stipulation had given her lover a new spur to
his ambition, and she was prepared to believe that his victory would be
due to the exhaustive efforts to win which the cruel possibility of
losing her obliged him to make.

This was a campaign era of torch-light processions. The rival factions
expressed their confidence and enthusiasm by parading at night in a
series of battalions armed with torches--some resplendently flaring,
some glittering gayly through colored glass--and bearing transparencies
inscribed with trenchant sentiments. The houses of their adherents along
the route were illuminated from attic to cellar with rows of candles,
and the atmosphere wore a dusky glow of red and green fire. To Selma all
this was entrancing. She revelled in it as an introduction to the more
conspicuous life which she was about to lead. She showed herself a
zealous and enthusiastic partisan, shrouding the house in the darkness
of Erebus on the occasion when the rival procession passed the door, and
imparting to every window the effect of a blaze of light on the
following evening--the night before election--when the Democratic party
made its final appeal to the voters. Standing on a balcony in evening
dress, in company with Mrs. Earle and Miss Luella Bailey, whom she had
invited to view the procession from the River Drive, Selma looked down
on the parade in an ecstatic mood. The torches, the music, the fireworks
and the enthusiasm set her pulses astir and brought her heart into her
mouth in melting appreciation of the sanctity of her party cause and her
own enviable destiny as the wife of an American Congressman. She held in
one hand a flag which she waved from time to time at the conspicuous
features of the procession, and she stationed herself so that the Bengal
lights and other fireworks set off by Mr. Parsons's hired man should
throw her figure into conspicuous relief. The culminating interest of
the, occasion for her was reached when the James O. Lyons Cadets, the
special body of youthful torch-bearers devoted to advertising the merits
of her lover, for whose uniforms and accoutrements he had paid, came in
sight.

They proved to be the most flourishing looking organization in line.
They were preceded by a large, nattily attired drum corps; their ranks
were full, their torches lustrous, and they bore a number of
transparencies setting forth the predominant qualifications of the
candidate for Congress from the second district, the largest of which
presented his portrait superscribed with the sentiment, "A vote for
James O. Lyons is a vote in support of the liberties of the plain
people." On the opposite end of the canvas was the picture of the king
of beasts, with open jaws and bristling mane, with the motto, "Our
Lyons's might will keep our institutions sacred." In the midst of this
glittering escort the candidate himself rode in an open barouche on his
way to the hall where he was to deliver a final speech. He was bowing to
right and left, and constant cheers marked his progress along the
avenue. Selma leaned forward from the balcony to obtain the earliest
sight of her hero. The rolling applause was a new, intoxicating music in
her ears, and filled her soul with transport. She clapped her hands
vehemently; seized a roman-candle, and amid a blaze of fiery sparks
exploded its colored stars in the direction of the approaching carriage.
Then with the flag slanted across her bosom, she stood waiting for his
recognition. It was made solemnly, but with the unequivocal
demonstration of a cavalier or knight of old, for Lyons stood up, and
doffing his hat toward her, made a conspicuous salute. A salvo of
applause suggested to Selma that the multitude had understood that he
was according to her the homage due a lady-love, and that their cheers
were partly meant for her. She put her hand to her bosom with the
gesture of a queen of melodrama, and culling one from a bunch of roses
Lyons had sent her that afternoon threw it from the balcony at the
carriage. The flower fell almost into the lap of her lover, who clutched
it, pressed it to his lips, and doffed his hat again. The episode had
been visible to many, and a hoarse murmur of interested approval crowned
the performance. The glance of the crowds on the sidewalk was turned
upward, and someone proposed three cheers for the lady in the balcony.
They were given. Selma bowed to either side in delighted acknowledgment,
while the torches of the cadets waved tumultuously, and there was a
fresh outburst of colored fires.

"I can't keep the secret any longer," she exclaimed, turning to her two
companions. "I'm engaged to be married to Mr. Lyons."



CHAPTER V.


Lyons was chosen to Congress by a liberal margin. The Congressional
delegation from his State was almost evenly divided between the two
parties as the result of the election, and the majorities in every case
were small. Consequently the more complete victory of Lyons was a
feather in his cap, and materially enhanced his political standing.

The sudden death of Mr. Parsons within a week of the election saved
Selma's conscience from the strain of arranging a harmonious and
equitable separation from him. She had felt that the enlargement of her
sphere of life and the opportunity to serve her country which this
marriage offered were paramount to any other considerations, but she was
duly conscious that Mr. Parsons would miss her sorely, and she was
considering the feasibility of substituting Miss Bailey as his companion
in her place, when fate supplied a different solution. Selma had pledged
her friends to secrecy, so that Mr. Parsons need know nothing until the
plans for his happiness had been perfected, and he died in ignorance of
the interesting matrimonial alliance which had been fostered under his
roof. By the terms of his will Selma was bequeathed the twenty thousand
dollars he had promised her. She and Mr. Lyons, with a third person, to
be selected by them, were appointed trustees of the Free Hospital with
which he had endowed Benham, and Mr. Lyons was nominated as the sole
executor under the will.

Selma's conception that her third betrothal was coincident with
spiritual development, and that she had fought her way through hampering
circumstances to a higher plane of experience, had taken firm hold of
her imagination. She presently confessed to Lyons that she had not
hitherto appreciated the full meaning of the dogma that marriage was a
sacrament. She evinced a disposition to show herself with him at church
gatherings, and to cultivate the acquaintance of his pastor. She felt
that she had finally secured the opportunity to live the sober, simple
life appropriate to those who believed in maintaining American
principles, and in eschewing luxurious and effete foreign innovations;
the sort of life she had always meant to live, and from which she had
been debarred. She had now not only opportunity, but a responsibility.
As the bride of a Congressman, it behooved her both to pursue virtue for
its own sake and for the sake of example. It was incumbent on her to
preserve and promote democratic conditions in signal opposition to
so-called fashionable society, and at the same time to assert her own
proper dignity and the dignity of her constituents by a suitable outward
show.

This last subtlety of reflection convinced Selma that they ought to
occupy the house on the River Drive. Lyons himself expressed some doubts
as to the advisability of this. He admitted that he could afford the
expense, and that it was just such a residence as he desired, but he
suggested that their motives might not be understood, and he questioned
whether it were wise, with the State so close, to give his political
enemies the chance to make unjust accusations.

"Of course you ought to understand about this matter better than I," she
said; "but I have the feeling, James, that your constituents will be
disappointed if we don't show ourselves appreciative of the dignity of
your position. We both agree that we should make Benham our home, and
that it will be preferable if I visit Washington a month or two at a
time during the session rather than for us to set up housekeeping there,
and I can't help believing that the people will be better pleased if
you, as their representative, make that home all which a beautiful home
should be. They will be proud of it, and if they are, you needn't mind
what a few fault-finders say. I have been thinking it over, and it seems
to me that we shall make a mistake to let this house go. It just suits
us. I feel sure that in their hearts the American people like to have
their public men live comfortably. This house is small compared to many
in New York, and I flatter myself that we shall be able to satisfy
everyone that we are rootedly opposed to unseemly extravagance of
living."

Lyons yielded readily to this argument. He had been accustomed to simple
surroundings, but travel and the growth of Benham itself had
demonstrated to him that the ways of the nation in respect to material
possessions and comforts had undergone a marked change since his youth.
He had been brought in contact with this new development in his capacity
of adviser to the magnates of Benham, and he had fallen under the spell
of improved creature comforts. Still, though he cast sheep's eyes at
these flesh pots, he had felt chary, both as a worker for righteousness
and an ardent champion of popular principles, of countenancing them
openly. Yet his original impulse toward marriage had been a desire to
secure an establishment, and now that this result was at hand he found
himself ambitious to put his household on a braver footing, provided
this would do injury neither to his moral scruples nor to his political
sincerity. The problem was but another phase of that presented to him by
his evolution from a jury lawyer, whose hand and voice were against
corporations, to the status of a richly paid chamber adviser to
railroads and banking houses. He was exactly in the frame of mind to
grasp at the euphemism offered by Selma. He was not one to be convinced
without a reason, but his mind eagerly welcomed a suggestion which
justified on a moral ground the proceeding to which they were both
inclined. The idea that the people would prefer to see him as their
representative living in a style consistent with the changes in manners
and customs introduced by national prosperity, affording thereby an
example of correct and elevating stewardship of reasonable wealth, by
way of contrast to vapid society doings, came to him as an illumination
which dissipated his doubts.

The wedding took place about three months after the death of Mr.
Parsons. In her renovated outlook regarding matrimony, Selma included
formal preparations for and some pomp of circumstances at the ceremony.
It suited her pious mood that she was not required again to be married
off-hand, and that she could plight her troth in a decorous fashion,
suitably attired and amid conventional surroundings. Her dress was a
subject of considerable contemplation. She guided her lover's generosity
until it centred on a diamond spray for her hair and two rings set with
handsome precious stones. She did not discourage Miss Luella Bailey from
heralding the approaching nuptials in the press. She became Mrs. Lyons
in a conspicuous and solemn fashion before the gaze of everybody in
Benham whom there was any excuse for asking to the church. After a
collation at the Parsons house, the happy pair started on their
honeymoon in a special car put at their service by one of the railroads
for which the bridegroom was counsel. This feature delighted Selma.
Indeed, everything, from the complimentary embrace of her husband's
pastor to the details of her dress and wedding presents, described with
elaborate good will in the evening newspapers, appeared to her
gratifying and appropriate.

They were absent six weeks, during which the Parsons house was to be
redecorated and embellished within and without according to instructions
given by Selma before her departure. Their trip extended to California
by way of the Yosemite. Selma had never seen the wonders of the far
western scenery, and this appropriate background for their sentiment
also afforded Lyons the opportunity to inspect certain railroad lines in
which he was financially interested. The atmosphere of the gorgeous
snow-clad peaks and impressive chasms served to heighten still further
the intensity of Selma's frame of mind. She managed adroitly on several
occasions to let people know who they were, and it pleased her to
observe the conductor indicating to passengers in the common cars that
they were Congressman Lyons and his wife on their honeymoon. She was
looking forward to Washington, and as she stood in the presence of the
inspiring beauties of nature she was prone to draw herself up in
rehearsal of the dignity which she expected to wear. What were these
mountains and canyons but physical counterparts of the human soul? What
but correlative representatives of grand ideas, of noble lives devoted
to the cause of human liberty? She felt that she was very happy, and she
bore testimony to this by walking arm in arm with her husband, leaning
against his firm, stalwart shoulder. It seemed to her desirable that the
public should know that they were a happy couple and defenders of the
purity of the home. On their way back the train was delayed on
Washington's birthday for several hours by a wash-out, and presently a
deputation made up of passengers and townspeople waited on Lyons and
invited him to deliver an open-air address. He and Selma, when the
committee arrived, were just about to explore the neighborhood, and
Lyons, though ordinarily he would have been glad of such an opportunity,
looked at his wife with an expression which suggested that he would
prefer a walk with her. The eyes of the committee followed his,
appreciating that he had thrown the responsibility of a decision on his
bride. Selma was equal to the occasion. "Of course he will address you,"
she exclaimed. "What more suitable place could there be for offering
homage to the father of our country than this majestic prairie?" She
added, proudly, "And I am glad you should have the opportunity to hear
my husband speak."

Some letters requiring attention were forwarded to Lyons at one of the
cities where they stopped. As they lay on his dressing-table Selma
caught sight of the return address, Williams & Van Horne, printed on the
uppermost envelope. The reminder aroused a host of associations. Flossy
had not been much in her thoughts lately, yet she had not failed to
plume herself occasionally with the reflection that she could afford now
to snap her fingers at her. She had wondered more than once what Flossy
would think when she heard that she was the wife of a Representative.

"Do you know these people personally?" she inquired, holding up the
envelope.

"Yes. They are my--er--financial representatives in New York. I have
considerable dealings with them."

Selma had not up to this time concerned herself as to the details of her
husband's affairs. He had made clear to her that his income from his
profession was large, and she knew that he was interested in a variety
of enterprises. That he should have connections with a firm of New York
brokers was one more proof to her of his common sense and capacity to
take advantage of opportunities.

"Mr. Littleton used to buy stocks through Williams and Van Horne--only a
few. He was not very clever at it, and failed to make the most of the
chances given him to succeed in that way. We knew the Williamses at one
time very well. They lived in the same block with us for several years
after we were married."

"Williams is a capable, driving sort of fellow. Bold, but on the whole
sagacious, I think," answered Lyons, with demure urbanity. It was rather
a shock to him that his wife should learn that he had dealings in the
stock market. He feared lest it might seem to her inconsistent with his
other propensities--his religious convictions and his abhorrence of
corporate rapacity. He preferred to keep such transactions private for
fear they should be misunderstood. At heart he did not altogether
approve of them himself. They were a part of his evolution, and had
developed by degrees until they had become now so interwoven with his
whole financial outlook that he could not escape from them at the moment
if he would. Indeed some of them were giving him anxiety. He had
supposed that the letter in question contained a request for a
remittance to cover depreciation in his account. Instead he had read
with some annoyance a confidential request from Williams that he would
work for a certain bill which, in his capacity as a foe of monopoly, he
had hoped to be able to oppose. It offended his conscience to think that
he might be obliged secretly to befriend a measure against which his
vote must be cast. As has been intimated, he would have preferred that
his business affairs should remain concealed from his wife. Yet her
remarks were unexpectedly and agreeably reassuring. They served to
furnish a fresh indication on her part of intelligent sympathy with the
perplexities which beset the path of an ambitious public man. They
suggested a subtle appreciation of the reasonableness of his behavior,
notwithstanding its apparent failure to tally with his outward
professions.

Selma's reply interrupted this rhapsody.

"I ought to tell you, I suppose, that I quarrelled with Mrs. Williams
before I left New York. Or, rather, she quarrelled with me. She insulted
me in my own house, and I was obliged to order her to leave it."

"Quarrelled? That is a pity. An open break? Open breaks in friendship
are always unfortunate." Lyons looked grieved, and fingered his beard
meditatively.

"I appreciate," said Selma, frankly, "that our falling out will be an
inconvenience in case we should meet in Washington or elsewhere, since
you and Mr. Williams have business interests in common. Of course,
James, I wish to help you in every way I can. I might as well tell you
about it. I think she was jealous of me and fancied I was trying to cut
her out socially. At all events, she insinuated that I was not a lady,
because I would not lower my standards to hers, and adopt the frivolous
habits of her little set. But I have not forgotten, James, your
suggestion that people in public life can accomplish more if they avoid
showing resentment and strive for harmony. I shall be ready to forget
the past if Mrs. Williams will, for my position as your wife puts me
beyond the reach of her criticism. She's a lively little thing in her
way, and her husband seems to understand about investments and how to
get ahead."

They went direct to Washington without stopping at Benham. It was
understood that the new session of Congress was to be very short, and
they were glad of an opportunity to present themselves in an official
capacity at the capital as a conclusion to their honeymoon, before
settling down at home. Selma found a letter from Miss Bailey, containing
the news that Pauline Littleton had accepted the presidency of Wetmore
College, the buildings of which were now practically completed. Selma
gasped as she read this. She had long ago decided that her
sister-in-law's studies were unpractical, and that Pauline was doomed to
teach small classes all her days, a task for which she was doubtless
well fitted. She resented the selection, for, in her opinion, Pauline
lacked the imaginative talent of Wilbur, and yet shared his subjective,
unenthusiastic ways. More than once it had occurred to her that the
presidency of Wetmore was the place of all others for which she herself
was fitted. Indeed, until Lyons had offered himself she had cherished in
her inner consciousness the hope that the course of events might
demonstrate that she was the proper person to direct the energies of
this new medium for the higher education of women. It irritated her to
think that an institution founded by Benham philanthropy, and which
would be a vital influence in the development of Benham womanhood,
should be under the control of one who was hostile to American theories
and methods. Selma felt so strongly on the subject that she thought of
airing her objections in a letter to Mr. Flagg, the donor, but she
concluded to suspend her strictures until her return to Benham. She
sent, however, to Miss Bailey, who was now regularly attached to one of
the Benham newspapers, notes for an article which should deplore the
choice by the trustees of one who was unfamiliar and presumably out of
sympathy with Benham thought and impulse.

Selma's emotions on her arrival in Washington were very different from
those which she had experienced in New York as the bride of Littleton.
Then she had been unprepared for, dazed, and offended by what she saw.
Now, though she mentally assumed that the capital was the parade ground
of American ideas and principles, she felt not merely no surprise at the
august appearance of the wide avenues, but she was eagerly on the
lookout, as they drove from the station to the hotel, for signs of
social development. The aphorism which she had supplied to her husband,
that the American people prefer to have their representatives live
comfortably, dwelt in her thoughts and was a solace to her. Despite her
New York experience, she had the impression that the doors of every
house in Washington would fly open at her approach as the wife of a
Congressman. She did not formulate her anticipations as to her
reception, but she entertained a general expectation that their presence
would be acknowledged as public officials in a notable way. She dressed
herself on the morning after their arrival at the hotel with some
showiness, so as to be prepared for flattering emergencies. She had said
little to her husband on the subject, for she had already discovered
that, though he was ambitious that they should appear well, he was
disposed to leave the management of social concerns to her. His
information had been limited to bidding her come prepared for the
reception to be given at the White House at the reassembling of
Congress. Selma had brought her wedding-dress for this, and was looking
forward to it as a gala occasion.

The hotel was very crowded, and Selma became aware that many of the
guests were the wives and daughters of other Congressmen, who seemed to
be in the same predicament as herself--that is, without anyone to speak
to and waiting in their best clothes for something to happen. Lyons knew
a few of them, and was making acquaintances in the corridors, with some
of whom he exchanged an introduction of wives. As she successively met
these other women, Selma perceived that no one of them was better
dressed than herself, and she reflected with pleasure that they would
doubtless be available allies in her crusade against frivolity and
exclusiveness.

Presently she set out with her husband to survey the sights of the city.
Naturally their first visit was to the Capitol, in the presence of which
Selma clutched his arm in the pride of her patriotism and of her
pleasure that he was to be one of the makers of history within its
splendid precincts. The sight of the stately houses of Congress,
superbly dominated by their imposing dome, made them both walk proudly,
lost, save for occasional vivid phrases of admiration, in the
contemplation of their own possible future. What greater earthly prize
for man than political distinction among a people capable of monuments
like this? What grander arena for a woman eager to demonstrate truth and
promote righteousness? There was, of course, too much to see for any one
visit. They went up to the gallery of the House of Representatives and
looked down on the theatre of Lyons's impending activities. He was to
take his seat on the day after the morrow as one of the minority party,
but a strong, vigorous minority. Selma pictured him standing in the
aisle and uttering ringing words of denunciation against corporate
monopolies and the money power.

"I shall come up here and listen to you often. I shall be able to tell
if you speak loud enough--so that the public can hear you," she said,
glancing at the line of galleries which she saw in her mind's eye
crowded with spectators. "You must make a long speech very soon."

"That is very unlikely indeed. They tell me a new member rarely gets a
chance to be heard," answered Lyons.

"But they will hear you. You have something to say."

Lyons squeezed her hand. Her words nourished the same hope in his own
breast. "I shall take advantage of every opportunity to obtain
recognition, and to give utterance to my opinions."

"Oh yes, I shall expect you to speak. I am counting on that."

On their way down they scanned with interest the statues and portraits
of distinguished statesmen and heroes, and the representations of famous
episodes in American history with which the walls of the landings and
the rotunda are lined.

"Some day you will be here," said Selma. "I wonder who will paint you or
make your bust. I have often thought," she added, wistfully, "that, if I
had given my mind to it, I could have modelled well in clay. Some day
I'll try. It would be interesting, wouldn't it, to have you here in
marble with the inscription underneath, 'Bust of the Honorable James O.
Lyons, sculptured by his wife?'"

Lyons laughed, but he was pleased. "You are making rapid strides, my
dear. I am sure of one thing--if my bust or portrait ever is here, I
shall owe my success largely to your devotion and good sense. I felt
certain of it before, but our honeymoon has proved to me that we were
meant for one another."

"Yes, I think we were. And I like to hear you say I have good sense.
That is what I pride myself on as a wife."

On their return to the hotel Selma was annoyed to find that no one but a
member of her husband's Congressional delegation had called. She had
hoped to find that their presence in Washington was known and
appreciated. It seemed to her, moreover, that they were not treated at
the hotel with the deference she had supposed would be accorded to them.
To be sure, equality was of the essence of American doctrine;
nevertheless she had anticipated that the official representatives of
the people would be made much of, and distinguished from the rest of the
world, if not by direct attention, by being pointed out and looked at
admiringly. Still, as Lyons showed no signs of disappointment, she
forbore to express her own perplexity, which was temporarily relieved by
an invitation from him to drive. The atmosphere was mild enough for an
open carriage, and Selma's appetite for processional effect derived some
crumbs of comfort from the process of showing herself in a barouche by
the side of her husband. They proceeded in an opposite direction from
the Capitol, and after surveying the outside of the White House, drove
along the avenues and circles occupied by private residences. Selma
noticed that these houses, though attractive, were less magnificent and
conspicuous than many of those in New York--more like her own in Benham;
and she pictured as their occupants the families of the public men of
the country--a society of their wives and daughters living worthily,
energetically, and with becoming stateliness, yet at the same time
rebuking by their example frivolity and rampant luxury. She observed
with satisfaction the passage of a number of private carriages, and that
their occupants were stylishly clad. She reflected that, as, the wife of
a Congressman, her place was among them, and she was glad that they
recognized the claims of social development so far as to dress well and
live in comfort. Before starting she had herself fastened a bunch of red
roses at her waist as a contribution to her picturesqueness as a public
woman.

While she was thus absorbed in speculation, not altogether free from
worrying suspicions, in spite of her mental vision as to the occupants
of these private residences, she uttered an ejaculation of surprise as a
jaunty victoria passed by them, and she turned her head in an eager
attempt to ascertain if her surprise and annoyance were well-founded.
The other vehicle was moving rapidly, but a similar curiosity impelled
one of its occupants to look hack also, and the eyes of the two women
met.

"It's she; I thought it was."

"Who, my dear?" said Lyons.

"Flossy Williams--Mrs. Gregory Williams. I wonder," she added, in a
severe tone, "what she is doing here, and how she happens to be
associating with these people. That was a private carriage."

"Williams has a number of friends in Washington, I imagine. I thought it
likely that he would be here. That was another proof of your good sense,
Selma--deciding to let bygones be bygones and to ignore your
disagreement with his wife."

"Yes, I know. I shall treat her civilly. But my heart will be broken,
James, if I find that Washington is like New York."

"In what respect?"

"If I find that the people in these houses lead exclusive, un-American,
godless lives. It would tempt me almost to despair of our country," she
exclaimed, with tragic emphasis.

"I don't understand about social matters, Selma. I must leave those to
you. But," he added, showing that he shrewdly realized the cause of her
anguish better than she did herself, "as soon as we get better
acquainted, I'm sure you will find that we shall get ahead, and that you
will be able to hold your own with anybody, however exclusive."

Selma colored at the unflattering simplicity of his deduction. "I don't
desire to hold my own with people of that sort. I despise them."

"I know. Hold your own, I mean, among people of the right sort by force
of sound ideas and principles. The men and women of to-day," he
continued, with melodious asseveration, "are the grand-children of those
who built the splendid halls we visited this morning as a monument to
our nation's love of truth and righteousness. A few frivolous, worldly
minded spirits are not the people of the United States to whom we look
for our encouragement and support."

"Assuredly," answered Selma, with eagerness. "It is difficult, though,
not to get discouraged at times by the behavior of those who ought to
aid instead of hinder our progress as a nation."

For a moment she was silent in wrapt meditation, then she asked:

"Didn't you expect that more notice would be taken of our arrival?"

"In what way?"

"In some way befitting a member of Congress."

Lyons laughed. "My dear Selma, I am one new Congressman among several
hundred. What did you expect? That the President and his wife would come
and take us to drive?"

"Of course not." She paused a moment, then she said: "I suppose that, as
you are not on the side of the administration, we cannot expect much
notice to be taken of us until you speak in the House. I will try not to
be too ambitious for you, James; but it would be easier to be patient,"
she concluded, with her far-away look, "if I were not beginning to fear
that this city also may be contaminated just as New York is."



CHAPTER VI.


The incidents of the next two days previous to her attendance at the
evening reception at the White House restored Selma's equanimity. She
had the satisfaction of being present at the opening ceremonies of the
House of Representatives, and of beholding her husband take the oath of
office. She was proud of Lyons as she looked down on him from the
gallery standing in the aisle by his allotted seat. He was holding an
improvised reception, for a number of his colleagues showed themselves
desirous to make his acquaintance. She noticed that he appeared already
on familiar terms with some of his fellow-members; that he drew men or
was drawn aside for whispered confidences; that he joked knowingly with
others; and that always as he chatted his large, round, smooth face,
relieved by its chin beard, wore an aspect of bland dignity and shrewd
reserve wisdom. It pleased her to be assisting at the dedication of a
fresh page of national history--a page yet unwritten, but on which she
hoped that her own name would be inscribed sooner or later by those who
should seek to trace the complete causes of her husband's usefulness and
genius.

Another source of satisfaction was the visit paid them the day before at
the hotel by one of the United States Senators from their own State--Mr.
Calkins. The two political parties in their own State were so evenly
divided that one of the Senators in office happened to be a Republican
and his colleague a Democrat. Mr. Calkins belonged to her husband's
party, yet he suggested that they might enjoy a private audience with
the President, with whom, notwithstanding political differences of
opinion, Mr. Calkins was on friendly terms. This was the sort of thing
which Selma aspired to, and the experience did much to lighten her
heart. She enjoyed the distinction of seeing guarded doors open at their
approach, and of finding herself shaking hands with the chief magistrate
of the nation at a special interview. The President was very affable,
and was manifestly aware of Lyons's triumph at the expense of his own
party, and of his consequent political importance. He treated the matter
banteringly, and Selma was pleased at her ability to enter into the
spirit of his persiflage and to reciprocate. In her opinion solemnity
would have been more consistent with his position as the official
representative of the people of the United States, and his jocose
manifestations at a time when serious conversation seemed to be in order
was a disappointment, and tended to confirm her previous distrust of him
as the leader of the opposite party. She had hoped he would broach some
vital topics of political interest, and that she would have the
opportunity to give expression to her own views in regard to public
questions. Nevertheless, as the President saw fit to be humorous, she
was glad that she understood how to meet and answer his bantering
sallies. She felt sure that Lyons, were he ever to occupy this dignified
office, would refrain from ill-timed levity, but she bore in mind also
the policy of conciliation which she had learned from her husband, and
concealed her true impressions. She noticed that both Lyons and Mr.
Calkins forebore to show dissatisfaction, and she reflected that, though
the President's tone was light, there was nothing else in his appearance
or bearing to convict him of sympathy with lack of enthusiasm and with
cynicism. It would have destroyed all the enjoyment of her interview had
she been forced to conclude that a man who did not take himself and his
duties seriously could be elected President of the United States. She
was not willing to believe this; but her suspicions were so far aroused
that she congratulated herself that her political opponents were
responsible for his election. Nevertheless she was delighted by the
distinction of the private audience, and by the episode at its close,
which gave her opportunity to show her individuality. Said the President
gallantly as she was taking leave:

"Will you permit me to congratulate Congressman Lyons on his good
fortune in the affairs of the heart as well as in politics?"

"If you say things like that, Mr. President," interjected Lyons, "you
will turn her head; she will become a Republican, and then where should
I be?"

While she perceived that the President was still inclined to levity, the
compliment pleased Selma. Yet, though she appreciated that her husband
was merely humoring him by his reply, she did not like the suggestion
that any flattery could affect her principles. She shook her head
coquettishly and said:

"James, I'm sure the President thinks too well of American women to
believe that any admiration, however gratifying, would make me lukewarm
in devotion to my party."

This speech appeared to her apposite and called for, and she departed in
high spirits, which were illuminated by the thought that the
administration was not wholly to be trusted.

On the following evening Selma went to the reception at the White House.
The process of arrival was trying to her patience, for they were obliged
to await their turn in the long file of carriages. She could not but
approve of the democratic character of the entertainment, which anyone
who desired to behold and shake hands with the Chief Magistrate was free
to attend. Still, it again crossed her mind that, as an official's wife,
she ought to have been given precedence. Their turn to alight came at
last, and they took their places in the procession of visitors on its
way through the East room to the spot where the President and his wife,
assisted by some of the ladies of the Cabinet, were submitting to the
ordeal of receiving the nation. There was a veritable crush, in which
there was every variety of evening toilette, a display essentially in
keeping with the doctrines which Selma felt that she stood for. She took
occasion to rejoice in Lyons's ear at the realization of her
anticipations in this respect. At the same time she was agreeably
stimulated by the belief that her wedding dress was sumptuous and
stylish, and her appearance striking. Her hair had been dressed as
elaborately as possible; she wore all her jewelry; and she carried a
bouquet of costly roses. Her wish was to regard the function as the
height of social demonstration, and she had spared no pains to make
herself effective. She had esteemed it her duty to do so both as a
Congressman's wife and as a champion of moral and democratic ideas.

The crowd was oppressive, and three times the train of her dress was
stepped on to her discomfiture. Amid the sea of faces she recognized a
few of the people she had seen at the hotel. It struck her that no one
of the women was dressed so elegantly as herself, an observation which
cheered her and yet was not without its thorn. But the music, the
lights, and the variegated movement of the scene kept her senses
absorbed and interfered with introspection, until at last they were
close to the receiving party. Selma fixed her eyes on the President,
expecting recognition. Like her husband, the President possessed a gift
of faces and the faculty of rallying all his energies to the important
task of remembering who people were. An usher asked and announced the
names, but the Chief Magistrate's perceptions were kept hard at work.
His "How do you do, Congressman Lyons? I am very glad to see you here,
Mrs. Lyons," were uttered with a smiling spontaneity, which to his own
soul meant a momentary agreeable relaxation of the nerves of memory,
resembling the easy flourish with which a gymnast engaged in lifting
heavy weights encounters a wooden dumb-bell. But though his eyes and
voice were flattering, Selma had barely completed the little bob of a
courtesy which accompanied her act of shaking hands when she discovered
that the machinery of the national custom was not to halt on their
account, and that she must proceed without being able to renew the half
flirtatious interview of the previous day. She proceeded to courtesy to
the President's wife and to the row of wives of members of the Cabinet
who were assisting. Before she could adequately observe them, she found
herself beyond and a part once more of a heterogeneous crush, the
current of which she aimlessly followed on her husband's arm. She was
suspicious of the device of courtesying. Why had not the President's
wife and the Cabinet ladies shaken hands with her and given her an
opportunity to make their acquaintance? Could it be that the
administration was aping foreign manners and adopting effete and
aristocratic usages?

"What do we do now?" she asked of Lyons as they drifted along.

"I'd like to find Horace Elton and introduce him to you. I caught a
glimpse of him further on just before we reached the President. Horace
knows all the ropes and can tell us who everybody is."

Selma had heard her husband refer to Horace Elton on several occasions
in terms of respectful and somewhat mysterious consideration. She had
gathered in a general way that he was a far reaching and formidable
power in matters political and financial, besides being the president
and active organizer of the energetic corporation known as the
Consumers' Gas Light Company of their own state. As they proceeded she
kept her eyes on the alert for a man described by Lyons as short,
heavily built, and neat looking, with small side whiskers and a
close-mouthed expression. When they were not far from the door of exit
from the East room, some one on the edge of the procession accosted her
husband, who drew her after him in that direction. Selma found herself
in a sort of eddy occupied by half a dozen people engaged in observing
the passing show, and in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Williams.
It was Mr. Williams who had diverted them. He now renewed his
acquaintance with her, exclaiming--"My wife insisted that she had met
you driving with some one she believed to be your husband. I had heard
that Congressman Lyons was on his bridal tour, and now everything is
clear. Flossy, you were right as usual, and it seems that our hearty
congratulations are in order to two old friends."

Williams spoke with his customary contagious confidence. Selma noted
that he was stouter and that his hair was becomingly streaked with gray.
Had not her attention been on the lookout for his wife she might have
noticed that his eye wore a restless, strained expression despite his
august banker's manner and showy gallantry. She did observe that the
moment he had made way for Flossy he turned to Lyons and began to talk
to him in a subdued tone under the guise of watching the procession.

The two women confronted each other with spontaneous forgetfulness of
the past. There was a shade of haughtiness in Selma's greeting. She was
prepared to respect her husband's policy and to ignore the circumstances
under which they had parted, but she wished Flossy to understand that
this was an act of condescension on her part as a Congressman's wife,
whose important social status was beyond question. She was so thoroughly
imbued with this sense of her indisputable superiority that she readily
mistook Flossy's affability for fawning; whereas that young woman's
ingenuous friendliness was the result of a warning sentence from Gregory
when Selma and her husband were seen approaching--"Keep a check on your
tongue, Floss. This statesman with a beard like a goat is likely to have
a political future."

"I felt sure it was you the other day," Flossy said with smiling
sprightliness, "but I had not heard of your marriage to Mr. Lyons."

"We were married at Benham six weeks ago. We are to live in Benham. We
have bought the house there which belonged to Mr. Parsons. We have just
returned from visiting the superb scenery of the Yosemite and the Rocky
Mountains, and it made me prouder than ever of my country. If
Congressman Lyons had not been obliged to be present at the opening of
Congress, we should have spent our honeymoon in Europe."

"Gregory and I passed last summer abroad yachting. We crossed on a
steamer and had our yacht meet us there. Isn't it a jam to-night?"

"There seem to be a great many people. I suppose you came on from New
York on purpose for this reception?"

"Mercy, no. We are staying with friends, and we hadn't intended to come
to-night. But we had been dining out and were dressed, so we thought
we'd drop in and show our patriotism. It's destruction to clothes, and
I'm glad I haven't worn my best."

Selma perceived Flossy's eye making a note of her own elaborate costume,
and the disagreeable suspicion that she was overdressed reasserted
itself. She had already observed that Mrs. Williams's toilette, though
stylish, was comparatively simple. How could one be overdressed on such
an occasion? What more suitable time for an American woman to wear her
choicest apparel than when paying her respects to the President of the
United States? She noticed that Flossy seemed unduly at her ease as
though the importance of the ceremony was lost on her, and that they
group of people with whom Flossy had been talking and who stood a little
apart were obviously indulging in quiet mirth at the expense of some of
those in the procession.

"Are the friends with whom you are staying connected with the
Government?" Selma asked airily.

"Official people? Goodness, no. But I can point out to you who everybody
is, for we have been in Washington frequently during the last three
sessions. Gregory has to run over here on business every now and then,
and I almost always come with him. To-night is the opportunity to see
the queer people in all their glory--the woolly curiosities, as Gregory
calls them. And a sprinkling of the real celebrities too," she added.

Selma's inquiry had been put with a view to satisfy herself that
Flossy's friends were mere civilians. But she was glad of an opportunity
to be enlightened as to the names of her fellow-officials, though she
resented Flossy's flippant tone regarding the character of the
entertainment. While she listened to the breezy, running commentary by
which Flossy proceeded to identify for her benefit the conspicuous
figures in the procession she nursed her offended sensibilities.

"I should suppose," she said, taking advantage of a pause, "that on such
an occasion as this everybody worth knowing would be present."

Flossy gave Selma one of her quick glances. She had not forgotten the
past, nor her discovery of the late Mrs. Littleton's real grievance
against her and the world. Nor did she consider that her husband's
caveat debarred her from the amusement of worrying the wife of the Hon.
James O. Lyons, provided it could be done by means of the truth
ingenuously uttered. She said with a confidential smile--

"The important and the interesting political people have other
opportunities to meet one another--at dinner parties and less
promiscuous entertainments than this, and the Washington people have
other opportunities to meet them. Of course the President is a dear, and
everyone makes a point of attending a public reception once in a while,
but this sort of thing isn't exactly an edifying society event. For
instance, notice the woman in the pomegranate velvet with two diamond
sprays in her hair. That's the wife of Senator Colman--his child wife,
so they call her. She came to Washington six years ago as the wife of a
member of the House from one of the wild and woolly States, and was
notorious then in the hotel corridors on account of her ringletty raven
hair and the profusion of rings she wore. She used to make eyes at the
hotel guests and romp with her husband's friends in the hotel parlors,
which was the theatre of her social activities. Her husband died, and a
year ago she married old Senator Colman, old enough to be her
grandfather, and one of the very rich and influential men in the Senate.
Now she has developed social ambition and is anxious to entertain. They
have hired a large house for the winter and are building a larger one.
As Mrs. Polsen--that was her first husband's name--she was invited
nowhere except to wholesale official functions like this. The wife of a
United States Senator with plenty of money can generally attract a
following; she is somebody. And it happens that people are amused by
Mrs. Cohnan's eccentricities. She still overdresses, and makes eyes, and
she nudges those who sit next her at table, but she is good-natured,
says whatever comes into her head, and has a strong sense of humor. So
she is getting on."

"Getting on among society people?" said Selma drily.

Flossy's eyes twinkled. "Society people is the generic name used for
them in the newspapers. I mean that she is making friends among the
women who live in the quarter where I passed you the other day."

Selma frowned. "It is not necessary, I imagine, to make friends of that
class in order to have influence in Washington,--the best kind of
influence. I can readily believe that people of that sort would interest
most of our public women very little."

"Very likely. I don't think you quite understand me, Mrs. Lyons, or we
are talking at cross purposes. What I was trying to make clear is that
political and social prominence in Washington are by no means
synonimous. Of course everyone connected with the government who
desires to frequent Washington society and is socially available is
received with open arms; but, if people are not socially available, it
by no means follows that they are able to command social recognition
merely because they hold political office,--except perhaps in the case
of wives of the Cabinet, of the Justices of the Supreme Court, or of
rich and influential Senators, where a woman is absolutely bent on
success and takes pains. I refer particularly to the wives, because a
single man, if he is reasonably presentable and ambitious, can go about
more or less, even if he is a little rough, for men are apt to be
scarce. But the line is drawn on the women unless they are--er--really
important and have to be tolerated for official reasons. Now every woman
who is not _persona grata_, as the diplomats say, anywhere else, is apt
to attend the President's reception in all her finery, and that's why I
suggested that this sort of thing isn't exactly an edifying social
event. It's amusing to come here now and then, just as it's amusing to
go to a menagerie. You see what I mean, don't you?" Flossy asked, plying
her feathery fan with blithe nonchalance and looking into her
companion's face with an innocent air.

"I understand perfectly. And who are these people who draw the line?"

"It sometimes happens," continued Flossy abstractedly, without appearing
to hear this inquiry, "that they improve after they've been in
Washington a few years. Take Mrs. Baker, the Secretary of the Interior's
wife, receiving to-night. When her husband came to Washington three
years ago she had the social adaptability of a solemn horse. But she
persevered and learned, and now as a Cabinet lady she unbends, and is no
longer afraid of compromising her dignity by wearing becoming clothes
and smiling occasionally. But you were asking who the people are who
draw the line. The nice people here just as everywhere else; the people
who have been well educated and have fine sensibilities, and who believe
in modesty, and unselfishness and thorough ways of doing things. You
must know the sort of people I mean. Some of them make too much of mere
manners, but as a class they are able to draw the line because they draw
it in favor of distinction of character as opposed to--what shall I call
it?--haphazard custom-made ethics and social deportment."

Flossy spoke with the artless prattle of one seeking to make herself
agreeable to a new-comer by explaining the existing order of things, but
she had chosen her words as she proceeded with special reference to her
listener's case. There was nothing in her manner to suggest that she was
trifling with the feelings of the wife of Hon. James O. Lyons, but to
Selma's sensitive ear there was no doubt that the impertinent and
unpatriotic tirade had been deliberately aimed at her. The closing words
had a disagreeably familiar sound. Save that they fell from seemingly
friendly lips they recalled the ban which Flossy had hurled at her at
the close of their last meeting--the ban which had decided her to
declare unwavering hostility against social exclusiveness. Its veiled
reiteration now made her nerves tingle, but the personal affront stirred
her less than the conclusion, which the whole of Flossy's commentary
suggested, that Washington--Washington the hearth-stone of American
ideals, was contaminated also. Flossy had given her to understand that
the houses which she had assumed to be occupied by members of the
Government were chiefly the residences of people resembling in character
those whom she had disapproved of in New York. Flossy had intimated that
unless a woman were hand in glove with these people and ready to lower
herself to their standards, she must be the wife of a rich Senator to be
tolerated. Flossy had virtually told her that a Congressman's wife was
nobody. Could this be true? The bitterest part of all was that it was
evident Flossy spoke with the assurance of one uttering familiar truths.
Selma felt affronted and bitterly disappointed, but she chose to meet
Mrs. Williams's innocent affability with composure; to let her see that
she disagreed with her, but not to reveal her personal irritation. She
must consider Lyons, whose swift political promotion was necessary for
her plans. It was important that he should become rich, and if his
relations with the firm of Williams & Van Horne tended to that end, no
personal grievance of her own should disturb them. Even Flossy had
conceded that the wives of the highest officials could not be ignored.

"I fear that we look at these matters from too different a standpoint to
discuss them further," she responded, with an effort at smiling ease.
"Evidently you do not appreciate that to the majority of the strong
women of the country whose husbands have been sent to Washington as
members of the Government social interests seem trivial compared with
the great public questions they are required to consider. These women
doubtless feel little inclination for fashionable and--or--frivolous
festivities, and find an occasion like this better suited to their
conception of social dignity."

A reply by Flossy to this speech was prevented by the interruption of
Lyons, who brought up Mr. Horace Elton for introduction to his wife.
Selma knew him at once from his likeness to the description which her
husband had given. He was portly and thick-set, with a large neck, a
strong, unemotional, high-colored face, and closely-shaven, small side
whiskers. He made her a low bow and, after a few moments of
conversation, in the course of which he let fall a complimentary
allusion to her husband's oratorical abilities and gave her to
understand that he considered Lyons's marriage as a wise and enviable
proceeding, he invited her to promenade the room on his arm. Mr. Elton
had a low but clear and dispassionate voice, and a concise utterance.
His remarks gave the impression that he could impart more on any subject
if he chose, and that what he said proceeded from a reserve fund of
special, secret knowledge, a little of which he was willing to confide
to his listener. He enlightened Selma in a few words as to a variety of
the people present, accompanying his identification with a phrase or two
of comprehensive personal detail, which had the savor of being unknown
to the world at large.

"The lady we just passed, Mrs. Lyons, is the wife of the junior Senator
from Nevada. Her husband fell in love with her on the stage of a mining
town theatrical troupe. That tall man, with the profuse wavy hair and
prominent nose, is Congressman Ross of Colorado, the owner of one of the
largest cattle ranches in the Far West. It is said that he has never
smoked, never tasted a glass of liquor, and never gambled in his life."

In the course of these remarks Mr. Elton simply stated his interesting
facts without comment. He avoided censorious or satirical allusions to
the people to whom he called Selma's attention. On the contrary, his
observations suggested sympathetically that he desired to point out to
her the interesting personalities of the capital, and that he regarded
the entertainment as an occasion to behold the strong men and women of
the country in their lustre and dignity. As they passed the lady in
pomegranate velvet, Selma said, in her turn, "That is Mrs. Colman, I
believe. Senator Colman's child wife." She added what was in her
thoughts, "I understand that the society people here have taken her up."

"Yes. She has become a conspicuous figure in Washington. I remember her,
Mrs. Lyons, when she was Addie Farr--before she married Congressman
Polsen of Kentucky. She was a dashing looking girl in those days, with
her black eyes and black ringlets. I remember she had a coltish way of
tossing her head. The story is that when she accepted Polsen another
Kentuckian--a young planter--who was in love with her, drank laudanum.
Now, as you say, she is being taken up socially, and her husband, the
Senator, is very proud of her success. After all, if a woman is
ambitious and has tact, what can she ask better than to be the wife of a
United States Senator?" He paused a moment, then, with a gallant
sidelong glance at his companion, resumed in a concise whisper, which
had the effect of a disclosure, "Prophecies, especially political
prophecies, are dangerous affairs, but it seems to me not improbable
that before many years have passed the wife of Senator Lyons will be
equally prominent--be as conspicuous socially as the wife of Senator
Colman."

Selma blushed, but not wholly with pleasure. Socially conspicuous before
many years? The splendid prophecy, which went beyond the limit of Horace
Elton's usual caution--for he combined the faculty of habitual
discretion with his chatty proclivities--was dimmed for Selma by the
rasping intimation that she was not conspicuous yet. Worse still, his
statement shattered the hope, which Flossy's fluent assertions had
already disturbed, that she was to find in Washington a company of
congenial spirits who would appreciate her at her full value forthwith,
and would join with her and under her leadership in resisting the
encroachments of women of the stamp of Mrs. Williams.

"I am very ambitious for my husband, Mr. Elton, and of course I have
hoped--do hope that some day he will be a Senator. What you said just
now as to the power of his voice to arouse the moral enthusiasm of the
people seemed to be impressively true. I should be glad to be a
Senator's wife, for--for I wish to help him. I wish to demonstrate the
truth of the principles to which both our lives are dedicated. But I
hoped that I might help him now--that my mission might be clear at once.
It seems according to you that a Congressman's wife is not of much
importance; that her hands are tied."

"Practically so, unless--unless she has unusual social facility, and the
right sort of acquaintances. Beauty, wealth and ambition are valuable
aids, but I always am sorry for women who come here without friends,
and--er--the right sort of introduction. At any rate, to answer your
question frankly, a Congressman's wife has her spurs to win just as he
has. If you were to set up house-keeping, here, Mrs. Lyons, I've no
doubt that a woman of your attractions and capabilities would soon make
a niche for herself. You have had social experience, which Addie Farr,
for instance, was without."

"I lived in New York for some years with my husband, Mr. Littleton, so I
have a number of Eastern acquaintances."

"I remember you were talking with Mrs. Gregory Williams when I was
introduced to you. The people with whom she is staying are among the
most fashionable in Washington. What I said had reference to the wife of
the every-day Congressman who comes to Washington expecting recognition.
Not to Mrs. James O. Lyons."

Selma bit her lip. She recognized the death-knell of her cherished
expectations. She was not prepared to acknowledge formally her
discomfiture and her disappointment. But she believed that Mr. Elton,
though a plain man, had comprehensive experience and that he spoke with
shrewd knowledge of the situation. She felt sure that he was not trying
to deceive or humiliate her. It was clear that Washington was
contaminated also.

"I dare say I should get on here well enough after a time, though I
should find difficulty in considering that it was right to give so much
time to merely social matters. But Mr. Lyons and I have already decided
that I can be more use to him at present in Benham. There I feel at
home. I am known, and have my friends, and there I have important
work--literary lectures and the establishment of a large public hospital
under way. If the time comes, as you kindly predict, that my husband is
chosen a United States Senator, I shall be glad to return here and
accept the responsibilities of our position. But I warn you, Mr.
Elton,--I warn the people of Washington," she added with a wave of her
fan, while her eyes sparkled with a stern light "that when I am one of
their leaders, I shall do away with some of the--er--false customs of
the present administration. I shall insist on preserving our American
social traditions inviolate."

Here was the grain of consolation in the case, which she clutched at and
held up before her mind's eye as a new stimulus to her patriotism and
her conscience. Both Mr. Elton and Flossy had indicated that there was a
point at which exclusiveness was compelled to stop in its haughty
disregard of democratic ideals. There were certain women whom the people
who worshipped lack of enthusiasm and made an idol of cynicism were
obliged to heed and recognize. They might be able to ignore the
intelligence and social originality of a Congressman's wife, but they
dared not turn a cold shoulder on the wife of a United States Senator.
And if a woman--if she were to occupy this proud position, what a
satisfaction it would be to assert the power which belonged to it;
assert it in behalf of the cause for which she had suffered so much! Her
disappointment tasted bitterly in her mouth, and she was conscious of
stern revolt; but the new hope had already taken possession of her
fancy, and she hastened to prove it by the ethical standard without
which all hopes were valueless to her. Even now had anyone told her that
the ruling passion of her life was to be wooed and made much of by the
very people she professed to despise, she would have spurned the accuser
as a malicious slanderer. Nor indeed would it have been wholly true.
Mrs. Williams had practically told her this at their last meeting in New
York, and its utterance had convinced her on the contrary of repugnance
to them, and of her desire to be the leader of a social protest against
them. Now here, in Washington of all places, she was confronted by the
bitter suggestion that she was without allies, and that her enemies were
the keepers of the door which led to leadership and power. Despondency
stared her in the face, but a splendid possibility--aye probability was
left. She would not forsake her principles. She would not lower her
flag. She would return to Benham. Washington refused her homage now, but
it should listen to her and bow before her some day as the wife of one
of the real leaders of the State, whom Society did not dare to ignore.



CHAPTER VII.


At the close of the fortnight of her stay in Washington subsequent to
the reception at the White House, Selma found herself in the same frame
of mind as when she parted from Mr. Elton. During this fortnight her
time was spent either in sight seeing or at the hotel. The exercises at
the Capitol were purely formal, preliminary to a speedy adjournment of
Congress. Consequently her husband had no opportunity to distinguish
himself by addressing the house. Of Flossy she saw nothing, though the
two men had several meetings. Apparently both Lyons and Williams were
content with a surface reconciliation between their wives which did not
bar family intercourse. At least her husband made no suggestion that she
should call on Mrs. Williams, and Flossy's cards did not appear. Beyond
making the acquaintance of a few more wives and daughters in the hotel,
who seemed as solitary as herself, Selma received no overtures from her
own sex. She knew no one, and no one sought her out or paid her
attention. She still saw fit to believe that if she were to establish
herself in Washington and devote her energies to rallying these wives
and daughters about her, she might be able to prove that Flossy and Mr.
Elton were mistaken. But she realized that the task would be less simple
than she had anticipated. Besides she yearned to return to Benham, and
take up again the thread of active life there. Benham would vindicate
her, and some day Benham would send her back to Washington to claim
recognition and her rightful place.

Lyons himself was in a cheerful mood and found congenial occupation in
visiting with his wife the many historical objects of interest, and in
chatting in various hotel corridors with the public men of the country,
his associates in Congress. His solicitude in regard to the account
which Williams was carrying for him had been relieved temporarily by an
upward turn in the stock market, and the impending prompt adjournment of
Congress had saved him from the necessity of taking action in regard to
the railroad bill which Williams had solicited him to support. Moreover
Selma had repeated to him Horace Elton's prophecy that it was not
unlikely that some day he would become Senator. To be sure he recognized
that a remark like this uttered to a pretty woman by an astute man of
affairs such as Elton was not to be taken too seriously. There was no
vacancy in the office of Senator from his state, and none was likely to
occur. At the present time, if one should occur, his party in the state
legislature was in a minority. Hence prophecy was obviously a random
proceeding. Nevertheless he was greatly pleased, for, after all, Elton
would scarcely have made the speech had he not been genuinely well
disposed. A senatorship was one of the great prizes of political life,
and one of the noblest positions in the world. It would afford him a
golden opportunity to leave the impress of his convictions on national
legislation, and defend the liberties of the people by force of the
oratorical gifts which he possessed. Elton had referred to these gifts
in complimentary terms. Was it not reasonable to infer that Elton would
be inclined to promote his political fortunes? Such an ally would be
invaluable, for Elton was a growing power in the industrial development
of the section of the country where they both lived. He had continued to
find him friendly in spite of his own antagonism on the public platform
to corporate power. A favorite and conscientious hope in his political
outlook was that he might be able to make capital as well as labor
believe him to be a friend without alienating either; that he might
obtain support at the polls from both factions, and thus be left free
after election to work out for their mutual advantage appropriate
legislation. He had avowed himself unmistakably the champion of popular
principles in order to win the confidence of the common people, but his
policy of reasonable conciliation led him to cast sheep's eyes at vested
interests when he could do so without exposing himself to the charge of
inconsistency. Many of his friends were wealthy men, and his private
ambition was to amass a handsome fortune. That had been the cause of his
speculative ventures in local enterprises which promised large returns,
and in the stock market. Horace Elton was a friend of but three years'
standing; one of the men who had consulted him occasionally in regard to
legal matters since he had become a corporation attorney. He admired
Elton's strong, far-reaching grasp of business affairs, his capacity to
formulate and incubate on plans of magnitude without betraying a sign of
his intentions, and his power to act with lightning despatch and
overwhelming vigor when the moment for the consummation of his purposes
arrived. He also found agreeable Elton's genial, easy-going ways outside
of business hours, which frequently took the form of social
entertainment at which expense seemed to be no consideration and
gastronomic novelties were apt to be presented. Lyons attended one of
these private banquets while in Washington--a dinner party served to a
carefully chosen company of public men, to which newspaper scribes were
unable to penetrate. This same genial, easy-going tendency of Elton's to
make himself acceptable to those with whom he came in contact took the
form of a gift to Mrs. Lyons of a handsome cameo pin which he presented
to her a day or two after their dialogue at the President's reception,
and for which, as he confidentially informed Selma, he had been seeking
a suitable wearer ever since he had picked it up in an out-of-the-way
store in Brussels the previous summer.

On the day of their departure Selma, as she took a last look from the
car window at the Capitol and the Washington Monument, said to her
husband: "This is a beautiful city--worthy in many respects of the
genius of the American people--but I never wish to return to Washington
until you are United States Senator."

"Would you not be satisfied with Justice of the Supreme Court?" asked
Lyons, gayly.

"I should prefer Senator. If you were Senator, you could probably be
appointed to the Supreme Court in case you preferred that place. I am
relying on you, James, to bring me back here some day."

She whispered this in his ear, as they sat with heads close together
looking back at the swiftly receding city. Selma's hands were clasped in
her lap, and she seemed to her lover to have a dreamy air--an air
suggesting poetry and high ethical resolve such as he liked to associate
with her and their scheme of wedded life. It pleased him that his wife
should feel so confident that the future had in store for him this great
prize, and he allowed himself to yield to the pathos of the moment and
whisper in reply:

"I will say this, Selma. My business affairs look more favorable, and,
if nothing unforeseen happens, I do not see why we shouldn't get on
reasonably fast. Nowadays, in order to be a United States Senator
comfortably, it is desirable in the first place to have abundant means."

"Yes."

"We must be patient and God-fearing, and with your help, dear, and your
sympathy, we may live to see what you desire come to pass. Of course, my
ambition is to be Senator, and--and to take you back to Washington as a
Senator's wife."

Selma had not chosen to confide to Lyons in set terms her social
grievance against the capital of her country. But she was glad to
perceive from his last words that he understood she was not satisfied
with the treatment accorded her, and that he also was looking forward to
giving her a position which would enable her to rebuke the ungodly and
presumptuous.

"Thank you, James," she answered. "When that time comes we shall be able
to teach them a number of things. For the present though, I feel that I
can be of best service to you and to the truths which we are living for
by interesting myself in whatever concerns Benham. We believe in Benham,
and Benham seems inclined to believe in us and our ideas."

The ensuing year passed uneventfully. Lyons was able to be at home from
the first of April to the reassembling of Congress in the following
December. He was glad to give himself up to the enjoyment of his
handsome establishment. He resumed the tenor of his professional
practice, feeling that as a sober-minded, married citizen he had become
of more importance to the community, and he was eager to bear witness to
his sense of responsibility. He took a more active part in soliciting
contributions for evangelizing benighted countries, and he consented on
several occasions to deliver an address on "Success in Life" to
struggling young men of Benham and the surrounding towns. His easy flow
of words, his dignity and his sober but friendly mien made him a
favorite with audiences, and constantly broadened his circle of
acquaintance.

Selma, on her side, took up the organization of the Free Hospital
provided by Mr. Parsons. Her husband left the decision of all but legal
and financial questions to her and Miss Luella Bailey, who, at Selma's
request, was made the third member of the board of trustees. She decided
to call in a committee of prominent physicians to formulate a programme
of procedure in matters purely medical; but she reserved a right of
rejection of their conclusions, and she insisted on the recognition of
certain cardinal principles, as she called them. She specified that no
one school of medicine should dictate the policy of the hospital as
regards the treatment of patients. To the young physician whom she
selected to assist her in forming this administrative board she stated,
with stern emotion: "I do not intend that it shall be possible in this
hospital for men and women to be sacrificed simply because doctors are
unwilling to avail themselves of the latest resources of brilliant
individual discernment. I know what it means to see a beloved one die,
who might have been saved had the physician in charge been willing to
try new expedients. The doors of this hospital must be ever open to
rising unconventional talent. There shall be no creeds nor caste of
medicine here."

She also specified that the matron in charge of the hospital should be
Mrs. Earle, whose lack of trained experience was more than
counterbalanced by her maternal, humanitarian spirit, as Selma expressed
it. She felt confident that Mrs. Earle would choose as her assistants
competent and skilful persons, and at the same time that her broad point
of view and sympathetic instincts would not allow her to turn a deaf ear
to aspiring but technically ignorant ability. This selection of Mrs.
Earle was a keen pleasure to Selma. It seemed to her an ideal selection.
Mrs. Earle was no longer young, and was beginning to find the constant
labor of lecture and newspaper work exhausting. This dignified and
important post would provide her with a permanent income, and would
afford her an attractive field for her progressive capabilities.

Selma's choice of young Dr. Ashmun as the head of the medical board was
due to a statement which came to her ears, that he was reviled by some
of the physicians of Benham because he had patented certain discoveries
of his own instead of giving his fellow-practitioners the benefit of his
knowledge. Selma was prompt to detect in this hostility an envious
disposition on the part of the regular physicians to appropriate the
fruits of individual cleverness and to repress youthful revolt against
conventional methods. Dr. Ashmun regarded his selection as the
professional chief of this new institution as a most auspicious
occurrence from the standpoint of his personal fortunes. He was
ambitious, ardent, and keen to attract attention, with an abundant fund
of energy and a nervous, driving manner. He was, besides, good looking
and fluent, and he quickly perceived the drift of Selma's intentions in
regard to the hospital, and accommodated himself to them with
enthusiasm. They afforded him the very opportunity which he most
desired--the chance to assert himself against his critics, and to obtain
public notice. The watchword of liberty and distrust of professional
canons suited his purposes and his mood, and he threw himself eagerly
into the work of carrying out Selma's projects.

As a result of the selection of Dr. Ashmun and of the other members of
the administrative board, who were chosen with a view to their
availability as sympathetic colleagues, letters of protest from several
physicians appeared in the newspapers complaining that the new hospital
was being conducted on unscientific and shallow principles, disapproved
of by the leading men of the profession. Selma was indignant yet
thrilled. She promptly took steps to refute the charge, and explained
that the hostility of these correspondents proceeded from envy and
hide-bound reluctance to adopt new and revolutionizing expedients.
Through the aid of Mrs. Earle and Miss Luella Bailey a double-leaded
column in the Benham _Sentinel_ set forth the merits of the new
departure in medicine, which was cleverly described as the revolt of the
talented young men of the profession from the tyranny of their
conservative elders. Benham became divided in opinion as to the merits
of this controversy, and Selma received a number of anonymous letters
through the post approving her stand in behalf of advanced, independent
thought. Among the physicians who were opposed to her administration of
the hospital she recognized with satisfaction the name of a Dr. Paget,
who, as she happened to know, was Mrs. Hallett Taylor's medical adviser.

Another matter in which Selma became interested was the case of Mrs.
Hamilton. She was a woman who had been born in the neighborhood of
Benham, but had lived for twenty years in England, and had been tried in
England by due process of law for the murder of her husband and
sentenced to imprisonment for life. Some of the people of the state who
had followed the testimony as reported in the American newspapers had
decided that she ought not to have been convicted. Accordingly a
petition setting forth the opinion of her former neighbors that she was
innocent of the charge, and should as an American citizen be released
from custody, was circulated for signature. A public meeting was held
and largely attended, at which it was resolved to send a monster
petition to the British authorities with a request for Mrs. Hamilton's
pardon, and also to ask the government at Washington to intercede on
behalf of the unfortunate sufferer. The statement of the case appealed
vividly to Selma, and at the public meeting, which was attended chiefly
by women, she spoke, and offered the services of her husband to lay the
matter before the President. It was further resolved to obtain the names
of influential persons all over the country in order that the petition
might show that the sentiment that injustice had been done was national
as well as local.

Selma espoused the case with ardor, and busied herself in obtaining
signatures. She called on Miss Flagg and induced her to sign by the
assurance that the verdict was entirely contrary to the evidence. She
then had recourse to her former sister-in-law, conceiving that the
signature of the President of Wetmore College would impress the English.
She and Pauline had already exchanged visits, and Pauline had shown no
umbrage at her marriage. The possibility of being rebuffed on this
occasion did not occur to Selma. She took for granted that Pauline would
be only too glad to give her support to so deserving a petition, and she
considered that she was paying her a compliment in soliciting her name
for insertion among the prominent signers. Pauline listened to her
attentively, then replied:

"I am sorry for the woman, if she is innocent: and if she has been
falsely accused, of course she ought to be released. But what makes you
think she is innocent, Selma?"

"The testimony did not justify her conviction. Every one is of that
opinion."

"Have you read the testimony yourself, Selma?"

"No, Pauline."

"Or your husband?"

"My husband is satisfied from what others have told him, just as I am,
that this poor American woman is languishing in prison as the result of
a cruel miscarriage of justice, and that she never committed the crime
of which she has been found guilty. My husband has had considerable
legal experience."

Pauline's questions were nettling, and Selma intended by her response to
suggest the presumptuousness of her sister-in-law's doubts in the face
of competent authority.

"I realize that your husband ought to understand about such matters, but
may one suppose that the English authorities would deliberately allow an
innocent woman to remain in prison? They must know that the friends of
Mrs. Hamilton believe her innocent. Why should we on this side of the
water meddle simply because she was born an American?"

"Why?" Selma drew herself up proudly. "In the first place I believe--we
believe--that the English are capable of keeping her in prison on a
technicality merely because she is there already. They are worshippers
of legal form and red tape, my husband says. And as to meddling, why is
it not our duty as an earnest and Christian people to remonstrate
against the continued incarceration of a woman born under our flag and
accustomed to American ideas of justice? Meddling? In my opinion, we
should be cowards and derelict in our duty if we did not protest."

Pauline shook her head. "I cannot see it so. It seems to me an
interference which may make us seem ridiculous in the eyes of the
English, as well as offensive to them. I am sorry, Selma, not to be able
to do as you wish."

Selma rose with burning cheeks, but a stately air. "If that is your
decision, I must do without your name. Already we have many signatures,
and shall obtain hundreds more without difficulty. We look at things
differently, Pauline. Our point of view has never been the same.
Ridiculous? I should be proud of the ridicule of people too selfish or
too unenlightened to heed the outcry of aspiring humanity. If we had to
depend on your little set to strike the note of progress, I fear we
should sit with folded hands most of the time."

"I do not know what you mean by my little set," said Pauline with a
smile. "I am too busy with my college duties to belong to any set. I see
my friends occasionally just as you see yours; and as to progress--well,
I fear that you are right in your statement that we shall never look at
things alike. To me progress presupposes in the individual or the
community attaining it a prelude of slow struggle, disheartening doubts,
and modest reverence for previous results--for the accumulated wisdom of
the past."

"I mean by your set the people who think as you do. I understand your
point of view. I should have liked," she added, "to ask you to share
with me the responsibility of directing the policy of the Benham Free
Hospital, had I not known that you would listen to the voice of
conservative authority in preference to that of fearless innovation."

"I certainly should have hesitated long before I overruled the
experience of those who have devoted their lives to conscientious effort
to discover truth."

"That illustrates admirably the difference between us, Pauline. No one
is more eager to aid the discovery of truth than I, but I believe that
truth often is concealed from those who go on, day after day, following
hum-drum routine, however conscientious. I recognized that Dr. Ashmun
was a live man and had fresh ideas, so I chose him as our chief of
staff, notwithstanding the doctors were unfriendly to him. As a result,
my hospital has individuality, and is already a success. That's the sort
of thing I mean. Good-by," she said, putting out her hand. "I don't
expect to convert you, Pauline, to look at things my way, but you must
realize by this time that it is the Benham way."

"Yet the leading physicians of Benham disapprove of your plans for the
management of the hospital," said Pauline firmly.

"But the people of Benham approve of them. I prefer their sanction to
that of a coterie of cautious, unenthusiastic autocrats."

Selma, true to her intentions, did not return to Washington with her
husband when Congress reassembled in December. While she was absorbed
with her philanthropic plans in Benham, Lyons was performing his public
duties; seeking to do the country good service, and at the right moment
to attract attention to himself. The opportunity to make a speech along
the line of his public professions in behalf of labor against corporate
monopoly did not offer itself until late in the session. He improved the
few minutes allowed him to such advantage that he was listened to with
close attention, and was at once recognized as one of the persuasive and
eloquent speakers of the minority. Before Congress adjourned he obtained
another chance to take part in debate, by which he produced an equally
favorable impression. The newspapers of the country referred approvingly
to his cogent gift of statement and dignified style of delivery. Both
the bills against which he spoke were passed by the Republican majority,
but echoes of his words came back from some of their constituents, and
Lyons was referred to as certain to be one of the strong men of the
House if he returned to Congress. He went home at the close of the
session in a contented frame of mind so far as his political prospects
were concerned, but he was not free to enjoy the congratulations
accorded him for the reason that his business ventures were beginning to
give him serious solicitude. The trend of the stock market was again
downward. In expectation of a rise from the previous depression, he had
added to the line of shares which Williams & Van Horne were carrying for
him. A slight rise had come, sufficient to afford him a chance to escape
from the toils of Wall street without loss. But he needed a profit to
rehabilitate his ventures in other directions--his investments in the
enterprises of his own state, which had now for some months appeared
quiescent, if not languishing, from a speculative point of view.
Everything pointed, it was said, to a further advance as soon as
Congress adjourned. So he had waited, and now, although the session was
over, the stock market and financial undertakings of every sort appeared
suddenly to be tottering. He had not been at home a month before prices
of all securities began to shrink inordinately and the business horizon
to grow murky with the clouds of impending disaster. To add to his
worry, Lyons was conscious that he had pursued a fast and loose mental
coarse in regard to the railroad bill in which his broker, Williams, was
interested. He had given Williams to understand that he would try to see
his way to support it; yet in view of his late prominence in Washington,
as a foe of legislation in behalf of moneyed interests, he was more than
ever averse to casting a vote in its favor. The bill had not been
reached before adjournment, a result to which he had secretly
contributed, but it was certain to be called up shortly after Congress
reassembled. It disturbed him to feel that his affairs in New York were
in such shape that Williams could embarrass him financially if he chose.
It disturbed him still more that he appeared to himself to be guilty of
bad faith. His conscience was troubled, and his favorite palliative of
conciliation did not seem applicable to the case.



CHAPTER VIII.


Until this time the course of financial events in Benham since its
evolution from a sleepy country town began had been steadily prosperous.
There had been temporary recessions in prices, transient haltings in the
tendency of new local undertakings to double and quadruple in value. A
few rash individuals, indeed, had been forced to suspend payments and
compound with their creditors. But there had been no real set back to
commercial enthusiasm and speculative gusto. Those who desired to borrow
money for progressive enterprises had found the banks accommodating and
unsuspicious, and to Benham initiative it yet appeared that the
development of the resources of the neighborhood by the unwearying,
masterful energy of the citizens was still in its infancy.

But now, after a few months of inactivity, which holders of speculative
securities had spoken of as another healthy breathing spell, the
tendency of prices had changed. Had not merely halted, but showed a
radical tendency to shrink; even to tumble feverishly. Buyers were
scarce, and the once accommodating banks displayed a heartless
disposition to scrutinize collateral and to ask embarrassing questions
in regard to commercial paper. Rates of interest on loans were
ruthlessly advanced, and additional security demanded. A pall of
dejection hung over Benham. Evil days had come; days the fruit of a long
period of inflation. A dozen leading firms failed and carried down with
them diverse small people. Amid the general distrust and anxiety all
eyes were fixed on Wall street, the so-called money centre of the
country, the Gehenna where this cyclone had first manifested itself. The
newspapers, voicing Benham public opinion, cast vituperation at the
bankers and brokers of Wall street, whose unholy jugglings with fortune
had brought this commercial blight on the community. Wall street had
locked up money; consequently funds were tight in Benham, and the plans
of its honest burghers to promote enterprise and develop the lawful
industries of the country were interrupted. So spoke public opinion,
and, at the same time, hundreds of private letters were being despatched
through the Benham Post Office in response to requests for more margins
on stocks held for the honest burghers by the fraternity of Wall street
gamblers. There was private wailing and gnashing of teeth also, for in
the panic a few of these bankers and brokers had been submerged, and the
collateral of Benham's leading citizens had been swept away.

The panic itself was brief as panics always are, but it left behind it
everywhere a paralyzed community. So far as Benham was concerned, only a
few actually failed, but, in a host of instances, possessors of property
who had thought themselves wealthy a year before found that they were
face to face with the knotty problem of nursing their dwarfed resources
so as to avoid eventual insolvency. Everything had shrunk fifty--often
one hundred--per cent., for the basis of Benham's semi-fabulous
development had been borrowed money. Many of Benham's leading citizens
were down to hard pan, so to speak. Their inchoate enterprises were
being carried by the banks on the smallest margins consistent with the
solvency of those institutions, and clear-headed men knew that months of
recuperation must elapse before speculative properties would show life
again. Benham was consequently gloomy for once in despite of its native
buoyancy. It would have arisen from the ashes of a fire as strenuous as
a young lion. But, with everybody's stocks and merchandise pledged to
the money lenders, enterprise was gripped by the throat. In the pride of
its prosperity Benham had dreamed that it was a law unto itself, and
that even Wall street could not affect its rosy commercial destinies. It
appeared to pious owners of securities almost as though God had deserted
his chosen city of a chosen country.

Lyons was among those upon whom the harrow of this fall in prices and
subsequent hand-to-mouth struggle with the banks pressed with unpleasant
rigor. In business phraseology he was too much extended. Consequently,
as the margins of value of the securities on which he had borrowed
dropped away, he was kept on tenter-hooks as to the future. In case the
process of shrinkage went much further, he would be required to supply
more collateral; and, if the rate of money did not fall, the banks would
refuse to renew his notes as they became due, unless he could furnish
clear evidence of his solvency. He was owing over one hundred and fifty
thousand dollars on paper secured only by the stock and bonds of
brand-new enterprises, which had no market negotiability. From the money
which he had borrowed he had sent, from time to time, to Williams and
Van Horne an aggregate of forty thousand dollars to protect some two
thousand shares of railroad stocks. Williams had especially commended
the shares of the coal-carrying roads to his attention, and the drop in
prices had been uniformly severe in these properties. Instead of being
the possessor of a stable quarter of a million, which he considered to
be the value of his property at the time of his election to Congress,
Lyons suddenly realized that he was on the brink of a serious financial
collapse through which he might lose everything before he could
discharge his liabilities. It seemed cruel to him, for he believed that
all his ventures were sound, and that if he were not forced to sacrifice
his possessions, their future value would attest his sagacity. But at
present the securities of speculative enterprises were practically
worthless as procurers of ready money. The extreme circumstances had
come upon him with startling rapidity, so that he found himself in the
unpleasant predicament of having used for temporary relief some of the
bonds belonging to the Parsons estate which he held as executor. He had
forwarded these to Williams merely as a matter of convenience before he
had become anxious, expecting to be able to replace them with funds
coming to him within thirty days from a piece of real estate for which
he had received an offer. He had held off in the hope of obtaining a
higher price. The following week, when signs of danger were multiplying,
he had found the would-be purchaser unwilling to buy at any price.
Realizing the compromising position in which he had placed himself by
his action, he had cast about feverishly for the means to redeem the
hypothecated securities, but all his resources were taxed of a sudden by
the advent of the panic. It occurred to him to ask Selma to allow
substitution of the twenty thousand dollars, which had been apportioned,
to her as her legacy, for the bonds, but at first he had shrunk from the
mortification of disclosing his condition to her, and now that the
situation had developed, he feared that he might be obliged to borrow
this money from her for the protection of his other interests. It gave
him sore concern that he, a champion of moral ideas, a leading church
member, and a Representative of the Federal Government should be put in
such an equivocal position. Here again there was no opportunity for
conciliation, and dignified urbanity was of no avail. If the condition
of drooping prices and general distrust, a sort of commercial dry-rot,
which had succeeded the panic, continued much longer he would be driven
to the wall unless relief were forthcoming. Nor was it much consolation
that many others were on the verge of failure. Financial insolvency for
him would mean the probable loss of his seat in Congress, and the
serious interruption of his political career. From what source could he
hope for relief? The preparations for the autumn campaign were already
being considered, and there was likelihood of another close contest
between the two political parties. But for the worry occasioned by his
plight, he would have resumed the contest with hopeful ardor,
appreciating that the pecuniary distress of the community would be
likely to work to his advantage. His own nomination was assured; his
re-election appeared probable. But after it what could he expect but the
deluge?

One source of the effectiveness of Horace Elton was that he was wont to
exercise foresight, and make his plans in advance while other men were
slumbering. He had been prepared for the panic because he had been
expecting it for more than a year, and the ship of his financial
fortunes was close reefed to meet the fury of the overdue gale. Also he
was quick to recognize that the wide-spread depreciation of values would
inevitably be followed by a period of business inactivity which would
throw out of employment a large number of wage earners whose ballots as
a consequence would be cast against the political party in power. As far
back as the time when he made the acquaintance of Selma at Washington
and selected her as the wearer of his cameo pin, he had been incubating
on a scheme for the consolidation of the gas companies in the cities and
towns of the state into one large corporation. For this corporation he
required a liberal charter, which the next legislature would be invited
to grant. He expected to be able to procure this franchise from the
legislature, but he judged that the majority in favor of the bill would
not be large enough to pass it over the Governor's veto. Accordingly it
was of the first importance that the Governor should be friendly to the
measure.

This was the year of the Presidential election. Both political parties
were seeking to nominate their strongest candidates for the various
federal and state offices. A promoter of large business schemes was at a
disadvantage in a campaign where party feelings ran high and national
issues were involved, and Elton knew it. He commonly chose an off year
in politics for the consummation of his business deals. But he had
chosen to push his bill this year for the reason that he wished to be in
a position to buy out the sub-companies cheaply. The community was
pressed for ready money, and many men who would be slow in prosperous
times to extract gas shares from their tin boxes and stockings would be
glad to avail themselves of a reasonable cash offer. Elton was a
Republican on national issues. His experience had been that the
Republican Party was fundamentally friendly to corporations, in spite of
occasional pious ejaculations in party platforms to the contrary. He had
a Republican candidate for Governor in mind who would be faithful to his
interests; but this candidate was put aside in the convention in
deference to the sentiment that only a man of first-rate mental and
moral calibre could command the allegiance of independent voters, whose
co-operation seemed essential to party success. The Republican state
convention was held three weeks prior to the date fixed for that of
their opponents. Within twenty-four hours subsequent to the nomination
of Hon. John Patterson as the Republican candidate for Governor, while
the party organs were congratulating the public on his selection, and
the leaders of the party were endeavoring to suppress the murmurs of the
disappointed lower order of politicians who, in metaphorical phrase,
felt that they were sewed up in a sack for another two years by the
choice of this strong citizen, one of the most widely circulated
democratic newspapers announced in large type on its front page that
Hon. James O. Lyons was the only Democrat who could defeat him in the
gubernatorial contest. Behind the ledger sheet of this newspaper--which
was no other than the Benham _Sentinel_--lurked the keen intelligence of
Horace Elton. He knew that the candidate of his own party would never
consent to indicate in advance what his action on the gas bill would be,
and that he would only prejudice his chances of obtaining favorable
action when the time arrived by any attempt to forestall a decision.
This did not suit Horace Elton. He was accustomed to be able to obtain
an inkling before election that legislation in which he was interested
would not encounter a veto. His measures were never dishonest. That is,
he never sought to foist bogus or fraudulent undertakings upon the
community. He was seeking, to be sure, eventual emolument for himself,
but he believed that the franchise which he was anxious to obtain would
result in more progressive and more effectual public service. He had
never before felt obliged to refrain from asking direct or indirect
assurance that his plans would be respected by the Governor. Yet he had
foreseen the possibility of just such an occurrence. The one chance in a
hundred had happened and he was ready for it. He intended to contribute
to the Republican national campaign fund, but he did not feel that the
interests of his State would suffer if he used all the influences at his
command to secure a Governor who would be friendly to his scheme, and
Congressman Lyons appeared to him the most available man for his
purpose.

It had already occurred to Lyons that his nomination as Governor was a
possibility, for the leaders of the party were ostensibly looking about
for a desirable Democrat with whom to confront Patterson, and had shown
an intention to turn a cold shoulder on the ambition of several
aspirants for this honor who might have been encouraged in an ordinary
year as probable victors. He knew that his name was under consideration,
and he had made up his mind that he would accept the nomination if it
were offered to him. He would regret the interruption of his
Congressional career, but he felt that his election as Governor in a
presidential year after a close contest would make him the leader of the
party in the State, and, in case the candidate of his party were chosen
President, would entitle him to important recognition from the new
administration. Moreover, if he became Governor, his financial status
would be strengthened. The banks would be more likely to accommodate one
in such a powerful position, and he might be able to keep his head above
water until better times brought about a return of public confidence and
a recovery in prices. Yet he felt by no means sure that even as Governor
he could escape betraying his financial embarrassment, and his mind was
so oppressed by the predicament in which he found himself that he made
no effort on his own part to cause the party leaders to fix their choice
on him. Nor did he mention the possibility of his selection to Selma.
Mortification and self-reproach had made him for the moment inert as to
his political future, and reluctant to confide his troubles to her.

The clarion declaration of the Benham _Sentinel_ in favor of Lyons
evoked sympathetic echoes over the State, which promptly convinced the
political chieftains that he was the strongest candidate to pit against
Patterson. The enthusiasm caused by the suggestion of his name spread
rapidly, and at the end of a week his nomination at the convention was
regarded as certain.

The championship of the _Sentinel_ was a complete surprise to Selma. She
had assumed that her husband would return to Washington, and that
political promotion for the present was out of the question. When she
saw her husband's features looking out at her from a large cut on the
front page of the morning newspaper, and read the conspicuous heading
which accompanied it--"The _Sentinel_ nominates as Governor the Hon.
James O. Lyons of Benham, the most eloquent orator and most
public-spirited citizen of the State"--her heart gave a bound, and she
eagerly asked herself, "Why not?" That was just what they needed, what
she needed to secure her hold on the social evolution of Benham. As the
wife of the Governor of the State she would be able to ignore the people
who held aloof from her, and introduce the reforms in social behavior on
which her heart was set.

"James, have you seen this?" she asked, eagerly.

Lyons was watching her from across the breakfast table. He had seen it,
and had laid the newspaper within her reach.

"Yes, dear. It is very complimentary, isn't it?"

"But what does it mean? Are you to be Governor? Did you know of it,
James?"

"I knew that my name, with others, had been mentioned by those who were
looking for a candidate whom we can elect. But this nomination of the
_Sentinel_ comes from a clear sky. Would you like to have me Governor,
Selma?"

"Yes, indeed. If the chance is offered you, James, you will surely
accept it. It would please me immensely to see you Governor. We should
not be separated then part of the year, and--and I should be able here
in Benham to help you as your wife ought to help you. I know," she
added, "that you have been looking forward to the next session of
Congress, in the hope of distinguishing yourself, but isn't this a finer
opportunity? Doesn't it open the door to splendid possibilities?"

Lyons nodded. His wife's eager presentation of the case confirmed his
own conclusions. "It is an important decision to make," he said, with
gravity. "If I am not elected, I shall have lost my place in the
Congressional line, and may find difficulty in recovering it later. But
if the party needs me, if the State needs me, I must not think of that.
I cannot help being gratified, encouraged by the suggestion that my
fellow-citizens of my political faith are turning to me as their
standard-bearer at this time when great public issues are involved. If I
can serve God and my country in this way, and at the same time please
you, my wife, what can I ask better?"

He spoke with genuine feeling and reverence, for it was in keeping with
his religious tendencies to recognize in advance the solemn
responsibilities of high office, and to picture himself as the agent of
the heavenly powers. This attitude of mind always found Selma
sympathetic and harmonious. Her eyes kindled with enthusiasm, and she
replied:

"You view the matter as I would have you view it, James. If this trust
is committed to us by Providence, it is our duty to accept it as lovers
of our country and promoters of true progress."

"It would seem so. And in some ways," he said, as though he felt the
impulse to be reasonably frank toward Providence in his acceptance of
the trust, "my election as Governor would be advantageous to my
political and business interests. I have not sought the office," he
added with dignified unction, "but my knowledge of local conditions
leads me to believe that this action of the _Sentinel_ signifies that
certain powerful influences are working in my favor. I shall be able to
tell you more accurately in regard to this before long."

Lyons happened to know that the Benham _Sentinel_ had enlarged its plant
two years previous, and that Horace Elton was still the holder of its
notes for borrowed money. The transaction had passed through his bank,
and in the course of his mental search for reasons to account for the
sudden flat-footed stand of the newspaper, the thought came into his
mind and dwelt there that Elton was at the bottom of it. If so, what was
Elton's reason? Why should Elton, a Republican, desire his nomination?
Surely not to compass his defeat.

In this connection Elton's friendship and the prophecy made to Selma as
to his political future occurred to him and forbade an invidious
supposition. "Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and thou shalt be what thou
art promised!" Lyons left Selma with the conviction that he would find
Elton to be mainly responsible for what had taken place. Shortly after
reaching his office he received a note from him asking for an
appointment. Punctually at twelve o'clock Elton arrived and was shown
into Lyons's private room. Lyons gave orders that he was not to be
disturbed, for he believed that the results of the interview were likely
to have a serious bearing on his career as a statesman.

Both men were of heavy physique, but as they sat facing each other an
observer would have remarked that Elton's visage possessed a clean-cut
compactness of expression despite its rotund contour. His closely
trimmed whiskers, his small, clear, penetrating eyes, and the effect of
neatness conveyed by his personal appearance were so many external
indications of his mental lucidity and precision.

In contrast Lyons's moon-shaped face, emphasized by its smooth-shaven
mobile mouth, below which his almost white chin beard hung pendent,
expressed a curious interplay of emotional sanctity, urbane shrewdness,
and solemn self-importance.

"Governor Lyons, at your service," said Elton, regarding him steadily.

"Do you think so?"

"I know so, if you desire it."

"The nomination, you mean?"

"The election by a comfortable majority."

Lyons breathed hard with satisfaction. "If the people of the State
choose to confide their interests to my custody, I shall not refuse to
serve them."

"So I supposed. You may be wondering, Lyons, why I, a Republican, should
be talking like this. I will tell you. Observation has led me to believe
that the people of this State will elect a Democratic Governor this
year. The hard times will hurt the administration. Consequently, as your
friend and my own friend, I have taken the liberty to indicate to the
managers of your party their strongest man. I am responsible for what
you saw on the front page of the _Sentinel_ this morning. There need not
be much difficulty," he added, significantly, "in securing emphatic
endorsement throughout the State of the _Sentinel's_ preference."

Lyons looked grave. "You must be aware that our views on public
questions--especially those which concern the relations of capital and
labor--are not the same."

"Certainly. I tell you frankly that while, from a humanitarian point of
view, I respect your desire to relieve the inequalities of modern
civilization, as a business man and a man of some property I do not
regard the remedies presented by your party platform as just or
adequate. I recognize that your opinions are hostile to corporate
interests, but I have gathered also that you are disposed to be
reasonable and conciliatory; that you are not inclined to regard all men
and all measures as dangerous, merely because they have means or are
introduced in the name of capital."

"It has always seemed to me that a conciliatory spirit secures the most
definite results for the public," assented Lyons.

"Precisely. See here, Lyons," Elton said, leaning forward across the
table at which they were sitting, "I wish to be entirely frank with you.
You know me well enough to understand that I have not offered you my
support in any philanthropic spirit. I could not have deceived you as to
this had I tried. I am a practical man, and have an axe to grind. I am
urging your election as Governor because I believe you to possess
intelligent capacity to discriminate between what is harmful to the
community and what is due to healthy, individual enterprise--the energy
which is the sap of American citizenship. We capitalists have no fear of
an honest man, provided he has the desire and the ability to protect
legitimate business acumen against the slander of mere demagogues. I
have a bill here," he added, drawing a printed document from his pocket,
"which I am desirous to see passed by the next legislature. It embodies
a charter authorizing the acquisition and merger in one corporation of
all the gas companies of this State, and an extension of corporate
powers so as to cover all forms of municipal lighting. Were your hands
not tied by your prospective election, I should be glad to offer you an
opportunity to become one of the incorporators, for I believe that the
undertaking will be lucrative. That, of course, is out of the question.
Now then, this is a perfectly honest bill. On its face, to be sure, it
secures a valuable franchise for the petitioners, and consequently may
encounter some opposition. But, on the other hand, no one who considers
the matter candidly and closely can fail to recognize that the great
public will secure cheaper gas and more efficient service as the result
of the consolidation. And there is where I felt that I could count on
your intelligence. You would not allow the plea that capitalists were
interested in obtaining a profitable franchise to obscure the more vital
consideration that the community will be the true gainers."

Lyons bowed graciously, and stroked his beard. "What is it you wish me
to do?" he asked.

"To read the bill in the first place; to convince yourself that what I
have told you is true; to satisfy yourself that the measure is
essentially harmless. The bill is not long. Read it now and let me hear
your objections. I have some papers here to look over which will occupy
me a quarter of an hour, if you can spare me the time."

Lyons acquiesced, and proceeded to peruse slowly the document. When he
had finished it he folded it solemnly and returned it to Elton. "It is a
bill framed in the interest of capital, but I cannot say that the public
will be prejudiced by it. On the contrary, I should judge that the price
of gas in our cities and towns would be lowered as a consequence of the
reduction in running expenses caused by the projected consolidation.
What is it that you wish me to do?"

"Agree to sign the bill as it now stands if it passes the legislature."

Lyons rested his head on his hand and his mouth moved tremulously. "If I
am elected governor," he said, "I wish to serve the people honestly and
fearlessly."

"I am sure of it. I ask you to point out to me in what manner this bill
trenches upon the rights of the people. You yourself have noted the
crucial consequence: It will lower the price of gas. If at the same time
I am benefited financially, why should I not reap the reasonable reward
of my foresight?"

"I will sign the bill, Elton, if it comes to me for signature. I may be
criticised at first, but the improved public service and reduction of
the gas bills will be my justification, and show that I have not been
unmindful of the interests of the great public whose burdens my party is
seeking to lighten."

"I shall count on you, then," said Elton, after a pause. "The failure of
the bill at the last stage when I was expecting its passage might affect
my affairs seriously."

"If the legislature does its part, I will do mine," responded Lyons,
augustly. "I will sign the bill if it comes to me in the present form."

"I thank you, Governor."

Lyons looked confused but happy at the appellation.

"By the way," said Elton, after he had returned the papers to his
pocket, "these are trying times for men with financial obligations. It
is my custom to be frank and not to mince matters where important
interests are concerned. A candidate for office in this campaign will
need the use of all his faculties if he is to be successful. I should be
very sorry for the sake of my bill to allow your mind to be distracted
by solicitude in regard to your private affairs. Some of the best and
most prudent of our business men are pressed to-day for ready money. I
am in a position to give you temporary assistance if you require it. In
justice to my interests you must not let delicacy stand in the way of
your accepting my offer."

Lyons's bosom swelled with the tide of returning happiness. He had
scarcely been able to believe his ears. Yet here was a definite,
spontaneous proposition to remove the incubus which weighed upon his
soul. Here was an opportunity to redeem the bonds of the Parsons estate
and to repair his damaged self-respect. It seemed to him as though the
clouds of adversity which had encompassed him had suddenly been swept
away, and that Providence was smiling down at him as her approved and
favorite son. His emotion choked his speech. His lip trembled and his
eyes looked as though they would fill with tears. After a brief pause he
articulated that he was somewhat pressed for ready money. Some
explanation of his affairs followed, the upshot of which was that Elton
agreed to indorse Lyons's promissory notes held by the banks to the
amount of $60,000, and to accept as collateral for a personal loan of
$40,000 certain securities of new local enterprises which had no present
marketable value. By this arrangement his property was amply protected
from sacrifice; he would be able to adjust his speculative account in
New York; and he could await with a tranquil soul the return of
commercial confidence. Lyons's heart was overflowing with satisfaction.
He pressed Elton's hand and endeavored to express his gratitude with
appropriate grandiloquence. But Elton disclaimed the obligation,
asserting that he had acted merely from self-interest to make the
election of his candidate more certain.

The loan of $40,000 was completed within forty-eight hours, and before
the end of another week Lyons had rescued the bonds of the Parsons
estate from pawn, and disposed of his line of stocks carried by Williams
& Van Horne. They were sold at a considerable loss, but he made up his
mind to free his soul for the time being from the toils and torment of
speculation and to nurse his dwarfed resources behind the bulwark of
Elton's relief fund until the financial situation cleared. He felt as
though he had grown ten years younger, and without confiding to Selma
the details of these transactions he informed her ecstatically that,
owing to certain important developments, due partly to the friendliness
of Horace Elton, the outlook for their future advancement had never been
so bright. When a month later he was nominated as Governor he threw
himself into the contest with the convincing ardor of sincere,
untrammelled faith in the reforms he was advocating. His speeches
reflected complete concentration of his powers on the issues of the
campaign and evoked enthusiasm throughout the State by their eloquent
arraignment of corporate rapacity at the expense of the sovereign
people. In several of his most telling addresses he accused the national
administration of pandering to the un-American gamblers who bought and
sold stocks in Wall street.



CHAPTER IX.


Lyons was chosen Governor by a large majority, as Elton had predicted.
The Republican Party was worsted at the polls and driven out of power
both at Washington and in the State. Lyons ran ahead of his ticket,
receiving more votes than the presidential electors. The campaign was
full of incidents grateful to Selma's self esteem. Chief among these was
the conspicuous allusions accorded her by the newspapers. The campaign
itself was a fervid repetition of the stirring scenes of two years
previous. Once more torch-light processions in vociferous serried
columns attested the intensity of party spirit. Selma felt herself an
adept through her former experience, and she lost no opportunity to show
herself in public and bear witness to her devotion to her husband's
cause. It pleased her to think that the people recognized her when she
appeared on the balcony or reviewing stand, and that her presence evoked
an increase of enthusiasm.

But the newspaper publicity was even more satisfying, for it centred
attention unequivocally on her. Columns of descriptive matter relative
to her husband's personality began to appear as soon as it became
obvious that he was to be Governor. These articles aimed to be
exhaustive in their character, covering the entire scope of his past
life, disclosing pitiless details in regard to his habits, tastes, and
private concerns. Nothing which could be discovered or ferreted out was
omitted; and most of these biographies were illuminated by a variety of
more or less hideous cuts showing, for example, his excellency as he
looked as a school boy, his excellency as a fledgling attorney, the
humble home where his excellency was born, and his excellency's present
stately but hospitable residence on Benham's River Drive. Almost every
newspaper in the State took its turn at contributing something which it
conceived to be edifying to this reportorial budget. And after the
Governor, came the turn of the Governor's lady, as she was called.

Selma liked best the articles devoted exclusively to herself; where she
appeared as the special feature of the newspaper issue, not merely as an
adjunct to her husband. But she liked them all, and she was most
benignant in her reception of the several newspaper scribes, principally
of her own sex, who sought an interview for the sake of copy. She
withheld nothing in regard to her person, talents, household, or tastes
which would in her opinion be effective in print. She had a photograph
of herself taken in simple, domestic matronly garb to supplement those
which she already possessed, one of which revealed the magnificence of
the attire she wore at the President's Reception; another portrayed
Littleton's earnest bride, and still a fourth disclosed her as the
wistful, aspiring school-mistress on the threshold of womanhood. These,
and the facts appropriate to them, she meted out to her biographers from
time to time, lubricating her amiable confidences with the assertion
that both she and her husband felt that the people were entitled to be
made familiar with the lives of their public representatives. As the
result of her gracious behavior, her willingness to supply interesting
details concerning herself, and her flattering tendency to become
intimate on the spot with the reporters who visited her, the newspaper
articles in most cases were in keeping with Selma's prepossessions.
Those which pleased her most emphasized in the first place her
intellectual gifts and literary talents, intimating delicately that she
had refused brilliant offers for usefulness with her pen and on the
lecture platform in order to become the wife of Congressman Lyons, to
whom her counsel and high ideals of public service were a constant
stimulus. Emphasized in the second place her husband's and her own pious
tastes, and strong religious convictions, to which their constant church
attendance and the simple sanctity of their American home bore
testimony. Emphasized in the third place--reproducing ordinarily a
sketch and cut of her drawing-room--her great social gifts and graces,
which had made her a leader of society in the best sense of the word
both in Benham and in New York. A few of the articles stated in
judicious terms that she had been twice a widow. Only one of them set
this forth in conspicuous and opprobrious terms: "Her Third Husband! Our
Chief Magistrate's Wife's Many Marriages!" Such was the unsympathetic,
alliterative heading of the malicious statement which appeared in an
opposition organ. It did no more than recall the fact that she had
obtained a divorce from her first husband, who had in his despair taken
to drink, and intimate that her second husband had not been altogether
happy. Selma wept when she read the article. She felt that it was cruel
and uncalled for; that it told only half the truth and traduced her
before the American people. She chose to conceive that it had been
inspired by Pauline and Mrs. Hallett Taylor, neither of whom had sent
her a word of congratulation on her promotion to be the Governor's wife.
Who but Pauline knew that her marriage with Littleton had not been
completely harmonious? Who but Mrs. Taylor or one of her set would have
the malice to insinuate that she had been merciless to Babcock? This was
one libel in a long series of complimentary productions. The
representation of the family group was made complete by occasional
references to the Governor elect's mother--"Mother Lyons, the venerable
parent of our chief magistrate." Altogether Selma felt that the picture
presented to the public was a truthful and inspiring record of pious and
enterprising American life, which showed to the community that its
choice of a Governor had been wise and was merited.

Close upon the election and these eulogistic biographies came the
inauguration, with Lyons's eloquent address. Selma, of course, had
special privileges--a reserved gallery in the State House, to which she
issued cards of admission to friends of her own selection. Occupying in
festal attire the centre of this conspicuous group, she felt that she
was the cynosure of every eye. She perceived that she was constantly
pointed out as the second personage of the occasion. To the few
legislators on the floor whom she already knew she took pains to bow
from her seat with gracious cordiality, intending from the outset to aid
her husband by captivating his friends and conciliating the leaders of
the opposition party. On her way to and from the gallery she was joined
by several members, to each of whom she tried to convey subtly the
impression that she purposed to take an earnest interest in legislative
affairs, and that her husband would be apt to consult her in regard to
close questions. On the morning after the inauguration she had the
satisfaction of seeing her own portrait side by side with that of her
husband on the front page of two newspapers, a flattering indication, as
she believed, that the press already recognized her value both as a
helpmate to him and an ornament to the State. She took up her life as
the Governor's lady feeling that her talents and eagerness to do good
had finally prevailed and that true happiness at last was in store for
her. She was satisfied with her husband and recognized his righteous
purpose and capacity as a statesman, but she believed secretly that his
rapid success was due in a large measure to her genius. Her prompting
had inspired him to make a notable speech in his first Congress. Her
charms and clever conversation had magnetized Mr. Elton so that he had
seen fit to nominate him for Governor. A fresh impulse to her
self-congratulation that virtue and ability were reaping their reward
was given a few weeks later by the announcement which Lyons read from
the morning newspaper that the firm of Williams & Van Horne had failed
disastrously. The circumstances attending their down-fall were
sensational. It appeared that Van Horne, the office partner, who managed
the finances, had shot himself as the culmination of a series of
fraudulent hypothecations of securities and misrepresentations to which
it was claimed that Williams was not a party. The firm had been
hopelessly insolvent for months, and had been forced to the wall at last
by a futile effort on the part of Van Horne to redeem the situation by a
final speculation on a large scale. It had failed owing to the
continuation of the state of dry rot in the stock market, and utter ruin
followed.

The regret which Lyons entertained as he read aloud the tragic story was
overshadowed in his mind by his own thankfulness that he had redeemed
the bonds and settled his account with them before the crash came. He
was so absorbed by his own emotions that he failed to note the
triumphant tone of his wife's ejaculation of amazement. "Failed!
Williams & Van Horne failed! Oh, how did it happen? I always felt sure
that they would fail sooner or later."

Selma sat with tightly folded hands listening to the exciting narrative,
which Lyons read for her edification with the urbanely mournful emphasis
of one who has had a narrow escape. He stopped in the course of it to
relieve any solicitude which she might be feeling in regard to his
dealings with the firm, by the assertion that he had only two months
previous closed out his account owing to the conviction that prudent
investors were getting under cover. This assurance gave the episode a
still more providential aspect in Selma's eyes. In the first flush of
her gratitude that Flossy had been superbly rebuked for her frivolous
existence, she had forgotten that they were her husband's brokers.
Moreover the lack of perturbation in his manner was not calculated to
inspire alarm. But the news that Lyons had been shrewd enough to escape
at the twelfth hour without a dollar's loss heightened the justice of
the situation. She listened with throbbing pulses to the particulars.
She could scarcely credit her senses that her irrepressible and
light-hearted enemy had been confounded at last--confronted with
bankruptcy and probable disgrace. She interrupted the reading to express
her scepticism regarding the claim that Williams had no knowledge of the
frauds.

"How could he be ignorant? He must have known. He must have bribed the
reporters to put that in so as to arouse the sympathy of some of their
fashionable friends. Van Horne is dead, and the lips of the dead are
sealed."

Selma spoke with the confidence born of bitterness. She was pleased with
her acumen in discerning the true inwardness of the case. Her husband
nodded with mournful acquiescence. "It would seem," he said, "as if he
must have had an inkling, at least, of what was going on."

"Of course he had. Gregory Williams, with all his faults, was a
wide-awake man. I always said that."

Lyons completed the reading and murmured with a sigh, which was half
pity, half grateful acknowledgment of his own good fortune--"It's a bad
piece of business. I'm glad I had the sense to act promptly."

Selma was ruminating. Her steel bright eyes shone with exultation. Her
sense of righteousness was gratified and temporarily appeased. "They'll
have to sell their house, of course, and give up their horses and
steam-yacht? I don't see why it doesn't mean that Flossy and her husband
must come down off their pedestal and begin over again? It follows,
doesn't it, that the heartless set into which they have wormed their way
will drop them like hot coals?"

All these remarks were put by Selma in the slightly interrogative form,
as though she were courting any argument to the contrary which could be
adduced in order to knock it in the head. But Lyons saw no reason to
differ from her verdict. "It means necessarily great mortification for
them and a curtailment of their present mode of life," he said. "I am
sorry for them."

"Sorry? Of course, James, it is distressing to hear that misfortune has
befallen any person of one's acquaintance, and so far as Gregory
Williams himself is concerned I have no wish to see him punished simply
because he has been worldly and vainglorious. You thought him able in a
business way, and liked to meet him. But as for her, Flossy, his wife,"
Selma continued, with a gasp, "it would be sheer hypocrisy for me to
assert that I am sorry for her. I should deem myself unworthy of being
considered an earnest-minded American woman if I did not maintain that
this disgrace which has befallen them is the logical and legitimate
consequence of their godless lives--especially of her frivolity and
presumptuous indifference to spiritual influences. That woman, James, is
utterly hostile to the things of the spirit. You have no conception--I
have never told you, because he was your friend, and I was willing to
let bygones be bygones on the surface on your account--you have no
conception of the cross her behavior became to me in New York. From
almost the first moment we met I saw that we were far apart as the poles
in our views of the responsibilities of life. She sneered at everything
which you and I reverence, and she set her face against true progress
and the spread of American principles. She claimed to be my friend, and
to sympathize with my zeal for social truth, yet all the time she was
toadying secretly the people whose luxurious exclusiveness made me
tremble sometimes for the future of our country. She and her husband
were prosperous, and everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. It
may sound irreverent, James, but there was a time during my life in New
York when I was discouraged; when it seemed as though heaven were
mocking me and my husband in our homely struggle against the forces of
evil, and bestowing all its favors on a woman whose example was a menace
to American womanhood! Sorry? Why should I be sorry to see justice
triumph and shallow iniquity rebuked? I would give Florence Williams
money if she is in want, but I am thankful, very thankful, that her
heartless vanity has found its proper reward."

Lyons fingered his beard. "I didn't know she was as bad as that, Selma.
Now that they have come to grief, we are not likely to be brought in
contact with them, and in all probability they will pass out of our
lives. Williams was smart and entertaining, but I never liked his taking
advantage of the circumstances of my having an account in his office to
urge me to support a measure at variance with my political convictions."

"Precisely. The trouble with them both, James, is that they have no
conscience; and it is eminently just they should be made to realize that
people who lack conscience cannot prosper in this country in the long
run. 'They have loosed the awful lightnings of his terrible swift
sword.'"

"I say 'amen' to that assuredly, Selma," Lyons answered. His
predilection to palliate equivocal circumstances was never proof against
clear, evidence of moral delinquency. When his religious scruples were
finally offended, he was grave and unrelenting.

The downfall of the Williamses continued to be a sweet solace and source
of encouragement to Selma. It made her, when taken in conjunction with
her own recent progress, feel that the whirligig of time was working in
her behalf after all; and that if she persevered, not merely Flossy, but
all those who worshipped mammon, and consequently failed to recognize
her talents, would be made to bite the dust. At the moment these enemies
seemed to have infested Benham. Numerically speaking, they were
unimportant, but they had established an irritating, irregular skirmish
line, one end of which occupied Wetmore College, another held secret
midnight meetings at Mrs. Hallett Taylor's. Rumors of various
undertakings, educational, semi-political, artistic, or philanthropic,
agitated or directed by this fringe of society, came to her ears from
time to time, but she heard them as an outsider. When she became the
Governor's wife she had said to herself that now these aristocrats would
be compelled to admit her to their counsels. But she found, to her
annoyance, that the election made no difference. Neither Pauline nor
Mrs. Taylor nor any of the coterie had asked her to join them, and she
was unpleasantly conscious that there were people on the River Drive who
showed no more desire to make her acquaintance than when she had been
Mrs. Lewis Babcock. What did this mean? It meant simply--she began to
argue--that she must hold fast to her faith and bide her time. That if
she and her friends kept a bold front and resisted the encroachments of
this pernicious spirit, Providence would interfere presently and
confound these enemies of social truth no less obviously than it had
already overwhelmed Mrs. Gregory Williams. As the wife of the Governor,
she was clearly in a position to maintain this bold front effectively.
Every mail brought to her requests for her support, and the sanction of
her signature to social or charitable enterprises. Her hospital was
flourishing along the lines of the policy which she had indicated, and
was feeling the advantage of her political prosperity. She was able to
give the petition in behalf of Mrs. Hamilton, which contained now
twenty-five thousand signatures, fresh value and solemnity by means of
an autograph letter from the Governor's wife, countersigned by the
Governor. This, with the bulky list of petitioners, she addressed and
despatched directly to Queen Victoria. Her presence was in constant
demand at all sorts of functions, at many of which she had the
opportunity to make a few remarks; to express the welcome of the State,
or to utter words of sympathy and encouragement to those assembled. In
the second month of her husband's administration, she had the
satisfaction of greeting, in her double capacity as newly-elected
President of the Benham Institute and wife of the Governor, the
Federation of Women's Clubs of the United States, on the occasion of its
annual meeting at Benham. This federation was the incorporated fruit of
the Congress of Women's Clubs, which Selma had attended as a delegate
just previous to her divorce from Babcock, and she could not refrain
from some exultation at the progress she had made since then as she sat
wielding the gavel over the body of women delegates from every State in
the Union. The meeting lasted three days. Literary exercises alternated
with excursions to points of interest in the neighborhood, at all of
which she was in authority, and the celebration was brought to a
brilliant close by a banquet, to which men were invited. At this Selma
acted as toastmaster, introducing the speakers of the occasion, which
included her own husband. Lyons made a graceful allusion to her
stimulating influence as a helpmate and her executive capacity, which
elicited loud applause. Succeeding this meeting of the Federation of
Women's Clubs came a series of semi-public festivities under the
patronage of women--philanthropic, literary or social in character--for
the fever to perpetuate in club form every congregation, of free-born
citizens, except on election day, had seized Benham in common with the
other cities of the country in its grasp, to each of which the
Governor's wife was invited as the principal guest of honor. Selma thus
found a dozen opportunities to exhibit herself to a large audience and
testify to her faith in democratic institutions.

On the 22d of February, Washington's birthday, she held a reception at
their house on River Drive, for which cards had been issued a fortnight
previous. She pathetically explained to the reporters that, had the
dimensions and resources of her establishment permitted, she and the
Governor would simply have announced themselves at home to the community
at large; that they would have preferred this, but of course it would
never do. The people would not be pleased to see a rabble confound the
hospitality of the chief magistrate and his wife. The people demanded
proper dignity from their representatives in office. The list of
invitations which Selma sent out was, however, comprehensive. She aimed
to invite everyone of social, public, commercial or political
importance. A full band was in attendance, and a liberal collation was
served. Selma confided to some of her guests, who, she thought, might
criticise the absence of wine, that she had felt obliged, out of
consideration for her husband's political prospects, to avoid wounding
the feelings of total abstainers. The entertainment lasted from four to
seven, and the three hours of hand-shaking provided a delicious
experience to the hostess. She gloried in the consciousness that this
crush of citizens, representing the leaders of the community in the
widest sense, had been assembled by her social gift, and that they had
come to offer their admiring homage to the clever wife of their
Governor. It gratified her to think that Pauline and Mrs. Taylor and the
people of that class, to all of whom she had sent cards, should behold
her as the first lady of the State, and mistress of a beautiful home,
dispensing hospitality on broad, democratic lines to an admiring
constituency. When Mr. Horace Elton approached, Selma perpetrated a
little device which she had planned. As they were in the act of shaking
hands a very handsome rose fell--seemingly by chance--from the bouquet
which she carried. He picked it up and tendered it to her, but Selma
made him keep it, adding in a lower tone, "It is your due for the
gallant friendship you have shown me and my husband." She felt as though
she were a queen bestowing a guerdon on a favorite minister, and yet a
woman rewarding in a woman's way an admirer's devotion. She meant Elton
to appreciate that she understood that his interest in Lyons was largely
due to his partiality for her. It seemed to her that she could recognize
to this extent his chivalrous conduct without smirching her blameless
record as an American housewife.

Meantime the Governor was performing his public duties with becoming
dignity and without much mental friction. The legislature was engaged in
digesting the batch of miscellaneous business presented for its
consideration, among which was Elton's gas consolidation bill. Already
the measure had encountered some opposition in committee, but Lyons was
led to believe that the bill would be passed by a large majority, and
that its opponents would be conciliated before his signature was
required. Lyons's reputation as an orator had been extended by his term
in the House of Representatives and his recent active campaign, and he
was in receipt of a number of invitations from various parts of the
country to address august bodies in other States. All of these were
declined, but when, in the month of April, opportunity was afforded him
to deliver a speech on patriotic issues on the anniversary of the battle
of Lexington, he decided, with Selma's approval, to accept the
invitation. He reasoned that a short respite from the cares of office
would be agreeable; she was attracted by the glamour of revisiting New
York as a woman of note. New York had refused to recognize her
superiority and to do her homage, and New York should realize her
present status, and what a mistake had been made. The speech was a
success, and the programme provided for the entertainment of the orator
and his wife included the hospitality of several private houses. Selma
felt that she could afford to hold her head high and not to thaw too
readily for the benefit of a society which had failed to appreciate her
worth when it had the chance. She was the wife now of one of the leading
public men of the nation, and in a position to set fashions, not to ask
favors. Nevertheless she chose on the evening before their return to
Benham to show herself at dinner at Delmonico's, just to let the world
of so-called fashion perceive her and ask who she was. There would
doubtless be people there who knew her by sight, and who, when they were
told that she was now the wife of Governor Lyons, would regret if not be
ashamed of their short-sightedness and snobbery. She wore a striking
dress; she encouraged her husband's willingness to order an elaborate
dinner, including champagne (for they were in a champagne country), and
she exhibited a sprightly mood, looking about her with a knowing air in
observation of the other occupants of the dining-room.

While she was thus engaged the entrance of a party of six, whom the head
waiter conducted with a show of attention to a table which had evidently
been reserved for them, fettered Selma's attention. She stared unable to
believe her eyes, then flushed and looked indignant. Her attention
remained rivetted on this party while they laid aside their wraps and
seated themselves. Struck by the annoyed intensity of his wife's
expression, Lyons turned to follow the direction of her gaze.

"What is the matter?" he said.

For a few moments Selma sat silent with compressed lips, intent on her
scrutiny.

"It's an outrage on decency," she murmured, at last. "How dare she show
herself here and entertain those people?"

"Of whom are you talking, Selma?"

"The Williamses. Flossy Williams and her husband. The two couples with
them live on Fifth Avenue, and used to be among her exclusive friends.
Her husband has just ordered the dinner. I saw him give the directions
to the waiter. It is monstrous that they, who only a few months ago
failed disgracefully and were supposed to have lost everything, should
be going on exactly as if nothing had happened."

"People in New York have the faculty of getting on their feet again
quickly after financial reverses," said Lyons, mildly. "Like as not some
of Williams's friends have enabled him to make a fresh start."

"So it seems," Selma answered, sternly. She sat back in her chair with a
discouraged air and neglected her truffled chicken. "It isn't right; it
isn't decent."

Lyons was puzzled by her demeanor. "Why should you care what they do?"
he asked. "We can easily avoid them for the future."

"Because--because, James Lyons, I can't bear to see godless people
triumph. Because it offends me to see a man and woman, who are
practically penniless through their own evil courses, and should be
discredited everywhere, able to resume their life of vanity and
extravagance without protest."

While she was speaking Selma suddenly became aware that her eyes had met
those of Dr. George Page, who was passing their table on his way out.
Recognition on both sides came at the same moment, and Selma turned in
her chair to greet him, cutting off any hope which he may have had of
passing unobserved. She was glad of the opportunity to show the company
that she was on familiar terms with a man so well known, and she had on
her tongue what she regarded as a piece of banter quite in keeping with
his usual vein.

"How d'y do, Dr. Page? We haven't met for a long time. You do not know
my husband, Governor Lyons, I think. Dr. Page used to be our family
physician when I lived in New York, James. Everyone here knows that he
has a very large practice."

Selma was disposed to be gracious and sprightly, for she felt that Dr.
Page must surely be impressed by her appearance of prosperity.

"I had heard of your marriage, and of your husband's election. I
congratulate you. You are living in Benham, I believe, far from this
hurly-burly?"

"Yes, a little bird told me the other day that a no less distinguished
person than Dr. Page had been seen in Benham twice during the last three
months. Of course a Governor's wife is supposed to know everything which
goes on, and for certain reasons I was very much interested to hear this
bit of news. I am a very discreet woman, doctor. It shall go no
further."

The physician's broad brow contracted slightly, but his habitual
self-control concealed completely the inclination to strangle his
bright-eyed, over-dressed inquisitor. He was the last man to shirk the
vicissitudes of playful speech, and he preferred this mood of Selma's to
her solemn style, although his privacy was invaded.

"I should have remembered," he said, "that there is nothing in the world
which Mrs. Lyons does not know by intuition."

"Including the management of a hospital, Dr. Page. Perhaps you don't
know that I am the managing trustee of a large hospital?"

"Yes, I was informed of that in Benham. I should scarcely venture to
tell you what my little bird said. It was an old fogy of a bird, with a
partiality for thorough investigation and scientific methods, and a
thorough distrust of the results of off-hand inspiration in the
treatment of disease."

"I dare say. But we are succeeding splendidly. The next time you come to
Benham you must come to see me, and I will take you over our hospital. I
don't despair yet of converting you to our side, just as you evidently
don't despair of inducing a certain lady some day to change her mind. I,
for one, think that she is more fitted by nature to be a wife than a
college president, so I shall await with interest more news from my
little bird." Selma felt that she was talking to greater advantage than
almost ever before. Her last remark banished every trace of a smile from
her adversary's face, and he stood regarding her with a preternatural
gravity, which should have been appalling, but which she welcomed as a
sign of serious feeling on his part. She felt, too, that at last she had
got the better of the ironical doctor in repartee, and that he was
taking his leave tongue-tied. In truth, he was so angry that he did not
trust himself to speak. He simply glared and departed.

"Poor fellow," she said, by way of explanation to Lyons, "I suppose his
emotion got the better of him, because he has loved her so long. That
was the Dr. Page who has been crazy for years to marry Pauline
Littleton. When he was young he married a woman of doubtful character,
who ran away from him. I used to think that Pauline was right in
refusing to sacrifice her life for his sake. But he has been very
constant, and I doubt if she has originality enough to keep her position
as president of Wetmore long. He belongs to the old school of medicine.
It was he who took care of Wilbur when he died. I fancy that case may
have taught him not to mistrust truth merely because it isn't labelled.
But I bear him no malice, because I know he meant to do his best. They
are just suited for each other, and I shall be on his side after this."

The interest of this episode served to restore somewhat Selma's
serenity, but she kept her attention fixed on the table where the
Williamses were sitting, observing with a sense of injury their gay
behavior. To all appearances, Flossy was as light-hearted and volatile
as ever. Her attire was in the height of fashion. Had adversity taught
her nothing? Had the buffet of Providence failed utterly to sober her
frivolous spirit? It seemed to Selma that there could be no other
conclusion, and though she and Lyons had finished dinner, she was unable
to take her eyes off the culprits, or to cease to wonder how it was
possible for people with nothing to continue to live as though they had
everything. Her moral nature was stirred to resentment, and she sat
spell-bound, seeking in vain for a point of consolation.

Meantime Lyons, like a good American, had sent for an evening paper, and
was deep in its perusal. A startled ejaculation from him aroused Selma
from her nightmare. Her husband was saying to her across the table:

"My dear, Senator Calkins is dead." He spoke in a solemn, excited
whisper.

"Our Senator Calkins?"

"Yes. This is the despatch from Washington: 'United States Senator
Calkins dropped dead suddenly in the lobby of the Senate chamber, at ten
o'clock this morning, while talking with friends. His age was 52. The
cause of his death was heart-failure. His decease has cast a gloom over
the Capital, and the Senate adjourned promptly out of respect to the
memory of the departed statesman.'"

"What a dreadful thing!" Selma murmured.

"The ways of Providence are inscrutable," said Lyons. "No one could have
foreseen this public calamity." He poured out a glass of ice-water and
drank it feverishly.

"It's fortunate we have everything arranged to return to-morrow, for of
course you will be needed at home."

"Yes. Waiter, bring me a telegram."

"What are you going to do?"

"Communicate to Mrs. Calkins our sympathy on account of the death of her
distinguished husband."

"That will be nice," said Selma. She sat for some moments in silence
observing her husband, and spell-bound by the splendid possibility which
presented itself. She knew that Lyons's gravity and agitation were not
wholly due to the shock of the catastrophe. He, like herself, must be
conscious that he might become the dead Senator's successor. He poured
out and drained another goblet of ice-water. Twice he drew himself up
slightly and looked around the room, with the expression habitual to him
when about to deliver a public address. Selma's veins were tingling with
excitement. Providence had interfered in her behalf again. As the wife
of a United States Senator, everything would be within her grasp.

"James," she said, "we are the last persons in the world to fail in
respect to the illustrious dead, but--of course you ought to have
Senator Calkins's place."

Lyons looked at his wife, and his large lips trembled. "If the people of
my State, Selma, feel that I am the most suitable man for the vacant
senatorship, I shall be proud to serve them."

Selma nodded appreciatively. She was glad that her husband should
approach the situation with a solemn sense of responsibility.

"They are sure to feel that," she said. "It seems to me that you are
practically certain of the party nomination, and your party has a clear
majority of both branches of the Legislature."

Lyons glanced furtively about him before he spoke. "I don't see at the
moment, Selma, how they can defeat me."



CHAPTER X.


The body of Senator Calkins was laid to rest with appropriate ceremonies
in the soil of his native State, and his virtues as a statesman and
citizen were celebrated in the pulpit and in the public prints. On the
day following the funeral the contest for his place began in dead
earnest. There had been some quiet canvassing by the several candidates
while the remains were being transported from Washington, but public
utterance was stayed until the last rites were over. Then it transpired
that there were four candidates in the field; a Congressman, an
ex-Governor, a silver-tongued orator named Stringer, who was a member of
the upper branch of the State Legislature and who claimed to be a true
defender of popular rights, and Hon. James O. Lyons. Newspaper comment
concerning the candidacy of these aspirants early promulgated the
doctrine that Governor Lyons was entitled to the place if he desired it.
More than one party organ claimed that his brilliant services had given
him a reputation beyond the limit of mere political prestige, and that
he had become a veritable favorite son of the State. By the end of a
fortnight the ex-Governor had withdrawn in favor of Lyons; while the
following of the Congressman was recognized to be inconsiderable, and
that he was holding out in order to obtain terms. Only the
silver-tongued orator, Stringer, remained. On him the opposition within
the party had decided to unite their forces. To all appearances they
were in a decided minority. There was no hope that the Republican
members of the Legislature would join them, for it seemed scarcely good
politics to rally to the support of a citizen whose statesmanship had
not been tested in preference to the Governor of the State. It was
conceded by all but the immediate followers of Stringer that Lyons would
receive the majority vote of either house, and be triumphantly elected
on the first joint ballot.

And yet the opposition to the Governor, though numerically small, was
genuine. Stringer was, as he described himself, a man of the plain
people. That is he was a lawyer with a denunciating voice, a keen mind,
and a comprehensive grasp on language, who was still an attorney for
plaintiffs, and whose ability had not yet been recognized by
corporations or conservative souls. He was where Lyons had been ten
years before, but he had neither the urbanity, conciliatory tendencies,
nor dignified, solid physical properties of the Governor. He was pleased
to refer to himself as a tribune of the people, and his thin, nervous
figure, clad in a long frock-coat, with a yawning collar and black whisp
tie, his fiery utterance and relentless zeal, bore out the character. He
looked hungry, and his words suggested that he was in earnest, carrying
conviction to some of his colleagues in the Legislature. The election at
which Lyons had been chosen chief magistrate had brought into this State
government a sprinkling of socialistic spirits, as they were called, who
applauded vigorously the thinly veiled allusions which Stringer made in
debate to the lukewarm democracy of some of the party leaders. When he
spoke with stern contempt of those who played fast and loose with sacred
principles--who were staunch friends of the humblest citizens on the
public platform, and behind their backs grew slyly rich on the revenues
of wealthy corporations, everyone knew that he was baiting the Governor.
These diatribes were stigmatized as in wretched taste, but the
politicians of both parties could not help being amused. They admitted
behind their hands that the taunt was not altogether groundless, and
that Lyons certainly was on extremely pleasant terms with prosperity for
an out and out champion of popular rights. Nevertheless the leading
party newspapers termed Stringer a demagogue, and accused him of
endeavoring to foment discord in the ranks of the Democracy by
questioning the loyalty of a man who had led them to notable victory
twice in the last three years. He was invited to step down, and to
season his aspirations until he could present a more significant public
record. What had he done that entitled him to the senatorship? He had
gifts undeniably, but he was young and could wait. This was a taking
argument with the legislators, many of whom had grown gray in the party
service, and Lyons's managers felt confident that the support accorded
to this tribune of the people would dwindle to very small proportions
when the time came to count noses.

Suddenly there loomed into sight on the political horizon, and came
bearing down on Lyons under full sail, Elton's bill for the
consolidation of the gas companies. The Benham _Sentinel_ had not been
one of the promoters of Lyons's senatorial canvass, but it had not
espoused the cause of any of his competitors, and latterly had referred
in acquiescent terms to his election as a foregone conclusion. He had
not happened to run across Elton during these intervening weeks, and
preferred not to encounter him. He cherished an ostrich-like hope that
Elton was in no haste regarding the bill, and that consequently it might
not pass the legislature until after his election as Senator. If he were
to come in contact with Elton, the meeting might jog the busy magnate's
memory. It was a barren hope. Immediately after the _Sentinel_ announced
that Governor Lyons was practically sure to be the next United States
Senator, the gas bill was reported favorably by the committee which had
it in charge, and was advanced rapidly in the House. Debate on its
provisions developed that it was not to have entirely plain sailing,
though the majority recorded in its favor on the first and second
readings was large. It was not at first regarded as a party measure. Its
supporters included most of the Republicans and more than half of the
Democrats. Yet the opposition to it proceeded from the wing of the
Democracy with which Stringer was affiliated. Elton's interest in the
bill was well understood, and the work of pledging members in advance,
irrespective of party, had been so thoroughly done, that but for the
exigencies of the senatorial contest it would probably have slipped
through without notice as a harmless measure. As it was, the opposition
to it in the lower branch was brief and seemed unimportant. The bill
passed the House of Representatives by a nearly two-thirds vote and went
promptly to the Senate calendar. Then suddenly it became obvious to
Lyons not merely that Elton was bent on securing its passage while the
present Governor was in office, but that his rival, Stringer, had
conceived the cruel scheme of putting him in the position, by a hue and
cry against monopoly and corporate interests, where his election to the
senatorship would be imperilled if he did not veto the measure. By a
caustic speech in the Senate Stringer drew public attention to the
skilfully concealed iniquities of the proposed franchise, and public
attention thus aroused began to bristle. Newspapers here and there
throughout the state put forth edicts that this Legislature had been
chosen to protect popular principles, and that here was an opportunity
for the Democratic party to fulfil its pledges and serve the people.
Stringer and his associates were uttering in the Senate burning words
against the audacious menace of what they termed the franchise octopus.
Did the people realize that this bill to combine gas companies, which
looked so innocent on its face, was a gigantic scheme to wheedle them
out of a valuable franchise for nothing? Did they understand that they
were deliberately putting their necks in the grip of a monster whose
tentacles would squeeze and suck their life-blood for its own
enrichment? Stringer hammered away with fierce and reiterated invective.
He had no hope of defeating the bill, but he confidently believed that
he was putting his adversary, the Governor, in a hole. It had been
noised about the lobbies by the friends of the measure earlier in the
session that the Governor was all right and could be counted on.
Stringer reasoned that Lyons was committed to the bill; that, if he
signed it, his opponents might prevent his election as Senator on the
plea that he had catered to corporate interests; that if he vetoed it,
he would lose the support of powerful friends who might seek to revenge
themselves by uniting on his opponent. Stringer recognized that he was
playing a desperate game, but it was his only chance. One thing was
evident already: As a result of the exposure in the Senate, considerable
public hostility to the bill was manifesting itself. Petitions for its
defeat were in circulation, and several Senators who had been supposed
to be friendly to its passage veered round in deference to the views of
their constituents. Its defeat had almost become a party measure. A
majority of the Democrats in the Senate were claimed to be against it.
Nevertheless there was no delay on the part of those in charge in
pushing it to final action. They had counted noses, and their margin of
support had been so liberal they could afford to lose a few deserters.
After a fierce debate the bill was passed to be engrossed by a majority
of eleven. The Democrats in the Senate were just evenly divided on the
ballot.

What would the Governor do? This was the question on everyone's lips.
Would he sign or veto the bill? Public opinion as represented by the
newspapers was prompt to point out his duty. The verdict of a leading
party organ was that, in view of all the circumstances, Governor Lyons
could scarcely do otherwise than refuse to give his official sanction to
a measure which threatened to increase the burdens of the plain people.
The words "in view of all the circumstances" appeared to be an euphemism
for "in view of his ambition to become United States Senator." Several
journals declared unequivocally that it would become the duty of the
party to withdraw its support from Governor Lyons in case he allowed
this undemocratic measure to become law. On the other hand, certain
party organs questioned the justice of the outcry against the bill,
arguing that the merits of the case had been carefully examined in the
Legislature and that there was no occasion for the Governor to disturb
the result of its action. On the day after the bill was sent to the
chief magistrate, an editorial appeared in the Benham _Sentinel_
presenting an exhaustive analysis of its provisions, and pointing out
that, though the petitioners might under certain contingencies reap a
reasonable profit, the public could not fail in that event to secure a
lower price for gas and more effective service. This article was quoted
extensively throughout the State, and was ridiculed or extolled
according to the sympathies of the critics. Lyons received a marked copy
of the _Sentinel_ on the morning when it appeared. He recognized the
argument as that which he had accepted at the time he promised to sign
the bill if he were elected Governor. In the course of the same day a
letter sent by messenger was handed to him in the executive chamber. It
contained simply two lines in pencil in Elton's handwriting--"It
continues to be of vital importance to my affairs that the pending bill
should receive your signature." That was obviously a polite reminder of
their agreement; an intimation that the circumstances had not altered,
and that it was incumbent on him to perform his part of their compact.
Obviously, too, Horace Elton took for granted that a reminder was
enough, and that he would keep his word. He had promised to sign the
bill. He had given his word of honor to do so, and Elton was relying on
his good faith.

The situation had become suddenly oppressive and disheartening. Just
when his prospects seemed assured this unfortunate obstacle had appeared
in his path, and threatened to confound his political career. He must
sign the bill. And if he signed it, in all probability he would lose the
senatorship. His enemies would claim that the party could not afford to
stultify itself by the choice of a candidate who favored monopolies. He
had given his promise, the word of a man of honor, and a business man.
What escape was there from the predicament? If he vetoed the bill, would
he not be a liar and a poltroon? If he signed it, the senatorship would
slip through his fingers. The thought occurred to him to send for Elton
and throw himself on his mercy, but he shrank from such an interview.
Elton was a business man, and a promise was a promise. He had enjoyed
the consideration for his promise; his notes were secure and the
hypothecated bonds had been redeemed. He was on his feet and Governor,
thanks to Elton's interposition, and now he was called on to do his
part--to pay the fiddler. He must sign the bill.

Lyons had five days in which to consider the matter. At the end of that
time if he neither signed nor vetoed the bill, it would become law
without his signature. He was at bay, and the time for deliberation was
short. An incubus of disappointment weighed upon his soul and clouded
his brow. His round, smooth face looked grieved. It seemed cruel to him
that such an untoward piece of fortune should confront him just at the
moment when this great reward for his political services was within his
grasp and his opportunities for eminent public usefulness assured. He
brooded over his quandary in silence for twenty-four hours. On the
second day he concluded to speak of the matter to Selma. He knew that
she kept a general run of public affairs. Not infrequently she had asked
him questions concerning measures before the Legislature, and he was
pleasantly aware that she was ambitious to be regarded as a politician.
But up to this time there had been no room for question as to what his
action as Governor should be in respect to any measure. It had happened,
despite his attitude of mental comradeship with his wife, that he had
hitherto concealed from her his most secret transactions. He had left
her in the dark in regard to his true dealings with Williams & Van
Horne; he had told her nothing as to his straitened circumstances, the
compact by which he had been made Governor, and his relief at the hands
of Elton from threatened financial ruin. Reluctance, born of the theory
in his soul that these were accidents in his life, not typical
happenings, had sealed his lips. He was going to confide in her now not
because he expected that Selma's view of this emergency would differ
from his own, but in order that she might learn before he acted that he
was under an imperative obligation to sign the bill. While he was
sitting at home in the evening with the topic trembling on his tongue,
Selma made his confession easy by saying, "I have taken for granted that
you will veto the gas bill."

Selma had indeed so assumed. In the early stages of the bill she had
been ignorant of its existence. During the last fortnight, since the
controversy had reached an acute phase and public sentiment had been
aroused against its passage, she had been hoping that it would pass so
that Lyons might have the glory of returning it to the Legislature
without his signature. She had reasoned that he would be certain to veto
the measure, for the bill was clearly in the interest of monopoly, and
though her nerves were all on edge with excitement over the impending
election of a Senator, she had not interfered because she took for
granted that it was unnecessary. Even when Lyons, after reading the
article in the _Sentinel_, had dropped the remark that the measure was
really harmless and the outcry against it unwarranted, she had supposed
that he was merely seeking to be magnanimous. She had forgotten this
speech until it was recalled by Lyons's obvious state of worry during
the last few days. She had noticed this at first without special
concern, believing it due to the malicious insinuations of Stringer. Now
that the bill was before him for signature there could be no question as
to his action. Nevertheless her heart had suddenly been assailed by a
horrible doubt, and straightway her sense of duty as a wife and of duty
to herself had sought assurance in a crucial inquiry.

"I was going to speak to you about that this evening. I wish to tell you
the reasons which oblige me to sign the bill," he answered. Lyons's
manner was subdued and limp. Even his phraseology had been stripped of
its stateliness.

"Sign the bill?" gasped Selma. "If you sign it, you will lose the
senatorship." She spoke like a prophetess, and her steely eyes snapped.

"That is liable to be the consequence I know. I will explain to you,
Selma. You will see that I am bound in honor and cannot help myself."

"In honor? You are bound in honor to your party--bound in honor to me to
veto it."

"Wait a minute, Selma. You must hear my reasons. Before I was nominated
for Governor I gave Horace Elton my word, man to man, that I would sign
this gas bill. It is his bill. I promised, if I were elected Governor,
not to veto it. At the time, I--I was financially embarrassed. I did not
tell you because I was unwilling to distress you, but--er--my affairs in
New York were in disorder, and I had notes here coming due. Nothing was
said about money matters between Elton and me until he had agreed to
support me as Governor. Then he offered to help me, and I accepted his
aid. Don't you see that I cannot help myself? That I must sign the
bill?"

Selma had listened in amazement. "It's a trap," she murmured. "Horace
Elton has led you into a trap." The thought that Elton's politeness to
her was a blind, and that she had been made sport of, took precedence in
her resentment even of the annoyance caused her by her husband's deceit.

"Why did you conceal all this from me?" she asked, tragically.

"I should not have done so, perhaps."

"If you had told me, this difficulty never would have arisen. Pshaw! It
is not a real difficulty. Surely you must throw Elton over. Surely you
must veto the bill."

"Throw him over," stammered Lyons. "You don't understand, Selma. I gave
my word as a business man. I am under great obligations to him." He told
briefly the details of the transaction; even the hypothecation of the
Parsons bonds. For once in his life he made a clean breast of his
bosom's perilous stuff. He was ready to bear the consequences of his
plight rather than be false to his man's standard of honor, and yet his
wife's opposition had fascinated as well as startled him. He set forth
his case--the case which meant his political checkmate, then waited.
Selma had risen and stood with folded arms gazing into distance with the
far away look by which she was wont to subdue mountains.

"Have you finished?" she asked. "What you are proposing to do is to
sacrifice your life--and my life, James Lyons, for the sake of
a--er--fetish. Horace Elton, under the pretence of friendship for us,
has taken advantage of your necessities to extract from you a promise to
support an evil scheme--a bill to defraud the plain American people of
their rights--the people whose interests you swore to protect when you
took the oath as Governor. Is a promise between man and man, as you call
it, more sacred than everlasting truth itself? More binding than the tie
of principle and political good faith? Will you refuse to veto a bill
which you know is a blow at liberty in order to keep a technical
business compact with an over-reaching capitalist, who has no sympathy
with our ideas? I am disappointed in you, James. I thought you could see
clearer than that."

Lyons sighed. "I examined the bill at the time with some care, and did
not think it inimical to the best public interest; but had I foreseen
the objections which would be raised against it, I admit that I never
would have agreed to sign it."

"Precisely. You were taken in." She meant in her heart that they had
both been taken in. "This is not a case of commercial give and take--of
purchase and sale of stocks or merchandise. The eternal verities are
concerned. You owe it to your country to break your word. The triumph of
American principles is paramount to your obligation to Elton. Whom will
this gas bill benefit but the promoters? Your view, James, is the
old-fashioned view. Just as I said to you the other day that Dr. Page is
old-fashioned in his views of medicine, so it seems to me, if you will
forgive my saying so, you are, in this instance, behind the times. And
you are not usually behind the times. It has been one of the joyous
features of my marriage with you that you have not lacked American
initiative and independence of conventions. I wish you had confided in
me. You were forced to give that promise by your financial distress.
Will you let an old-fashioned theory of private honor make you a traitor
to our party cause and to the sovereign people of our country?"

Lyons bowed his head between his hands. "You make me see that there are
two sides to the question, Selma. It is true that I was not myself when
Elton got my promise to sign the bill. My mind had been on the rack for
weeks, and I was unfit to form a correct estimate of a complicated
public measure. But a promise is a promise."

"What can he do if you break it? He will not kill you."

"He will not kill me, no; but he will despise me." Lyons reflected, as
he spoke, that Elton would be unable to injure him financially. He
would, be able to pay his notes when they became due, thanks to the
improvement in business affairs which had set in since the beginning of
the year.

"And your party--the American people will despise you if you sign the
bill. Whose contempt do you fear the most?"

"I see--I see," he murmured. "I cannot deny there is much force in your
argument, dear. I fear there can be no doubt that if I let the bill
become law, public clamor will oblige the party to throw me over and
take up Stringer or some dark horse. That means a serious setback to my
political progress; means perhaps my political ruin."

"Your political suicide, James. And there is another side to it,"
continued Selma, pathetically. "My side. I wish you to think of that. I
wish you to realize that, if you yield to this false notion of honor,
you will interfere with the development of my life no less than your
own. As you know, I think, I became your wife because I felt that as a
public woman working, at your side in behalf of the high purposes in
which we had a common sympathy, I should be a greater power for good
than if I pursued alone my career as a writer and on the lecture
platform. Until to-day I have felt sure that I had made no mistake--that
we had made no mistake. Without disrespect to the dead, I may say that
for the first time in my life marriage has meant to me what it should
mean, and has tended to bring out the best which is in me. I have grown;
I have developed; I have been recognized. We have both made progress.
Only a few days ago I was rejoicing to think that when you became a
United States Senator, there would be a noble field for my abilities as
well as yours. We are called to high office, called to battle for great
principles and to lead the nation to worthy things. And now, in a moment
of mental blindness, you are threatening to spoil all. For my sake, if
not for your own, James, be convinced that you do not see clearly. Do
not snatch the cup of happiness from my lips just as at last it is full.
Give me the chance to live my own life as I wish to live it."

There was a brief silence. Lyons rose and let fall his hand on the table
with impressive emphasis. His mobile face was working with emotion; his
eyes were filled with tears. "I will veto the bill," he said,
grandiloquently. "The claims of private honor must give way to the
general welfare, and the demands of civilization. You have convinced me,
Selma--my wife. My point of view was old-fashioned. Superior ethics
permit no other solution of the problem. Superior ethics," he repeated,
as though the phrase gave him comfort, "would not justify a statesman in
sacrificing his party and his own powers--aye, and his political
conscience--in order to keep a private compact. I shall veto the bill."

"Thank God for that," she murmured.

Lyons stepped forward and put his arm around her. "You shall live your
own life as you desire, Selma. No act of mine shall spoil it."

"Superior ethics taught you by your wife! Your poor, wise wife in whom
you would not confide!" She tapped him playfully on his fat cheek.
"Naughty boy!"

"There are moments when a man sees through a glass, darkly," he
answered, kissing her again. "This is a solemn decision for us, Selma.
Heaven has willed that you should save me from my own errors, and my own
blindness."

"We shall be very happy, James. You will be chosen Senator, and all will
be as it should be. The clouds on my horizon are one by one passing
away, and justice is prevailing at last. What do you suppose I heard
to-day? Pauline Littleton is to marry Dr. Page. Mrs. Earle told me so.
Pauline has written to the trustees that after the first of next January
she will cease to serve as president of Wetmore; that by that time the
college will be running smoothly, so that a successor can take up the
work. There is a chance now that the trustees will choose a genuine
educator for the place--some woman of spontaneous impulses and a large
outlook on life. Pauline's place is by the domestic hearth. She could
never have much influence on progress."

"I do not know her very well," said Lyons. "But I know this, Selma, you
would be just the woman for the place if you were not my wife. You would
make an ideal president of a college for progressive women."

"I am suited for the work, and I think I am progressive," she admitted.
"But that, of course, is out of the question for me as a married woman
and the wife of a United States Senator. But I am glad, James, to have
you appreciate my strong points."

On the following day Lyons vetoed the gas bill. His message to the
Legislature described it as a measure which disposed of a valuable
franchise for nothing, and which would create a monopoly detrimental to
the rights of the public. This action met with much public approval. One
newspaper expressed well the feeling of the community by declaring that
the Governor had faced the issue squarely and shown the courage of his
well-known convictions. The Benham _Sentinel_ was practically mute. It
stated merely in a short editorial that it was disappointed in Governor
Lyons, and that he had played into the hands of the demagogues and the
sentimentalists. It suggested to the Legislature to show commendable
independence by passing the bill over his veto. But this was obviously a
vain hope.

The vote in the House against the veto not merely fell short of the
requisite two-thirds, but was less than a plurality, showing that the
action of the chief magistrate had reversed the sentiment of the
Legislature. The force of Stringer's opposition was practically killed
by the Governor's course. He had staked everything on the chance that
Lyons would see fit to sign the bill. When the party caucus for the
choice of a candidate for Senator was held a few days later, his
followers recognized the hopelessness of his ambition and prevailed on
him to withdraw his name from consideration. Lyons was elected Senator
of the United States by a party vote by the two branches of the
Legislature assembled in solemn conclave. Apparently Elton had realized
that opposition was useless, and that he must bide his time for revenge.
Booming cannon celebrated the result of the proceedings, and Selma,
waiting at home on the River Drive, received a telegram from the capital
announcing the glad news. Her husband was United States Senator, and the
future stretched before her big with promise. She had battled with life,
she had suffered, she had held fast to her principles, and at last she
was rewarded.

Lyons returned to Benham by the afternoon train, and a salute of one
hundred guns greeted him on his arrival. He walked from the station like
any private citizen. Frequent cheers attended his progress to his house.
In the evening the shops and public buildings were illuminated, and the
James O. Lyons Cadets, who considered themselves partly responsible for
his rapid promotion, led a congratulatory crowd to the River Drive. The
Senator-elect, in response to the music of a serenade, stepped out on
the balcony. Selma waited behind the window curtain until the enthusiasm
had subsided; then she glided forth and showed herself at his elbow. A
fresh round of cheers for the Senator's wife followed. It was a glorious
night. The moon shone brightly. The street was thronged by the populace,
and glittered with the torches of the cadets. Lyons stood bareheaded.
His large, round, smooth face glistened, and the moonbeams, bathing his
chin beard, gave him the effect of a patriarch, or of one inspired. He
raised his hand to induce silence, then stood for a moment, as was his
habit before speaking, with an expression as though he were struggling
with emotion or busy in silent prayer.

"Fellow citizens of Benham," he began, slowly, "compatriots of the
sovereign State which has done me to-day so great an honor, I thank you
for this precious greeting. You are my constituents and my brothers. I
accept from your hands this great trust of office, knowing that I am but
your representative, knowing that my mission is to bear constant witness
to the love of liberty, the love of progress, the love of truth which
are enshrined in the hearts of the great American people. Your past has
been ever glorious; your future looms big with destiny. Still leaning on
the God of our fathers, to whom our patriot sires have ever turned, and
whose favors to our beloved country are seen in your broad prairies tall
with fruitful grain, and your mighty engines of commerce, I take up the
work which you have given me to do, pledged to remain a democrat of the
democrats, an American of the Americans."

Selma heard the words of this peroration with a sense of ecstasy. She
felt that he was speaking for them both, and that he was expressing the
yearning intention of her soul to attempt and perform great things. She
stood gazing straight before her with her far away, seraph look, as
though she were penetrating the future even into Paradise.





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