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Title: The Cliff-Dwellers - A Novel
Author: Fuller, Henry Blake
Language: English
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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.

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Literature (Images generously made available by the Internet
Archive.)



THE CLIFF-DWELLERS

A Novel

BY

HENRY B. FULLER

ILLUSTRATED BY T. DE THULSTRUP

THE GREGG PRESS / RIDGEWOOD, N. J.

1898


[Illustration: Cecilia Ingles]


ILLUSTRATIONS


CECILIA INGLES.

"'WE ARE LIVING UP ON PINE STREET'"

"TWO YOUNG GIRLS ENTERED"

"'I SHALL MARRY RUSSELL,' SHE DECLARED"

"A DOOR OPENED SUDDENLY, AND HER BROTHER BURT CAME IN"

"HE FOUND A PLACE IN A QUIET CORNER"

"'WE HAVE COME TO TAKE OUR GIRL BACK HOME'"

"'ISN'T IT PRETTY LATE FOR DOLLY?'"

"'HOW'S THIS, JO?' ASKED OGDEN"

"SHE LAID HER HAND TREMBLINGLY UPON THE OLD MAN'S ARM"

"HE LOOKED STEADILY ON VIBERT FROM UNDER HIS HAND"

"THE GIRL GATE HIM A GLANCE WILD AND TIMID"

"THE MATTER WAS ADJUSTED IN A SMALL AND COMPACT COURT-ROOM"

"'HERE WE GO,' SHE CRIED, 'SUNDAY OR NO SUNDAY. I HATE TO POKE'"

"THEY SAT OUT NOW ONLY AFTER DARK"

"HE SAT WITH HIS EYES FIXED ON THE BOTTOM OF THE BOAT"

"BURT LED CORNELIA DOWN THE AISLE"

"'HOW WELL IT'S DONE!' SHE SAID TO HIM"

"'GOODNESS, GEORGE, DON'T KNOCK THE FIRE ALL TO PIECES'"

"'IS HE DEAD?'"

"THEN SHE FELL BACK WEAKLY AND COUGHED LONG AND VIOLENTLY"

"'STOP!' CRIED OGDEN"

"'THREE TO ONE,' PANTED MARCUS"

"SHE PRESSED HIM BACK INTO THE DEPTHS OF HIS GREAT EASY-CHAIR"



THE CLIFF-DWELLERS


INTRODUCTION


Between the former site of old Fort Dearborn and the present site
of our newest Board of Trade there lies a restricted yet tumultuous
territory through which, during the course of the last fifty years, the
rushing streams of commerce have worn many a deep and rugged chasm.
These great canons--conduits, in fact, for the leaping volume of an
ever-increasing prosperity--cross each other with a sort of systematic
rectangularity, and in deference to the practical directness of local
requirements they are in general called simply--streets. Each of these
canons is closed in by a long frontage of towering cliffs, and these
soaring walls of brick and limestone and granite rise higher and higher
with each succeeding year, according as the work of erosion at their
bases goes onward--the work of that seething flood of carts, carriages,
omnibuses, cabs, cars, messengers, shoppers, clerks, and capitalists,
which surges with increasing violence for every passing day. This
erosion, proceeding with a sort of fateful regularity, has come to be
a matter of constant and growing interest. Means have been found to
measure its progress--just as a scale has been arranged to measure the
rising of the Nile or to gauge the draught of an ocean liner. In this
case the unit of measurement is called the "story." Ten years ago the
most rushing and irrepressible of the torrents which devastate Chicago
had not worn its bed to a greater depth than that indicated seven of
these "stories." This depth has since increased to eight--to ten--to
fourteen--to sixteen, until some of the leading avenues of activity
promise soon to become little more than mere obscure trails half lost
between the bases of perpendicular precipices.

High above this architectural upheaval rise yet other structures in
crag-like isolation. El Capitan is duplicated time and again both in
bulk and in stature, and around him the floating spray of the Bridal
Veil is woven by the breezes of lake and prairie from the warp of
soot-flakes and the woof of damp-drenched smoke.

The explorer who has climbed to the shoulder of one of these great
captains and has found one of the thinnest folds in the veil may
readily make out the nature of the surrounding country. The rugged
and erratic plateau of the Bad Lands lies before him in all its
hideousness and impracticability. It is a wild tract full of sudden
falls, unexpected rises, precipitous dislocations. The high and the
low are met together. The big and the little alternate in a rapid and
illogical succession. Its perilous trails are followed successfully
by but few--by a lineman, perhaps, who is balanced on a cornice, by
a roofer astride some dizzy gable, by a youth here and there whose
early apprehension of the main chance and the multiplication table has
stood him in good stead. This country is a treeless country--if we
overlook the "forest of chimneys" comprised in a bird's-eye view of
any great city, and if we are unable to detect any botanical analogies
in the lofty articulated iron funnels whose ramifying cables reach
out wherever they can, to fasten wherever they may. It is a shrubless
country--if we give no heed to the gnarled carpentry of the awkward
frame-works which carry the telegraph, and which are set askew on
such dizzy corners as the course of the wires may compel. It is an
arid country--if we overlook the numberless tanks that squat on the
high angles of alley walls, or if we fail to see the little pools of
tar and gravel that ooze and shimmer in the summer sun on the roofs
of old-fashioned buildings of the humbler sort. It is an airless
country--if by air we mean the mere combination of oxygen and nitrogen
which is commonly indicated by that name. For here the medium of
sight, sound, light, and life becomes largely carbonaceous, and the
remoter peaks of this mighty yet unprepossessing landscape loom up
grandly, but vaguely, through swathing mists of coal-smoke.

From such conditions as these--along with the Tacoma, the Monadnock,
and a great host of other modern monsters--towers the Clifton. From
the beer-hall in its basement to the barber-shop just under its
roof the Clifton stands full eighteen stories tall. Its hundreds of
windows glitter with multitudinous letterings in gold and in silver,
and on summer afternoons its awnings flutter score on score in the
tepid breezes that sometimes come up from Indiana. Four ladder-like
constructions which rise skyward stage by stage promote the agility of
the clambering hordes that swarm within it, and ten elevators--devices
unknown to the real, aboriginal inhabitants--ameliorate the daily
cliff-climbing for the frail of physique and the pressed for time.

The tribe inhabiting the Clifton is large and rather heterogeneous.
All told, it numbers about four thousand souls. It includes bankers,
capitalists, lawyers, "promoters"; brokers in bonds, stocks, pork,
oil, mortgages; real-estate people and railroad people and insurance
people--life, fire, marine, accident; a host of principals, agents,
middlemen, clerks, cashiers, stenographers, and errand-boys; and the
necessary force of engineers, janitors, scrub-women, and elevator-hands.

All these thousands gather daily around their own great camp-fire. This
fire heats the four big boilers under the pavement of the court which
lies just behind, and it sends aloft a vast plume of smoke to mingle
with those of other like communities that are settled round about.
These same thousands may also gather--in instalments--at their tribal
feast, for the Clifton has its own lunch-counter just off one corner of
the grand court, as well as a restaurant several floors higher up. The
members of the tribe may also smoke the pipe of peace among themselves
whenever so minded, for the Clifton has its own cigar-stand just within
the principal entrance. Newspapers and periodicals, too, are sold at
the same place. The warriors may also communicate their messages,
hostile or friendly, to chiefs more or less remote; for there is a
telegraph office in the corridor and a squad of messenger-boys in wait
close by.

In a word, the Clifton aims to be complete within itself, and it will
be unnecessary for us to go afield either far or frequently during
the present simple succession of brief episodes in the lives of the
Cliff-dwellers.



I


On the tenth floor of the Clifton is the office of the Massachusetts
Brass Company.

Those whose minds are attuned to an appreciation of upholstery
and kindred matters pronounce this little suite the gem of the
whole establishment. Even many who are not adepts in the matter of
house-furnishing, and who are much too rushed and preoccupied to become
such, have been known to pause in their course through the Clifton's
long corridors, on occasions when the ribbed glass door of the Brass
Company happened to be standing ajar, and to say to themselves, with
certain home offices in mind,

"Now, why can't our people do as much for _us_?"

Indeed, there is cause enough for envy in that small square of velvety
Axminster, in the harmonious tinting of the walls, in the padded
leather backs of the swivel chairs, in the polished brightness of
the cherry desk-tops, in the fresh blotting-pads and the immaculate
inkstands. To sit in this pleasant little apartment for half an hour is
to receive quite a new impression of the possible luxury of business,
the ultimate elegance of trade. This may be managed as easily as
not if you happen to have any dealings with "D. Walworth Floyd,
Agt."--according to the legend on the translucent pane of the door--who
is quite unlikely to hurry you out before you have finished.

"Don't be in such a drive," he will perhaps say to you; "stay and smoke
a cigar."

For business is not too exacting a consideration with the western
branch of the Massachusetts Brass Company. It is less a hive of
industry than a social exchange. The hours are easy, and the habitues
are as frequently callers as customers. They are often Jacks or Toms,
whose fathers are social pillars in Boston and large land-owners in
Wyoming and Dakota, and Jack and Tom--birds of passage in Scotch
cheviots and billycock hats--are given to alighting for a brief
breathing-spell on this lofty perch, where they reproach the slipshod
dress and careless, speech of their friend's small office force by the
trim neatness of their own clothes and conversation.

It may be guessed that this snug haven of refuge has been established
and maintained less to extend the Company's trade than to provide a
place for the Company's Walworth. I say _Company's_ Walworth, for
in this case "company" and "family" are interchangeable terms. The
Massachusetts Brass Company is the Floyd family, and the Floyd family
is the Massachusetts Brass Company. The Company pays no dividends, but
it is very generous in its salaries. It is liberal with Hosea G. Floyd,
who is its president, and with Winthrop C. Floyd, who is its treasurer,
and with H. Lovell Floyd, who is its New York agent, and with
Cadwallader P. Floyd, who looks after the Philadelphia interests; nor
does it quite forget D. Walworth Floyd, who holds up one end more or
less effectively in the West. But Walworth is the last and the youngest
of the Floyds; his marriage was not to the complete satisfaction of
his family, and his single independent venture before leaving home,
in the direction of coffee and spices, compelled his brothers to put
their hands into their pockets rather deeply. So, while the rest of the
Floyds think that, all considered, they have rather done the fair thing
by Walworth, yet Walworth, on the other hand, regards his assignment to
the West as a mild form of punishment and exile.

"It _does_ give me a little elbow-room, though."

This is the silent acknowledgment that Walworth sometimes makes to
himself--but grudgingly.

Walworth Floyd is a sleek, well-fed, prosperous-looking fellow of
thirty. His figure is a trifle too short and dumpy to be pronounced
absolutely good; but it is always strikingly well-dressed--for he has
lived in the West hardly a year as yet. His face is not handsome, but
it is gentlemanly quite. One might, indeed, complain of the retreating
lines of his forehead, and regret, too, that his chin, once perfect,
now shows leanings towards the duplex; but, on the other hand, his
well-bridged nose, you are sure, has been figuring in family portraits
for the last hundred years, and his plump hands, by reason of the fine
texture of the skin and the shapeliness of the nails, form a point that
is distinctly aristocratic. Yet penmanship, under his manipulations,
becomes a very crabbed and laborious affair, and this light species of
manual labor is usually performed, so far as he is concerned, by other
hands. He has a sort of general clerk, and he shares the services of a
stenographer with two or three of his neighbors. He employs, too, an
office-boy, who would idle away a good deal of time if Walworth were
not in the habit of sending frequent communications to the steward
of his club. Walworth, garmented in his plump placidity, has been
accustomed to fare sumptuously every day, and to worry his head about
as few things as possible. His dining he does for himself; his thinking
he has somebody else do for him: His book-keeping and auditing and so
on are done in the East, and a friend of his--he has no enemies--once
said that his stomach was in Chicago, while his brains were in Boston.

Walworth, considering his family training and traditions, is
inexplicably expansive. Even more than his limited capabilities for
business, even more than the exactions of a wife whose pinched girlhood
has helped her to a full appreciation of her present membership in a
wealthy family, has his own open-hearted bonhomie "kept him back." He
is just the man to whom one writes a letter of introduction without
any sense of imposing a burden, or to whom one may present it without
experiencing any great sense of embarrassment. And it is a letter of
introduction, in point of fact, which is now lying half folded on the
extended elbow-rest of his desk, and has been lying there for a quarter
of an hour.

Most of us know something about letters of introduction--promised so
thoughtlessly, written so glibly, presented so reluctantly, received so
grudgingly. But when the letter is merely a trifling and insignificant
line--a line which has no great importance for the bearer and can cause
no great annoyance to the recipient--and when its presentation here and
its accounting for there may be considered as but a minute item in the
general system of social book-keeping, then we have an episode that
passes quickly and lightly for all concerned. Such appears to be the
situation in the office of the Massachusetts Brass Company.

[Illustration: "'We are living up on Pine Street'"]

Walworth is tilted back comfortably in one of his handsome chairs
and sends out a casual glance through the nearest window. The sun
is struggling with a half-luminous haze, and through this haze a
hundred streaks of smoke are driving headlong towards the lake. A
tall clock-tower looms up three or four streets away, and one of its
faces--on the looker's own level--gives the hour as half-past ten.

"Well, we are living up on Pine Street, Mr. Ogden," he is saying; "just
this side of the Water Works--the place where the 'wheels go round,'
you know. You beat me here by a few minutes this morning, but I think I
can promise to be the first on the ground when you call on us there."

He is running his fingers over the edges of several little sheets of
brass. A few bunches of these, together with a set or two of brass
rings of varying diameters and thicknesses, are the only intimations of
merchandise that the office yields. Sometimes even these are bundled
away into a drawer, and then commerce is refined completely beyond the
ken of the senses.

"However, don't go. I am a little late in getting around this morning,
but the mail is light. Ferguson will look after it. Sit down again."

The visitor, thus urged, sank back into the chair from which he had
just risen. He was a slender young man, of good height, and his age was
perhaps twenty-four. His complexion was of the colorless kind that
good health alone keeps from sallowness. His hair was a light brown
and fine and thick, and it fell across his temples in the two smooth
wings that were made by an accurate parting in the middle. He had the
beginnings of a shadowy little moustache, and a pair of good eyes which
expressed a fair amount of self-reliance and any amount of hope.

"And how are you finding the West Side?" Walworth pursued. "I don't
know much about it myself. This is a big town and awfully cut up. A man
has to pick out his own quarter and stick to it. If you move from one
side of the river to another, you bid good-by to all your old friends;
you never see them again. You said you were somewhere near Union Park,
I believe?"

"Yes," George Ogden answered, "I have landed in a pretty good place,
and I want to stay there if I can. They're a sort of farming people
--or were, to start with. They came from New York State, I believe, and
haven't been here but a year or two. Is there anybody in this town who
hasn't come from somewhere else, or who has been here more than a year
or two?"

Walworth laughed. "_I_ haven't. But you go around some, and you may
find a few that have."

"The mother cooks, the father markets, the daughter helps to wait on
table. Nice, friendly people; make me think of those at home." He
smiled a little wistfully. "About the only people so far that do."

"Well, I have heard that there are some pretty good streets over
there," is Walworth's vague response.

"Ours is. We have trees--all of one sort and planted regularly, I
mean. And ornamental lamp-posts. And I'm only a block from the Park.
Everything seems all right enough."

"I dare say; but don't you find it rather far away from--?" queried
Floyd, with a sort of insinuating intentness.

However, I have no idea of reproducing Walworth's remarks on the local
topography. They were voluminous, but he would be found prejudiced and
but partly informed. Besides, his little tirade was presently thrown
out of joint by a dislocating interruption.

Walworth always experienced a mental dislocation, slight or serious,
whenever his wife called at the office. Nor were matters much helped
when his wife was accompanied by her sister. It was the latter of these
who now opened the door with an assured hand and who shut it after the
two of them with a confirmatory slam.

"Yes, here we are," she seemed to imply.

In Mrs. Walworth Floyd our young man met a lean and anxious little
body, who appeared strenuous and exacting and of the kind who, as the
expression goes, are hard to get along with. She had a sharp little
nose and a pair of inquisitorial eyes. She was dressed richly, but as
simply as a sword in its scabbard. If Walworth spent an evening abroad
it was a fair assumption that his wife knew where he was and all about
it. Otherwise the sword was drawn.

"We have been almost three quarters of an hour getting here," she said
in a tense way. "Something was the matter with the cable and they kept
us in the tunnel nearly twenty minutes. As I tell Ann, you can always
count on that sort of thing when you've got anything of real importance
on hand and not much time for it. And yet we talk about the jams and
delays in Tremont Street!"

She drew down her mouth and blinked her eyes indignantly. She felt all
the shortcomings of her new home very keenly; she made every one of
them a personal affront.

"Ann thought it was amusing. Perhaps it won't seem so after it has
happened to her three or four times more."

Walworth glanced apprehensively in the direction of his sister-in-law's
chair. She was understood to be in his house on a brief visit. He
trusted that she was not to be exposed a second time to so annoying an
accident.

Ann Wilde was a stout woman who was nearing forty. Her appearance
indicated that, while she had not escaped the buffets of the world,
yet her past experiences had only seasoned and toughened her for her
future ones. In this earthly turmoil of give and take she seemed to
have played a full inning on each side. She had begun as a poetess,
she had gone on as a boardinghouse keeper, and she was now ready to
take her first step as an investor. To turn from literature to lodgings
indicates talent; to do so well in lodgings as to have funds for the
purchase of property indicates genius. Miss "Wilde, at fourteen, was
a plain child whose straggling hair was drawn back from her forehead
by an india-rubber comb that passed over the top of her head from ear
to ear, and she was called Annie. At seventeen, conscious of the first
flutterings of sentiment and prompted by indications of increasing
comeliness, she re-named herself Annette. At twenty, somewhat
disappointed in the promise of beauty, yet consoled in some degree by a
spreading reputation as a versifier, she changed her name to Anne. At
twenty-six, as the result of a disappointment in an affair of the heart
and of a growing appreciation of the modesty of her social rôle, she
resignedly styled herself Anna. And at thirty-five, fully convinced of
her own hopeless plainness, of the completely practical cast of things
generally, and of the uselessness of flying the flag of idealism any
longer, she bobbed off at the same time both her hair and her name; she
presented a short-cut poll of frizzled gray and she signed herself Ann.
What's in a name? Sometimes nothing; sometimes a whole biography.

"I have been telling Mr. Ogden," said Walworth, "that he ought to
be in our part of town--he ought to be one of our little circle."
His wife looked up rather coldly; her little circle was not open to
any new candidate that the uncalculating good-nature of her husband
might propose. "That house around on Hush Street could take him in,
I imagine. And all the people he will want to know are right around
there. Why, you have been in Worcester, Frances; you know the Parkers.
Well, Mrs. Parker is Mr. Ogden's aunt--aunt, I think you said?--yes,
aunt; so you see about how it is. Always glad to welcome one more
Eastern pilgrim to our little what-you-may-call-it--oasis, you know."

"Why didn't you say Mr. Ogden was from the East, Walworth?" asked his
wife, taxingly, and looked at the young man for the first time.

Her gaze was critical, but not forbidding.

"Yes, most of _us_ are on the North Side," she observed.

"Ogden is as good as a neighbor already," Walworth went on,
perseveringly; "a business neighbor. He is going into the Underground
National. Letters and all that, you know. Pretty good for three weeks,
I call it. If most of our fellows who come out here did as well in
three months it would be money in Mrs. Lloyd's pocket. To think of the
fives and tens and twenties that have gone to old schoolmates of Win's
and to fellows who knew Lovell when he was on the road!"

Ogden flushed a little and took the first step towards a frown.
It is not pleasant to contemplate your possible inclusion in the
reprehensible class of the strapped and the stranded, nor to feel
that only a lucky letter of recommendation has saved a friend's wife
from being crossed in some caprice or balked in some whim. But Floyd,
although cordial and liberal, was not invariably fine.

"They stop me on the street, and they buttonhole me in the hotels, and
you can't think how many of them come right here. Of course, I always
do what I can. But how do they find me out? And why is it that when I
am going up home late over the viaduct and somebody is hanging about to
strike some man for a quarter, I am always the man to be struck? One or
two of them have actually paid me back, but--"

"Who?" asked his sister-in-law. She had a loud, rasping voice. "The men
on the viaduct?"

"The others," Walworth indicated briefly.

"You are too generous," said Ogden. What a position for a man who was
_not_ to enter upon an engagement to-morrow! And what might three
months be, if judged by the hopes and fears and expectations and
disappointments of his three weeks!

"The Underground?" repeated Mrs. Floyd, turning towards her husband.
"Isn't that Mayme Brainard's father's bank?" she asked in a general way.

"Mr. Brainard is the president," assented Ogden, with a severe smile.
"I addressed myself to the cashier," he added shortly.

"I was sure I had heard of it," she rejoined, with a glacial
graciousness.

"Well, if _you_-have heard of it, my dear," her husband joked, "how
widely known it must be! You ought to have heard of it; you've had
enough checks on it, I'm sure!"

But Mrs. Floyd did not pursue the subject. She looked at her sister
with that prim seriousness which means something on the mind--or on
two minds--and her sister returned the look in kind; and they both
looked in the same fashion back and forth between Walworth and his
caller. Ann Wilde snapped the catch of her hand-bag once or twice, and
glanced between times at some loose papers inside it. Ferguson, in the
other room, thought he perceived the approach of a domestic crisis--a
disputed dress-maker's bill, perhaps. Yet there might be other
reasons. He knew that the cook was sometimes impertinent, and that
the market-man now and then forgot to send the white-fish. He himself
was a mere boarding bachelor, yet he had come to learn something of
the relief which follows the shifting of a housekeeper's cares to the
shoulders of the housekeeper's husband. Ferguson had relieved the
tedium of many a half-hour by short-handing bits of dialogue that
accompanied connubial spats between his employer and his employer's
wife.

These signs and tokens were not lost on Ogden; he rose again to go. You
were they lost on Floyd himself, whose apprehension of a bad quarter of
an hour was heightened by the absence, as yet, of any exact data. He
had no wish to hold the field alone, and he begged Ogden not to hurry
his departure.

"Where are the girls?" he asked his wife. "I thought you said they came
along with you."

"They did. They are in the building. They will be up in a few minutes.
That child!--somebody ought to look after her."

"Then why not wait a little while?" Floyd suggested to Ogden. "My
wife's affair won't take long. Ferguson, won't you just clear off that
chair out there and find the paper? And now, what is it?" he asked the
two women when they were left together.



II


"Well, Ann has heard from those Minneapolis people again. And she isn't
any nearer making up her mind than before."

"Here's what they say," added his sister-in-law. She took a letter out
of her bag and handed it to him.

"Oh!" said Walworth. He felt half relieved, half vexed.

His wife stood by the window, rubbing her forefinger along the edges of
its silver lettering.

"I don't see whatever put Minneapolis into Ann's head. There seems to
be a plenty of buildings right here."

She looked at the rough brick back of a towering structure a few
hundred feet away, and at the huddle of lower roofs between. From a
skylight on one of these a sunbeam came reflected, and compelled her to
move.

"And plenty of dirt, too, if she is after real estate; plenty to be
sold, and plenty of people to sell it. I never saw a town where it was
more plentiful."

She glanced downwards at the wagons and cars that were splashing
through the streets after a rainy September night. "Why shouldn't
there be more people to shovel it, too? You see their signs stuck up
everywhere--the dealers, I mean."

"Ann can get to Minneapolis in thirteen hours," suggested Walworth,
passing the end of his thumb along one of his eyebrows. "What's that,
after the trip West? And then she can see for herself. You take
the cars here late in the afternoon, and you get there in time for
breakfast."

"I believe I'd just let it drop," said Miss Wilde, "if I happened
to know positively of any good thing here. They write a nice enough
letter, but I can't tell what state the building is in unless I see it.
And I'm merely taking their word that the ground is worth a hundred and
fifty. There's forty feet. I wonder if 'all improvements in' means that
the street is paved."

"Drop it, anyway," said her sister, as if she were disembarrassing
herself of some loathsome parcel. "Look around in Chicago itself. You
can see what you are buying, then. Even if you do invest here, you are
not compelled to live here." She became almost rigid in her disdain.

"Ah--um!" murmured Walworth, in a noncommittal way.

The door opened suddenly, and two young girls entered in a brisk
fashion. The first one had a slight figure, a little above the average
height. To-day people called her slender; six or eight years later
they would be likely to call her lean. She had long, thin arras, and
delicate, transparent hands. She had large eyes of a deep blue, and
the veins were plainly outlined on her pale temples. She had a bright
face and a lively manner, and seemed to be one who drew largely on
her nervous force without making deposits to keep up her account. Her
costume was such as to give one the idea that dress was an important
matter with her.

"Well, Frankie!" she called to Mrs. Floyd, "you found your way here all
right, did you? You're a clever little body! Or did Miss Wilde help
you?"

Mrs. Floyd passed back the Minneapolis letter to her sister and
bestowed a lady-like frown on the new-comers. She disliked to be called
"Frankie," but what is to be done between cousins?

"Jessie!" she expostulated softly, indicating Ogden in the adjoining
room.

"You can't think," the girl went on, to Ogden _redux_, "how proud my
cousin is of her ignorance of Chicago. She knows where to buy her
steaks, and she has mastered the shortest way down town, and that's
about all. Frankie, dear, where is the City Hall?"

[Illustration: "Two young girls entered."]

"How should _I_ know?" returned Frances Floyd, with a weary disdain.

"Why, there's the corner of it," cried Jessie Bradley, at the window,
"not two blocks off. It's big enough to see!"

"And she's been here a whole year, too!" cried her husband, proudly and
fondly.

Mrs. Floyd drew Jessie Bradley aside. "I know I'm very ignorant," she
said, speaking in a low tone, "but there is one thing you can tell me
about, if you want to. 'Why have you been so long in getting up to the
office? You said Mayme--Mayme; I suppose that means Mary--you said that
she was going to stop in the bank for just two or three minutes."

Jessie looked towards her young friend, who was seated near Ogden on
one of the wide window-sills. Then she turned back to her questioner,
with eyes that were steady and perhaps a bit defiant.

"Well, we stopped for a minute in that insurance office on the way up.
We came part way by the stairs. Mayme said she had just got to see him.
I don't see how she can meet him anywhere else. They won't let him come
to the house. I can't see that her brother has treated him so very
well."

Mrs. Floyd's regard travelled from the culprit, before her to the
greater culprit on the windowsill. Mary Brainard was a pretty little
thing of eighteen, with a plump, dimpled face. She had wide eyes of
baby-blue under a fluffy flaxen bang. The brim of her hat threw a
shadow over her pink cheeks, and she was nibbling the finger-ends of
her gloves between her firm white teeth.

Mrs. Floyd considered this picture with grave disapproval, and turned
back to her young cousin a face full of severe reproach.

"Jessie, I don't like this. It wasn't a nice thing for you to do at
all, and I'm sure your mother would agree with me. Don't mix in any
such matter. Let her own people attend to it."

Mary Brainard noticed this whispered passage, and suspected herself
under comment. Her face, rather weakly pretty generally, was quite
flushed and brilliant now, and she looked out from under her wide hat
with the forced audacity that a lightly esteemed nature may sometimes
assume, and afterwards, to everybody's surprise, may justify. She began
to chat brightly with Ogden. Her gayety, however, was evidently but the
spending momentum of some recent impact, and the bright defiance with
which she glanced around the group was not more a surprise to them than
to herself.

Jessie Bradley crossed over to the window and found a third place on
its wide sill. Walworth gathered the two ladies behind the shelter of
his big desk, and the Minneapolis matter was resumed.

"No," said Jessie, as she settled down, "Mrs. D. Walworth Floyd
doesn't know where the City Hall is." She was in a slightly nervous
state, and she caught hold of the first piece of conversational
driftwood that came her way. "I ought to have asked her something
easier--where La Salle Street was, for instance. I wonder if she knows
she's on it now."

"Well, Mr. Ogden is going to have a chance to learn all about La Salle
Street!" cried Mayme Brainard, with the air of one who dreads the
slightest pause in the talk. "He's going into the Bank, he tells me."

"That will do very well for six days in the week," declared the other.
"How about the seventh?" she asked with a twinkling directness. "Are
you an Episcopalian, or what?"

"What, I fancy. Why, in Borne, I suppose, I shall do as the Romans do.
For the forenoon there are the newspapers, of course. Then for the
afternoon--the races, perhaps. In the evening--well, the theatre, I
should say. That's about the plan at my house."

"Well, I've never been to the theatre Sunday evening, nor any of my
people. And I don't believe that many nice people do go, either.
Perhaps you think that there are not any nice people in Chicago--I've
heard the remark made. Well, there are, I can tell you--just as nice
as anywhere. I suppose you've noticed the way the papers here have of
collecting all the mean, hateful things that the whole country says
about us, and making a column out of them. I dare say they think it's
funny. I don't know but what it is. There's my own father, now. He
reads those things right after the market-reports, and time and time
again I've seen him laugh till he cried. Yet he isn't any fonder of a
joke than anybody else. He says it's better to be abused and made fun
of than not to be noticed at all. How does it strike you?"

She made a little _moue_, as she recalled one or two of these national
love-taps.

"And I must say it's awful, too--the sort of news that is sent out from
here--excursions and alarums, and nothing else. During the anarchist
time folks down East were a good deal more scared than we were. And
I remember, when I was at school, I read in the Philadelphia papers
that typhoid fever was raging in Chicago. They gave the death-rate and
everything. I came home as fast as I could. I expected to find the
whole family dying. But _they_ didn't know anything about it. And they
took my pocket-money to pay the return fare. They were alive enough."

Ogden smiled. He saw that he was face to face with a true daughter
of the West; she had never seen him before, and she might never see
him again, yet she was talking to him with perfect friendliness and
confidence. Equally, he was sure, was she a true daughter of Chicago;
she had the one infallible local trait--she would rather talk to a
stranger about her own town than about any other subject.

"I think we shall have to reform you," she went on presently, "in
advance. I believe the proper place for you next Sunday would be St.
Asaph's. But it's high, you understand. Come over; my cousin has room
in her pew. There is a vested choir, and when you have heard Vibert's
singing--"

She stopped, as if to appreciate her own daring--like a child lighting
a match. Mary Brainard gave a little start and put her hand on her
friend's arm, yet at the same time she blushed slightly--less, perhaps,
in panic than in pride.

"--you will learn what it is that brings Mayme Brainard all the way
over from Union Park twice every Sunday," were the words with which
this sentence was mentally concluded. "It's like an angel," she
continued aloud. "A certain kind of angel," she added to herself. "Do
you sing?" "Yes, a little."

"Then of course you play. But that doesn't count. Do you write?
But everybody does that, too. I do. Or did. I carried off a prize
once. It kept me in flowers for a week. Well, what is it--dialect or
psychological?"

"Business letters," answered Ogden, with a balking sobriety.

"Pshaw! Well, then, can you sketch, or can you do anything in
water-colors? I did a lovely head of Desdemona once--in crayon. That
was at Ogontz."

"Kodak," Ogden confessed briefly. "Views along the wharves in Boston;
some pretty bits from around Stockbridge."

"My own story was in Stockbridge! Our artist on the spot!" She clapped
her hands together joyfully. "What else? Can you--cook?"

"No."

"Neither can I!"

"Can you keep books?" he asked in turn.

"Not a bit."

"Well, I can."

"You take the odd trick. Wait a minute, though. How about private
theatricals?" she asked.

"I have acted in them once or twice."

She looked aslant at Mary Brainard. The girl seemed glad that St.
Asaph's had been dropped, but she was hoping, fearfully, that it might
be taken up again.

"Well, Father Tisdale has everything just about perfect. He's from
St. John the Evangelist--Boston, you know. And you ought to hear
little Mike Besser. He's our butcher's boy--only eleven. Sometimes he
and Russell Vibert"--the other girl vibrated at this first audacious
mention of the full name--"sing duets together, and then--"

Her eyes rolled around the room in a mock ecstasy and rested on the
group of elders, whose three heads just showed above the top of the
desk. Walworth's face made quite a picture of discomfort and distress,
as he rose from his chair with the effect of trying to shake himself
loose from the complications that his wife and Sister Ann were weaving
about him.

"The whole building is full of them," he said, rather pettishly; "there
are half a dozen on every floor. But _I_ don't know anything about any
of them."

He looked inquiringly towards the window seat.

"Ogden might."

"How is that?" inquired the young fellow, rising.

"Some real-estate man. Mrs. Floyd's sister here has about concluded to
cast in her lot with us. She wants an adviser. Perhaps you happen to
know of--"

He took on the ingenuous air of one who is earnestly searching for
information--in the least likely quarter.

Ogden laughed self-consciously.

"Well, now, as a matter of fact, I do. His name is McDowell. He is on
the second floor above. I have a sort of personal interest in him. He
will be my brother-in-law within a month or six weeks."

A slight flutter among the women--the mention of matrimony.

"Do you want to try that, Ann?" asked Floyd.

"We became acquainted with him down East, last year," Ogden went on,
proud to show his newness wearing off. "He was working up a syndicate.
He calls himself a hustler. He tells me he has just opened a new
subdivision out south somewhere--beyond Washington Park, I believe. I
think you'll find him posted."

Older people than Ogden frequently go out of their way to run
cheerfully the risk of advising others in business matters.

"I believe I'll see him, anyway," decided Miss Wilde. Like all women,
she embraced the personal element in every affair. The people in
Minneapolis became mere myths, now that she found herself so near to
the future husband of the sister of the man who had just presented a
letter of introduction to her own brother-in-law. The chain was long,
to be sure, and some of its links were rather weak--but it served.

Mrs. Floyd arose, shaking out the folds of her dress and smoothing away
the wrinkles that the last half-hour had accumulated on her forehead.

"I have asked Mr. Ogden to go to church with us Sunday," Jessie
Bradley announced to her. "And he is going to bring some Stockbridge
photographs."

"First-rate!" cried Walworth, relieved by any outcome whatever.
"Stockbridge! Why, that's where I did my courting!"

Mrs. Floyd was caught in a melting mood.

"We shall be very happy to see Mr. Ogden," she pronounced primly.



III


In one of the first-floor corners of the Clifton is situated the
Underground National Bank--Erastus H. Brainard, president.

The Underground is not so styled on account of the policy and methods
of its head, oblique and subterranean though they may be; it is merely
that the Clifton is almost entirely shut in by its tall neighbors, and
that, so far as its lower floors are concerned, direct sunlight, except
for a month or two in the early summer, is pretty nearly out of the
question. We shall have to throw our own sunlight on the Underground
and on the man who is its president and its principal stockholder.

The Underground is not one of the old banks, nor is it one of the
large ones; if Brainard had no other irons in the fire he would not
cut much of a figure in business circles. The Underground is simply
one in a batch of banks that have sprung up in the last seven or
eight years and that are almost unknown, even by name, to men who, in
the clearing-house at that time, have since passed on to other and
different affairs. It is spoken of as Brainard's bank, just as other
banks are spoken of as Shayne's, or Cutter's, or Patterson's. _Sow_
Shayne, for example, began life with a fruit-stand--Jim Shayne they
called him. The fruit-stand developed into a retail grocery, and Jim
Shayne (about the time of the Fire) became J. H. Shayne. The retail
grocery expanded into a wholesale grocery, and the sign read, "James
H. Shayne & Co.," and the firm made money. But the day dawned when
his wife began to figure at dances and receptions--her own and those
of other people--as Mrs. James Horton Shayne, and when his daughter's
wedding was not far away, with all the splendor that St. Asaph's
could command. This was no juncture for laying undue stress on the
wholesale grocery business; it seemed worth while to become identified
a little less closely with mercantile circles and a little more closely
with financial circles. Shayne & Co. went right on--both routine and
profits; but the High-flyers' National was started, and James Horton
Shayne was more likely to be found on La Salle Street than on River
Street.

Cutter was in hardware. His daughter was a great beauty. One day he
dropped hardware in favor of his sons, to become the head of a board
of directors. Then people could say, "Ah! a fine girl that! Her father
runs the Parental National."

Patterson's case was different. He had just invested half a million
in a big business block, and his daughter had just invested her all in
a husband. The best office in the new building remained tenantless at
the end of six months, and the man of his daughter's choice continued
practically without occupation during the same term. The office was
worth ten thousand dollars, the son-in-law--in the present state of
things--about ten thousand cents. So Patterson, in order to secure a
tenant for his new building and a career for his new son, started a new
financial institution--the Exigency Trust Co.

But no such considerations as these influenced Erastus Brainard when he
founded the Underground. He was far aside from all social ambitions,
and his domestic affairs took care of themselves. His business
interests spread all over the city, the state, the West, even the Ear
West, and this vast web must have a centre. That centre was on the
lower floor of the Clifton, where he ran a bank, true, but a good many
other things besides.

Brainard had come up from the southern part of the state--from "Egypt,"
as it is called. A darkness truly Egyptian brooded over his early
history, so that if it is a fact that he was an exhorter at Methodist
camp-meetings in his early twenties, proof of that fact might be sought
for in vain. The first definite point in his career is this: that as a
youngish man he was connected in some capacity with a cross-country
railroad on the far side of Centralia. How successful he was in
transporting souls no one can say; that he has been successful in
transporting bodies no one will deny. He is unrivalled in his mastery
of the street-car question, and his operations have lain in many
scattered fields.

To claim that Brainard has a national reputation would be going too
far. However, his reputation might fairly be termed inter-state. If the
man were to die to-morrow, sketches of his life would appear in the
papers of Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and St. Louis; and the caustic and
frankly abusive paragraphs would be copied appreciatively as far as the
remoter counties of Nebraska. For Brainard's success is not without the
elements of public scandal. His manipulation of city councils and of
state legislatures has been freely charged. Old stories of his brief
incarceration in prison, or of his narrow escape from it, sometimes
arise and flutter; and there are those who think that if he never has
been in jail, then this is all the more reason for his being there now.
His demise would indeed set the clipping-bureaus to work; but the work
would not be started by the direction of his surviving family. Such is
the chief to whom young George Ogden has sworn allegiance.

"I shall marry him," said a voice quite firmly; "you may make up your
mind to that."

Ogden started. These words came through a door which stood ajar in the
partition that separated him from the president's room; the office was
splendid with bevelled glass and oxidized iron-work, yet it was as
compact as high rentals compel. They were words in striking contrast to
most of the talk that his pen commanded. "Make it thirty days more";
"I'll take the rest in small bills, please"; "It will be due day after
to-morrow." And with these--"I shall marry him; make up your mind to
that."

He knew the voice perfectly well; he had heard it a fortnight before in
Floyd's office.

The door in the partition opened a foot or two wider; the bulky figure
of Erastus Brainard appeared and his hard and determined face. He was a
tall, broad-shouldered man with a close-clipped gray beard and a shaven
upper lip. Two or three red veins showed prominently in his bulbous
nose. He wore black broadcloth; his coat had a velvet collar, and on
his shoulders there was a light fall of dandruff. He wore boots. On
Sundays his boots had "tongues," and his trade was the mainstay of a
German shoemaker who kept a shop behind his house, and whom, twice a
year, he literally terrified into a fit.

But now his big figure clutched at the red-cherry door-jamb with a
tremulous hesitancy, the hard, fierce eyes looked out appealingly
from under their coarse and shaggy brows, and the proud and cruel
lips opened themselves to address the young man with an order that was
almost an entreaty.

"Ogden, won't you ask Mr. Fairchild to step this way?"

For a mouse had come into the place, and the elephant was in terror.

The Underground National Bank, with a surplus equal to a third of its
capital, had not declared a dividend for several years. Brainard,
along with his son and his brother, owned five eighths of the stock.
Put these two facts together and surmise the rest. Understand, without
the telling, how Brainard had bought back big blocks of stock from men
who had invested on his own advice and representations, only to sell
out at less than two thirds the price they had paid. Understand how
widowed and unprotected women, with little realization of the remote
possibilities of the science of banking and no realization at all of
the way in which their five thousands had come to be worth so much less
than five thousand, would come to his office to implore ingenuously
with sobs and tears that he would give them back their money. Consider
these and a dozen other phases of the pleasant pastime known as "freeze
out," and then judge whether Brainard, by this time, were capable or
no of braving, warding off, beating down, despising the threats, the
imprecations, the pleadings, the attacks of the harmless domestic
animal known as the investor. But now another domestic animal, the
wilful daughter, had entered his lair, and with this new antagonist he
felt himself unable to cope.

"Ogden, won't you ask Mr. Fairchild to step this way!"

Fairchild was only the cashier of the bank, while Brainard was its
head; but Fairchild was a good deal of a man--and that was more than
Brainard, with all his money and his brains and his consciencelessness,
and all the added power of the three combined, could have claimed for
himself. He was merely a financial appliance--one of the tools of the
trade.

He had no friends--none even of the poor sort known as "business"
friends. He had no social relations of any kind. He had no sense of
any right relation to the community in which he lived. He had next to
no family life. He had no apparent consciousness of the physical basis
of existence--for him diet, rest, hygiene were mere nothings. But none
of these considerations disturbed him very much. He could do without
friends--having so good a friend in himself. He could dispense with
social diversion--so long as the affairs of the Underground, and the
Illuminating Company, and those Western mines continued to occupy his
attention. He could rub along without the sympathy and respect of the
community--while he and it held the relative positions of knife and
oyster. He could do perfectly well without hygiene and proper regimen
as long as dyspepsia and nerves and rheumatism were not too pressing
in their attentions. And he could, of course, trust his family to run
itself without any great amount of attention from its natural head.

His family _had_ run itself for twenty odd years. It had gone on its
scattered way rejoicing--after the good, new, Western fashion which
finds the unit of society less in the family than in the individual;
and now a very promising young filly, after having "run" herself for
a good part of this twenty years, was on the point of taking the bit
between her teeth and of running away altogether. The family carryall,
whose front seat he had left in order that he might irresponsibly
dangle his legs out from behind, was in danger of a runaway and a
smash-up, and he was forced to the humiliating expedient of installing
a more competent driver than himself in his own place behind the
dashboard.

Ogden slid rapidly along the narrow aisle which ran behind the
row of coops that confined the tellers, and found Fairchild going
over yesterday's balances with the general bookkeeper. Here he was
intercepted by the last of the messengers, who had had some delay in
getting his batch of drafts and notes arranged properly into a route.

He was a boy of seventeen, with a pert nose and a pasty complexion. He
had put on his hat with a backward tilt that displayed his bang. He was
the son of a millionnaire stockholder, and was on the threshold of his
business career. He panted for consideration, and he had found, during
an experience of six months, that most consideration was to be won from
the newest men.

"What's up now, George?" he asked, familiarly. He twitched his narrow
little shoulders as he teetered back and forth on his toes. "Old man on
the rampage some more? He's had it pretty bad for the last three weeks."

"Oh, get out!" Ogden responded briefly.

Fairchild was a man well on in the fifties. He had a quiet,
self-contained manner, a smooth forehead, a gray moustache. His general
trustworthiness was highly esteemed by Brainard, who generally treated
him with civility and sometimes almost with consideration. He had
his privileges. A member of the board of directors in the Brainard
interest, he would be given the opportunity to resign whenever some
especially dubious piece of business was looming up, with the certainty
of re-election within the year. He was too old to tear himself up by
the roots, and too valuable to be allowed, in any event, the radical
boon of transplantation. Of course he paid for such a concession;
he acted as a buffer between Brainard and the more pathetic of the
stockholders, and now, as we see, he was summoned to deal with a
domestic crisis.

"My dear girl," Ogden presently heard him saying in a dry, cautious,
and yet somewhat parental tone, "you know what his position is. Not
in the church; no, I don't mean that. He is only a policy clerk in
that insurance office, at ten dollars a week, probably--hardly enough
for him to live on decently, alone. Yes, I know he gets more from the
choir, but even that--"

Ogden stopped one ear by propping his elbow on his ledger and putting
his hand to his head, and went on with his writing as well as he
could. But he had left the Underground for St. Asaph's; he was busy
no longer with notes for collection, but with the notes--the melting
tenor notes--of the all-admired Vibert. His fellow--clerks noiselessly
retired, and a long train of choristers slowly made their way through
the long aisle the others had left vacant. Among them Vibert--tall,
dark, hard, and cruel; an angel, possibly; but if so, surely one of the
fallen. And a little girl of eighteen, whose blue eyes showed out from
under her fluffy blond locks, and whose lips were parted in a radiant,
reverent smile, steadied a trembling hand on the back of a pew and
looked after him with a fond, open, and intense regard that was a
perfect epitome of love.

Those same blue eyes were now on the other side of the partition,
regarding her father's lieutenant with a look as bright and hard as was
ever her father's own; and as she listened to the words of warning,
those same full and pliant lips set themselves in a firm line that
Brainard himself could not have made straighter or more unswerving.

"Nobody really knows" the cashier went on, "who his people are,
or where he is from, or anything definite about him. He is one of
thousands. Here is a town full to overflowing with single young men.
They come from everywhere, for all reasons. They are taken on faith,
largely, and are treated pretty well. Most of them are all right, no
doubt; but others--Of course I know nothing about Mr.--about this one;
but your own brother, now--"

"That's just what I tell her," broke in Brainard, with a distressful
whimper. "Burt says, and he knows it's true, that--"

Ogden again stopped his ears. If by any possibility there was aught
good under that chaste surplice, he would not wilfully deprive himself
of any chance for belief. If that full neck and heavy jaw and sinister
eye and world-worn cheek and elaborate assumption of professional
sanctity offered the slightest prospect of decent manliness and of
happy home life, he would not allow one mere solitary phrase to shut
that prospect out. But he could not shut out a disgust that gradually
crept in upon him--a disgust for the man who would arrange the most
sacred and confidential affairs of his family circle in the same
general fashion that he would use for dealing with the concerns of an
ordinary business acquaintance; a disgust for the family life in which
such a state of things was possible. Had the girl no mother? She had,
indeed; but that mother was an invalid--one who, with the advancing
years, had come to know more and more of tonics and cordials, and less
and less of her daughters' needs. Had she no brother? But what can a
brother do?--order the intruder from the premises and intimidate him
from returning, which Burt had done. Were there no friends or relations
to see how matters were going and to speak out their minds boldly? But
whenever has such a course availed? The friends cease to be friends,
and the relatives are relatives at a greater remove only, and all goes
on as before. No; there was only one way to settle this affair--the
"business" way; and that way Brainard took--necessarily, instinctively.

He had never lived for anything but business. He had never eaten and
drunk for anything but business--his family shared his farm-like fare
and his primitive hours. He had never built for anything but business;
though constantly investing in grounds and buildings, he had occupied
his own home for fifteen years as a tenant merely, before he could
bring himself to a grudging purchase. He never dressed for anything
but business--he had never worn a dress-coat in his life. He wrote
about nothing but business--his nearest relative was nevermore than
"dear sir," and he himself was never otherwise than "yours truly"; and
he wrote on business letterheads even to his family. And now that the
present domestic difficulty was to be adjusted, no other method was
available. But he had the satisfaction of feeling that his daughter was
meeting him in his own spirit and on his own ground.

She eyed him with a cold and direct gaze like that of the sun which is
setting in a clear winter sky. Not a single cloud-shred of affection
showed itself in the wide expanse of crisp and tingling atmosphere
which she seemed to have created about her; not a particle of floating
vapor helped to diffuse a glow of sentiment over a situation which had
much need of some such softening influence. Her fierce little glance
tore down every scrap of reverence, of home love, of filial duty: life
had never seemed to him quite so bald, so unfurnished, so bereft of
un-businesslike non-essentials.'

[Illustration: "'I shall marry Russell,' she declared."]

"I shall marry Russell," she declared, "in spite of you and in spite
of everything. You may say that he has no money, and that you don't
know his family; and Burt may forbid him the house and go prying into
his private affairs; and you may say that he has no friends and no
abilities, and as much more as you please. I don't care; I shall be his
wife. I won't believe any of these things, and nobody shall separate
us."

She rose, flushed and frowning, and walked out firmly. Fairchild opened
the opposite door and moved off quietly to his own place. Brainard
brushed aside a pile of abstracts and mortgages that encumbered his
desk, found an opening big enough for his elbow, and leaned over his
blotting-pad with an air of utter dejection and defeat.



IV


On the twelfth floor of the Clifton--at the far end of a long
corridor--is the office of Eugene H. McDowell, real estate.

Ogden, at the beginning of one of his brief noonings, took the elevator
up to the quarters of his coming brother-in-law.

He found McDowell stretching himself violently in his swivel chair,
which was tilted as far back as its mechanism would permit; his head
was thrown back, too, as far as anatomical considerations would allow.
His eyes would have seen the ceiling if they had not been so tight
shut; his Adam's apple appeared prominently between the turned-down
points of his collar. His desk was strewn with a litter of papers, and
the tassels depending from his map-rack began a trembling at varying
heights as Ogden closed the door behind him.

"Waugh--oo!" yawned McDowell, with his mouth at its widest. Then he let
his chair down, all at once. "Oh, it's you, George, is it?"

He used the careless and patronizing freedom of a man of thirty odd to
another several years his junior--of a man in business for himself to
a man in business for some one else--of a man who was presently to
undertake the protection and support of the other's sister.

"Sit down." He motioned Ogden to a chair which stood close to the
window--a window that looked out on the court and that commanded the
multifarious panorama of daily business going on behind the ranks and
rows of great glass sheets which formed the other three sides of the
enclosure--the ends of over-crowded desks, the digital dumb-show of
stenographers, the careful handling by shirt-sleeved clerks of the
damp yellow sheets in copying-books, the shaking fingers and nodding
heads that accompanied the persuasion and expostulation of personal
interviews.

McDowell presented a physiognomy that seemed to have been stripped
of all superfluities. He contrived to avoid the effect of absolute
leanness, yet he was without a spare ounce of flesh. His cheek-bones
did not obtrude themselves, nor were his finger-joints unduly
prominent; yet his trousers seemed more satisfactory as trousers than
his legs as legs, and his feet were in long, narrow, thin-soled shoes,
through whose flexible leather one almost divined the articulations of
his toes. His hair had shrunk back from his forehead and temples, but
his moustache sprang out as boldly and decidedly as if constructed of
steel wires. His nose was sharp; his eyes were like two gimlets. The
effect of his presence was nervous, excitant, dry to aridity. He had a
flattish chest and bony shoulders; his was an earthly tabernacle that
gave its tailor considerable cause for study.

"Tour friends called again this morning," he began, folding up two or
three documents and thrusting them into the pigeon-holes before him.
"We have had quite a session. But they're fixed finally. Does that
cousin of theirs live with them?"

"Cousin? Isn't she their sister--sister-in-law?"

"I mean the other one; Miss--Bradley, isn't it?"

"Oh! Well, no; she comes in and stays with them a week now and then.
But her people live in Hinsdale."

"Hinsdale; nice country around there. Seems as if you just had to get
outside of Cook County to find anything hilly or even rolling. I'd like
to take it up first rate. The minute you are over the county line you
get clean out of all that flat land and everything's up and down--like
around Worcester. But I don't believe they save much on taxes."

He tore some pencilled memoranda off the top of a pad and threw them
into the waste-basket.

"Yes, the sister-in-law was here, all right enough. She's a pretty
smart woman, too; got a good deal more head than any of the rest of
them. She's striking out a little late, but she may make something of
herself yet.

"But she wants to get that poetical streak out of her," he went on.
"What was it she said, now? Oh, yes; all this down-town racket came
to her like the music of a battle-hymn. Our hustling, it seems,
resembles a hand-to-hand combat from street to street--she lugged in
mediæval Florence. And to finish up with, she told me I was like a
gladiator stripped for the fray." He ran his hand down the stripes of
his handsome trousers. "What did she mean by that? Was it some of her
Boston literary business?"

He lifted his hand and thoughtfully twirled the scanty locks over one
of his ears.

"Here's a letter I got this morning from Hittie." He drew out a small
folded sheet from the bottom of a pile of correspondence. "She has
about come around to my way of thinking. There don't seem any very good
reason for my travelling away down there again, especially when your
father and mother are going to move out here anyway. I'm awful busy.
She'll have her own family at the wedding, then, and she'll give me a
show to scare up some of mine. Things are just too rushing--that's the
amount of it."

"I'm glad to have it settled one way or another," George said. "And how
about that other affair--have you made any report to father?"

"Yes. That's as good as settled. The deeds are all made out; they've
only got to be signed." He reached into one of his pigeon-holes and
brought out a bulk of bluish paper whose fractious folds were held in
some shape by a wide rubber strap. "Here's one of the abstracts--just
come in. The other is a good deal longer and the copy isn't finished. I
suppose they'll put that one on a board."

He snapped the band once or twice and put the abstract back again.

"I'm glad," he said, "that your father has finally decided to pull up
altogether and to transfer everything to the West. That old block of
his was wanting repairs all the time; I don't believe it paid him four
per cent. It takes more than soldiers' monuments and musical festivals
to make a town move."

George felt his heart give an indignant throb. He seemed to see
before him the spokesman of a community where prosperity had drugged
patriotism into unconsciousness, and where the bare scaffoldings
of materialism felt themselves quite independent of the graces and
draperies of culture. It seemed hardly possible that one short month
could make his native New England appear so small, so provincial, so
left-behind.

"You've got to have snap, go. You've got to have a big new country
behind you. How much do you suppose people in Iowa and Kansas and
Minnesota think about Down East? Not a great deal. It's Chicago they're
looking to. This town looms up before them and shuts out Boston and New
York and the whole seaboard from the sight and the thoughts of the West
and the North west and the New Northwest and the Far West and all the
other Wests yet to be invented. They read our papers, they come here to
buy and to enjoy themselves." He turned his thumb towards the ceiling,
and gave it an upward thrust that sent it through the six ceilings
above it. "If you'd go up on our roof and hear them talking--"

"Oh, well," said George; "hadn't we better get something to eat?"

"And what kind of a town is it that's wanted," pursued McDowell, as
he pulled down the cover of his desk, "to take up a big national
enterprise and put it through with a rush? A big town, of course, but
one that has grown big so fast that it hasn't had time to grow old.
One with lots of youth and plenty of momentum. Young enough to be
confident and enthusiastic, and to have no cliques and sets full of
bickerings and jealousies. A town that will all pull one way. What's
New York?" he asked, flourishing his towel from the corner where the
wash-stand stood. "It ain't a city at all; it's like London--it's a
province. Father Knickerbocker is too old, and too big and logy, and
too all-fired selfish. We are the people, right here. Well, Johnny,
you hold the fort," he called to a boy who was dividing an open-eyed
attention between this oration and his own sandwich; "I've got to have
a bite myself."

"How are you getting on downstairs?" he asked, as they tramped over
the tiles of the long corridor towards the elevators. "I hear you were
over at Brainard's house last night--he's a fine bird. And his son is
like him. He's got another, hasn't he--a younger one? In the bank,
isn't he? Used to be. Well, he might be without your knowing it. Queer
genius--his father don't know what to do with him. He's kind of in the
background, as it were. How did you happen to go over there?"

"Papers to sign. Mr. Brainard was at home, sick. It was something that
they could hardly give to any of the boys to manage. I met his other
daughter."

"Other? Didn't know he had any. Got two, has he? And two sons. Well,
he's a great old father, from all I hear, and I shouldn't--D--ow--n!"

But the elevator was too far past them to return.

"Here's another coming," said George, to whom the indicator showed that
a cab had left the top story and was half way down to their level.

Ogden had now gone through a novitiate of five or six weeks. After his
first wrench--from the East to the West--his second one--from the West
Side to the North--seemed an unimportant matter. He had learned his new
neighborhood, had made a few acquaintances there, had become familiar
with his work at the bank; and the early coming of his own family, who
had elected to swell the great westward movement by the contribution
of themselves and all their worldly goods, helped him to the feeling
of being tolerably well at home. From the vantage-ground of a secure
present and a promising future he became an interested observer of
the life that swept and swirled about him. He found that there might
be an inner quiet under all this vast and apparently unregulated din:
he recalled how, in a cotton factory or a copper foundry, the hands
talked among themselves in tones lower than the average, rather than
higher. The rumble of drays and the clang of street-car gongs became
less disconcerting; the town's swarming hordes presently appeared
less slovenly in their dress and less offensive in their manners
than his startled sensibilities had found them at first; even their
varied physiognomies began to take on a cast less comprehensively
cosmopolitan. His walks through the streets and his journeyings in
the public conveyances showed him a range of human types completely
unknown to his past experience; yet it soon came to seem possible that
all these different elements might be scheduled, classified, brought
into a sort of _catalogue raisonné_ which should give every feature its
proper place--skulls, foreheads, gaits, odors, facial angles; ears,
with their different shapes and sets; eyes, with their varying shapes
and colors; hair, with its divergent shades and textures; noses, with
their multiplied turns and outlines; dialects, brogues, patois, accents
in all their palatal and labial varieties and according to all the
differentiations in pharynx, larynx, and epiglottis.

He disposed as readily of the Germans, Irish, and Swedes as of the
negroes and the Chinese. But how to tell the Poles from the Bohemians?
How to distinguish the Sicilians from the Greeks? How to catalogue the
various grades of Jews? How to tabulate the Medes, and the Elamites,
and the Cappadocians, and the dwellers from Mesopotamia?

During the enforced leisure of his first weeks he had gone several
times to the City Hall, and had ascended in the elevator to the
reading-room of the public library. On one of these occasions a heavy
and sudden down-pour had filled the room with readers and had closed
all the windows. The down-pour without seemed but a trifle compared
with the confused cataract of conflicting nationalities within, and
the fumes of incense that the united throng caused to rise upon the
altar of learning stunned him with a sudden and sickening surprise--the
bogs of Kilkenny, the dung-heaps of the Black Forest, the miry ways of
Transylvania and Little Russia had all contributed to it.

The universal brotherhood of man appeared before him, and it smelt
of mortality--no partial, exclusive mortality, but a mortality
comprehensive, universal, condensed and averaged up from the grand
totality of items.

In a human maelstrom, of which such a scene was but a simple transitory
eddy, it was grateful to regain one's bearings in some degree, and
to get an opportunity for meeting one or two familiar drops. It had
pleased him, therefore, to find that Brainard's house was in the
neighborhood of Union Park and in the immediate vicinity of his own
first lodgings: and when he went over there with his documents in his
pocket he appreciated the privilege of ringing the bell of a door
behind which were one or two faces that he might recognize.

The Brainards lived on a corner, and the house was so set as to allow a
narrow strip of yard along the side street. It was built in the yellow
limestone which used to come from quarries at Joliet, and the architect
had shown his preference for the exaggerated keystones that had so
great a vogue in the late sixties. The house had a basement, and above
the elaborate wooden cornice there was a mansard with several windows
that were set in a frame-work of clumsy and pretentious carpentry.
Behind the house was a brick stable; it had been built of cheap
material and covered with a cheaper red wash. The dampness of the lower
walls had caused this wash to discolor and then to fall off altogether.
Around the premises there ran an old-fashioned iron fence; it stood on
a stone coping that was covered with perpendicular streaks of yellow
rust. In the yard a meandering asphalt walk led past a few lilacs and
syringas, which were looked down upon by a painful side porch that
nobody ever used. The walk in front of the house was of stone; that at
the side was of plank and showed three long lines of nail-heads.

The interior, so far as it came under Ogden's notice, was furnished
with a horrible yet consistent simplicity. The large rooms were set
sparely with chairs, tables, and sofas that represented the spoil of
Centralia, and there were few modern additions to introduce discords.
An ideal sculptured head, placed on a marble pedestal swathed in a
fringed scarf of saffron silk and set between the lace curtains so as
to show from the street, would have ruined the effect both within and
without. Perhaps the same might be said of any other house.

Brainard himself was not visible; he was only audible. His deep voice
came in a sort of deadened growl through the closed door of a small
side room; and mingled with it were the querulous tones of a woman's
voice--an elderly woman, a woman in poor health, a woman whom some
sudden and distressful stroke had brought to the verge of tears.

The house had been built in the primitive days when local architecture
was still in such exact accord with local society that anything like
graded receptions was undreamed of. Everybody who seemed too good to
be kept waiting in the hall was shown into the front parlor. This room
had a carpet whose design was in large baskets of bright flowers, and
a ceiling that was frescoed in a manner derived from a former style of
railroad decoration. This scheme of decoration centred around a massive
and contorted chandelier with eight globes. Nobody had ever seen the
whole eight "going" at one time. Lincoln and his family were on one
side of the marble mantel-piece; Grant and his family on the other.

It was in this room that Ogden was received by the elder daughter of
the house. She seemed a quiet, self-poised girl, four or five years
the senior of her sister. She amply filled her gown of gray woollen;
her hair was drawn back from her forehead and made a knot just above
the nape of her neck. She had a pair of cool, steady gray eyes. She
appeared wholesome, stable, capable of keeping herself well in hand.

"My father isn't able to see you," she said; "but if you will give me
what you have brought I will take it to him."

There was a tremulousness in her voice, quite at variance with her
manner and appearance. She put out her hand with a wavering motion; the
flaring of the gas in her face seemed to strike her with a positive
pain.

A door opened suddenly and her brother Burt came in. He was a stocky
young man three or four years older than Ogden. He seemed stuffed with
importance both present and future, both personal and parental--he was
himself and his father rolled into one.

"Abbie," he said, in a sharp, curt way, "I wish you'd find father the
copy of that report you made for him yesterday." He looked at Ogden
in a fashion that changed the young man from a person to a thing. "We
have been looking for you some time," he said. "I'll take those papers
myself."

He spoke in a way that was abrupt and autocratic. Ogden recognized it
as the utterance of a masterful nature, but he was unable to see that
the masterful nature was moved by an emotion that must be controlled
and concealed. His indignation made no allowance for this, and his
subsequent ten minutes of solitary reflection left a bitterness that
passed away but lingeringly. More and more, with every moment of this
short wait, did he feel himself a gentleman turned into a lackey by his
inferiors.

[Illustration: "A door opened suddenly, and her brother Burt came in."]

There was no salve for his wounded sensibilities save, perhaps, in the
look of dumb expostulation which the girl cast upon her brother and in
the few commonplace words which she addressed to their caller before
she went out.

"Kindly wait a few moments, and the papers will be ready to take back.
Perhaps you will find this other chair more comfortable."

It was after this fashion that he first met Abbie Brainard; met her--as
he reported it to McDowell--and hardly more.

He followed his brother-in-law into the elevator and they dropped
swiftly to the ground floor. At this level is situated the Acme Lunch
Room.



V


McDowell took a cup of tea and an expeditious doughnut standing, and
hurried away. Ogden, who had not overcome his habit of leisurely
eating, lingered behind.

The Acme occupies a square, low-ceiled room in the hindermost corner of
the Clifton: perhaps, with a lower ceiling and a situation on a level
lower still, it would have been called the Zenith. It is fitted up with
three or four oval counters, and a very close calculation of space
allows room for an infinitesimal cashier's desk as well. Each oval
encloses a high rack that is heaped with rolls, buns, and cakes, and
close to each rack stands a brace of big, cylindrical, nickel-plated
tanks that yield coffee and tea. Each oval is fringed with a row of
stools--hard-wood tops on a cast-iron base; and in warm weather a
pair of fans, which are moved by power supplied from the engine-room,
revolve aloft and agitate the stifling atmosphere.

Ogden had spent the past week in trying a succession of dairies,
lunch-rooms, and restaurants, and had ended by returning to the Acme,
which seemed as decent and convenient as any. He found a place in a
quiet corner; ordered his coffee, wheat-muffins, and pie, which all
came together; and fell to work with his eye soberly fixed on the
shining expanse of the freshly-wiped counter. Was he consistent, he
wondered, in claiming any great consideration until he could lunch at a
higher figure than fifteen or twenty cents?

The girl who had waited on him turned away, but another one, who stood
a little distance off, called her back.

"Here, Maggie, change that mince. This gentleman don't want a piece
with a whole corner knocked off."

Ogden buttered his muffin without raising his eyes. The second girl
herself placed the new cut of pie before him and stood looking down
upon him. The hour was a little late, and but three or four customers
held places around the counters. Presently she spoke.

"Well, Mister Ogden," she said, with a humorous tartness, "you don't
seem to recognize your old friends."

Ogden threw up his head. "Why, Nealie, is this you!" he exclaimed. It
was a girl who had helped wait on table at his West Side boardinghouse.

She wore a dark dress with a plain white collar. Her brows made two
fine straight lines over the yellowish green of her eyes. She had a
strong, decided face, yet there was a certain lurking delicacy in the
outlines of nose and chin.

"That's what," she replied. "I've made a change, you see. Been here
pretty near a week. Come in often?"

"I'm in the building. What was the matter with your other place?"

The girl hitched up her shoulders. "The fact of it is, I couldn't get
used to it. Never tried anything like that before."

She looked about cautiously and then resumed in a confidential voice,

"To tell the truth, I was just forced into it. Pa and ma didn't want me
to come to Chicago, but I couldn't make out that I was going to have
any terrible great show there in Pewaukee. I didn't s'pose it was going
to be so awful hard to find something to do in a big place like this.
But I made up my mind, all the same, that I wasn't going to cave in and
go back to Wisconsin--not straight off, anyway. Kept right on trotting
about. Any port in a storm, says I. And when I met that good old soul
in the intelligence office, that settled it. She only wanted a second
girl; but I thought I could stand it."

"Couldn't you?"

[Illustration: He found a place in a quiet corner.]

"I didn't tell ma, though, that I was living out. I wrote to her that
I was clerking--ten dollars a week. Ten dollars!--I'm looking for the
girl that gets more than six. I don't know what the folks would have
thought if they'd known of me a-being ordered around by a lot of young
fellers--run and fetch and carry for a parcel of strangers. It don't
come natural to me to be bossed, I can tell you."

"But Mrs. Gore used you well?"

"She did, for a fact. But it wasn't the sort of thing I wanted at all.
So I told her I guessed I'd go. 'Well,' says she, sort of resigned
like, 'if you've made up your mind to, you must, I s'pose'; she was
sorry to lose me, I know. She walked to the-basement door with me to
say good-by--with her specs on top of her head. 'Be a good girl,' says
she, 'and let us hear from you'--'most exactly what ma said when I came
away. Gray hair, just like ma's, too. 'Yes, ma'am,' says I. I didn't
say 'ma'am' because I thought I was a servant--I wasn't; but because
she was older and because I had a respect for her. And so I _shall_ let
her hear from me; when I get along a little further I'm going to call
on her. And I'm going to get along, let me tell you; I haven't jumped
on to this hobby-horse of a town just to stay still."

She nodded her head with great decision.

"It broke her all up when you went away," she resumed. "She kept
a-wondering for two or three days what the matter was. Poor soul, she's
a good deal too tender for this town. What _was_ the matter?"

"Nothing. I had friends in a different part of the city."

"In a different part of the city," she repeated. She spread her palms
far apart on the inner edge of the counter and brought her face down
almost to a level with his. "D'you know, I always liked the way you
talked; it's real genteel. And you say 'cahn't,' too. And 'dinnuh' and
'suppuh.' Hardly anybody says 'cahn't' around here--except actors. Say,
I went the other night. It cost fifty cents; but I was just wild to see
a real out-and-out city show--couldn't hold in any longer. They all
talked kind of artificial, except one man. He had a bad part--erring
son, sort o'. He talked right out in plain, every-day style, and he was
about the only one I really cared for. Of course, though, I don't like
bad men better than good ones. But your way is nice, after all."

"Thanks."

"Well, I'm in a different par-r-t of the city myself." She gave
a comprehensive glance over the sizzling coffee-urns. "Second in
command." She tapped her breast-bone. "I don't think so everlasting
much of Duggan here, but he recognizes talent. It didn't take him long
to find out what I was and he raised me. I boss and help around when
there's a rush, and now and then I take the cashier's place. It's all
just like a store. Oh," she proceeded, after a shrewd look at him, "I
know well enough what you've been thinking all this time. But here's
your counter and there's your goods; and people just say what they want
and get a check for it and pay at the door. No boarding-house in that,
is there? They don't bulldoze _us_ very much."

The door opened and a belated clerk came in.

"Here, Gretchen," she called to one of her force, "see what this man
wants." The newcomer dropped mechanically on to one of the stools and
submissively took the damaged pie that had been taken away from Ogden.
He had ordered apple.

"Most of 'em are tractable enough," she commented.

"I've got ten girls here," were her next words, "and they're quite a
fair lot. But that mooneyed German girl over there--"

"Gretchen?"

"I _call_ her Gretchen; she don't look as if she knew beans, does
she? Well, she don't. She was going on in the pantry yesterday about
the rights of man. I knew she was due to break a saucer pretty soon.
Well, she did. And we've got a Swede girl here who would be the best
all around one of the lot if it wasn't for her temper. All of a sudden
she gets mad and she stays mad, and you can't for the life of you find
out what it was that made her mad. Those three Irish girls are pretty
smart. H'm, yes; they were rigging up a strike Tuesday. They wanted
fifty cents a week more. They found out their want at a quarter to
twelve. 'All right, girls,' says I, 'you can go out if you want. Our
regular people will kick and go somewhere else for a few days, perhaps;
but the first rainy noon they'll all come in again, and they'll see
that things are running all right with a new crew, and after that
they'll stay.' Goodness me! I've heard more about rights and less about
duties this last week than I ever did before in my life. My uncle says
it's the same with him. He's the engineer here. He really got me this
place. If you look down through that grating out there as you go along
you may see him. It's talk and argue all the time--his men have more
half-baked notions than you can think of, and he's kept on the k'jump
all the time looking after things. Do _I_ kick? Do I squeal? Not much.
And if I had come in from outside with a different language, maybe, and
a different training and a different set of notions, and if I had been
a real, dyed-in-the-wool, down-trodden peasant and all my folks the
same for nobody knows how far back, perhaps I'd find some reason there
for not keeping abreast with the tolerably smart lot of people that had
let me in."

She cast a lofty eye over her various underlings. "Kind of a plain lot,
ain't we? You know there's one place like this in town where they
won't take a girl unless she's pretty. Their cashier is a regular bute.
But I wouldn't work in such a place; no, indeed."

She paused. Ogden made no response. She eyed him with a sharp
impatience.

"Not but what I could, though, if I had a mind," she remarked, with a
vindictive little explosion.

"No, I couldn't, either," she added suddenly; "they're all brunettes
this year."

And she laughed forgivingly.

"And you don't see me a-wearing rings and chains," she pursued; "I
guess not. And I sha'n't, either, until I finish my course."

"Course"? Was she hinting at the close of her earthly career?

"Yep. Shorthand. But don't hurry away." He had dropped his feet to
the floor. "Duggan went right off after the rush, and I guess I've
been hard pushed enough to enjoy a little restful conversation.
Shorthand and typewriting--that's what I'm steering for. I'll stand
this for a while--until I can do eighty words. I've begun at the
Athenæum already. I don't see why anybody should want to take
'lessons' in typewriting; it's practice you want. Same with the other.
Well, I'm practising hard enough. I-shall-be ready for b-usiness
in-three-months," she traced with her finger on the counter, giving
considerable pressure to the "b" in "business." "I'm ahead of the class
now.

"I'm educated, too," she continued. "I taught school one term up in
Waukesha County. I know how to spell--you ought to see how some of
those girls write out their notes. And I can punctuate--semicolons just
as easy as anything else. Say, do you know Mrs. Granger S. Bates?"

"I've seen her name in the papers," said Ogden, emptying his glass and
feeling in his pocket for his handkerchief.

"Sorry we don't give napkins. Well, she was a school-teacher, and look
at her now. I went by her house on Calumet Avenue last Sunday. She's
got about everything. She is one of the patronesses of the Charity
Ball. Still, I suppose she must be getting along in years--her husband
has come to be the Lord High Muck-a-muck of Most Everything; I've read
about him for years. Hope _I_ haven't got to wait till I'm fifty to
have a good time."

Ogden was shuffling his feet on the floor.

"Won't you have another piece of pie? _No?_ Well, try a cream-puff,
then; it'll be my treat. And do take time with it. Anything but fifty
men eating away like a house afire."

Only one other customer remained. The Swede girl began to collect the
cream-jugs.

"I don't care so extra much about Mrs. Bates, though. But there's Mrs.
Arthur J. Ingles, three-hundred-and-something Ontario Street--do you
know _her_? Now there's a woman that interests me. She's in the papers
every day; she goes everywhere. She's 'way up, I guess; I'd be wild if
she wasn't. She was at a dance last Tuesday, and she gave a reception
the day before, and her sister is going to be married nest month.
It's easy to follow folks since the papers began to print their names
all bunched up the way they do, and Mrs. Arthur J. is one that I've
followed pretty close. She must be young--I never see his name except
with hers. I guess he's just a society dude. Well, dudes are all right;
you've got to have 'em in a big town. You wouldn't have the whole
million and a half of us be grubbers?"

"I suppose not."

"She gave a dinner last week. Covers were laid for ten--what does that
mean?"

"Probably that she and her husband had eight people."

"She wore heliotrope satin. Ornaments, diamonds. Great, wasn't it? One
of our girls brought down a book this morning about lady Guinevere.
Guinevere--your grandmother! What are we to Lady Guinevere, or what is
Lady Guinevere to us? But when it comes to people living in your own
town, why, that's getting down to business."

"Yes, let us talk about realities--Balzac."

"I should say so," she assented, missing the allusion. "Now then, why
shouldn't _I_ be wearing heliotrope satin to dinner sometime?--if not
under the name of Cornelia McNabb, then under some other as good or
better. Anyway, I'm going to keep my hands as nice as I can; a girl
never knows what she may have a chance to become. I don't imagine it
will disfigure me much to run a typewriter. Dear me," she sighed, "how
much time I've lost! If I hadn't been such a darned goose, I might have
begun Pitman at home a year ago."

She reached down under the counter and pulled a newspaper up out of a
dark corner.

"Some lunch-rooms have papers around--as many as a dozen, sometimes;
but Duggan says this place is too cramped for him to give people any
inducement to dilly-dally. It's eat and run. So I have to buy my own.
This is the first chance I've had to look at it. I wonder what she's
been up to now."

She opened the paper and ran down its columns with an expert eye.

"Yes, here she is, first pop. _Mr. and Mrs_.--Cluett, Parker, Ingles.
My sakes, how I envy that woman! Course I don't want that she should
come down here and wash my dishes, but wouldn't I like to go up there
and eat off of hers! What did she wear?--it don't tell. Where was
it?--at Mrs. Walworth Floyd's--a small dinner. Don't know them. How
about the _Misses?_--Jameson, Parker, Wentworth--she's a great goer,
too. And here are a few _Messrs_.--Johnson, J. L. Cluett, George
Ogden--"

She stopped abruptly.

"You?"

There was a world of reproach in her voice.

"Yes."

"And you sit there and never let on! You're as mean as you can be. What
is she like? Tell me, do. Ain't she young, now? What did she wear?"

"I didn't go. I had a trip to the "West Side."

"Your name's here."

"The reporters get the names in advance. Sometimes they copy them from
cards or regrets."

"And you wasn't there?"

"Ho."

"Too bad! But you've seen her?"

"Never."

"How hateful! But you was really invited?"

"Yes."

"H'm!" she said, deliberately; "I see now why you moved. I don't blame
you. I'm trying to get along, too. We're both in the same boat."

Ogden rose.

"What else is there?" she asked herself, looking over other columns.
"Here's a marriage; it's in Milwaukee. Don't know whether it's a
society item or not. Who are they?--J. Russell Vibert is the man, and
Mary Adelaide Brainard is the woman. Both of Chicago--know 'em?" Ogden
sat down suddenly.

She eyed him curiously.

"That's the first sign I've seen that you was willing to stay a single
minute longer than you had to. You can go now, whenever you want. We've
got to clean up. So long!"



VI


Ogden had been balked in his first social advance by the inconsiderate
and unwarranted demands of the Brainards. He failed on Proposition
No. I., but its attendant corollary he disposed of after the proper
interval. He had missed the dinner, but he accomplished the dinner call.

He was moving around his room in his shirtsleeves; he had the leisurely
air of one whose social orbit was so small as to involve no relations
with the courses of cabs and of street-cars. To set himself right with
the Floyds he had but to step around the corner.

His room was rather small and cramped, but he had preferred indifferent
accommodations in a good house to good accommodations in an indifferent
house--just as he would have chosen an indifferent house in a good
neighborhood to a better house in a poorer one. His quarters, however,
were well enough for a single young man of moderate pretensions. He had
space for a three-quarter bed, a bureau, a wash-stand which displayed
a set of pink-flowered crockery and two towels, a cane-seated chair,
and a pair of book-shelves on the wall. And by means of a good deal
of dexterous manœuvring he contrived to extract some comfort from an
undersized rocker. His decorations were principally photographs, which
showed to the extent common under the circumstances. Some of these
were grouped in twos and threes, in frames faced with Chinese silk;
they helped to achieve the disordered and over-crowded effect that the
present taste in house-furnishing aims at, and can always accomplish in
a back hall bedroom.

The photographs stood in the position in which he had first placed
them a month and a half ago, although the recent arrival of several
of the originals had given their shadows an altered importance.
Everybody knows of the inertia that overtakes decorative detail, even
when portable. There were the pictures of his father and his mother,
arranged in a pair. His father offered a placid, gray-bearded face;
it seemed rather forceless, though that effect may have been due to
retouching; yet, independent of any practical processes, it was the
face of a man who obviously could not have risen in advance to any
adequate conception of the Western metropolis.

The face of his mother was serious, strenuous. She had in some degree
the semi-countrified aspect of one who has run a quiet course in a
quiet quarter of a minor town.

His sister's picture had been taken in the East just before her
starting for her new home. It was now in the hands of Ogden's next-door
neighbor, who had come in carrying a choice of white ties, and who
now wove around it a contemplative cloud of tobacco-smoke from his
briar-wood pipe. He was a young man with a high forehead and a pair of
shrewd but kindly brown eyes.

"A mighty pretty girl," Brower said, heartily. "Get the right kind of a
New England face, and you can't do much better. I must haul out my own
photographs and fix them up some time."

Brower kept his collection in his trunk, along with his shirts and
underwear generally. He used his bureau drawers for collars and cuffs,
and for a growing accumulation of newspapers, magazines, and novels.
He had been in the house two years, yet his trunk had never been
unpacked and put away. He was an adjuster for an insurance company,
and was subject to sudden calls to remote localities, in accordance
with the doings of the busy monster that the press knows as the "fire
fiend." If Isaac Sobrinski, off in Des Moines, had the misfortune
to be burned out, at the close of a dull season or in the face of
brisk and successful competition, then Des Moines was the place to
which Brower immediately posted. He estimated the damage on the
building, figured the salvage on socks and ulsters, and endeavored to
decide, so far as lay in his powers, whether the catastrophe had been
inflicted by Providence or had been precipitated by Sobrinski's own
match-box. However, he never carried anything except his valise on such
excursions; the general state of his trunk is to be accepted simply as
the mental index of a constant and hurried traveller.

"Yes, she's a mighty pretty girl," he repeated, thoughtfully. "Where
have they gone?"

"Oh, not far. There's been a good deal of travelling done already. They
just went up to Milwaukee; Eugene had something to see about there.
They'll be back to-morrow, I expect."

"Milwaukee, eh? That's come to be quite the fashion, hasn't it? Some
folks go there after they're married, and some of them to _be_ married.
We had one in our office a week or two ago; Vibert--have you met him?"

"It's in your office he is, then, is it? No, I've never met him. I've
seen him and heard about him. Is he much thought of?"

"Well, the office doesn't have a great deal to say to a man as long
as he keeps hours and attends to his work--when the position isn't
responsible, I mean. What are you looking for--whisk-broom? Here; I'm
sitting on it, I guess."

"I suppose he does attend to his work?"

"Oh, so-so; but a little break like that doesn't help a man any. He
struck high, didn't he?"

"Yes."

"Wonder what he's got to keep her on. Great question--all that; ain't
it? She's a rich girl, I hear. Subject for debate: is it safer to marry
a rich girl or a poor girl--for a young man in moderate circumstances,
I mean?"

"Oh, dear," said Ogden, sitting down on the edge of the bed,
helplessly; "if you're going back to _that_ chestnut!"

"Well, it's timely," rejoined Brower, knocking the ashes of his pipe
into the cover of the soap-dish; "and always will be. Pro: if the
girl's rich, she'll have had things, and got used to them, and perhaps
tired of them. If the girl's poor, she'll be ravenous after her long
starve-out, and will expect her husband to feed her with everything."

"Lay on."

"Con: if the girl's rich, she'll expect all the comforts and luxuries
she has been used to at home. If she's poor, she'll have had some sense
ground into her; she'll know how to manage and contrive. So there it
is. What's your idea?" "No general rule. Depends on circumstances."
"What does?"

"The girl. To begin with."

"The girl depends on circumstances. And after?"

"After? Oh, then circumstances depend on the girl."

"H'm! Can't lay down any general law--same as with little Johnny.
Pshaw! You go to the foot."

But they both agreed on one point, as young men always do when they
discuss this standard subject: they stood together on the assumption
that such a venture concerned only the two people primarily involved.

Brower preceded Ogden into the hallway; he stood with the toe of one
slipper on the heel of the other. "Well, remember me to the swells."

"Oh, shucks!" said George, turning back and laughing.

He walked down and out rather sedately, and picked his way over the
muddy sidewalks with his thoughts fixed on the two recent marriages.
That in his own family had just occurred under such disadvantages as
must prevail in a disorganized household, and with the infliction of
such discomforts as will sometimes be undergone by people who, while
not in society, still feel impelled to have such a function proceed
after the fashion that society prescribes. Kittie Ogden was duly
married, then, with a certain regard to cards, carriages, caterers, and
the rest; and the feast was graced by a number of McDowell's family
and friends--people of a fairish sort, who called for little comment
in either way. At least, little comment was bestowed by Ogden, whose
principal thought was that his sister was now the wife of a fellow of
some means and ability, and who felt that it would not come amiss to
have a good business man in the family.

At the Floyds' he found the other wedding the subject of much comment,
more or less discreet. On the other hand, the affair in his own family
received but a mere civil mention; the Ogdens, he felt, must be only
an insignificant little group, after all. Must they--must he--always
remain so?

The Floyds occupied a snug little house which filled a chink between
two bigger and finer ones, and commanded a view of the back yard of a
third, which was bigger and finer still. Mrs. Floyd had lately begun
to fill a chink in the social world as well, by having an "evening."
She had approached the idea with a good deal of deliberation, and she
had achieved something very small and quiet. She overcame her husband's
weakness for knowing people and inviting them to the house; she was not
after a deluge, but a drop; and if her tardy distillation did not equal
the perfumes of the fragrant East, still it was the best result to be
arrived at under the circumstances.

He found the Fairchilds there, and he came upon Fairchild and Floyd
smoking, _sub rosa,_ in a secluded corner of the library, which was
furnished in a sombre and solid fashion. In the Floyd family the
household divinity was the lace-curtain, whose susceptibility to
offence from the fumes of tobacco is well known; her high-priestess was
Mrs. Floyd, and her chief victim was Walworth. Associated with the two
smokers was young Freddy Pratt, whose solicitude regarding Brainard's
mental state on the occasion of his daughter's call at the bank has
been already touched upon, and who was now puffing a cigarette with a
learned and expert air. This attitude was displeasing to Ogden, who was
perhaps over-disposed to feel official differences on social occasions;
but no oppressive sense of his own subordinate rank troubled Freddy
Pratt, who had but a feeble and intermittent realization of the orders
of the business hierarchy, or indeed of anything else.

"It was a matter that concerned just her and him," Fairchild was
saying as Ogden entered, with a contemplative regard fastened on the
lengthening ash of his cigar. "It was nobody else's business."

He stopped. He had spoken in a low, quiet voice, but he had conveyed
unmistakably the presence of quotation-marks.

"I called on 'em the other night," volunteered Freddy Pratt,
unabashedly. His perky little nose was tipped in the air, and his
eyes were closed to the two fine slits that denote the complete
enjoyment of the smoker. "I wasn't going to stand off. They're at the
Northumberland--big name, but not much else. Ragged matting in the
halls, and the janitor didn't look very slick. I guess they've rented
ready furnished. Mayme was real glad to see me. But _he_ was rather
grumpy, I thought."

"Everybody ought always to be glad to see _you_, Freddy," smiled
Walworth, with a caressing irony.

"I suppose," resumed Fairchild, thoughtfully, "that the human family
will always go on considering a wedding as a joyous occasion. It always
has; it always must--hope springs eternal."

Ogden wondered what other view there might be to take. Everybody had
seemed lively and happy enough when Kittie was married.

"But there's the other side--the side that turns to view with a
consideration of the complicated relations of a good many new and
diverse elements--new people coming in. We had a case in our own family
some years ago, when my young cousin married. Poor Lizzie; she is dead
now. Her father died six months before her and left a good deal to be
divided up. Her husband was trustee for the boy after she herself went,
and he made us a good deal of trouble. He had his eye on the estate
from the start, and more than his share in the handling of it. There
were a good many meetings in lawyers' offices--more trying than the
courts themselves. There was a good deal of money lost, and there is
a good deal of feeling that will never be got over. He traded on his
wife's memory all through. Yet the family welcomed him very cordially
and trustfully; we thought the poor girl was going to be so happy. She
was; she never knew."

Ogden sighed; this was dismal matter.

"Oh, well," continued Fairchild, resuming his cigar, with an air of
passing to lighter topics, "this can't apply here. All of us are
happily married or are going to be--"

Freddy Pratt nonchalantly blew an ineffable smoke-ring across the room;
Walworth slipped around the table to close the last inch of crack in
the door.

"Oh, dear, yes!" he exclaimed.

"--and none of us are being troubled through relations by marriage."

The door was shut, but the penetrating voice of Ann Wilde came through
it clearly, and Walworth winced.

"Oh, dear, no!" he protested.

"I should say not," chimed in Freddy Pratt, with his self-satisfied
little ba-a.

The cigars were ending. "Come, let us go out to the others," said Floyd.

In the drawing-room Ogden presently encountered Jessie Bradley and her
parents. The girl herself appeared as dressed as the occasion could
warrant, but her father and mother wore the every-day habiliments in
which he had first seen them, a fortnight before, on the occasion
of a call at Hinsdale. They had an easy-going aspect, as if they
hardly cared to put themselves out greatly. They were present in the
triple capacity of relatives of the hostess, of suburbanites, and of
body-guard to escort their daughter back home after another of her
frequent visits in town, and their effect was quite provisional and
transitory.

Mrs. Bradley was a pleasant woman whose face was full of the fine lines
of experience and whose hair had thinned greatly without changing
its dry, sandy brown. She wore an old-fashioned tortoise-shell comb.
She met Ogden here precisely as she had met him in her own house. He
noticed presently that she treated everybody else in exactly the same
fashion, and he learned subsequently that she had, practically, one
invariable manner for all times, places, and people. It was a manner
that he found very quiet, simple, straightforward, and friendly. It
showed that she valued herself, and was also disposed to accord a good
value to anybody else. It seemed to say, as plainly as words: "The Lord
is the maker of us all; so let's have no more fuss about it." It was
the good American manner in full bloom.

Her husband had a jovial eye, a grizzled moustache, a rotund, polished
forehead, and cheeks that hung downward fatly into his big, round,
short neck. He appeared to have valued his peace of mind sufficiently
to preserve it and to be satisfied with the moderate success that comes
from moderate effort. He wore a short-waisted, double-breasted frock
coat, and there were no wrinkles in it, either front or back: he would
have found it impossible to thrust his plump hand in between any two of
the buttons.

He was given in the directory as "Bradley, Danl. H., secty. and treas.
Darrell & Bradley P't'g & Lith'g Co." He had been one of the organizers
of the corporation, but had since yielded the lead to others of more
push and means. He had a moderate salary and a small block of the
stock. Since he was assisting the business as an officer, rather than
directing it as an individual, he had little personal annoyance from
typographical unions and from the paper manufacturers' trusts. As for
"pi" and proof-readers' errors, matters which have a power to make
some men agonize, he merely laughed at them. The concern, besides its
central establishment, had a few retail branches placed here and there
through the business district; one of them, on the ground floor of the
Clifton, supplied the La Salle Street banks and insurance offices with
ledgers, ink, and blotting-pads.

He had an acre of ground and a two-story frame house at Hinsdale, and
Ogden remembered the small green-house where he fed his craze for
chrysanthemums.

[Illustration: "'We have come to take our girl back home.'"]

"We have come to take our girl back home," he said to Ogden as he laid
his plump hand lightly on his daughter's shoulder. "That is, if she can
make up her mind to go with us."

"Just us two all alone in the house," added her mother, with a humorous
pathos. "No chick nor child."

Jessie laughed and shook out a bit of her frivolous finery. Her face
had a tired look, but motion seemed more restful to her than rest
itself.

Ogden canvassed the three. Whence could this girl have got her
supple leanness, her light, gay, rapid, incisive air, her aspen-like
quiverings of nervous force? Not from her parents. From the March
winds, perhaps, that sweep down from Mackinaw, over the limy and choppy
expanse of Lake Michigan; from the varied breezes, hot and cold, that
scour the prairies on their way from scorched-up Texas or from the
snow-fields beyond Manitoba.

"Not even a relative," pursued her father; "not one in all the country
round--except Frances. All our people are down East," he continued,
addressing Ogden more directly. "They write every so often to learn
if we are millionnaires yet. We always have to say 'no,' and that
discourages them. They stay where they are."

"But Jessie goes around to look after them," contributed her mother,
with combined complacency and reproach. "She goes to Pittsfield and
Nantucket and everywhere. People are beginning, now, to ask her up to
Wisconsin, summers. And sometimes Florida."

The girl shrugged her shoulders in a fidgety fashion.

"Oh, well, mamma," she said, "I have to circulate. Let's circulate some
now," she suggested, turning to Ogden. "I'll be ready to go when you
are," she called back to her father.



VII


"We ave been expecting to see you out at the house again," she said to
the young man, as they settled on the stairs. They were seated just
below the landing. Her dress, trimmed with silver braid and little
groups of flaunting bows, grazed his knees; he could number every stone
in the rings that crowded her long, thin fingers. "We didn't suppose a
matter of eighteen miles would scare you."

"It doesn't. But you're never home."

"Oh, yes, I am--once in a while. When you do favor us again, get a
time-table for the next time after. I never heard of the 'Q.' charging
anything for them."

"I will."

"Awfully sudden about Mayme, wasn't it?" she said, with a suddenness of
her own. "I didn't suppose it was going to end like that--at least, not
right away. I dare say you have been noticing how Cousin Frances looks
at me, every now and then. You might think _I_ was the one to blame.
She's been talking to mother about it to-night--and me. I guess I'm
going home all right enough."

"Don't you want to?"

"Oh, I don't mind. But what's the dif.--far as May me is concerned, I
mean? She was bound to have him: she wouldn't have anybody else. It was
their affair, wasn't it? Well, then, why not let them manage it?"

"I suppose so," assented George, dubiously.

"Her father won't see her, I hear. I'd like such a father. Her sister
can't do anything with him."

"Her sister?"

"Yes; she's got about as much influence as anybody. Have you seen her?"

"Yes. Are _you_ very well acquainted with her?" he asked.

"Not very. She belongs to the next older generation."

"How much older? Two or three years?"

"Twenty or thirty. She's about the same age as her mother. But more
useful. Mayme thinks everything of her. She's a good, steady, plodding
stay-at-home. She ought to have been let out and given a show--she's
buried there. He makes her do lots of work."

"Her father?"

"Yes. She writes and figures a good deal of the time. She keeps the
grocer's and butcher's books, for one thing. Mayme says she knows how
to telegraph--they've got their own wire right to the house. When she
wants dissipation she goes to her 'Friendly.' And she belongs to a
club over there where they read papers and discuss. She was a good deal
upset."

"Urn," said Ogden, abstractedly. He recalled the girl's appearance
and her little ordeal of having to face a complete stranger at so
distressful a juncture. Yet she had borne herself with dignity and
composure; nor was he able to deny that she had been as perfectly
courteous as her brief appearance permitted. How that he understood,
he had less cause for complaint against her brother, and none at all
against her.

He dwelt lingeringly on the idea of "a complete stranger." He did not
feel that it would have been infinitely more trying to face a curious
neighbor. He had begun to idealize the ordeal and the victim of it.

"A penny for your thoughts," he presently heard his companion saying.
He came out of his study and looked through the stair-rail at the
little throng below. Two gentlemen had just come out of the dining-room.

"I was wondering who they were," he replied, at a venture.

"Who?"

"Those two."

The pair was followed by Walworth, whose pleasure it was to pour
libations whenever the gathering of two or three together gave a
pretext for that ceremony. One of the two sucked in his upper lip with
due caution, and both united in a pretence--decent, but slight and
futile--that the ladies knew nothing of these hospitable doings.

"The tall, brown one is Mr. Ingles. Haven't you met him here before?"

She indicated a man of forty, whose face was shaven except for a small
pair of snuff-colored whiskers, and whose mouth made a firm, straight,
thin line.

"Ingles? Arthur J.?"

"I don't know; I guess so. He owns the building--the Clifton."

"He's no dude," murmured Ogden to himself.

"Eh? Who said he was?"

"Oh, nobody. Who is the other?"

"That's Mr. Atwater--Mr. Ingles's architect. They're chums; were in
college together. Isn't he the most fascinating-looking man you ever
saw?"

"By Jove, he _is_ distinguished, for a fact! Was he born--here?"

"Don't you think it's lovely for a man of his age to have gray
hair--gray that's almost white? I shall do all I can to make _my_
husband grayhaired before he is middle-aged!"

She laughed at her own audacity. He turned about and stared at her, and
she laughed more heartily yet.

"And don't you like the twirl of his moustache? Or would you have
preferred him with whiskers?--cut in a straight line right across
his cheeks, with the corners near his mouth rounded off--but not too
formally. And do you notice the bridge of his nose and the air it gives
him? And his eyes--wait till he turns around; there, did you ever see
such a hazel? He seems to have everything--youth, experience, style,
family;--why did you ask if he was born here?" she demanded suddenly.

"Did I? I must have meant--is he going to die here?"

"Why not? You don't suppose that men of talent are going to leave
Chicago after this?"

"Do you expect to provide them with careers?"

"I don't see why we shouldn't. We're on the crest of the wave, and
we're going higher yet. From now on anybody who leaves us is likely to
be sorry for it."

Ogden looked back at Ingles; he stood in a doorway, between Fairchild
and Jessie's father.

"Is his wife here?"

"Oh, he isn't married, I don't believe."

"Hot married?--Ingles, I mean."

"Oh! Yes, he's married."

"Is his wife here?"

"Dear, no; you have to speak weeks ahead to get her."

"He's the one, then," Ogden assured himself.

"Which one?"

"Her husband. Do you know her?"

"I've met her here." She leaned over the railing. "What are they all
laughing about, down there?"

"Do you want to go and see?"

Mrs. Floyd and her sister had appeared in the doorway. Between them
was a little girl of five; she had one hand in her mother's, and with
the other she clutched a dilapidated doll. The child wore a guimpe and
a prim little frock with puffed sleeves; she had long, smooth brown
hair that turned thickly at her shoulders, and a pair of big, round,
wondering brown eyes.

"It's Claudia," said Jessie Bradley. "Yes, let's go down."

Atwater had placed himself before the child, half crouching, half
kneeling. He had the persuasive and ingratiating manner proper to a
fashionable architect whose clients were largely women and wealthy
ones, and he seemed willing enough to bring his batteries to bear on
the tiny woman before him.

"Isn't it pretty late for dolly? Oughtn't she to be put to bed in her
own little house?"

The child looked at him soberly. "She hasn't got any house."

[Illustration: "'Isn't it pretty late for Dolly?'"]

"Hasn't got any house?" He glanced at her father. "'Oh, it is
pitiful--in a whole cityful.' But if I were to say that I would make
you one?" he went on; "one with four rooms. And windows in each
room."

The child pondered, fixing a bashful look on his handsome face.

"Would there be stairs?"

"Yes."

"And closets? Mamma says we never have enough closet-room."

"That's right, Claudia," said Ingles, commendingly; "score the
profession."

"Yes, closets, if you insist."

"And glass in the windows?"

"Yes. Dear me, they get more exacting with us every year!"

"And--and--" she rolled her eyes around the group, as if wondering
whether any important detail had been overlooked--"gas-fixtures? Would
there be one in every room, with four globes on it?"

"Perhaps."

"But don't charge the poor child a full commission on them," said
Ingles, grimly.

"Ah!" murmured Atwater, with a world of meaning. "And if I were to
promise to put a nice little red chimney on the roof--what would you
say?"

The child clasped her doll firmly and looked down at the carpet. "I
shouldn't know whether to belave you," she said, shyly.

There was a burst of laughter. "You dear little tot!" cried Mrs.
Fairchild, gathering her up, on no very definite grounds, for a kiss.
Her father laughed loudest of all, but her mother contracted her
eyebrows in distress.

"That dreadful Horah!" whimpered the poor woman. "She must go."

"Don't dismiss your _bonne_," laughed Atwater, thankful for the
diversion; "she'll produce a beautiful accent in time."

"Well, after that," said her father, "I think our little McGintums had
better retire. Say good-night, Claudia."

"Not yet," said Ingles. "Not before she has learned that she may have
her doubts about a contractor, perhaps, but about an architect--never.
Remember that great truth. Good-night, my child. Won't you kiss me?"

He lowered his face, but Claudia drew back. "I don't like whishky," she
said, solemnly.

"For Heaven's sake, my pet," cried Floyd, "are you trying to start a
panic? There's Horah; go-go."

"Good-night, Claudia," called Atwater; "we won't forget your
house. Upon my word, Ingles," he went on rapidly, and with a face
still slightly flushed, "I believe I shall have to reconsider that
determination of mine I spoke to you about the other day."

"What's that?" asked Walworth.

"To give up sky-scrapers and to do nothing but colonial houses for the
nobility and gentry. Sky-scraping is bad enough, but the demands of the
modern house-builder are worse. Ingles, you're not as evil as I said
you were; I'm sorry I ever called you a Philistine."

"Why did you do that?" asked Fairchild, amused.

"Because," answered Ingles, "I took two weeks to consider whether I
could afford to let the Clifton have four good street-fronts."

"Didn't you say," demanded Atwater, "that you wanted to put up an
architectural monument that would be a credit to the town? Would an
eighteen-story flank of bare brick have been a pleasant object? Or,
rather, is it?--for you see that sort of business all over the city.
Heavens!" he went on, "we're doing some horrible things here, but we
are not the ones who are altogether to blame."

"Who says you haven't done well with the Clifton?" demanded Ann Wilde.
Host of the ladies had retired from these masculine topics, and were
huddled in a gossipy little group at the foot of the stairs; Ann
had remained behind, as an owner of real property. "That system of
elevators is the most magnificent thing I ever saw."

Atwater groaned. "That's all a building is nowadays--one mass of pipes,
pulleys, wires, tubes, shafts, chutes, and what not, running through
an iron cage of from fourteen, to twenty stages. Then the artist
comes along and is asked to apply the architecture by festooning on a
lot of tile, brick, and terra-cotta. And over the whole thing hovers
incessantly the demon of Nine-per-cent."

"A slap at me," said Ingles.

"It's enough to make you wonder whether Pericles ever lived. I doubt if
he did," concluded Atwater.

"Are you the only sufferer?" asked his client. "How many of our
sub-contractors failed?"

"Two."

"How many times were we set on fire by salamanders?"

"Three."

"How many drunken night-watchmen were discharged?"

"Four or five."

"How much of the tin-work did you condemn?"

"Lots."

"How many of the contractors suffered a penalty for over-time?"

"Too many."

"How many times did carpenters wreck plaster-work?"

"Fifty."

"How many times did plasterers ruin woodwork?"

"A hundred."

"How many men were killed or injured?"

"Thirteen."

"Thirteen!" cried Ann Wilde; "how horrible!" "Then you don't encourage
building," commented Bradley; "and Mr. Atwater wouldn't encourage young
men to go into architecture."

"As engineers, not as architects," replied Atwater. "Or shall I say--as
constructionists?"

"Good word," murmured Ingles.

"Thanks. I've got fifteen draughtsmen up under the roof of the Clifton.
When a new one comes, I say, 'My dear boy, go in for mining or
dredging, or build bridges, or put up railway sheds, if you must; but
don't go on believing that architecture nowadays has any great place
for the artist. There won't be another Fair until long after you are
dead and gone.'"

"I think I've had one of your young men with me lately," Bradley said.
"He told us that he had been designing labels out at the Stock Yards,
but had been in your office before that. Art may cover a wide range,
you see," he said, laughing.

"Yes? What is his name?"

"Brainard, I think. He was a dark young fellow. He looked a little
dissipated, it seemed to me."

"That's the one," said Atwater. "Now there's a case. That boy's father
has treated him shamefully. He might have been made something of. He
had a decided taste for drawing, and hardly any other. I won't say he
had any great ability, but that wouldn't have mattered so much with
training. However, he had no training to speak of, and we couldn't use
him. He hasn't got the slightest faculty for business; they wouldn't
have made a teller out of him in twenty years. But that was what they
tried to do, and when it failed--"

Fairchild gave a delicate little cough.

"You don't have to listen, Fairchild," said Atwater. "Neither does Mr.
Pratt, unless he chooses."

Fairchild withdrew a little from the group and stood with his hands
behind his back, while the toe of his boot moved the corner of a rug
to and fro over the polished floor. Freddy Pratt held his place, but
moderated his show of interest. Ogden followed this new recital with a
curious concern.

"His father lost all patience with him," Atwater went on. "Naturally,
such a father would with such a son. He's altogether out of the family
now. Is he with you yet?" he asked Bradley.

"We had him for a while, but he was pretty irregular and unreliable--I
never knew why until now. He was pretty shabby, too. I guess he was
about grazing bottom most of the time. I never knew what Brainard he
was."

"Anyway, he seems to have made a good try," said Ingles. "I suppose
he'll live on post-obits, now, and go to the dogs as fast as possible."

"If he's let go his hold lately," declared Atwater, "it's on account of
his brother. Everything's done for him; he is just run right ahead. Do
you know," he continued, dropping his voice and glancing aside towards
Fairchild, "that Brainard has just pushed that Burt of his into the
vice-presidency? Right over everybody. I don't see how Fairchild can
stand it. And what could be better calculated to infuriate the other
one--what is his name?--Marcus. I'd take to drink myself."

Ogden listened to all this, and was swayed accordingly. His brief,
fluttering attempt to idealize Abbie Brainard ended, and he saw her
only in the cold, garish light of crass reality that was beating down
so fiercely on the rest of the family. He had been meditating on
calling upon her at her father's house, moved by the kind of sympathy
that anticipates an invitation, or does without one; this project he
now determined to abandon.



VIII


McDowell had not quartered himself on the twelfth floor of the
Clifton--as distinguished from the eleventh or the thirteenth or any
other--by a mere chance. He had not been influenced by any finicky
consideration of light, prospect, ventilation, or nearness to the
elevators. His sole reason for selecting room number 1262 was that room
number 1263 was occupied by Arthur J. Ingles, the owner of the building.

Ingles occupied a very small room, upon whose door was his name--his
name and nothing more--in very small letters. The next door beyond
was lettered "Office of the Building," and this second room had
communication with the first by a door between. None of these three
doors, however, had as much interest for McDowell as the one between
his own office and the private office of Ingles. This door was closed,
but it was McDowell's dream and ambition to see it open. In his
thoughts he constantly saw it standing ajar in an intimate and friendly
fashion, while he and Ingles and other magnates of Ingles's ilk
circulated through it freely and all did business together.

Up to the present time this door had never been opened, nor had
McDowell ever had access to the other suite except by the farther door,
through which tenants passed to request repairs or to pay their monthly
rent.

Ingles was enough of a lawyer to be a real-estate man, and enough of a
real-estate man to need to be a lawyer. He supervised the drawing of
his own deeds and leases, and seldom took counsel in matters between
landlord and tenant. As a landlord, he had found it advantageous to
divest himself of his soul by making the Clifton into a stock company;
he himself held all the shares but five. He had an extraordinary
faculty for keeping himself out of the papers; but this did not prevent
McDowell from knowing that he was constantly engaged in enterprises
of the first magnitude, and he felt that association with this great
capitalist would be immensely to his own advantage.

But he had accomplished only one step that might be reckoned an
advance: he had undertaken the financial arrangements connected with
St. Asaph's choir. This was a large, well-trained body, and was
provided with all the expensive paraphernalia of a "high" service.
It included four or five tenors and basses who commanded rather good
salaries, as well as an expert organist and an experienced choir-master
who commanded larger ones. The management had been by committee, and
several of the pillars of the church, Ingles among them, had learned
the difficulty of mediating between music, money, and ritualism.
A member of a previous committee had delighted in translating and
adapting Latin hymns for Christmas and Easter, and in putting his hands
into his pockets now and then to make good a small deficit in the
budget. Ingles and his compeers were ready enough to put their hands
into their pockets, but they were glad, one and all, to escape the
details of administration.

It was here that McDowell stepped forward; he cynically acknowledged
that religion must be made to play into the hands of business, and he
justified himself to himself by many good arguments. The details of
the new dispensation were arranged in a down-town office. McDowell had
tried to contrive that that office should be Ingles's own; but the
meeting was held, after all, in another tall tower a block or two down
the street, and Ingles himself was not present more than ten minutes.
McDowell regretted this; he felt very well disposed towards Ingles. He
would have done almost anything for him--for a commission.

But McDowell did not push this choir matter to the neglect of his
own proper business. He was engaged at about this time with a new
subdivision out beyond the South Parks. He had bought up a ten-acre
tract, which he himself acknowledged to be rather low-lying, and
which his rivals, with an unusual disregard of the courtesies of the
profession, did not hesitate to call an out-and-out swamp. He had
mended matters somewhat by means of a dam and a sluice, which drained
off a part of his moisture on to grounds lying lower still--other men's
grounds; and on the driest and most accessible corner of his domain he
had placed a portable one-story frame shanty which had already done
duty on other subdivisions, and alongside of it stood a tall flagpole
which flaunted a banner with his own name and number on it. This tract,
by the way, had absorbed some moderate portion of Ann Wilde's hoarded
savings.

A week of rainy weather now and then would lay a complete embargo on
McDowell's operations in this quarter. His plank walks would float off
in sections; the trees along his avenues would sag deeply into the
slush and would sway sidewise, in spite of their networks of rusty
wire; and the cellars of the three or four unfinished houses that he
had artfully scattered through this promising tract would show odds and
ends of carpenters' refuse floating around in muddy water a foot deep.
It was an appalling spectacle to one who realized the narrow margins
upon which many of these operations were conducted, or who failed to
keep in mind the depths that human folly and credulity may sound.

"Oh, it's all right enough," McDowell would say. "It's going to dry up
before long."

Occasionally it did dry up and stay so for several weeks. Then, on
bright Sunday afternoons, folly and credulity, in the shape of young
married couples who knew nothing about real estate, but who vaguely
understood that it was a "good investment," would come out and would
go over the ground--or try to. They were welcomed with a cynical
effrontery by the young fellow whom McDowell paid fifty dollars a month
to hold the office there. He had an insinuating manner, and frequently
sold a lot with the open effect of perpetrating a good joke.

McDowell sometimes joked about his customers, but never about his
lands. He shed upon them the transfiguring light of the imagination,
which is so useful and necessary in the environs of Chicago. Land
generally--that is, subdivided and recorded land--he regarded as a
serious thing, if not indeed as a high and holy thing, and his view
of his own landed possessions--mortgaged though they might be, and so
partly unpaid for--was not only serious but idealistic. He was able to
ignore the pools whose rising and falling befouled the supports of his
sidewalks with a green slime; and the tufts of reeds and rushes which
appeared here and there spread themselves out before his gaze in the
similitude of a turfy lawn. He was a poet--as every real-estate man
should be.

We of Chicago are sometimes made to bear the reproach that the
conditions of our local life draw us towards the sordid and the
materialistic. Now, the most vital and typical of our human products is
the real-estate agent: is he commonly found tied down by earth-bound
prose?

"You fellows," said Floyd to McDowell, during one of Sister Ann's
sessions, "are the greatest lot I ever struck." He spoke in a
half-quizzical, half-admiring way, and showed some effort to handle the
language with the Western ease and freedom of those to the manner born.
"Do you know, when I had been here three or four months some fellows
took me with them to the banquet of the Deal Estate Board. Well, it
was an eye-opener; I never saw anything like it. It was Chicago--all
Chicago. Heavens! how the town was hymned and celebrated! It was
personified--"

"That's right," said McDowell.

"And glorified--"

"Of course."

"And deified--"

"Why not?"

"Why not, indeed?" cried Aim Wilde. "_I_ haven't been around much yet,
but you strike me as the most imaginative lot of people I ever saw."

"Whenever Chicago is involved," amended Walworth.

"Sure."

"How you idealize it!" cried Ann, enthusiastically. "How you--"

"It needs to be idealized--and badly," said her sister.

But McDowell's interests in the southern suburbs as well as at St.
Asaph's were soon set aside by another matter; domestic interests
claimed his attention.

His father-in-law had now passed some two or three months in Chicago.
He had entered the city without any conception of its magnitude, and he
had remained in it without rising to any conception of its metropolitan
complexities. He had made a change that was too great and too late. He
made but an ineffectual attempt to connect and identify himself with
the great rush of life going on all about him. He came down town almost
every day to spend an hour or more in McDowell's office, where he took
a certain satisfaction in following out the intricacies of the local
topography by passing a thin, blue-veined hand over McDowell's maps and
his canvas bound books of plats. McDowell treated him with considerable
patience and with as much respect as was due to a man who had no great
experience in real estate and little aptitude for learning. One day
old Mr. Ogden, who apprehended the lake winds little better than the
local "lay of the land," took a slight cold in returning home from the
office; two days after pneumonia developed, and within a week he died.

George undertook the charge of such arrangements as recognized the old
New-Englander as a dead man merely, and McDowell subsequently took
charge of those which recognized him as a dead property-owner. First,
the funeral; afterwards, the Probate Court.

A funeral is more disagreeable than a wedding, chiefly because its
multifarious details make their demands with but a scanty notice in
advance. All of these details George was now called upon to face and to
dispose of.

He squared his jaw, set his eyes, put a cold, heavy paving-stone in
place of his heart, and met these details one by one. It was a man's
privilege.

Brower went with him to the undertaker's, and mediated between grief
and rapacity.

"Be careful here," Brower said to him in an undertone. They were in a
room where sample caskets stood on end against opposite walls and were
let down one by one for the inspection of purchasers.

"They always show the most expensive ones first. Don't look at these.
You don't need to pay a hundred and fifty dollars. You can select
a suitable one for eighty or ninety--perfectly good and no loss of
respect."

"How about the outside box?" asked the man in due course. He was in his
shirt-sleeves and wore a high silk hat.

"Here," whispered Brower, "you'll have to take the most expensive. It's
chestnut--fifteen dollars. Nothing else but plain pine for a dollar
fifty. Shameful, isn't it?"

Brower arranged for the handles and the plates. He also met the family
at the railway-station next day, and saw the casket put on board the
east-bound express.

He and George were walking slowly up and down the platform alongside
the train when a man in blue overalls leaned out of the door of the
baggage-car and called to them. He held a paper in his hand.

"This ain't quite regular," he said. "Our road is pretty strict. The
air-tight casket is all right for inter-state travel, but the doctor
hasn't signed this certificate."

George turned on Brower with a look of anguish.

"Here!" cried Brower, stretching up his hand. "How forgetful of me!
I'll sign it now. Go along, Ogden."

The man hesitated. "Not contagious?"

"Certainly not. Hand it down. Got a pencil? There! Here's a two. Take
extra care."

The dead man's son paid for the music and flowers, his wife and
daughter folded away his clothes, and his son-in-law undertook to see
his estate through the courts.

"I don't believe you'd better pay the doctors and undertaker yet,"
he counselled. "Let them file their claims with the Probate people.
It doesn't cost but a dollar, and if you pay without, you might be
liable over again--you are on other claims. I'll keep a general eye
on matters, of course, but questions will be coming up all the time.
I don't know but what we'd better have a lawyer first as last. The
Probate arrangements are different now from what they used to be--more
expensive, for one thing. Now there's Freeze & Freeze--they're as good
as any, and they're right there in the Clifton, George, only five
floors above you."

"Have we got to go into this thing right away?" asked George, as if in
physical pain.

"Oh, no. Wait a few weeks--wait a month, if you like."

"Yes, we'll wait," he sighed.

McDowell made no opposition to his wife's suggestion that her mother
now come and live with them. He had not anticipated his mother-in-law
as a member of his own household; but he liked her well enough, and he
generally treated her with a dry and sapless sort of kindness. Besides,
he looked on domestic arrangements as a mere incident in business life,
anyway. George, who for some time had been anticipating a home with
his parents, could not find an equivalent in a home with the McDowells,
and he remained with Brower on Bush Street.

There was no will; the recasting and consolidation of the small estate
had required too much time and attention to leave much for any-thought
of its redistribution. Mrs. Ogden went into court at the proper time
and qualified as administratrix. She was a figure-head, of course.
She signed various documents at George's instance; George himself was
guided by McDowell, principally; and McDowell got a point, now and
then, from the attorneys. However, the legal labors of Freeze & Freeze
on the Ogden estate were chiefly clerical; this did not prevent them
from charging like chancellors and chief-justices.

These charges and others were paid, by McDowell, who began informally
by giving checks on his own private account. He came to receive, too,
most of the rents and other payments, which were more conveniently
made to him in his own office than to George in the office of the
bank. And since he paid the estate charges out of his own private
account, it seemed natural enough that his own account (which was with
the Underground) should receive the sums coming in. This arrangement
came about gradually, without receiving any formal acquiescence; but
George appeared satisfied with the business capacity of his sister's
husband; while his mother was an inmate of her son-in-law's house,
where inquiry and explanation were easily enough made.

[Illustration: "'How's this, Jo?' asked Ogden."]

These details, once in hand, appeared to give little hinderance to the
course of McDowell's regular business. His acquaintances in his own
line noticed its increasing spread, and agreed among themselves that
he was flying a little high for a man of his limited resources. He had
more work for the surveyors and sign-painters, and he presently added a
clerk or so to his office force.

Various small claims were filed in the Probate Court and were allowed.
"I think," said George to McDowell, "that we'll use Kastner's rent for
them. To-day is the third; he has been in, I suppose?"

"He'll have to be punched up," replied McDowell. "It doesn't do to give
them any leeway."

"He has always been prompt on the first," said George, somewhat annoyed.

The next morning he entered the paying-teller's pen for a moment, as
occasionally happened. His eye chanced to alight on the balance sheet
that ran from L to Z.


    McAvoy, Louis M.         81.98

    McCloud, Peters & Co.  1187.25

    McDowell, E. H.            .0


"How's this, Jo?" asked Ogden. "What's the matter with McDowell?"

"Pulled out yesterday," responded the payer, briefly.



IX


McDowell's defection, from the Underground was presently followed by an
addition to its working force. One morning, a month or so later, Ogden,
in an interval of leisure, glanced across to the window before which
Burton Brainard had railed in his desk, and saw a young woman within
the enclosure. She sat there alone, before a desk of the peculiar kind
that has been contrived for the typewriter, and her effect at the
moment was that of leisure finally and elegantly achieved.

He was at once struck by her peculiar facial expression; she had one
eye open and the other shut. All at once she effected an instantaneous
change which closed the open eye and opened the closed one. Then
she opened both and gave out a smile of recognition, surprise, and
pleasure, which he now perceived to be the work of the features of
Cornelia McNabb.

"Here we are!" she seemed to say.

She had followed Burt's elevation to the vice-presidency, along with
the new desk and the handsome rail-work enclosing it. Burt's concerns,
despite his rise in rank, were now, as heretofore, largely outside
the hank proper; he did something in stocks now and then, and he kept
the run of things on the Board of Trade. But he was like his father in
looking upon the bank as a personal and family matter--a point of view
which the action of the body of stockholders somewhat justified: as a
general thing they made up a chorus that huddled in the wings--several
of them declining to come "on" even for the election that advanced
Brainard, Jr., to the second place. So he saw no very good reason why
the bank generally should not foot the bill for his own clerk-hire.

"Why can't you use the man we've got here already?" his father had
asked him, however. "Ain't one enough?"

"No. Somebody else has always got him. If I could have one for myself
just for an hour or so, it would be a great help."

"Why don't you get one of those girls that circulate around upstairs? I
hear there's one or two of 'em."

"I believe I will." And thus Cornelia McNabb came in for a brief daily
attachment to the Underground.

She sat in her place quite unoccupied for an hour or so, looking about
inquiringly, fidgeting a little, and watching the clock. Ogden glanced
over in her direction once or twice. He saw that she had contrived to
express her rise by several subtile alterations in her dress, and that
she had succeeded in enveloping herself in a promising atmosphere of
gentility. She, in her turn, kept an eye on him and contrived to time
her own luncheon along with his. She thrust her hat-pin into place just
as he buttoned on his cuffs, and she drew a black-dotted veil across
the tip of her nose just as he was reaching up for his hat.

They sauntered out separately, but came together in the hallway.

"Do I look nice, or don't I?" she asked him, as she passed one of her
gloves over the smooth surface of the massive marble balustrade. "You
needn't think the Pewaukee girls are jays; they're too near Lakeside
and Waukesha for that."

"You do, indeed. But where are the chains and rings?"

"Fiddle! I hope I know better than that, now."

The elevators were sliding up and down behind their gilded _grilles_
with great rapidity, and hundreds of hungry helpers were stepping out
of them in search of brief refreshment. Some of these stopped in the
basement vestibule, and our young people, looking over the balustrade,
saw them buying packages of cigarettes or the noon papers. There
came to them, too, the voice of the man who stood at the foot of the
elevator shafts and who regulated the movements of the various cabs
by calling out their numbers with a laconic yawp. He wore a blue
uniform with gilt buttons and he had a gold band on his cap. He was as
important as Ingles himself--perhaps more so.

"I believe I'll go up to the restaurant to-day," said Cornelia, with
a precious little intonation. Her mincing tone intimated a variety of
things--altered conditions among them.

"I go up there occasionally myself," said Ogden. "You have entertained
me several times downstairs, and you ought to give me my chance now,
don't you think?"

"Quite happy, I'm sure," she murmured demurely.

"Up!" called Ogden, and up they went.

"Well," said Cornelia, a few minutes later, taking off her gloves with
a self-conscious grace, and pushing aside her tumbler so as to find a
place to lay them, "I can't say I've been overworked _this_ morning. I
haven't seen my new man at all."

"He's out a good deal."

"But the old one was on deck."

"In what way?"

"Oh, he put me through a regular drill. Had quite a number of remarks.
I shouldn't care to take _him_ down. May have to, though, if he gets
too bossy. Eh?--oh, well, I don't know that I care for so very much,
thank you. What are _you_ going to have? Chicken-soup?--all right. Yes,
chicken-soup, John."

She leaned hack in her chair with a genteel grace, and looked out of
the window down on the snow-piled roofs below.

"Do you know, I used to think I was a pretty smart girl, but I begin to
believe I'm a good deal of a dummy, after all. That man has been in the
building all this time, and I have just found it out."

Ogden's eye involuntarily followed the waiter.

"Not that black man--nix. But how could I be expected to spot his name
among all the 'steen hundred on that bulletin by the door? I did see it
there this morning, though--just by accident."

"Whose?"

"Oh, Ingles's. Arthur J. Ingles. Think of his being in this very
building all this time!" She put the rim of her tumbler up under the
edge of her veil.

"In it?" repeated Ogden. "He owns it."

"He does? Great Scott!" she choked and spluttered, setting her glass
down suddenly. "Well, I'll be switched!"

She gave another gulp. "I suppose his father willed it to him."

"No; he put it up for himself; I heard him say so."

"And you know him?" A new light shone in her brimming eyes.

"Yes."

"Well," she declared with emphasis, "now I see my way. He's got to have
me do shorthand for him, and then I shall see--her."

"Ah!"

"Yes. Can't you tell Mr. High-and-mighty that you know a respectable
girl who is trying to make her own living?" She ran her fingers over
the edge of one of her cuffs, which was slightly frayed. "You see how
poor I am."

George laughed. "The laundries _are_ pretty rough, for a fact."

"How mean of you!" she exclaimed, and laughed too.

She thrust back her soup.

"I don't want it. I don't want anything. I can't eat a mouthful. Then I
was wrong about his being a society dude?"

"Completely."

"And how is she? S'posing I've made a mistake about her, too?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. I've never seen her."

"You're telling me a fib."

"Ho, truly, I never have. I don't believe there's any such person. I
think she's somebody that the papers have just made up. How many people
have you found to work for?"

"Oh, three or four. But time for more. Rhyme, ain't it? I'm trying for
the Massachusetts Brass, but I'd rather get Ingles. She gave a dance at
Kinsley's night before last."

"How many words can you do?"

"About ninety--enough for business; of course I couldn't manage courts
or banquets or sermons. I expect she comes down to his office for a
check every now and then. Why don't she ever have her picture in the
Sunday papers?"

"O Lord! I hope they're above _that_!"

"What's the objection? I'd have mine there quicker 'n scat if I could.
I will some time--bet you. And not in any office togs either."

"But don't dream of rivalry. She isn't real; she's only a beautiful
myth. What will you take next--roast beef?"

"I don't mind; yes. When I'm alone I usually skip right from soup to
pie--or pudding. But I guess I will take something a little solider
this time; nothing makes me tireder than sitting still and fidgeting."
She tapped her toes on the mosaic pavement, and gave a hitch and a pat
to the dimity curtain alongside her. "I squirmed around for an hour,
with a whole bookful of other people's notes that I might have been
writing out. What sort of a young fellow is he?"

"He has his own way."

"Only child, I suppose?"

"N--no."

"Only son?"

"No--yes--I don't know. How do you like your work?"

"Middling. I'm terrible enterprising, but I guess I was never meant for
a drudge. Say, what does a patroness really do?"

"Oh, nothing much; she just has her name on the list. Sometimes they
don't even go."

"I notice that your Mrs. Floyd is beginning to be one; I've seen her in
the papers two or three times."

"She doesn't like it, though; sometimes names get put on just to fill
up. 'My dear Mrs. Floyd, we thought you wouldn't mind; you don't, do
you?' they say. 'But my name in the papers,' she objects. 'You are too
sensitive,' they reply. 'You've had your name in the papers at home,'
her husband reminds her. 'Yes,' she answers, 'but--here!' She hates the
town."

"Well, if I was a patroness I guess I'd have some say--no figure-head
for me. I wouldn't be put on, either; I'd put the others on."

"I see you were cut out for a 'society' career."

"I guess you've about struck it. I went to a dance a week ago
to-night--Periclean Pleasure Party."

"Like it?"

'Twa'n't much. And I was invited to a firemen's ball--such impudence!"

"Right--don't cheapen yourself."

"I guess I understand that."

Meanwhile a nooning of a different character was going on in the
directors' room of the Underground. This is not to be taken as
indicating that the green-baize plane of the long centre-table was
littered with reports and memoranda, and that the high-backed,
leather-seated chairs were filled with the solid figures of a dozen
solid men. No; the aspect of the room was that of Sunday-like
disoccupation, and the only people in it were an appealing young woman
and a stubborn old man.

"Let her come in, father; please do."

"Take care, Abbie. You know what I think of you, but you make a mistake
when you try this."

Abbie Brainard passed her handkerchief across her tearful face. Her
father stood before her with his legs spread wide and his feet firmly
planted; he had his hands thrust deeply into his trousers pockets. His
jaw was set, and his shaggy brows were drawn down over eyes that glared
fiercely at nothing.

"Then meet her out in the hall somewhere, just for a minute." She laid
her hand tremblingly upon the old man's arm. He moved, as if to shake
it off.

"Then just walk by outside; she can see you from the cab."

He turned his eyes upon her, half in expostulation and half in threat.
"Abbie!"

"Then, father, just step here to the window; she'll see you and know
it's all right. Come." She caught hold of a fold of his sleeve. "You
won't keep her waiting out there such a cold day as this?"

Brainard moved his feet, but he turned his back on the window and
fixed his eye on the fireplace. His daughter's light touch was quite
powerless on his huge bulk.

"Father, you know Burt says--"

"Abbie," he interrupted sharply, "don't you say a word to set me
against Burt. I won't hear it. Don't drag him in, or you'll be sorry
for it." "But, father, don't you understand? He _struck_ her; there's a
mark on her face now."

Brainard's great frame shook, but he made no other sign. This quiet she
took as a favorable symptom. She would have done better in perceiving
that he was between two contending forces so nearly equal as to hold
him almost in equilibrium. The wretch had struck his daughter--a
brutal, hateful thing as regarded his daughter or any daughter or any
other woman; but his daughter had defied him, overridden him, and the
man whom she had chosen for a master was now the instrument of her
punishment. The accounts appeared to balance. However, figures do lie,
and his own agitation indicated that the _x_ of human emotion had
not been completely eliminated from his problem.

[Illustration: "She laid her hand tremblingly upon the old man's arm."]

He cleared his throat. "She has made her bed, Abbie," he said in a
husky tone, "and now she must lie on it."

"No, father; you must hear what Burt says. He has had to go up there
and--"

"Burt? Is that where he has been this morning? Has he turned against
me too? Good God! what have I done to deserve such treatment as this?
First it's Mark, with his drawing and his trying to play the fiddle;
and then it's this pen-pusher that puts on those things Sundays and
marches around singing songs; and now it's Burt, who's had every chance
to make a good business-man of himself, and everything done for him.
It's too bad; it's too almighty bad."

Abbie steadied herself against the corner of the table. Her breast
heaved with fearfulness; she had never before openly protested to her
father against himself.

"Why haven't you done anything for the others? Why didn't you give
Mark an education?--the kind, I mean, that would have helped him, and
the only kind. Why haven't you taken this Mr.--Mayme's hus--this man
and made the best of it, and found something for him to do?--he can
work in an office. Oh, father," she moaned, with a softening note of
deprecation, "you have made it pretty hard for all of us."

"Abbie," he gasped, "are you turning against me too? Abbie, I've always
thought so much of you, and I've done well by you. But I want you to go
away--I won't see her. I won't. She must go away, and you too."

He caught her by the arm and tried to move her towards the
door--gently, as if she might go of her own accord.

Ogden, on coming in from lunch, found himself intercepted by Freddy
Pratt. This youth had a few moments' leisure, and he assailed Ogden
between the wardrobe and the wash-stand.

"I went over to see the Viberts again; last night," he communicated.
"Poor Mayme--I wasn't going back on her, if others did. She was sitting
there all alone in the dark. I guess she had been crying. Anyway, when
I lit the gas her eyes looked red. She wouldn't say much--"

"Good plan."

"And after he came in she wouldn't say hardly anything at all. Slow
work talking to _him!_ He wasn't drunk exactly, but he had been
drinking; didn't need a light to tell that. I wasn't doing anything at
all, and all of a sudden he blurted out, 'I say, you young fellow you,
what do you mean by coming here and destroying the peace of a man's
family?' You can bet I was taken back. Then he got up and came towards
me--he looked big, too! 'You get out of here'--that's what he said."

"And did you?"

"Oh, yes, I got out," responded Freddy Pratt, with a meek complacency.

"You surprise me. You showed sense."

Freddy looked at him doubtfully. "I heard this morning that he had just
lost his place with those insurance people," he resumed cautiously.
"That was what was the matter, I guess."

"Possibly," said George, who had heard from Brower that something
of the kind was likely to occur. The fellow's work had been done
indifferently of late, and he was far from being worth the increased
salary he had asked for.

As Ogden passed up to the other end of the office Brainard appeared in
the doorway of the directors' room and beckoned to him. His face was
pale and disturbed; the veins in the end of his nose showed redly; his
eyes burned with an appealing fierceness.

"Ogden," he said, in a loud, hoarse whisper, "where is that type-writer
girl? Tell her to bring some water here as quick as she can."

"She isn't here, sir; she has gone back upstairs."

"Then you get some yourself. Here; take this tumbler. Be quick, and
don't make any fuss."

Ogden hastened to the wash-stand near which Freddy Pratt had detained
him. Returning again, he saw through the half-open door that Abbie
Brainard was lying back in one of the big chairs with her face pallid
and her eyes closed.

Her father dipped two of his great, clumsy fingers into the glass
and made an awkward attempt to sprinkle her face. "My poor girl has
fainted," he said.

The girl's eyes half opened; she seemed to see Ogden standing just
outside.

She clutched both arms of the chair and raised herself half up. Her
bosom heaved; her mouth was drawn tensely.

"Fainted?" she tried to say; "not at all!" She gasped once or twice and
rose to her feet. "I never fainted in my life," she said grandly; "I
never should think of doing such a thing!"

She reeled; her eyes closed. George rushed forward to catch her.
Her hand dropped numb on his arm, and her head fell heavily on his
shoulder.



X

Ogden and his mother were now beginning to have frequent conferences
with regard to the management of the property and to McDowell's
connection with the matter. Perhaps the word "conference" puts,
however, too set and formal a stamp on the brief, hap-hazard
interchanges of ideas that took place, as chance permitted, within
McDowell's own house--a few words after a Sunday dinner or at the front
door late at night. And besides being handicapped as to occasion, they
were further hampered by McDowell's new relation to them and by their
own presence under his roof. Besides, Mrs. Ogden, with a multitude
of small experiences, had no ability for grasping things in a large
and general way; while George, with a broader and more comprehensive
outlook, was embarrassed by a lack of experience in the actual details
of business transactions. Added to this, he was a new-comer, under
all a new-comer's disadvantages; he hardly knew where to turn for the
proper agents, legal or financial, that might have been employed; while
many of the agencies--courts, for instance--were different in procedure
and even, in name from anything he had known East.

"All the same, though," he said to his mother, "things ought to be in
different shape for you. I'm bound hand and foot in that bank--no time
or thought for anything outside. I don't know but what you'd better put
everything with some good real-estate firm, and let them look after
repairs and collections and taxes."

His mother fixed a pair of anxious eyes upon him, and the wrinkles of
perplexity appeared on her forehead.

"Eugene is real-estate."

"Or those lawyers," he went on. "Anyway, you ought to have an account
as administratrix with some bank. I believe I'll open one to-morrow.
Something has got to be done to make things quicker and clearer."

He presently took upon himself the delicate task of intimating to
McDowell that a simpler and more regular way of doing things was
desired.

He went up to McDowell's office in the latter part of the afternoon. As
he entered, a tall, dark man was standing in the middle of the room.
There was a sinister look in his eyes and a contemptuously sarcastic
smile on his heavy red lips. He gave a last fold to a small piece of
paper that he held in his hands and thrust it into his vest pocket. It
was Vibert.

"It's pretty near four now," he was saying to McDowell, "so I can't try
again to-day; but I expect to find this all right after ten to-morrow
morning."

He gave his hand a hardy flip across one side of his dark moustache
and passed out. McDowell looked after him sourly. "Damn the brute!" he
muttered.

As Vibert's words implied, he had been in McDowell's office once before
on the same day. His salary at St. Asaph's now meant more to him than
it had meant a month ago, and he had called with reference to it and
to the delay in its payment. Hitherto, the financial arrangements
of the church had gone on with the same precision as its anthems
and its processionals. In the present condition of things delay to
Vibert was more than a surprise, more than an embarrassment; it was an
exasperation.

"I don't sing for glory," he had declared with an offensive
brusqueness. "It's the here and not the hereafter that I'm busy with."

McDowell looked at him uneasily. "I'm going to fix up all the salaries
next week in one batch. I don't see why any particular man should be
favored."

"Favored!" repeated Vibert, with a loud insolence. "I should say not.
I don't feel favored in running my legs off for money three weeks
overdue. We can't live on air. We have bills to pay. We ain't singing
for the pleasure of it."

McDowell contracted his eyes to a critical narrowness. "You may not be
singing much longer for anything else, either."

"That's another matter; it isn't you that put the choir together."

McDowell tapped his fingers on the yellow varnish of his desk. "I don't
know about that. From what I hear, you're not making the sort of record
for yourself that's useful in a church."

"My private life is nobody's business. I sing; I'm worth the money."

"That may work on the stage; it won't work quite so close to the
pulpit. Come, now; I know a little something of your daily doings.
Plenty of men sing who _don't_ hang around race-tracks and loaf in
pool-rooms. And, from what I hear, you're helping that young Brainard
along at a good gait, too. You'd better wait--along with the others."

"Waiting be hanged! I'm here for money--money that's mine. If I can't
work it with the man who pays out the loaves and fishes, I'll try one
of the men that contribute them, in the first place." He tossed his
head insultingly towards the door that led to Ingles's office.

McDowell's elbow rested on the edge of his desk (his thumb on the tip
of his ear and his middle finger rubbing his farther eyebrow) as he
looked out steadily on Vibert from under his hand. "Joseph," he called
to his clerk, "bring me that check-book."

[Illustration: "He looked steadily on Vibert from under his hand."]

The man opened a lower drawer and brought out a book whose covers
enclosed a number of stubs and three or four blank checks.

McDowell wrote and passed the check to Vibert, who went out with no
further words on either side.

McDowell did some figuring and saw some people, and somewhat later
Vibert returned. He threw his check on McDowell's desk contemptuously.
"That's no good."

"How's that?"

"No account with 'em."

"No ac--oh, I see. We've changed banks, and I forgot to change the
name in the check." He picked up a ruler and drew the red-ink-bottle
a little nearer. "I'll fix it. Sorry to have troubled you. We want to
look out for this, Joseph."

Vibert withdrew, speaking the words that Ogden had heard on his
entrance--words that would have been the reverse of assuring if he had
fully understood them. "Bad egg," said McDowell to him, wagging his
head in the direction of the just closed door.

George looked at him studiously. He appeared to be in a state of
extreme nervous irritation. His wiry moustache moved up and down
stiffly as he felt about with, his teeth for the inner membrane of his
lips. His long, lean fingers were interlaced, and a clicking sound came
from his snapping his finger-nails together. It was clearly no occasion
for more than a partial statement of Ogden's matter, and this was the
most that he permitted himself.

But McDowell was in the sensitive state of mind when one word does the
work of three, and in the irritable state of mind when talk is such a
relief that three words evoke thirty in reply. He met George's brief
and modest suggestions with a hitching of his shoulders, and answered
them in a harsh and strident tone.

"The first thing in doing business," he said, "is to have an office to
do it in." He looked about his own--his desks, his cashier's window,
his letter-press. "And the second is to know how to do it." He looked
out of the window in a wholly impersonal way, but his words had a more
personal slant than he would have given them at almost any other time.
"Gad knows I've got enough to do already, but Kittie's affairs are
mine. She has equal interests with the others, and she seems to feel
that I am able and willing to look after them."

He spoke with some show of reason, and George was obliged so to concede.

"There's taxes, for one thing. Or, take special assessments alone;
they're almost a business by themselves. Say you've got ten acres or
so just beyond the limits. Some fine day it's six hundred dollars or
more for half a mile of side-walk--a sidewalk that won't be walked
on by seven people a week. What's the reason? Oh, some one of those
township politicians or other has got a friend that's a carpenter. Now,
who's going to tackle the boards and stave off such things?"

George looked at him silently.

"There's tax-sales--I guess you never went to one of them. You'd strike
a bloodthirsty crew if you did. Supposing you've got a mortgage, and
the mortgager don't come to time with his taxes? You've got to buy 'em
up to protect yourself. And you've got to get there first. Last year I
fought this point for a week with one of those tax-sharks. And so it
goes. Real estate is no kindergarten business, I can tell you."

The truth of this view was becoming more and more apparent to Ogden. He
withdrew, after some further parleyings, in a confused and inconclusive
state of mind--well convinced, however, of McDowell's abilities and
more fully conscious of McDowell's position as the husband of his
father's daughter. Never did the town of his adoption seem less,
indeed, like a kindergarten than when he took his way northward to
dinner, or when, later in the early evening, he made his way over
to the West Side to call at the Brainards. The thousands of acres of
ramshackle that made up the bulk of the city, and the tens of thousands
of raw and ugly and half-built prairie that composed its environs,
seemed together to constitute a great checker-board over whose squares
of "section" and "township" keenness and rapacity played their daring
and wary game. And through the middle of the board ran a line, a hinge,
a crack--the same line that loomed up in ad those various deeds and
abstracts of his with the portentousness and unescapability of the
equator--the "line of the third principal meridian."

The Brainard house reared itself in the same frivolous ugliness that
we have already viewed; but an excess of light came through the front
parlor windows, and Ogden was prepared to find that at least four of
the eight burners in the big chandelier were lighted. This turned out
to be the case; it was as great a tribute as the family ordinarily paid
to society. The family he found represented by Brainard, his wife, and
his elder daughter; society was present in the shape of a young couple
who were called Mr. and Mrs. Valentine.

The elder daughter received him with a quiet and simple cordiality. He
could not help looking about furtively for the possible presence of
the younger. He had not remained ignorant of her half-hour wait in a
cab outside the bank; but he might have surmised the inflexibility of
her father's will. The old man had refused to see her or to let her
see him; the most that he would yield was a species of non-committal
communication through Burt.

Mrs. Brainard presented herself to Ogden as a peculiarly faded and
ineffective person; it was easy enough to grant her an abysmal
incapacity. Her husband, in fact, had fallen upon her, crushed her,
absorbed her--as a heavy blotting-pad falls on a page of light and
delicate writing. Except for one thing she had no aim, no occupation,
no diversion--beyond her ills and remedies. This was a penchant for
chess. To those who object that chess is an intellectual game, one may
simply put the question: have you ever seen it taken up by an elderly,
invalided female who has rested content with a mere learning of the
moves? It was thus with Mrs. Brainard; she played a good many games
with herself every day, and they really soothed and rested her.

On the social board, however, she had hardly learned the first
"opening," and the entertainment of the brilliant young couple now in
her house fell almost altogether on Abbie; for the girl's mother sank
back into a passive silence, while her father toured through the rooms
occasionally, and threw out remarks, more or less _à propos_, in a
gruff and abrupt fashion peculiar to himself.

His manner with young men had simply closed the house to them. To
him it was an inexplicable and harassing thing that a young fellow
of twenty-five should not possess the capacity, experience, and
accumulations of a man of thirty-five or forty. He regarded every
intruder in the light of a potential son-in-law, and no more potential
than undesirable. Most of these callers would gulp down once, with such
smile as they could master, the old man's abrupt ways and disconcerting
comments; then they got out of the house in good order and never came
back. However, at the present juncture he did not appear to resent
Ogden's appearance--notwithstanding the young man's share in the
episode at the bank; perhaps he looked upon him as a serviceable prop
in another bad quarter of an hour.

"Yes, Mr. Brainard," Mrs. Valentine was saying, as George entered,
"it's just as I have been telling Abbie; you ought to move over on the
North Side, too."

Brainard happened to be passing through the room; it had occurred to
him that he might turn down one of the side-burners in the back parlor.

"Um, no," he said, in an off-hand way; "too near the lake: fog; damp;
rheumatism."

"And pneumonia too, perhaps," his wife suggested feebly.

"I'll risk it!" cried Mrs. Valentine, vivaciously. She had an expansive
and affluent effect; she appeared mettlesome, decisive, confident.
"It seemed to me that, so long as I was going to build, I might as
well make a complete sweep--an out-and-out break. I've always had a
fancy for that part of town. So I sent Adrian around to the different
offices--"

She threw a look of passing reference towards her husband, who made a
little bow in return.

"--and I had the good luck to get a lot on Bellevue Place--one of the
last left, and only a block from the Lake Shore drive. Then I went to
Mr. Atwater, and he has made my house a perfect little dream! I thought
it best to have him to dinner once or twice, and I'm glad I did--he's
been so interested all through. There hasn't been the least hitch to
speak of, and I expect to get in within a fortnight. This," she went
on, turning to Ogden with an undiminished vivacity, "is really my P. P.
C."

Ogden glanced at the husband of the lady whose use of the first
person singular was so frank and continuous. He was a young man with
a pleasant and amiable face, and that face was set in a meek little
smile, from whose forced lines the element of deception was most
pitifully lacking.

"Yes, Abbie dear," Mrs. Valentine went on, "I'm afraid it's good-by--or
nearly the same thing." She took the girl's hand within her own and
gave it repeated pats in a rather careless and self-absorbed way. "I
shall try to see you often, of course; but it will be so far. How nice
it would be if you could only come up there and settle down right next
door to me."

Ogden sighed unconsciously. He had fancied the first rays of social
illumination as falling upon this benighted family; but it was only the
last faint glow of a Speeding twilight, after all.

Abbie withdrew _her_ hand with a quiet dignity; she seemed to put but a
moderate value on these protestations.

"I believe we are satisfied where we are, Fanny," she said in a low and
even tone. "We have always lived here; we feel more at home in this
house than we could anywhere else. All our--all our--friends are near
us"--a desolate little blush came in here--"and then there's the church
and everything. I've heard my sis--I'm told that the North Side is very
pleasant on some accounts, but I don't think we are likely ever to
change."

"Change!" called her father, suddenly. "I wouldn't live anywhere else
if you paid me to. What's better than this?"

"So attached," murmured her mother, vaguely.

Mrs. Valentine continued for some time further to flutter her hands,
her clothing, and her conversation, but she was very slow about getting
up and fluttering away. She was a neighbor, and her return home was
a matter of three minutes. Ogden's return was a matter of nearly an
hour, and he left first. He carried away the discontented feeling of
a young man whose aim in the direction of a young woman is frustrated
by the presence of uncongenial elders and irrelevant outsiders. He
had been quite certain of his ability to meet Abbie Brainard after
the bank episode without any particular embarrassment or restraint;
certainly he had come to view with more interest a girl whose hand
had lain in his and whose head had rested on his shoulder. There had
been no embarrassment in her greeting of him; her manner had been as
straightforward and sensible as it always was. But never mind; he
should try again; he was only too certain of soon finding her alone.

He took his hour through the clamor and the slime of the public ways.
He escaped from these by his talismanic night-key, and stumbled up
thoughtfully to his room.

There was a light burning in it, and the fireplace showed the faint
red of dying coals. A valise, open and half unpacked, stood in the
middle of the floor, and sitting up in bed was Brower, busy with the
last volume of "Monte Cristo." They now occupied a large front room
together, which Ogden had to himself a good half of the time.

"Back, are you?" said George. "When did you get in?"

"About seven."

"How's Missouri?"

"Weather good; eating bad."

"Heading all this time?"

"Went to theatre."

"What did you see?"

"'Crackling of Thorns.'"

"Any good?"

"Hot much; one pretty girl. Where have _you_ been?"

"West Side; Brainard's."

"Anybody there?"

"The old people. And some friends--Valentines."

"Valentine? I used to know a Valentine--nice, quiet fellow, light
complexion. His name was Alpheus--no, Adrian."

"That's the one."

"Poor fellow! he deserved a better fate."

"What's the matter with him?"

"His wife owns him."

George smiled. Brower hitched himself up on his pillow and put his
finger into the book to keep the place. "He was a first-rate fellow
--good all through and kind of capable; that is, he was worth a
salary of eighteen hundred a year--or two thousand. He married a
girl with two thousand a month. No head book-keeper, no cashier,
no secretary could she let him be after that; no, Johnny must be
his own master--except as regarded her. To-day he sort o' hangs on
the outskirts of business, and picks up a little here and a little
there--he has desk-room somewhere in the Clifton, I believe. He does
the best he can to preserve his self-respect, but I don't see how he
can pay the bills and the house-rent too."

"House-rent? They're building--I mean, _she_ is."

"Yaugh!" cried Brower, with deep meaning.

"Atwater's doing the house for them--for her."

"Atwater?" Brower gave a second hitch to the pillow, and threw the book
to the foot of the bed. "He's another. He's had a trip in the same
boat."

"Why, he isn't married."

"I guess he is--just about as hard as any man ever was. But he has
fought through gallantly--I'll say that for him."

"What's _his_ story?"

"Begins in the same way. She was rich, too, and a high-flyer. He had
education and family and his profession--and no money. He struggled up
for ten years, and now--now he stands on his own legs; his wife has her
own money for her clothes and amusements. He saw he had got to strike
society, and he struck it--hard; he costs like smoke. But he snatched
victory from defeat. It was a great act. Speaking of acts--who do you
think I saw there in a stage-box to-night?"

"Who?"

"Burt Brainard. Just kick that valise out of the way if you want to."

"All alone?"

"Hope. Girl with him. One of the Clifton type-writers--the one who used
to be down in the lunch-room."

"Healie McNabb?"

"U'm h'm."



XI


McDowell's second check to Vibert proved good on the opening of
business next morning. It was paid in the usual mechanical and
impersonal fashion that gives no possible clue to the amount of the
balance remaining after; but paid it was, all the same, and Vibert's
anticipated opportunity for further invective--an opportunity which he
considered quite possible, and would have been by no means sorry to
embrace--came to naught.

McDowell's friendly intimation that St. Asaph's might presently
dispense with Vibert's services was soon found to have as solid a
backing as his signature. Within less than a fortnight Vibert was
dismissed, though on grounds not altogether the same as those that
McDowell had figured upon.

If Vibert, after descending to the ground floor, had immediately
crossed the great court of the Clifton instead of lingering there for
a moment, the outcome might have been quite different. But he paused
in the midst of its mosaicked expanse to pull out the check from his
pocket and to take another look at it. He projected his vision so
far into the future as the next forenoon, and saw the check again
rejected--this time by the teller of the Highflyers'--by reason of
"no account," or perhaps by reason of "no funds." He dramatized a
precipitous visit to McDowell's office, and improvised the scene of
denunciation and vigorous action that was to accompany it.

"It had better be good this time," he muttered, with his eyes on the
pavement. "I'll strangle him if it ain't."

He tossed up his head and sent a fierce and frowning glance through one
of the great plates of French glass that shut in the court. His eye
darted forward on its own level, but it saw nothing save McDowell in
his office, ten or twelve floors above.

Most of the panes that enclosed this central space were of great height
and breadth, and were lettered with the silvered styles and titles of
various railroad and mining companies; others, smaller, gave light and
some ventilation to a few booth-like shops; a few others, immovable
half-lights, admitted a little daylight and no air at all to certain
closet-like crannies that had a squeezed and crowded rôle in the
Clifton's general economy. One of these last looked out from under a
kind of secondary stairway; it lighted the scullery of the Acme Lunch
Room, and it commanded a view of that side of the court on which Vibert
was standing.

Vibert's heel gave a vicious dig into the mosaic pavement and made a
quick and rasping turn towards the exit; he crossed the court with a
heavy yet rapid stride, and passed out into the street. He was quite
unconscious of observation, but he had been seen.

Through the half-pane under the stairway a young woman had noted
his presence and witnessed his departure. She was a thin, faded
creature, in the forlorn garments of an undisguisable poverty. All
but the faintest traces of good looks seemed to have been taken from
her by a long experience with illness and suffering. She stood close
against the pane. Her thin fingers, red and chapped, showed, as they
pressed against the glass, the crinkled puffiness that comes from long
immersion in hot water, and she stared through with a look of mingled
fear, entreaty, and agony. At the glance which Vibert's indignation
over McDowell's trickery sent in her direction, she started and cowered
like one who had encountered that glance before; and when he turned to
go she recovered herself, and flung her bosom and her hands against the
pane as if bent upon breaking through and following him.

A moment later she appeared in the court; she had put on a shabby hat
and a flimsy, faded shawl. She crossed over hastily, and approached the
head of the elevator squad.

"The tall, dark man who just went out--you saw him?" she inquired
hurriedly. She spoke in two quick-expulsions of the breath, and seemed
left without a third.

"Um?" The man opposed his gold band and gilt buttons to her forlorn
and bedraggled shabbiness. His brief inquiry, made without opening his
lips, had the true official indifference; but it caused his questioner
to feel some of the disadvantage that comes to a young woman from a
public and impulsive inquiry after a young man.

"You saw him standing over there; he had a paper in his hand. Tell me,
does he work in this building?" She was panting and all a-tremble, but
she found breath for these words and will to use it.

"Yes, I saw him," the man answered, with the slow reluctance of his
kind to be interested in individuals as individuals. "Used to work
here, I believe. Haven't seen much of him lately."

"Where can I find him?"

The man turned towards the elevators; one had just that minute come
down. "Chicago!" its youthful conductor had called with an airy drawl.

"Pete," said his superior; "a tall, dark man who's been standing around
here." He threw his thumb over towards the girl, to indicate that the
inquiry was hers. "Had on a soft brown hat."

"Yes, I seen him," said the boy. "Used to be in one of them insurance
offices, didn't he? Vibert--was that his name?"

"Vi--?"

"Vibert," said the man, impatiently. "Come, come, don't block the
way--sev-en!" he cried, in his professional tone, and the boy at once
slammed his door to and started roofwards.

The man retired into himself with a resumption of his air of idle
dignity. The girl, at a short remove, stood looking at him with an
anxious face. She made a timid attempt to approach him again and
presently stole away.

Vibert was followed down from McDowell's office, in the course of half
an hour, by Ogden. McDowell's dissertation on tax matters, with its
pointed presentation of extreme cases, had left him, as we have seen,
in a state more or less stirred up; and it had occurred to him that if
he were to stop on the way down he might find some legal sedative in
the office of Freeze & Freeze. But the hour was now rather late; Freeze
& Freeze were being locked up by the last of their junior clerks;
and Ogden was left to ramble through the corridors in a confused and
disconsolate state.

He was presently accosted by a young woman, who appeared to be roaming
through the building in a state even more dazed and forlorn than his
own. She approached him with appeal so plainly written on her features
that his hand went instinctively to his pocket for the ready dime. He
was used to addresses of this sort; Brower had told him many times
that he was a "soft mark." He soon ascertained, however, that what she
wanted was not alms, but information--an appeal which is more familiar
still in the great down-town buildings; it comes frequently enough from
simple, inexperienced creatures who know what they want, but not at all
how to get it.

The girl thrust back a straggling lock and gave him a glance both wild
and timid.

"Please, sir," she said, "do you know any one in this building named
Vibert--in an insurance office?" She pronounced the name with an effort
of overcoming its strangeness.

There was a certain primitiveness in her speech; it was provincial,
rustic--a fine ear might have called it uncouth.

Ogden was struck with her plaintive "please, sir." He had never before
heard that literary form of speech in actual use.

"Well," he said, with the unceremonious kindness proper to the occasion
and person, "I think you can learn something about him in the office of
the Vesuvian--next floor below."

"Oh, thank you, sir!" She made a movement suggestive of an abbreviated
courtesy; it was as much in the way of acknowledgment as her sense
of strangeness and confusion of mind appeared to permit.

[Illustration: "The girl gave him a glance wild and timid."]

"Not that way," called Ogden after her, adding a benevolent postscript.
"Here; come along down these stairs with me; I'll show you where it is."

She stumbled after him down the marble steps with a heavy-footed
clatter that could hardly have been expected from her slightness, and
with a timorous hold on the bronze of the hand-rail.

"There," indicated Ogden; "the sixth door along, on the right.
'Vesuvian Fire Insurance Co.' it says." And he himself continued an
abstracted descent by the stairway.

His nearest way home lay through the court and out of the door that
led into the asphalted alley. Just within the archway of this door two
men stood. The one was Vibert and the other was a dark young fellow
of twenty or more whom Ogden, by a brief glimmer of fancy, made to be
Brainard's younger son. Vibert was in the act of receiving a roll of
bills from him.

The youth had a pinched and slender aspect; there was a furtive
tremulousness in his hands; his eyes were reddish and the pupils swam
half hazily in a lucent humor.

"I didn't know, Mark, but what you'd gone back on me, too," Vibert was
saying to him. "If you'd managed to get around a little sooner you'd
have saved a certain party from the grand razoo." He smiled grimly.
"It's pretty close sailing--thirty, forty, forty-five"--he ran over the
bills, rolled them up, and thrust them into his pocket.

The boy looked at him with some doubt and with a shade of fear. He
seemed to have been fascinated and then dominated by the bigness and
the hardihood of the other.

"It's all right, Mark," Vibert presently went on with a dogged
vagueness; "I'm his son, too. Why wouldn't he give me any show? Why
wouldn't he let me have a chance to show him what I am? Why did he go
and shut down on me at the very start?"

"You!" cried the boy. "What can you expect, after the way he's treated
me--his own son? They're up there now, I dare say"--with a bitter
glance towards the corner of the Underground--"but they can never make
things right with me. If it hadn't been for Abbie--she's about the only
one that's turned a hand for me."

"Haven't I done well by you, too?--don't forget that. Well, you
don't--'sh! I say you don't. Let the executors settle, and give 'em
plenty to settle, too; they'll get enough for doing it." Vibert glanced
up at the Underground windows. "He can't live forever." He brought his
eyes back to the boy. "You've got to live yourself, though, and so have
I. You've got some rights, haven't you?"

The boy did not accept this cue; perhaps he had already followed it
more than once. He studied Vibert with eyes that seemed to indicate a
change of thought.

"Say, Russ," he hinted, deprecatingly, "you're going to be a little
more patient with Mayme?"

Vibert scowled. "Come, now, Marcus, that's all right; only don't let's
have any preaching. What I like is a cheerful house--and an orderly
one. Less sniffling and better meals. I guess you won't deny that, for
a housekeeper, your sister is a good deal of a fizzle. She doesn't have
to wash her own dishes, does she? And that girl I got her does the
scrubbing and takes up the ashes, doesn't she? And we always take our
dinners out, don't we? Well, then! I don't see what else we can do but
go out altogether."

He drubbed his foot impatiently on the pavement.

"Well, so long!" he said carelessly to his companion. "Better not take
anything more this afternoon. Do I see you on the track to-morrow?"

Ogden, of course, heard next to nothing of this talk, and his own
preoccupations left him no opportunity to scandalize over the relations
between Vibert and the young woman of the corridors, even if his
inclinations had run that way. But it need not be denied that so
close a grouping of these various persons turned his thoughts in
the direction of the Brainard household, and his feet later in the
direction of the Brainard house. He had lately been cultivating a
more sympathetic apprehension of Abbie Brainard's position; it seemed
possible that an hour's talk would offer opportunity for the delicate
insinuation of his friendly interest. He rehearsed a number of suitable
phrases; they took felicitous advantage of remarks on her side--remarks
which he himself constructed--and left her, as she thought them over,
in no doubt of his feeling sense of her position and of his desire to
make his sympathies known and operative. That all these pretty paces
would have been gone through in the absence of the Valentines is by no
means certain; but their presence excluded the least attempt to try
them, and it was with lagging feet indeed that he made his late return
home to Brower and "Monte Cristo."



XII


Cornelia McNabb's campaign against the tenants of the Clifton proceeded
apace. Such as pleased her fancy or promised advantage to her future
she attacked one by one; she made quite a succession of engagements,
dropping here and picking up there, until she reached the point where,
for as many hours of the day as she chose, her time was occupied, and
occupied to her taste. We have already seen her in the office of the
Underground National, and we may now see her in the office of the
Massachusetts Brass Company. She did good work within the limits she
had set for herself; she was accurate and fairly rapid, and therefore
was in considerable request.

"I'd a good deal rather work around like this," she expounded to Ogden,
one day, "than put in all my time in one place. Lots more variety, to
begin with, and lots more pay. 'Most every one gives me half as much as
I could get in any single office; and then I can skip around and have
more of a show. You can talk about your rolling stone; that's all bosh."

Cornelia was now doing a daily stint of an hour or so in the office
of the Brass Company. This hour came in the middle of the forenoon,
and the work was oftener performed under the severe eye of Mrs. Floyd
than our young amanuensis could have wished. Mrs. Floyd's presence in
the office had always been rather frequent, and her prejudice against
female stenographers did not operate to make it any the less so. She
bestowed considerable scrutiny on Cornelia, and Cornelia returned the
interest in kind. She recognized in Mrs. Floyd one of the minor lights
of "Society," and she became more deeply indebted to her for points in
costume, speech, and behavior than either perhaps realized.

Mrs. Floyd was generally accompanied by Miss Wilde. This provided
Cornelia with a double course of instruction: she learned what to do
and what to avoid.

Miss Wilde was generally accompanied by her hand-bag, and that
receptacle was capable of an endless yield of documents calculated to
irritate and perplex her brother-in-law. Mrs. Floyd encouraged this.
Who, indeed, should take an interest in the affairs of her own sister
if not her own husband?

One morning Ann produced a memorandum that stunned him. As he studied
it she stood above him like the spirit of Bankruptcy.

"For Heaven's sake, Walworth, tell me what it means. Am I a ruined
woman, or what?"

Floyd glanced at the sum total; the figures mounted high. "They _have_
struck you pretty hard, that's a fact."

It was a bill for special assessments levied on the possessions of Ann
E. Wilde, in one of McDowell's subdivisions. Paving, so much; sewers
and water-mains, so much; stone sidewalk, so much.

"And eighteen dollars and a half for a quarter of a lamp-post," wailed
Ann. "Why, Walworth, I haven't got the money on hand for all this; I
never anticipated such a thing."

"What's a quarter of a lamp-post good for?" asked her sister.

"I suppose the cost is levied on four property-owners," said her
husband.

"And who's going to see by it when it's up?" asked the disconsolate
investor. "Nobody ever goes past."

"Not this year, perhaps; but there'll be plenty next year. You've no
idea how the town is spreading about. Why don't you step upstairs and
see McDowell?"

"Who starts these things going?" asked Ann. "Who fixes the amounts?"

"I guess it's done sometimes on the petition of other owners
about--according to the frontage."

"And who's the principal owner all about there?" demanded Ann. "Ain't
it McDowell himself?"

"Well, I don't suppose he's sold off very much yet."

"And so he's taxing me to make his own property more valuable. I like
that. I'm glad I went to him. And your young Ogden--I suppose I can
thank him for this."

"Good gracious, Ann; McDowell is taxed, too. The town's growing, and
all outlying property is subject to such things. And don't blame poor
Ogden."

"What more can you expect, Ann, in such a half-baked place as this?"
queried her sister.

"Go up and see McDowell," repeated Walworth. "He can tell you all
about it--when it's payable, and how, and whether there's a rebate or
anything." He passed the papers back to Ann with the definitive air
that closes a matter. "Jessie didn't come with you, then?" he inquired,
turning towards his wife.

"No, poor thing; she is away down this morning. Why, what do you think,
Walworth? They've been asking her if she can't testify."

"Testify fiddlesticks! What could she say? They don't need her; they've
got a clear enough case as it is."

"But think of her in court."

"Don't think of her in court. She may be a thousand miles away by the
time the thing comes up. Has anything more been seen or heard of that
interesting vocalist?"

"Nothing. He left the poor child all alone in that big place, with not
three days' supplies and the--"

She looked sharply over towards Cornelia. The girl's hour was ended,
but she had engaged in a pretence of tidying up the desk.

Ann creased her papers thoughtfully between her fingers. "I had no idea
that curb-stones cost so much," she sighed. "If I had only sold out on
that offer last month!"

Cornelia was now engaged in complicating her apron-strings.
Her interest in the Underground people, while becoming no less
professional, had become a good deal more personal. She would have
given anything for a decent pretext to remain. It was hard indeed
to tear herself away from this discussion of the affairs of Burton
Brainard's sister.

"--and the gas turned off," Mrs. Floyd finished, as the door closed
on the reluctant girl. "And that's the state Jessie found her
in--everything just about as bad as it could be."

"Well, no," Floyd dissented, thoughtfully. "There's one important
consolation--this suit could be brought."

"Oh, yes," answered his wife, quickly. "This Canadian woman doesn't
claim to be his wife--only that she ought to be, and that he promised
to make her so."

"Interesting family," murmured Walworth. "Should like to be related to
'em."

"She knew him in Toronto. She found him here before she had been in
town a week."

"Small world," remarked Walworth, negligently. He played with his
penholders.

Mrs. Floyd became silent. Gossip seemed out of the question with an
indifferent husband and a preoccupied sister.

Vibert's detection by the girl he had betrayed and discarded, and his
desertion of his young wife, were immediately followed by the proper
steps on the part of Brainard's attorneys. The old man had received the
intelligence of Vibert's double misdeed with a tremendous outburst of
wrath and vituperation. His indignation revived in him all the crude
violence of his youth; he drew out from the disused corners of his
memory such a vocabulary and such turns of phrase as are possible only
to one whose boyhood has been spent on the crass and barbaric frontier.
He towered and swayed like a rank plant that has sprung rapidly from
the earth and has brought up the slime and mould on its sheath and
stalk. His prodigal and picturesque indecencies were heard but half
understandingly by his son, and were lost, as to everything save their
animus, on his advisers.

The equilibrium of the scales (whose mathematical poise he had once
proven to his own satisfaction) was now destroyed; this outrage on
his daughter and himself and all his belongings put another and a
different face on the matter. The girl was received back into her
father's house. It was the understanding that she was to remain there
until the legal undoing of all this mischief had been accomplished,
and that, afterwards, she must prepare herself for an indefinite exile
among certain of her father's relatives still resident in Centralia.

During this interval Brainard allowed himself only the minimum of
communication with his daughter; her mother's fluttering sympathies
were too tenuous and too faded to furnish anything very definite or
vivid in the way of consolation; her brother did not readily abandon
himself to the softer feelings--particularly when work of so much
sterner character was before them; and but for her sister this crushed
and unfortunate child would have received but slender support and
comfort. Abbie was not only sister, but mother and family circle too;
she found a use for all the pent-up tenderness and domesticity of her
nature.

The bill in the case of Vibert _vs_. Vibert was filed without receiving
any undue attention from the press. Some exertions were taken, some
influence was used, and the matter merely made a cold, official,
numerical appearance in the legal columns of such of the dailies
as affect complete court reports. The relations between Vibert and
Jane Doane, however, made too good a "story" to be ignored in every
quarter; some brief mention of it appeared in a new and struggling
one-cent evening paper. The friends and well-wishers of the Brainards
were surprised by the extent of that paper's circulation--a good many
people appeared to have seen it.

The case of Vibert _vs_. Vibert had its place near the head of a short
docket and was reached with much less than the usual delay. It was
tried quietly and privately rather late one afternoon at a sitting
which might have been termed either a prolongation of the regular
session or a supplement to it. Perhaps only a legal mind could have
distinguished; probably the legal mind that dominated the occasion did
not attempt the distinction.

[Illustration: The matter was adjusted in a small and compact
court-room.]

The matter was adjusted in a small and compact court-room high up
in a certain vast and pillared pile--a room which differed little
in size and not greatly in furnishings from an ordinary office. The
court reporters and the crowd of court loungers had withdrawn; nobody
remained behind save the clerk and a bailiff or two. Yet the spectre
of publicity seemed hovering there; it hurled a flood of glaring light
in through the high and curtainless windows, it shimmered on the
staring yellow oak furnishings of bench and bar, and it searched out
the darkest corner of the yawning jury-box. Abbie Brainard, standing
beside her sister, peopled all this void with jargoning lawyers and
callous constables and malicious witnesses and indifferent jurymen
and sharp-witted reporters and trivial, time-killing spectators; and
then she set her unveiled sister in that revolving witness-chair and
brought to bear upon her the searching glare from the lofty windows
and the more pitiless glare of the thousand-eyed crowd. She shuddered,
and thanked Heaven--without going too deeply beneath the surface of
things--that present conditions were so favorable.

For they involved none of the ordinary phenomena of a "trial."
There was no wrangling, no eloquence, no auditory; there was no
humiliation--beyond that which was inevitable. It was hardly more
than a conference. The judge, with a quiet gravity, took a simple
conversational tone--a keynote to which the indignation of Burt,
the mortification of his sister, the sorrow of Jane Doane, and the
juvenility of Freddy Pratt all came to be attuned. There was a simple
recital of uncombated facts, the separation was decreed, and Mary
Vibert was presently at liberty to resume her maiden name. It was
considered best that she be known henceforth as Mrs. Mary Brainard.
There was no report in the next day's papers, nor the next; on the
third day things took a different turn.

One or two of the newspapers had sacrificed the Vibert-Doane story
with considerable reluctance. They felt a certain degree of martyrdom,
too, in withholding their hand from Brainard, who had been a standard
subject of attack throughout the careers of all the younger writers.
Nor were they at all sure that their position as guardians of the
public morals justified any such suppression of the truth. They learned
of the clandestine trial of the Vibert case, and that decided them.
Their virtue was strengthened; the whole affair was reopened and
thoroughly ventilated. The encroachments of wealth and privilege were
held up before the alarmed eyes of the public; the entire episode, with
everything leading up to it, was minutely rehearsed. A good many people
were interviewed--a few who knew something of the circumstances, a good
many who did not. Reportorial requisitions were also made on the bank
and the house. Some persons contributed facts relating to the matter
in hand; others, facts relating to matters whose connection was not so
close; still others volunteered opinions on the method of procedure
that made the trial noteworthy. "Vox Populi" and "Ruat Cœlum" wrote
letters "to the editor." Rough cuts from sketches and photographs
made their appearance. The whole career of Brainard was reviewed
with merciless detail, and the issue of one edition of a particular
publication was attended with the shouting of his name through the
streets. Certain sheets whose existence is unknown to the majority of
reputable people and whose circulation is in accordance therewith, gave
their clients a scare-head full of exclamation-points; and one pink
publication, whose single connection with respectability is through
the barber-shops, devoted its whole front page to the illustration
of the case: the wronged girl claimed her surpliced betrayer at the
altar-rail, while the equally wronged wife swooned in a front pew.
There was an appropriate Gothic background, while one corner of the
foreground--piquant touch of innocence--was filled in by an open-eyed
choir-boy.

All these manifestations of public interest caused Ogden a keen
personal distress that surprised him. He heard the names of Brainard
and Vibert bawled in the streets. He became familiar, for the first
time, with the salient points in Brainard's career. He heard himself
referred to once or twice as a clerk in Brainard's bank. As he handled
that pink sheet in the Clifton barber-shop while awaiting his turn, he
half expected some acquaintance to brand him as a caller at Brainard's
house. As he lay, lathered and defenceless, in his chair, he almost
dreaded lest some pitiless friend might happen in and stamp him as a
suitor for the hand of Brainard's daughter.... He paused and blushed
under the barber's eye; he saw now the reason for his personal distress
over these odious domestic entanglements. His surprise passed away, but
it left behind it a distress greater still.



XIII


The appearance and deportment of young Frederick Pratt as a witness in
the Vibert case offered several delicate shades whose noting and whose
accounting for may justify a paragraph or two. His general effect,
then, was in the highest degree sobered, chastened, depressed. To what
was this to be attributed?

To his consciousness of the overshadowing majesty of the law? No; for
the law had turned its softest and most silken side outward; the little
party had taken up its informal grouping at the judge's elbow and had
replied conversationally to the interrogations of the judge himself
or to the prompting inquiries of Brainard's attorney. Justicia had
appeared in her most sympathetic and domestic aspect.

Was the youth disappointed as to his performance of a _beau rôle_?
There is no doubt that he had anticipated with some relish his first
appearance in the witness-box. He would have been obliged, it is true,
to confess himself a minor, and he might have been exposed to the
humiliating necessity of declaring that he understood the nature of an
oath; but after that all would have been smooth sailing. Only to be
for full fifteen minutes the observed of all observers, to be able to
lift up his voice and tell--all--he--knew! Yet to be balked in this
called for exasperation rather than deep dejection, and deep dejection,
after all, was what he chiefly showed.

Was this dejection the sign of sympathetic sorrow for the woes of his
former friend and playmate? Not quite. His sympathy, while real enough,
was largely the sprightly product of novelty, curiosity, and conscious
self-importance; unentangled with other considerations, it would have
shown itself in a nervous and volatile loquacity.

But Freddy in court was not loquacious; he gave his testimony after a
benumbed and backward fashion that indicated other and deeper troubles.
The boy, in fact, was under a cloud. An issue of some importance
had arisen between the Underground National Bank and its youngest
messenger; it involved no less a question than that of _meum_ and
_tuum_. Freddy Pratt, as messenger, had been in the habit of making
two or three daily trips through the business district, during which
the notes and acceptances that filled his big official wallet came to
be exchanged for checks and greenbacks that represented corresponding
values. One or two discrepancies had developed that called for
attention.

The boy's father came down to the Underground to contribute his share
of this attention. He was a grave, repressive, saturnine person, who
might have been set down as possessed of far greater means to meet the
requirements of a growing boy in the midst of a circle of well-to-do
urban acquaintances than of inclination to study those requirements.
He was received in Brainard's own private room, and the affairs of the
penitent and sobbing boy were discussed over his head by his parent and
his employer.

"You foolish child," said the elder Pratt to his son, in the
self-conscious tone by which we address age through youth; "if you
wanted anything, why didn't you ask me for it?"

This father, seriously handicapped as he was by his own temperament,
was attempting to treat the matter as something rather slight and
trivial. The pettiness of the amount involved, the perfect ease of
restitution, the youth of the offender, the utter simplicity and
primitiveness of his method--all these he touched upon with a feint
of light-handed ease. Another might have blown an airy bubble like
this, even in the face of Brainard's ominous and taciturn frown; but
Pratt was not the man to do it. He soon left the upper air of informal
jocularity for the firmer ground of argument and expostulation, and
this ground, before he ended, was almost pressed by the knees of
entreaty.

"It's plain enough," said Brainard, at length; "he took it, and he kept
it."

Each one, from his own point of view, cast his eye on the culprit.

"But it can't be that you mean to ruin a boy's future in any such way
as this?" snarled the boy's father with a rasping expostulation.

Brainard turned a look on him from under his overhanging brows.

"Um," he merely said, in a voice which might have meant anything.

But the affair presently came to adjustment--a treaty with several
clauses. Brainard wished to use the boy in court; to dispose of the
Vibert matter in the cursory fashion that he hoped to follow permitted
scant margin for the plea of desertion, and he was depending on young
Pratt for the recital of certain occurrences which, in a cumulative
way, might have their bearings on the plea of cruelty. Pratt, Jr., was
to testify in court, Pratt, Sr., was to reimburse the bank, and the
boy's final dismissal from the Underground would then be timed in a way
so disassociated from any particular cause as to excite no comment and
to occasion no injury. But all this was scant and nominal payment for
Brainard's clemency; a larger one followed.

Brainard owned a number of woe-begone tenements scattered here and
there over that unattractive part of the West Side which is most
affected by manufacturers of furniture. One of these tumble-down
dwellings adjoined a large lot owned by Ingles--took out one corner,
in fact, in such a way as to interfere seriously with its value for
building purposes. Ingles, in treaty with a furniture firm for the
putting up of a building, had made an offer for this corner. Brainard,
informed as to the circumstances, had put a price on it that was
excessive--exorbitant. Ingles had taken time for consideration; and at
the very moment of Pratt's call a letter from him lay on Brainard's
desk, to the effect that he was looking elsewhere; evidently, on
principle, he was drawing off. Brainard had no use for the property,
and it was hardly paying taxes. He wanted to sell it at his own figure,
and he had expected to. Ingles's tactics nettled him; he solaced
himself by a step that reached Ingles and Pratt at the same time. He
sardonically raised his price a peg higher, and offered the property
to Pratt with an intimation that refusal would not be entertained.
He put his lot still further beyond the reach of Ingles's possible
necessities, and he made it realize even more than Ingles had declined
to pay. Pratt swallowed this mouthful with such grace as he could
command; and with the celerity possible to a perfected system of land
transfer when supplemented by the guarantee of a title company, Norval
H. Pratt, in a day or two, became the owner, at an excessive price, of
a piece of property for which he had no use, and for which, so far as
he knew, no one else had any use either.

This transaction was at once noted by McDowell, whose study of the
daily transfers as reported in the real-estate publications was minute,
and whose attention had been fixed for some time on this particular
piece of ground. He knew something of Ingles's intentions, through the
people whom Ingles was endeavoring to accommodate, and he saw here
the entering wedge that he had waited for so long. He had approached
Brainard unsuccessfully; he now tried Pratt. Pratt, who figured
himself justly enough as a lamb led to the shearing, made no effort to
evade the rôle; he promptly made an agreement for the transfer of the
Brainard lot to McDowell. He let it go at a decided sacrifice--he sold
it at a possible shade under its actual value.

McDowell, whose eagerness had committed him to an out-and-out purchase,
was now in a position to approach Ingles. He was willing to sell the
ground for simply what it had cost him; his profits would come later,
through that open door between 1262 and 1263. Ingles received him
coldly. He had disposed, he said, of his holdings in that neighborhood,
and was using the proceeds to build for his new tenants in another
quarter. He bowed McDowell out with a faintly cynical contempt, and
this enterprising person was left with an unpromising piece of
ground on his hands to dispose of as best he might. He tried the new
purchasers of Ingles's lot; his own was not necessary to their purposes.

McDowell was seriously embarrassed. This bit of ground was a trifle in
itself--to Ingles or to Pratt it mattered little either way; but to
McDowell, who was of a considerably smaller calibre, the thing came as
a kind of last straw. In expectation of great activity in acres he had
loaded himself down with outside property; everything of his own was
invested in that way, everything that was his wife's, and something, to
tell the truth, that was neither his nor his wife's. He was in up to
his chin, and at this moment came Ogden, asking him in set terms for an
accounting and a settlement.

McDowell met this demand with a promise of figures, and he renewed
this promise several times. The intervals between gave opportunity
for a slow insinuation of the truth--for a graduated confession that
a considerable part of old Mr. Ogden's estate was tied up in the
operations of his son-in-law. This confession was followed by his
statement; but it was some time before the account opened at the
Underground by George received any great enlargement through the agent
of the administratrix.

"It's all right, though," McDowell said; "you don't need to worry, and
there's no use in stirring things up. There's big money ahead, and
you'll stand in."

But the statement was the ground, and a sufficient one, for a rupture.
McDowell, in order to diminish his indebtedness to the estate, had
charged it with various fees and percentages of his own, and with
numerous items that properly concerned his individual and household
expenses. He charged the estate with a new porch on the front of his
own house, and with the full expense of railway travel which had been
undertaken in great part for his own interests. He even made a hardy
attempt to force the Brainard lot upon the indignant widow.

Mrs. Ogden immediately left his house, in spite of the good offices
of her bewildered daughter. George himself, forecasting the future,
beheld a long succession of wrangling days in the law-courts and in
the offices of attorneys--days that threatened to surpass in worry,
loss, expense, and nerve-wear anything that his family had experienced
yet. He felt himself on the threshold of a struggle for which he was
but scantily equipped, and in which he was certain to be seriously
handicapped through consideration for Kittie.

Absorbed in these moody reflections, he was crossing the court of the
Clifton on a Saturday afternoon when a pencil-tap on one of the great
glass panes took his attention. The tap was stowed away behind a tall
piece of shelving piled with newly bound account-books, to pick up his
hat. "I'm glad to have caught sight of you," he proceeded, with the
friendliness of an elder brother; "I've just taken an hour or so to
overhaul things here a little. If you're going north, I'll walk a block
or two with you."

They passed out into the street and picked their way along through the
splashing, slumping, and dripping that marks the spring break-up. They
elbowed other pedestrians over miry flaggings, and they dodged the
muddy spray that bumping trucks sent up from the street-car tracks at
almost every crossing.

"My wife's wondering what has become of you," Bradley puffed out among
many other things, as he tried to keep up with Ogden's supple and
light-footed gait. "And Jessie, too. She's home to-morrow--just back
from Evanston. You come out on the eleven fifty-five, and we'll have
an early dinner, and that will leave enough of the afternoon to make
things worth while. And we'll show you that spring is a little nearer
at hand than you'd suspect in town. Your first spring here?"

"Yes."

"Pretty bad, ain't it?"

"Worse than Boston," said George, in a tone implying that nothing
further could be added.

At the next corner Bradley paused, detaining him for a moment with a
friendly hand.

"Sunday noon, then. You provide the dalliance and we'll see to the
primroses. Care anything for 'em?"

"Oh, yes, indeed."

"Good thing; can't have chrysanthemums all the year round. Well,
good-by. Jessie will drive down for you in the buggy."

"I'll be there," called Ogden, as they drifted apart in the thickening
crowd.

He had reached the point where he felt it would be a relief to cut
away from town and everything in it--the bustle, the uproar, the
filth, the routine of the bank, the complications of the Brainards,
the entanglements of the Ogdens. It was a simple thing to do--only
so many miles of flimsy and shabby shanties and back views of sheds
and stables; of grimy, cindered switch-yards, with the long flanks
of freight-houses and interminable strings of loaded or empty cars;
of dingy viaducts and groggy lamp-posts and dilapidated fences whose
scanty remains called to remembrance lotions and tonics that had long
passed their vogue; of groups of Sunday loungers before saloons, and
gangs of unclassifiable foreigners picking up bits of coal along the
tracks; of muddy crossings over roads whose bordering ditches were
filled with flocks of geese; of wide prairies cut up by endless tracks,
dotted with pools of water, and rustling with the dead grasses of
last summer; then suburbs new and old--some in the fresh promise of
sidewalks and trees and nothing else, others unkempt, shabby, gone to
seed; then a high passage over a marshy plain, a range of low wooded
hills, emancipation from the dubious body known as the Cook County
Commissioners--and Hinsdale.

At the station Jessie Bradley sat drawn up in a buggy: she had her
place in a small convention of phætons, carryalls, and express-wagons.
She tossed her head brightly and waved her whip.

"I could have walked as well as not," said Ogden, climbing in. "What's
half a mile?"

"Three quarters--almost," she corrected. She gathered up the lines and
secured the approved hold on the whip. "Unless _you_ care to drive?"
she suggested.

"Not particular," replied Ogden, leaning back easily. "Quite willing to
be a passenger."

He took a look at her sidewise from behind. She wore a pert little
flat-brimmed, flat-crowned hat, set straight on the top of her head;
a stray lock of hair brushed across her ear in the breeze; she had a
bunch of pale purple primroses at her throat.

"You may if you want to," she said, with a sudden turn in his
direction. Her eyes snapped and sparkled.

[Illustration: "'Here we go,' she cried, 'Sunday or no Sunday, I hate
to poke.'"]

"I'd as soon see you--unless you don't care to."

"Oh, as far as that goes! Just hold on tight, though. Get up, John!"

She drew a taut rein and flicked the horse over the ear. He was a
mettlesome five-year-old, and he rushed into his best gait at once.
"Here we go!" she cried, "Sunday or no Sunday. I hate to poke."

She rushed him through the outskirts of the town; she bumped over the
cumbrous plank crossings, she grazed one or two of the wooden posts
that held up oil-lamps, she charged a flock on its homeward way from
church and cut it into two frightened and indignant halves. She was on
her native heath; she felt it; she showed it.

George grasped the buggy-cover with his left hand and held his right
in readiness to seize the reins. The buggy, with many a bump and
sudden wrench, sped on over the stones and ruts and puddles and rough
crossings of an indifferent country road, and presently it turned into
a yard with a rasping graze on one of the two painted white posts that
made the entrance way. On the side porch of the house stood the girl's
parents. They were laughing.

Jessie jumped out briskly. She struck a masculine attitude on the
carriage-block, her right hand resting on the stock of her whip, her
left arm a-kimbo.

"I was to get yer through on time; them was my orders, and here ye
are!"

George climbed out carefully.

"Poor Horace!" chuckled Bradley, coming down; "he's here all right, but
is he able to give his lecture?"

Mrs. Bradley followed, to shake hands. She wore a black silk dress,
and there was a bit of lace over her thin hair--an adornment which her
consciousness seemed to put forth as a modish novelty. Her wrinkles all
flowed together in a companionable smile.

"He may have lost his voice on the way," she joked, "but we hope he
saved his appetite."

"They're both all right," said George, laughing in turn.

Bradley was at the horse's head. "The voice is there, anyway," he said
in cautious acknowledgment. "And we'll see about the appetite as soon
as you've got enough spare breath to say 'Amen' to our grace." The
Bradley house was a mere box of a building set in an acre lot. They
had built for themselves, on finally breaking with the city, two years
before; and they had accepted the gables and dormers and shingles and
the brown and yellow paint that the modest suburban house of the period
finds it so difficult to evade. They stood on high, rolling ground;
there were half-hints of considerable vistas here and there, and they
were surrounded by groves and copses through which, to-day, the first
faint colors of the spring were hurtling. Bradley, after dinner,
walked Ogden around the house--previous visits had been confined to
the parlor. He dwelt on the swelling of the lilac buds, and he drew
attention with an impartial interest to the first sproutings of his
peonies and of his rhubarb. The back of the place was littered with the
debris of a second green-house in an advanced stage of construction,
and through this disorder he picked his way, along with his daughter
and his guest, towards the door of the first.

"Hop in," said Bradley, lifting his own foot over the perpendicular
threshold. The air within was but a few degrees warmer than the air
without, yet closer. On either side stretched fragmental beds of young
plants, with frequent breaks between. "It's late for prims, after all;
and a good many of them are outside, anyway." He waved his hand over a
few patches of color on the left; there were white, pink, cherry, pale
purple, such as Jessie was wearing, and a few belated clumps of young
and indeterminate green.

Ogden passed to and fro, with the oh's and ah's that accompany the
exposition of any host's pet hobby, however partial and trifling
the exhibit may be. He had done the same last autumn with the
chrysanthemums.

Bradley took this tribute with the customary complacency, and presently
drifted to one side for a word with his man about a small matter of
glazing--he had quite an eye for broken panes. Ogden leaned against a
damp ledge. Jessie had seated herself on one of the steps of a rude
flower-stand; she brushed aside two or three small pots that had been
left standing on it.

She showed an air of lassitude; it had been stealing over her all
through dinner, and now it had completely overtaken her in the languid
atmosphere of the flowers. Her slender arms hung limply, and she moved
her back as if to find a comfortable rest for it. Her face, under the
pallor of the painted glass, looked rather colorless and a little
drawn, and a languorous apathy seemed to have taken the sparkle from
her _eyes_.

She looked up at him as she dropped the petals of a primrose one by
one. "You didn't care to drive, then?"

"Bid you want me to? I'm sorry not to have understood. You drove down,
and so I thought--Was it too much for you, both ways?"

"Oh, no. It only struck me that you might want to. You were not--that
is, you understand horses?"

"Certainly; I drive on occasion." He smiled serenely, not in the least
disturbed by her perfectly obvious thought. "However, a wise man never
goes out of his way to handle a strange horse--perhaps that isn't one
of Solomon's proverbs, but it ought to be."

"You are awfully cautious." She rose undecidedly, and presently she
sat down again with a little sigh.

"I have to be. That is my business--from half-past eight till four.
Perhaps it's growing on me."

"I don't mean that. Ton were born cautions; you'd be cautions anyway."

"I'm a Down-easter, you know. Look before you leap. Perhaps I shall
learn the off-hand Western ways in time. I'll try to. I'll make myself
over."

"I wonder if you can," she said, half to herself. Then aloud:

"But I don't believe all Down-easters are as careful as you are. There
must be lots of them who would have just laid the whip on that horse,
and run over a boy or two, and knocked our gate-post to pieces, and
come up to the door with a wheel just ready to break to flinders. Why
couldn't you have done it? I shouldn't have minded it--I should have
liked it first-rate." She spoke with a kind of lingering drawl, and
there was a half-smile in her lack-lustre eye.

"Your father would have minded it, though, and so should I. Never begin
to dance without arranging about the fiddler--good rule, don't you
think?"

She threw a bare stem to the ground. "Oh, yes; but tiresome." She rose.
"Close in here, isn't it? Let's go outside."



XIV


The sun that had given some warmth to the early hours of the afternoon
was dimmed, later, by an overcasting of thin clouds, and the rest of
the time was passed in-doors. George smoked a friendly cigar with
Bradley in the dining-room, and after Mrs. Bradley had disappeared
for a short nap he whiled away the remaining hours with Jessie in the
parlor. They sat in two easy-chairs on opposite sides of the fireplace,
in which a handful of coal was working against the last lingering
chill of winter. The girl had partly recovered her earlier tone, and
she chatted with him in a-string of smart jocularities with the manner
which sometimes assures a doubtful caller that he has not made a
mistake in coming and that he has not remained too long after coming.
But between these uptilted strata of facetiousness there came now and
then a layer of greater seriousness, and in one of these intervals she
trenched on the domestic affairs of the Brainards.

"Poor Mayme went South the other day, didn't she? I hardly suppose you
could call it a visit?" She looked at him soberly, with her eyebrows
slightly raised.

George winced. "To visit her uncle's family," he answered. He half
wondered why he reiterated her word and even emphasized it.

"Her sister was going to run down there with her."

"I heard so."

"You see Abbie occasionally?"

"Occasionally."

"I suppose she is at the bank a good deal?"

"Not often." He fixed his eye on the last Bickerings of the coals and
lapsed into silence. It was not so easy now as once before to discuss
Abbie Brainard with Jessie Bradley.

Mrs. Bradley came in brisk and refreshed about half an hour before
train-time. The young people were chatting amusedly enough on
indifferent subjects, and she urged Ogden to stay to tea with the
clinging insistency of the suburban housekeeper.

"You can go home by moonlight; I've arranged it all for you." She drew
aside a window curtain and showed him a pale white disk in a bluish sky.

"It's full, you see. We just have cold meat and tea and biscuits--I
don't want to keep you under false pretences."

The moon kept faith with his hostess;--lighting him to the station
and following him in to town and keeping him in sight through a mile
of noisy and glaring streets. From the car-window, now and then,
as the train passed back through a string of scattered suburbs and
crossed the flat reaches of prairie-land between he was conscious
of her bland insipidity; and as he traversed the down-town business
district she raked the long parallels of the east-and-west streets
with an undiscriminating indifference that a mind less preoccupied
might have found irritating. It was all the same to that big, foolish
face--town and country were one. It had its vacuous smile for trees
and fields, and it had the same smile for the variant lights of the
street-cars, for the clamorous cab-drivers around the depots, for the
flaring jewelled guide-posts of the theatres, for the gaudy fronts
of sample-rooms, for the cheap dishevelment of occasional strayed
revellers, for the signs of chiropodists and the swinging shingles of
justices of the peace, and for a certain meditative young man, whether
he was traversing the rustic roads of Hinsdale or the sophisticated
planks of the State Street Bridge. Ogden's thoughts flowed along with a
quiet and grateful sense of the friendliness of the Bradleys, and with
many a ripple, wave, and eddy to correspond with the changing moods of
their daughter. He made a careful rehearsal of some of their bits of
talk--why had she said this? what had she meant by that? why had she
done the other? He dwelt on these matters with an absorbed speculation,
and with a young man of Ogden's temperament speculation was but the
first step on the way to love.

The spring trailed along slowly, with all its discomforts of latitude
and locality, and then came the long, fresh evenings of early June,
when domesticity brings out its rugs and druggets, and invites its
friends and neighbors to sit with it on its front steps. The Brainards
had these appendages to local housekeeping--lingering reminders of a
quick growth from village to city. Theirs was a large rug made of two
breadths of Brussels carpeting and surrounded on all four sides with a
narrow border of pink and blue flowers on a moss-colored background.
This rug covered the greater part of the long flight of lime-stone
steps. In the beautiful coolness of these fresh June evenings Abbie
frequently sat there on the topmost step, under the jig-saw lace-work
of the balcony-like canopy over the front door, while her mother
occupied a carpet camp-chair within the vestibule and languidly allowed
the long twilight to overtake her neglected chess-board. They sat out,
now, only after dark. Ogden called at intervals, and was not flattered
that the poor girl brightened at his coming; it seemed as if she must
brighten at the coming of almost anybody.

One evening he elected to tell off their long street on foot--the
street whose ornamental lamp-posts and infrequent spindling elms had
partly decided him in the selection of his first quarters. When within
a few streets of the Brainard corner he passed a house (one of a long
row) on whose front steps (as with its neighbors, right and left)
were camped a large and merry party, whose exaggerated domesticity
made it plain that they were all fellow-boarders. They occupied two
rugs as well as two chairs and a foot-stool at the head of the steps.
Through their light-minded hubbub came dominatingly a voice which Ogden
recognized, and he threw up his head to meet the frank but overdone bow
of Cornelia McNabb. Beside Cornelia sat a young man who bowed at the
same time with a somewhat forced and conscious smile. It was Burton
Brainard.

Cornelia had returned to the neighborhood of her early trials. She
considered herself now on a distinctly fashionable street; she put
"Washington Boulevard" on her cards, and thought her eight dollars a
week was none too much. She had had a plate engraved and a hundred
cards printed. She had not found it easy to dispose of many of them;
sometimes she gave them in shops, when she was asked to what address
the goods were to be sent.

"But just wait till I order my next plate!" she would say to herself.

[Illustration: "They sat out now only after dark."]

She had left one of her cards with Mrs. Gore. The poor, good soul (come
in from her baking) was quite taken aback. Then Cornelia, conscious
of too stiff an application of the social code, kissed her on coming
away and made herself more intelligible.

"Yes," Abbie was saying to Ogden, a few minutes later, "Cornelia is a
pretty smart girl. Father has come to be quite taken with her."

He noticed that she said--Cornelia.

"She takes down some of his letters, now, too," she continued. "I never
learned," she added, in a tone of slight self-reproach.

"Good Peter!" exclaimed Ogden, with a protesting admiration, "you can
do almost everything else!"

She waved aside this ardent apology, and looked rather shyly through
the rusty iron-work of the hand-rail. The syringas were in blossom; the
asphalt path had stopped its afternoon's running and had solidified
since sundown.

"I think he likes her because she isn't afraid of him. Neither are
you," she added, in a low tone, as if on an after-thought. She did not
look his way.

Ogden appreciated this appreciation of his behavior. He had always been
prompt and respectful with Brainard, but he had never knuckled down.

"He gives her letters almost every day. She corrects his mistakes."

"And he corrects hers?"

"He says she doesn't make many. When she does she sticks it out. She
talks back. That's where she's bright. It kind of irritates him, I
think, to have his--his clerks--his employés seem afraid. It pleases
him, though, when other business men are."

This piece of filial analysis fell softly and slowly on the thickening
darkness. The lamplighter was zigzagging across the wide roadway with
his kerosene torch, and the voices of talkative neighbors on the other
side of the street were brought over by the breeze along with the fumes
of burning oil.

Ogden was pleased with this touch of gilding that the daughter's
devotion applied to the father's clay. Perhaps the old man was not
hopelessly beyond the reach of idealization's hand, after all.

Besides the people on other steps around, many clattered by over the
asphalt pavement, and others promenaded slowly along the sidewalk.
These moved in couples towards the Park, whose scant clumps of citified
foliage appeared a few hundred yards away under the light of a waning
moon and a half-bemisted sprinkling of stars; many of them issued from
basement doors.

Presently another couple came sauntering along, and they paused at the
foot of the Brainard steps. They were Burt and Cornelia. Cornelia came
up and found a place on the rug that suited her, and greeted Mrs.
Brainard in a familiar and masterful manner, before which the good
woman soon boxed up her chessmen and retired. Cornelia then turned on
Ogden.

"Stiff--or bashful?"

"H'm?"

"Why didn't you stop and say a word as you passed by?"

"Oh! Yes, bashful; too many people."

"Too bad about you!" She turned to Burton. He had seated himself on
a lower step with his back to the others. His hat was on the back of
his head and his chin was propped up by his knees and elbows. He was
looking thoughtfully at the curbstone. "Come up and be sociable," she
called.

Burt rose and ascended a step or two.

"Oh, how are you, Ogden?" he said rather absently. George felt that he
should have said more, and said it sooner and said it differently.

Cornelia passed a cushion down to Burt. "There; take that and be
comfortable." She regarded him studiously. It was dark, but he was
all there--the short, thick, yellow moustache, the virile chin lately
shaved and powdered, the dense hair that rose in a level line from
the top of his forehead. Cornelia would have seen all these things in
darkness that was Egyptian. She felt her fingers working towards them.

Cornelia was dressed with a trim and subdued modishness. She had
taken a good many cues from Mrs. Floyd, and she had not been above
cultivating an intimacy with a girl who worked for the excessively dear
and fashionable house that dressed Mrs. Ingles. Mrs. Floyd had had no
need to teach Cornelia anything about grammar, but she had shown her,
all unconsciously, the advantage of a regulated use of slang.

Her fingers, debarred by the cold conventions of society from any
entanglement in the head of hair just before her, smoothed and patted
the folds in her own skirt. She further relieved herself by a high,
sniffling toss of the head and a long, deep respiration.

"Well, isn't this a great night!" she said, addressing the little party
generally. "Isn't the air splendid! I declare, I could just ramble
about till morning. And yet I suppose your mother"--to Abbie--"has
checkmated herself and gone to bed. Dear me, if there wasn't any city,
and no clatter-clatter on that machine! Seems as if I must just make
a break for the country before long--just get up home and hop into my
little boat and paddle all around that whole blessed lake!"

"Why don't you?" asked Ogden. "Can't you give yourself a vacation?" He
spoke a little wistfully; there was none ahead for him--no Underground
man ever had an outing during his first year.

"I don't see hour. They say you can't serve two masters. Well, I've
got five--four too many. At least," she tacked on, as if a closer
calculation would further increase the number of these superfluities.
"Can I go all over the building and tell each one of them that my
services are going to be demanded exclusively for several days by some
other one of them? Or shall I he sick--just for a day, at first, and
keep adding days, one at a time, until I've had a week? I don't know
what _to_ do."

"Drop the whole business," said Burt brusquely, without turning about.

"And leave all my poor people in the lurch?" she cried, as if her
employers were her most poignant concern.

"They can get somebody else."

"Oh, yes!" cried Cornelia, with mock humility; "I'm nobody; I can be
easily replaced." She cast her humility aside lightly. "I'll tell you
what I would do, though, if I was up at Pewaukee this eve. I'd paddle
down to Lakeside and back--by the light of that moon." She pointed
down the street towards the park foliage. "The moon that gilds those
fruit-tree tops--Shakespeare. And it would be a good deal brighter up
there than it is in this smoky old place."

"Can you row?" asked Ogden.

"Can I? I guess. Pair of oars made to order; and I can feather with
'em, too. Speaking of Lakeside, I know who's going to be there the last
of this month; that Miss Bradley--Mrs. Floyd's niece."

"Cousin," corrected George.

"Is it? Cousin, then. She's a lively girl; she and I would make a pair.
Only she don't look very strong."

"I thought," said he, "that she was going to Ocon--Ocon--"

Cornelia gave an encouraging ha, ha. "That's right! Take time and
you'll get it. Mow, then; Ocono--"

"Ocono--"

"Mowoc."

"Mowoc."

"Oconomowoc; easy enough when you have it. Accent on second syllable.
The only trouble is when you write it; you never know where to stop.
Well, so she _is_ going to Oconomowoc, later--to stay through July.
They're only twelve miles apart."

"You know Miss Bradley, then?" Abbie asked Ogden. "She was over here
once or twice, to see--Mayme. She seemed like a real nice girl."

Ogden bowed assent. He found himself as unwilling to discuss Jessie
Bradley with Abbie Brainard as he had been to discuss Abbie Brainard
with Jessie Bradley. Whenever he debated them it was a silent debate,
in which he himself took both sides.

"She's a high-stepper," volunteered Cornelia, filling in Ogden's
silence. "Good deal of style, too. Yet they say her father isn't so
extra well off. She's a great contriver, I expect. Well, gumption goes
a long ways; it's wriggled _me_ off my back a good many times." She
turned to Burt. "Now then, young man, do you want to walk me along to
the park? Haven't we roosted about long enough?"

"All right," said he, getting up promptly. He seemed to be smiling
appreciatively at her pertness.

"Ta!" cried Cornelia, dabbing her hand to Ogden and Abbie; and off she
went. "Perhaps you'll see us later--if you're good!"

A big, bulky figure came stamping along the walk, and reached the foot
of the steps just as Burt and Cornelia started off.

"I guess they'll be good," a heavy voice said. The voice was not
greatly disguised by its assumption of unaccustomed jocularity, and
George with a flush recognized it as Brainard's.

"Well, Abbie," he said, lumbering up the steps. And, "How are you,
Ogden?" he said to George, as he passed on and seated himself with a
loud grunt on his wife's chair.

George bit his lip; the old man had no business to misuse other
people's pronouns in that way. Cornelia's "you" might have meant one
person--if it meant more than one still it might have meant them
separately; but Brainard's perverting "they" bracketed him and his
companion in a fashion utterly unwarranted.

Brainard lingered a few moments above their heads. He made one or two
clumsy attempts at facetiousness, and George surmised that this was his
way of showing a friendliness. But his joking was much more painful
than any hectoring could have been, and George was greatly relieved
when he presently rose and retired unceremoniously into the house.



XV


After Brainard's withdrawal Abbie and Ogden sat for some time in
silence. The moon sank; the clatter of hoofs on the asphalt sounded
less frequently; some of the neighbors over the way had pulled in their
rugs, and were now seen, by new-lighted gas-jets, at upper windows
pulling down their shades. The breeze freshened; it rustled the lilacs
and syringas in the side yard, and it swayed the stringy mass of wild
cucumbers that had taken it upon themselves to hide the red hideousness
of the barn.

Suddenly Ogden spoke.

"There! I knew I should forget it, and I have. I laid it on my bureau
the last thing, too!"

"What?"

"Why--'A False Start.' You haven't wanted it, have you?"

"No; keep it if you like. I've read it."

She meant, "Keep it; please do. Keep it, for my sake."

"It's a pretty good book; didn't you think so?" he asked.

"Yes; I liked it ever so much. He married the right one, after all,
didn't he?"

"Might have done it before," Ogden commented. "No earthly reason why
not. Only you know how they spin these things out."

There was a sudden shutting down of windows over their heads. Ogden
drew out his watch, and turned it so as to profit by the lamp-post on
the corner. "Why, I'd no idea!" Burt and Cornelia had not returned
from the park, or, if so, had passed on the other side of the street.
"Good-night."

"It isn't late, is it?"

"Only for a North-sider."

"Good-night," she said, slowly, and sat alone on the steps until her
father came down and called her in.

On the first of July Brainard summoned George into his own private room.

"We have about decided to have an assistant cashier here," he said. His
voice was gruff, but his glance was a little sheepish. "Mr. Fairchild
thinks it will be convenient about signatures and a good many other
things. Burt's out a good deal and likely to be off all through August,
and I don't like to have drafts signed in advance. You could make up
the reports, too, and swear to 'em. Besides, it's elective--puts you in
the Bankers' Almanac, for one thing. As to salary, I suppose we could
stand an extra five hundred--or six."

He looked at George with some constraint, but his intention appeared to
be friendly.

"We might expect you to go on helping with the tellers' work on
occasion--vacation-time, for instance. Now, about your own vacation--"

George bowed with an additional acknowledgment of the favor; he had
expected to pass an unbroken summer in town.

"Thursday's the Fourth. Put five or six days with it, if you like--to
get accustomed to the new deal."

He turned to his desk. "That's all right; talk to Fairchild." It seemed
that anything beyond the merest word of thanks would be distasteful,
and George withdrew.

He accepted his elevation and his vacation with unfeigned pleasure;
he attributed his advance to the old man's softened mood occasioned
by his son's engagement to Cornelia McNabb. Burt, a few mornings
back, had told his father, plainly and promptly, that it was his
intention to marry Cornelia--and soon. He had prepared himself for
remonstrance--even for opposition, and he had braced himself to
demonstrate to his father that he was going to have his own way.
The old man, however, made no difficulties; Cornelia had certain
qualities that he appreciated, and he knew that Burt had a strong
and a strengthening will. Besides, a son-in-law was one thing, and a
daughter-in-law another. A daughter's husband must come as an ally,
offensive and defensive; he must contribute money, and if not money,
then abilities. There must he abilities in actual exercise, or there
must be the certain promise of their development in the pursuit of some
such career as would be recognized and endorsed by business men of his
own sort. That ten-dollar-a-week man--that anthem singer! His fist
clenched and his eye glared at the very thought of him. But a son's
wife could be moulded--if not moulded, then coerced. There was to be no
breaking away from two such wills as his and Burt's. He liked vim; he
recognized snap; he was prepared to welcome Cornelia as a vital force.

"Oconomowoc," murmured George to himself. He was bending over his
bureau drawer, sorting out his collars. The gas-flame reflected itself
in the mirror and threw a doubled glare upon his face.

"Eh!" said Brower, sitting cross-legged on his trunk. He laid the
book down across two of the top slats; it was "David Grieve"--he read
everything.

They were still in the Bush Street house. Mrs. Ogden had a room on the
floor below.

"Did I speak?" asked George.

"Ton said--Oconomowoc. Is that where you are going?"

"Queer name, isn't it? What's the place like?"

"If you've got a chance to go there, you go." The oracle spoke and
retired into his book.

George went. The train made its rapid run up to Milwaukee, took its
short stop, and turned westward on its way towards La Crosse. At
Pewaukee there was the usual halt; it lengthened to an unusual halt.
George paced the long platform impatiently; his mind had projected
itself through Nagowicka and Nashotah and Okauchee to Oconomowoc, and
his body was eager to follow.

"What's the trouble?" he asked the brakeman.

"St. Paul express late--passes us here."

The platform was swarming with passengers and townspeople. A figure
rushed through the crowd and grasped George by the hand.

"So you're gallivanting, too? And I'll bet a nickel you've been aboard
all the way up--parlor-car. Now, haven't you?" The voice sounded a
trumpet-note of wide-flung triumph. It was Cornelia's.

Her cheeks blazed and her eyes burned with the magnificence of
conscious conquest. Her glory spread about her the same succession of
flowing circles that a stone spreads over a pond. It seemed as if her
expansiveness must crowd the train from its track and the station from
its foundations.

"Ma," she called back into the crowd, "come here--do! I want you to
meet Mr. Ogden. He's one of my most particular friends; but I guess you
don't need to be told that--you've heard enough about him. Mr. Ogden,
this is my mother, and she's about the best mother that ever lived."

Mrs. McNabb smiled bravely and took Ogden's slender palm in her large,
capable grasp. She wore a sedate black bonnet; her gray hair was parted
in the middle and fell right and left in two wide, crinkly folds.

"And I want pa to come, too; no dodging." An elderly man came forward
reluctantly, in his loose, short trousers and his thick boots with
broad, square toes; he seemed to find Ogden, in his modified tourist
guise, a disconcerting object. He lifted up his shrewd but retiring
eyes, placing one embarrassed hand on his grizzled chin whiskers and
giving George the other; it was rough, and the nails were broken.

George shook hands with the old fellow--who went well enough with other
features of the Wisconsin landscape: the shaggy tamarack swamps, the
gashed sides of gravelly "hog-backs," the long stretches of disordered
barbed-wire fences, the rusty reds of depots and storehouses, and the
marshy ponds, edged by the ragged scantlings of gigantic ice-houses.

Cornelia did not perceive this harmony--or ignored it.

"Yes," she declared, "ma's the best ma, and pa ain't far behind. Now
don't shy, pa; Mr. Ogden is more scary than you are. He'd been trying
for near three months to ask me to go to the theatre with him, when
along came Burt and plumped out and asked me inside of a week. Burt's
enterprising; no mistake."

The old people smiled at each other, half embarrassed by Cornelia's
frankness.

"But we won't shut out George--oh, dear! I mean Mr. Ogden--altogether.
Bear witness, both of you: I ask him to be one of my ushers." George
stared. Was the girl meaning to be married in church after--everything?
Then he bowed. "On Abbie's account--if at all," he thought.

"Going to Coonie for the Fourth, I suppose?" Cornelia continued.

"Coonie?"

"Oh, well--'Con'm'woc, if you must have it all. Well, we're on the
move, too. Good-by. But"--meaningly--"you'd find us all again in town
pretty soon; and if pa and ma don't see the whole place from the
tip-top of the Clifton, my name is McMudd. On a clear day, too--when
you can tell where the smoke ends and the land begins. Good-by. Our
house is on the right, a mile farther; watch out for it."

Oconomowoc, from Ogden's point of view, appeared as one wide street
running between two small lakes that were only a few hundred feet
asunder. The business part of the street was built neatly and compactly
of the cream-colored brick of Milwaukee, and the rest of it was
a thickly shaded stretch bordered with a double string of summer
cottages, which fronted on the street and backed on the water. In the
midst of the cottages stood a big hotel of yellow brick; it was faced
with a lofty row of seven immense white columns, and above the maples
before it there rose a steep roof set with a series of dormer-windows.
George was given a room which one of these dormers lighted, and
presently stepped down the street to inquire at one of the cottages for
Jessie Bradley. He soon stepped back again; she was not expected for
two days yet. He thanked Brainard again for his full week, and threw
himself into one of the chairs under the big colonnade.

The town was at the beginning of its annual patriotic flurry; after
the Fourth it settles down, and the real season begins a week or two
later. A good many young people were scurrying about, many of them in
aquatic attire; those who did not carry rackets carried banjos. Nobody
noticed him except the young wife of the proprietor. She stood in the
doorway; her black eyebrows were contracted in a study of him. She wore
her raven hair in a Japanesque fashion, but she corrected the plump
dumpiness of the Japanese maiden by a tall and slender grace of her
own. "He's all right," she said to herself, and sank down in a chair
beside him.

"You poor, lonesome man," she began, with a graceful audacity that was
her peculiar possession, "let me talk to you."

"Do," answered George, smilingly. He seemed to have known her a week.

"That is, if you're not just married or not just going to be. Are you?"

"N--no."

"We see so much of that sort of thing. May is dreadful; this year we
had five couples in a week--it's so pleasant and quiet here then. The
fifth was from Detroit; they stayed quite a while, and when they went
away they thanked us all over. We hadn't done a thing for them--we
simply left them alone and let them go about. But they were just chuck
full of it--they'd have been in glory anywhere. What do you think of
our columns?"

Two men could hardly have spanned their fluted shafts. George cast his
eye up to their capitals, on a level with the third-story windows.
"They're great."

"Aren't they? They've only been on two or three years. We call them the
Seven Bridegrooms."

"The Seven Bridegrooms? Is each the gift of a happy man?"

"Hot quite; one happy man gave them all. He was here a week; he gave us
one every day. Think how happy he must have been."

She smiled at his inquiring glance.

"He wanted things his own way, and could afford it," she said. "His
name was Ingles."

Ogden did some lounging up and down the street. He crossed a bridge
where one lake fell into the other over a mill-dam, and found himself
in another cluster of cottages. They stood on a bluff and looked down
the three miles of the lower lake. Both shores were diversified by
promontories and islands, and the red roofs of other cottages showed
everywhere over the tufted foliage of the shores.

"How it balances--how it composes!" he said of the view, as he
recrossed the bridge. "And how it's kept!" he said of the town,
as he retraced his steps to the hotel. "Really"--with unconscious
patronage--"it's the only thing West, so far, that has tone and finish."

He took a boat. The next day, the same. The town was full, but was
lying back quietly for the excitement of the morrow; he had the water
almost to himself.

Sloops and cat-boats were being rigged for a coming regatta. A scow for
fireworks was being anchored two or three hundred yards from shore. He
paddled about with a trolling-line. But the line was neglected. He had
a good deal to think about; here was place and time to do it.

His future was assured. He could now marry. He wanted to marry. There
was only the question--which?

He had surrendered his primitive theory that marriage was a matter
which concerned only the two principals. Kittie's marriage--who had
come to be more deeply concerned in it than he?

He thought of Abbie Brainard, and he thought of her family--a divorced
sister; a disreputable brother, whose future was to sound, perhaps,
depths yet undreamed of; another brother, whose coming marriage was but
conclusive evidence of the coarseness of the family grain.

And the father--his scandalous success; his tainted millions; his
name a byword. Those bawlings in the streets; those disgraceful and
degrading pictures; the stench of the whole scandal.

His oars dropped idly, and he sat with his eyes fixed on the bottom of
the boat.

But the old man would die. Yes; and then would come the division of
the spoil. If there had been so much trouble in a poor sixty or eighty
thousand, how much more might there be in all these millions? If he
had found such difficulty in getting restitution from McDowell--a
restitution so incomplete as to be even yet largely in the future--what
might there be to expect from other brothers-in-law and from other new
relations that so much money would be sure to bring?

He ran his troubled eyes along the shore. A party of children were
wading and splashing at the foot of a high, wooded point.

That money--those millions! It was the talk of the bank that Burt,
on his wedding-day, was to have five hundred thousand dollars as an
out-and-out gift. And if Burt, why not Abbie--in the proper degree?
Those shameful, indecent millions--millions that it would be a disgrace
to receive, to handle.

"Boat ahoy!" A sloop swept by. He dodged its bowsprit and was tossed by
its wake. He threw out his oars to steady himself.

The husband of a rich wife--another Valentine. My house--my furniture!

Then, he had meant to get on--in business, in society. Was he to marry
a recluse?--a girl inexperienced in the ways of his world--perhaps
incapable of adapting herself to them--surely careless of them.

Abbie was before him in her tender and steadfast serenity, in her
stanch and genuine capability. He set his teeth, and took up his oars
again, and rowed half a mile with a furious vigor. He stopped, panting
and exhausted, in a clump of reeds off a sedgy shore, near a group of
linden-trees. He had left Abbie behind.

[Illustration: He sat with his eyes fixed on the bottom of the boat.]

An elderly couple were standing among the rashes. They regarded him
with a friendly and companionable smile. They seemed to offer him
the "middling lot" that the sage and poet have called the best and
safest. "No hazardous and complicated relationships," they seemed to
say; "no struggle over dead men's dollars, no swamping of self-respect
in ill-got gains; only our daughter--"

George pressed his forehead confusedly and raised his eyes to get his
bearings; the late afternoon sun dazzled him with its level beams. He
saw a house set high among the trees; and on its porch, amidst a tangle
of bittersweet, a girl was standing. He shaded his eyes; it was as if
she waved a handkerchief at him. Presently she strolled to the brow of
the bank.

"Glad to see you," she called; "we have just driven over."

It was Jessie Bradley.



XVI


Cornelia McNabb became Mrs. Barton Brainard during the first week in
August. Neither of the pair was inclined to wait, and neither had such
a circle of friends as to make a midsummer wedding less preferable than
a later one.

The wedding took place in church--as Cornelia had intimated to Ogden.
She was not disposed to let false delicacy clog the heels of success,
and she had her way. They were married in the daytime, as a partial
concession to the social inexperience of one father and the social
indifference of the other. The young men of the bank were drawn on
freely; Ogden served as an usher--as Cornelia had requested. Adrian
Valentine supported Burt at the chancel-rail, and gave some friendly
counsel as to details at both church and house.

Cornelia's circle of girl-friends yielded nothing suitable in the
way of bridesmaids; but there was the groom's sister--and one maiden
attendant was enough. Abbie therefore took this part--for the first
time. She walked up the long aisle with a bashful modesty. She had a
dozen opportunities to meet Ogden's eye, but her embarrassed shyness
prevented her from once looking into his face.

Mary Brainard was still in exile, and her mother was confined to her
room by one of her nervous attacks; but in one of the back pews, in the
twilight under the gallery, a dark, meagre, and dissolute-looking young
man had taken his post. And as Burt, with a proud and prosperous smile,
led Cornelia down the aisle, tears of indignant rage started from the
eyes of his banned and mistreated brother.

The Brainard marriage was celebrated in print, just as the Brainard
divorce had been. Some of the cuts that had illustrated the one were
also used to illustrate the other.

Mr. and Mrs. Burton Brainard went to California and were absent a
month. On their return they took up their quarters in the Brainard
house, while Burt considered the question of building. Cornelia had
made up her own mind where this building should be done.

They returned to town in accordance with the mandate conveyed by
certain cards that had been sent out, directed by the serviceable
Abbie, during their absence. These cards announced that "Mr. and Mrs.
Burton Tillinghast Brainard" would be "at home" on the "Thursdays in
September."

Cornelia had gloated over these cards on their arrival from the
stationer's.

"Mrs. Burton Tillinghast Brainard," she read, with a vigorous hitch of
her shoulder. "H'm! now we're ready to knock out your Smiths and your
Joneses." She tossed her head. "And then bring on your Floyds and your
Ingleses!"

Before going away she had wrung Ogden's hand, and had committed her
parents to him during the concluding days of their stay. Especially
was he enjoined to take them up to the top of the Clifton on the
very first clear day. A clear day came; he conducted them up to the
roof-observatory and showed them the city, and they numbered the towers
thereof.

The old people tiptoed gingerly around the parapet, while Ogden waved
his hand over the prospect--the mouth of the river with its elevators
and its sprawling miles of railway track; the weakish blue of the
lake, with the coming and going of schooners and propellers, and the
"cribs" that stood on the faint horizon--"that's where our water comes
from," George explained; the tower of the water-works itself and the
dull and distant green of Lincoln Park; the towering bulk of other
great sky-scrapers and the grimy spindling of a thousand surrounding
chimneys; the lumber-laden brigs that were tugged slowly through the
drawbridges, while long strings of drays and buggies and street-cars
accumulated during the wait. "My! don't they look little!" cried Mrs.
McNabb.

George smiled with all the gratified vanity of a native.

"And that," he said, pointing southward down the street, "is the Board
of Trade."

"Where we was the other day," the old man reminded his wife. "And that
gilt thing on the top of it is a ship, I swan. And wasn't they noisy,
though. Well, now, Josephine, ain't it handsome?"

A simple soul found to admire the tower of the Board of Trade--let it
be put on record.

George and McNabb had got on very well. The old countryman had felt
rather frost-bitten on seeing George in full social regalia, but
seeming to find him more human and approachable in a simple business
suit, he had thawed out again. Mrs. McNabb had taken to him kindly from
the start. Most women did, though he appeared never to have observed
it. She joined with her husband in wreathing him in an atmosphere of
simple friendliness.

The other father concerned in the festivities had also thawed towards
George, though it would be a mistake to attribute simplicity to any
friendliness shown by the head of the Underground. At one stage of the
proceedings Erastus M. Brainard had laid his hand on Ogden's shoulder,
and the young man had asked himself with distressful circumspection
what it meant. It might have been to his advantage if he had found an
answer.

George's engagement to Jessie Bradley was now an accomplished fact; the
nail was driven--only a formal announcement was required to clinch it.
He had preferred to withhold this until his affairs with McDowell were
more accurately adjusted. Freeze & Freeze had put on a pretty positive
pressure, and an arrangement had been contrived that had some of the
externals, at least, of an adjustment.

McDowell's affairs had not been taking a very favorable turn; some of
his ventures had been too rank for even gullibility itself, and his
hope of relations with Ingles was now completely at an end. Ingles,
in fact, had signified to him that an accounting for of the St. Asaph
funds was desired by himself and the other contributing members of the
former committee, that a remittance in accordance therewith was looked
for, and that his resignation of the financial guidance of the choir
would receive prompt consideration.

This communication might have been made by Ingles personally, or it
might have been sent by his office-boy, or it might even (as a physical
possibility) have been pushed in under the crack of the door between
them. As a matter of fact, it came through the mail. So formal a
transmission of so formidable a communication was conclusive; McDowell
felt at once that all possibility of personal relations between
himself and Ingles was at an end--that door in the wall between them
was as good as bricked up.

[Illustration: "Burt led Cornelia down the aisle."]

Kittie came around late one afternoon to see her mother. "Do you know,
George," she said to her brother, "that Eugene is going to give up our
pew at St. Asaph's? Can you imagine why?"

He had heard and read a good deal in his lifetime about the fine
penetration of feminine intuition; he wondered why feminine intuition
always failed when it came up for application to business matters. The
pretty, high-held female heads that would droop in shame if they could
come to learn the how and wherefore of their own costly bedeckings!
Poor innocent Kittie--sitting there and twirling in unsuspecting
surprise the sparkling novelties that encircled her fingers, and never
caring or thinking about the means by which they had come to be there!

The principal instruments in McDowell's settlement with the
Ogden estate were certain promissory notes and certain warranty
deeds--warranty, after quit-claims had been refused; and Ogden found
himself in possession of his brother-in-law's signature on several bits
of paper which he hoped might realize their full value when the time
came, and also of two or three largish tracts of suburban property
in which the general public interest seemed rather diminishing than
increasing. McDowell saved the best here, just as he had managed to
secure the best of his father-in-law's estate for his wife. In the
original division--fair, according to appraised values--his knowledge
of tendencies of growth had put into his wife's third almost everything
that was likely to show a quick increase in price. George took his
notes and his lands, and the task of turning them into money; and he
left to Kittie an unimpaired trust and confidence in her own husband.

The matter of a house shared his thoughts, along with the McDowell
business--an October wedding, a week for a trip, and then the beginning
of housekeeping on the first of November in a home of their own.

"You want to see Mrs. Cass," Floyd had told him; "she fixed us up when
we first came out here."

"Who is she?"

"A clever little woman who makes a sort of specialty of North-side
houses. She has got desk-room somewhere upstairs--sixteenth or
seventeenth. She married badly--her husband doesn't do anything. She
began by renting friends' houses to other friends, and has kept on
until she has worked up quite a business. In such a big town as this
has got to be you need to go to a specialist for almost everything. You
might take in the whole lot of those big house-renting agencies and
never get satisfied."

The office of the Massachusetts Brass Company was as much a social
exchange as ever. Jessie frequently came down with Mrs. Floyd and
Ann and Claudia, and George would sometimes step up to see her
for a few minutes during his noonings. Mrs. Floyd looked upon the
meetings indulgently enough, but Ann seemed to hold against Ogden a
deeply-seated grudge.

She had been considerably embarrassed in the matter of her special
assessments, and she had as much feeling against George as against
McDowell himself. Her efforts to fortify and to recoup herself had led
her into other fields of business, and she was now spending a good part
of every forenoon in the neighborhood of the Board of Trade. Thus far
she had not been so successful as to lessen the grudge.

The particular institution in which Ann was interested bore some
external resemblance to its great prototype across the street. It was
smaller and, if possible, uglier; but it, too, had its quadrangular
arcade, its big square skylight, its ladies' gallery. In this gallery
Ann sat daily for several hours, along with other women of a like turn
of mind, and kept an eye on the proceedings generally. After a few
sessions she became accustomed to the mere externals of the place--the
endless shuffle of feet on the grimy floor, the sharp yawps of raw and
eager voices, the flinging aloft of excited arms, the little tangles
of noise and passion that were instantly woven around every new-comer
with, an offer to buy or to sell. She looked over this choppy sea
across to the promised land that was being portrayed on the opposite
blackboard; the artist paced to and fro on a long, high, narrow
platform, and worked in the uncertainty of a single drop-light. He
frequently changed his mind, and his alterations usually had a deep and
sometimes a discouraging effect upon Ann and her associates. Every now
and then one would retire into the hallway and consult with her agent,
and then there would be the rustle of greenbacks, and the agent would
take the elevator down and presently be seen among the crowd of men on
the floor. The agent was likely to be a gallant fellow, only too happy
to be of service to a lady.

Ann was now a member of Floyd's household, in good and regular
standing. She felt herself very much at home. What was her
brother-in-law's was her sister's, and what was her sister's was hers.
She was usually the first to unfold the morning paper; she pre-empted
the bathroom with little regard to Walworth's established habits; and
if the idea of some trifling delicacy occurred to her she would order
it from the grocery, and after it had appeared on Walworth's table it
appeared again in his bill. She did not stand on ceremony; she waived
all stiff formality; cosily and frankly she was quite one of the
family.

As such, she used Walworth's office quite freely, and in the same
capacity she joined in the conferences which the Floyds were now
beginning to hold with Atwater up under his great skylight in the roof.
Atwater's little house for Claudia had given great satisfaction, and
he was now about to do a larger one for Claudia's parents, who had
begun to look upon their banishment to the West as a perpetual fact.
Claudia's house had been delivered with its stairs, its windows, its
red chimney, and its chandeliers--which last were composed by a pushing
young draughtsman who was as anxious to make interest with Atwater as
Atwater had perhaps been to make interest with Floyd.

Atwater was accustomed to people who didn't know their own minds, to
people who knew their own minds too well, to people who had too many
minds to really have any mind at all, and to people who had so much
money that they didn't need to have any mind. He was impeccably suave
and unruffled, but he had the immense advantage of being able to
impress the unduly brusque and capricious and exasperating among his
clients with the fact that they were dealing with a gentleman and an
artist. He also put a good deal of "presence" into the rendering and
the collecting of his accounts; there was no more disputing his charges
than his taste.

He took equally, with his urbane imperturbability, the anxious
carpings of Mrs. Floyd and the easy joking of her husband. Ann he
quietly ignored, and Walworth thanked him; for his sister-in-law's
interest in the new house was becoming oppressively personal. As for
Claudia, he always saw that she had, out of his sample cabinet, all the
bits of tiling and scraps of marqueterie that she needed; and if she
fancied a promenade among the boards and trestles of his drawing-room,
her whim was gratified. Ogden and Jessie, who sometimes came too, he
welcomed pleasantly--the guests of the present were the clients of the
future. Ogden admired his beautiful manners and his whitened hair; one
day he amusedly recalled Jessie's determination to make her husband's
hair like it.

He looked at Atwater, who was explaining his preliminary sketches
to the Floyds and was trying to fix the general bearings of hall,
stairway, and closets; his hair looked whiter still under the diffused
glare from the skylight.

George turned to Jessie, with his hand on his own head, so smooth and
shining brown.

"This is the hair you are to whiten," he said, and he lifted his
eyebrows in a smile.

"I never saw such a boy!" she murmured in a repressed ecstasy. "Do you
remember _everything_ I have said?" No one was looking, and she placed
her own hand on his other temple.

"Wouldn't powder do?" he asked lightly.

"Only for girls."

"Couldn't it be bleached?"

"Not and get that color."

"Must I suffer, then?"--with his hand still on his brow.

"I'm afraid that's the only way." She lowered his hand in her own, and
gave it a tender pressure on its descent.

"Must it be lingering, or something sharp and sudden?"

She pressed his hand again, and looked affectionately into his eyes.
"Both, perhaps."

"Will it be fear or anxiety or shame?"

"Wait and see."

Atwater rolled up his sketches and threw them into a drawer. Then he
went to his cabinet and took out a few small strips and squares of
encaustic tiling in yellow and gray.

"And now I wonder if our little Colleen wouldn't like to take some of
these home to play with." He turned courteously to Mrs. Floyd, while
his hand reached out for a sheet of brown paper.

"They're not too--too heavy?" she asked, cautiously. "Nor too easily
broken?"

The child opened wide her brown eyes, in one of her sober little
ecstasies. "Oh, plaze, mamma! Oh, lave me have them--do!"

Ogden turned to Jessie, mutely asking her to share his appreciation of
this. But she did not seem, especially amused. He remembered, then,
that to himself he had frequently called her treatment of Claudia
"uneven." Sometimes the child entertained her, sometimes she annoyed
her. Jessie seemed to regard her--and he felt now and then that she
so regarded children generally--as a doll to be played with until
weariness came, and then to be carelessly thrust away.

"Oh, let her have 'em," said Ann, with an air of authority.

"_Very good_ of you, I'm sure," said Floyd to Atwater.

"Not at all; I'm sampled to death. There, my child." He gave her a
neat little package. "I'm sure they'll understand you when you get to
Paris!"



XVII


George Ogden and Jessie Bradley were married during the third week in
October. The wedding took place at St. Asaph's, with the participation
of a small section of the choir, and the Floyds opened their house for
the reception that followed. Walworth even gave George a small lunch at
his club.

For some weeks previous Ogden had watched for the right opportunity to
make a formal announcement of his plans to the head of the bank and
to ask for a week's leave. For nearly a month, now, Brainard had not
looked at him, had not spoken to him; and when he entered the old man's
office to make his request Brainard still refrained from looking at
him, and in speaking to him was as curt as possible.

"We need all our men right here; you must give up any idea of going
off."

"Blow hot, blow cold," thought George, and asked Jessie what she
preferred to do under the circumstances.

She had planned a long and rapid and lavish tour, and the tears of
disappointment started to her eyes.

"Go anyway," she cried.

"Go? Do you know what he is?" And "Do you know what business is?" he
almost added.

She lapsed into a sullen silence.

"We could arrange the wedding for a Saturday," he suggested, "and spend
Sunday in Wisconsin."

This proposition stuck in her throat, but presently she gulped it down.
"Only don't call it a wedding-trip," she said tartly. "Well," she went
on, "we'll settle that. We must, because the cards have got to be
started out pretty soon--all those people who have entertained me have
got to be remembered. There's some in Providence, and in Detroit, and
in St. Paul. And don't let me forget those Louisville people that took
me to Old Point."

They spent their Sunday in Oconomowoc, along with the Seven
Bridegrooms. The day was wet and gloomy, and most of the time they sat
in-doors over a grate-fire. Mists dulled the blazing red of the maples,
and a thick fall of leaves was churned into the mud before the house by
the wheels of farm wagons returning home from church. Only at sunset
did the clouds clear away, and the full moon rose over one lake while
the sun sank below the other.

George recalled this many times in afteryears.

They had taken a house in Walton Place for the year and a half from
November first. The house had been vacant some little time, and the
landlord made no account of an introductory fortnight.

Mrs. Bradley had come in from Hinsdale and had superintended most of
the furnishing and fitting up. She saw the window-shades put into place
and told the men where to set the refrigerator, and Jessie had looked
on with the gay irresponsibility of a child who watches puppets being
strung.

On their return from Wisconsin they found the house decorated almost
throughout with chrysanthemums. The new green-house at Hinsdale had
devoted the whole autumn to this specialty.

Jessie sank down into one of her big new easy-chairs. "Nothing to do
but to be happy," she sighed, with a long and delicious expiration.

She had her days, but those dates were of course overridden by her
intimates.

Among the first to call were the Floyds. Walworth came over with a
pocketful of cigars--to christen the new wall-paper, he said.

"Have you got any closets?" was one of his questions.

"Plenty," replied George.

"Then I don't see but what you're all right--just as well off in a
house that you rent as we are going to be in a house made to order. If
ever I turn architect"--with a glance towards his wife--"I shall begin
every house with a dozen closets and then pour in the various rooms
around them. Four drawers in every one, and two rows of hooks. How
stuff does accumulate!"

"Yes, the inside is rather nice," Jessie acknowledged; "but the outside
might be improved. I have my own notion about the porch and the front
door."

George turned to her, as if to ask what that notion might be.

Other friends followed--Brower among them.

He went about rather shyly, looking at the draperies and _grilles_
and mirrors. In the semi-gloom of the dining-room he threw his arm
over Ogden's shoulder and looked into his eye with a friendly and
affectionate smile.

"I never expected you to do it," he said. "You have left me as lonesome
as the deuce."

"Ho it? Why not?"

"Because you're so careful; you always think things out--regular old
Puritan sage."

"Oh, well," began George, with the air proper to a launching out into
a broad and easy generalization, "aren't we New England Puritans the
cream of the Anglo-Saxon race? And why does the Anglo-Saxon race rule
the globe except because the individual Anglo-Saxon can rule himself?"

"Oh, I know," said Brower, discontentedly; "that's all right, up to a
certain point."

Others came, among them the Valentines.

"And how do you like your new house?" asked Mrs. Valentine, effusively.
She addressed Jessie exclusively; with her everything went in the
female line. "We are new converts too, you know--just over from the
West Side. We are very much pleased, aren't we, Adrian?"

Her husband gave his corroborative little bow. "We were being left
rather aside, over there," he admitted. "And take the South Side, for
that matter. Business is walking right over them, and the whole section
is in a state of mild panic from the Courts to Oakwood Boulevard.
Yes, we're safe and quiet, and settled to stay." Still others came,
among them Cornelia Tillinghast Brainard. She called frequently, she
usually brought her husband with her, and she never failed to walk
him all around the Ogdens' neighborhood. Her favorite time was Sunday
afternoon; then she took him along the Lake Shore Drive and through all
the adjacent streets, with the full benefit of daylight.

Cornelia now had command over a good seven hundred thousand dollars,
and she was arming for the social fray. She meant to bang her shield
against the shields of other amazons. The gladiator must come to
the arena, and the centre of the arena seemed to be somewhere near
the water-works tower. If Burton was going to put seventy or eighty
thousand dollars into a house, the site of it must not be too far away
from this point.

"I expect I shall cut a pretty wide swath," Cornelia acknowledged to
herself.

Jessie had her receptions through November; her intimates appeared at
these as well, and so did many of her more formal acquaintances.

On one of these occasions George, having left the bank early, after
a light day, hurried home, dressed himself, and hastened down to the
parlor. Its contracted space was beflowered and belighted, and quite a
little throng of ladies were circulating and chatting there. Mrs. Floyd
and Miss Wilde were among them; so were Mrs. Ogden and Kittie; so were
Mrs. Valentine and Mrs. Atwater.

His wife hurried up to him; her cheeks were flushed and her large eyes
burned brightly.

"If you had only been three minutes sooner! She has just gone. She was
telling me why she hadn't been able to come to the wedding. I wanted
you to meet her so much."

"Who is this?"

"Cecilia Ingles."

"There is such a person, then?"

"Why, George, what do you mean? Of course there is, and she was just as
nice to me as she could be."

[Illustration: "'How well it's done!' she said to him."]

"Why shouldn't she have been? I see you call her Cecilia. Are you as
intimate as that?"

"Everybody calls her Cecilia. See, Mrs. Atwater is trying to catch your
eye."

A tall and rather stately woman of thirty-five was standing in the
doorway; she seemed finished--in profile, figure, and carriage. "How
well it's done," she said to him; "who is the presiding genius?"

"My wife's mother, I fancy." He turned and drew her attention to the
rustling of Mrs. Bradley's black silk.

"Ah!" she said indifferently, and turned away.

He had been unable to apprehend the simple costliness of his
questioner's dress, and he only half wondered how, in a dozen quiet
words, she had conveyed the impression of an expert addressing a
beginner; but he could not refrain from asking himself if there was
a slight here on Mrs. Bradley. He looked at the old lady again. She
was moving about with the greatest show of confidence and good-will.
No thought of anything called "differences" had entered her head.
She did not believe that anybody would want to slight her or that
anybody could. She had come on the ground in the early days of simple
friendliness, and perhaps she was too old to apprehend that anything
different had developed in the meanwhile. She certainly seemed to need
no defence, and George was assuredly in no position to offer any.

"Cecilia has gone off and left me," Mrs. Atwater resumed; "careless
girl!" They were half-sisters, and Mrs. Atwater was several years the
elder. The Atwaters and the Ingleses ran as a kind of four-in-hand. The
rich sister had married a poor man, and the poor sister had married a
rich man, and they all went along at the same pace. It was a somewhat
rapid pace. "I'm going to see what Mrs. Floyd can do for me; I dare say
she has a spare seat."

His wife caught at Mrs. Atwater and bade her adieu with effusion. Did
Jessie regard it as a feat and a triumph to have secured her presence?
So it seemed to Jessie's husband.

The last of these little receptions was disposed of, and the honeymoon
drew to its close. Quiet succeeded this introductory flurry to married
life, and George now took occasion to lay a steady hand upon the
throbbings of the "pocket-nerve."

His apprehension of any suffering in this part of his financial anatomy
was, indeed, largely anticipatory; it was not that the nerve had
been roughly touched, but that it soon might be. He had no tendency
towards a retrospective study of the journal-and-ledger aspects of his
courtship. He had been spared the expense of the wedding-journey that
Jessie had planned by the unaccountable countable veto of Brainard.
And the remuneration of St. Asaph's choir and kindred matters had
fallen to his wife's father to arrange. But, all the same, many small
indications arose to make it worth while for him to remember that he
was a young man on a moderate salary and that most of his available
means were badly tied up.

He noticed that his wife was developing a disdain of the public
conveyances; a carriage was sometimes required of afternoons, and
invariably of evenings when dances or theatre-going might be the
matter in hand. She was also cultivating her taste for flowers; she
had employed them rather lavishly at her receptions (in conjunction
with her mandolin-players), and her appreciation of them kept equal
pace with the advancing coldness of the weather and their own advancing
cost. She also betrayed a ravenous taste for the exasperating
superfluities of house-furnishing, and his bills for things needful
were attended by a train of little accounts for things quite worse than
useless.

"Oh, well, we shall be fitted out pretty soon," he sighed; and he saw
his studious face reflected from among the cluttered _bibelots_ of his
mantelpiece.

The point of completion as regarded the interior was finally reached,
and his wife's intentions as to the exterior presently developed. She
accompanied him out into the vestibule one morning, and stood at the
head of the steps to bid him good-by.

"These doors are awfully shabby and old-fashioned," she declared.
"Don't you suppose the landlord would put in new ones?"

"I'm quite sure he wouldn't. I wouldn't in his place."

"Well, we have taken this house for a year and a half, and are likely
to take it again for a year or two longer. Why couldn't we fix things
up ourselves? The entrance counts more, really, than anything else."

"That might be thought about."

"Yes, indeed. If Mary Munson is coming to see me, I want things as nice
as they have everything."

Mary Munson was of the Louisville family that had entertained Jessie
Bradley at Old Point Comfort. It presently transpired that she was
under like obligations to many other acquaintances of her girlhood.

"I must pay them up," she explained. "Besides, I need company--all
alone here during the day, and mamma away off there in the country."

The succession of Mary Munsons lasted, indeed, through into spring.
Blowers, carriages, and matinee-tickets doubled up finely, and the
hideous mien of the caterer was seen in connection with frequent
lunches.

"I spoke to Mr. Atwater to-day about the front of the house," she said
to him one evening towards the close of dinner. "Maggie didn't quite
get around to pudding to-day," she went on, as the dessert came in, "so
I sent out for this ice-cream. Take some of these lady-fingers with it."

"To Atwater?"

"Yes. Frances wanted me to go up with her and see the drawings for the
front of their house. It's going to be lovely. He had some special
little drawings for the outside doors, and things like that. He's got
beautiful taste."

"I know he has."

"I asked him to design some doors for us."

"You did?"

"Yes. He said he had a new idea that he'd like to try."

"You must get your landlord to pass on that. He might not like the new
idea."

"Think not?"

"He might object. It would all come on his hands in the end."

"We'd better go on with it, don't you think?"

"But don't let it be anything too unusual or too elaborate."
Architects, he understood, generally charged a commission on the cost
of the work; so much per cent.--five, he had heard. "We don't want to
go in too deep."

They left the table and sauntered slowly into the parlor--the
drawing-room, Jessie called it. The standing lamp sent out a broad
glare from under its shade of crinkled yellow paper, and the floor of
the room burned with a dull and unaccustomed red--the red of a handsome
Turkish rug.

"Ah, what's this?" exclaimed George.

"I picked it up to-day," she said; "it was so pretty and just the thing
for this room. Cecilia called it a great bargain--she knows all about
rugs."

"Then you have been shopping with Mrs. Ingles?"

"Well, she was getting a few things. She said that sixty dollars was
little enough for it."

"Sixty dollars! Did you pay for it?"

"I had it charged."

"Charged?"

"Yes; wasn't that right? Why, George, even poor mamma, away out there
in Hinsdale, has her account at Field's."



XVIII


The drawings for the embellishment of the house on Walton Place were
undertaken by Atwater, and their scope broadened under the artist's
hands. George, at his wife's request, took the elevator one noon and
went up to the roof to see them.

In Atwater's absence he was received by the head draughtsman. The
scheme had widened, as such schemes will; there were suggestions for
the porch and for new hand--rails. There was also a drawing for a
cornice in harmony.

"Urn," said George, thoughtfully. "This is all very handsome."

At about the same time that work on the Ogden house began, the work
on the plans for the Floyd house received a check. This check was
due to the first Western trip of Winthrop C. Floyd, treasurer of the
Massachusetts Brass Company. He came on a general visit of inspection.

The morning after his arrival he sat in the office of the Chicago
branch; he had come down with Mrs. Floyd and Claudia. His keen and
quiet eye ran over the furnishings of the place. He was a bachelor of
forty; he was dressed simply but elegantly--he was completely _comme il
faut_, except for his muddy shoes, which seemed to trouble him.

"Well, Walworth," he said, with the manner of an elder brother and of
an official whose dictum had weight, "you are pretty well fixed up out
here--better than the home office, in fact."

"Have to be," returned the other. "Down East everybody knows the
company; you could do business in a coal-shed if you wanted to. Here
it's different. People don't know us from a hole in the ground; they go
by what they see."

"Do you use all these calls and things?"

The wall was set with electrical devices for calling boys from
everywhere for everything.

"Sometimes. Anyway it looks as if we did, and that helps business."

Little Claudia came creeping up to his desk.

"When are you going to begin, papa? I've come down to see you do it."

"Do what, my dear?"

"Make money. You said you did it here. When are you going to begin?"

Winthrop swung his chair towards the window and looked out at the
driving rain and at the crowds of vehicles and passengers in the filthy
streets below.

"Yes," he said, under his breath; "when are you going to begin?" Then
aloud, "What a beastly hole! Is there no government here?"

"Precious little for a million and a half of people, and precious bad
what there is."

"A million and a half? Nonsense!"

"Why nonsense? There's the census, and there's the regular annual
increase."

Winthrop favored his brother with a stare of frank curiosity. Walworth
had spoken with some warmth; he seemed disposed to throw an undue ardor
into his defence of his adopted home--a city where quality seemed to
count for less than quantity, and where the "prominent" citizen made
the "eminent" citizen a superfluity. Then, too, Winthrop coupled with
the earnest lines in his brother's forehead a slightly dingy necktie
under his brother's chin. He observed, moreover, in the polishing of
the shoe which Walworth, for greater emphasis, was beating on the
carpet, a neglect of the heel in favor of the toe. And there were
several other indications of a growing carelessness in dress.

"Well, Walworth," he remarked, "you are getting acclimated, I guess."

"Not to this sort of thing. Yes, there's a million and a half of us
here, and this little quarter of a square mile is probably the most
crowded and the most active of any on the globe, and yet it isn't found
worth while to keep it clean, or even decent, small as it is. On days
like this you feel as if you just wanted to remove the inhabitants and
annex the whole place to the Stock-yards."

Mrs. Floyd paused in the adjustment of her bedraggled skirts and looked
up fiercely.

"Why remove the inhabitants?" she inquired.

"Frances!" called her husband.

"Why, indeed?" asked Winthrop. "I never saw such a beastly rabble in my
life."

"Nor I," she cried. All her smouldering resentment against the town
broke out with the appearance of a new Eastern ally.

"Except in Madrid or Naples." Winthrop had travelled in his younger
days; he never made these European comparisons except under extreme
provocation.

"Why are things so horrible in this country?" demanded Mrs. Floyd,
plaintively.

"Because there's no standard of manners--no resident country gentry to
provide it. Our own rank country folks have never had such a check, and
this horrible rout of foreign peasantry has just escaped from it. What
little culture we have in the country generally we find principally
in a few large cities, and they have become so large that the small
element that works for a bettering is completely swamped."

He looked almost pityingly on his brother. "This is no town for a
gentleman," he felt obliged to acknowledge. "What an awful thing," he
admitted further, "to have only one life to live, and to be obliged to
live it in such a place as this!"

But pity was not an important factor in Winthrop's Western mission. The
Chicago office was costing too much and earning too little. There was
to be a general reduction and scaling-down; the most important part of
Winthrop's baggage was the pruning-knife.

He remained a week. He used the knife pretty thoroughly. He snipped
Atwater's plans for Walworth's house into very small pieces. He left
Walworth in a great state of depression--a depression deeper than any
he had felt since his failure in coffee and spices.

His last evening in Chicago he spent in Walworth's library. It was a
sober little room, and Walworth was the soberest man in it. His wife
made only an occasional emergence from her unquiet silence; she no
longer looked on Winthrop as an ally. The Fairchilds were there, and
the Ogdens dropped in during the course of the evening. Fairchild and
Winthrop did most of the talking.

Winthrop's sensibilities had now lost their keenest edge; the
weather had improved, and the general aspect of things was a little
less disgusting. He listened to Fairchild with the cautious reserve
of a maturity that was accustomed to meet elderly strangers. He
acknowledged, too, that the city was a big fact, and perhaps a more
complicated fact than, he had imagined.

"You have seen the foundations," Fairchild said to him. The old
gentleman lay back in his chair and spoke in a quiet and dispassionate
tone. "It has taken fifty years to put them in, but the work is
finally done and well done. And now we are beginning to build on these
foundations. We might have put up our building first and then put in
the underpinning afterwards. That is a common way, but ours will be
found to have its advantages."

"I dare say," admitted Winthrop; "but you have made an awful muss doing
it."

"Well," rejoined Fairchild, "you may look at the external aspect of
things, which is distressing enough, I acknowledge, or you may consider
the people themselves, who are perhaps the real essential."

"Winthrop finds them rather distressing too." It was Walworth who
spoke; his voice came in a muffled tone from the darkest comer of the
room.

"What have we done to him?" demanded Jessie Ogden, quickly. "Haven't we
received him well?"

Winthrop had no ground for individual complaint, and he hastened to
make this clear. Personally, he had been made a great deal of. He was
rather a large figure at home, and he naturally grew larger still the
farther he travelled West.

"I don't think it can be denied," pursued Fairchild, tranquilly, "that
new-comers are pretty well received here, whether they come to stay
or to pass on or to go back. All that a man has to do, in order to
insure good treatment, is to put a certain valuation on himself. That
done, the more he claims, the more he receives; we take him at his
own figure. The more I think of it, the more I am astonished at so
much humility among people who have accomplished such great results.
Commercially, we feel our own footing; socially, we are rather abashed
by the pretensions that any new arrival chooses to make. We are a
little afraid of him, and, to tell the truth, we are a little afraid of
each other."

"H'm," said Winthrop, rather grimly; "Boston goes farther than that.
Some of our great lights are almost afraid of themselves."

"I've noticed," remarked Mrs. Floyd, "that there is a good deal of
watching and waiting for cues--people of plain origin who are beginning
to take upon themselves the forms of social organization." She spoke
like a princess of the blood-royal.

"That is the point," said Fairchild. "Individually, we may be of a
rather humble grade of atoms, but we are crystallizing into a compound
that is going to exercise a tremendous force. To him that hath eyes
this crystallization, this organization, is the great thing to note
just now."

"I acknowledge to have seen the ferment of activity, as they call it,"
said Winthrop.

"You may have seen the boiling of the kettle," returned Fairchild,
"but you have hardly seen the force that feeds the flame. The big
buildings are all well enough, and the big crowds in the streets, and
the reports of the banks and railways and the Board of Trade. But there
is something, now, beyond and behind all that."

"Let me tell Winthrop," broke in Mrs. Floyd. "Since I can't take him
to our club, I must bring the club to him. At our last meeting"--there
was a sub-acid relish in all this--"it developed that the present
intellectual situation in Chicago is precisely that of Florence in the
days of the-the--"

"Medici," suggested Ogden.

"Yes, the Medici," said Ann Wilde, loudly. She looked at him with a
sharp aversion; he seemed to be taking part in her sister's joke.
"That's just exactly what my paper said; the Florence of the Medici
after the dispersal of the Greek scholars from Constantinople by the
Turks."

"Oh, murder!" said Walworth to himself; "what will Ann rig up next?"

"The Florentines of that day," pursued his sister-in-law, "didn't know
so very much, perhaps, but they were bound to learn, and that was the
main thing. And it's just so here."

"Quite right," said Fairchild; "we know what there is to learn, and
we are determined to master it. Our Constantinoples are Berlin and
London and the rest--yes, Boston, too; and all their learned exiles are
flocking here to instruct us."

"And the books that are coming in!" cried Jessie Ogden. She was no
great reader, and she spoke less as a student than as a Chicagoan--that
is, she spoke more ardently than any student could have spoken. "Does
the enemy know that four of the biggest buildings in this big city are
built of books?"

"The new libraries," her husband explained--"the ones that are going
to make us the literary centre."

"Dear me," said Winthrop, "are you expecting that?"

"And we expect to be the financial centre, and presently the political
centre, too--Chicago, plus New York and Washington."

"And where is Boston?"

"A little behind," said Fairchild. "New York is the main-mast yet;
Chicago ranks as foremast--at present; while Boston is--"

"The mizzen-mast," completed Ogden.

"And we Chicago folks stand at the bow," chimed in his wife, "and sniff
the first freshness of the breeze."

"Yes," said Winthrop, in satirical assent; "the 'Windy City.'"

"Don't abuse our wind," cried Mrs. Floyd; "we should all die like flies
without it."

"That's so," assented her husband. "The wind is our only scavenger."

"I see," said Winthrop. "If you can only be big you don't mind being
dirty."

Then, half in amusement, half in amaze, he concentrated his attention
on the banker. "Can it be that there are really any such expectations
here as these?" He addressed Fairchild exclusively--the oldest and most
sedate of the circle.

"Why not?" returned Fairchild. "Does it seem unreasonable that the
State which produced the two greatest figures of the greatest epoch in
our history, and which has done most within the last ten years to check
alien excesses and un-American ideas, should also be the State to give
the country the final blend of the American character and its ultimate
metropolis?"

"And you personally--is this your own belief?"

Fairchild leaned back his fine old head on the padded top of his chair
and looked at his questioner with the kind of pity that has a faint
tinge of weariness. His wife sat beside him silent, but with her hand
on his, and when he answered she pressed it meaningly; for to the
Chicagoan--even the middle-aged female Chicagoan--the name of the
town, in its formal, ceremonial use, has a power that no other word
in the language quite possesses. It is a shibboleth, as regards its
pronunciation; it is a trumpet-call, as regards its effect. It has all
the electrifying and unifying power of a college yell.

"Chicago is Chicago," he said. "It is the belief of all of us. It is
inevitable; nothing can stop us now."

But Winthrop Floyd was glad to withdraw himself on the morrow from
his temporary enlistment--or drafting--under the vociferous banner of
the Western capital. He did all in his power, as well, to oppose its
manifest destiny by transmitting to Walworth, immediately after his
return to Boston, a full corporate confirmation of his own anathema
against Walworth's office and house. The Chicago representative of the
Massachusetts Brass Company was recommended to secure less expensive
quarters at the earliest opportunity, and was directed to drop his
architectural scheme forthwith.

Walworth at once adjusted matters with Atwater. The architect received
his "reconsideration" with composure, but he was doubtless nettled to
be balked in a work in which he had taken unusual personal interest,
and he was also disappointed merely to be paid for his plans when he
had looked for the fees that follow construction. These considerations
may have had their influence on the account which he rendered a
month later to the Ogdens--friends and relatives of the Floyds,
and introduced, too, by them. This account was handed in much more
promptly than is generally the case with an accredited client in other
professions--the legal or the medical, let us say--and its final
footing caused Ogden considerable consternation.

The account was mailed to the house instead of to the bank, and the
stationery employed was such as to suggest a personal matter between
gentlemen rather than a purely business matter between architect and
client; and Ogden opened it under his wife's eyes to learn that design
had cost him more than construction.

"Your drawings are more of an item than your porch itself," he said,
rather faintly. "I shall have to step up there and see about it."



XIX


Late one afternoon Ogden drew down his desk-top, put on his
street-coat, felt in his pocket to be sure that Atwater's tasteful
memorandum was still there, and took the elevator up to the eighteenth
floor. He had been as conscious of that memorandum all through the
day as he would have been of a mustard-plaster. On taking it out and
recreasing its immaculate folds he almost felt as if he were about to
dispute a debt of honor.

Atwater was in, but he was completely taken up in radiating his careful
affability upon some promising clients who wanted not only doors but
the house that went with them. Ogden got no closer to him than to
secure the attention of the clerk whose duty it was to mediate between
the contractors and the plans they were to follow.

He was an alert, nervous young man, with a big shock of unruly hair
and a pair of large, luminous eyes behind his hooked and shimmering
spectacles. He ran his long, lean, inky fingers through his hair,
and transferred his wide eyes from the memorandum to the man who had
brought it in.

"No," he said presently; "it's all right--there's no mistake. Mr.
Atwater took a good deal of interest in this work. He sketched out some
of the drawings himself, to start with, and he even touched up a few of
them to finish with."

"Touched up a few of them to finish with?" George repeated, inquiringly.

"Yes; he don't do that often. When he does, it makes a difference; it
ought to."

The whole matter was coming to assume the aspect of a personal favor;
it was a debt of honor, after all. The grocer, the upholsterer, and the
rest of them might wait; it would give them time to learn the value of
an elegant "presence" and the compelling force of personal acquaintance.

The doors, hung and paid for, swung open many times during the
following winter and spring, to admit people whom, as his wife assured
him, it was an advantage to know. He became conscious that she was
actuated by motives quite different from his, and that she had a
standard quite at variance from any that he himself would have set up.
She strained for people that he would not have turned his hand for.
Most of these had familiar names, and it sometimes seemed to him as if
many of them had had their place in the social yearnings of Cornelia
McNabb. Certainly, his wife's attitude was quite different from that
of the Floyds, who had been disposed to pooh-pooh quietly almost
everybody, and also from that of her own parents, who simply accepted
the circle that chance and association had formed for them, and met
everybody on the same dead level of good-will.

During Lent his wife arranged a small musicale; another Mary Munson
had arrived--this time from Cincinnati. The names of the performers
included only those of amateurs of the better sort--since she knew that
good professional services were quite beyond her reach; yet chairs,
awning, and refreshments called for the expense of outside supervision.
The morning before it she put a slip of paper into his hands.

"You are going right past the _Tribune._ Won't you just leave this with
them?"

It was an announcement of her musicale. It included a list of
names--not those of the performers, but those of the listeners.

"All old friends--in print," her husband commented. "What do you care
for these people? Why don't you ask the Fairchilds?--they're quiet, but
they're nice; and they like music. Why don't you have your father and
mother? I haven't seen either of them for a month."

His wife writhed delicately in protest. Her winter had increased her
paleness. The blue veins were bluer in her temples; her large eyes
looked larger yet, and there were faint circles under them.

"Well, Cecilia doesn't fancy Mrs. Fairchild very much, in the first
place--"

George bit his lip. By the curious workings of chance he had never yet
seen Cecilia Ingles, but he no longer joked about her non-actuality.
She appeared to be looming up as the great power in his household.

"--and besides," she proceeded, "who would recognize their names if
they saw them in print?"

George stood like a looker-on at a transformation-scene, before whose
eyes the gauze veils are lifted one by one in slow succession.

"Oh, then," he said, and less in jest than in earnest, "there is no use
in enjoying ourselves unless we put it in the papers, and no use of
putting it in the papers unless we can give a list of names, and no--"

"Now, George!" She flushed with vexation.

"--and no use of putting in a list of names unless they are names that
will be generally recognized. Well, that _does_ cut out the Fairchilds,
and your poor mother, too. And mine." He looked at her narrowly.

"Now, George," she cried again, "how can you be so disagreeable? You
know papa and mamma wouldn't care anything for this; nor your mother,
either. And it isn't the only thing I'm ever going to have. I can ask
her yet, though, if you want me to."

"Oh, fiddlesticks! Only don't lose your head. Here; give me that
precious notice. Perhaps, before long, people who are after names will
be just as anxious to get yours."

"You silly boy!" she cried, striking him lightly across the shoulder.
But she was pleased and gratified by this, and she was not able to
conceal it.

Following Lent there was the usual social aftermath. For Mrs. George
Milward Ogden the major stress of the season was over, but she gave
a few luncheons, and she went to a good many others. These little
functions sent dozens of ladies tripping through the raw winds and the
slushy streets of spring. The lake, weltering under the gray skies of
March, dashed its vicious sprays high over the sea-wall, and sent its
cruel blasts gashingly through the streets that ended on its confines.
And at such signals asthma and bronchitis and pneumonia dug their
clutching fingers into the throats and lungs of thousands of tender
sufferers.

Jessie's supplementary doings were of too informal a nature to demand
the entrance of outside help, but at the same time they were of a
kind to lay the maximum strain upon the small and simply organized
household which was all that her husband was as yet able to maintain.
About every so often the domestic tension overtook the breaking-point.
An interregnum would follow, and then a change of dynasty. The blame
for these economic hitches George was obliged to distribute with an
even hand. He acknowledged frankly the mere muddishness of most of
the peasant material that oozed in and out of his kitchen; but he was
also obliged to recognize the utter tactlessness of his wife and the
folly of her unguarded exhibitions of conscious superiority. She had
never before been able to issue directions to two servants, and she
had never acquired the practical experience necessary for the control
of even one. She referred to her servants in their own hearing _as_
servants; and this did not seem to her as inconsiderate from the point
of humanity or unwise as a mere matter of policy.

The burden of this fell principally upon her husband. He was obliged
now and then to temporize with an indignant cook to secure a dinner
for the evening; on one occasion he employed all his finesse to effect
without scandal the removal of a frantic chamber-maid; and he became
more familiarly known to the intelligence offices than he had ever
expected to be. His wife was manifestly incapable of keeping a house,
and he was committed to housekeeping for a year to come.

March passed and April came. One evening they sat together in their
little parlor. The weather outside was raw and rainy, and not all
of its chill could be kept out by the grate-fire over which Jessie
was cowering and shivering. She wore a fleecy wrap on which her thin
fingers took a sinuous clutch, and she was nursing a cold whose
sniffling discomfort seemed passing into an obstinate cough. She was
running over the newspaper carelessly.

"I see Mayme Brainard's 'mother has just died," she said presently.
"'On the eighth of April, at her residence'--and all that--'Abigail
Brainard, aged fifty-six years.' Wasn't she any older than that? Well,
I suppose not. No great change for her, is it?"

"What did she die of?"

"Oh, it was her lungs. It's a wonder that anybody lives through these
springs. I can't think why we ever got so close to the lake as this. I
don't feel sure of getting through another winter here myself."

She leaned forward to stir the fire, and then lay back, coughing.

"I suppose they'll let Mayme come home, now--for the funeral, anyway.
I wonder if shell bring the baby; he swears he won't see it. Cornelia
says it's a pretty little thing--Abbie was down there a month ago."

George stared at the fire thoughtfully, and reached mechanically for
the poker.

"I don't know how they will feel, now, about staying in that house,"
she went on. "Cornelia wants to move the whole family over here, but
Abbie won't listen to her. I don't know whether she likes her own part
of town, but she seems to have taken a strong dislike to this. Anyway,
she has never come near _me_, for all you helped them at her brother's
wedding. Cornelia appears to think everything of her, though, and I
guess she likes Cornelia quite a little. Funny, isn't it, that those
two--Goodness, George, don't knock the fire all to pieces. Here; let me
have it."

She took the poker from him.

"Dear me, what a miserable flue!" She looked at him discontentedly, as
she settled back wearily in her big chair. "And we've really got this
house on our hands for a whole year more?" She seemed to feel in this
one year the weight of eternity.

"That's what the lease says," he responded, soberly. "What do you say?"
his eyes seemed to ask.

She spoke her thoughts presently and at some length. She proposed
giving up the house on the first of May. Was it a passing caprice or a
serious desire? he wondered.

[Illustration: "'Goodness, George, don't knock the fire all to
pieces.'"]

"Shall you take your porch and your doors with you?"
he asked, with a sorry smile. "They cost enough to be worth
considering."

"No," she answered, with the simple literalness that builds a stone
wall in a moment. "We shouldn't need them in an apartment-house."

"That's the idea, is it?"

"Yes, it strikes me that that would be the best thing all around--an
apartment-house, with a cafe or something. Lots of nice people
live that way now. Look at Cecilia Ingles's cousin; she is invited
everywhere, and she entertains just the same as if she was in her own
house. It's too hard work for me to run things like this, and I've just
got to get farther away from this miserable lake."

"There's all the furniture."

"We could use some of it."

"And store the rest?"

"Yes--or auction it."

"Small profit in either. What are you going to do with the lease? Store
it, or auction it, or use it for furnishing?"

Her lip quivered sensitively. "Why, I supposed--"

"Yes, we _can_ sublet the house--if anybody is found to take it. There
was something of a wait before _we_ took it. There might be another."

"There's that Mrs. Cass--"

"I don't know how much she could do in three weeks--a good many
people are fixed by this time. Two weeks sooner would have made some
difference. I couldn't very well afford to carry the house all through
the summer. There's a bottom to our pocket-book, and we are getting to
it faster than you think."

This was a figure of speech that called for no direct response. For--

"Well," she went on, "that's my idea: a flat, with our meals. This
would give me my chance to get away for a part of the summer--I'm sure
I need it."

"Away for a part of the summer?"

"Yes. Mary Munson was saying something about my going to the White
Mountains with her in July. They would do me good. Though perhaps
the sea-shore might be better; plenty of those Down-east people are
indebted to me now."

Another of those gauze veils was lifting. Married life was but a
prolongation of girlhood, with all its associations and peregrinations.
Where did the husband come in?

They left the house on the first of May. George recognized by this time
the essential slightness and incapacity of his wife, and renounced the
possibility of a home in any but a modified sense. Part of their goods
were sacrificed at auction, part were stored at a rate that would have
provided a home for a working-man's family, a few pieces were utilized
in filling up a partly furnished flat, and the deserted house remained
vacant through the summer. It was not until October that its ornate
front and its tasteful decorations caught the eye of the right man, and
by October a complication of interests had made a vacant house the very
least of Ogden's concerns.

The place came under the consideration of the Floyds as soon as the
intentions of the Ogdens became known. A decided change had come
over Walworth's affairs; a less expensive house than his present one
now seemed a great advantage. But his own lease ran for a year more;
besides, his wife had too high an idea of their position and its
dues to think of succeeding the young Ogdens in such a tenancy. The
Floyds, as a matter of fact, were sinking to bed-rock-a foothold whose
reality they had never tested yet; and there need be no wonder that the
beginning of their downward course was marked by a slow reluctance.
Walworth endeavored to make good the shortages occasioned through his
brother's clippings by intrusting Ann with commissions on his behalf
upon the Open Board--affairs in which she was no more successful for
him than for herself; while his wife, for the first time, made some
efforts in a society for which she had always had a shade of careless
contempt.

The Ogdens established themselves anew in a large building where they
had four or five, small rooms, and where they could breakfast and dine
with a few hundred persons of like requirements and like situation.
George now began renewed efforts to turn to account the property for
which he had received deeds from McDowell. His halfyear of married
life had put him in an awkward and straitened position, and the usual
activity in real property that comes with the spring was something of
which the utmost advantage must be taken.

He placed some of his outside acres with one or two good houses, but
this entire side of business seemed pervaded by apathy.

"It's going to be an off-year," he was told. "Acres are down, and it
looks as if they were going to stay so--for some time, anyway. We'll
take this, though, and do what we can. You pay this year's taxes, of
course?"

So much for the real estate. McDowell's notes, which he had made to
run for a longer term than pleased anybody but himself, showed the due
and prompt endorsement of interest payments; and if there was anything
else in the general situation to call for gratulation Ogden failed to
discover it.



XX


Jessie Ogden's supposition with regard to Mary Brainard was justified
by events; the poor exile was allowed to come back to town to attend
her mother's funeral, and, thanks to a providential escort, she was
enabled to bring her child with her. The two arrived under the charge
of a distant relative by marriage of the Centralia Brainards, who was
understood to be on the point of visiting the city anyway, for the
purpose of "buying goods." He was presented by the name of Briggs.

He was a somewhat uncouth and slovenly man of thirty-five--a fair
specimen of the type evolved by the small towns of southern Illinois.
But he had a bright and capable way with him, and it seemed likely
enough that if he were to transfer himself and his business to Chicago,
as he once spoke of doing, he might work himself up into pretty fair
shape. He was a widower.

He showed some fitting sense of the solemnity of the occasion that
had brought him to the house; but it was fair to surmise from various
tokens that his usual treatment of the subdued young mother was in the
line of familiar kindness, which only genuine solicitude kept apart
from semi-jocularity--a jocularity that had almost the effect of an
understanding. He seemed to have about the same understanding with the
baby; he had held it part of the time on the train, and he had shown a
willingness to be useful in the same direction subsequently.

Brainard saw the child once. He looked at the boy's dark hair and eyes
and vented a dreadful oath, and signified that while he and his mother
were in the house the infant must be kept out of sight and out of sound.

Abbie Brainard made no effort towards further mediation between her
father and her sister. The present status was endurable, and there was
little to be gained by additional appeal to the irascible old man; it
was irascibility rather than sorrow which now possessed him. Nothing
irritated him more than an address to the deeper emotions, and the
passing of his life-long partner was an address of this character.
And this irascibility had risen to a pitch of fury on account of the
unfortunate resemblance of Mary Vibert's child to its father.

Abbie was still leading her old life in her old way. She had her
reading, her accounts, her church-work; but she went at these with
less energy than she had shown a year ago. She had lost something in
flesh and something in spirits, but nothing was slighted. She had no
confidants and she made no moan.

"What _is_ the matter with her?" Cornelia would now and then ask
herself. "If she would only rip out and say something; but I never
saw a girl who was so mum. I'll get her out of this place, though, if
anybody can. She has got to come up there and live with me. I'll fetch
that, if I have to pull her up by the roots."

And then, putting generalization in the place of any tangible
particulars, "I believe she's just starving"--which was not altogether
wrong.

Cornelia found no specific grounds for approaching her father-in-law
about Abbie, but she had some words with him about Abbie's sister.

She went to him one evening in his den; it was the day after the
funeral. The distant wailing of the baby's voice had caused him to shut
the door of his little room with a profane slam.

"Mr. Briggs is right there in the parlor," she said to him boldly,
"waiting for her to come down; I don't see that it's going to help
things any to slam doors. If he don't mind the baby, I guess we don't
have to."

He turned upon her fiercely and half rose from his chair. It seemed for
a moment as if he was intending to put her out of the room.

But she stood her ground and stared him full in the face. She was the
only one in the family who, when the real pinch came, could look him
down. He fell back in his seat and fixed an uncertain eye upon the
panels of the door.

"There's such a thing as sense at such places as this, if you'd only
know it," she went on. She spoke out loudly; she knew that if she used
a moderate voice her tones would tremble. "I should think we might hold
in for the day or so that the man's here. He knows why she was sent off
down there, and that's bad enough; but it's worse for him to bring her
up here and have her treated bad right before his face. Why can't you
speak to her at table? Why can't you have--"

"That will do, Cornelia." He beat on the arm of his chair with his
doubled-up fist. "We won't have anything more of this sort of thing.
That will do."

But there was a kind of harsh grin on his face; he either admired her
pluck or anticipated her point. She saw this and knew that she held him
in her hand.

"No, it won't do, Cornelia--not yet. Why do you think he is here? Do
you suppose a man goes travelling around the country with a woman and
a three months' old baby for the fun of it? And he hasn't come up to
'buy goods'--don't you believe it. This is a great chance for Mayme,
everything considered. He's a smart fellow, and you don't want to go
and spoil it all. This is a thing that will take care of itself, if
you'll only give it a show."

He stared at her--still rather forbiddingly. But she saw admiration
appearing through indignation, and she judged that it was gaining the
upper hand.

"Now," she said, with her own hand on the door-knob, "when you ask May
me to-morrow morning if she would like another piece of steak, I want
you to look at her; seems to me this is a time when a family should act
_like_ a family. And I guess it wouldn't hurt you much to put yourself
out far enough to ask that man to smoke a cigar with you. You try. And
I think this door had better stay the way I leave it."

She passed out, leaving the door open. And open it remained.

In such fashion as this came Mary Brainard to her mother's burial. But
her younger brother came not, and no one knew where he was or what he
might be doing.

Briggs left for Centralia on the following evening, his charges
remaining behind, by an inconclusive arrangement that might terminate
in almost any way. Cornelia, who attended his departure with a lively
interest, noticed that Abbie, in her hat and cloak, was trying to
take advantage of this same occurrence to steal out of the house. She
followed her through the vestibule and overtook her half way down the
steps.

"Abbie!" she called after her, "where are you going?"

"'Sh!" Abbie said, softly. "I'm just going out for a few minutes."

"Neighbors?"

"No, not exactly," the girl hesitated. "I'm just going a block or two."

"You don't want to be trotting around alone this time of night. Sha'n't
I go with you?"

She placed her hand on Abbie's arm to draw her back while she put on
her own things. She felt her companion tremble, and saw an expression
of anxiety on her face which she took to mean embarrassment.

"No, Cornelia, I don't want you to go with me. I don't need you, I've
got to go alone."

"Upon my word, I think you're acting mighty queer. I just believe,
Abbie Brainard, that you are going out to meet somebody--you, of all
people!"

Abbie started. "Supposing I am?" she stammered.

"Who is it?" asked Cornelia, peremptorily. Only an extremely eager
interest would have made her take this tone with Abbie. "Well, I must
say, I think your father is a little too bad. Why can't he see that
girls have got to be girls? First it's Mayme and now it's--"

"Cornelia!" cried Abbie, with a violent blush and the trembling voice
that foreshadows tears. "It's my brother! It's Marcus!"

"Marcus!" exclaimed Cornelia. "Then I _am_ going, sure. Where are you
to meet him--in the park?"

Abbie bowed assent.

"Well, then, you wait one second. I'll he right out again."

"Don't come. He won't speak to me if he sees anybody with me."

"I can stand around somewhere--I won't do any harm."

She was actuated as much by curiosity as by sympathy. She had never
seen Marcus, but she remembered the "erring son" of her first play,
and nothing more than one's first play has a fixed footing in one's
association of ideas.

The park lay under the cold glare of the electric light, in the state
of forbidding bareness that overtakes all such urban tracts during
the earlier days of spring. Soggy footprints showed everywhere in the
soaked brown turf that bordered the winding paths, and masses of dead
leaves were matted together at the roots of the spindling shrubbery.
The arc-lights threw a ghastly illumination on the flat white fronts
of the houses that stood around in rows outside as well as on the
stretches of theatrical posters which filled up the spaces between; and
they flung deep shadows into the flimsy arbors and kiosks that started
up here and there within. Abbie, with her companion, traversed a number
of spongy, gravelled paths, and presently the figure of a man emerged
from a summer-house and advanced to meet her. Cornelia turned off, and
paused behind the thickened stalks of a bare bush.

"Marcus!" cried Abbie, as her brother moved towards her, "Marcus, why
didn't you come? I waited at the door to let you in. Could anybody have
made any trouble at such a time as that?"

He came up to her with a few unsteady steps. His eyes were blood-shot,
and on his face, which seemed paler and thinner than ever under the
white flood from the globe overhead, there was a long, half-healed
scar. He looked at her in a dull, dazed way; perhaps he simply
misapprehended these present words, perhaps he was unable to fully
comprehend any words at all.

"You could have gone in a carriage all alone with me," she went on,
in pitiful reproach. "And you could have stayed in it--you needn't
have seen anybody else at all. I wanted you so much. Mayme came; why
couldn't you? Oh, Marcus, you were thought of; your name was almost the
last one said."

She threw her head on his shoulder and burst into tears. He gave way a
little, and then, with an effort, he mastered a steadier pose.

Her crape brushed his face; he felt it, rather than saw it.

[Illustration: "'Is he dead?'"]

"Is he dead?" Something like light came into his dull eye. The
lamp above gave a sudden vast flicker, and the long scar on his face
deepened and lengthened and came back to itself again. It was all like
a sinister and cynical smile.

"Marcus! don't you know? Where have you been? Haven't you got any of my
letters?"

He leaned against the silly rusticity of the summer-house, and looked
at her with a dazed but inquiring eye.

"It's mother! It's mother!" the poor girl cried. "Why didn't you come?"

"Why, how is this?" asked Cornelia, stepping forward. "Hadn't he heard?"

"I mailed them to the same place. And the money--didn't you get that,
either?"

He looked at her steadily and soberly, but his eyes had a heavy droop.
"It's mother," he said at length; "it's mother that's dead." He sat
down carefully on the steps of the summerhouse. "And my name was the
last. Always the last, Abbie. When was it?"

"Has he moved--do you suppose?" asked Cornelia. She regarded him long
and steadily. She seemed about to recognize him--though voice was
apparently counting for more than face.

"It was only day before yesterday," Abbie said. "I tried to see you,
but it was so far and there was so much to do. But I sent you word."

"I haven't been there lately," he said slowly. "I couldn't have come
day before yesterday," he added presently.

"Where have I seen him before?" thought Cornelia. And, "What is the
matter with him?" she seemed to ask of Abbie.

"I couldn't come," he repeated. "I'm sorry," he added humbly. "I
was--somewhere else."

"Have you been away all these three months? I haven't seen you since
almost New Year's. Have you been away from the city all this time?"

"I have been somewhere--somewhere else," he repeated thickly. 'He rose
tremblingly. "I suppose they'll have me there again, some time. Well,
all right," he said, with resignation.

"What does he mean?" asked Abbie, turning appealingly to Cornelia.

Marcus followed his sister's eyes. He looked at Cornelia narrowly, his
own eyes half closed. "Who is this?" he asked.

"It's Cornelia--Burt's wife."

"Burt's wife?" He held her with an enigmatical stare. "I have seen
her," he said; "before."

"Where?" thought Cornelia. "Not possibly at--the theatre?"

"In church," he explained, with a slow gravity. "He isn't dead--Burt?"

"Dead?" cried Cornelia. "No, indeed."

"No, he isn't dead," Marcus repeated deliberately. His eyelids raised
themselves. "He is married; he has half a million," he went on, with
the same slowness. His eye lighted up with a malignant glare. "No, he
isn't dead. But--"

He stretched himself aloft, and thrust out his arm, and staggered, and
only half-saved himself.--"but I will kill him," he added suddenly.

"Marcus!" his sister screamed; "are you mad?"

He lay slantingly against the corner of the summer-house. His arm
caught at the crosspieces of the rustic carpentry, and he hung there
panting. Presently a little stream of blood began to trickle across the
palm of his hand--he had torn himself on a nail. He felt the warm fluid
on his skin, and held up his hand to his own curious and impersonal
inspection.

"Give me your handkerchief, Cornelia," Abbie implored pitifully. She
folded her own and laid Cornelia's over it, and twisted it around his
thumb and tied it over his wrist.

His fingers felt thin and claw-like, and there was a grime rubbed into
their cracked and roughened skin--those girlish fingers (his mother's
fingers) that had once held a pencil so delicately.

"I have seen her--before," he repeated. "Here." He jerked his hand out
of his sister's hold and waved it over the circumscribed and shabby
landscape. The light shimmered on the leaden surface of the pond behind
them, and the wind rustled the stark weeds along its muddy edges. "I
knew it was coming." Abbie caught his hand back. "Half a million; he
never did anything for me. I will kill _him_" he muttered faintly.

Cornelia continued her inspection of him. "Abbie, just look at these
clothes, will you? And he hasn't got any cuffs on, either."

"Marcus!" his sister called appealingly. Her raised voice indicated
that, after all, she must acknowledge him as other than himself. "All
that money I sent you--you need it. Go right away to-morrow to your old
number and get it." She turned to Cornelia. "I haven't got any; have
you? I forgot it, after all."

"Just this half-dollar," she answered. "Exactly what I paid," she said
to herself, "to see him in this part once before." She recognized him
now; she saw that she had been interested in the new actor because
nobody else had seemed so; and she felt sure that his attempt on the
stage had been the same brief failure that all of his other attempts
must have been as well.

Marcus raised himself, and a sly smile came over his face. "Money?" he
said. "Keep it. I don't want it. I can raise all I need. Vibert knew
the ropes, and now I know them just as well myself. I can do business
all right again. No money, Abbie; no." He thrust it back upon her. "He
always said I wasn't _fit_ for business; but I'll show him."

He braced himself and stepped out decidedly into the path. He turned in
the direction of the exit. The other two insensibly took this direction
as well, and fell to regulating their steps by his.

"You are a good sister, Abbie," he said, as they passed out. "You have
been good to me. Good." He put his hand on hers; he had forgotten
that it was bandaged. There was a soft stringency in the folds of the
handkerchiefs, but she felt his grateful pulses underneath.

"Oh, Cornelia," moaned poor Abbie; "I must take him home--I must--I
must! So near at hand--and the place where he belongs. I can't leave
him to go wandering around like this."

Marcus laid his bandaged hand on his sister's shoulder. "No, Abbie."
The earlier waves of a sodden stupor now seemed to be washing over him,
and he looked on the two girls with a dull leer. "Not home. Better
place than home. But some time--I will come home some time. He never
treated me as well as he did Burt." His tones came thickly. "I will
kill him," he murmured softly to himself in a drunken confidence.

He turned off, down a side street. Abbie stood watching him as he
disappeared, to reappear in the light of frequent lamp-posts. Presently
he turned a corner. Abbie clasped her hand tightly in her companion's
and allowed herself to be led home.

"Another job for me," said Cornelia, thoughtfully.



XXI


The Ogdens, in their apartment, presented to their callers
substantially the same aspect that they had offered in a complete
house, save that the dining-room had been lopped off, along with the
kitchen. They were a shade more compact and, if anything, a shade more
luxurious.

Among the first of their callers here was the faithful Brower. As
he lounged back in a familiar easy-chair he cast his eye around the
drawingroom and the reception-hall; he recognized a number of things
from the other house, and detected, too, a good many novel elegancies.
In one corner of the room, in particular, there stood a delightful
little tea-table; and he learned that the full paraphernalia of the
delicate function known as "a tea" could be produced at a moment's
notice.

On the purchase of this adjunct to polite living Jessie had brought
all her insistence to bear. Life to her had now come merely to mean
receiving and being received; and to receive at all she must receive
correctly and elegantly.

"It's about all I feel equal to doing now--giving teas," she explained;
"and that's all the more reason why I should do it properly. Now,
Cecilia Ingles's table and china--"

"For Heaven's sake, Jessie, please to remember that you are not Mrs.
Ingles and that I am not her husband. Can you expect me to compete with
a man who has an income like his? Do you know what that building--that
building alone--pays him a year?"

"Well, I only want things nice. I shall have to live quietly for a
while--I don't feel as if I had any great strength; and I don't think I
ought to be denied such a small thing as this."

Hence the charming little tea-table, the delicate and exquisite
porcelain, and the beautifully burnished kettle; and hence, too, the
cup for Brower, so that he might see how the whole thing went. But the
hand that passed it to him was white and tremulous, and the graceful
bit of lace over the wrist fluttered with a pitiful palpitation.

"I'm going to put another lump on your saucer; so sorry you have caught
us without a lemon." She smiled at him as she spoke, and he could
not but see that her lips had a bluish tinge. "So good of you to let
me come in just as I was." She smoothed down the fall of lace along
the front of her wrapper. "But I hardly felt equal to dressing this
evening; besides, an old friend like you--"

The "old friend" went home and talked things over with his room-mate.

He lit the burners on both sides of his dressing-case mirror and slowly
took off his coat. His room-mate was in his shirt-sleeves, too.

"I wonder if he is happy," said Brower, thoughtfully running his
thumb-nail along the teeth of his tortoise-shell comb.

"He tried hard enough to be," answered his room-mate, running his thumb
along the teeth of _his_ comb.

Brower sighed and looked with frank but troubled eyes into his friend's
face. "Too hard, perhaps."

The other returned his glance in kind. "I'm afraid so," he breathed.

"He figured it all out beforehand," said Brower. "We talked a good deal
on the subject generally."

"That sort of thing doesn't always pay."

"We considered the rich girl and the poor girl," Brower went on. "But
there's another kind of girl that we both failed to take account of."

"What kind is that?"

"The girl in very moderate circumstances who has spent all her time in
going about among wealthy relatives and friends."

"The poor princess who makes the grand chain of other people's castles?"

"Yes," assented Brower; "the grand chain of other people's castles.
It's demoralizing."

"Is he a disappointed man?"

"Yes; I'm certain of it. Disappointed, and worried half to death. I'm
sorry for him. I'm afraid for him."

He sat down on the edge of the bed and began to unlace his shoes. His
room-mate wore shoes of the same size and laced them in the same way.

"I wonder," said he, "if he really loved her?"

"'Sh!" said Brower.

"Wasn't there another one that he _did_ love?"

"Not a word more!" cried Birower.

He undressed and got into bed. He took a book with him. It was "A
Mistaken Marriage"--he read everything.

"What do you want to read for?" asked the other. "It's late."

"I read because I don't want to think." He opened at the mark and
settled back on his pillow and started in.

"Where are you now?" demanded his double.

"Page 316; the castle's on fire."

"Do you want anything more about castles?"

"No."

"And haven't you had enough of fires?"

"Plenty."

"Well, then!"

Out went the gas, and sleep presently succeeded.

The Ogdens had other callers; among them was Frederick Pratt.

Frederick had left the Underground for the temple at the extreme end of
the street, where he was engaged in an ardent study of puts and calls.
The atmosphere of the Board of Trade is less sedate than that of the
clearing-house association, and the new recruit had become still more
volatile and giddy. He was skating on thinner ice and was putting more
assurance into his movements.

Pratt, like Brower, made his own observations on the new status of the
Ogdens; but unlike Brower, he did not keep his opinions and conjectures
to himself. He gave the same currency to his reflections on this pair
that he had given to those on the Viberts--and among others thus
favored were the Floyds.

"What's the matter with George, anyhow?" he asked Walworth one evening.
They were sitting again in Floyd's library, and a light haze of
tobacco-smoke prompted to elegiac revery. "He looks old. And he has
come to be as poky as the deuce. He seemed last night as if he was
worried half to death."

"I guess he is," answered Walworth. "He's anxious about his wife, for
one thing."

"Well, she does look pretty bad, that's a fact. I don't believe she
will live the year out. The first cold weather will carry her off."

"Don't say that!" exclaimed Mrs. Floyd. "She's delicate, and she has
got to take care of herself. But to talk about dying--that's another
thing."

"I'm not so sure." And Walworth shook his head gravely.

"But there's something more than that," said Freddy. "It's money. Gad!
how they are fixed up! How can he stand it?"

"He can't," answered Walworth; "he's falling behind. And there is that
house of his empty yet. I'd take it off his hands myself if it wasn't
for being left in the same fix too. Wish I could help him; he hasn't
said anything, though."

"He won't, either," replied Pratt. "He ain't that kind."

"Well, I don't see that we need trouble ourselves about help," Ann
broke in. "He harmed me, anyway, a great deal more than he helped
me--with that precious brother-in-law of his."

"I imagine he knows all about the brother-in-law, too, by this time,"
rejoined Walworth. "Haven't you got almost tired of twanging that
string?"

He wondered if Ogden's brother-in-law were really as trying as his own
sister-in-law.

Still other callers favored the Ogdens. Among them was one that had
not called at the other house--that had never before, indeed, called
at any house whatever. About the first of August a little debutante
appeared on the social scene and was "received" with all the care and
flattering attention that the new apartment had at its disposal She
was a pale and fragile little bud, like many of the exotics with which
her mother was fond of decorating her rooms; she had the same slender
fingers that set these flowers around, and the same large blue eyes
that studied their effect.

A nurse came, and she stayed long after the time when a mere nurse-maid
should have taken her place. Curtains were pulled down and kept so;
the doctor's carriage (and sometimes more than one) stood waiting
before the big doorway of the "Westmoreland"; bottles big and little
accumulated on tables and shelves; and cautious tiptoeing became the
habit of the whole household; until, at the end of a month, mother
and child were doing as well--and only as well--as could be expected.
This was not well at all. But both were out of immediate danger, and
presently both appeared to mend.

The nurse-maid now arrived, and the carriage and the cap. The languid
young mother was capable of taking but a tepid interest in most things,
but she rallied her powers to enforce the cap, Cecilia Ingles was her
model here as in other matters, and the model was followed closely. Not
every girl would wear a cap, but at last a capable one was found who
was willing to. The lace cover of the perambulator and the white frills
of its propeller were a frequent sight on the streets for a little
time; then the necessity developed for the transfer of mother, child,
and nurse, during a few weeks, to the convenient sanatorium provided by
nature in southern Wisconsin.

The little party was back again in town at the opening of the fall
season. Jessie employed her dwindling powers in a partial resumption
of the duties which she felt that "society" demanded of her, and the
child taxed the energies and resources of the maid, who received little
real assistance from its mother. There were small gusts and starts of
maternal affection now and then, but they would quickly run their brief
course and baby would be carried out of the room. Ogden wondered, from
a curiously impersonal outside standpoint, whether he was to attribute
this to his wife's waning vitality or to an inherent incapacity for
deep and genuine feeling.

But this matter soon passed beyond the confines of discussion. The
day came when the nurse was dismissed, the carriage was put away, and
Brower went with the stricken father to select a lot in the cemetery.
It came that the two stood together one forenoon before a wide and
polished mahogany counter, and bent their heads over a handsome plat
that was neatly lettered and numbered, and was shaded in pleasant
tints of blue and green. A man stood on the other side of the counter
and tapped the drawing here and there with the reversed end of a fat
penholder.

"This is a good section," he said; he was pausing over a green oval
which was intersected by four or five fine black lines. "You are right
on a leading drive-way"--carrying the pen-holder along between the
waving of two other and wider lines that ran parallel--"and just over
here is the lake"--with his little finger on a tangled and shapeless
patch of blue.

"That small lot could be made to do," said Brower, softly.

"This is the most fashionable part of the whole place," the man went
on, with an indifferent loudness. "See here." He took down a large
warped photograph from its place on a dusty shelf behind him, and gave
it a dexterous wipe with his elbow. "This monument here is just across
the drive-way, and it cost twenty thousand dollars. Put up this summer
by Arthur J. Ingles--I guess you've heard of _him_?

"Good God!" groaned Ogden. "Have I got to compete with that man even in
the graveyard?"

The next afternoon a sombre little procession took its way limits-ward
to a tract outside, which was tenderly enclosed by great stretches
of barbed wire, and was neighbored by the noise and glare of several
stone-cutting yards. This little train traversed the raw and ragged
edges of the town, and trailed across the succeeding reach of open
prairie-land, over which led a long, straight, sandy road, dotted
here and there with houses of refreshment for the occupants of
mourning-coaches and for their drivers. There was the raw chill in the
air which the north sometimes sends down into our early October days.
The poor mother sobbed and coughed and shivered in her corner of the
carriage; she returned to her home ill and exhausted, and entered it
never to leave it alive.

It costs when a baby comes, it costs when a baby goes, it costs when a
wife lies sick and dying, and Ogden now confessed himself almost driven
to the wall.

"I know, George," his wife said, "that everything has been a great
expense; but I'm sure papa would help us if you only spoke to him."

"What!" he cried, harshly.

She started, and presently was all a-tremble. Then she fell back weakly
and coughed long and violently. "Oh, George, how could you?" she gasped.

"Forgive me, my poor child," he said, and took her hand. "But I could
never do anything like that--never."

[Illustration: "Then she fell back whanly and coughed long and
violently."]

The next day he took the McDowell notes and spent what time he could
spare among the brokers. They passed commendingly on the prompt payment
of the interest as shown by the endorsements; but McDowell was pretty
well known, and it was intimated that endorsements of another sort
would be needed to make negotiation possible.

Then he got out the abstract of one of the McDowell tracts--the only
one that he personally and individually had any right to use. "You've
got considerably more than a pocketful there," the door-keeper of
the Clifton Deposit Vaults said to him as he passed out. He left the
abstract with a firm of mortgage brokers for examination. In the course
of a week they advised him that a release had been over-looked--an
instrument which must show of record before a loan could be effected on
the property.

The tract had been put through a good many paces, and some of
McDowell's work had been too hurried to be careful. The man to give
the necessary release was a professional tax-buyer. He lived on the
mistakes and misfortunes of other people--their sins of omission and
commission; and such an act from such a man would cost something. It
might be ten dollars, or fifty, or five hundred.

He waited in this harpy's outer office, while another caller, a woman,
claimed attention in the inner one. It was Ann Wilde; he recognized
her and she recognized him. She threw a scowling glance upon him, and
her harsh and vindictive tones fell on his ears for several succeeding
minutes. She knew his necessities; could she be making them known to
another?

It seemed so when his turn came. The release would be given only
on payment of a sum that, in his present circumstances, was simply
impossible.

He seemed now to have exhausted all expedients--all legitimate ones. A
bitter recollection of that Sunday drive in the country came over him;
he had indeed given a free rein to his wife, and just how close he was
to graze against ruin only the future could show. He spent a miserable,
sleepless night, and at daybreak he had decided to tax the bank for his
own necessities--relying upon the present maturing of his notes to set
himself right within a month or two. Do not inquire as to his precise
method--there are many ways to take: the actual appropriation of
currency, the abstraction of securities, the overissue of certificates
of stock, and so on and on. He chose the method which seemed liable to
the lightest misconstruction and allowable of the promptest reparation.
He avoided seeing himself in the aspect of a criminal by pleading his
own cruel needs and by believing in his ability to make a prompt
and complete restitution. Perhaps neither of these two reasons could
have stood alone, but they leaned together and held each other up--a
precarious poise that was not long to endure.



XXII


It endured, in fact, scarcely a fortnight. It lapsed at the close of a
dull October day--a day that was within one of the first anniversary
of his marriage. Let the means by which he was detected be asked
no more than the means through which he transgressed. The delicate
mechanism of a bank's accounts responds sensitively to the slightest
and most ingenious variation; and it may be, too, that some one in
this particular bank was watching for the slip and was waiting for the
chance to expose and punish it.

The smoky dusk of the short afternoon was falling outside, while
within, under the illumination made by a single electric light, a
mother, in the same room where one of Brainard's daughters had plead
for the other, was now pleading with him for her son.

No taint had ever fallen before on any of her family or connections.
She was crushed and dazed at the thought that anything like this had
happened, could have happened, had had the slightest need of happening.
And she was dumfounded that all explanation fell upon heedless ears,
and that all offers of restitution encountered such, stubborn,
brutish, and determined opposition.

"We have lands," she cried, with the tears coursing down her anxious
face. "We can make this good, twice and three times over. What more can
you want?"

But Brainard _did_ want something more. He wanted the ruin of her son.

"A bank can't deal in real estate," he said doggedly.

He sent a malevolent glance across the table on whose far edge Ogden's
bowed head was resting. Beside Ogden stood Fairchild; there was a look
of sympathetic distress upon his kindly face.

"It is true," he said, in a low and quiet tone, "that it is not
allowable for us to make a loan upon real property; but it would not be
amiss for us to take it in payment of this--this--"

"Theft!" cried Brainard loudly. Ogden winced and shuddered; his mother
sank into a chair with a low moan.

"Look here, Fairchild," the old man went on, holding up his forefinger
with an offensively masterful effect of caution, "it will pay you to go
pretty slow just about here. This"--he wagged his head contemptuously
towards the bowed: head of the culprit--"was _your_ man. You took his
letters; you put him in here. Just stop and think of that!"

Fairchild bit his lip.

"And the other man, before him, was yours. Don't forget that, either."
His face showed a cruel and malignant grin.

Fairchild flushed, and lowered his eyes to the floor in silence. Ogden
half raised his head to look at him; what could these words mean? He
looked at his mother, too; she was lying back with her face in her
hands.

The young man's own dace was mapped with the lines of a worry that
goads one on to desperation, and it was painted with the blended hue
that comes from shame and anxiety and fear and the exhausting struggles
carried on through long and sleepless nights. It was hard to face these
other faces; it was hard to face even the light of day, thick and
dulling though it might be. His head drooped again to the friendly dusk
of the table-top before him.

"By Heaven," Brainard went on, "not another man comes into this bank
except under a guarantee; and he'll pay the premium for it if he don't
stay more than a week. You might think, in a small bank like this,
that some kind of eye could be kept on things; but it seems not. It's
pick and steal, all the time; first one, then another. No sooner is
young Pratt rooted out than this fellow comes up. One steady string of
flea-bites--I can't stand it; I won't stand it. Do you think I am going
to have Shayne and Cutter and all the rest of 'em go around and tell
how Brainard's always got somebody else's hand in his pants pocket and
never finds it out? Not very much. I do find it out and I'm going to
punish it. You needn't ask me to hold off--it's no use. There's a law
for this, and that law is going to take its course."

His white hair stood up in a stiff shock over his forehead, and the
gray gristle sprouting on his lip moved up and down forbiddingly as the
lip itself worked over the broken row of his teeth. The red veins in
his nose showed more redly yet, and his fists were clenched at the ends
of his down-hung arms with the straightened tension of an inexorable
will.

"My poor boy! My poor boy!" his mother cried. She came over to him and
bowed her head on his.

Fairchild looked at Brainard--a look that called for all his
self-control and fortitude. "This is too hard," he said. "There was
provocation for him, and there are means to make everything good."

"See here, Fairchild," cried the enraged old man, "you have got to keep
out of this, if you want to stay friends with me. We've pulled together
a good while, but we shall pull apart after five seconds more of this.
That young man there has fooled along with us a little too far. He has
had his fun, and now he shall pay for it. He shall; by God, I say he
shall!"

His voice rose to a harsh and strident cry, and his great fist fell
with a ponderous thud on the table before him.

A second later another hand was heard--on the other side of the door.
It was faint, but it was audible. It had been preparing for five long
and hesitating minutes. To the heart that guided this hand the five
seemed five-and-twenty.

Fairchild moved swiftly towards the door and laid his hand upon the
knob to prevent any intrusion.

The knock was repeated. He opened the door to a narrow crack. Then he
opened it wider.

Abbie Brainard stood on the threshold.

She stepped in swiftly and softly. She shut the door behind her quickly
and then leaned her back against its shining panels.

Her face was pale; her bosom was heaving; but her gray eyes gave out
the strong and steady light of courage and resolution.

Ogden saw her. He locked his jaws, and took a firm hold on the two arms
of his chair, and raised himself and stood erect before her. Had not
she herself, on this very spot, once done the same for him? However it
might be, or might have been, with others, here, at least, was one who
should not see him humbled.

There was no salutation of any kind on either side. She saw him, but
seemed to be looking beyond him rather than at him; and in his eyes she
stood there with the remote inaccessibility of some distant snow-peak.

Her father turned towards her.

"Abbie! You here? What do you want? What do you mean by coming in like
this? Go out again!"

She looked at him with a cool and quiet inflexibility. But her voice
was low and trembling as she said,

"I shall stay."

"You can't; you mustn't. You don't want to mix up in this business--you
don't understand."

He laid one hand on her arm, and with the other he reached out towards
the door-knob.

She withdrew her arm from the hold of his fingers.

"I understand," she said, immovably.

He drew back. "You do? Well, stay then, if you will, and understand
better. Learn what kind of a man he really is."

He thrust out his arm towards Ogden, with a cruel and contemptuous
smile.

"He came here with letters," he began. "We gave him a chance. Nobody
really knew what he was--"

Ogden stood there straight before him. He ground his teeth together to
keep his face composed; behind him his nails dug into the palms of his
hands, as he held himself back from springing forward and fastening
them around the throat of Abbie Brainard's father. There was a ringing
in his ears, and through it there sounded faintly the fine tones of
Fairchild, speaking to Mary Brainard:

"Nobody really knows who he is, or who his people are, or where he is
from ... a town full to overflowing with single young men ... from
everywhere. They are taken on faith. Most of them are all right, no
doubt; but others--"

He was now one of the "others"; his "people," whom no one had known,
were to be known now, after years of probity, as the relatives of a--

"Nobody really knew who he was," Brainard repeated; "but he was taken
right in and given a good place. Hasn't he ever wondered why? Is it
so easy to go into a new town, and get a good job in a bank the very
first thing? Wasn't there any other men to jump at the chance of a
position half as good--ain't the city full of 'em? Wasn't there any of
'em in the bank itself who was waiting for the place themselves--and
had a right to it, too? Why was there a vacant place to fill, anyhow?
Because, a week before, another man had done just what this man has
done. He was your man, Fairchild, too. And why did this one here come
stepping in ahead of all the old ones? You fixed it, Fairchild; you
liked his looks and his talk, you said. Another bad guess for you."

Fairchild studied the carpet with abashed eyes, as were he himself the
culprit.

"Yes," Brainard continued, "he was put in a good place and he was
pushed right along. Hasn't he ever guessed why? Does a new man come
into an office like this, and get as far along inside of a year as he
has, without there being any reason for it 2 I'll tell him the reason
for it. I did it because my girl here--"

"Father!" cried Abbie, with face aflame. "No! No!"

"You say you understand," he said, turning towards her. "Now, let
_him_ understand, too. I advanced him to this position," he went on
shamelessly, "because my girl here asked me to."

"No, father! No!" the poor child cried. She threw her shamefaced head
on Mrs. Ogden's bosom. She had never seen her before, but under such
circumstances the only place for a woman's face was on another woman's
breast.

"Yes, you did, too--ask me," he went on, with increased hardihood. "Or
just the same as asked--I knew what you meant, well enough. And I said
to myself I'd do it. One girl went wrong," he continued, with a choking
in his throat, "and I wanted to do what I could to--I wanted Abbie
to do different; I wasn't going to have her carried off by another
infernal scoundrel."

Ogden flushed and paled and sank down into his chair. His head dropped
into his hands; there was no possibility of his holding it up before
anything like this.

"And so I helped him on. I said, 'If I do the right thing by him, he
will do the right thing by--her; he will act like a man.' I _did_ do
the right thing by him--and what then? He had been hanging around all
the spring--taking walks and sitting out in front and borrowing books.
But the moment I put him on his legs what did he do?"

He was addressing the young man's mother now, whose tear-stained
face showed over Abbie's black hat, and whose poor old hand was laid
tenderly on Abbie's shoulder. It was plain to every one now that the
question was not one of money. Ogden saw clearly enough at last why he
had suffered wreck when so many others had ridden the waves. Pratt had
filched and had escaped. McDowell had plundered right and left and had
never been brought down. Brainard himself had piled up a scandalous
fortune and yet had contrived to evade the law. But none of them had
come athwart the mortified rage of a father--a father who had humbled
his inborn savageness and pride for a daughter's sake and had humbled
himself in vain.

[Illustration: Stop!' cried Ogden.]

Ogden glanced across towards Abbie. She rested on his mother's shoulder
as once, almost, and in this very room, she had rested on his. He knew
why she had come; he recognized her devotion and her bravery. She had
overlooked his pitiful palterings; she had forgiven the final slight to
which they had led; she had imperilled her modesty and mortified her
self-love' by coming here that she might save him from her father's
vengeance.

Her father looked at her now and took a softer tone.

"She's the best girl there ever was in the world," he declared,
with a choking voice and a moistened glimmer in his eyes; "and the
smartest--she knows how to do everything; she's the only real comfort
I've ever had. She would be a credit to any man, I don't care who.
And what does he pass her over for? For another," he went on, with a
recrudescence of his insane and primitive jealousy, "who can't care for
her house, who couldn't be a mother to his child, who has ruined him by
her extravagance--"

"Stop!" cried Ogden. He rose and approached Brainard. There was a
threatening glitter in his eyes, and convulsive twitches played among
his fingers.

"Yes, stop, for Heaven's sake," said Fairchild, laying an expostulatory
hand on the old man's arm. "Stop," he murmured again; "his wife is
dying."

Abbie rushed between Ogden and her father. "George! George!" she cried.
"Don't! Be patient!"

"What if his wife _is_ dying?" called out the infuriated old wretch.
"Is that any reason for lying down when he has slighted my daughter and
robbed me!"

"For shame, father! For shame!" She hid her face in her hands, and her
tears gushed through them.

Ogden paused, stung and quivering. His hands dropped; his fingers
relaxed. His wife was dying! Nobody had told him that before, and he
had never dared to tell it to himself. But it was true, and he knew it.

Abbie rose again and confronted her father. The tears were still in her
eyes and a wide blush suffused her cheeks.

"Father, you shall not punish him. He may have done wrong, but there
was reason for it. And any wrong he _has_ done can be set right."

Ogden's eyes were bedimmed, but through the moisture he seemed to
see again the sight that closed the evening of his one-day wedding
journey towards the north; again he stood on the bridge, and the sun
set over one lake while the moon rose over the other. Only now, with
Abbie Brainard's blushes before his body's eye and his wife's pale face
before his mind's eye, a confusion came alike over his thought and his
vision; it was now the sun rising on him at the moment that the pallid
moon was going down. He looked at her and she looked at him, and in the
eyes of both there was read the confession of a great mistake. Then her
eyes drooped for shame and his for disloyalty, and neither one was able
to look into the other's face again.

"Do you defend _him_?" her father cried. "Can you forgive _her_? I
can't do either. No quarter; don't ask it, Abbie. He has chosen his
course--he is responsible for his acts. And he shall answer for them,
as any other man must who crosses me."

He flung open the door and passed out. Fairchild stood anxiously over
the chair in which Abbie lay back panting for breath. Ogden pressed her
hand and turned towards his mother.

"Come, let us go," he said, and the two passed out into the great
vestibule of the Clifton. He signalled the elevator.

"Wait for me here, mother--five minutes;" he spoke in a voice which
she hardly recognized as his. "Twelfth," she heard him say to the boy
inside.

"Twelfth!" she gasped. "Twelfth? It's Eugene!"

She tried to stop him; her fingers merely caught in the grille-work
that shut off the empty shaft.

Why do we go mad? Why do we kill ourselves? Why is there more
insanity and more self-murder to-day than ever before? It is because,
under existing conditions, the relief that comes from action is so
largely shut off. How has humanity contrived to endure so well the
countless ills of countless ages? Because society has been, in general,
loose-knit, so that each unit in it has had room for some individual
play. What so increases and intensifies the agonies of to-day? The fact
that society has a closer and denser texture than ever before; its
finespun meshes bind us and strangle us. Indignation ferments without
vent; injury awaits with a wearing impatience the slow and formal
infliction of a corporate punishment; self-consciousness paralyzes the
quick 'and free action that is the surest and sometimes the only relief.

McDowell was in his office alone. A single light was burning in the
room, and nothing remained but the drawing down of a desk-top and the
quenching of the light before locking the door from the outside and
calling the day's work over. He looked up as Ogden entered.

"Oh, it's you. I haven't seen you for some time past." He used the
dubious intonation that marks a half-smothered enmity.

"Yes, it's I. And you won't see me for some time to come. You see me
this once."

He stood with his hand on the back of a chair. He made no motion
to seat himself, but he was unmistakably planted there to remain.
McDowell therefore resumed his own accustomed chair beside his desk.

"Well, what is it?" he asked.

He scrutinized Ogden with an undisguised curiosity. The young man's
voice sounded strange in his ears; his face had an expression which
made it almost the face of an acquaintance now first met.

"I have come to square with you," began Ogden, slowly. He passed an
unconscious hand along the varnished back of the chair; it was a chair
in yellow oak, whose frame was light but strong, and whose seat was of
cane.

"We _are_ square," said McDowell, curtly. "You have your deeds for
that ground--all put into the settlement at a fair value. I have paid
your interest as it came due, and shall go on doing so. The principal
the same. I'm all right; what is it _you_ want? Try the courts, if you
think you can reach me."

"I shall reach you."

"I wonder how?"

Ogden lifted his hand from the chair to his forehead, across which he
passed it once or twice. McDowell gave him an amused smile.

"You have robbed me," Ogden said; "you have disgraced me; you have
brought me to the edge of ruin. You took advantage of my trust, my
inexperience, my strangeness to the city. You have stripped us all,
and you have used my sister for a shield. You knew we would stand
everything for her, and we _have_ stood everything. You have acted like
a sneak and a coward."

McDowell's eyes dropped to his desk. But no flush mounted to his face;
that would have been a physical and a moral impossibility. He looked up
again after a moment.

"You will reach me? I wonder how?"

Ogden, for the first time in his life, passed completely out of
himself. There fell away from him all the fetters that shackle the
super-civilized man who is habitually conscious of his civilization.

"Like this."

He seized the chair, raised it over McDowell's head, and went out,
leaving the man crushed and bleeding on the floor.



XXIII


Brainard, after leaving the office of the bank, had also taken, the
elevator, and before Ogden had reached McDowell's floor his chief stood
at the door of Freeze & Freeze; the firm did some legal business for
him now and then, under his own general designation of "odd jobs." But
their door was locked, as it usually was at that hour; and the old man
descended again, took the street-car, and went home to tea.

"I've got him, all the same," he muttered to himself. "He can have a
little leeway if he wants, but it won't carry him very far off--as
things are now."

He stamped and fumed through the parlor floor for the quarter of an
hour during which he attended the preparation of tea in the basement
dining-room. He sat down with Burt and Cornelia and his younger
daughter; Abbie had shut herself up in her room, and had sent down word
that she was too ill to appear.

The table was set with the plated ware of twenty years ago, hideous in
varied quirks and chasings. Just within the door of the room stood a
baby's high-chair; and Brainard, in passing to his place, contrived to
put a vicious foot heavily on one of its sprawling wicker legs.

He went through the meal with a great grinding of molars and a loud
smacking of lips. He said nothing; he handled his knife and fork and
his goblet with a heavy-handed clatter, while his eyes stared fixedly
at the table-cloth. The others watched him in silence; his teeth were
grinding something other than food, and the smacking of his lips
indicated a relish beyond that for any mere eating and drinking.

After his second cup of tea he arose and pushed back his chair, and
planted his feet with a ponderous stamp on the space over which the
chair had stood.

"Burt," he said, as he moved towards the door, "you can step down the
street when you get through, and tell Albert Freeze to come up here. I
shall be in my room."

He commanded the attendance of his attorneys as lightly as he commanded
that of his clerks. The Freezes happened to be youngish men, but it
would have been the same with older ones.

He withdrew to his den. He rearranged the coke-balls that he had had
spread on the top of his grate fire, and then he began to rummage among
the disordered papers on his desk.

A book was lying among them--a thin volume, with the place marked by a
paper-cutter.

"I wish. Abbie wouldn't leave her things around everywhere," he said,
grumblingly.

He tossed the book across to a table. The paper-cutter fell out of
it, but landed by its side, where it balanced on one corner of the
tabletop. It was a cumbrous implement, somewhat after the fashion of a
dagger, and it was smeared over with something that produced the effect
of green bronze.

He went to the window and looked out before pulling down its shade;
the window opened, after the manner of a door, on the side porch. A
misty rain was falling--slight, but deadly chill, and through it there
appeared the discolored flank of the stable, draped with the autumnal
stringiness of its wild cucumber vines.

The door of the room opened with a swift and sudden quiet, and a young
man stepped in. His shoulders were covered with a thousand shimmering
rain-globules, and his breath gave out a strong reek of brandy. It was
Marcus.

"I want to see Mr. Brainard," he had said, at the outer door, to the
strange servant-girl, and he had pushed straight by her without further
word.

He stood there pale and tremulous; his eyes glittered like two
knife-points.

"I'm out again," he said. "I've got another chance, and I don't mean to
lose this one."

His father turned on him with a fierce frown--a frown full of
malevolent intention.

"It's you, is it?" He was silent for a moment. "Well, you can stay.
I've been thinking about you, lately. I can 'tend to two as well as
one."

"You've been thinking about me lately, have you?" Marcus repeated. He
spoke with a hardihood that came from draughts of brandy more than once
indulged in. "You had better have thought of me before."

"I'm thinking to just as much purpose," his father declared grimly. "I
haven't been altogether in the dark," he went on, "about your goings
and your doings. I know what you've been living on, and how you got
it, and who put you up to it all. I know how you have been figuring on
my dying and preying on me before my dying; but I'm alive yet, and the
next time you see that singing Canadian scoundrel you can tell him so.
And I know all about your latest tactics, too. Do you see that?"

A pass-book was lying on his desk, and between its covers there was
a packet of checks, bound by a rubber strap. He drew out the top
check and extended it towards his son; he used his clumsy thumb and
forefinger to keep a strong hold on one end of the paper--the end that
bore the signature.

"You've seen it before, too, unless I'm mistaken," he went on, with a
glance in which indignation was overlaid by a cruel sense of power and
a cruel determination to use it. "You didn't expect it to get around to
me quite so quick, did you?"

"I see it, yes," said the young man. "And I've seen it before. What of
it?" He spoke like one who had nerved himself to this--and to more.

"What of it?" cried his father, in a sudden fit of rage. "There's this
of it! Do you think I'm going to stand being stripped by a thieving
scamp like you? Do you think I'm going to be bled drop by drop by a
couple of infernal scoundrels? Oh, that whining about your drawing,
and your not being allowed to go on with it! You can handle a pen all
right enough! You can draw cheeks for me, and you can draw yourself to
Joliet! That's the best place, all around, for both of us."

"I shouldn't mind meeting you there," said Marcus, with a contemptuous
sneer. "_There_ would be a 'couple,' sure enough--the only one _I_ know
anything about."

"Where is that wretch?" cried Brainard, seizing the youth by the arm.
"You know; you do, too--you see him every day! Tell me where I can find
him! He must be followed up. Let me get him, too, and put him where he
belongs!"

"Keep off!" called his son; "keep off, you fool! I haven't seen him for
a year, and I don't want to see him for another. It's you I want to
see; you and Burt--brother Burt."

His eyes glittered with a sharpened anger, and his dilated nostrils
quivered with the indignation that the thought of his elder brother
always aroused.

"I want to see the vice-president of the Underground National. I want
to see the bridegroom who got half a million on his wedding-day. And
I want him to see me. I want him to have a look at the poor devil who
has been knocking around from pillar to post for the last two years,
who has hidden in dives, and who has been dragged through the slums,
and who has been driven from the variety stage, and has served his time
more than once. Let him feel the difference; let me help him to feel
it!"

"Your own blame!" cried his father. "You had the same chances and threw
them all away. And you'll serve another term now--a longer one."

"I guess not," said Marcus. He looked about the room with a sharp and
wary eye. It might have been thought that he sought at once both means
of offence and means of escape.

There was a rap on the door; Burt's voice was heard outside.

"Here's Mr. Freeze, father. I suppose he can come right in."

Marcus reared his head suddenly.

"It's Burt!" he trumpeted. "He's here! he's here!" He sprang toward?
the threshold and clamped his long fingers about his brother's throat.
Burt's head struck with force against the wide jamb; he half fell, and
his legs and arms writhed in company with his brother's.

"Get them apart, Freeze! Get them apart!" cried Brainard, with a loud
roar. "Am I going to see Burt strangled before my very eyes?"

Marcus released his grip and staggered back into the room. He reared
himself pantingly against the table. His face was deadly pale, and the
perspiration was starting out in beads beneath the dark, disordered
locks that lay on his forehead. The screaming of women's voices was
heard in the corridor outside, and the light hastening of women's feet.

"Three to one!" panted Marcus. "It's a plot! it's a trap! I know you,
Freeze. I see through all of you. But three ain't enough. You can't do
it; no!"

Abbie Brainard came rushing through the hall. She reached the threshold
and paused there to see her brother catch up her paper-cutter from the
table, plunge it into her father's neck, and break through the window,
and to hear his nimble feet clatter escape down the stairs of the side
porch.

Brainard fell heavily against the marble slabs of the fire-place. Blood
soaked his high, old-fashioned collar and trickled down the plaits of
his shirt-front. He lay there stunned and bleeding, and lifeless--as it
seemed.

His huge bulk was gotten laboriously to bed--half dragged, half lifted.
He lay there for a fortnight, between life and death.

The doctor came, and with the chill gray of the first dawn came the
nurse. It was to be a hand-to-hand struggle, and all the forces were
engaged at once. The nurse spent the first halfhour of uncertain
daylight in bringing order out of the chaos that had established its
instant sway in the old man's room on the evening before. She raised
or lowered the shades, adjusted the transom, quieted the fire, and
arranged her bottles and bandages. She wore the dull uniform of a
public institution; and she was accustomed to carry this uniform at
a moment's notice into strange places and among strange people. She
accepted her assignment blindly, and took up its details afterwards.

She seemed of a rather rugged, stolid build, but her eyes were eloquent
with a haunting sorrow. It was as if time had redraped her figure with
the flesh that sorrow and suffering had once stripped from it, but
had been powerless to reclothe her spirit in its pristine hope and
cheerfulness.

[Illustration: "'Three to one,' panted Marcus."]

She stood at the window, endeavoring to get her bearings in the early
light of the dim morning. The lilacs and syringas in the yard
showed the crinkled brownness of latest autumn. A boy was crossing and
recrossing the street to put out its lamps; and in the second-story
window of the stable the flickering of a single gas-jet was helping the
coachman and hostler to make up his own bed.

Behind her she heard the heavy grunting breath of the sick man.
Presently another sound mingled with it--a creeping and rustling sound
that made its little track along the hall and across the threshold of
the half-open door. She turned; a baby was on the floor beside her--a
beautiful boy with dusky, liquid eyes, and the beginnings of a poll of
dark and curly hair. An inquiring pain plucked at her heart and set
its signal in her eyes; she saw a resemblance that it was impossible
to overlook. She cast a hungry and timorous glance about her, and
presently, with a great yearning and a steadying resolve, Jane Doane
was kissing Russell Vibert's child.

For this privilege she was indebted, in a sense, to Erastus Brainard.
She had never been indebted to him for anything else.

The old man lay in a kind of stupor; his head had been seriously
injured by his fall, and bloodpoisoning of the most virulent type
pointed to his inevitable end. He had occasional moments of recurring
consciousness, and at such times he attempted, with the help of Abbie
and of Freeze, to bring his affairs into order, and to dispose of his
belongings by will.

The Ogden affair, meanwhile, stood still. No formal steps had
been taken, and the young man had Fairchild's assurance that an
accommodation was sure to be brought about.

The situation became known to the Bradleys--in its general outlines,
at least. They caught at the end and ignored the means, as would have
been done by anybody else in their position. They considered that their
friendliness towards Ogden had been misplaced and that their confidence
had been betrayed. They preserved appearances with him through their
daughter's final illness; and by a great effort they even produced an
effect of a common suffering and a common sympathy at the funeral. But
after that they never saw him again. The difficulty with the bank did
not become public, but they considered themselves, all the same, no
less disgraced than deceived.

The desperate illness of Brainard dragged itself along, meanwhile, and
the house was saturated with gloom. Abbie assisted actively in the
nursing; she watched in alternation with the first nurse and with the
succeeding one. Cornelia was given an opportunity to put her hand to
the household helm. As she said to herself, she was soon to manage a
house of her own, and she might as well be brushing up her knowledge.
"And she has got to go with me," Cornelia said to herself for the
twentieth time; "she can't live here after_--this._"

Cornelia had fought out many a fight during her year in this grisly
old house; but she saw now that her intended campaign on behalf of
Marcus was an impossibility, and that all the forces might as well be
withdrawn from the field.

Nobody had seen the youth since that fatal night; nobody, that is, who
had cared to make the fact known. Neither did anybody know where he was
keeping himself, save the sister on whose night-watches he had once or
twice stolen by way of the window through which he had made his escape
from his brother and Freeze.

He came again--for a third and last time. It was one o'clock in the
morning when she heard his light touch on the window. She hastened to
him with her mouth set for a terrified whisper.

"Yes, I know it's dangerous, Abbie; I know I promised not to come
again. But I can't help it--I've got to hear. How is--how are things
going on to-night? Is there any improvement over yesterday?" He locked
his fingers in a convulsive strain. "I thought they had laid a trap for
me," he said chokingly. "Just tell me yourself how it is, and after
this you can send me word, as you have before. I won't come again, I
promise you."

She threw herself on his breast and burst into an agony of tears. "No,
you never will," she sobbed; "he is dying. There is no hope; he won't
live till morning."

The young man trembled like an aspen; tears rolled out of his dark and
hollow eyes. He tried to speak, but no word came. Then he clasped his
sister in his arms and withdrew as he had entered.

The night, laden with anxiety and fear, dragged out its weary length.
In the early morning the house resounded with a great cry. The dying
man, in a brief moment of consciousness, half raised himself and heard
the sound and the tidings thus conveyed. The word was passed from
man-servant to maid-servant, and came to their master through the voice
of a Swedish girl whose mind was capable of dealing with emotions only
in the most primitive way, and whose imperfect command of English made
her communication come with a horrible and harrowing directness. One
second before Erastus Brainard fell back dead he knew that his son had
hanged himself; the 'last picture that rose before his fleeting vision
was that of his boy pendulous from the rafters of the stable, his
slight body swinging to and fro and his tongue protruding uglily from
the purple-black of his face.



XXIV


The months passed by, and autumn came around once more.

Ogden's first year as a widower was lived with his mother; he used
the same time to establish himself in the real-estate business, whose
ins and outs he had now mastered in the bitter school of experience.
He had left the Clifton altogether, and had established himself in
another street and a different neighborhood. Every stone of the great
pile seemed to have raised its tongue against him, and to have driven
him out with the loud and insulting hubbub of its angry clamor. He had
no wish ever to see again the room in which he had first met his wife,
the room in which he had wrestled with his brother-in-law, the room in
which disgrace had forced him to bow his head. Bradley lay in wait for
him in the court, Jane Doane dogged him through the long corridors,
Marcus Brainard rose up as a pallid spectre within the entrance-way.
He left the building for once and for all. The placards that he placed
on vacant tenements and the signs that he caused to be reared on open
corners in the suburbs directed inquirers to a street and number quite
different from any near his old neighborhood.

Within this year Cornelia Tillinghast Brainard had moved into her new
house and had moved out again. For three poor months she occupied her
French Renaissance château on the Lake Shore Drive, and then she gave
it up forever. In vain her anxious plannings of chambers and stairways,
her long waitings for the slow finishing of the carved oaks and walnuts
of her vast interiors; in vain (for the present, at least) her lofty
aims in the direction of social distinction. For Burt with his father
was one man, and Burt without his father was another. He had relied
upon the elder's advice more than he had realized, and he had felt
the steadying and restraining power of his father's hand to a greater
degree than he would have been willing to acknowledge. When he came to
act for himself and by himself the difference soon became apparent. He
operated in a variety of directions; he was confident and daring and
ambitious, and one day he risked all and lost all.

His failure swept away everything of his and nearly everything of
his sister's. Abbie had come into the new house along with Burt and
Cornelia--no great urging had now been required to induce her to
abandon the house on the West Side. She led the same retired and quiet
life in the one quarter that she had led in the other, save that she
never felt otherwise than utterly strange and forlorn. And as she had
placed herself in her brother's house, so she put a great part of her
share in her father's estate into her brother's hands when ruin came
and every available resource was required. She had never used much
money; she may not have realized the gravity of her sacrifice. Perhaps,
too, she had hoped to rest her disappointed soul on something that
money could not buy.

To Cornelia the failure came as a sudden and awful blow. Considering
the brief time at her disposal, she had made a distinct impression
on society. A great many people of consequence came to her house and
invited her to theirs. They laughed at her freedoms and familiarities;
they enjoyed her picturesque and untrammelled phraseology. Some of the
more insatiable invited her twice. She encountered but one decided
check; this was from Mrs. Floyd.

The ship of the Floyd household, now navigating regardless of its
customary dependence on the distant admiral of the whole Floyd fleet,
was tossing in shallow yet stormy waters; there were not lacking
indications that it was occasionally grazing bottom, and there was a
notion abroad that it might presently beach or founder. Mrs. Floyd
therefore manned the helm with more than her customary caution. For
one thing, she set the ship's chronometer by local time. That is to
say, her own watch, which had now been giving the time of Boston for
the last three years (and she had become very expert in the deducting
of the hour and some minutes of difference) came to be set by the hour
of Chicago. For another thing, she must think twice before speaking
every strange craft--such a one, for example, as that propelled by the
Brainards. She did think twice, and concluded to remain silent.

"Huh!" said Cornelia; "all because I worked in her husband's office,
and she met me there! Thank goodness, I wasn't allowed to have my wish
and work for Ingles, too! I'll fetch things around, though--you see if
I don't; and I'll capture Cecilia Ingles yet!"

Abbie, along with many other persons and things, became a mere piece of
driftwood in the general wreck of her brother's fortunes. She swirled
and eddied about for some time through a succession of boarding-houses,
and after a while she found refuge in the latest home that her
sister had made. She found her new brother-in-law a good-humored
and well-disposed fellow. Briggs had established his family in the
old neighborhood on the West Side, and readily admitted Abbie; he
made no more objection to his sister-in-law than he had made to his
sister-in-law's nephew.

Ogden saw nothing of them, heard nothing of them. He merely went
around in a quiet way among a few old friends, and he dropped in at
frequent intervals on the faithful Brower. Brower was sometimes at home
and sometimes away; the fire-fiend still kept him on the move. One late
September evening, after an interval of a month or more, Ogden repaired
again to the house which had once been their common home, and found
Brower just back from Minnesota.

He was seated on his trunk, the rigors of whose cover he had
softened by the doubled folds of a striped travelling-wrap. He had
his brier-wood pipe in his mouth and a book in his hand. It was a
paper-bound volume; the back cover was missing, and there was exposed
to view the fine, close tabulation of the books composing a well-known
"library."

"Well, my dear fellow," cried Brower, rising and grasping his hand,
"how are you? Say, I believe you're looking better. Here; put yourself
in the light where I can have more of a chance at you."

George stood immovable, and Brower jerked out the elbowed gas-jet,
so as to make the light fall upon his visitor's face. It fell on his
visitor's head, too, and the whole brown head was sprinkled with silver.

Ogden put his two palms on his temples and spread out his hands until
the finger-tips met over the part in his hair.

"There are more," he said, with a smile of quiet sadness; "don't count
them again."

"I won't," said Brower. He drew away his eyes, but threw his arm over
the other's shoulder.

"I've had quite a trip, this time," he went on, in the tone which
we employ when contriving a light diversion. "Been away out into
Dakota--Bismarck, Mandan, Yankton, Sioux Falls. I was at the Falls one
Sunday."

"Is that any great place to spend Sunday?"

"Lots of folks go there to spend a few Sundays--twelve or fourteen
Sundays, and the week-days between. On the evening of _my_ Sunday I
went to church."

"I've known you to go to church on Sunday evenings before. Service any
different from any other?"

"It was a song service. Don't you suppose the poor creatures waiting
along out there in Sioux Falls have got to have their little
consolations? Ain't music the great consoler?"

"They _were_ consoled, then?"

"Oh, yes, indeed; the principal consoler had been there himself. He
sang tenor."

"Better tenor than the average?"

"Good deal better. The most touching, pathetic tones I ever heard. He
sang the 'Angel's Serenade,' with another man playing the violin. It
was affecting. One poor lady near me, with a sort of Eastern look
about her, just caught up the child in the pew by her side and burst
right out crying. I was all broke up, myself."

"That's a good song," declared Ogden. "I always like to hear it."

"You've heard it before, then? At St. Asaph's, perhaps?"

"At St. Asaph's; yes."

"Well," said Brower, "the man you heard sing it at St. Asaph's was the
man I heard sing it at Sioux Falls."

"Vibert!"

"Vibert."

George dropped his eyes; he had no wish to pursue the theme further.
"What have you there?" he asked. He indicated the book that Brower had
left lying on top of the trunk.

"Oh, nothing special. It's just one of those cheap novels. I was merely
running it through to see if he really did marry the right one in the
end. Might have done it in the first place as well as not." He passed
the book to Ogden wrong side up. "I guess it's yours, by rights--one
you left behind when you moved out." Ogden turned the book over and
read the title. It was--"A False Start."

He started. He blushed. "Yes, perhaps it is," he stammered. He held it
awkwardly in his hand for a moment. Brower watched him curiously, yet
sympathetically. "Yes," Ogden repeated, in a bold, firm voice, "it
_is_ mine." He put it in his inside pocket and buttoned his coat.

"Oh, come," cried Brower, trying to throw a veil of jocularity over his
earnestness, "that isn't fair! I've got to finish it. I've got to know
whether he did or didn't. Anyway, let me see the end."

"There is no end," said Ogden, soberly. "Or if there is, it has come."

"Then I can only guess." Brower looked at him, with a studious anxiety
in his brown eyes. "He made a mistake, sure enough, but I think he sets
it right. Yes, I think he sets it right." Ogden's eyes sought the floor.

"Ho; he abides by it."

"He _can_ set it right," said Brower, gravely; "and if he can he
ought."'

"Not now; not after--everything. Let bad enough alone."

"Make bad enough better," cried Brower. "Is he the only one to be
considered? Upon my word," he went on, with a nervous attempt at
lightness, "we are getting these great truths down finer and finer. A
couple of years ago we agreed that marriage concerned but two people;
now we are finding that it concerns only one. The question simply
is--which one?"

"The one who would be most exposed to injury," said Ogden, with a
distant mournfulness in his face and voice.

"There are different kinds of injury; there is the injury of
commission, and there is the injury of omission. Sometimes the last is
harder--on a woman. Why not let the victim choose her own particular
woe? Why not be generous enough to give her an opportunity?"

"Not now," groaned Ogden. "You don't know. Not after all--that's
happened."

"Well, then," continued Brower, with kindly perseverance, "out goes
generosity. Now bring in selfishness and give _that_ a chance. What
is our hero going to do? Must there be more sorrow for him, more
suffering, more self-punishment, and everlasting dissatisfaction
generally? What is he made of? Can he stand it? If so, how long? And if
he does, why should he?"

"Brower, Brower!" Ogden cried; "not another word if you care for me--if
you care anything at all for me!" He crossed his arms on the table and
bowed his head upon them.

Brower passed his hand softly over this head and said no more. He was a
patient husbandman; he would sow the good seed and wait for the harvest.

Ogden took the book home with him. He fluttered its leaves a few times;
then he sat down on the edge of his bed and read the title-page for an
hour. The next night he read it some more and dreamed about it. The
next night he was reading it still, and he lay awake thinking of it
until daylight.

On the following evening he took the old, familiar way to the West Side.

He found Abbie Brainard at home alone. Mary and her husband had gone
out, and the baby had been put to bed.

Abbie was sitting in the half-gloom of one small lamp; the parlor was a
little room, and a rather cheap and ugly one. But the lamp, thanks to
its beflowered shade, was discreet and reticent in the disclosure of
unprepossessing detail; besides, twenty lamps would not have had power
to divert his thoughts from the channel through which they were now
coursing.

On his entrance she started up to light the gas. She looked pale and
worn, and older than he would have believed possible. But he looked
older, too, and felt much older than he looked. The light beat down
upon his silvered hair, and heightened the glance of pitying surprise
that shone from her eyes.

In this increased illumination he saw that fortune had left her, as
well as her youth and beauty, as well as the father whose life he had
felt to make their union impossible, and whose memory might still keep
it so. But she herself, in her own essence, was before him--the same
courage, the same resolution, the same tenderness and fidelity. And in
him she saw the only man she had ever seen, or had ever cared to see.

To her, he came as a messenger of pity to heal the wounds that knavery
and scandal and violence had hacked upon her quivering heart. A
messenger of pity, yes; but could he, by any possible chance, find her
worthy of the pity that was akin to love?

To him, she appeared as the victim of his own faint-heartedness and
faithlessness. After all that he had done to wring her heart, could he
venture upon the crowning indignity of offering her his tarnished name?

To her, he stood there as a tower of refuge--a tower from whose summit
the swathing fogs might be cleared away by the warm breath of trust
and confidence, and whose smirched walls--if smirched indeed they
were--might be purified by the tears of love and the fingers of
forgetfulness.

To himself, he lay before her as a heap of crumbling and smoke-stained
ruin. Every stone cried out for the cleansing power of pity and for
the firm and friendly hand that was to rear them all again to their
pristine use and comeliness.

The clock had struck eight as he entered; it was striking eleven as he
rose to go.

"Not yet," she said, softly. She pressed him back into the depths of
his great easy-chair, and, leaning upon its rounded and padded arm,
she looked down upon him.

"You take me, then, as I am?" he asked her, soberly.

"How else do you take _me_?"

He raised his hand to his head. "There will be more of them," he said.
"They tell me I shall be white at forty."

"How many of them are mine?"

He pressed her hand.

"Not one, not one! Or, no," he continued, with a stronger pressure,
"they are all yours--do with them as you please."

He felt something warm drop on his head and trickle down his temples.

"Yes, that is the best thing to do," he said. "To think," he added,
with a tender seriousness, "that you might have saved me from
them--from every one!"

They were married within a month, and they began their married life in
the same house in which he had begun his Western life as a bachelor.
Mrs. Gore's kindliness still survived, after the hard rubs of three
years of city life, and she spread her sympathetic interest over her
new couple with an unstinted hand.

[Illustration: "She pressed him back into the depths of his great easy
chair."]

Their wedding involved no social celebration, unless we note their
participation in one of a series of great public functions that
sometimes mark the early winter. This took place in a vast hall that
was luminous in ivory and gold. They sat before a wide curved frame
brilliant with a myriad points of light, and listened to the united
endeavors of many voices and instruments to please the four thousand
people about them. Ogden and his wife had taken places in the balcony.
They had toned down existence to a quiet gray; they recognized the
middlingness of their lot. Cornelia and her husband, unknown to the
Ogdens, had seats on the floor beneath.

One box in the two long, parallel rows remained vacant during the
first and second acts. As the prelude to the third act began among the
violins the box was claimed. A party of four entered.

"There she is," said Cornelia to herself, in her place on the main
floor. "Just you wait. Burt's smart and I'm careful, and we shall catch
up to you yet!"

"Who are those people?" asked Abbie, turning towards her husband. "Who
is the gentleman with gray hair?" She was beginning to admire her
husband's own.

The two ladies of the party had seated themselves; the two gentlemen
were busy with their own and their companions' wraps in the back of the
box.

"That is Mr. Atwater, the architect. The lady in yellow is his wife.
The tall, brownish man, just handing the glass, is Mr. Ingles; he owns
the--the Clifton."

"And the other lady?" his wife continued. She indicated a radiant,
magnificent young creature, splendid, like all her mates, with the new
and eager splendor of a long-awaited opportunity. This new-comer had
nodded smilingly to many people on entering--to her neighbors on either
side, to a large dinner-party that filled three boxes across the house.
She seemed pleased to have so many persons to bow to so publicly; and
everybody whom she favored seemed equally glad of an opportunity to
return her attention.

Ogden looked at her and turned his eyes away.

"I--I have never seen her before," he said. "I don't know who she is,"
he appeared to imply.

But he knew perfectly well who she was. He knew that she was Cecilia
Ingles, and his heart was constricted by the sight of her. It is for
such a woman that one man builds a Clifton and that a hundred others
are martyred in it.

THE END





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